Microsoft Higher Education - White papers

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Success and sustainability in higher education:
An interview with Ralph Young

Exhibit 1: The Imagine cup

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In addition to the main competition, individual prizes were awarded in several other categories. For example, there were prizes for inventions that catered to underserved communities and extended access to computing. Jeff Bigham, a computer science PhD candidate at the University of Washington, received the Accessible Technology Achievement Award for devising a Web-based program that renders online text into speech for the visually-impaired. The screen-reader interface, available at, allows sight-impaired people to access content on any computer with a Web connection. Hitherto, they had needed to rely primarily on dedicated software installed on their own computers to achieve this capability.

Previous year’s competitions have inspired similarly beneficent creations. The finalist from Greece in the 2007 event, for example, developed an educational tool for children with autism that assigns them computer-integrated tasks to perform and provides customized radio frequency identification (RFID)-based games. The unit tracks user’s stress levels in order to assign them appropriate educational material, thereby minimizing stress and improving their learning.

This year’s event also provided a platform for a roundtable discussion that was convened by Microsoft; the leading European business school, INSEAD; European Schoolnet; and the Women in IT forum. The roundtable was designed to focus attention on the need to encourage more young women to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines and to pursue careers in technology.

Continuing in the same spirit as this year’s competition, the 2009 Imagine Cup (the finals of which will be held in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt) will throw down the gauntlet to students to “imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today.” Specifically, students will be invited to develop technology that contributes to one of the eight Millennium Development Goals spelled out by the United Nations, such as eliminating extreme poverty and famine, fighting chronic disease, and attaining universal primary education.