Drexel team brings home first prize from international tech competition
July 19, 2012By Carolyn Beeler
A team from Drexel University has won first prize in a competition with students from 75 different countries that has been dubbed the "Olympics of Technology."
The students returned from the Microsoft "Imagine Cup," in Sydney, Australia, where they beat teams from Hungary and France in the mobile phone game design competition.
Last August, Drexel computer science senior Matt Lesnak and two other teammates set out to develop a smartphone math game unlike others they had seen. They wanted a game that was not just a glorified problem set and not just a regular video game that included random math problems.
"We really tried to make a game that is built around the math, that makes it both fun for the students and provides as much educational content as possible," Lesnak said.
After consulting with educators, Lesnak and his two teammates came up with "Math Dash." It challenges first- through eighth-grade students to drag and drop numbers into equations to solve simple algebra problems.
Months of programming and preliminary competition later, team members were incredulous when they learned they won at the awards ceremony.
"I don't think we even really remember those next couple of moments, it's just instant reaction, jump up, excited, you don't believe you actually did that," Lesnak said.
The team is hoping to make its game available for download on Windows phones soon.
The win brought a $10,000 donation to Drexel, a $8,000 prize to the teammates, and a chance to win startup funds from Microsoft.
Drexel computer science professor and game design program co-founder Frank Lee advised the team.
"For the amount of work that we put in, we hoped that we (would) place high, but the fact that we were world champions was just beyond expectation," Lee said.
Lee said he has been trying to foster a West Coast attitude of innovation by encouraging his students to develop games and launch their own startups.
Lesnak and his two teammates graduated this year. They have all accepted jobs at Microsoft headquarters near Seattle.