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ASU alum helps bridge community, government through technology

Dominic Papa

Dominic Papa has taken his passion for digital innovation to help spearhead the Phoenix chapter of the Smart City App Hack Challenge.
Photo by: Christopher Hernandez

July 27, 2015

The greater Phoenix-metro area and its government will soon become a lot more technologically advanced, and Arizona State University alumnus Dominic Papa is helping to usher in this tech transformation.

Papa, who currently serves as council aide for City of Phoenix District 3 Councilman Bill Gates, recently earned his master’s in public administration from the School of Public Affairs, part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

His expertise and passion for digital innovation helped spearhead the Phoenix chapter of the “Smart City App Hack Challenge.” In this challenge, aspiring app creators are asked to develop or brainstorm an app that incorporates solutions to five common issues that all major cities share: urban mobility, energy and emission, shopping and retail, culture and tourism, and the collaborative city.

“It is ultimately the residents that are going to drive Phoenix into becoming the next smart city,” Papa said. “We want to leverage our city as a platform for bringing people together and help foster in this urban innovation.”

Papa’s dedication to the project and its community engagement are what excited Councilman Bill Gates and motivated him to help bring this project to the public.

“Our diverse and multitalented residents are the most important and valuable asset the city of Phoenix has,” Gates stated. “Thus, programs such as the ‘Phoenix Smart City App Hack’ are essential to making sure those residents are having their voices heard and are given multiple platforms to take an active role in shaping the future direction of their home city.”

Learning skills by doing

Papa credits the Marvin Andrews Fellowship program in helping in develop the skills and self-assurance to cultivate this idea as well as presenting it to the councilman.

While in the program’s first year, Papa served as an intern for ASU’s Center for Urban Innovation and was involved with the Alliance for Innovation, giving him opportunities to sit in on a network with leading city managers from all around the nation. In his second year Papa got to work day-to-day with the City of Casa Grande to learn how the inner workings of a city function daily.

The Marvin Andrews program is a fully funded selective fellowship that combines a master’s in public administration with a management internship.

“It allowed me to see all the different kinds of problems and issues cities from all over the nation were facing, and to try to find what the main theme was,” Papa reflected. “ASU and the Marvin Andrews program did a great job in fostering that confidence in us. I would have to credit almost all of where I am today because of it.”

He says that the experience also showed him that innovations and solutions for cities should not just be limited solely to one town’s limits which is why the “Phoenix chapter” of the Smart City App Hack is not just limited to those residents.

“It’s bigger than just one city/ Any solution we develop here in Phoenix has to be able to work in Scottsdale, Mesa, and all across the valley,” Papa noted. “Transportation and technology are beginning to obliterate boundaries.”

“Dom has a knack for entrepreneurship and wants to develop innovative solutions for local governments,” said Kevin Desouza, a professor in the School of Public Affairs who teaches a public entrepreneurship class that Papa took. “I enjoyed exchanging ideas with Dom on designing smarter cities and public entrepreneurship, especially when it comes to creating international collaborative platforms like the App Hack.”

Engaging the community in solutions

As the deadline for the Smart City App Hack approaches, both Papa and Councilman Gates agree that the biggest takeaway from this movement is that of collaboration, and that residents across the Valley can come together for the betterment of their own, as well as neighboring communities.

Applications for the contest run through Aug. 1 and can be submitted online, with enticing incentives, even for those who do not walk away with the grand prize.

Five finalists will be selected from the group of initial applicants; these finalists will then receive mentoring through a series of workshops produced by local companies as well as app development professionals to further develop their app into a fully functional device for market adaptation and development. After this, comes the city finale in which the five finalist (and others who wish to submit fully completed apps) will pitch their apps to a panel of judges. Three city winners will be selected for a cash prize as well as entry into the international contest with the grand prize winner receiving an all-expense paid trip to Barcelona, Spain to represent Phoenix at the international grand finale at the 2015 Smart City Expo.

“To have local residents and graduates apply their efforts to improving the lives of their peers that helped get them to where they are now is nothing short of inspiring,” Councilman Gates said. “It speaks volumes to the character and heart that the City of Phoenix’s residents have.”

Written by Christopher Hernandez

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