“The IT Innovation Cup is a high school competition trying to get students excited about things that they can build using computing,” Babb said. “We’re always looking for creative solutions.” Finding a creative solution is exactly what Babb had to do as the program came to a close this year.
Computing skills isn’t just writing code, it’s seeing problems and coming up with solutions.
- Derek Babb
Started in 2012 by Doug Derrick, Ph.D., associate professor IT Innovation at IS&T, the Cup takes place over the course of seven months. Each year a new problem is presented, often focusing on a societal issue that would benefit from an innovative solution. This year’s challenge “Innovations in Micro-Mobility” is a subject personally interesting to Babb and connected directly to one of the Cup's sponsors, Werner Enterprises. Fiserv is also a sponsor, supporting the Cup since 2012.
“I’m on the board of Mode-Shift Omaha, they’re a multi-mobile advocacy group. My innovation was how can we make it for public transport to work better, especially around that last mile,” Babb said. “Really trying to get students to think about what they could do so you don't always rely on an automobile.”
Sarah Stratman, a computer science teacher at Duchesne Academy and first-year IT Innovation Cup participant, says the Cup has been a positive experience. She’s teaching computer science for the first time, as well as earning her Master of Science in Computer Science Teacher Education. Computer science education at Duchesne has been around for about five years, but Stratman says she’s the first full-time teacher dedicated to the subject. She’s excited about the Cup’s challenge, and says that the “innovation” focus helps show the students that information technology is more than just coding.
“It’s been a really cool experience, to join the team, and develop our own program together,” Caitlyn Copenhaver, a senior at Duchesne Academy, said. “It’s really cool getting to learn everyone’s perspective on the issue...I’m really glad we started getting into it.”
Copenhaver said that her teammates were already meeting virtually throughout the year to accommodate their busy schedules, so the switch to virtual wasn’t a big shift for them. She seems to be taking impact COVID-19 has made on her senior year in stride.
“This was supposed to be the fun time, and it’s disappointing, but it’s just how things have turned out this year,” she said. ““With the circumstances, I think moving online is a pretty good idea, I think it will turn out pretty good anyways.”
The Cup’s finale is usually a large event with hundreds of students attending from the competing schools, catered food, and prizes. This year, Babb looked to the students to tell them if they wanted to proceed or not, knowing it was going to look drastically different. The program started with 16 teams representing 11 different schools. In the end, only four teams turned in their final project over video.
Regardless of the final outcome, Babb has big ideas for the next year. From involving the IT Innovation student organization to finding ways to involve schools from across the state, Babb is already thinking about new challenges and changes to the program.
What does he hope students learn from this year’s competition?
“Computing skills isn’t just writing code, it’s seeing problems and coming up with solutions,” Babb said. “I hope that they start looking at the world a little differently and start using public transportation.”