YouthSpark Challenge for Change winners promote STEM and storytelling

YouthSpark Challenge for Change winners promote STEM and storytelling

Today, Microsoft announced the 2014 YouthSpark Challenge for Change winners
Winners of the 2014 YouthSpark Challenge for Change

Winners of the 2014 YouthSpark Challenge for Change

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 6:00pm

CAMPAIGN: Microsoft YouthSpark


By Aimee Riordan

On Thursday Microsoft announced the 2014 YouthSpark Challenge for Change winners, a distinctive group with members who hail from around the globe and who share two things in common: they are already affecting change in their communities, and they have supersized ambitions to do more.

Microsoft’s YouthSpark Challenge for Change is part of the company’s YouthSpark initiative, a global effort to create opportunities for 300 million youth by 2015. We asked students ages 18-25 for their ideas to spark change and ignite social good in their communities or around the world, and received inspirational entries from participants in more than 50 countries.

The winners were chosen by public vote and will receive a volunteer travel experience in the Amazon to learn about social change, $2,500 cash to kick-start their projects and a Microsoft technology bundle including Windows Phone 8, Xbox One and Surface 2 with Office 365 University.

Meet winners Dominic Co, Juan Carlos Murillo, Laura Fulton, Sarah Stifler and Sathya Narayanan Subramanian, and learn how they plan to expand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to underrepresented groups, create empathy and understanding through the power of storytelling, and grow the horizons of others with e-learning.

Sara Stifler says she’d be lying if she didn’t admit to “squealing” when she found out she’d won: “I was really excited and I felt really blessed.”

Stifler, 20, a senior at the University of Maryland in College Park, founded Journey in Their Shoes with her best friend and business partner, Connie Gago, earlier this year. It’s a website that collects stories from people they meet, with the hopes that sharing them will promote respect, love and understanding.

“We’re doing this for people who don’t have a voice,” Stifler says. “We want to expand to other parts of the world. The publicity, the money and the technology that will come from winning Challenge for Change will be so crucial to expanding our mission to reach more people, and tell more stories.”

Stifler hatched the idea for Journey in Their Shoes while working at a sandwich shop in her native Baltimore, Md. She realized in talking to her customers that “everyone was different, but yet the same in so many ways.” It occurred to her how easy it is to simply walk through life not seeing others.

“Stories help humanize people,” she adds. And once you know someone’s story, you’re more apt to empathize with them. Stifler and Gago hope to evolve their storytelling effort into a hands-on approach to help people in need, while at the same time create a merchandise chain that will sell the work of the some of the artisans on their website.

Stifler’s looking forward to traveling to the Amazon to collect stories from the people in that part of the world and is particularly excited about the Windows Phone 8 she’ll receive as part of the prize package. “The cell phone will be incredible. It will be amazing to have a great, quality camera, and access to my calendar. The old phone I have right now, it doesn’t do that!”