CWRU's Public Interest Technology Fellowship

January 23, 2024

Helio Dong, a student at Case Western Reserve University, recently completed his Public Interest Technology (PIT) Fellowship at Cleveland Water Alliance. During his time, we witnessed the transformation of a Computer Science student into a user-focused technologist. Helio's internship experience, involving hands-on work with the Smart Lake Erie Watershed Initiative and the Lake Erie Volunteer Science Network, emphasized the pivotal role of user experience in technology development and the significant impact of citizen science in environmental monitoring.

During his time with us, Helio, played a helpful role in addressing the challenges of real-time water quality monitoring at a community scale. His work supported the exploration and implementation of low-cost, next-generation water quality sensors, IoT devices, and networks. These efforts not only contributed to the development of an extensive telemetry infrastructure across the Ohio Lake Erie basin but also led to the generation of abundant data. This data is vital for visualizing and creating tools that deliver high value to communities, including greater Cleveland.

His contributions were helpful in enhancing relationships with our partners by assessing user-needs and supporting community health through data-driven solutions and influencing environmental management actions and policies.

Here's a look at the conclusions he drew throughout his time with us.

CWA/CWRU PIT Fellowship Conclusions

by Helio Dong

How do IoT technologies bring us closer to the Great Lakes? How can citizen science makes an impact on our Watershed? — These are two questions I had when I started my internship at Cleveland Water Alliance.

During the summer of 2023, I spent 10 weeks at Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA), under Case Western Reserve University’s Public Interest Technology (PIT) Fellowship. Throughout the time I’m at CWA, I stepped into a great adventure, immersed myself in nature, and took a deep dive into public interest technology.

As a Computer Science student, my world was full of 0101, code, and sleepless nights. My internship Cleveland Water Alliance transformed my perspective from a technology developer to a user. I remember the day I spent 8 hours on a boat on Lake Erie, feeling a little seasick. My coworkers from CWA and LimnoTech were diligently calibrating sensors on the lake. At that moment, I realized how much more difficult it is to calibrate a sensor on a lake than on land. If the calibration process can be made a little easier, it will save a lot of time for people who work in the field (and perhaps for people like me, less seasick). Make it easier — that’s the answer to modern day technologies.

And making it easier is what CWA’s Smart Lake Erie Watershed Initiative does really well. With hundreds of sensors deployed across open water, beachfront, and river locations, as well as inland ponds, creeks, and streams, the data is accessible to all.

During my internship, I spent time interviewing CWA Partners including utility operators, researchers, and natural resource managers to get to know what they need for water monitoring. An answer I often get is — “as much data as possible”, and “easier access”.

The Smart Lake Erie Watershed Initiative provides that, by giving all of us access to a unified data platform, and a dashboard to visualize data. At the heart of technology are people. Focusing on user experience greatly simplifies advanced technologies, so technologies can be beneficial to more people, and that’s how future technologies need to be — Public Interest Technology.

I also contributed to CWA’s Lake Erie Volunteer Science Network (LEVSN) by volunteering with Cleveland Metroparks’ Watershed Volunteer Program (WVP). The standard that LEVSN established makes it easy for citizen scientists to contribute to water monitoring.

Being able to spend my time in nature is such a gift that Cleveland offered me. I am planning to continue volunteering for WVP long term. The ability to give back to nature, and be aware of the environmental issues around where I live are truly awesome experiences that I can’t have enough of.

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