The impact of this year's Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals only grows thanks to a series of affiliated awards, offering cash prizes and other opportunities to teams who further connect their innovations to educational and technology initiatives. Today, we're excited to spotlight the latest education-focused award to be given out at the St. Petersburg, Russia event: the DreamSpark Learning Award.

Microsoft's DreamSpark program connects students to professional-level designer and developer tools at no cost, ensuring that young innovators can enjoy access to Microsoft software like Visual Studio, SQL Server and much more. The road to STEM excellence in higher education requires unfettered access to modern software, and DreamSpark ensures that students across the world—in over 140 participating countries—can dive straight into the joys of exploring and experimenting with the latest platforms in programming, design, and more.

Through DreamSpark, educators also receive access to the latest technologies and software so that they can better focus on the educational missions of challenging, motivating, and keeping students engaged in new ways. Between students and educators, over 66 million software packages have been downloaded through DreamSpark since 2008.

As such, DreamSpark has teamed with the Imagine Cup to present an award that celebrates a shared mission of better education through technology and software. “The Imagine Cup aligns perfectly with the DreamSpark mission, since it is the vehicle through which students can showcase their ideas,” says DreamSpark program manager Cristina Nardini. “This year, we wanted to make this link even stronger by supporting the students not only with software but with an award. We want to recognize those students that have invested their time, effort and skills in developing projects that bring innovation to learning and teaching.”

The award will be given to one Imagine Cup project that delivers new, technology-fueled methods of teaching, learning, or both. For this award, any Worldwide Finalist team presenting at our event in Russia can apply so long as they used any software obtained from Microsoft's DreamSpark program in the creation of their project. Thankfully, the zero-cost nature of DreamSpark—which all Imagine Cup participants receive free access to—means teams should have no trouble jumping in and becoming eligible for the $5,000 prize.

Imagine Cup takes pride in providing a platform for young innovators, particularly when they push the boundaries of what modern education can achieve, and that makes us doubly proud to present this award to a finalist at the St. Petersburg Finals in July. Now that our finalists have been announced, we encourage them to see what DreamSpark can do for their projects—and other projects as their educational careers continue!

Hugh Samuels
Imagine Cup Correspondent