"This is what higher education is all about," said University of Central Arkansas President Tom Courtway, addressing a crowd Tuesday afternoon on the university’s campus.

Courtway, along with other faculty, staff, media representatives and students gathered inside Wingo Hall to hear a presentation by a group of computer science students headed to St. Petersburg, Russia on Saturday to participate in Imagine Cup, a worldwide technology competition sponsored by Microsoft.

John White, Ben Tackett, R. Kyle Eichelberger and Michelle Enfinger, competing as Team Bears Unlimited, were among 20 teams out of about 15,000 total entrants selected to compete in the Worldwide Citizenship category. Team Bears Unlimited will be the only team representing the United States in the same category.

Dr. Tansil Halic, a faculty mentor who will be accompanying the students on their journey, told the audience that in the past several months of development, there have been many ups and downs, "but finally it has paid off," he said.

Since the fall semester, the students have worked to develop the Bear Claw System, a high-tech glove that serves to assist physical and occupational therapy patients at the hand, wrist and forearm.

The system is designed for in-home use, and utilizes a full range-of-motion glove outfitted with sensors that communicate through a connected Windows smart phone paired with a family-friendly game-based data and collection application. That application could then send stored data back to a physical therapist, allowing the therapist to track and assess a patient’s progress each step of the way.

"We’re not replacing therapists, we’re offering an invaluable tool — a mobile, cloud-based solution," White explained. "The applications of our system are absolutely limitless ... Our goal is to make therapy fun so that we turn the ‘have to’ of therapy into a ‘want to.’"

At stake is a $50,000 cash prize, but even greater than that, the team members agree, is the opportunity to pitch the invention before the watchful eyes of a group of corporate investors, and the group is confident that they have what it takes to take first place in the competition, saying that no one has worked harder.

"Out of the other teams there’s maybe five that are real competition," Enfinger said.

"I think one of the big things the judges are looking for is the impact of the solution, and it’s pretty apparent this is something that has huge applications around the world, not just here in the United States," White said.

"We’re thrilled with what you’ve done, and we’re proud you’ll be representing the University of Central Arkansas and the country," Courtway told team members.

The group is scheduled to depart on July 6 from the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, with all expenses paid by Microsoft.

Live results will be streamed online beginning at 8:30 a.m. CST July 11 at www.imaginecup.com.