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Sophomore Wins Microsoft Contest
November 10, 2005

Calvin College sophomore computer science major E.J. Dyksen is one of five national grand prize winners in Microsoft Corporation's Start Something Amazing Awards.

Dyksen is in Redmond, Washington, today with the other winners for a meeting with Bill Gates at Microsoft headquarters.

E.J. DyksenThe contest recognizes people who use Microsoft systems and software to pursue their passions.

"In my case," says Dyksen, an East Lansing native, "my passion is comedy."

His essay and video clip, spotlighting Calvin's new student sketch comedy group LaughterHouse Five, was selected from among thousands of entries in the awards' "Memories" category.

Watch a Microsoft video on Calvin sophomore E.J. Dyksen and what he and his colleagues are trying to do with LaughterHouse Five.

Said Gates in a statement: "Today we celebrate the achievements of five highly creative individuals who used the Microsoft Windows platform to pursue their passions. Their stories, along with those of thousands of others who entered the Start Something Amazing Awards, are inspirational examples of the transformative power of technology."

The value of Dyksen's grand prize is estimated at $20,000, including an all-expenses paid trip to a movie premiere in either New York or Los Angeles with first-class airfare, accommodations for two nights, and $500 spending money.

Dyksen also receives a $5,000 technology package of Microsoft-based products including a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC and a Tablet PC.

But Dyksen, son of Calvin graduates Wayne and Marcia Dyksen (Wayne Dyksen is a Michigan State computer science professor) says the visit with Gates is priceless.

"He's definitely a huge figure in the computer world," Dyksen says, "Meeting Bill Gates is a real privilege that even most employees of Microsoft never get. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Dyksen admires the software magnate not only for his acumen as a business icon, but for his philanthropy as well.

"The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest charitable foundation in the world," says Dyksen, "big on health issues, especially for children, and on technology in education."

Dyksen's contest entry, an edited 30-second digital video clip, was honed from an eight-minute LaughterHouse Five comedy sketch on his Windows XP Media Center Edition PC.

"It's a special version of Windows XP that includes features for working with media like TV, video clips, music, photos, and even radio," he says.

And LaughterHouse Five itself - a student organization at Calvin - collaborates online using a message board with Windows Server technologies.

"We can communicate over the summer when we're not on campus," Dyksen says, "and it's more efficient than emailing because it doesn't fill up your inbox."

LaughterHouse Five, which scripts, rehearses and videotapes its sketches, fills a unique dramatic niche at Calvin according to its founder.

"There are a lot of people in the Calvin community who like to act but can't make the commitment that Calvin Theatre Company requires," Dyksen says. "There are a lot of people who are interested in screenwriting. There are a lot of people who enjoy the technical aspects of video production as well. So we try to bring these people together."

A Microsoft film crew traveled to Calvin to produce a video of LaughterHouse Five in action featuring Dyksen as director, videographe, and editor. A 15-year-old drag racer, Jeannine Johnson, will be featured in Microsoft's national Start Something ad campaign.

Dyksen says he is passionate about digital technologies and is hoping to get an internship at Microsoft next summer.

"You can be sure," he says, "that I'll be talking with Bill Gates about that."

Another winner has Michigan ties as well. Andre Isom, 23, is from Benton Harbor and has been passionate about music since he was a child and dreamed about being a music producer, artist and engineer. These goals became possible once he saw others using a PC to produce, compose and arrange music. Isom now runs his own music studio where he uses his Windows-based PC and several software programs to lay tracks, record vocals and master his music. Isom's use of technology has also carried over into his job as a radio disc jockey.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson