On July 23, the Class of 2020 presented their capstone projects during CUSP’s Capstone Presentation Day, an event celebrating the culmination of their six-month capstone projects and their final work during their studies at CUSP.

CUSP’s Capstone program brings together student teams with government agencies, industry, or other research partners to address real-world urban challenges through data. Our teams work with a project sponsor to define the problem, collect and analyze data, visualize the results, and, finally, formulate and deliver a possible solution. The teams are then challenged to utilize urban informatics within the context of city operations and planning, while considering political, social, and economic realities and data management and ethics. The goal of each project is to create impactful, replicable, and actionable results that inform data-driven urban operations and a new understanding of city dynamics.

CUSP’s Capstone Presentation Day featured 14 unique projects, exploring urban issues from mapping economic change in NYC’s telecom industry to understanding the real-time prediction of city planning proposals’ environmental impact. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic halfway through the capstone program, many of the teams needed to creatively pivot their projects to reflect the new challenges posed by the pandemic.

With sponsors ranging from New York City agencies and nonprofits to international universities, this year’s projects included:

  • “The CIV-LAB COVID Team,” by Earl Lin, Jerome Louison, Yushu Rao and Xinran Zhao, leveraged real-time urban data to help NYC government and community organizations identify community-level response to COVID-19 within the disproportionately affected low-income neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn.

We also spoke to several of this year’s capstone teams to understand more about their research, and how their projects could help improve urban life, both in New York City and other cities around the world:

To learn more about all of our 2020 Capstone Projects, please visit our Capstone Website: https://cusp.nyu.edu/2020-capstones/

Recognizing the Class of 2020

Following our Capstone Presentation Day, CUSP’s community gathered together to celebrate the Class of 2020 in a special recognition ceremony. The event was hosted by Victoria Alsina, Academic Director at CUSP, and included remarks by Juan Pablo Bello, Director of CUSP and Angelia Lau, recipient of the 2020 Academic Achievement Award, as well as a keynote address by Cordell Schachter, Chief Technology Officer of New York City Department of Transportation.

In his remarks, Professor Bello explored how the pandemic has brought into sharp relief the need for the skills developed in the CUSP Master’s program, including:

Headshot of Juan Pablo Bello
Juan Pablo Bello, Director of CUSP

“how the ability to collect, clean, analyze, interpret and act upon data makes us more responsive and resilient to the challenges that we are facing today, and the many that we are likely to encounter along the way;

Second, the outsize importance of good governance, of coordinated and evidence-driven action amongst all levels of the public sector to ensure the health and wellbeing of entire populations, especially the most vulnerable amongst us;

and third, the growing centrality of cities, as hubs of innovation and economic opportunity in the best of times, but also as the frontline of many of our most pressing societal challenges, as the last few months in cities such as Wuhan, Milan, Sao Paulo, LA and of course New York City have so painfully reminded us.”

Throughout the keynote address, Cordell Schachter, CTO of the NYC Department of Transportation and Adjunct Associate Professor at CUSP, emphasized that CUSP’s graduates share a responsibility to apply what they learned at CUSP to help solve current and future challenges, particularly by applying “data science and informatics to improve the social good by working to craft unbiased solutions” in today’s cities:

Saving lives now and surviving the coronavirus long-term requires science and the expertise of people like you. We now need to know how to operate public transportation safely, how to work safely, and how to engage in recreation and other life activities safely; these are all things we very recently took for granted. Now we need science to help us do them safely.

We’ve seen that the NYC Black community is among those that has suffered the most from the coronavirus. The Black community needs to be treated fairly by systems that have in the past perpetuated conscious and unconscious biases related to healthcare, housing, hiring, food, recreation, criminal justice, transportation, and many more. At some point many people may get opportunities to improve existing systems and develop new systems. We’ll achieve our goals of greater equity and justice when everyone takes action to eliminate racial bias in these systems.

Does it seem like these aspirations for you are overly ambitious? Our challenges are great and we need future leaders like you to get involved and to rise to this occasion.”

Headshot of Cordell Schachter
Cordell Schachter, CTO of the NYC DOT & Adjunct Associate Professor at CUSP

The event concluded with remarks by MS Candidate Angelia Lau, recipient of this year’s Academic Achievement award. Angelia came to CUSP after completing her Bachelors of Engineering in IT, Magna Cum Laude, from the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Throughout her time at CUSP, she was consistently a top student and was part of a capstone team focused on the Economic Impacts of New York City’s Investment in Water Supply.

Angelia gave an overview of the opportunities for collaboration over the year-long MS program, with the ability to work with “architects, business analysts, economists, engineers, GIS experts, mathematicians, urban planners and more. Being able to exchange ideas in multidisciplinary teams is undoubtedly one of CUSP’s strengths. It is also a necessary condition, for us to be able to understand the complex workings of a city and devise effective ways to measure, predict and combat urban challenges.”

Angelia also noted the significant challenges faced by her class during the pandemic:

Headshot of Angelia Lau Kah Mun
Angelia Lau, MS 2020 Academic Achievement Award Winner

“It is no small feat to remain committed and to deliver stellar work while simultaneously managing in our lives drastic change and unanticipated circumstances. Some of us have had to leave the big apple for the foreseeable future, some moving across state lines while others across national boundaries. Some may have had to cope with enormous anxiety and loneliness, others with illness and certainly for all of us, new work-life and mobility arrangements.

However, the past few months have shown us that firstly, we are incredibly resilient and strong-hearted, and secondly, that there is much much more for us urban data scientists to do. Urban science and informatics is more relevant now than ever. Just like how we made headway in sensing and containing the spread of coronavirus across dense and highly networked urban environments, how we identified and reached out to at risk and vulnerable communities, how we utilized data to inform and optimize initiatives subject to time and resource constraints, how we crowdsourced innovations to equipment supply problems - we can use the same data analytics, collaboration, citizen engagement and empathy for other crucial matters, like the ones Mr Schachter mentioned, climate change and ensuring adequate and equitable access to resources. I believe that all of us from CUSP can do it. I look forward to hearing your stories in the future.”

Thank you to all of our Capstone Sponsors, Mentors, and Speakers during this special event.

And a huge congratulations to the CUSP Class of 2020! We are excited to invite you to our community of CUSP alumni, and look forward to the work you will do to help cities around the world become more productive, livable, equitable, and resilient.

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