February 2015

Moving into the digital age: LEADS Act looks to ensure privacy while keeping us safe

A few weeks ago, Congress re-introduced legislation named the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act (LEADS Act). In an article from earlier this month in Chicago Lawyer magazine, I provided an overview of the LEADS Act and its importance in a mobile first, cloud first world. It’s important that Congress and the President display LEADership by enacting the LEADS Act into law. For more, please read the full article here: Moving into the digital age: LEADS Act looks to ensure privacy while keeping us safe

In addition, Microsoft General Counsel & Executive Vice President Brad Smith also put together a post about the LEADS Act. Read this blog here.

STEM School Panel: Summer Internships Can Help Solve IT’s Skills Gap and Diversity Divide

STEM School Panel: Summer Internships Can Help Solve IT’s Skills Gap and Diversity Divide

This blog was originally published for Creating IT Futures Foundation, the Philanthropic arm of CompTIA. 

High school junior Shannon Watkins didn’t have a career path in mind when she started at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago, but her skills-based learning experience at one of Chicago’s five Early College STEM Schools (ECSS) — plus exposure to real IT workplaces like IBM and Razorfish — opened her eyes to some wild possibilities.

“It was interesting being able to see different jobs people were doing that weren’t just teachers and police and firefighters,” said Watkins, now with a clear idea of her future. “I want to go into programming, because I’ve done it and I’ve seen how easy it is to code a website.”

During “The State of IT: The Diversity Divide,” a panel hosted by CompTIA, the Creating IT Futures Foundation and Lumity, she and classmate Saul Sahagun shared their experiences attending a school that focuses on skills needed in the modern workplace — an educational initiative created to build a pipeline for talent and solve the IT industry’s skills gap.

On a bitterly cold evening, about 30 people gathered downtown at a Chicago Public Schools building to hear the panel address under-represented demographic groups in the tech workforce, plus the need for private and public partnerships to attract and retain diverse talent, including hosting summer internships for students. 

Building the Pipeline

“As a nation, we’re facing a looming skills gap,” said moderator Brenda Darden Wilkerson, senior manager for computer science and IT Education for Chicago Public Schools. “Chicago last year had over 100,000 it openings. That puts us third in the nation for IT job openings — there are lots and lots of opportunities, but how can we get our city and our students engaged into that pipeline?”

Part of the solution was the creation of Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools — Clark, Corliss, CVCA, Sarah E. Goode and Lake View High Schools — which opened in September 2012 to address the skills gap in the IT industry. The schools teach digital literacy and technical skills and introduce students to what it’s like to work in the real world. Students can earn college credits under a partnership agreement with five technology companies, CPS and City Colleges of Chicago and complete a six-year program with an associate’s degree.

In their first two years at the Sarah E. Goode, Watkins and Sahagun worked with teachers like panelist Eric Berngen, who is also the school’s technology department chair, to learn web development and programming. They now take college IT courses at Daley College.

The ECSS schools go beyond technical literacy, said panelist Shelley Stern Grach, the director of engagement at Microsoft, a corporate partner in the ECSS initiative. The curriculum teaches critical thinking, collaboration and confidence. “It’s a big package,” she said. “The technical skills are super important, but it’s also developing the ability to work in different environments, and all of that is being packaged together.”

Public and private partnerships with the ECSS program help broaden the student experience. At Cisco, for example, students take virtual trips with schools across the country — including a peek at a forensic autopsy with a school in St. Louis, and a look into the skies at the Houston Science Space Center. “It’s amazing to watch them interact and ask really intelligent questions, and to act as if they’re a Cisco employee,” said panelist Jerry Rocco, City of Chicago and Cook County Account Manager for Cisco.

At BLUE1647, an entrepreneurship and technology innovation center focused on professional development, workforce development, business acceleration and economic development in technology, there’s less hands-on learning and more exploration. “We’re bringing Jay-Z and Kanye’s audio engineer to talk, and all of the sudden he’s talking about Google Glass and it’s not the same boring thing,” said BLUE1647 founder and CEO Emile Cambry.

Partnership with the City of Chicago means students also get to work on interesting projects. Lake View students, for example, teamed with the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition and the Army Corps of Engineers to analyze water in the City of Chicago, looking for ways to make water use more efficient.

