Building a Better Future

Future City Engineering global winner’s journey to inspire and provide opportunities for others
Future City Engineering team Ampere, made up of freshmen Aditya Gullapalli, Arya Gullapalli, Arnav Srinivasa and sophomore Miranda Xu, coached by Taryna Patel and Carol Reese with the first place trophy at Future City Engineering Global Finals in Washington D.C. Feb. 20, 2024. Winning the grand prize, Ampere received $3,500 for the school’s STEM program and $10,000 of scholarship money per student.

From becoming a global champion in an engineering challenge, to soon filming an educational series to teach kids about different science, technology, engineering and math related topics, sophomore Miranda Xu has had her fair share of success and involvement in engineering challenges this past year. However, Xu has been able to see various experiences and problems an engineer might encounter, with her father being an engineer.

“When I was younger, I would go out into the field and see how engineering is applied in the real world and how they actually do that stuff,” Xu said. “Even now, [my dad] always talks to me about his projects, whatever water cooling plants [and] power plants are in the city and how thousands of people can be affected.”

The influence of STEM throughout her life has encouraged Xu to develop a passion for and interest in the topic, possibly wanting to get an engineering degree in the future. Along with joining extracurricular activities to explore her own interest in the topic, Xu has become more involved in STEM outreach recently.

Xu is the Texas representative for the Million Girls Moonshot 2024 Flight Crew which is made of one crew member from every state. Million Girls Moonshot works to encourage girls interested in STEM and provide more high-quality opportunities for underserved and underrepresented youth to learn STEM related topics. 

“I initially saw it in a DiscoverE newsletter,” Xu said. “[I thought it was] a pretty cool program, and I might as well try for it, and I found out they’re partners with DiscoverE. They both focus on STEM and engineering, especially in young girls, so I decided to apply for it.”

When Xu applied for the position, she spoke about her experiences from different activities she participated in. One experience she spoke about was Future City Engineering, a hands-on program where participants create a city set in the future that is meant to solve certain sustainability issues. 

“I just wrote about my Future City experience, and I think they saw that as really valuable,” Xu said. “And even if I didn’t win any big awards from it, I still gained a lot from that experience that I could share with others, but I thought it was really cool that they saw that to be really valuable, maybe even above the big awards.”

Through Million Girls Moonshot, Xu will work to advocate for more STEM extracurricular activities around the country and to increase gender equity in STEM related fields. 

“[I think it’s important for girls to] learn more about how they can get involved,” Xu said. “Future City was a great program, as well as UT Girl Day, it’s part of DiscoverE’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering, so all of that is a great opportunity for young girls to experience something and see if they would like [engineering] or want to get involved in it.”

In encouraging more girls to become involved in STEM, Xu finds importance in seeing other women in the STEM field, noting her own experience recently where she was on a judging panel for a Future City Engineering competition with a physicist.

“Getting to talk to [the physicist] and know more—because I’m really interested in aerospace and physics—was really cool,” Xu said. “She got to tell me her experiences as a physicist and what she does on the daily, and I think it’s really important for young girls to see that.”

Future City Engineering is where Xu was able to explore and grow her passion for engineering. Contestants are judged on five deliverables following the theme for the year—a project plan, an essay describing their city, a city model, a city presentation and a question and answer portion with the judges.

Initially, Future City Engineering was only a middle school program and Xu competed all three years. However, for the 2023-2024 season, a high school competition was introduced and Xu joined with freshmen Aditya Gullapalli, Arya Gullapalli and Arnav Srinivasa, coached by Taryna Patel, to form their team Ampere. And while Xu did not have any previous major awards from Future City Engineering, that changed Feb. 20, 2024 when Ampere won big.

“[It was] so exciting for us and, truly, a really great conclusion to all those years of hard work through middle school [and] this year,” Xu said.

Unlike the middle school program where students create a physical city model created from recycled materials, high school participants created a virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) model.

“That was the most challenging part, since this was the first year that they’re doing AR [and] VR, we did not have much experience with this, and we had to do a lot of research and look at different platforms that we wanted to use,” Xu said. “The learning curve was definitely something that we struggled with, like learning how to navigate VR and looking at different AR platforms.”

Ampere began preparing in September, meeting on weekends to work on different deliverables and prepare for the presentation and Q&A part of the competition. Then, early in the morning Feb. 17, the team flew out to Washington D.C. for the global finals competition. 

“It was stressful the whole plane ride there,” Xu said. “We were trying to memorize our lines, just trying to know more about our topics. [It’s] like no matter how much you prepare, you always feel like you’re unprepared.” 

The competition began the following morning. The hours and months of preparation coming down to the 15 minute presentation and Q&A session with the judging panel.

“Once you’re competing, you get into the zone,” Xu said. “I think our hard work really spoke for us, we really knew our stuff… We knew [our script] like the back of our hand, so it really just flowed out.”

Two days later, Feb. 20, the award ceremony was held. Ampere was waiting to see if the months of hard work and hours of preparation and research paid off, and without the knowledge of when the high school awards would be announced, tensions were high. 

“The whole time we were on the edge of our seats,” Xu said. “The person next to me was praying that we would get first, and I was really nervous as well. We [had] come so far, it would be a shame to just get second place, that’s really good, but we really wanted to get that first place, and I’m glad we did.”

Moments like these and the Future City Engineering program have provided Xu with the opportunity to explore and build on her passion for engineering and STEM.

“I really like the problem solving aspect, going through the engineering design process and trying out prototypes before you find something that works,” Xu said. “[I] also like the teamwork and collaboration aspect. It’s not unique to STEM, but it’s kind of unique to Future City and [having teammates that always supported you] kept me going.”

Xu wishes to share her passion for STEM with others and provide everyone with opportunities to get involved. Xu is working to organize a summer event called Girls Build Solutions with her fellow Flight Crew Members and has helped organize things such as a design challenge at UT Girls Day where participants had to build the tallest tower out of recycled materials.

“In the real world you don’t have unlimited money and unlimited time, you need to make the most out of the resources that you have,” Xu said. “I think it really gave them a glimpse of how they have to use their problem solving skills and critical thinking skills to solve the challenge.”

Currently, Xu’s main project with Million Girls Moonshot is a short video series about engineering. Xu was reached out to by DiscoverE who saw that she was a part of the Million Girls Moonshot Flight Crew to film the eight episode series. Xu will go up to Washington D.C. to film with her co-host and it will later be on YouTube and DiscoverE.

“It’s going to be nice for the little kids because stuff is increasingly more online, and they’re going to be able to access all of that through just YouTube and get to learn about different engineering concepts and STEM concepts just by going online,” Xu said.

From research and creating a more sustainable city with her Future City Engineering team, to being part of the Million Girls Moonshot program and working to inspire the future generation, Xu uses her talents and skills in engineering to work towards a better and brighter future.

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    charlotteApr 25, 2024 at 2:04 pm

    SO GOOD!!!!!