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From left to right: Black Dot co-founders Mujale Chisebuka, K. Wyking Garrett, and Aramis Hamer accept the 2016 Geek of the Year Award. Not pictured: co-founder Monica Washington.

In a world full of fancy photo filters and funny GIFs, it’s easy to forget sometimes that technology is at its best when it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Let the GeekWire Awards serve as a reminder, as we open up the public voting this morning in one of our favorite categories: Geek of the Year.

This category recognizes a person (or group of people) who created a technological breakthrough that made the world a better place, or strengthened the community through their work or good deeds.

Last year’s winners were the co-founders of Black Dot, a startup hub and resource center in Seattle’s Central District. Past winners include Malorie Catchpole and Jennifer Muhm of buddingSTEM; Julie Sandler of Madrona Venture Group; and in an unprecedented tie in 2013, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence CEO Oren Etzioni of the University of Washington, and cancer researcher Rebecca Gardner of Seattle Children’s Hospital.

This year’s finalists are community sparkplugs and entrepreneurial leaders who have overseen major initiatives in the Pacific Northwest — challenging authority and conventional wisdom to get important things done. Read more about each of them and vote for your pick in the poll below.

Over the next two weeks, we’re opening voting in 14 GeekWire Awards categories, with GeekWire readers choosing their top picks from finalists selected by our panel of judges from community nominations. Check back on GeekWire each day to cast your ballots.

All of the winners will be revealed at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Business — on May 4 at the Museum of Pop Culture. Tickets available here. Vote below and continue reading for more about each of this year’s finalists.

 

Connie Bourassa-Shaw. (University of Washington Photo)

Connie Bourassa-Shaw spent nearly two decades building the entrepreneurship programs at the University of Washington, and announced plans earlier this year to step down starting this summer. She will spend one year in a part-time role at the UW leading a new Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship degree she helped create, before officially retiring.

The respected leader brought an entrepreneurial mindset to campus and helped launch successful programs like the UW Business Plan Competition and the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge while creating entrepreneurship-related curriculum and building connections with the larger Seattle startup community.

“Working with student entrepreneurs is probably the most fun you can have,” she told GeekWire in an earlier interview.

Read more about Bourassa-Shaw and her career in this earlier GeekWire story.

Candace Faber

Candace Faber is leading change in government as the City of Seattle’s Civic Technology Advocate. It’s a role that includes spreading the power of tech to underserved sectors of city government and community groups, and promoting open government.

“This city belongs to everyone who loves it, no matter when they got here, where they came from, or how much they earn,” she said. “I believe this can and should be reflected back in the way city government works. Technology can increase open access to information, services, safety, civic participation, nature, and most importantly, human connection, but only if we are fully committed to centering this work around humans and their most marginalizing experiences.”

“I am grateful to have been able to advance a vision for Seattle in which our commitments to social and environmental justice are reflected in how we design, use, and distribute access to technology. While we clearly have a long way to go, I have faith that Seattle’s tech industry – and, more importantly, the people in it – can be a force for positive disruption on levels beyond our most audacious hopes.”

Read more about Faber and her role in this earlier GeekWire interview.

Washington AG Bob Ferguson (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson put the state at the forefront of the battle against President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban, enlisting the help of tech companies including Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft to win a temporary restraining order against the executive order.

“No one is above the law — not even the president,” Ferguson said after U.S. District Judge James Robart issued the ruling at a hearing in February. The ruling was subsequently upheld on appeal, before Trump issued a revised version of the order that the state is continuing to oppose.

Computer Science professor Ed Lazowska fires a t-shirt gun at the March 9 inauguration of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. (University of Washington photo)

Ed Lazowska, the longtime University of Washington computer science professor, is spearheading the campaign for a second computer science building that will double the capacity of the top-rated CSE program, allowing it to award more than 600 degrees annually. Lazowska was instrumental in raising the outside funding for the project from companies including Amazon, Microsoft and Zillow, to supplement the state funding.

Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of the University of Washington’s newly christened Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, also played a key role in the historic $40 million donation from Allen that’s expected to vault the program further into the top tier of U.S. computer science schools.

Martina Welkhoff.

Martina Welkhoff is board president of Seattle Women in Tech, the regional chapter of the national organization that’s driving change in the technology community by connecting, educating and empowering women in technology.

Welkhoff is the founder of ConveneVR, which she started after selling her enterprise collaboration startup Zealyst to the University of Washington. She’s a vocal advocate for gender equity who believes that VR has the potential to be more gender balanced than other industries because it’s a new frontier.

“We’re lucky to have Martina in the Seattle technology ecosystem,” said Ben Gilbert, co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs. “She truly gives back, both formally as the President of Seattle Women in Tech and Curator of Seattle’s Global Shapers group, and informally as a friend and mentor to many. Her leadership on projects to promote equity spans beyond these organizations, and into her newest company, ConveneVR. It’s exciting to watch her bring her passion for such an important topic to the emerging medium.”

Vote for your pick above, and join us May 4 at the GeekWire Awards, where the winners will be revealed. 

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