All the exploration and activities give students a chance to try and fail in technology, which helps them grow, Berngen said. “Failure in technology isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “Giving up is a bad thing, but failing is just part of the process.”

He’s preparing his students for summer internships where they can show off their abilities to work independently. “When you go into the corporate world, people aren’t looking to coddle you. I give them a hard-knock life,” he said, adding that his “hard-knock” approach often includes the phrase, “Dude, you’ve got to figure it out.”

“The way Mr. Berngen taught us, there’s always a solution and you always have to experiment, no matter the circumstances,” Sahagun said.

Diversity Divide

In addition to the skills gap, the industry struggles to bridge the diversity gap: Women, Latinos and African Americans are still vastly underrepresented in IT. “I think a lot of students don’t go into these technologies because they’re not exposed to it,” said Rocco. Students in Chicago’s STEM schools are already bucking diversity trends, and their influence spreads to younger siblings, cousins and friends.

Thankfully, Wilkerson, said, we’re in a time when many of our nation’s leading companies are starting to address this issue. She cited multimillion-dollar diversity initiatives from Google and Intel, and the importance of internships to female and minority students, like the ones the early college STEM schools serve.

The benefit of diversity is getting as many voices and ideas in the room as you can, Cambry. “You do better in the stock market when you have diversity,” he said. “When we talk about the fabric of education and the workforce development piece, it’s important to make sure that everybody’s represented and has a chance, and that everyone can see someone who looks like them working in those careers.”

A diverse workforce isn’t just about skin color — it means diversity in ideas, perspective and opinions.

“We’re always trying to build a diverse workforce, with multiple ethnicities, genders and interests, and I think one of the challenges we have as a corporation is that without building that pipeline, we can’t bring in the people,” said panelist Stephanie Anderson, corporate citizen and corporate affairs manager for IBM. “We need to build that pipeline so as they grow, they’ll be interested in jobs at IBM. It takes building that pipeline and introducing students to those careers early on.”

Early on, Berngen said many of his students considered technology “a white guy’s job.” By discussing the diversity divide with students, they’ve begun to understand the issue and now grasp how much their input is needed. “Now, it’s drastically different to see how many are interested in programming, and girls are, like, the rock stars,” Berngen said. “Girls have been rocking house.”

The Power of Internships

To give students the full spectrum of education and work experience, the early college STEM schools incorporate summer internships into their programs. The program is currently looking for companies in the Chicago area to host six-week internships for a variety of students. If you’re interested in hosting an intern, learn more here.

“I think the summer internship is there to help us prove ourselves, so we can show the rest of the world that you don’t have to specifically go to college and get a high degree to get a good job,” said Sahagun, who wants to pursue computer engineering when he graduates. “It’s just the influence from the people around you who can help.”

Watkins called summer internships a great opportunity not available at all schools. “They’re good for students who want to go into a certain field. An internship can help them think, ‘I could be doing this for the rest of my life,’” she said.

Anderson, who worked in human resources at IBM for many years, said she can’t count the number of times she’s finished a conversation with a student and thought, “I would hire that person today.” “It speaks a lot to their technical skills and how they’ve developed at school,” she said.

The work experience also builds confidence and independence, and is part of the reason Berngen pushes his students to think critically so they can solve problems in the real world. He said: “I’ll put the Berngen stamp on it: When you hire our students for potential internships, you’re going to get that independence — you don’t have to coddle them.”

Summer internships give students a chance to experience technical careers first-hand and enter the workforce with a burgeoning skillset. “We’re looking for six- to eight-week summer internships, hopefully paid, where students can practice what they’re learning in a real-world environment,” said Andrea McMillian, a relationships manager for CompTIA.

“A lot of statistics say that women, African Americans and Latinos graduate but don’t get jobs in technology,” said Cambry, who’s trying to expand the pipeline of talent to include historically black colleges and universities. “Some people might have education but not the skills, and maybe we can bridge that gap in the short term and give them an opportunity to change their lives.”

Michelle Peterson is a communications specialist for CompTIA.

