A team of four boys and a girl at St. John Bosco School in Ahwatukee have their eyes firmly fixed on the future.
They already have a foot in it as well.
The group of seventh graders placed fourth in the regional Future City Competition, a 25-year-old contest in which students in sixth through eighth grade compete with a 1,500-word essay, a model and an oral presentation on some issue related to sustainability.
The students—Louisa Casillas, Michael Lisi, Antonio Ruiz, Roberto Trujillo and Marcelino Yousif—comprised the only Catholic school in the competition, themed “Power of Public Space.”
Their essay, virtual city, model and presentation were for a future city called Cosmium Colony--an asteroid mining colony.
Mentoring the team were Antonio’s parents, Colleen Ruiz, a civil engineering plans reviewer for the City of Chandler, and Juan Ruiz, an Intel software engineer.
The Ruizes moved to Ahwatukee last summer from New Mexico, where Antonio was on a team that placed third in that state’s regional Future City contest.
With the blessing of Principal Anita Petitti, the couple met after school with the students, some of whom barely knew each other before bonding through the project.
“They didn't know each other very well at the beginning of the project,” Colleen Ruiz said. “Brainstorming and compromising ideas was challenging. We ended up finding ways to incorporate everyone's ideas through creative problem solving. By competition time, they had all become good friends and developed some excellent negotiation skills… We give lots of credit to Pete Rodriguez, their speech and debate teacher, for teaching them these skills.”
“St. John Bosco only entered one team this year, but we hope to grow the program to involve more students,” she added. “It is a very challenging and fun program.”
Her job was to make sure the students stayed on task to complete “approximately four pages of scoring rubrics for each five of the components of the project.”
She quickly found they took to the assignment with enthusiasm.
“Their creativeness and ability to think outside the box blew me away,” Colleen Ruiz said. “I would have never thought to build a space mining colony that gathered valuable minerals from asteroids near Keplar 22B (600 light years from Earth). I asked a lot of questions related to the rubric and they came up futuristic solutions.”
The students started doing research in October of 2016. The research paper and virtual city submittal were due in November, and they worked on the model for another two months.
The model is 50 inches long by 25 inches wide by 20 inches tall with a wooden frame. It was made largely from recycled materials, including LEGO, spare parts, beads, binder clips and a boogie board.
“The students used plumbers caulking to make the asteroid and spray painted a lot of things silver,” Colleen Ruiz said. “We bought plastic fish bowls that they decorated as four different bio-domes. The project budget was $100. The team used a plethora of lights to highlight their important features.”
Dubbed “Cosmium Colony,” the model was named in the team’s first meeting.
“It turned into our first lesson on compromise,” she said. “Everyone had different ideas but we ended up combining the names of two minerals found on asteroids—cobalt and osmium—to form Cosmium Colony.”
It wasn’t just the model that impressed the judges.
“I was blown away at their ability to communicate with judges and to think on their feet,” Colleen Ruiz said. “They answered all kinds of questions from judges, ranging from the technical specifications of a spaceship to how dead bodies are disposed of in space. They are all around great kids with bright futures.”
And they plan to be back to the future, she added, explaining:
“The students are a little competitive and informed the audience of over 1,000 people at ASU that they will be back next year aiming at first place.”