Hales Corners students rule in city of the future

Published on: 3/6/2012

Hales Corners - Hyperion is a city where algae oil is the power source and all residents live in smart homes.

The self-sufficient city has windmills and grows its own organic produce, and its main mode of transportation is a triport, which can be used on land, sea and air.

Hyperion, of course, is not a real city. Yet. It's a future city that gained distinction during the 2012 National Engineers Week Future City Competition.

It was born of the imagination of St. Mary Parish School students Thomas Chelius, Emily Chmielewski and Caroline J. Mohr, all under the guidance of eighth-grade science teacher Sarah Massopust.

Calling themselves the Hyperion School of Engineering Titans, the trio competed with 37 middle schools nationwide last month in the competition, which involved building a model, giving a presentation, writing an essay and, using specialized software, designing a virtual city. As grand prize winners, they will receive a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

But the project was really a labor of love that took months of the students' time, in and outside of school.

"We started researching everything in our city in August, and we were going right through January," said Chmielewski.

It took lots of research, said Chelius, and trial and error.

"In our team, we had a motto: No idea was a bad idea," said Mohr.

After research was completed, the model had to be built.

"When we first started working on the model, we took all our material and laid it out on a table," said Chmielewski. "What could this be?"

The theme of this year's competition was Fuel Your Future: Imagine New Ways to Meet Our Energy Needs and Maintain a Healthy Planet. The goal was to build a city that provided electricity using an energy source that does not deplete natural resources.

Chelius said their model itself - the sports center, church, communications center - is all made of recyclable materials. "All of our parents were saving recyclables for a long time," he said.

Even the trees are recyclable; they are made of foam rubber from used furniture, he said.

As much as it was a labor of love, the project was also a family affair. Robert Chmielewski, an engineer with Pieper Electric in Milwaukee, served as the team's volunteer mentor.

"We had six parents on this team who all fulfilled the mentor role," he said.

Kristine Chmielewski said her major role was providing a home - and snacks - for the team to meet. "Keeping the kids focused, making some deadlines, that was my part," she said.

Kelty Chelius helped students prepare for the presentation.

"I'm the speech coach," she said. "I'm a forensics coach, so I'm the task master when it comes to answering questions."

Massopust said the project teaches students about science, planning and research, as well as collaboration.

"They really learn to work together," she said. "They just meshed so well together."