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ASU course teaches students to build smart cities


The future is coming whether we’re ready or not, and a new ASU course is making sure it will be a green one.

SOS 498: Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge puts students up to the task of figuring out how cities can accelerate the adoption of smart technologies to make them more sustainable.

“Smart cities are an imperative thing for us to not only understand, but very quickly address and empower and accelerate the adoption and change to,” says Colin Tetreault, former sustainability adviser to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and instructor of the course.

Tetreault says that with the majority of 2050’s anticipated population of 9.6 billion expected to be living in desert cities, it is important to equip them with the tools and knowledge to create a better future.

“There are a lot of solutions out there that have been around for a while, from data to energy efficiency, a whole lot of gizmos and gadgets,” he says. “The really pressing question that we are attempting to address in this class is ‘how do we accelerate the adoption of technologies and policies in order to enable smarter cities of the future?’”

While there is no shortage of courses at ASU’s School of Sustainability, Tetreault says the course is not a run-of-the-mill lecture.

“This is an applied course where students are coming up with real world solutions,” he says. “We’re providing students a hands-on experience, from learning about what a smart city is and how to craft actual entrepreneurial and innovation-based ideas.”

The course works in partnership with The Verizon Foundation. Student ideas will be submitted to the foundation for the opportunity to win up to $5,000.

The course will also include its fair share of local and national guest speakers, who are experts in entrepreneurship and sustainability, as well as hands-on experiences.

“One of the fun things we’re going to attempt to do is that we’re actually going to take them over to San Francisco for a day or two to show them where they can find a lot of this really incredible city innovation and smart city stuff day in and day out,” Tetreault says.

“This is a great experience for the students to see firsthand what a smart city is [and]that’s going to help inform them and inspire them to help come up with solutions.”

The course will culminate in the creation of projects, ventures and prototypes addressing the mission of the class.

Tetreault says that although the outcomes of the course are great, the tools it’s supplying the students are the real value.

“We’re going to make solutions and some of the students may go on to make this a full-time business model,” he says. “But this is also giving every single student a fundamental framework on how to create ideas and put them in a persuasive compelling narrative in order to advance sustainability for the rest of their careers.”

Tetreault decided to take on the task of teaching the course because he believes it’s a great opportunity.

“The university, overall, is committed to innovation and entrepreneurship,” he says. “I was tapped because I have a love, a passion, and true place in my heart for cities and municipalities.”

As adviser to Mayor Stanton, he oversaw sustainability policy development and has seen the power of cities.

“I’ve seen the power of the leadership of the cities and the citizens in order to transform their society, so I have a love for that,” Tetreault says. “I think that cities are one of the greatest opportunities of change that we have available and I really want to help share some of that opportunity with the students.”


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