Holding Jamaica's flag high
Ainsley Walters, Gleaner Writer
JAMAICA's 'firsts' have become so common that international achievements, amid adversary, hardly surprise anymore.
However, for others, it's still hard to fathom how a 'dot on the map' reaches the World Cup finals, simultaneously produces bobsledders, an Iditarod competitor, a world-rated skier, an entrant who wows Wimbledon and the fastest-ever athletes in the world.
When Mandeville-based Nor-thern Caribbean University's (NCU) Team Xormis won the Interoperability Category at the eighth annual Microsoft Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals on July 8 in Warsaw, Poland, it was yet another first for the land of reggae music, Blue Mountain Coffee and international beauty queens.
Just as Jody-Anne Maxwell did when she became the first black winner of the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, in 1998, NCU's Team Xormis - Shawn McLean, Dwayne Samuels, Derron Brown and Markel Mairs - must have shocked international academia.
Up to 15 years ago, Jamaican schools were still grappling with the concept of teaching information technology, yet, in 2010, Team Xormis sat atop a category at the Imagine Cup, sponsored by Microsoft Corp, and known globally as the world's premier student-technology competition.
Out of a field of more than 325,000 high-school and university students representing more than 100 countries and regions, Team Xormis won one of the toughest categories.
However, for coach Kenrie Hylton, chair for the Computer and Information Sciences Department at NCU, the stage was set for Team Xormis by its forerunner, Team ICAD, which had placed third in Software Design in 2007.
Each year, the Imagine Cup challenges participants to develop solutions around a specific theme. In Seoul, Korea, in 2007, the theme was education, and NCU's Team ICAD developed CADI - Computer-aided distance instruction.
Hylton described CADI as a solution for distance learning "involving cross-communication instruction in German, French, English and Italian in a virtual classroom, allowing seamless communication".
Team Xormis, Hylton said, went out-of-the-box as the competition empowered students to use technology, innovation and creativity to help solve some of the world's most challenging social issues outlined in the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.
Participants were called on to design mobile health-care applications to enable access to quality education for all children and to create games that teach disease prevention - basically use technology to make a difference in the life of people around the world and in their own communities.
Hylton said NCU's Team Xormis came up with the idea to develop an application to "build bridges between other platforms".
"Basically, you have applications which don't normally 'talk' to each other but we designed one to share data and information to, in the long run, achieve a specific objective.
"XORMIS was bold enough to develop a software that would address all eight of the UN Millennium Development Goals. This solution basically empowered non-governmental organisations and charities such as the Red Cross to more efficiently use resources," he explained.
"Let's say a relief effort is under way in a specific region. We developed the most effective and efficient way to do so.
"If blankets and medicines are needed, our programme would allow them to find suppliers in that vicinity and be able to channel those resources to where they are most needed.
"It replaces the manual method of trying to find resources. It also helps persons wanting to supply specific products," Hylton outlined, explaining that, similar to social networking sites, the programme is 'managed' by users.
NCU had also entered Team EDUC8 in Software Design, but that group failed to make the top six. However, Hylton, who attended NCU and Colombus State University, and is now at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, pursuing a PhD in information systems, said the team's failure to advance was nothing to scoff at.
"Just to reach the finals ... it's like reaching football's World Cup finals," he said in praise of Team EDUC8, regional champions in software design, which, along with Team XORMIS, were the only two qualifiers from the region.
Out of a field of more than 325,000high-school and university students representing more than 100 countries and regions, Team Xormis won one of the toughest categories.
The Gleaner Honour Awards 2010 Winners
This year's winners in their respective categories are:
• Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts for Arts and Culture;
• Jazz and Blues Festival for Entertainment;
• University of the West Indies' Professor Wayne McLaughlin for Science and Technology;
• The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica for Business;
• Dr Christopher Tufton for Public Service;
• University of Technology for Education;
• Andrews Memorial Hospital for Health and Wellness;
• R. 'Danny' Williams for Voluntary Service;
• Mike Fennell for Sports;
•Northern Caribbean University's victorious Xormis team, and Jamaica Social Investment Fund copped the Special Award;
• The Lifetime Award went to Professor Barry Chevannes.
From this illustrious group, the Man of Year will emerge.