By Yvonne Thomas, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft YouthSpark

After reviewing hundreds of inspiring entries, our judging panel for the YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest has finished the tough job of selecting 20 finalists. Each of the 20 finalists created a video sharing more about themselves and their projects.

Now we’re putting the power back in your hands. Starting today through June 24, you can vote once a day for the project that inspires you the most to help send five deserving youth on a volunteer trip in Kenya this summer. Watch the videos and cast your vote today!

“Volunteering in Kenya would allow me to learn more about the communities I aim to help,” contestant Megan Shea shares. “I hope this will add a level of credibility to my program by proving that any student with an idea and imagination can work to fight global issues.”

The 20 Finalists

Many of the finalists believe in the power of education. As finalist Zach Lax put it, “Access to quality education is the cornerstone of every other social issue.” 

  • Zach Lax (Ringoes, New Jersey), a schoolteacher in Philadelphia, aims to expand his Teaching Is Power platform to develop a teacher training curriculum.
  • Odunola Ojewumi (Beltsville, Maryland) dreams of providing women in sub-Saharan Africa with access to education through her nonprofit Project ASCEND.
  • Brian Hickey (Loudonville, New York) founded Engeye Teen Connection to support education in Uganda and hopes to build an Education, Business and Training Center to offer technology training.

From left to right: Zach Lax, Odunola Ojewumi, Brian Hickey.

Others focus on inspiring young people, especially girls, to pursue STEM education. “As an engineering student in college,” finalist Jaleesa Trapp shared, “there weren’t many people who looked like me in my classes.”

  • Jaleesa Trapp (Tacoma, WA) plans to launch Girls’ Day, a program dedicated to introducing girls to the possibility of a STEM career.
  • Ximena Prugue (Miami, FL) wants to build a mentorship program encouraging minority girls to pursue STEM careers.
  • Temiloluwa Adeniyi (Cincinnati, Ohio) plans to create a multimedia story of a woman in STEM that can be shared with local schools to enable children to envision their futures.
  • Meghan Shea (West Chester, Pennsylvania) developed her Minds (to) Matter program to foster students’ love of scientific research.
  • Karen Mok (San Francisco, California) strives to close the digital gender gap with a pilot program focused on Roma communities in Greece and Macedonia.
  • Misikir Mentose (La Mesa, California) founded StartingX to organize and curate technology self-learning courses for youth.

    From left to right: Jaleesa Trapp, Ximena Prugue, Temiloluwa Adeniyi.

    From left to right: Meghan Shea, Karen Mok, Misikir Mentose.

    Two of our finalists aim to empower youth by combining art and design with technology.

    • De Andrea Nichols (Memphis, Tennessee) founded Design Serves to help organizations, individuals and communities use graphic design methodology to address social challenges.
    • Claire Mongeau (Somerville, Massachusetts) dreams of building a Computer Creativity Lab in Hyderabad, India to teach digital art techniques to disadvantaged students.

     

    From left to right: De Andrea Nichols, Claire Mongeau.

    It’s also clear that our finalists believe wholeheartedly in their own generation’s ability and promise to make the world a better place. Finalist Jessica Lynn Lane stated, “Today, more than ever, we need to inspire and empower rising generations to make a positive change.”

    • Jessica Lynn Lane (Pullman, Washington) aims to teach leadership development to high school students through her Project I/E.
    • Adam Dunn (Apex, North Carolina) co-founded Triangle Youth Leadership Services to create workshops for high school students to develop solutions to community issues.
    • Christina Ong (Sacramento, California) cares deeply about creating a global peace curriculum that can inspire youth to improve their communities.
    • Sneha Jayaprakash (Fremont, California) hopes to inspire people to do good deeds through a reality-based mobile game.

    From left to right: Jessica Lynn Lane, Adam Dunn.

     

    From left to right: Christina Ong, Sneha Jayaprakash.

    Several projects focus on the health care sector. “Factors such as distance, money and connections should never be a hindrance,” explained contestant Gin Cheng. “Everyone deserves to live a healthy life.”

    • Gin Cheng (Brooklyn, New York) developed a concept for a mobile app that improves accessibility to health care in impoverished communities.
    • Audrey Scagnelli (Washington D.C.) launched College & Cook, a magazine for college-students dedicated to global food security.
    • Bryan Ngo (Newport Beach, California) founded the Red Beanie Society to promote education and advocacy for adolescents and young adults with cancer.
    • Swetha Pasala (Herndon, Virginia) created MEDScheme, a medical equipment donation concept that ensures impoverished communities have the devices they sorely need.
    • Morgan Brand (Washington D.C.) designed the 100 Hours of Action program to combat childhood obesity.

      From left to right: Gin Cheng, Audrey Scagnelli, Bryan Ngo.

       

      From left to right: Swetha Pasala, Morgan Brand.

      We’ll announce the winners in the first week of July, so check back then to see if your favorite project won.