Imagine Cup Teams Aim to Change the World

Like every team at the U.S. Imagine Cup finals in Washington D.C. this weekend, Ifrit Salsa based its project on solving one of the UN Millennium Development Goals. University of Houston’s Ifrit Salsa decided to tackle environmental sustainability, I learned by reporting on the worldwide student technology competition sponsored by Microsoft.

The team’s project is RoboRecycler, a video game that teaches children to make a difference in the world around them. To root their team on, Ifrit Salsa made a paper version of the hero of their game – the Standard Robot Recycler. They thought the paper-made version that they brought with them  would make for a good mascot for their Imagine Cup team. “And it is cute,” quipped team captain Daniel Biediger.

University of Houston’s team Ifrit Salsa stands outside the Microsoft building in Washington D.C., after being welcomed to the U.S. Imagine Cup Finals. Pictured from left are Daniel Biediger, Arifur Sabeth, Alaa Gharandoq, and mentor Chang Yun.
University of Houston’s team Ifrit Salsa stands outside the Microsoft building in Washington D.C., after being welcomed to the U.S. Imagine Cup Finals. Pictured from left are Daniel Biediger, Arifur Sabeth, Alaa Gharandoq, and mentor Chang Yun
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Anthony Salcito, vice president of Microsoft Worldwide Education, said the work that Ifrit Salsa and all 20 teams in the U.S. finals, now underway,  are doing to make a difference in their communities and in the world around them. “You have an opportunity to not only change the world, but to deliver a better world for people,” Salcito said. “We are not only expecting that of you, we need that of you.”

Salcito urged students to look at the competition as an opportunity to connect with each other. “The technology industry is tight,” he told them. “It’s quite possible you’ll find yourself working with each other, tackling problems together, and changing the world together.”

Team Ifrit Salsa came together to change the world when they heard about the Imagine Cup at the University of Houston. And their name? Roughly translated, Ifrit Salsa means “hot sauce” (interestingly, they’ll be competing against Team AwesomeSauce, from Tufts University). Ifrit Salsa came out of Beidiger’s love of anime names. “Take two random words, put them together, and you have a name,” he said.

So, the team started a list of words as they searched for a name. “Good thing I didn’t say ‘Ifrit,’” quipped Alaa Gharandoq when she submitted her list.  

Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, welcomed students to the Imagine Cup Friday night. "You have an opportunity to not only change the world, but to deliver a better world for people," he said. "We are not only expecting that of you, we need that of you."
Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, welcomed students to the Imagine Cup Friday night. “You have an opportunity to not only change the world, but to deliver a better world for people,” he said. “We are not only expecting that of you, we need that of you.”
Click for larger version.

Ifrit – a fire-based baddie from the Final Fantasy video game series – stuck. Being from Texas, salsa just made sense. There’s also a lot of diversity in Texas salsa, Biediger said, which is also reflected in the team. Its mentor is originally from South Korea, and they have one member born in Jordan (Gharandoq) and another from Bangladesh.

The team’s mentor, Chang Yun, also points out that Gharandoq is the only woman in the game design side of the competition. “In my game class over the years, fewer than 10 percent of the students are women,” he said.

Gharandoq is confident that will change. “More and more women are coming into computer science, she said to me. “Women will take over the Internet.”

Posted by Lukas Velush
Editor, Microsoft News Center