DU Campus Gets Smart
Event’s focus on efficient, sustainable living could build the next great city
The question came to JB Holston early in the day, at an event to create safe, sustainable and accessible campuses and cities: “If you build it, will they come?”
Students, faculty and major players in the community and tech industry leaned in to hear the answer.
“I don’t think we can build it fast enough,” said Holston, dean of DU’s Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science.
But Holston believes he at least may have found the builders, gathered together in early May at the University’s first Smart Campus Open Innovation Session, held on the fifth floor of the engineering building.
Over the course of two days, stakeholders from the campus and greater Denver communities put their heads together, attempting to speed things along. The hope is to design efficient spaces that use technology and data to improve quality of life for their users.
For years, creating a so-called “smart city” has been a project undertaken by municipalities around the world. Denver has had its own aspirations since at least 2015. But others in the community have seen projects hit snags, as cities struggle to bring all the stakeholders to the table.
Leaders at DU see the institution as a microcosm of a city — a place where research, technology and community converge — and thus the perfect place to develop innovative ideas on a smaller scale. The hope is to discover best practices and provide traction for the smart cities of the future.
“I’m proud of this event because I think it shows the way for addressing the kinds of issues that we talk a lot about,” Holston said. “If we’re going to be OneDU [as called for in the DU IMPACT 2025 strategic plan], if we’re going to be hyper-connected to the community, if we’re going to be this Grand Central Station for community moving forward in the way that we want to, this is a critical way to do it.”
[The innovation session] tells people in the broader community that we do this kind of thing, that we care about these kind of topics, that we're doing research in these areas. It tells the community here there's a different way to approach these things.
Orbiting white boards positioned around the room, groups at the session tackled issues ranging from energy efficiency to campus safety. Other groups honed in on shortages of accessible parking and affordable housing. At every turn, leaders encouraged active participation.
Those in attendance said they valued the chance to work with other players and decision makers.
“What I can take from the summit is the benefit of working in a cooperative setting and working in teams and tackling a problem head-on,” said Holly Hernandez, who is pursuing her master’s degree in real estate and the built environment. “I love that I’m at a university that is thinking about how to make the campus smarter, better for students, better for faculty. It’s very thoughtful, and it’s tremendous to be a part of that.”
The next steps are already taking shape,
Holston says. Partnerships are forming, people are trading business cards, and inspiration is evident. Another event is possible next year.
For now, however, those who attended say they are returning to work with a much clearer picture of the road ahead.
“This is opening up new eyes to tackle really difficult, challenging problems and be successful,” said Jenni Laput, who works at event sponsor Hitachi Vantara. “I see DU as a real mecca around the intelligence around this and the innovation engine to make it happen.”