When teaching engineering and technology to middle school students, an age group notorious for its lack of patience with anything remotely uncool, how do you get and hold their interest? If the first 10 years of the National Engineers Week Future City CompetitionTM is any indication, the key to reaching seventh- and eighth-graders is to be very, very challenging.

Sponsored by the National Engineers Week Committee, a consortium of more than 100 engineering societies and corporations, Future City has rapidly become one of the most successful educational programs of its kind. Begun in 1992 by the engineering community to raise awareness and appreciation of engineering among middle school students, the competition invites student teams, working with a teacher and volunteer engineer mentor from the community, to design a city of the future on computer and in three-dimensional scale models. As they fabricate a metropolis from the ground up, balance a city budget and deal with intractable social issues such as pollution and unemployment, the students solve intricate problems of math, science, and technology along the way.