Smart city internship students working together

Smart city internship program creates next generation urban innovators

Posted on Posted in Smart City


We are passionate about smart cities. Our company, Strategy of Things, helps cities and communities apply innovation and advanced technologies to become more responsive, resilient, and smarter. This summer, we launched a Smart City Internship Program to introduce seven local high school students with an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers to urban innovation and smart cities. Students such as these, are not only residents and beneficiaries of smart cities, but may be future architects, planners, builders, operators, and leaders.

With this in mind, the Strategy of Things Smart City Internship Program was designed with three goals:

  • Generate excitement and interest in urban innovation in students with an interest in STEM careers
  • Reinforce student interest in and preparation for careers in STEM
  • Develop a local pipeline of future smart city talent for our communities

We launched our Smart City Internship Program in partnership with PilotCity, a San Leandro (California) based innovation incubator that brings local high school and university students and employers together, to work on real world pilot projects. PilotCity provided a proven innovation program structure, student recruitment and opportunity matching, and innovation skills development, while we provided the specific project, project onboarding and oversight, and the smart cities training and mentoring.

PilotCity is on a mission to build an engine for innovation for cities with the locals from those communities. Throughout our partnership, it has been a positive confluence of forces with Strategy of Things and a rewarding experience for the students. Together we work to enable our youngest citizens and members of our communities to build the future of our cities through the convergence of tech and social impact.

Derick Lee, CEO of PilotCity

The Project

City websites typically provide information, access to services and government transparency to residents, businesses and visitors. Unfortunately, many of today’s smart city portals also offer a poor experience for its users. This is often due to outdated or irrelevant content, non-intuitive interactions, or complicated navigations. To add to these challenges, city residents and portal users are composed of different races, ages, sociodemographic statuses, education and literacy levels, native language proficiencies, disability statuses, tech savviness and so forth. Many of today’s smart city and digital services do not take into account these factors, leading to user frustration, underutilization, and unintended outcomes. Successful and relevant smart cities are inclusive, accessible, and provide services that are usable by all of it citizens.

We challenged our interns to design, build, and test a smart city website portal with a focus on strong user relevance, experience, and usability.

The task was to not only create a concept of a smart city portal, but design and code it over the course of the summer. To make their portals usable and relevant, our interns developed “user personas” to identify the requirements and needs that are associated with each type of user. To ensure that the portal is accessible and usable to the majority of its users, they designed for the “lowest common denominator”. While throwing out complex graphs and data points might appeal to some, it does not attract the masses. Our interns quickly learned that making the complex look simple is no easy task.

Our interns also met with a local former city council member to understand how public service is currently driving innovation. They learned about the need to create intrinsic and extrinsic incentives from interacting with the portal. These rewards could be redeemed in the local community while supporting economic development.


Mission Accomplished

At the end of the summer, the interns presented their prototype smart city portals. We were impressed with their fresh perspectives and thinking, their human-centered designs focusing on desired outcomes and user experiences, and alignment with our core values of improving living standards, transforming societies, and making a difference.


We chose Strategy of Things because we were interested in making a difference in our community and learning a ton of new things about making software!  My team and I built Communify, a website where we create a more constructive and innovative community by utilizing the proposals of citizens.  So far, Ive learned so much about user experience and design!  The team at Strategy of Things really puts emphasis on user experience and making sure that their products are usable by everyone in the community.  I have had so much fun building my project over the summer and working with Strategy of Things to make it happen!

Holland Pleskac, Mountain House High School

In my group, we’re creating a web app for smart cities that encourages discussion and citizen engagement on a social media-like platform. It’s so cool seeing how to create the app from a coding standpoint, but also its design and how to adjust the user experience based on users’ and cities’ needs, like incentive systems and accessibility. The best part of the internship has definitely been being able to meet and work with some awesome people and having the opportunity to collaborate together! I’ve learned a ton – not just in technical, programming skills, but also in working with others and building synergy and trust.

Samuel T., a junior at Elk Grove High School.

Our interns grew personally and professionally during the summer. They challenged themselves and gained confidence in their abilities. They earned real-life work experience, developed coding skills, and grew their personal network. The dedication and skill it took to meet the challenge demonstrated how driven these aspiring innovators were to use their talents and develop new ones along the way.

I have had an interest in coding since I was in elementary school and because of Strategy of Things innovative way of advancing society, I was interested in taking up the challenge. Even though I had absolutely no proper” knowledge in coding, I wanted to gain knowledge and experience. This internship has been amazing as I was able to gain very useful knowledge about coding while also making some friends.

Emily Nguyen, a rising junior at Arroyo High School

The skills learned through this internship will directly transfer over to the working world. Interns had to respond quickly to tight deadlines, create project proposals, clock in/out, collaborate with new teams, communicate using tools like Slack, and attend weekly check-in meetings to provide status updates on their project’s progress. Sound familiar?

This experience allowed me to understand that the real world isn’t as simple as what schools teach us to be. There are many complexities, challenges, and stakeholders that must be considered and overcome on any given project. The Strategy of Things team was very supportive & provided quality guidance through every part of the internship, and was huge stepping stone in my professional development.

Vishnu Nair, Mission San Jose High School student

Congratulations to our 2021 interns – Ayan, Emily, Holland, Pranav, Samuel, Shabd, and Vishnu, for completing the Strategy of Things Smart City Internship! We applaud our interns’ desire to use their coding skills to help better their communities. Their drive to help improve society are to be celebrated and utilized to continue driving positive change for us all. We are very proud of the work our interns and the PilotCity team has done and hope that others will be inspired to consider a future in civic innovation and technology.


Smart City Internship 2022

We are hard at work taking the learnings and best practices from the 2021 Smart City Internship Program to plan the 2022 program. Our upcoming program will be open to motivated high school and university students. For more information, or to express interest in the program, please contact us.

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