NCEES Sponsors Middle School Land Surveying AwardFor the second year in a row, the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES) sponsored a "Best Land Surveying Practices" award as part of an engineering contest for middle school students. The Future City competition, held during National Engineers/Surveyors Week, is a four-phase project in which teams of seventh- and eighth-grade students first design a future city using SimCity 3000 software, a computer simulation game made by Electronic Arts of Redwood City, Calif. Then, students build a physical to-scale model of a portion of their future city, write an essay explaining their response to a specific engineering challenge and formally present their project.
More than 30,000 students from more than 1,000 schools participated nationwide; regional competitions whittled down the contenders to 32 schools for the national finals, held Feb. 19-23, 2005, in Arlington, Va. Bentley Systems Inc., Exton, Pa., sponsored the grand prize: a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., for the first-place team from St. Thomas More School in Baton Rouge, La. In addition to the grand prize, 29 special awards were given out in various categories, including one in land surveying.
The NCEES award criteria calls for "the design that employs the best land surveying practices, taking into consideration the high standards used by surveyors to help protect the public's safety and welfare." As the award judges, Bob Krebs, PE, LS, past-president of NCEES, and Martin Pedersen, LS, president-elect of NCEES, were given only five minutes each to interview the 32 teams. "It's very difficult," said Krebs, commenting on the intensity of the timed judging. "They ring a bell, you introduce yourself, and you have two to three minutes to actually ask them the questions." To quickly determine each team's comprehension of land surveying, Krebs and Pedersen kept their questions simple and direct. "We're talking to seventh and eighth graders [at the competition]," Krebs says. "I've tried to get [across] to the children that if they ever designed a city in the future, they would need to determine elevations, resolve property issues, and so on. We're also looking for an understanding that you need to be licensed to do this in the future."
One of the 32 teams Krebs and Pedersen interviewed was from Maple Hill Middle School of Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y. Maple Hill's team created a futuristic version of the city of Manila in the Philippines, using the volcanic islands as a geothermal energy source. When Krebs and Pedersen approached the Maple Hill Middle School team, they asked the students if they knew what the letters "PE" and "LS" after their names stood for. Melanie Berger and Sean Malloy, both eighth graders, correctly responded that "PE" stands for "professional engineer," and "LS" stands for "land surveyor." Krebs and Pedersen were impressed; other student teams had guessed "physical education" and "practically engineer."
Commenting on Maple Hill's team, Krebs said that the students understood "that you need to be a [surveying] professional to eventually complete this work." He added, "Plus, they also had a grasp of what a land surveyor would do, [such as] lay out roads, resolve a boundary dispute and evaluate elevation differences." As a result, Krebs and Pedersen selected Maple Hill as the recipient of the 2005 "Best Land Surveying Practices" award. Pedersen said, "It was fun for me to interact with all these kids and see where they are with engineering and surveying." Krebs added, "We're trying to encourage kids in math and science and to have some positive influence on their education."
At the ceremony, three Maple Hill Middle School students and their teacher, Ken Malloy, accepted the "Best Land Surveying Practices" award on behalf of their team. The entire roster of the Maple Hill team included Melanie Berger, Abby Brooking, Althea Codamon, Sean Danaher, Sean Malloy, Kevin Mosher, Matt Rossman, Alex Timmons and Ian Walling. In addition, George E. Walling Jr., an engineer with Bechtel Plant Machinery Inc., Schenectady, N.Y., mentored the team.
Maple Hill's team spent four months working together after school, on weekends and during vacations to create their future city. In addition to learning about the varieties of engineering-including mechanical, chemical, electrical and civil-they also learned about surveying. According to eighth-grader Sean Malloy, "We had to incorporate transportation and greenways, and parks and recreation areas. We laid out our city first before we built it. We made up the roads and incorporated everything around those." Sean added, "We put the residential buildings near water and high-rise buildings inland, so the price of the residential buildings would go up."
After creating the virtual model of their city, the students made a model of the city using plywood and recycled materials. Abby Brooking said, "We determined the scale for the city model and we had to also figure out what things to represent in our model." Melanie Berger said, "I've learned how much effort it takes to design a city and be able to [represent it with] realistic and touchable things." She added, "You need to know how everything will work out before you put it into 3D."
Ken Malloy is proud of his award-winning students. "They rose to the occasion and explored the engineering that the contest brings to light," he said. Malloy noted that his students have learned that land surveyors and engineers work on the same team, and that "many of the skills of a land surveyor make the dream of tomorrow become the practical reality." This was Maple Hill's third year in the competition and second year making it to the national finals. The seventh graders on the team will be eligible to participate again in 2006. The Maple Hill students' understanding of land surveying may provide them a better chance of winning it all next year; the essay portion of the 2006 competition will be centered on land surveying.