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BYU students finalists in international Microsoft competition

  • Student team is representing the United States against five other teams in the final round of the photography category.
  • Overall competition started with more than 300,000 student competitors from 100 countries.
  • Faculty mentoring and coursework prepared the students to compete.

A Brigham Young University student duofinished in the top sixteams in the world in their categoryin the annual Imagine Cup, which its sponsor Microsoft bills as the world’s premier student technology competition.
Tara Fullmer and Rachel Asplund spent the Fourth of July weekend in Cairo as the lone representatives of the United States in the final stage of this year’s photography portion of the international competition.

Starting with a field of over 1,300 worldwide contestants, these two students advanced through the first two rounds of competition to the finals.Overall, more than 300,000 students from 100 countries entered the competition’s 10 categories.

“I can’t believe that we made it,” Fullmer said. “I just did this because I wanted to get better at photography. Now that this is happening I can’t believe that we’re actually going to Egypt.”

With help from BYU technology engineering education professor and team mentor Geoff Wright, Fullmer and Asplund put together photo essays for the first and second rounds of the competition. The student team faced the challenge of taking the United Nation’s eight millennium development goals and representing them through a photo essay. They represented such UN goals as achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.

“The first round was pretty stressful,” Fullmer said. “In one day I shot almost all the pictures that we ended up submitting.”

Soon after the first round ended, the team received notice that they had been selected as one of the 171 teams to advance to the second round. In round two they were still required to incorporate the eight UN goals, but this time were also required to include the competition theme, "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today,” into a new photo essay.

For the second entry, Fullmer and Asplund combined both of their areas of expertise -- Fullmer being a technology engineering education major in the Fulton College of Engineering and Technology and Asplund a graphic design major. They represented all eight of the UN goals by photographing real-life representations of classic paintings, adjusted to represent modern technology. For example, their modern version of Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” represents promoting gender equality and empowering women.

Fullmer said she benefited from her academic training that gives students a chance to learn technical skills in preparation to teach. Fullmer’s emphasis on multimedia prepared her for the Imagine Cup.

“The only reason that I am this advanced and have learned this much is because the professors taught us the basics of how to learn and trouble shoot and try new things,” Fullmer said. “If it weren’t for the professors in the program I don’t think that I would be able to be here. It’s their willingness to let me take stuff and learn and push me.”

On July 3 the teams were given their final set of instructions and had three days to take photos and put together a final entry. They were judged not only on the quality of their photos, but also on storytelling and originality.

Before the team departed, their mentor expressed confidence.

“I think they can do well [in Egypt,]” Wright said. “Tara can really capture good portrait photos. For all of the contestants to be taking the photos in the same location, they can all get similar shots. It really equals the playing ground.”

Imagine Cup was founded in 2003 and has hosted finals in such locations as Spain, Brazil and India. Photography is one of the competition’s ten categories, which also include software design, game development and short film.

“I think it’s not necessarily the end product that’s helping me, it’s the whole process,” Fullmer said. “I’m learning how to take the camera, be short on time, try new techniques and still get the best shot possible. All this experience is helping me to become a better photographer.”

Writer: Patrick Perkins

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