WASHINGTON D.C., – April 24, 2010 – After a tension-filled morning of high stakes presentations and media interviews, students competing in the U.S. Imagine Cup Finals took Saturday afternoon off to hit Washington, D.C, Microsoft-style.
“Alright, the Bill Gates gang,” a trolley driver quipped after finding out the folks on his afternoon tour of the nation’s capital were on a Microsoft-sponsored trip. One student taking in the sights, University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s Mohammed Akheel, was enjoying the downtime after presenting his project to judges in the software design competition.
“The whole idea of the Imagine Cup is to use technology to make the world a better place,” said Mohammed Akheel, from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as he is interviewed on a trolley tour of Washington D.C. “I can’t do everything, but I can help people doing what I do best. For me, that’s the greatest thing.”
“For me, this is the Olympics,” says Akheel, who is competing as a member of team MedRx, which took advantage of cloud-based computing offered by Microsoft Azure. “You have to perform, and it’s intense. I love it, but I wanted to take this tour and relax after a high-energy day.”
The U.S. version of the Imagine Cup officially kicked into gear Saturday. Starting at 8 a.m., each of the 20 student teams presented their project to a panel of judges. Culled from the ranks of educators and technical leaders, the judges will select one grand prize winner in both the software design and games categories to represent the United States at the World Finals in Poland in July. The winners will be announced Monday.
In the afternoon, the students traded in their professional garb and went out to explore various sites around town. Students split up into three groups – one went to the Spy Museum, and two took tours of D.C.- one by trolley, and another by Segway.
Well, most of the students made it out. Kun Wang said two of his teammates on Wayne State University’s LifeCode team were catching up on sleep. “This competition taught us the importance of presenting our ideas,” Wang says. “We were up pretty late polishing.”
Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of Worldwide Education, said he expected nothing less from some of the brightest students in the country. “What’s exciting for me is that no matter how much I expect of the students, I’m always surprised at how professional and thoughtful they are,” he says. “I love this event and always get inspired by them.”
The goal of the Imagine Cup is to inspire students by the power of technology, said Alfred Thompson, K-12 academic developer evangelist for Microsoft. “When students are aware of the difference they can make with technology, they’re all over it,” he says.
Thompson, who used to teach high before joining Microsoft, works with educators to bring technology into classrooms so students can be inspired by what they can do.
The projects that come out of the Imagine Cup are prime examples of what students can do when they get help from people like Thompson. “The students at the Imagine Cup are the cream of the crop,” he says. “We hold them up as inspiration for the kind of impact that technology can make.”
Wayne State University’s Kun Wang from team LifeCode tours Washington, D.C., after a long night of cramming for their U.S. Imagine Cup presentation. “We were up pretty late polishing,” said Wang, shown here at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
Out on the road, students saw some inspiration in stone. Passing the Lincoln Memorial, the trolley driver recited part of the Gettysburg Address, saying: “Abraham Lincoln – great man, great speechwriter.”
Akheel said he was motivated by the Imagine Cup’s call to use technology to make a difference in the lives of people in their local communities and around the world. He’s looking forward to showing off his team’s project on Monday, when hundreds of business, technical, and education leaders check out the students’ work at the Newseum, a D.C.-based museum of news and journalism.
“The whole experience has been amazing,” he says. “The whole idea of the Imagine Cup is to use technology to make the world a better place. I can’t do everything, but I I can help people doing what I do best. For me, that’s the greatest thing.”