How a hands-on education program is getting kids excited about smart cities

Thu, 2018-08-02 16:26 -- Doug Peeples

The skills needed to work with and manage the complexities of smart cities operations are also in demand in other sectors, meaning that right now there aren't enough trained professionals to fill all of the available openings. So it's encouraging to see innovative programs on smart city technologies and related topics that focus on giving young students an early inside look to smart cities and how they work — and an introduction to a career choice they might not otherwise have considered. — Doug Peeples

When students attending the four-week Science of Smart Cities (SoSC) summer program offered by New York University's Tandon School of Engineering, it's likely not very similar to the classes they attend during the regular school year. 

The subject matter is different and how they learn is different.

The SoSC program was founded by Ben Esner, director of NYU's Center for K-12 Stem Education, seven years ago to help students and teachers get an in-depth understanding of what makes a city smart. Students attending the program learn about energy, transportation, wireless communications, urban infrastructure — all elements that contribute to smart city sustainability, livability and safety. They use STEM materials and elements of smart city technologies such as controllers, sensors and electronics.

The program concludes with a Smart Cities Exposition in which students display the ideas they've developed, the devices or applications they created or the smart buildings they designed.

In an article in The Bridge, Esner explained that much of the success of the program should be attributed to its teachers: undergraduate and graduate Tandon engineering students. "What's great is that those students have a lot of passion for these subjects. You're not coming here to get a degree in engineering on a whim. You're dedicated to it, you're passionate about it. That's one of the reasons the programs that we run here on campus are so effective. Young people see other young people who truly have a passion for these fields and disciplines."

And the program has grown since its early days. SoSC is now also available off-campus at other schools throughout the city and taught by teachers trained through a partnership between the Tandon program and New York City's STEM Summer in the City initiative. And an advanced version of the SoSC summer program was launched last year that gives students the opportunity to work in a real-world smart city project environment.

The SoSC program is one of many offered through Tandon's STEMNOW collection of summer workshops, courses and labs that also includes topics like artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.