North Star Academy team earns technology recognition


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — What’s your “city of the future”? Some North Star Academy students already have a good idea.

Last month at the Suburban Collection Showplace in downstate Novi, the North Star Academy 2 team won the Engineering Society of Detroit’s Michigan Regional Future City competition.

The team won the Automation Technology Achievement award from Patti Engineering Inc., a control system integration company based in Auburn Hills, in the Future City competition.

Future City is a national competition for teams of students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades offered by the volunteer organization DiscoverE. The competition is focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM.

The North Star 2 team also won the Building A World of Difference Award from the Milwaukee-based Black & Veatch, which specializes in engineering, consulting and construction.

John Gillette, North Star science and math teacher, was the leader of the winning team from seventh grade. Eighth-graders also took part in the activity. Both awards, though, went to the seventh-graders.

He explained the winning project, with the setting on their future city an astronomical object.

“They had this whole narrative that went on where they had to rebuild a civilization on an asteroid,” Gillette said. “That’s where the Black & Veatch award came in because it’s ‘building a world of difference.’ They’re just kind of looking for that novelty is where the city is located.”

Two models were brought to the competition, which he called the culminating piece to a two-month project.

“They have to first simulate the systems of a city in order to help understand the functions of a city, everything from water systems to power to managing a budget and taxation,” Gillette said.

The team used a software from SimCity — as in “simulation.”

The students took the lessons about city systems and applied them in their plan and essay. They also sketched out the project and made scale drawings, and then built a model based on their drawings. The final step was making a presentation before the judges.

The Automation Technology Achievement Award went to the seventh-graders for a “robot factory” to serve different purposes within the city, such as the use of automation, he said.

Future engineers could emerge from the North Star technology team.

“They learn about systems thinking, which is huge in science these days, just being able to think about how systems work or how all the parts work together to make the system function, and then how the systems work together in order to provide a larger function,” Gillette said.

For example, the students can understand roads and infrastructure and see how the power and sewer grid systems work together, he said.

Each year’s competition has a theme, with “The Power of Public Spaces” the 2017 theme.

How would they take a polluted brownfield and transform it into a public space with a rejuvenated purpose?

“We had to think a lot about human impact on the environment,” Gillette said.

According to a news release from IT Business Net, the North Star Academy 2 team mined precious metals on the asteroid, with the model using mainly solar power but also generating electricity by harnessing the kinetic energy produced by kids swinging on swing sets.

North Star has a winning tradition in the technology competition, winning the 2016 Best Use of Alternative or Renewable Fuels Award from Durr Systems Inc., of downstate Plymouth, and the Electrotechnology Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Southeast Michigan Chapter.

Members from this year’s winning team had various reactions from taking part in the project:

“Being with my friends and not only getting to make a city with them, but to see them make their own world, their own city and their own plans. I also like having the experience to be mayor/ruler of a city.”

“To create my own city. Kind of like being God.”

“The most valuable experience that I gathered from future city was working and coming together while contradictory ideas are present.”

The North Star future city is on display at the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum, 123 W. Baraga Ave., Marquette.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is