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  • Press Release

UL Innovative Education Award Program Announces Award Winners

August 6, 2015

NORTHBROOK, Ill., Aug. 6, 2015 — DiscoverE’s Future City Competition, a program with a focus on advancing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning through projects involving real environmental problems (E-STEM), has been named the grand prize winner of a $100,000 recognition grant in the UL (Underwriters Laboratories Inc.) Innovative Education Award program (ULIEA). Future City asks teams in middle schools throughout the U.S. to research and design virtual reality scale models of cities, using SimCity software that emphasizes environmental sustainability and deals with issues such as clean energy and water, solid waste management, storm water runoff and urban agriculture.

Developed in collaboration with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), the UL Innovative Education Award was open to nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Canada that serve to motivate K-12 schools about science research through E-STEM programming and education about the environment.

Future City, headquartered in Alexandria, VA, will also receive, in addition to the recognition grant, the opportunity to work directly with UL employees to realize the full scope of activities in their E-STEM education programs. Future City is offered this opportunity for their efforts to create a broad-based national learning competition focusing on research and design in urban sustainability. Four additional nonprofits were awarded recognition grants:

  • Cafeteria Culture, New York City, $50,000, which incorporates hands-on pilot activities into the school curriculum with the objective of achieving zero waste standards in school cafeterias and climate smart communities, and in dramatically reducing levels of garbage at schools and in the homes of students.
  • The Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program at Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia, $50,000, which provides mentoring for Philadelphia high school girls to help prepare them for college and for STEM/E-STEM careers.
  • The Trent Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge and Science (TRACKS) Program, Peterborough, Ontario, $25,000, which works annually with more than 7,000 indigenous youth, ages 8-13, and adults from local First Nations communities on providing skills, knowledge, and activities about environmental science by integrating them with traditional and contemporary indigenous knowledge and culture.
  • The University of Idaho McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS), Moscow, Idaho, $25,000, which connects students to peers, mentors, community leaders, and experts in an E-STEM initiative focusing on the context of Idaho’s land, water, and communities, using problem-based and inquiry-based approaches in small groups to solve complex problems with innovative solutions.

All five winning teams will meet in Northbrook, IL on Aug. 6 at UL’s headquarters for the inaugural ULIEA kickoff meeting and leadership summit. Joined by UL executives, guest speakers and others directly involved in sustainability and environmental work, the summit not only recognized the winning teams for their work, but also helped cultivate a network among the teams and UL mentors.

The event included an awards ceremony, a working session hosted by Jamie Herring, Executive Producer of the National Climate Assessment's Digital Strategy, launched by President Obama in May 2014, and a keynote talk by Barbara Guthrie, UL’s VP and Chief Public Safety Officer.

UL employees will work with winning teams to discuss growth strategies, business development and lend other expertise to assist the organizations. Each team will be paired with UL employees in long-term partnerships to facilitate the continuation and expansion of the winning program’s work. “We are tremendously pleased at how Future City has incorporated the strongest principles of the E-STEM approach to give young people the unprecedented opportunities to build their skills in science and systems thinking,” Guthrie says. “They have demonstrated not only a passion for research and scientific investigation but also how this work ties in critically to addressing significant environmental concerns with approaches that encourage social responsibility and the active engagement of all members in a specific community.”

Started in 1993, Future City program designers recently revised and expanded their curriculum materials to reflect the most current issues associated with environmental stewardship and sustainability. “The experience was life-altering for my students,” a Tampa, Florida teacher explains. “I watched my students stand in front of a room of planners, developers and Metropolitan Planning Organization members to share their ideas about what Tampa should make a priority for the next 25 years. They participated in the planning process as active citizens, and I have never been so proud.” Future City officials say the grant expands their opportunities to network with organizations such as NAAEE and coordinate activities on a national basis. This includes a national competition based on a citywide sustainability issue that would be carried out in the 2016 – 2017 school year. On a regional level, each of five regions will be provided $7,500 grants to recruit educators working with high minority or economically challenged communities, and supporting them as they advance through the competition.

The UL Innovation Education Award highlights the essential, urgent and significant value of hands-on education which drives the mission and goals of the NAAEE’s ongoing National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, according to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE’s deputy director. “Working for a sustainable future means focusing our educational efforts especially on our youngest students,” Maertens says. “There is a substantial body of research from many sources which shows that hands-on education about the environment is among the most effective ways to engage kids because of its exceptional capacity to inspire interest and build skills in STEM for all students. And, UL always has been one of the most trusted and respected exemplars of always being committed and responsive to the latest in scientific thinking and progress.”

About UL

UL is a premier global independent safety science company that has championed progress for more than 120 years. Its nearly 11,000 professionals are guided by the UL mission to promote safe working and living environments for all people via two distinct entities: Underwriters Laboratories Inc., a 501(c)3 public charity, and UL LLC. UL uses research and standards to continually advance and meet ever-evolving safety needs. We partner with businesses, manufacturers, trade associations and international regulatory authorities to bring solutions to a more complex global supply chain. For more information, visit


The North American Association for Environmental Education is a pioneering membership organization dedicated to accelerating environmental literacy through education.  NAAEE supports a network of more than 16,000 educators, researchers, and organizational members working in environmental education across more than 30 countries through direct membership and 54 regional affiliate organizations. Through sponsored community networks, publications, and employment development opportunities, NAAEE provides resources for educators, professionals, volunteers, and researchers. For more information, visit