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Column by the Chancellor in Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce Newsletter: June 2013

Message from UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
Chamber Connection Newsletter
Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce

June 2013

UH Hilo computer science students win national Microsoft competition

HICCA team of computer science students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo recently won a national Microsoft competition. The annual U.S. Microsoft Imagine Cup Championship is Microsoft’s premier student technology competition focusing on innovations addressing the world’s toughest problems.  The winning UH Hilo team will head to St. Petersburg, Russia, in July to compete in the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals.

The 2013 national finals were held in San Jose, California, and featured the top 10 U.S. teams pitching their ideas and solutions to investors, entrepreneurs, and technology professionals for a chance to win cash prizes and support for their businesses. UH Hilo’s team, comprised of seniors Mike Purvis, Kayton Summers, Wallace Hamada and junior Ryder Donahue from the UH Hilo Department of Computer Science topped the field of competition with their application entitled “Help Me Help,” which focuses on community help for disaster relief efforts. The program aids the community and emergency response personnel in disaster situations by allowing users to upload images of nearby hazards through the use of smart phones.

The winning project had its start last summer with a course in software engineering taught by Keith Edwards, associate professor of computer science. In this class, students work together on a year-long project of benefit to a community organization or scientific group. For this particular project, the student team worked with Don Thomas from the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes on a project allowing tourists to geo-tag invasive plant species on Mauna Kea so that rangers can identify and remove the problem plants. The concept was a perfect fit for a software engineering project.

Last November, Michael Peterson, assistant professor of computer science, and team advisor Keith Edwards, took team member Ryder Donahue, who was interested in Microsoft technology, over to O‘ahu using some of Keith’s research funds. There they met with Randy Guthrie, a tech evangelist from Microsoft. Randy was really excited to see a student attending the workshop and encouraged Ryder to enter the software engineering project in the Imagine Cup competition.

Ryder returned to Hilo and worked with his software engineering team to make an entry for the Imagine Cup Accelerator Competition, where the submission was named one of the top 15 entries. While at that event, experts from Microsoft suggested to the team that they change their concept to make it a more general disaster response application. So the students pivoted their idea to make the “Help Me Help” application, which they entered into the U.S. finals. Due to their strong performance at the national competition, they were selected as one of the top 10 teams in the U.S.

This prestigious win for the UH Hilo team is a perfect example of how our students’ applied learning experiences can have a worldwide impact. Through hard work and creative thinking, these computer science students applied the material taught in the classroom to develop knowledge and capabilities beyond what is presently known in our community. The students’ rewriting of their original idea to then address general disaster response is of benefit not only to our island communities, but to communities around the world.

I encourage members of the local Chambers to participate in applied learning projects with our students. For more information, contact Tom DeWitt, director of applied learning experiences, phone 808.987.6551or email tsdewitt (at)

For more news from the Office of the Chancellor, visit my blog at

Don Straney

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