St. John Bosco students

Showing off the model they made for the Futures Cities competition are St. John Bosco students, from left, Jack Lisi, Willie Cornejo-Farmer, Miguel Ruiz and Mason Erpenbeck.

A quartet of Chandler and Ahwatukee seventh-graders who attend St. John Bosco Catholic School came in fourth place among 90 middle school teams that competed in the Future Cities contest.

Jack Lisi, Willie Cornejo-Farmer, Miguel Ruiz and Mason Erpenbeck gave up their free time for months to put together ways to improve cities of the future and not only impressed contest judges, but won an award from the Arizona Water Association for the best idea on ways to conserve and preserve water.

They also will be presenting the fruit of that work to the staff and advisory board of the Ahwatukee school.

“I realize I am a proud grandmother, but with all the negative in the news these days, it is always nice to hear how our young future leaders are working on making our world a better place to live,” said Jack’s grandma, Terri Lisi.

Mason and Willie Cornejo-Farmer live in Ahwatukee, and Miguel and Jack live in Chandler.

Future City is a national engineering education program for middle school students that challenges participants to imagine, research, design and build cities of the future that showcase their solution to citywide sustainability.  

This year’s theme is Powering Our Future, where teams were challenged to design a resilient power grid for their future city that would be able to withstand a natural disaster.  Participants must come up with a virtual city design, write a 1,500-word essay, build a scale model from recycled materials, develop a project plan and make a presentation to judges – most of whom are engineers – and be prepared to answer questions and defend their project.

This year’s challenge was inspired by Puerto Rico’s challenge of restoring power after the most recent hurricane.

“Our team chose the name Electri-City to represent one of the Whitsunday Islands off the coast of Australia,” said Colleen Ruiz, the boys’ mentor – and mom to Miguel Ruiz of Chandler.

“They chose a typhoon as their natural disaster and constructed a sea wall, elevated roadways, a hospital that could rise, amphibian cars, wireless electrical systems, and micro-grids powered multiple sustainable energy resources for redundancy,” Ruiz said. “They started work in October and dedicated hundreds of hours to this project.”

Ruiz is no stranger to coaching teams for Future Cities – and she has the expertise since she is a senior planner for the City of Chandler. She started coaching teams six years ago, when her oldest son was in sixth grade, and two years ago, a team of Bosco fourth-graders placed fourth in the 2017 Future Cities competition here.

“It amazed me that the students could reach so deep, learn so much and create such amazing works of art,” said Ruiz. “I facilitate the meetings by keeping them on track, asking probing questions, keeping glue guns in stock and providing snacks.”

She added that her husband also mentored the team.

A software engineer for Intel, he “helped with construction of the moving parts and conceptualization of the design and technology needed.”

The boys modeled buildings off a home in Mexico City Beach, Florida that weathered the hurricane last fall while all of the neighbors’ homes were devastated.

“Jack, Mason, Miguel and Willie are a great team,” the proud mom-mentor said. “They work together very well and are cool and collected under pressure. Jack portrayed a weather man in the skit and shared a lot of enthusiasm.”

Each boy also played a role in their presentation of the research, she added.

“Mason was running for mayor and was very proud of his city.  Miguel was an engineer who could explain the technical details of their solutions. Willie was our alternate and was ready to step in at a moment’s notice. “

Despite their months of preparation, the boys had a few butterflies in their stomach, Ruiz said, but they accomplished their mission without a hitch.

“Competing against 90 teams and presenting to 500+ people was very nerve wracking and we are very proud of them,” she said.

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