Changing the Equation: The Case for Faculty Involvement in the Microsoft Imagine Cup


The goal of any untenured faculty member is to get tenure at their institution.  In order to do that, the faculty members have to arrange their efforts according to an equation that has the variables of teaching, research, service.   Sounds easy, right?  Well, in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”  The fact of the matter is this…the variables in the equation are not considered in equal measure.  Plus the values that are assigned to each variable change from school to school.  It reminds me of that commercial for the financial services company where everyone is walking around with their “number.”  However, instead of people walking around town carrying dollar amounts, imagine a bunch of untenured faculty carrying around signs that say “60% Teaching + 30% Research + 10% Service.”

Despite the fact that the equations vary from school to school, they generally fall into two categories.  The first category are  those schools that are weighted more towards teaching (60% Teaching + 30% Research + 10% Service) and the other category are those schools that are more geared toward research (30% Teaching + 60% Research + 10% Service).  So, at this point, I am sure you are thinking “What does this have to do with Imagine Cup?”  Well, regardless what the tenure equation is, one thing is generally true…the service counts the least towards tenure.  So, guess where most universities count Imagine Cup participation…yep, you guessed it.  They count it as service…and therefore, it doesn’t count as much as the other areas of the tenure equation.  So many untenured faculty think that their efforts could be best focused on other areas.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can use the Imagine Cup to change the equation and affect the areas other than service.  Let’s take research for example.  I have translated my Imagine Cup experience into multiple publications in conference proceedings and into one journal article that is headed out to review and one more in the works.  I have also integrated some aspects of the Imagine Cup into the curriculum of my classes.  This counts towards the teaching part of the equation as innovative teaching methods.  This is actually just scratching the surface of the benefits as they relate to tenure.   I am not even counting the benefits that you get from helping students succeed, and the increased visibility of yourself and your university in the community.

The point is that participation in the Imagine Cup should not be viewed as a tenure killer.  In fact, it can be a tenure accelerator.  You just have to understand how you can leverage the efforts that you put into the Imagine Cup to, in essence, “change the equation.”

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