Today, Microsoft announced the 2011 U.S. Imagine Cup finalists, some of whom will go on to represent the United States in the global competition in July in New York City.

You can read about all of the U.S. finalists on the Microsoft Tech Student page on Facebook.

This is the first year the Worldwide Finals will take place in the United States, shedding light on the importance of computer and information-related studies. In fact, by 2014, 1 million jobs in these fields are expected to be added to the U.S. workforce, but only 50 percent of the available jobs will have qualified U.S. graduates to fill them. The Imagine Cup is designed to support and inspire studies in these critical fields.

The Imagine Cup is the world’s premier student technology competition that challenges students to build life-changing projects that can ultimately transform the world. Microsoft created the competition nine years ago as a way to highlight and recognize student innovation around the globe, as well as inspire more young minds to study technology. Each year, the projects have become more inspirational and impactful. Students who participate gain real-world skills that help them in school, in their careers or even as they commercialize their projects, all while tackling global problems.

I am thrilled about the incredible talent that will be a part of the U.S. “home team.” However, to make it to New York, these students must first be victorious at the U.S. Finals, taking place from April 8 to April 11 on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. Judges will have their work cut out for them with this year’s inspirational projects.

This year, a number of teams focused on projects that help people become better global citizens, while several teams addressed environmental issues such as clean water. One team created an automated system to better track the progression of a skin lesion as a way to eradicate skin cancer. Another team designed a strategic educational game where the player becomes a city planner tasked with providing a sustainable level of energy to the city while maintaining a pristine environment. When you consider the number of people that could be positively impacted by the implementation of any one of these projects, it is even more inspiring. These students can truly change the world.
 
One excellent way to lend your support to these high-caliber teams is to vote in the U.S. People’s Choice Awards. There will be special awards to the Software Design project and the Game Design project that gain the most Facebook votes. Starting today, you can vote for your favorite inventions in the Game Design and Software Design categories via Facebook or via text message. Voting is open through April 9, and you may vote once a day until the competition closes. Please spread the word and encourage your networks to rally behind the future of technology!
 
Also this year, in the spirit of winning, you have an opportunity to win a Kinect for Xbox 360 simply by registering for the Imagine Cup community on Facebook. The official sweepstakes rules are available here.

Not everyone can build a life-saving application for a cell phone. Moreover, it takes a special set of skills to design a game that focuses on protecting the ocean. However, we can all recognize amazing innovations when we see them. So, please support the talented and innovative students creating solutions to the world’s toughest problems by voting in the Imagine Cup U.S. People’s Choice Award!

Posted by Mark Hindsbo
Vice President, U.S. Developer and Platform Evangelism, Microsoft