Full disclosure: Microsoft flew me from Boston to Washington, D.C. today and put me up in a hotel so that I could cover this event.
For those housed in the upper floors of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. April 26th was a day was full of creativity, of innovation, of energy, and of hope. April 26th marked the day of the U.S. National Finals for the eighth annual Microsoft Imagine Cup, the world’s premiere student technology competition. According to Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Vice President of Worldwide Education, the Imagine Cup “empowers students to use their creativity to change the world” by allowing them to compete to win prizes by developing software and computer games that strive to solve the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.
Since its inception eight years ago, the Imagine Cup has grown from a single-country competition with 1,000 student competitors to a worldwide battle between over 300,000 students from 150 countries around the globe. This year’s competition was divided into two sections: software design and game design. 22,000 American students applied to the preliminary rounds of the competition. Of these 22,000, 80 were selected to fly to Washington for the national finals.
Team Blob demonstrates their “Blob Multi-Touch Teaching Software.”
What was perhaps most exciting about the U.S. finals for the Imagine Cup 2010 was the fact that two of the top four software design teams were comprised entirely of women. It is well known that women are vastly underrepresented in the field of Computer Science (C.S.). In 2007 only 0.3% of female college students expressed an interest in majoring in the field. In addition, the number of women interested in C.S. is falling; in the 80s, 4.2% of female college students expressed an interest in C.S. Despite this, half of the teams that made into the final round of the U.S. National competition for the Imagination Cup 2010 were comprised entirely of women. The two teams, Team Blob, and the MangoBunnies, wound up placing 2nd and 4th in the US finals for software design. Team Blob (4th place) designed a multi-touch teaching software for use in K-12 classrooms. The MangoBunnies (2nd place) designed a mobile app intended to keep women safe.
Imagine Cup Team Profile: MangoBunnies
They hail from Indiana and they call themselves the “MangoBunnies.” For Imagine Cup 2010, Malisa Vongskul, Ashley Myers, and their mentor Erin ‘Ed’ Donahue decided to design software that would work towards the UN Millennium Development Goal of Gender Equality. Their software, which they named “Life Light” is a mobile app that informs users of unsafe areas for women. The system they developed provides women with information warning them of unsafe areas. In their project overview, the MangoBunnies state that “When women are more aware of their surroundings, it can decrease the number of assaults (sexually-based or not) against women.”