Reflections on the incredible Imagine Cup and lunch with Secretary Duncan

“…we don’t wait for the future. We create the future, and we change the world.”  – Pichai Sodsai, team member on Team Skeek – winner of the Imagine Cup 2010 software design competition

That line, from a student at Kasetsart University, really sums up this past 2 weeks during which I’ve been able to have 2 separate and incredible experiences:

  1. The Imagine Cup 
  2. Lunch and then a late afternoon meeting with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

I’ll start with the Imagine Cup: From June 29-July 9, I was in Warsaw, Poland at the Imagine Cup – a competition that brings together students from across the globe to compete in the Olympics of technology. They use technology to solve the world’s toughest problems. The level of professionalism, viability and passion in these projects continues to blow me away.

There is Nikola from Ireland who, along with her teammates created Imaginote- a system that translates your location within a sound beam to musical notes, letters or any other response you define; there was Youssef and his team Oasys from Jordan – they created both hardware and software to predict desertification – that’s already in use with the Jordanian government; and 107 others.

Rather than my going into all of the teams and their projects – I encourage you go to go these sites to read about many of the teams and their projects.   There are stories in here about the all-women teams; about individuals overcoming incredible personal struggles; about technologies in use now, and more.

Especially as I, personally, think about the new elementary school we’re starting in Queen Anne, I’m also very tuned to how the Imagine Cup serves 2 other critical roles:

  1. As a phenomenal vehicle through which to teach students “21st century skills”. Rather than just the 3Rs, this is the movement to focus schools on equipping students with creative thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communications, digital literacy and citizenship skills. This is because of the recognition that we need flexible thinkers in order to fill the 60% of jobs in 10 years that don’t exist today.
  2. As a great way to engage students in STEM-D -rather than making it about the science, technology, engineering, math and design = it’s about how are you solving the world’s toughest problems. The technologies they’re using provide a palette with which to solve those problems – and engage females and males equivalently.


  • My work objectives were to shine the brightest spotlight possible on the work that these students are doing.
  • My personal objectives are always about repairing the world and having a positive impact.

Fundamentally, these objectives are completely sympatico and, I believe, were well met by this year’s event. With next year’s event in New York City, I can’t wait to push those objectives even further. Whereas every citizen in Malta, Thailand, New Zealand, Malaysia, and many more countries is now probably aware of the Imagine Cup, we still have a long way to go in the United States.


Lunch and a meeting with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

After my flight, my fantastic husband picked me up and took me directly to a relatively small lunch with Secretary Duncan (about 25 people). There, we had the opportunity to learn more about the administration’s plans and vision. What I found most fascinating is the success that they are having in getting states to reform their education systems in an attempt to obtain the race to the top funds and the bigger question of whether those efforts can/should scale. For example, there are many many communities striving to become promise neighborhoods (modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone) – but only a handful will get the grants. So – how do they bring in a private and/or local funds to expand programs that are a sure thing – and that ultimately have enormous economic payback in the future because of the reductions in incarceration and rehabilitation costs? How do we get all citizens in this country to demand the very best education for ALL students? This breaks down into:

  1. How do we get all parents to know what good educational practices are so that they’re demanding them for their kids
  2. How do we get parents with kids in “good schools” to demand that quality for all students – because your kid may get a great education, but they live in the world and the gap will only expand and the country become more dangerous with that expanding gap. 
  3.  How do we get EVERYONE regardless of whether they have kids, to recognize the criticality of providing a great education? Having poorly education students puts us at an economic disadvantage and everyone should be feeling the heat. Frankly – education is way more important than our military exercises for the long term future of this country.

We also talked about the fact that, in Korea, parents insist on the best education for their kids. SO – how do we rile up the parents here in the US?

 Later in the day, we were honored to have Secretary Duncan come for a visit and discussion at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences – I-LABS – the world’s leading early learning research facility. Fundamentally, what was the most exciting was to have him truly get and appreciate the fact that those first 6 years are the most important so that students don’t even start behind. I look forward to subsequent discussions with people in the D of Ed.

Net net – there are amazing ways to light students up worldwide – and even domestically. But in the US – there’s a lot of work that needs to be done at even the most basic level to even deliver a quality education.


2 responses to “Reflections on the incredible Imagine Cup and lunch with Secretary Duncan

  1. Lenita Phillips

    Hello Suzi,
    Congrats on all you are accomplishing since I last saw you during the campaign!
    Education is very close to my heart since I have been employed in the public school system here in Florida for approx. 16 yrs now, and I have seen some really bad practices develop in the past 10-12 yrs. and it just seems that it is getting worse instead of better. I was opptimistic about the new administration and the hope of progress; however, I really haven’t been impressed when I have heard the secretary of education speak. I have many concerns about states all “coming up with individual plans” for improvement to get grant $. A lot can be put on paper, but is it really going to work, and who will be strictly enforcing the “plan”, and for how long will it be strictly monitored?
    I will stop and get off my soapbox! Discussing the government funding of private and charter schools could send me off the deep end!
    I do agree with you that all Americans should be up in arms about the quality of education in the US, parents need to be involved in every aspect of a child’s education-not just complaints, and the early years (from months–6 yrs.) are vital to getting kids “hooked” on learning.

  2. Imagine cup was a life changing experience!! You and your team did the BEST JOB EVEEER!!

    Thanks for giving us fond memories that will last forever.

    -Vinny Jeet
    New Zealand

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