Cleveland, Tenn., has now been selected as the first partner city to participate in the pilot term of UT's new Smart Communities Initiative interdisciplinary program, which begins next fall.

Through SCI, UT upperclassmen, graduate students and faculty will partner with Cleveland for one year to work collaboratively toward community development and positive change.

Modeled on the University of Oregon's "Sustainable City Year Program," each host city identifies several projects specific to their unique communal needs. These proposed projects are then matched to classrooms of students studying a relevant field. Once paired with a compatible project, the class then collaboratively channels their academic work toward the project.

Cleveland's application to become an SCI partner city was evaluated based on several metrics, including the compatibility of the city's proposed projects with the vision of the initiative.

"There are sort of three pillars to that vision: environmental sustainability, economic viability and social integrity," said Kelly Ellenburg, campus coordinator for service learning and manager of the Smart Communities Initiative.

A total of 19 projects have been put forth by the city officials of Cleveland, including actions like a survey of housing conditions in low-income areas of the city, planning for sidewalk and roadway upgrades in various parts of the community, creation of a digital collection system for citizen input and designing a community park.

Tricia Stuth, associate professor in the School of Architecture, is a member of the SCI's planning team for its first semester and is currently in the process of finding connections between Cleveland's needs and academic courses at UT.

"They've put together proposed projects that we're now trying to match up with professors' courses," Stuth said, "and how they could use those projects as vehicles for exploring the course work with their students."

Regarding her own discipline's involvement, Stuth said architecture courses would focus on serving Cleveland's cultural and economic needs through the "built environment."

"Their projected growth is pretty incredible over the next 40 years," Stuth said, "and our goal would be to help find ways for them to grow within their existing city boundaries, understanding how that affects transportation, environmental resources and fosters a stronger sense of community."

In addition to architecture, potential academic partners are found in the departments of engineering, sociology, political science, earth and planetary science, geology and graphic design.

Ellenburg said Cleveland has readily embraced the partnership, citing the energy and enthusiasm of Cleveland city officials.

"I think they're going to be a great partner," she said. "They're going to have a lot to bring to this program, and it seems to be very much in line with their vision of what they want the city to achieve in the long-term."

Although the SCI participant courses are still being deliberated, Stuth said she hopes students will eagerly engage the opportunity.

"We just had a recent accreditation visit ... and it was pretty clear when they left that we're doing this kind of applied learning in the community with 10 percent, or so, of our students," she said, "but about 90 percent of them would like to be learning this way."

The partnership is projected to last through the summer term of 2015, allowing multiple crops of students to offer fresh ideas for Cleveland's development.

"It's a focused experience," Ellenburg said. "It's intended to have a big impact and ideally be something that's really transformative for the city."

For more information on the SCI, click here.