VCU wins national software design competition by Microsoft

Team from Schools of Business and Engineering Advances to Worldwide Finals

A team of Virginia Commonwealth University students has won top honors at Microsoft Corp.’s annual Imagine Cup software design competition for a tablet PC-based teaching tool for early childhood education.

VCU’s team, James Barrett, John McKeon and John Sells, came in first place in the 2005 U.S. Software Design Invitational of Imagine Cup and received a $9,000 cash award and a trip to the worldwide finals in Yokohama, Japan, in July. The Imagine Cup recognizes creative and technological innovations in the worldwide student community. The student teams were asked to create a mobile application that dissolves the boundaries between people. The national competition, featuring 30 teams, was held May 20-21 at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

The winning VCU team developed ECESIS, a tablet PC-enabled application designed for use in early childhood education classrooms to facilitate writing instruction. The ECESIS system will provide objective feedback and scoring of student progress, and includes a Web reporting interface that will be accessible to parents, teachers and school administrators.

“This is a great accomplishment for our students, who competed against teams from major universities throughout the country,” said Michael Sesnowitz, Ph.D., dean of VCU’s School of Business. “It is also an example of a collaboration between Information Systems in the School of Business and Computer Science in the School of Engineering that will only strengthen when the two schools co-locate to the new Monroe Park Campus Addition.”

The VCU team draws on expertise from academic departments in different disciplines. Barrett, a senior, and McKeon, a junior, are both information systems majors in the business school. Sells is a senior who majored in computer science in the engineering school. The team from Carnegie Mellon University came in second, followed by a Northeastern University team in third.

“When competing head-to-head with teams from universities ranked in the top ten in the nation, our students win," said Robert J. Mattauch, Ph.D., dean of VCU's School of Engineering. "The corporate world indicates it wants engineering and business graduates who can work together and solve problems together. Our students already are demonstrating the ability to successfully execute tasks across these two disciplines. The synergy between our engineering and business students, faculty members, and programs have helped put VCU on the forefront of interdisciplinary education.”

“The students at this year’s Imagine Cup represent the next generation of technology and business leaders. Each of them has created an application that demonstrates the power of technology in solving real-world problems,” said Morris Sim, senior director of the Academic and Developer Community Group in the Servers and Tools Division of Microsoft. “Their creativity and innovation is inspiring and speaks a magnitude about the future of technology.”

“Winning the Imagine Cup U.S. finals is an honor and just the beginning for ECESIS,” said Barrett on behalf of his team. “The Imagine Cup already has opened doors in the education community, and the overwhelming positive response from the judges and participants has validated the universal need and appeal of our vision.”

The Imagine Cup, now in its third year, is a competition designed to provide an outlet for 
students to explore technological and artistic interests outside the classroom. More than 
10,000 students from over 90 countries have competed in the nine Imagine Cup 2005 
invitationals: Algorithm, Information Technology (IT), Office Designer, Rendering, Short Film, 
Software Design, Technology Business Plan, Visual Gaming and Web Development.

For more information about the Imagine Cup competition, visit

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see