By Lori Harnick, General Manager, Corporate Citizenship and Public Affairs
This past year has been about sparking change through Microsoft YouthSpark, so it’s fitting that we’re announcing the five grand prize winners of the YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest just days before the fireworks-filled U.S. Fourth of July celebration. If you’ve been following the contest, you already know we received hundreds of inspiring entries from university students across the U.S. – all incorporating Windows and Office into the proposed social good projects. Our judging panel selected 20 strong finalists, and then we turned it over to you to vote for your favorite to select five grand prize winners.
Congratulations to Adam Dunn, Brian Hickey, Sneha Jayaprakash, Christina Ong, and Meghan Shea! They will embark on a volunteer trip to Kenya in August and will receive $2,500 to help fund their project ideas. In addition to the Surface RT they won as finalists, the grand prize package includes a Windows Phone 8 and an Xbox 360 with Kinect.
North Carolina State University architecture and physics major Adam Dunn started Triangle Youth Leadership Services with his friends Joseph Bond, Steven Mazur, and Devan Riley, to harness the energy and creativity of young people to solve community issues.
What’s Next? “We will use the prize money, technology package, and partnership with Microsoft Citizenship to expand our model to partner universities, fund the most promising of our high school participants' ideas for community improvement, and finance our 501(c)(3) application,” said Adam.
Kenya Experience “After working with ThinkImpact in rural South Africa and independently researching water culture in rural Liberia, I've fallen in love with Africa. I'm looking forward to comparing my work here in North Carolina with my experiences in the three corners of sub-Saharan Africa.” Watch Adam’s prize-winning video!
Loudonville, New York native Brian Hickey will be a sophomore at Babson College studying business, entrepreneurship and marketing. He has worked with the Engeye program to support education in Uganda for several years, leading campaigns to raise thousands of dollars for textbooks and solar panels for the schools.
What’s Next? “I am excited to add the funds given by Microsoft to Engeye, which will get us closer to the goal of constructing a Business & Training Center in rural Uganda,” said Brian. “The idea is to help empower villagers with the basic resources and tools to enable their future success.”
Kenya Experience “When I traveled to Uganda, I was humbled and amazed by the joy and gratitude of the people I met, especially the children. One thing that struck me was the desire of the children for the basic things like education and healthcare. I look forward to learning about Kenya, meeting the children and people, and seeing how similar and different it is from my experience in Uganda.” Watch Brian’s prize-winning video!
Sneha Jayaprakash of Fremont, California is studying computer science with a focus on bioinformatics at University of California San Diego. She combined gaming with social networking to create Bystanders to Upstanders (B2U), which aims to revolutionize do-goodery by rewarding random acts of kindness and inspiring local students to get involved.
What’s Next? Sneha and her team will launch a mobile app and website later this year to bring B2U to life. “Long term, I’m hoping it will give students of all ages and backgrounds across the country the opportunity to become involved in their communities,” said Sneha.
Kenya Experience “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to get involved in a radically different culture. I’m excited to help build a school, to travel far outside the United States, and to meet the other winners.” Watch Sneha’s prize-winning video!
Sacramento native Christina Ong, a senior at University of California Irvine, hopes that you’ll give peace a chance. She’s studying political science with a minor in civic and community engagement, and designing a multidisciplinary peace-building curriculum for children and educators all across the globe.
What’s Next? “I’m developing peace seminars with the faculty at my university, which we’ll offer as for-credit courses at UC Irvine. Ultimately, I want to bring Global Approaches to Peace to primary and secondary school students,” said Christina.
Kenya Experience “I’ve been part of an organization called Kenya Dream for the past three years. We raise money to develop educational facilities, so I’m excited to meet children and see schools during our trip and identify other ways that we can help them.” Watch Christina’s prize-winning video!
Meghan Shea of West Chester, Pennsylvania will be a freshman at Stanford University and is considering an environmental major that combines science and policy. She’s been a scientist her whole life, which inspired her creation of Minds (to) Matter, a program to teach children the scientific method and foster their research.
What’s Next? “I’m hoping to connect with others at Stanford who share a similar interest and get Mind (to) Matter programs up and running in the Palo Alto area and in my hometown,” said Meghan.
Kenya Experience “I’m most excited to experience a culture and a way of life that’s different than the U.S. My recent research has been designing a water filter for impoverished communities, and this trip is an incredible opportunity to see how my filter might realistically be used. I’ve heard stories and stereotypes, so having my own perspective will be phenomenal.” Watch Meghan’s prize-winning video!
Thank you to everyone who entered the contest! We’re inspired by your passion for making the world a better place. The five winners will be YouthSpark Ambassadors for the next year, so make sure to check back as we share updates through this blog, our Facebook page and Twitter handle.