Students Sue Siemens Foundation Over Scholarship Money

Two former Oregon students are suing the Siemens Foundation for “breach of contract”, claiming they have yet to receive a $100,000 scholarship, after winning the 2010 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, according to a legal complaint filed last week, The Oregonian reports.

The Siemens Foundation “has failed and refused to pay the $50,000 scholarship,” won by each team member, according to the lawsuit filed Nov. 13, at Multnomah County Circuit Court in Oregon.

The Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology is a premier science competition, administered by The College Board and funded by the Siemens Foundation, a nonprofit that provides more than $7 million annually in support of educational initiatives in science, technology, engineering, and math, according to its website.

Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez were juniors at Oregon Episcopal School when they entered the prestigious science competition. Their winning entry, a computerized system with software that would identify emotions in human voices, was announced on Dec. 6, 2010 at George Washington University where the team was awarded the scholarship money.

For Krishnan and Fernandez, their individual winnings of $50,000 in college scholarships was going toward their tuition at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, respectively, where the two are currently freshmen, according to the legal complaint.

Portland attorney Jan Kitchel, who is representing Krishnan and Fernandez, said they had “relied” on the scholarship money in choosing to attend the elite schools. Without the scholarships, they “might have gone to cheaper schools,” he added. Kitchel said he did not know whether the universities had provided them with any financial assistance.

Kitchel added that Fernandez and his family had been facing financial difficulties since his father died from cancer, less than a month after he won the competition.

“The results for the 2010 $100K Siemens Competition Team Winners, Akash Krishnan and Matthew P. Fernandez, are in dispute,” Siemens Vice-President of Corporate Affairs Camille Johnston wrote, in an email. It is possible that the nonprofit is questioning the former students’ eligibility in the competition, but it remains unclear as the Siemens Foundation would not comment further because of pending litigation,

To enter, students must be enrolled in grades 9 to 12 at a high school, a Department of Defense Education Activity school, an overseas American or international school, a foreign school, or homeschool, according to the competition’s website.

Kitchel said he is not aware of any complaint that the young winners were ineligible to qualify for the competition. Krishnan and Fernandez are no longer listed as 2010 winners on the Siemens Foundation website.

The two have been friends since the first grade, bonding over a love of science and mathematics, the New York Times reported in March 2011. The idea for their winning science project came from watching the movie “I, Robot” in which one of the robots is able to detect “elevated stress patterns” in a human character’s voice. One of the potential uses of the software is to help children with autism read emotional cues in speech through a wristwatch that would work in real time, and flash an emoticon to its wearer, the New York Times reported.

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