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Our journey to Montreal to present our paper, "Providing Access to Education in Sub-Saharan Countries through Content-Oriented Technology" at the first IEEE International Humanitarian Technology Conference was an adventure to say the very least.
The first order of business was a seven hour drive from Waterloo to downtown Montreal. This provided ample time for team bonding, reflecting on our time spent in the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program as we realized it is coming to an end, and debating the quality of my choice of music. After driving well into the night, we had arrived with just enough time for a short rest before the first day of the conference.
International Humanitarian Technology Conference
The conference had a great variety of keynote speakers, tutorial instructors, and panel discussions featuring engineers, professors, and professionals from vast backgrounds. One such tutorial was from a former U.S. Army Special Forces operative on the use of GPS and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze the potential and results of humanitarian projects. It was a very compelling idea that the use of military technology and strategies can effectively ensure that humanitarian relief efforts reach their intended recipients and are not lost through various forms of corruption.
Student paper presentations
Fortunately for our team, we were presenting on the last day of the conference, which gave us the opportunity to watch student groups from all over the world present and see what we were up against. It also gave us a chance to listen to the judges’ feedback and get a feel for what they were looking for in the presentations. Like I always say, play the player, not the game. This turned out to be a significant advantage for us. After seeing a few other students crash and burn, particularly during the Q&A period, we decided to totally revise the presentation we had prepared.
Impact of MBET
Our second advantage, and part of the reason that we recognized we should tailor our presentation to the judges, was the preparation we received in the MBET program. After 9 months of being in the program and countless presentations in front of classmates, mentors, investors, and professors on so many different topics, our comfort level and confidence was head and shoulders above the competition.
On the final day of the competition we stepped up to the podium, PowerPoint presentation queued up and looking crisp, and we knocked it out of the park. I’m pretty sure I saw a couple tears in the eyes of a few audience members.
The Q&A period was like a media scrum reminiscent of an interview following a Leafs win over the Habs. The professionalism of our presentation and our attire (I’m not kidding) was so profound that the judges went as far as to doubt that we were even students. We were confident that we had the right preparation and the right presentation to win the competition and we walked out knowing we had won before they even announced the results.
Now for the climax: we won Best Student Paper!
But there was no time to celebrate; we had another 7 hour drive ahead of us. A very windy 7 hour drive, since the window of my truck had been smashed in, all for a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses (sorry Mrinay) and the thrill of rummaging through all of my worthless papers. With the wind in our faces and time to reflect on the conference and the people we met there, the feeling of satisfaction began to sink in. Not only the satisfaction of winning, but also the satisfaction from representing the University of Waterloo, the Conrad Centre, and the MBET program to the best of our ability.
Alex hails from Etobicoke, Ontario and comes from an entrepreneurial family. Formerly involved in his family's business, Alex came to Waterloo and the MBET program to follow his passion for technology and to pursue making a name for himself. Beyond his achievements in the MBET program, Alex is most proud of managing to balance his academics with playing Varsity Rugby at the University of Waterloo.