August 2015

Join us for a special evening with Stephen Goldsmith at the Chicago City Data Users Group

Stephen GoldsmithWhen it comes to using data to engage communities, Stephen Goldsmith knows how to do it from first hand experience. During his time as Deputy Mayor of New York City and two-term Mayor of Indianapolis, Stephen’s innovation and thought leadership changed how many cities, including our own. He is one of the nation’s largest drivers of physical and civic improvement. Now, Stephen is inspiring others to lead the cause as the Daniel Paul Professor of Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Stephen’s book, The Responsive City, is an exploration on how we can use technology to build smart, reactive cities that fulfill the promises of effectiveness and efficiency in our governments. It is widely considered the ultimate resource on civic technology for public officials, government staff, and civic leaders.

Next Wednesday, we are honored to host Stephen Goldsmith as a special guest at the Chicago City Data Users Group. We will be meeting Wednesday, Sep. 2 at 6:00pm in the Microsoft Technology Center.

RSVP now to ensure a spot at this link.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Todd Connor, CEO of The Bunker Labs

Todd Connor, CEO of The Bunker Labs

There are few groups of people better-suited for entrepreneurship than our veterans. The Bunker Labs, a 14-week program that assists veterans and currently enlisted men and women plan their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs, highlights veterans entrepreneurial skills and launches them into successful careers. In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she showcases Todd Connor, CEO of The Bunker Labs and its contributions to veteran career growth.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Todd Connor live on MeetAdvisors.

Chicago class of Girls Who Code graduate and receive Surface devices

Chicago class of Girls Who Code

On Wednesday evening, 20 Chicago girls graduated from the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, a seven-week camp that brings together teachers and guest speakers to help girls who are rising juniors and seniors in high school learn what computer science can mean for their futures. The graduation ceremony allowed them to receive their program certificates and be honored by their instructors, families and friends. As a special reward for the girls’ achievement, Microsoft allowed each graduate to keep the Microsoft Surface device they were using during the program and added a copy of Office 2013. These were donated by the Microsoft YouthSpark program and will enable the girls to continue their coding, design and other tech work well into the future.

Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit working to close the gender gap in computer science. In the Summer Immersion Program, girls learn everything from robotics to mobile development to HTML and CSS. Microsoft is a co-sponsor of the Chicago program along with Accenture, GE, Google and Groupon, and in addition to hosting the graduation ceremony has provided program support including guest speakers and mentors. Through the YouthSpark program, Microsoft also supports the national Girls Who Code organization and co-sponsored Summer Immersion Programs in the Bay Area, Boston, New York, and Redmond, Wash.

Chicago class of Girls Who Code

The evening included the presentation of their final projects, which the girls worked on during the last couple of weeks of the program, using all the skills that they learned to date. Projects included apps, games and sites to learn about candidates for the upcoming election; a guide to show how safe your local campus is; a website created for high school age teens who want to participate in extracurricular activities; a fashion site to make shopping an easier, more comfortable and informative experience for customers; and an interactive game to learn about different types of cancers.  

Chicago class of Girls Who Code

“I can say for my daughter at least that before this program she was not sure what major she would apply this fall when applying to colleges and universities, but now, it is crystal clear,” said Abhijit Gupta, father of participant Binita Gupta. “She told me ‘Dad, this is it, I’m going for computer science, especially after this project we just completed.’ Thank you, Girls Who Code, and thank you, Microsoft.”

Chicago class of Girls Who Code


“Girls Who Code is a type of program that gives everybody an equal opportunity to succeed in any field,” said Zahwa Haiyousif, who gave the student keynote address. “Considering that tech is such a wide industry, they enabled us with skills to make us successful anywhere that any of us choose to go.”

Shelley Stern Grach took part in the program this summer, working one-on-one with girls to help them learn more about the technology industry. Microsoft has also been supporting the Summer Immersion Program with social media under the theme “Changing the Face of Coding.” We’re proud to be helping to do just that. The graduates of this year’s Chicago program are proving that when you give girls an opportunity to make their way in computer science, they can accomplish great things.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Teaching Selena Gomez to Code at We Day

Watch the We Day broadcast, August 21, 2015, 8:00 PM ET, 7:00 PM CT on ABC. Join host Selena Gomez, YouthSpark Star Abril Vela, and a star-studded lineup of inspirational young change-makers, chart-topping performers and iconic celebrities in the greatest celebration of social change America has ever seen.

I’m extremely grateful and excited to be a part of the first We Day in Illinois and the first national broadcast of We Day.

My onstage moment at the event was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Not only did I get to talk to thousands of students about how anyone can learn to code and the work that I’ve done to help young women in my community get involved with technology, but I also got to interact with Selena Gomez on stage and even teach her how to code!

