Mapping success for Rice student interns at city of Houston

RCEL interns show off prototype service-locater app to Mayor Parker

Four Rice undergraduates capped off an eight-week summer internship at Houston’s City Hall with a July 27 presentation about their advanced prototype city-services portal for Houston Mayor Annise Parker ’78 and Rice President David Leebron.

Rice's city of Houston interns

City of Houston interns Claire Schaffer, Jack Reed, Abeer Javed and Joseph Song

“As the fourth-largest U.S. city, Houston offers a wide range of city services,” said intern Abeer Javed, a Lovett College junior majoring in electrical engineering. “Citizens sometimes struggle to locate information about city services online, and our task was to design a user-friendly service-locater map to simplify that experience.”

The internship was designed to allow the undergraduates to both work as a team and apply design methodology to solve one of the city’s most pressing problems. The program was sponsored by the city of Houston, the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL), Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology (K2I) and the Department of Computer Science.

The other City Hall interns were Claire Schaffer, who graduated in May with a degree in French studies; Joseph Song, a Hanszen College senior majoring in mechanical engineering and economics; and Jack Reed, a McMurtry College junior majoring in computer science.

Mayor Annise Parker

Rice President David Leebron and Houston Mayor Annise Parker try out the prototype software.

The students worked with dozens of city offices and officials during the project, and they reported to Mark Cueva, director of education initiatives for the Department of Neighborhoods.

“By the end of the second week of their internship, the students had shown me a prototype and had finished everything that I’d hoped they would accomplish in the entire eight weeks,” Cueva said. “At that point, I had to raise the bar.”

The prototype software uses Google mapping technology to allow citizens to locate parks, hospitals, libraries, after-school programs, fire stations and more. The site also allows users to get detailed driving, walking or public transit directions to any of the mapped service locations. After refining the online tool, the students also developed a prototype app for Android-based smartphones.

QR code for Houston Services app

Scan this code to download the "Houston Services" app to your Android smartphone.

“RCEL’s mission is to inspire engineers to lead, and the internship with the city of Houston is a great example of the kind of leadership opportunities that inspire students to become lifelong leaders,” said Tony Elam, RCEL executive director. “With the support from K2I and the city, we were able to double the number of internships over last year, and we hope to expand the program for even more students next year.

Click here to use the Rice interns’ online tool, and click here to download the Android app.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.