Talk about real-world learning -- NASA's enlisting teens for smart city research

This information provided by Smart Cities Council North America.
Thu, 2017-03-23 12:49 -- Doug Peeples

The next generation smart city workforce will need a variety of skills and competencies to manage and work with the complex technologies and systems that enable efficient and sustainable smart cities. Several approaches are in play to reach that goal, including internships sponsored by tech companies and specialized education programs at community colleges and universities. A World Bridge (AWB), a program led by NASA and educational training services company Trillium Learning, is different. The details of the program are outlined in the story below. But the key takeaway is that students in the program are not only learning how to use technology and developing specialized skills, they're also confronted with the real world of project deadlines and budgets as they learn. And that depth of experience will make them invaluable members of the smart city workforce. — Doug Peeples


Middle school and high school students in the U.S. and throughout the world are helping develop CitySmart, a global smart city platform intended to help cities effectively and efficiently manage their assets – from electric grids and water distribution networks.

AWB, a research and testing program designed by a NASA researcher a few years ago that concentrates on nanotechnology in several areas, including agriculture, early earthquake detection and more. CitySmart is also one of its focus areas.

As Trillium Learning President Ron Fortunato explained in a FedScoop article, "NASA was tasked to create an application that could actually acquire all these resources – within energy grids, within water grids, to transportation grids – and put them at the disposal of management so that mayors and staff and others could not only identify dynamically what their resources were, but where there are problems." He said CitySmart would likely be very valuable, and particularly so in developing nations.

How the students fit in
Students work with the program's research and development personnel as they learn to code, how to build software applications with APIs and develop prototypes. While they work with the teams remotely, they are in close collaboration with NASA researchers and can stay connected through a communications network that allows them to chat and video conference. And it's far from a textbook and classroom learning experience because the students need to understand and adhere to the deadlines and budgets federal projects require.

And Fortunato says the students are responding to those stringent working conditions very well. "It's an amazing leap to see but it's actually happening, these kids can perform at a professional level given the right environment. There's no limit to what they can study and learn."

Mark Hogan, a NASA project manager, agrees. "The problem-solving skills this education program challenges the students with, and the solution-building skills the students develop as a result, translate directly to enormously applicable and highly employable life skills."

The students worked on a prototype for CitySmart's analytics dashboard and have used AWB's geospatial platform and sensors to contribute to the development of an earthquake early warning system.

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