LISCChicago Neighborhood Development Awards Celebrate Community Development, Progress

This week, we were pleased to join LISCChicago for the 21st Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, a celebration of redevelopment, progress, and overall improvement in the City of Chicago. Founded in 1995, CNDA has become one of Chicago’s top-recognized programs, honoring outstanding projects in the city and acknowledging the leadership behind those achievements, building healthier and stronger neighborhoods in Chicago. The night was filled with highlights of inspiring organizations, groups, and individuals dedicated to the future of Chicago, starting with a panel discussion with four young adults excelling in mentoring Chicago’s youth and wrapping up with awards honoring the year’s top achievements in community development.

For the full list of CNDA winners, visit LISCChicago here.

We’ve gathered some of the best tweets of the night:

Quick Start Challenges Help Developers Use Open Source Tools

If you are a developer and need a quick explanation of how to do something with your app on Azure, Quick Start Challenges are definitely worth looking at.  As part of the Microsoft Virtual Academy set of resources, Quick Start challenges are designed to get you up and running by walking you through a complete task, end to end, in less than an hour. Among the challenges are those related to how to use open sources tools, like the MongoDB database using Python and Mongo Lab.  Mongo Lab is a service on Azure that allows you to have a fully managed MongoDB database.  If you are interested in working with MongoDB, I recommend this hands-on lab to learn how to create a MongoDB database on Microsoft Azure. Find out how to add records to the database and to read the records using PyMongo, a Python distribution which contains tools for working with MongoDB. It’s a great opportunity for a quick learn!  The challenge can be found here, and more challenges here.

Big Shoulders: Daniel Goff, Former State of Illinois DCEO

Just about everyone I have met in the civic tech space has considered public service at one point or another. And that makes sense: civic tech is partially about government and citizens working as partners to take on challenges. In this episode of Big Shoulders, I talk to Daniel Goff who has just completed service in the State of Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.  He speaks to the experience and how technology is viewed from inside the state government. I hope you enjoy his interesting perspective as much as I did.


University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy: Why Didn’t We Think of This Before?

Last week, I had the honor to represent Microsoft at the celebration for 28 Fellows of the inaugural cohort of the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy. The ceremony was a high energy, joyous celebration of the birth of a concept so simple, yet so profound, that we have never really done this before in Chicago. As Deputy Mayor Steve Koch mentioned in his remarks, when this idea was brought to him, he said to himself: “Why didn’t we think of this before”?

The concept is simple: access the incredible resources of the University of Chicago in a cross-collaborative way, and develop curriculum for a group of rising Nonprofit and Government leaders to address the key challenges facing Chicagoland—through dialog, interaction with some of the top academic minds in the country, and ending with a Capstone Project to apply their learnings to real world problems.

Over the course of our discussions on STEM, STEAM and helping Chicago become a true global center of innovation and technology, we have highlighted leaders who are making a difference. We shined the spotlight on teachers during Computer Science Week, on Englewood Rising, on the power of collective impact through Thrive Chicago. Now, through the Civic Leadership Academy, Chicago demonstrates its creativity and support for the next generation of leaders in nonprofits and government. The unique ingredients of this program combine the academic rigor of a Certificate program and a Capstone Project at the University of Chicago with the identification of City, County and nonprofit rising stars who have demonstrated their commitment to Chicagoland and their ability to make a difference. My hat is off to Derek Douglas and the University of Chicago Civic Engagement Team, the Civic Consulting Alliance and LISC Chicago for their foresight and investment in our future. We’re looking forward to great things from the Inaugural cohort and from future cohorts of Chicago’s leaders!

— Shelley Stern Grach

Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement, The University of ChicagoChicago has been home to many great leaders throughout history. With this rich legacy, it is important for us to invest in current and future leaders and encourage their development. That is why the University of Chicago has partnered with LISC Chicago, the Civic Consulting Alliance, City of Chicago, and Cook County to present the Civic Leadership Academy, a program to help local nonprofit and government leaders develop skills that will contribute to their own organizations and their communities.

The first cohort of the Civic Leadership Academy is composed of 28 Fellows who are already community leaders in their own right, and looking to further their development. Throughout the next six months these men and women, representing communities throughout the city and more than a dozen government agencies, will undergo rigorous training in management, communications, data analytics, and other essential subjects, while working on a personal capstone to solve challenges in their own organizations. Working with University of Chicago faculty and expert industry practitioners, the Fellows will leverage their expertise to provide practical solutions that will improve our city.