Teaching Selena Gomez to Code at We Day

On stage at We Day, Selena Gomez and YouthSpark Star Abril Vela talk about how anyone can learn how to code.

We Day is an event for students to help inspire them to make a difference in the world through volunteering and becoming active in our local and global communities. The movement is sweeping across the nation and my goal at the event was to help students understand how technology can help them achieve more with their projects. I think it is important for every young person to get involved with coding, whether learning a new skill or thinking about career opportunities.

I started programming in high school when I enrolled in an introduction to java and media computation course. My computer science teacher then encouraged me to get involved with computing programs outside of the classroom, one of which was the DigiGirlz program offered by Microsoft.

DigiGirlz, a Microsoft YouthSpark program, gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops. It provides girls with a better understanding of what a career in technology is all about, and it completely changed my perspective on technology – sparking my interest in a path in engineering.

After DigiGirlz I continued to stay involved with technology by continuing to take classes in computer science, joining robotics teams, and becoming very active in the women in technology movement. I went on to found the organization Chicago Girls in Computing to work with high school girls in the Chicagoland area who were interested technology – learn more about it in my segment during the We Day special on ABC!

It’s always a great time to start learning how to code. If you want to see what some of the awesome things are that you can do with code, Microsoft has great resources. Visit the YouthSpark Hub to learn more about their programs and resources for students. One of my favorites to get started with coding is TouchDevelop, check it out!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Girls Who Code Yield Women in STEM

Girls Who Code Yield Women in STEM

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a great non-profit: Girls Who Code. Girls Who Code was founded in 2012 and focuses on closing the gender gap in computing fields. Mobilizing leading executives, educators, and engineers, Girls Who Code developed a new model of computer science education designed to inspire, educate, and equip girls with the skills to succeed in the field.

This month, I was asked—along with 15 other Chicagoland women at Microsoft–to participate in 1:1 discussions with the Girls Who Code students. The topics focused on our personal career paths and how we arrived at our current positions. We also discussed the students’ post-graduation plans, their ideal career paths before and after Girls Who Code, how computer science can be applicable to most careers, and provided ideas on colleges with strong computer science programs and opportunities for women.

I had the pleasure of speaking with two wonderful young ladies, who were at different high schools, and in different grades (therefore at different stages of considering colleges). Interestingly, while they were very similar in their strong interest in computer science and engineering, their academic focus was different and their clarity on next steps for college was different. I had an opportunity to provide some positive reinforcement to help keep them on their path. We discussed candidly how difficult the STEM courses were—although one young lady said that math was easier for her than English, and we discussed the need to be able to clearly communicate, orally and in writing, her ideas and recommendations as she moved forward in her career. The other student attended a high school where I knew one of the administrators, so I made the email introduction after the event. The student’s enthusiastic response really made my day! “Wow, that’s great news, thank you for letting me know! I will definitely contact him in the fall; I would love to speak with him about STEM outreach.”

Another young lady is interested in applying to Georgetown—where my own daughter recently attended and received her Master’s degree in Physiology, a STEM field. I turned on the “Mom charm” and gave her a thorough observation of life at Georgetown, taking advantage of DC and the East Coast and what the overall experience might be like. I received the following lovely thank you note: “Thank you so much for talking to me about Georgetown and college in general. I felt like we covered a lot of ground and I really loved hearing all the stories you told me. Even though I am only a rising junior, any information and advice on my education is something I am very thankful for.” Another moment where I felt that as the mentor, I received all the benefit!

Here are a few things that I learned during my sessions:

  • No amount of time is too small to make a positive impact on a student. Even a 15-20 minute discussion can help keep the path to STEM clear and achievable.
  • Each student is at a different place and any small amount of guidance and reinforcement is important.
  • These girls are aiming high. College is very important—one young lady will be the first in her family to attend college and she is looking for adult mentors to be role models in her application process.
  • The Girls Who Code program is touching all aspects of their pathway to STEM careers. The most obvious is the technical training and experiences. The longer lasting impact is the opportunity to learn from adults who are currently in the STEM field.

Congratulations to all the Girls Who Code in Chicago and to the wonderful Microsoft Technology Center and Community team members how are supporting our future STEM Leaders!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Big Shoulders: Quilen Blackwell, Blackwell Energies

Quilen Blackwell, Blackwell Energies

How do companies in Chicago take part in carbon reduction? Blackwell Energies, a leading environmental consulting company, helps many of the city’s businesses audit their monthly expenses and provides them with premium office carbon reduction strategies. In Adam Hecktman’s latest Big Shoulders, he spotlights founder Quilen Blackwell on the business’s practices and how other businesses can reduce their carbon footprint.

Watch Adam’s interview with Quilen live on MeetAdvisors.


After School All-Stars STEM CampUs Prepares Students for What’s Next


How do you get Chicago middle school students excited about school? You prepare them for what’s next.

