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Otago students in World's Challenge Challenge

Tuesday, 30 May 2017 1:57pm

TechOutreachers image
The Otago team of Holly Hanson, Mika Smith, and Kiri Lenagh-Glue were feeling confident as they ran through final rehearsals ahead of this week’s competition. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

A trio of Otago Computer Science students are among 10 teams taking part in an international competition to help solve some of the world’s most heavy-hitting global issues.

Issues ranging from elephant-poaching to plastic pollution will take the spotlight when student teams from six countries converge on Western University in London, Ontario for the World’s Challenge Challenge this week.

Otago students Holly Hanson (Computer Science and Chinese), Mika Smith (Computer Science and Neuroscience), and Kiri Lenagh-Glue (Computer Science and Classics) will have seven minutes to present their innovative solution to the challenge of closing the gap in world digital literacy: TechOutreachers.

“TechOutreachers is an innovative social enterprise seeking to close the education gap in digital literacy globally,” says Holly. “The proposed organisation's mission statements are to train and place digital technology teachers in developing countries, as well as to recycle and repurpose used tech hardware to redistribute to these countries."

The stakes are high for the students as they vie for a share of $45,000 CAD ($47,480 NZD) in prize money. An award the team says they will put toward putting their plan into action should they win.

Since winning the chance to represent Otago back in March, the team has been honing their presentation under the guidance of HR Senior Training Adviser, Suzy Keene.

“Kiri, Mika and Holly have put an incredible amount of effort into preparing for the challenge," Suzy says. "They work together so beautifully and it’s been my absolute pleasure to work with them and to see their progress over these past few weeks. They are certainly going to make Otago proud!”

Several of the team’s friends, family, flatmates, classmates and lecturers were on hand last week for a final dress-rehearsal to help simulate the audience the team will be presenting in front of in London.

“If we can do this in front of our Computer Science lecturers - if we can do this in front of them – we’ll have no trouble doing it in front of strangers,” Holly says.

Decked out in their TechOutreachers t-shirts, kindly provided by the International Office, the team’s presentation was met with praise from the audience and clocked in at precisely 6.51 – right on target.

All three say they are looking forward to the experience in Canada, meeting the other teams, sharing their ideas with the judging panel and, most importantly, hearing the other presentations.

Of their chances in the competition, the TechOutreachers team says they are feeling confident.

“We’ve put in as much effort as we can,” Holly says.

Mika adds: “We have a really unique idea and that will make all the difference.”

What is the World’s Challenge Challenge?

The World’s Challenge Challenge is a three-day event that brings together student teams that have already won competitions at their own universities. Finalists have an opportunity to share information with some of leading minds from around the world, participate in academic events and experience Canadian hospitality.

Come competition time, each team will have seven minutes to bring their powers of persuasion to a panel of judges: Heidi Balsillie, philanthropist and founder of the Fairmount Foundation; Janet De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade and former Dean of Ivey Asia; Anne van Leeuwen, Consul-General of The Netherlands in Toronto, Canada; and Twee Brown, Vice-President, Marketing and Public Relations, Adamas Group.

Topics presented this year include: vertical farming to address food security in urban centres; using biotechnology to remediate electronic waste; plastic pollution; and anti-poaching technology of rhinos and elephants in Africa.

As well as Otago, the teams come from University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong), Radboud University (Netherlands); University at Buffalo (US); Monash University (Australia); and five from Canadian universities (University of Alberta, Dalhousie University; University of Waterloo; Western University and University of British Columbia). This is the first time Otago has been invited to participate.

First-place finishers will share $30,000 (CAD) and the second-place team will win $15,000 (CAD).