The spring finalists for the U.S. Imagine Cup 2011 competition were announced Wednesday. It is exciting that this year’s competition has featured the most diverse collection of students in its nine-year history.

While the number of participants in the Imagine Cup grows each year, this year is notable in that it is the first time Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have participated in the competition. Students from Morehouse, Spelman, Tuskegee, Howard, Clark Atlanta and Johnson C. Smith University joined with other student innovators across the U.S. and submitted solutions for the Imagine Cup Spring rounds of competition.

The Imagine Cup is a premier student technology competition started in 2003 with the goal of “Changing the World” through technology. It begins with students competing in regional competitions across the world. The students are given a challenge: build solutions to address some of the world’s biggest problems as outlined in the UN Millennium Goals. These problems may include combating AIDS, ending hunger and poverty or achieving primary education for all. The finale of the competition will be a showcase of some of the best student solutions across the world at the Worldwide Finals held in New York City on from July 8 to July 13.

Tuskegee University, the first and only historically black institution of higher learning to offer an accredited Bachelor of Science degree program in Aerospace Engineering, went a step further with the Imagine Cup competition. Tuskegee University’s dean of engineering, Dr. Lee Burge, impressed with the competition goals and the experience to be gained by the engineering students, infused the Imagine Cup competition deliverables as a part of the curriculum of his Ethics in Engineering course. This course, which is a requirement for all engineering  majors at Tuskegee University, generated 15 Imagine Cup teams.

The Microsoft culture recognizes diversity as a core value, business imperative and an investment in people. As an organization, it is understood that to serve and work with customers and partners around the world, we must be global and inclusive ourselves. After reviewing the East Region Developer and Platform Evangelism group Top STEM Target School list, it was in this spirit of diversity which led me to ensure that we include some of the HBCUs in the Greater Southeast area in the DPE outreach.

After bringing this to the attention of Bob Familiar, Director of the Regional ADE team, he teamed with executives like Marietta Davis, General Manager of Greater Southeast District, to reach out to the presidents and deans of HBCU schools across the area to introduce them to the Imagine Cup competition and my role as an Academic Developer Evangelist. 

The growth and diversity of the Imagine Cup 2011 competition has garnered the attention of the White House. The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities Assistant Executive Director John Brown is working with Donna L. Woodall, Microsoft Citizenship Lead for the East Region and Public Sector, to sponsor a series of events including a Microsoft Education Alliance briefing.

The first event will be hosted soon on the campus of Morehouse College, where they have invited all HBCU presidents, provosts and university chief information officers  to discuss the Imagine Cup and other Microsoft resources available for academia. Local high schools were also invited for the student portion of the briefing. This great event will feature representatives from the White House, the Atlanta Mayor’s office, the Atlanta City Council President and Imagine Cup teams from Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University. 

While it’s exciting that this year’s Imagine Cup will showcase the talents and innovations of students from across the United States, it’s also impressive that new ideas and voices from a diverse demographic will be heard for the first time. From the all-female team at the University of Alabama, the all-female African American team at Spelman to the diverse teams of Morehouse, Clark Atlanta and other HBCUs, this year’s competition will truly be a melting pot of the best we have to offer from upcoming technologists across the United States.

For more information on the Imagine Cup, check out the Imagine Cup Blog and the Imagine Cup Facebook page.

Posted by Tara Walker
Academic Developer Evangelist, Microsoft