HBCUs Make History at Microsoft Image Cup

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Tech compThis was a history making year for the Microsoft Imagine Cup, considered the world’s premier student technology competition hosted by Microsoft and open to high school, college and university students. For the first year ever, HBCUs will be participating in the project.



“This year, 74,000 students from the United States registered for the Imagine Cup, which is up from 22,000 students last year – so you can tell that there are a lot of students and many schools that are learning about the Imagine Cup for the first time this year. We’re excited about the growth in awareness and participation this year, including the students from HBCUs,” says Tara Walker, Academic Developer Evangelist, Microsoft.



Microsoft reached out to HBCUs to have them participate this year. “In my role at Microsoft, I work with universities across the country to help support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) academic programs. This year in reviewing our engagement with schools, I realized that there was more that we should be doing to work with HBCUs,” explains Walker. “This was not surprising because traditionally HBCUs have been focused on liberal arts degrees and curriculum. Given I am a native of Atlanta which touts some of the top HBCUs (Morehouse, Spelman, Clark-Atlanta), I began working to better understand the STEM programs of the HBCUs in the area and engage as appropriate. We reached out to the deans of several HBCUs and set up meetings to discuss how Microsoft can help support their STEM programs, including appLabs – hands-on coding sessions, technology guest lectures, MSDN Academic Alliance, DreamSpark – which provides students with free access to Microsoft’s top developer tools, and the Imagine Cup student tech competition.”



The Imagine Cup has grown from just 1,000 competitors worldwide nine years ago to more than 325,000 registered students last year. This year there were 24 teams between 6 HBCUs–Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Howard University, Johnson C. Smith University and Tuskegee University. None of the HBCU teams made the finals; Tuskegee, however, was recognized as having an exceptional entry.



“The faculty of several of the HBCUs became interested in the Imagine Cup competition and infused the competition into their curriculum. For example, Dr. Legand Burge, dean of engineering for Tuskegee University, made Imagine Cup a core to his Engineering Ethics class and Professor Iretta Kearse and Professor Jakita Thomas of Spelman College created a Cross-University (Morehouse College) directed study class solely based upon the Imagine Cup,” says Walker. 



There has been a push to have more Blacks enter the technology field, and Microsoft is hoping to further that cause. “One of the ways Microsoft is helping to foster innovation and prepare students for tomorrow is through the Imagine Cup, a global student technology competition to solve the world’s toughest problems. The Imagine Cup takes the study of science and technology to the next level, helping students translate their knowledge into technology solutions that address real-world issues,” says Walker. “Through the journey, students become inspired to learn new skills and are encouraged to make a difference in the world. Whether they go on to develop a breakthrough in healthcare, start a new company or become better prepared to enter the workforce, students who participate in the Imagine Cup are creating a brighter future.”



Even the White House got interested when the HBCUs participated in the Imagine Cup this year. “In addition, our engagements with the HBCUs caught the attention of the White House Office of the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Last year, The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities called for the engagement and strengthening of HBCUs. As these highly recognizable schools are gaining more students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, we worked with them on an event, the “Microsoft Education Alliance Forum for HBCUs” specifically focused on ways to help support their growth via the existing programs and resources Microsoft offers for academia,” explains Walker. “This also supports a strong call to action from The White House to inspire more students to study STEM subjects in school to help the country become more competitive in the global economy. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 2 million jobs are expected to be added in the professional, scientific and technical services industry in the U.S. by 2018.”



According to Walker, Microsoft is working to include more HBCUs next year. “I work closely with universities, faculty and students to help them learn about the multitude of opportunities that Microsoft makes available to students and teachers for educational purposes. As schools have specific needs, we work to develop unique opportunities that will help them prepare their students for the future. I often visit schools and speak with students about programs that they might not know are available,” says Walker. “This year we hosted a specific event, Realizing Your Dreams: Imagine Cup, at Tuskegee University in Alabama. The event brought together 200 high school students from Macon County School District to view presentations from Imagine Cup teams made up of students from Tuskegee University. This was a great opportunity to showcase their incredible work, like mobile healthcare applications and educational solutions, while inspiring a younger generation to get involved in STEM subjects.”



Microsoft´s work with HBCUs isn´t stopping with the Imagine Cup. “Another event specific to HBCUs, the Education Alliance Forum on HBCUs, will be held in Atlanta on April 29, 2011 at the Morehouse College campus and will discuss Microsoft resources for academia as well as showcase the Imagine Cup teams from Clark-Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman College. This forum will also include high school students from across the Metro Atlanta Area,” informs Walker.