“It's helped me not be so narrowly focused,” says engineering consultant Tony Arikol, P.E. “Sometimes you get tunnel vision. Young people are a lot more creative as thinkers. They help you look outside for novel solutions.”

Arikol is one of many volunteer engineers serving as mentors in the National Engineers Week Future City Competition. The competition challenges seventh and eighth-graders to design cities of tomorrow. Students work in teams of three to devise a city using SimCity 3000 software and then write an essay and defend their city model before a judging panel. More than 30,000 students from more than 1,000 schools across the U.S. participated this year.

Engineer mentors advise the students, sometimes just acting as sounding boards. “I try to motivate through inaction,” says one engineer. “Kids come up with some wild ideas, but I don't say anything because, who knows, it may work. Engineers tend to go straight to the answers. This program brings you back to opening up your mind to solve a problem.”

Adoration and self-respect aren't the only benefits. The mentor of the winning team gets an all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. to see his or her team in the national finals during National Engineers Week.

To try your hand at mentoring, contact Carol Rieg, national director of the Future City Competition at (877) 636-9578, Crieg@futurecity.org or www.futurecity.org.