Assuring NASA's Future
Hutchinson looks at a model city

Sonya Hutchinson discusses a Future City project with a student team. Image Credit: NASA

NASA engineer Sonya Hutchinson is part of a team that strives to make sure the agency's projects can be completed safely and successfully.

Hutchinson takes that responsibility very seriously -- through volunteer efforts, she is inspiring kids to come up with ideas for missions that have not even been planned yet.

By serving as a regional coordinator for the National Engineers Week Future City Competition, Hutchinson, who works in industrial safety at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is encouraging the next generation of engineers that will continue the exploration of the solar system. Through the efforts of Hutchinson and others, a regional competition in Huntsville gave students in northern Alabama and the surrounding area a local opportunity to be involved in Future City.

The Future City competition is a project of the National Engineers Week Foundation, and the national event was held during "EWeek," Feb. 17-23, 2008. The competition challenges middle school students to pick a specific engineering or design issue that could be addressed in cities of the future. (EWeek competitions are also held for other grade levels.) The students then use computer software to create a model city that incorporates their solution to that issue. Finally, teams, using recycled materials, build physical scale models of the digital city. Winning teams from each region receive all-expense-paid trips to the national competition in Washington, D.C. The overall national champions win a trip to Space Camp, in Huntsville, Ala.

A row of model cities

Model cities for the competition are required to feature a moving part and power source. Image Credit: NASA

About 60 students, competing in teams, participated in the 2008 regional event, which was hosted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The first-place winner of the event was from Life Christian Academy in Harvest, Ala.

Hutchinson said her efforts to organize the Huntsville regional competition were motivated by the importance of inspiring students' interest in engineering, and of providing them with opportunities to get extra experience in the field. That experience is something she understands well -- she's a living example of what can happen when students receive inspiration and opportunity.

Before she was a NASA engineer, Hutchinson participated in student opportunities at Marshall Space Flight Center. While in high school, she spent two summers at Marshall in the NASA Junior Fellowship Project, and then worked as a NASA co-op while in college.

Now, she's working to make sure today's students get the same opportunity she did. Just as Hutchinson's student experiences led her to work for NASA, perhaps some of the designers of the future cities will themselves be future engineers.

NASA is committed to building strategic partnerships and linkages with formal and informal educators of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The agency is engaging students, educators, families, the public and others to increase Americans' scientific and technological literacy.

Related Resources
NASA Marshall Safety and Mission Assurance
NASA Education Web Site   →
National Engineers Week   →
Future City Competition   →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services