Recently, some of my colleagues went to the Imagine Cup, an annual technology and Innovation competition sponsored by Microsoft and held at their mammoth Redmond, Washington headquarters. The campus is so large that when one of my colleagues quietly called me during his initial tour, he told me that they were just now passing building #99.
This year’s competition featured 54 teams of college students from all over the world. The teams were a geographically diverse bunch, hailing from Russia, Nepal, Australia, Jordon, Romania, Sri Lanka and even a few countries that were probably geographically smaller than Microsoft’s 99+ building campus.
The Imagine Cup competition, and competitions like it, are so inspiring. This year’s competition, though large and very well done, is only a small representation of the vast amount of innovative talent out there who use technology to work together to solve many of the world’s future challenges.
While my colleagues were there, they interviewed several of the top contestants and some of the folks at Microsoft who were responsible for making the Imagine Cup happen. Dr. Rod Berger, our lead correspondent and one of the world’s top education news personalities, along with Producer/Director Jessi Scherr, brought back some amazing footage.
One of the contestants was a young woman from Nepal named Melisha Ghimire. Like two-thirds of the people living in Nepal, her family raises livestock. To put things into perspective, Melisha’s family is considered wealthy by local standards. They own about 45 animals. Ten years ago, the family suffered a devastating animal health disaster and lost over half their livestock to disease. Ten years later and the family is still getting back on its feet.
Melisha and her teammates from Nepal created a project called Echo Innovators. It’s a wearable device for livestock that monitors vital signs like a FitBit does for humans. The information is sent to the cloud, where animal health is analyzed for temperature, step count, stress levels, sleep patterns, pregnancy status and more. Machine learning results combined with an expert knowledge base provide actionable recommendations, sending that information back to farmers.
Melisha originally wanted to be a doctor, but was introduced to technology and she loved it. Fast forward a few years, and Melisha and her teammates have created a program that can potentially improve the economy of her country in a very significant way.
Talk about inspiring. It’s an example of the way our young people are using technology to work together to solve the world’s most pressing issues.
Another great example of youth innovation is the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge. Each year, my friend Nancy Conrad, wife of the late astronaut Charles (Pete) Conrad, invites teams to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to present their ideas designed to benefit our world in one of four areas: Aerospace and Aviation, Cyber Technology and Security, Energy and the Environment, and Health and Nutrition. If you don’t know Nancy, she’s a force of nature. Tragically, she lost Pete 17 years ago in a motorcycle accident, but his spirit lives on through the works she does and through Nancy’s annual innovation competition.
Like the Imagine Cup, the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge assembles some of the brightest young minds on the planet. High school students participate from all 50 states and 72 countries, and the competition touches over 100,000 students. This year, almost 35 percent were girls, and that number continues to climb through a concerted effort by Nancy and her team.
I am very inspired by our young people. Not only do they continue to exceed the expectations that we place on them, but they have almost an innate sense of responsibility to create enterprises that give back and make the world a better place.
It’s so easy to become discouraged, particularly when we are mired in a system of education that seemingly does not reward excellence. But every now and then, while we are dodging the bulleted challenges that come our way, it’s important to look up and see the incredibly bright and ambitious students whom we serve.
Sometimes, I think if we could just get out of their way, we’d be amazed at what they could do.