UCCS students and alumni working as innovation consultants for Colorado Springs businesses are busy building a bright future for their city – and themselves.
This spring, six current students and two recent graduates are participating in the Quad Innovation Partnership’s semester-length program. Together with students from Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and the U.S. Air Force Academy, they’re spending the semester designing solutions for Colorado Springs’ challenges and pitching strategies to bring the city into the future.
And though the teams are navigating the realities of virtual work like many professionals due to the spread of COVID-19, they aren’t stopping until the work is done.
Among their tasks are turning Colorado Springs into a ‘smart’ city, engaging young people in planning for electric energy production, creating affordable housing downtown and designing suicide prevention programs for the city’s schools.
Tyler Alcon, a junior economics major, is working on the Quad’s smart city initiatives program, where he is helping to create a framework for the city’s growth.
Using Carnegie Mellon’s Metro21 Smart Cities Institute in Pittsburgh as a model, his six-person team is taking on the role of a consulting firm to dream up how the city of Colorado Springs could build a pipeline of business, higher education, start-up and municipal partners to make 11 recommended ‘smart city’ initiatives a reality.
“Being a smart city is about creating long-term economic growth through smart technologies and sustainability,” Alcon said.
“For example, there are a lot of tech companies moving to Colorado Springs because we have a huge defense industry. So one of our smart city initiatives is making Colorado Springs a hub for cybersecurity, and trying to attract new talent and new start-ups and tech companies. It’s ultimately trying to make Colorado Springs a smart, sustainable, more attractive city for new businesses.”
He continued, “In the next five years or so, Colorado Springs will have a tremendous amount of new, progressive technologies that you see in other cities. It’s going to be a new, more progressive Colorado Springs. This city is growing at a tremendous rate, and it’s very exciting to be a part of it.”
Though the smart city initiatives project has recommended 11 key initiatives to the city of Colorado Springs, Alcon’s team has narrowed their focus this semester to two: cybersecurity and defense. By the end of the semester, they plan to present their market research to representatives and partners of the city, along with a list of recommended partners for the two initiatives and a plan for implementation.
Quad projects don’t just bring the fresh ideas and energy of students to city-wide challenges. They also help students and recent graduates jumpstart their professional growth.
Megan Wendling ’19 graduated from UCCS with a degree in psychology and is now working on the Quad’s suicide prevention project. Her team has partnered with Children’s Hospital to research the most effective suicide prevention programs they could implement in Colorado Springs’ schools.
“The work I have been involved with at the Quad is some of the most meaningful work I have ever done,” Wendling said. “And it fits in with my career path, because I’m specifically interested in making an impact in mental health at a community level. I believe we can stimulate real change when a diverse group of people comes together for something they’re equally passionate about, which is what the Quad is all about.”
According to Steven Brown, a junior economics major, the experience of working on a business consulting project translates directly to his professional development.
“This is giving me work experience in a creative, project-based setting that encourages critical thinking and allows me to apply some economic tools,” he said. “Specifically, through my team’s work to help build a mentorship program for female staff members at Colorado College, I’ll analyze the data acquired through surveys and make meaningful correlations by running regression models. This is really beneficial as I build experience for a career path in economics.”
Between building their resumes and creating innovative solutions for their city, the Quad projects UCCS students are engaged in are good for both them and Colorado Springs.
“We have a voice in the direction our city is headed,” Alcon said, “and I’m honored to be a part of it. We’re establishing the future framework for this city. I feel like we’re on a rocket ship here in Colorado Springs, and the sky is the limit.”