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Authentic partnerships showcase impact across UTO, ASU and beyond


At last week’s UTO Town Hall, five teams joined to present on the authentic partnerships taking place between teams at UTO, ASU and beyond. The theme of authentic partnerships is one of the seven leadership principles that UTO teams use to embrace the organization’s positive core and mission. 

Check out the five partnerships, each presented in under five minutes to over 250 UTO team members, for an update on their progress and results of the collaboration.

1. ASU’s Digital Equity Initiative helps connect the underconnected
Presented by Jim Celmer and James McCabe

ASU’s Digital Equity Initiative is bringing together partners from across the university, as well as local organizations and school districts to connect the under- and unconnected across Arizona. 

UTO’s Jim Celmer and James McCabe explained the strides the initiative has made, which includes extending high-speed, reliable internet access into communities. But access is just the beginning. While full infrastructure that leverages anchor institutions can ensure access to the internet, building digital fluency — the education that allows users to confidently and effectively utilize their internet access — is key.

Partners in achieving digital fluency come in diverse forms. Those anchor institutions include schools, like those in the Alhambra and Isaac school districts; business partners include Cox and Siklu; non-profit collaborators include Sun Corridor Network and Arizona Commerce Authority; and ASU colleagues from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and more. “There’s research that is ongoing on our effort and impact that this has for the community…and it is helping bring this forward,” Celmer said.

2. Meet Sunny, ASU’s Enterprise Chatbot
Presented by Zohair Zaidi

Automation at UTO and ASU is providing convenience and effective service at a faster rate. UTO’s Zohair Zaidi joined the discussion to share Sunny the Chatbot’s place in that process. Sunny is built using the latest in artificial intelligence to help provide answers to key questions asked by the ASU community.

In order to develop partnerships with other ASU groups, UTO has created an easy-to-use content management system allowing knowledge experts to “train” Sunny in their domain. Sunny is available in a number of places, like websites, the ASU Mobile App and texting, and can be messaged at any time while they wait for a human. “One of the main goals of the project was to have a single face for students to interact with,” Zaidi said.

3. Watts College students are Coding for Social Good
Presented by Bailey Borman

As mentioned, UTO family members weren’t the only ones to bring their perspectives to the Town Hall. Watts College faculty member Bailey Borman presented on the Coding for Social Good, a course created in collaboration with UTO. During the course, nearly 40 students across seven teams came together to ideate the development of an app that can serve a particular community need: in this case, the aid of people experiencing homelessness.

Two promising entrepreneurial ventures emerged from the course, and Borman explained the process to get to that exciting phase was built through a guided process that yielded creative results. Apple's Swift Playgrounds served as the tool for students, who mostly had little-to-no coding experience, to get an understanding of the technological capabilities that could be paired with their concepts. “This system, called social buildability, combined social entrepreneurship...with app design to develop technology that addresses social good,” Borman said.

4. Cox Collaboratory tests video analytics to improve bike parking at ASU
Presented by Rachel Hayden

ASU’s partnership with Cox led to the creation of the Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory at ASU in 2019. Today, they are bringing next-gen network capability to a wide array of projects that will make the campus, city and region smarter. Rachel Hayden, a Collaboratory intern and ASU senior, shared her experience in conducting research to develop technological solutions and project roadmaps.

One such solution was intended to answer a problem surrounding bicycle usage on ASU campus: which has about 20,000 bicycle racks, but no way to track their usage. The Collaboratory’s concept to meet this problem was to develop a video analytics solution to count and detect bikes. The “training” of artificial intelligence to classify images and detect objects led to extensive data collection and refinement of precision. 

At this point, the model is 90% accurate, and that number can increase to optimize placement of bicycle racks around campus and provide students insights into where spots are available. “This also helps reach sustainability goals, giving students the opportunity and motivation to ride bikes more often on campus,” Hayden said.

5. Learning Futures partnerships create immersive learning experiences
Presented by Lorenzo Vallone, Olivia Hernandez and Thy Do

Immersive and innovative learning experiences are the future of education. ASU’s Learning Futures Collaboratory is dedicated to exploring and developing those experiences. The Collaboratory’s Lorenzo Vallone, alongside ASU students Olivia Hernandez and Thy Do shared the skills, learning platforms and learning environments of the future.

One such example was Project Uplink, an immersive experience that helps engineers develop an entrepreneurial mindset, made in partnership with the KERN Family Foundation and Fulton Schools of Engineering. Another was a collaboration with Starbucks: Project Gaia leverages the Microsoft Hololens to visualize data at global, regional and store level views, with educational applications of the technology promising great potential. 

These partnerships were cemented by the hard work of students developing their own skills; as Vallone put it, “they develop not just skills of the future, but also understand the entire ecosystem of where technology is going.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

The overall impact of UTO’s authentic partnerships was demonstrated by these five presentations, which represented the intensive work of a number of diverse groups and people. These examples are just a handful of the exciting projects that UTO is working on with ASU, community and business partners from across Arizona, the country and the globe.

Thanks to all those who participated in the September 2021 UTO Town Hall!

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