I made mention of this announcement when it was first made in October. I hope that if you are at a high school in Illinois you know about this and are getting involved. Note that it doesn’t have to be a computer science teacher/or class that gets involved. Microsoft is actively looking to create similar partnerships with other states so if you are working at the state level please let me know at AlfredTh (at) Microsoft.com Oh and we're doing it in Texas too. See www.bliinkcontest.com for more information.

CHICAGO, IL. — October 8, 2009 — With financial support and assistance from Microsoft Corp., the Illinois State Board of Education and Governor Quinn’s Office announced plans to provide high school students an opportunity to use cutting-edge software tools to develop workforce skills and prepare for post-secondary education by participating in the “bliink” web design contest, whose theme “I Imagine a Green Future” focuses on environmental sustainability. Participants will compete against other students for cash and prizes by developing a Web site using Microsoft Expression Web software, which will be donated to every high school in Illinois as part of the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDN AA) Program. Tutorials and curriculum units, created by a team of classroom teachers and mapped to national standards, will also be provided at no charge. Microsoft’s software donation has been valued at over $4,000,000.

Despite our nation’s struggling economy, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 300,000 technology-related jobs currently remain unfilled for lack of qualified workers.  Only five percent of American college undergraduates today are pursing degrees in science or engineering, compared with 42 percent of university students in other countries such as China and India. The National Center for Women and Information Technology reports that “U.S. universities will graduate qualified candidates to fill only 50% of the 1,500,000 computer- and information-related jobs expected by 2012.” The bliink web design contest, held in five US locations last year, successfully engages a wide group of students – not just those who are already technology experts.

This challenge is part of Illinois Innovation Talent, a public-private initiative designed to connect schools with industry, government and community partners to examine and solve complex problems as members of diverse, interdisciplinary teams utilizing leading-edge information technology tools.  These initiatives create unique learning environments that are designed to promote innovation-centered education and increase student achievement in math, science and engineering by working as project management teams.  Innovation Talent is one of our strategies for demonstrating the integration of the updated National Education Technology Standards. 

“The Microsoft bliink Web Design Contest offers a great opportunity for high school students to apply their creativity and technology skills through a real-world assignment,’’ said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. ``I hope as many Illinois high school students as possible will take advantage of this chance to develop workforce and academic skills to prepare for success beyond high school.’’

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, agreed: “By participating in the Microsoft bliink Web Design Contest, our students will benefit from the experience of working in teams to develop an original web site while strengthening their entrepreneurial and technical skills. The theme of environmental sustainability highlights the economic advantages of building new ‘green’ businesses in the State of Illinois and simulatenously improving the world.”

“Providing students with cutting-edge technology tools and the resources to learn how to use them is a priority for Microsoft,” said Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s Vice President of Worldwide Education. “We are pleased to partner with the State of Illinois to equip students to explore and develop their talents. They can download the same software for their home computers through Microsoft’s DreamSpark™ Program. Students who graduate from high school and college with strong technical skills will have a wider choice of career options in today’s global economy.”

For more information about the Microsoft bliink Contest in the State of Illinois, please go to: www.bliinkcontest.com. For information about DreamSpark, go to: www.dreamspark.com