Filmmaker James Cameron to Speak to U.S. Imagine Cup Finalists

WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 25, 2010 – Students at the U.S. Imagine Cup Finals discovered Sunday that moviemaker James Cameron, famous for “Avatar,” “Titanic” and other blockbuster films, will visit them Monday as they find out which teams are named winners of the U.S. round of the worldwide technology competition.

Also on Monday, four finalists in the software design category of the competition will vie to see who will represent the United States at the Imagine Cup World Finals in Poland this summer.

On Sunday afternoon the eight teams advancing to Monday’s final round in the U.S. celebrated in Microsoft’s Washington, D.C., offices with hugs and high-fives. The first team to be announced – appropriately named To Be Announced – was also the most exuberant. Nick Colley jumped up in celebration as soon as his team’s name was called. “We’re ecstatic,” Colley said afterwards. “It was a tough competition. We knew we were going against tough competitors.”

To Be Announced team members said they’ve got lots of work to do to get ready for Monday’s final presentation. The team will showcase their video game, named Sixth, which addresses the issue of poverty in third-world countries. “We’ll rebuild the entire presentation,” said Jonathan Mead. “We’ll make everything look prettier and run prettier.”

All the finalist teams are planning to spend a long night polishing their projects for one last presentation to a panel of tough judges, including David Sanger of The New York Times.

The finalists were announced in a packed room at Microsoft’s Washington, D.C., offices Sunday afternoon. Shortly beforehand the students found out the guest speakers at Monday’s ceremony will be film director Cameron, U.S. Department of Education’s Karen Cator, Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie, and Microsoft Vice President of Worldwide Education Anthony Salcito. The final competition and speeches will be held at the Newseum, a museum of journalism that is expected to be packed with 500 people watching as the students showcase their projects.

Joining To Be Announced as finalists in the game design category were Yale University’s Coffee Powered Altruism and two teams from the University of Houston: Ifrit Salsa and LeveL13. “We’re a little surprised,” said Yale student Christopher Rierder. “So many great teams were here, and we felt like we were in way over our heads here.”

Utah State University’s team Extraplaid reacts after finding out that their team advanced to the U.S. Imagine Cup’s final round on Monday in the software design category. From left to right are team members Susanna Beck (filming her teammates), Yiding Han, Josh Light, and Cal Coopmans.

Coffee Powered Altruism’s project is Alterra, a strategy game that puts the player in charge of a development budget for a country or region.

“I’m on top of the world,” said Afrit Salsa’s Arifur Sabeth after finding out his team was a finalist. “I feel like Neil Armstrong.” The University of Houston student said his team is chomping at the bit to show off its video game, the environmentally focused RoboRecycler, at Monday’s showcase.

The four finalists in the software design category were Extraplaid, Mobilelife, Mango Bunnies and Team Blob. One of the four will be crowned the grand prize winner and prepare to represent the U.S. in the worldwide competition in July.

“It’s so amazing,” said Team Blob’s mentor, Antonette Logar. “We were competing against a team from Yale. We’re from South Dakota. Who’s ever heard of South Dakota? We’re just so excited.”

The two all-female teams at the U.S. Imagine Cup Finals, Team Blob and Mango Bunnies, congratulated each other after finding out they both had advanced.

Jim Pinkelman, U.S. director of academic developer evangelism at Microsoft, spoke highly of all the teams at this year’s Imagine Cup, saying they are part of a revitalized pool of U.S. talent.

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology’s Team Blob hugs upon hearing they will be competing in U.S. Imagine Cup Finals on Monday in the software design category. Left to right are mentor Antonette Logar, Robyn Krage, Lori Rebenitsch, and Jaelle Scheuerman.

“The quality, quantity, and diversity of the students in the Imagine Cup have been great this year,” he says. “It was a huge leap forward from last year. And we expect a huge leap forward next year.”

Pinkelman cheered the fact that so many women entered this year’s competition. “Three years ago, you wouldn’t have seen this,” he says. “We’re breaking through barriers and getting to a place where the Imagine Cup is seen by students and teachers as something enjoyable to compete in.”

Tomorrow’s attendees will see how students across the country are using technology to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Pinkelman says it’s particularly apt that James Cameron, who Pinkelman calls a classic technology creationist, will take part.

“He’s the ultimate in terms of how you can use technology to imagine and do something that’s never been done before,” Pinkelman says. “He’s a great blend of technology and imagination, and he’ll be really inspiring for the students.”

Josh Light, of team Extraplaid, said he was thrilled that Cameron would be at the Imagine Cup. “Maybe we can get him to use our app,” he said.

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