University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy: Why Didn’t We Think of This Before?

The University and Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust provided the seed funding for the Civic Leadership Academy. The University received additional underwriting from JPMorgan Chase, to support the first cohort, as well as a three-year, research-based evaluation of the curriculum to identify impactful components that can be scaled and replicated. Microsoft’s contribution will help us hone our focus on civic technology, teaching the Fellows how to use technology and data to improve their communities.

As an added benefit, Microsoft Chicago’s own Shelley Stern Grach has joined us as a member of our Civic Leadership Academy Advisory Council, comprised of civic, university, and business leaders, which not only helped interview and select fellows, but also has contributed to the development of our curriculum and overall program.

The 2015 Civic Leadership Academy Fellows are:

  • Randall K. Blakey, Executive Pastor, LaSalle Street Church, and Executive Director, Near North Unity Program
  • Patrick Carey, Special Assistant, Governmental and Legislative Affairs, Office of the President, Cook County Government
  • Yesenia Cervantes, Director of the Center for Working Families, Instituto del Progreso Latino
  • Jason Coleman, Co-Founder/Executive Director, Project SYNCERE
  • Brendan Daley, Director of Strategy and Sustainability, Chicago Park District
  • Matt DeMateo, Executive Director, New Life Centers of Chicagoland
  • Jonathan Ernst, Deputy Commissioner of Finance, Department of Family and Support Services, City of Chicago
  • Xochitl Flores, Deputy Bureau Chief, Cook County Bureau of Economic Development
  • Angela Hurlock, Executive Director, Claretian Associates
  • Bilqis Jacobs-El, Director of Facilities Management, Cook County
  • Tenisha Jones, Director of Education, Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation
  • Lisa Lee, Deputy Chief Attorney, Forest Preserve District of Cook County
  • Nina N. Longino, Managing Director, Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community
  • David McDermott, First Deputy Commissioner, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Chicago
  • Darlene Oliver, Executive Director, Public Allies Chicago
  • Andrea C. Ortez, Community Organizer and Program Director, Southwest Organizing Project
  • Jessica Pipersburgh, Counsel, Cook County Department of Public Health
  • Erendira Rendon, Director of Organizing, The Resurrection Project
  • Baronica Y. Roberson, Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Public Library
  • James Rudyk Jr., Executive Director, Northwest Side Housing Center
  • Monica Schwarm, Special Legal Counsel, Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
  • Katherine Shank, Supervisory Attorney, LAF
  • Darnell Shields Jr., Director of Operations, Austin Coming Together
  • Carrie Spitler, Executive Director, Snow City Arts
  • Paul Thompson, Dean of College to Careers, Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago
  • Karen VanAusdal, Executive Director, Social and Emotional Learning, Chicago Public Schools
  • Robert Desmond White, Vice President of Program Operations, The Cara Program
  • Zachary Williams, Director of Information Systems, Office of Emergency Management and Communications, City of Chicago

The Civic Leadership Academy is an initiative of the UChicago Office of Civic Engagement, in partnership with Chicago Harris, the School of Social Service Administration, Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, Chicago Booth, the University of Chicago Law School, and the Institute of Politics. 

Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) Chicago is a nonprofit community development organization that connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

The Civic Consulting Alliance builds pro bono teams of experts to develop ways to improve the region’s education, transportation, economic development and health care.

For more information about the Civic Leadership Academy, visit cla.uchicago.edu.

Big Shoulders: Jessica Malkin, Executive Director of Chicago Ideas Week

Big Shoulders: Jessica Malkin, Executive Director of Chicago Ideas Week

Chicago Ideas Week is an annual ideas and innovation platform where global thought leaders gather to discuss new ideas and stimulate new ventures. It provides a truly cross-disciplinary platform for rich discussion of ideas.  Chicago Ideas Week has expanded beyond its original week in October to monthly events: Stage programming, hands on labs, collaborative sessions, and on and on and on.   It is a year-round organic community, with an incredibly diverse audience: technologists, artists, scientists, architect all in the same room.   Not only does Chicago Ideas Week bring communities of people together, but they do this all for only $15 per event.


Watch Jessica Malkin discuss what is in store for Chicago Ideas Week with Adam Hecktman on Big Shoulders.