This summer, we were honored to support After School All-Stars Chicago STEM CampUs program, a week-long, overnight experience that prepares students for high school, college, and a successful life. The free program was hosted at the University of Chicago, where campers spent the week living in dorms, dining on campus, and taking workshops in UChicago classrooms. Each student had their own personal college mentor, with additional high school students and full-time ASAS staff on premises to provide additional mentorship opportunities.

CampUs is geared to teach students leadership skills, high school expectations, the importance of mentorships and role models, why student involvement is important, how to calculate GPA, how to apply to college, and the importance of letters of recommendation. Throughout the program, students took place in daily high school and college readiness programming, including a Q&A with After School Matters high schoolers, college application workshops, career exploration trips, and daily enrichment programming. As a long-term project, CampUs campers even worked to invent apps in the Battle of The Apps challenge — they developed a marketing plan, crafted a pitch, and presented the apps to a panel of judges. As part of CampUs’s “career exploration,” we were thrilled to have students visit us and interview our leaders to get a feel of what it’s like working in the tech sector — especially with so many campers on board to build apps that change our community.

Check out pictures and reflections on ASAS’ Facebook page.

To learn more about ASAS and CampUs, visit their website.

There are #100kOpportunities in Chicago!

Grammy award winning artist Common addresses the crowd at the Inspirational Forum during the Opportunity Fair and Forum in Chicago.

Grammy award winning artist Common addresses the crowd at the Inspirational Forum during the Opportunity Fair and Forum in Chicago.

Yesterday, we were part of the launch event here in Chicago for the #100kOpportunities initiative. Community-based organizations, philanthropic foundations, and more than 30 companies delivered immediate impact by interviewing and extending 600 on-the-spot job offers. Honored guests included the US Secretary of Education, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Common, T.I., Usher, and more. For more details, see today’s press release here.

We’ve gathered some of the top tweets from the event below:

Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods — Perry Gunn, Executive Director of Teamwork Englewood

Perry Gunn, Executive Director of Teamwork Englewood

As part of our commitment to community at Microsoft Chicago, we have worked very closely with Englewood organizations to help better the neighborhood. After all, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. That’s why Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods features Perry Gunn, Executive Director of Teamwork Englewood. Teamwork Englewood is a comprehensive organization, combining all of Englewood’s forward-driving initiatives to bring the community to a higher ground.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Perry Gunn live on MeetAdvisors.

Youth Led Tech: One Solution to Lowering Crime in Chicago

Youth Led Tech

Hadiya Pendleton. Ms. Pendleton’s death became a symbol for a different element of gun violence — urban youth, caught in the wrong place or wrong time, and often overlooked or quickly forgotten. Ms. Pendleton, a student at King College Prep High School, was shot on January 29, 2013 as she sat after school in a park (about a mile from President Obama’s Chicago home) with friends — a group that the police say were probably mistakenly swept up in the cross-fire of a gang fight. Guns, shootings and violence in the streets are a daily topic in Chicago. Unfortunately, Ms. Pendleton is one of many young lives lost. Civic leaders, the Mayor, other government officials and Chicago Police are looking for innovative ways to help get kids off the street, thus removing guns from their hands, and preventing the senseless loss of our youth.

There may be a glimmer of hope, thanks to the Youth Led Tech program, which was piloted this summer, as a partnership between Smart Chicago Collaborative, Get IN Chicago and Microsoft. Get IN Chicago is our city’s only public-private partnership exclusively dedicated to reducing violence.  Combining the strength of Chicago’s best leaders, organizations, and service providers, the goal of Get IN Chicago, is to leverage the power of our entire city to create collaborative, effective solutions. Get IN Chicago focuses on making our city safer in four ways: building up local organizations, funding successful programs, measuring and evaluating impact, and continuously collaborating with the community. One such program that supports capacity building, technical assistance, and community empowerment initiatives is the Youth Led Tech program.  

Over the past six weeks, 130 youth in five challenging neighborhoods, participated in digital skills classes and completed instructions and testing to achieve a certificate and a new ASUS Windows laptop. The idea is to teach technology in the areas that youth are most interested in—web design/building a website—and to exposure and tech them more about careers in tech. The goal is to provide the youth with marketable skills, along with new mentors and corporate contacts, so they can get a job or explore careers in tech.

Last week, Microsoft and Adam Hecktman had the honor of hosting this year’s class, parents and guardians, mentors and partners at the Microsoft Technology Center to celebrate the graduation and certificate program of the Youth Led Tech group. The large room was packed to celebrate what is possible, and what ought to be happening with Chicago’s youth. With great partnerships like Smart Chicago Collaborative and Get IN Chicago, and innovative approaches to providing workforce skills, we’ll be seeing fewer tragedies and more opportunity for Chicago’s youth.