Sixth-graders at St. Joseph Catholic School received top placements in an engineering competition this month.

Sixth-graders at St. Joseph Catholic School received top placements in an engineering competition this month.

Future City is a project-based learning experience where sixth- through eighth-graders imagine, design and build what could be the cities of the future. The competition requires participants to complete four parts: construct a virtual model using SimCity software, research and write solutions to an engineering problem (this year was storm water management), build a tabletop scale model and present their ideas to judges.

Regional competition was in January in Manhattan. Among the 60 teams in the Great Plains region, the McPherson class received ninth place overall and first in new entries — resulting in an award of $300 to the school for technology.

Steve Burghart of Certainteed Corporation has overseen several of these projects and was the engineering mentor for the group. This was the first year St. Joseph entered the competition, and 2012-2013 also was the first year sixth-graders were allowed to enter. Burghart said he was proud of their placement.

“One of the biggest things you need to learn as an engineer is you’re not on an island,” he said. “You’ve got to work with your team and your end users. I really felt like they worked well together.

“I think they really learned that it’s important to plan ahead and you’ve got to have a lot of good data to make a good decision. The new ideas they came up with and thinking outside the box was really enjoyable for me to see.”


The students’ future city, Hydropolis, is located north of San Francisco and is set in year 2551. Its population of 450,000 fluctuates surrounding the school year as students flock to study the city’s newly discovered forms of alternative energy — black hole fuel sources and Burkhart said. “No matter how much rain you get or storm water you have to deal with, you have to figure out how to use it.

Eventually it all gets down into the water base of what you drink, so you have to make sure you manage it as best as you can.”


The students have been working as a team since the middle of the fall semester.

“It’s not as easy as you think,” said Remington Creed, student and mayor of the Hydropolis. “You have to run everything, you have to plan everything out so nothing runs into each other.”

Burghart said this kind of learning will help the students in their future.

“Engineering and science jobs are growing,” he said. “We got to keep kids excited about that and look beyond just being a business owner or an athletic star. We need good engineers and scientists. If we can light a fire underneath them at a young age, maybe we can keep that flame burning.”

The class plans to present their project to the McPherson City Commission Feb. 18.

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel