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St. Hugh's 'Imperium-Aqua' city ranked fourth at international competition

Coconut Grove school also won first place in Florida Future City regionals for the eighth time in its history

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami competed and placed first in the Future City regional contest in Tampa Bay in January 2023. With their project, Imperium-Aqua, the group moved on to the international level of competition held in Washington, D.C. and placed fourth. In the photo, from left to right, are science teacher Emily Concepcion and her students Emily Triana, Marco Law, Nora Roca, Ana Pantin, Aaliyah Figueroa, Catalina Betancourt, Cecilia Santa-Cruz, Anna Vieria, Carolina Nunez-Menocal, Leman Oliveros, Isabella Lopez, Luke Rodriguez, Victoria Volum, Rebecca Hernandez, and adult mentor Cristina Santa-Cruz.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami competed and placed first in the Future City regional contest in Tampa Bay in January 2023. With their project, Imperium-Aqua, the group moved on to the international level of competition held in Washington, D.C. and placed fourth. In the photo, from left to right, are science teacher Emily Concepcion and her students Emily Triana, Marco Law, Nora Roca, Ana Pantin, Aaliyah Figueroa, Catalina Betancourt, Cecilia Santa-Cruz, Anna Vieria, Carolina Nunez-Menocal, Leman Oliveros, Isabella Lopez, Luke Rodriguez, Victoria Volum, Rebecca Hernandez, and adult mentor Cristina Santa-Cruz.

COCONUT GROVE | Sixteen eighth graders in the accelerated science program at St. Hugh School in Coconut Grove were named Florida regional winners in the 2023 Future City model-building competition held in in January in Tampa Bay. The group then qualified for the international competition, held Feb. 21 in Washington, D.C., where they won a fourth-place trophy and $750 for the school’s STEM program.

Eighth graders Carolina Nunez-Menocal, Anna Vieria, and Isabella Lopez from St. Hugh School in Miami pose with the trophies their group won for their model city, Imperium-Aqua, during the Future City regional contest in Tampa Bay in January 2023. The group qualified for the international contest in Washington, D.C. in February, where they placed fourth.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Eighth graders Carolina Nunez-Menocal, Anna Vieria, and Isabella Lopez from St. Hugh School in Miami pose with the trophies their group won for their model city, Imperium-Aqua, during the Future City regional contest in Tampa Bay in January 2023. The group qualified for the international contest in Washington, D.C. in February, where they placed fourth.

They also received the Professional Engineering Award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers.

This marks the eighth consecutive year in St. Hugh’s history that they have won regionally, and the first time they placed in the top five at the international level, competing against other middle schools from across the country, as well as Canada, China and Africa.

Emily Concepcion, who has taught middle school science at St. Hugh’s for the last three years, sees Future City as one of the best contests in getting students hands-on and excited about STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math).

“You have to make it fun for them. I’ve looked at other programs and competitions throughout Florida, just to change it up a little. By far, Future City has it beat,” said Concepcion.

The contest has also become a bit of a school tradition.

“They look forward to it and are strongly encouraged. It is something for them, their parents, and even the kids in third grade who came to support their siblings. I haven’t finished with the eighth graders this year, and others are already thinking of next year’s group and project,” Concepcion added.

Anna Vieria, a presenter on this year’s team, said she has anticipated participating for years.

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami cheer on their group mates at the  Future City international contest in Washington, D.C in February 2023, where the group placed fourth. Earlier in the year, they won first place in the Tampa Bay, Florida regional contest.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami cheer on their group mates at the Future City international contest in Washington, D.C in February 2023, where the group placed fourth. Earlier in the year, they won first place in the Tampa Bay, Florida regional contest.

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami pose on stage at the Future City international contest in Washington, D.C in February 2023, where the group placed fourth for their model city, Imperium-Aqua. Earlier in the year, they won first place in the Tampa Bay, Florida regional contest.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami pose on stage at the Future City international contest in Washington, D.C in February 2023, where the group placed fourth for their model city, Imperium-Aqua. Earlier in the year, they won first place in the Tampa Bay, Florida regional contest.

"I have always looked up to the eighth graders who competed. It seemed like such an interesting concept; building a model, solving each problem that was unique every year, and presenting to the panel of judges,” said Anna.

Future City is a cross-curricular educational program of Discover E., a nonprofit dedicated to providing global resources, programs, and networking between students of all grade levels and engineers and STEM professionals. More than 45,000 students in grades six through eight participate in the annual Future City model-building contest which, aside from building a city of the future, tasks students with creating a project plan, writing an essay, and preparing a presentation that explains a possible solution to a sustainability issue. A teacher and one parent mentor supervise the process.

This year, students confronted a climate change challenge. After research and discussion, the team from St. Hugh decided they would combat rising sea levels. They created a hypothetical city called Imperium-Aqua, modeled after Amsterdam, Netherlands, and got to work.

“Everyone’s talents were put to use in this project,” said Concepcion.

But there were some challenges.

As Aaliyah Figueroa pointed out, “The toughest part of the project was working all together. Especially since we had 16 students, it was difficult for everyone to agree on the same ideas. To solve this problem, we all merged multiple of our ideas to create the Future City. After coming up with the main plan for our city, we split into two groups: the model crew and the essay group.”

The writers prepared a maximum 1500-word essay that explained Imperium-Aqua’s infrastructure, services, and the innovations to combat rising-sea levels. The model crew designed industrial and commercial zones as well as a residential area, all made from recycled materials — a requirement of Future City. The competition also requires at least one moving component, so the team made three windmills that aided with wind energy.

In line with their Catholic identity, students also included a church.

“It distinguishes us from the public schools,” said Concepcion. “Every single model I’ve done, they’ve included a church. And it’s funny because I don’t tell them where they need to put the church, but they always put it in the center of the residential area. They say that it’s their grounding area, the center of their own lives, so we need to put it there so that the residents of the city can also have it.” 

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami, along with family and friends, sit on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. during a break from their Future City international contest in February 2023, where they placed fourth for their model city Imperium-Aqua. Earlier in the year, they won first place in the Tampa Bay, Florida regional contest.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Eighth graders from St. Hugh School in Miami, along with family and friends, sit on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. during a break from their Future City international contest in February 2023, where they placed fourth for their model city Imperium-Aqua. Earlier in the year, they won first place in the Tampa Bay, Florida regional contest.

In years past, Archdiocese of Miami schools St. Thomas the Apostle in Miami, St. Agnes Academy in Key Biscayne, andSt. John Neumann in Miami have participated and won Future City competitions regionally and nationally.

“It would be nice if all of the archdiocese schools hop on board,” said Concepcion. “It’s good to have a healthy competition.”

While St. Hugh was the only Catholic school from the archdiocese to compete this year, they befriended students from other Catholic schools, as well as public and international schools, who participated in the Washington, D.C. contest.

While in D.C., the group also toured the nation’s capital, and even met with a senator at the Capitol.

“They had the science, but we thought, ‘Let’s bring a little social studies, let’s give them some American history,’” said Concepcion. “Our kids have learned so much.”

Comments from readers

Simona - 03/09/2023 08:34 AM
So incredibly proud of our students, teacher and mentor at St.Hugh, for such an amazing award! May your hard work and dedication be an inspiration to future 8th graders and an Eye opener to parents, that a parochial Catholic school can have an advanced science curriculum, one that wins awards at an international level. Faith and science can live together after all.