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Forward together: Avanade’s third annual FUEL conference inspires interns and STEM scholars to go beyond

  • Posted on August 25, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

Last month I hosted Avanade’s third annual FUEL: Innovation, Leadership and Technology Conference for our Avanade STEM Scholars and Summer Interns. This year was bigger and better than ever before, with 180+ scholars and interns, representing 94 universities along with close to 55 speakers.  Our theme for this year’s FUEL was Forward Together, a theme I believe resonated strongly with our young audience.

The FUEL conference is near and dear to my heart. I am passionate about many things, but perhaps nothing more than ensuring that young people have access to education and the right opportunities to learn, connect and grow. This is a value I share with Avanade, where our purpose is to make a genuine human impact. The FUEL conference is all about giving young people access to experts from the innovation, technology, and leadership fields.  It’s also about enabling them to make connections, work together and build their networks. Here are a few of my personal highlights from the week.

Our speakers

What a week it was!  Everyone involved shared with me how inspiring and thought provoking they found the event, and it would not have been possible without our amazing speakers. I cannot reference all of them but here are my highlights.  We kicked off with an amazing keynote from Doctor Soraya Coley, President of Cal Poly Pomona and Florin Rotar, Avanade’s Chief Technology Officer.  They talked about finding opportunity amid difficulty and working to take down barriers.

Next, we moved to discuss “The Great Reset,” a session built on our theme of Forward Together which also kicked off our Hackathon themes; environmental sustainability; healthcare and living and learning in a post pandemic world. Joining Miranda Hill, our session host, were Anne Rosenburg, Dan Terry and Vis Nadioo who spoke about the acceleration in action across the sustainability agenda and Net Zero targets, the imperative of access to healthcare and the importance of foundational skills for young people entering the workforce. 

The program continued with several amazing sessions around technology which were all embraced by our young delegates. Aaron Reich hosted a session looking at Emerging Tech and was joined by panellists from Hello Robot, UBQ and Microsoft. The panel discussed the evolution of robots and the importance of human factors—for example, what is the use case, how will the human interact with the robot.  We also touched on quantum computing and talked about what it will and won’t do.

There was also a session hosted by Six Khatiwada, which looked at the use of Data and Artificial Intelligence in the Tech for Social Good space, where they discussed ways in which technologies are being used to deliver human impact, including the example of the work Avanade is doing with the World Health Organization.  And I could not talk about technology without giving a call out to Jeff Vilimek and his intriguing session on extended and virtual reality.

Our CEO Pamela Maynard joined us for what turned out to be a true open and transparent dialogue with our delegates.  Pam shared some inspiring insights on her career journey to becoming Avanade’s CEO, advice from her mother: “don’t be afraid to walk through the door,” it is open for everyone, just take those steps.  She also encouraged everyone to challenge old ways of thinking and take risks.  It is often when we are afraid that we discover the greatest opportunities to be bold and innovative and to make the world a better place, and to choose a working environment which aligns with your purpose. 

We also held two highly engaging career sessions; first with former FUEL alumni, who returned to share their career journeys so far and the second with leaders and executives who shared their career paths and successes with our students.    

There was a lot of talk around “purpose” which was built upon by Akhtar Badshah, author of Purpose Mindset, in a session with Patti Dobrowolski on creating a purpose mindset.  The workshop was very engaging, with Patti capturing an infographic which brought our delegates’ purpose and value to life. All in all, the session was invigorating and empowering!

We closed the conference with a discussion on “The Road Ahead Post COVID: Excelling in the New Normal,” moderated by Anita Jivani.  Anita facilitated a fantastic discussion with a large guest panel, which tackled issues such as what returning to the workplace might look like.  The panel also took some great questions from our audience.

Our students and the hackathon

As if all of the speakers and sessions was not enough, we challenged our delegates to go “Forward Together” and beyond with The FUEL2021 Hackathon. The FUEL hackathon has become a bit of an institution—regularly astounding judges with the calibre and thoroughness of the ideas and solutions presented by our young delegates. In total, the students presented 37 outstanding projects, and six finalists were selected to complete for the top positions. The final judges, Stella Goulet, Simon Nynens, Ann Rosenberg, Daniel Terry and Vis Naidoo had a hard time selecting a winner for each category.  But winners had to be chosen, so in the end, we have three winners and one further winner who received the popular vote amongst delegates:

  • HeadSpace; Mental Health Emergency service, won the Health and Wellbeing category; well done, Riley Beavers, Amanda Stewart, Meet Patel and Nikki Jazayeri.
  • Carbon Escape won Environmental Sustainability —great work Devon Hall, Thomas Ware, Heba Yousef, Leah Quilianan and Matthew Vuu.
  • Digital Playmate won Living and Learning category in the New Norm.outstanding work, Jacqueline Myers, Brett Boos, Jonathan Hendrickson, Jonathan Gaber and Jonathan Guest. And
  • Popular Vote went to PrivacyDoc (from the Healthcare theme)—great performance, Eli Bowden, Javon Chambers, Nicolas Dinh, Ethan Le and Jasmine Singh.

Each team brought their full self to their presentations and shared inspiring personal stories which made their solutions so much more real and relevant.  I can honestly say it was such an energizing and inspiring week, with great speakers and a super engaged audience. We set the bar high for FUEL2021—and with the support of our amazing audience, we smashed it.  Bring on FUEL2022!

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