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Cornell University

Cornell Engineering uSPARK Competition 2023

Theme: The Indispensable Condition

Undergraduate Scholars Present About Research and Knowledge (uSPARK) Talks 2023

Join us and vote for your favorite, Nov 15, 2023 at 5:30pm in Gates G01.

“Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.”
-Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, Associate Justice, Supreme Court Of the United States

In the fall of 2023, Cornell Engineering and the Engineering Communications Program invited engineering undergraduates to compete for the final $2,000 prize. On Nov 15 in Gates G01, finalists will address the theme of “The Indispensable Condition,” highlighting the concepts of academic freedom and freedom of expression and how they manifest inside engineering, scientific, or technical work. JOIN US AND VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE!

First Place Prize is $2,000!

Hosted by the Engineering Communications Program of Cornell Engineering
Sponsored by The Roger K. Berman Oral Presentation Award Fund

Six finalists will give talks 3-5 minutes long. A panel of judges will give awards, and the audience will also vote for a favorite. Topic title from participants are below.

  • Maya Yu, Promoting Diversity and Individuality in Engineering Workplaces: Addressing the Impact of Assimilation Culture and Code-Switching”
  • Jonathan Indajang, “What We Owe Each Other: Healthcare and the Engineer”
  • Oliver Sandiford, “Unraveling Prejudice Present in Machine Algorithm Recruitment: Circumventing Bias in Applicant Screening”
  • Lila Rallatos, “The Gender Drop-Down: How Technical Education Objectifies, Hates, and Ignores Transgender Engineers”
  • Max Garval, “Engineers Sold Your Face to the NYPD”
  • Nadav Soudry, “Conflict Between Engineers and Product Managers”


  • One Grand Prize winner: $2,000
  • One Runner-Up winner: $500
  • One Audience Favorite winner (who can also be a Grand Prize or Runner-Up winner, too): $500
  • All others: $200 (everyone is rewarded for making it to the Final Round)


The Engineering Communications Program is hosting this presentations competition to support Cornell’s 2023 campus-wide theme of “free expression and academic freedom.” Cornell President, Dr. Martha Pollack, announced the year-long theme in April 2023, saying, “It is critical to our mission as a university to think deeply about freedom of expression and the challenges that result from assaults on it, which today come from both ends of the political spectrum…Learning from difference, learning to engage with difference and learning to communicate across difference are key parts of a Cornell education. Free expression and academic freedom are the bedrock not just of the university, but of democracy.”

This opportunity allows students to hone their presentation skills with a supportive structure that encourages participants to explore a topic related to the theme.

Elements below are now archival, in that these events and application due dates have passed.


Application (done)

Application Prompt

In your particular field, what is your responsibility to your colleagues and audiences in those moments where free expression, academic freedom, research, ethics, public good, and your technical knowledge intersect, create new opportunities, or even clash? Bring your provocative and thoughtful ideas regarding a field-specific topic of your choice.

Brainstorming Prompts (done)

  • Discuss how to fairly align AI’s impact and responsibility with concepts of scientific truth and discovery.
  • Explore how we untangle a person’s own “free speech” versus being a competent representative of a scientific or engineering company or organization.
  • Examine the role of engineering experts, in any field, to guide stakeholders to positive outcomes (not just profitable outcomes) in an ethical manner.
  • Consider ways to balance the responsibility of free speech with the responsibility to adhere to a company’s mission, when those two things are not aligned.
  • Explore the ways in which engineering workplaces support or quash freedom of expression.
  • Discuss the role of engineers in designing algorithms for content moderation on social media platforms and the challenges they face in balancing freedom of speech with the need to prevent hate speech, misinformation, and harassment.
  • Analyze the ethical dilemmas faced by engineers when developing AI and natural language processing (NLP) systems that can generate or filter speech. How do they balance free expression with preventing harm?
  • Explore how engineers, policymakers, and stakeholders work together to shape internet governance and regulations that impact freedom of speech.
  • Explore the importance of including ethics and human rights education in engineering education to ensure that engineers consider the societal impacts of their work on freedom of speech.
  • Examine how algorithms used in social media platforms can create filter bubbles and echo chambers that affect freedom of speech and diversity of thought.
  • Investigate the relationship between open source software development and the principles of free speech, including the role of engineers in promoting open collaboration.

How can a student apply? (done)

If you are a current Cornell Engineering undergraduate, begin your application via this uSPARK Google Form application by Sept 29 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time. You will be asked some basic demographic information, and then there will be a space for your topic proposal of 50-250 words. This is Round 1 of consideration.

What are the requirements for participation? (done)

All interested students must make the commitment to meet on Wednesdays from 5:00-6:30 p.m., starting on October 4, 2023; this is a required participation element. The final competition will be held Nov 15, 2023, at 5:30-7 p.m. in Gates G01. See more about meeting times below.

What happens after the Round 1 application is submitted?

These topic proposals will be reviewed by a board of faculty and staff in Cornell Engineering; from the pool of applicants, around 25 students will go to Round 2. Those who move forward in the process will be alerted via email.

  • Oct 4: The first required meeting of Round 2 contenders will meet in Hollister Hall (the room number will be sent with acceptance email). There, Round 2 folks will be provided with presentations training, topic guidance, and pizza. Time is set for 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
  • Oct 11: The second required meeting of Round 2 contenders will meet in Hollister Hall again. There, Round 2 folks will be provided with presentations training, topic guidance, and pizza. Time is set for 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
  • Oct 18: Round 2 contenders submit a 3-minute recorded video for Round 3 considerations.
  • Oct 25: Those moving on to the finals (Round 3) are informed via email. We anticipate five finalists for Round 3.
  • Nov 1: Round 3 contenders meet for a final training. Time is set for 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
  • Nov 15: Round 3 Finalists present to the public their 3-5 minute talk in Gates G01, 5:30 p.m. Winners announced, and all participants are celebrated.

Apply Here (done)

Begin your application via this uSPARK Google Form application. Apply by Sept 29, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.

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