31 Aug, 2022 By Claire Smith
This autumn more than 500 teenagers will play a civil engineering computer game that aims to open their eyes to careers in the industry.
Gamification of civil engineering could hold the key to increasing the number of young people studying the subject at degree and apprenticeship levels – and it is already happening. The ICE’s CityZen initiative gets school students to tackle challenges faced by civil engineers every day, in a digital environment.
At least 200 schools are expected to take part in the second year of the CityZen competition which will culminate in a final next spring. It is hoped that the return of the game will more than emulate the success of the inaugural year when there was a huge jump in students wanting to become civil engineers.
The game challenges participants to consider all aspects of a project including sustainability and carbon emissions
When CityZen started last year, a third of the 550 participants aged 16 to 18 from 90 schools were interested in a civil engineering career. By the time the competition had finished, this had grown to 79%.
The CityZen concept is the work of ICE members and a high school teacher but the award – formally known as the ICE David Butler Award – was made possible by money bequeathed by Butler to support the ICE’s educational programmes.
Butler had a particular interest in supporting opportunities for young engineers and it is clear that the award and CityZen are doing just that.
The pandemic helped shape the idea. The game was created to provide a virtual alternative to a work experience placement, where players work together in teams to mirror the way professional civil engineers collaborate and problem solve.
Speaking about creating the game, WSP principal engineer Helen Littler says: “When we came up with the idea of a game revolving around a city, I knew transport would be a vital part – as the life blood of any city. I started off by sketching out ideas and I used my home town of Southampton as a base and the game consequently looks a lot like it.
The winners of the 2021 event were announced in February this year.
St John’s Marlborough school, Marlborough
Plan for eco-friendly and affordable housing for first time buyers
Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate, York
Activity centre to support a hospice in York
Lagan College, Belfast
Solving traffic problems in Belfast
“I drew all the transport bottlenecks we have suffered and still suffer from as the UK’s second biggest port.
“I also incorporated some of the societal and economic challenges this brings to a city.”
The game also introduces students to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“It was important to highlight the impact of each choice in the game on carbon footprint and sustainability, which adds an interesting challenge on top of meeting the needs of the citizens and staying within budget,” says Design ID Consulting project engineer Carlos Rojao, who worked on developing the game.
The concept of value was also woven into CityZen, according to Bam Nuttall business development manager Angus MacGregor. “In civil engineering, when we consider value for money we should never only be interested in minimum purchase price. We should be considering the maximum efficiency and effectiveness of the purchase across all aspects of the project,” he adds.
“CityZen incorporates finite budgets and decisions that either boost amenity or generate a detriment – real world considerations that play out within the game.”
It was important to highlight the impact of each choice in the game on carbon footprint and sustainability
Teams have to unpick a wealth of engineering research and design information to complete the CityZen tasks. An important real-life aspect of the game comes through challenging the teams to balance the needs and desires of a wide variety of people and organisations.
Each team was supported by an ICE science, technology engineering and mathematics (Stem) Ambassador to provide an industry link for mentoring the students through the tasks and to help them develop greater insight to the sector.
Last year’s entrants looked at a wide variety of issues facing their local communities to work their way through the challenge and created videos of their work for the judges to assess.
It was a focus on developing a plan for eco-friendly and affordable housing that won four students from St John’s Marlborough school the top prize. One of the school’s students, Oliver Markham, says: “Over the course of CityZen we realised that civil engineering is more than building infrastructure alone. It is about people and improving areas to increase the standard of living, protecting the environment and history and being prepared for any eventuality.”
CityZen incorporates finite budgets and decisions that either boost amenity or generate a detriment – real world considerations
The St John’s Marlborough students said that playing the game helped them understand the need to listen to stakeholders and be aware of the challenge of balancing the needs of everyone in making decisions.
Their first task was to build a bridge and the school’s ICE Stem Ambassador talked them through all aspects of the decision making processes and got them to consider the outcome of the work.
In the weeks that followed, the team spoke to local stakeholders to understand the challenges facing their local community. This helped them identify the need for more affordable homes. The solution they presented was based on converting shipping containers into housing.
While not everyone could be a winner, the feedback from the students was clear – they liked the game concept of CityZen but also enjoyed applying the skills they gained to solving problems in their local area. For many, developing workable solutions was not as simple as it first seemed. But the feedback suggests that they thrived on the challenge. The hope for this year is that CityZen can reach a wider audience.
Although more than 200 schools have already registered to take part in this year’s competition, there is still time for more to get involved. Interested schools must register by the end of September and have until 15 December to play the game and create their video. The winners will be announced at a special event on 10 March next year.
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