CTG UAlbany Students Using AI to Help City of Schenectady Track Government Resources

A group of six people stand in a line inside Schenectady City Hall smiling, including Mayor Gary McCarthy.
CTG's Emir Sahin, Kelvin Cai, Michelle Leon Vasquez, Derek Werthmuller and Brian Burke meet with Schenectay Mayor Gary R. McCarthy (center) to aid the city in deploying AI to improve services. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 29, 2024) —UAlbany students Michelle Leon Vasquez, Tyler Jardine and Kelvin Cai are getting a first-hand look at how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to improve the lives of individuals. They are working side-by-side with the University’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany) to assist the city of Schenectady in monitoring the use of city assets.

CTG UAlbany’s system, the Community Asset Tracker, uses a mobile Internet of Things (IoT) sensor network on government vehicles and AI to provide near real-time identification and notification of safety or other significant issues with government-owned infrastructure and properties around the community. For Schenectady, that means helping identify sidewalks that need snow clearing or alerting the code-enforcement department when vacant buildings have been damaged by vandalism or storms, so they can take care of repairs.

“Government employees have many responsibilities, whether it’s highways, economic development or public works,” said CTG UAlbany Director of Technology Innovation and Services Derek Werthmuller. “The Community Asset Tracker can help with these daily challenges by providing a method to collect and share data without having to send groups from different departments out for interrelated issues.”

The asset tracker is an automated solution to an otherwise labor-intensive problem. Instead of having multiple staff assess and document conditions around the city, the asset tracker can collect the data and share it across departments.

“Given the resource limitations and the constraints that small and mid-sized governments face in collecting the necessary data, having access to resources such as the Community Asset Tracker provides the city workforce with the analytical tools needed to increase the quality of their decision making,” said CTG UAlbany Director and Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy Professor J. Ramon Gil-Garcia.

For Leon Vasquez, Jardine and Cai, that means applying their educational backgrounds to gain real-world, problem-solving experiences. The students help to create and test innovative technologies utilized in developing and improving the Community Asset Tracker.

“My experience at CTG UAlbany has been wonderful, especially working on the asset tracker project. It has opened new opportunities like meeting with Schenectady Mayor McCarthy, and it opened my eyes to the world of AI and what it can contribute to our community in a positive light,” said Leon Vasquez, a senior mathematics major. “Derek and Brian (Burke, CTG managing director) are both extremely knowledgeable and supportive supervisors. It truly is a pleasure to work with them and also the CTG team. We're a small group but always motivated and working hard.”

Leon Vasquez, who hails from Brooklyn, also credits her parents with ensuring that she would earn a college degree, something she is preparing to do this May.

“I was raised in a traditional Hispanic household, and like many other first-generation students my parents pushed for higher education whether or not I wanted to go to college it wasn't an option, I had to go,” said Leon Vasquez. “When I told my parents I would be studying upstate they were extremely happy about the opportunity but also nervous as I am the baby of the family. Being away from my family, especially during a global pandemic, was tough.”

Still, she is grateful for the experience.

“My work experience at CTG has been positive, such as improving technical skills and a collaborative mindset that will contribute to my personal and professional goals as I transition back to New York City for future job opportunities,” said Leon Vasquez. “Being the only girl on the team has made me stand out and gain confidence in what I'm able to accomplish.”

As an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student, Leon Vasquez also credits the staff and fellow students of the program for helping her achieve her academic goals.

“From making long-lasting friendships with staff such as Professor Logan Martin and counselors, Keith [Nuñez] and Patrick [Romain], EOP has helped guide me not only in my professionalism and academics but also as an individual and I couldn't thank them enough for their support throughout my years here,” said Leon Vasquez.

UAlbany mathematics student Michelle Leon Vasquez listens while meeting with Schenectady Mayor Gary R. McCarthy and CTG UAlbany at Schenectady City Hall.
Senior Michelle Leon Vasquez credits UAlbany's Educational Opporunity Program with providing her with the confidence to pursue her degree in mathematics while learning about AI through research with the Center for Technology in Government. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

For Cai, a first-year student from Brooklyn, the opportunity to work for CTG UAlbany was one not to be missed.

“My experience at CTG has been great,” said Cai, who, like Leon Vasquez, entered UAlbany through EOP. “The job is very exciting and flexible around my schedule. Derek, Brian and the entire team have also been very professional in helping me achieve my goals for a career in technology.”

Cai is studying computer science with the goal of pursuing a master’s degree once his undergraduate studies are complete.

Jardine, a junior from Brooklyn, is studying business administration at the Massry School of Business.

“The students’ role in helping train the AI models is a great example of AI Plus’s approach of integrating teaching and learning about AI across UAlbany’s academic and research programs to ensure every graduate is prepared to live and work in a world radically changed by technology in the coming decades,” said UAlbany Vice President for Research and Economic Development Thenkurussi (Kesh) Kesavadas.

The SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund (TAF) provided resources to get the Community Asset Tracker project off the ground. The goal is to come away with a better understanding of how this AI-based technology could optimize the use of government resources. This will allow CTG UAlbany to further develop the technology and additional use cases, and eventually commercialize the technology through licensing to a startup or existing company.

The Community Asset Tracker is one of several projects partnering CTG with Schenectady.

“Through these projects, we’re looking for opportunities to better serve the residents of the City of Schenectady,” said Mayor McCarthy. “It also provides us with a chance to utilize the resources and talent that exists within the University at Albany, especially students such as Michelle, Kelvin and Tyler, as well as excellent staff of the Center for Technology in Government.”