By Kari Sherrodd, senior manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs
After reviewing impressive entries from more than 50 countries, our judging panel for this year’s Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest has finished the tough task of selecting 20 finalists. Now we’re asking you to make five of these inspiring change-makers our grand prize winners and our newest YouthSpark Ambassadors.
Starting today through April 22, you can vote once a day for the project that inspires you the most. To help you out, each of the 20 finalists created a video sharing more about themselves and their projects.
Meet the Finalists
Many of the finalists are passionate about increasing access to STEM education and digital literacy skills training, or using technology to enhance curriculum. “I think it’s up to community leaders, like myself, to provide as many resources as possible to help bridge the skills gap, creating a smoother transition into a workforce that’s increasingly reliant on technology,” finalist Aaron Carr shared.
- Aaron Carr (New York City, New York, United States) aims to partner with homeless shelters to create digital literacy training workshops that will help the homeless acquire the skills they need to enter the workforce and support their families.
- Arturo Lucatero (Newberg, Oregon, United States) hopes to inspire young Latino students to pursue STEM education by funding and leading an all-Latino FIRST Tech Challenge team to help them get excited about robotics.
- Dominic Co (Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines) plans to develop an online curriculum to supplement the teaching of literature by famous Filipino authors so the stories come alive and resonate with today’s high school students.
- Juan Carlos Murillo (San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico) founded Sin Miedo al a Corriente to teach electrical engineering and computer science to underprivileged junior high school students through hands-on activities such as building electric motors and solar cars.
From left to right: Aaron Carr, Arturo Lucatero, Dominic Co, Juan Carlos Murillo
- Laura Fulton (Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, United States) created Science for Success to promote STEM education among young girls and encourage them to overcome gender stereotypes and cultural biases that may affect their interest in science.
- Osazee Paul (Igueben, Edo State, Nigeria) intends to build a technology training center in rural Edo State, Nigeria that would be free of charge for the community.
- Sathya Narayanan Subramanian (Coimbature, Tamil Nadu, India) plans to launch a portal that provides 10 hours of free digital literacy training covering everything from “What Is a Computer?” to basic tutorials on how to use computers in daily life.
From left to right: Laura Fulton, Osazee Paul, Sathya Narayanan Subramanian
Other finalists are determined to combat social injustice and inequality. As finalist Chelsea Montes de Oca explained, “No child deserves to have their future determined by their zip code. Every child deserves the opportunity to realize their full potential.”
- Chelsea Montes de Oca (Denver, Colorado, United States) plans to create a program that empowers children in low-income areas to become community-minded advocates by writing for their school newspapers.
- Jeremy Goss (St. Louis, Missouri, United States) will launch a nonprofit mobile farmer’s market using a reclaimed city transit bus to bring fresh, healthy, locally-sourced produce, meat, poultry, and dairy to food desert communities in the greater St. Louis area.
- Sara Stifler (Forest Hill, Maryland, United States) and her friend Connie developed Journey In Their Shoes to combat hate, judgment and apathy among humanity by recording and publishing the stories and photographs of strangers, demonstrating a way to connect through differences.
From left to right: Chelsea Montes de Oca, Jeremy Goss, Sara Stifler
Several projects aim to provide therapy through music, poetry and play. “I have found my place in the world helping others,” shared finalist Brandon MacDougall. “Creative expression saved me, and it will save others.”
- Brandon MacDougall (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada) plans to create weekly workshops around spoken word poetry, rap and public speaking to empower youth struggling with mental illness and combat the stigma surrounding mental health.
- Cynthia Poon (Providence, Rhode Island, United States) developed Increment Studios to create toys that can be used by all children, but especially those with special needs and disabilities.
- Daniela Orozco Vizcaino (Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico) founded Interludio to provide the healing power of music therapy to hospital patients.
From left to right: Brandon MacDougall, Cynthia Poon, Daniela Orozco Vizcaino
Three of our finalists are focused on youth empowerment and mentorship. “We want to inspire and motivate young adults to explore new things, to discover unknown possibilities, and ultimately live a more productive and fulfilled life,” explained finalist Brandon Polack.
- Brandon Polack (Norcross, Georgia, United States) created Off THA Couch to inspire and motivate young adults to create lives full of purpose and meaning, and to engage with each other to create change in the world.
- Tayler Ulmer (Chicago, Illinois, United States) founded My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), a mentorship program to broaden the horizons of young males and help maximize their potential by pairing them with college students to emphasize the importance of secondary education.
- Yuhao (Danny) Huang (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) plans to grow his online platform, National Student Network, which centralizes thousands of education, internship and volunteer opportunities for youth in Canada, and the related National Young Leaders program that provides peer-to-peer mentorship.
From left to right: Brandon Polack, Tayler Ulmer, Yuhao (Danny) Huang
And these finalists created projects designed to address global health issues and disaster response. “I believe that health is a human right,” explained finalist Ali Greatsinger. “I want to help these communities harness their own potential to create healthy environments.”
- Ali Greatsinger (Chicago, Illinois, United States) hopes to combat health inequality in Peru by piloting a breakfast program designed to increase adherence to tuberculosis treatment, which is often compromised by malnutrition.
- Kumar Vivek (Davangere, Karnataka, India) is developing a Windows Phone app to help rice farmers diagnose paddy plant leaf disease, often caused by nitrogen deficiency. After uploading a photo of the crop, farmers will receive fertilization suggestions to combat the disease.
- Mohamed Iqbal Isham Mohamed (Eastern Province, Sri Lanka) created a platform that collects data on Dengue fever and provides risk alerts via a mobile app to the community, doctors and medical workers to prevent the deadly disease from spreading.
- Ryan Justin Reyes (Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines) developed SankalusuganQRX, a platform that aids with the search for loved ones after devastating natural disasters through a novel use of personal QR codes.
From left to right: Ali Greatsinger, Kumar Vivek, Mohamed Iqbal Isham Mohamed, Ryan Justin Reyes
We’ll announce the winners on May 1, so check back then to see if your favorite project won! Remember to vote once a day between now and April 22 and spread the word about #youthspark.