UT students compete for $1 million prize from Clinton Global Initiative

Five University of Tampa students are finalists for the Clinton Global Initiative's $1 million Hult Prize for their design of a text message program that they hope can steer education in impoverished parts of the world.

Their company is called "Tembo," which means "elephant" in Swahili, and they will present their plan this weekend in New York City, with Clinton in attendance.

"This year's challenge is to provide quality education to ten million children, zero to six years old living in slums around the world," said team leader Phil Michaels. "We have eight minutes to sell them on why we deserve $1 million."

They have made it through several rounds of presentations, beating Ivy Leaguers to become the only finalist from the United States.

"Out of 200,000 people in (certain) communities there is only one school," said team member Samantha Taranto. "They are lucky if they have shoes."

But 80 percent of adults have cell phones, which are perfect antennas to receive daily educational instructions.

Team members even moved there for three months.

"After seeing the children, their mother's faces, when they saw how proud they were that their child was learning this material, they were so proud, it showed us it's a necesscity," said Michaels.

Their plan has been applauded by Nigeria's vice president.

The question now: can their eight-minute presentation beat five other schools from around the world to win seed money to hire teachers?

"We are going to go up there and give it our all," said Hawili.

The presentation is Saturday at 6 p.m. and there is a watch party being held at the University of Tampa.

Admission is $5, with proceeds slated to help the team fund their programs.

Click here to visit the group's Facebook page for more information on the party.