What do students studying business, industrial engineering, writing, social anthropology, pathology, art and computer science have in common? Usually not too much.
This past weekend, though, more than 80 students from different disciplines came together to compete in the U.S. Imagine Cup Regional Finals—the crème de la STEM (science technology engineering and math) of the United States. The diversity of their concentrations reflects how thoughtful and effective these students were at marrying technology with communications, vision and a passion to change the world.
Successful businesses (whether for profit or non-profit) don’t just have all computer scientists, all business people, all marketers or all operations managers. Collaboration is the name of the game. Here are just a couple of the U.S. Finalist teams exemplifying cross-discipline collaboration:
Left to Right: Alex , Brandon , Annie
TTHV stands for Texting Toward Healthier Villages, and was started by siblings Annie Ryu, a sophomore social anthropology major at Harvard, and Alex Ryu, a senior economics major at the University ofPennsylvania.
Last summer, the two were in separate internships on opposite sides of the globe—she was in Nicaragua and he was in India - and the one thing they noticed was that everyone had a cell phone. That led the two to come up with a possible solution for something else Alex noticed—that vaccination rates for follow-up vaccines were low, mainly because the Indian mothers would forget about the follow-up appointment. Why not use their ever-present cell phones to remind them of appointments for themselves and their children? And, voila, an idea was born.
Coming back to Harvard, Annie enlisted the help of fellow student Brandon Liu, a freshman computer science major, to help build both the front and back end system at the health centers (note—he used Windows 7, Microsoft Silverlight, and Windows Azure). They were subsequently connected with Dave Amenta, a senior computer science major at Central Connecticut State University, whose knowledge of Windows Phone 7 allowed them to create a solution that health care workers could take with them out to the field.
Their healthcare solution, Remindavax, is designed to improve patient attendance for maternal and child healthcare, and help community health workers organize their village visits to ensure that patients who cannot access health centers get needed care. They will be working with the NGO, Karuna Trust, to deploy their solution this summer!
Last summer, LifeLens team captain, Wilson To, was on another Imagine Cup team—Team Mobilife, the U.S. Software design winning team that went to the Worldwide Finals. His team’s solution turned a smartphone into a diagnostic device for heart disease by taking a photo of the whites of someone’s eye and, based on the vein twistiness, and drawing on information to diagnose vascular disease. In his conversations with the others there from across the world, he learned about how prevalent and preventable Malaria is and the seeds were planted for LifeLens.
He took some of the people from team Mobilife, including Jason Wakizaka, Cy Khormaee (new) and Tristan Gibeau (new), and they created a Windows Phone application that can photograph a drop of blood and diagnose different strains of malaria. Imagine the implications for this in remote parts of the world!
But, again, ingenuity and innovation require many different skills and backgrounds. Wilson is a pathology student, Jason and Cy are business students and Tristan is a computer science student. Now granted a few of them have programming skills, but it’s still powerful to see how they are able to bring their respective knowledge to build a real solution to a real problem.
As these—and the other students with diverse areas of study—bring their ideas to life, we encourage them to continue to blend and grow their skills and encourage others interested in the Imagine Cup to recognize that while a STEM is a core part of a plant, it’s the leaves that capture the sun and the flowers that help provide pollen for future plant growth. In other words, success in tech long term requires people with a breadth of skills, knowledge, passions and creativity.
Be sure to read, watch and see more about these and the other projects here.
The opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of Microsoft.