IT Knowledge Abilities Network (ITKAN) is a professional development, networking and educational group here in Chicago. It is focused on strengthening career opportunities in technology roles for qualified candidates with disabilities. ITKAN conducts regular membership meetings at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago. Members participate in discussions around leading edge technologies, and have the opportunity to work on unique development projects to further their knowledge and capacity. It is led by Pat Maher, the Director of Civic Engagement for SPR Consulting. Adam Hecktman, Microsoft’s Director of Technology and Civic Innovation, has been affiliated with the group for the last 6 years or so.
What began as a tentative conversation on how ITKAN might embrace a group of young adults from Marriott Foundation’s Bridges program is developing into an exciting new partnership. Adam met Kelly Pavich, National Trainer at Marriott Bridges at a civic hackathon. Her organization works with young people with disabilities. He immediately recognized the opportunity for ITKAN’s adult community to be an important and valuable resource for the young adults in the Bridges Chicago program. Who better to be mentors, role models, and simply great business contacts for students than ITKAN members?
A little background on Bridges. It was established in 1989 by the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities. The full name of the program, Bridges from School to Work, exemplifies their work of engaging employers, schools, community resources, youth and their families to help businesses meet their workforce needs while offering young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed through employment.
During the course of introductory conversations, Kelly, Adam and Pat Maher, ITKAN founder and SPR Consulting Director of Civic Engagement, thought that a good way to start this relationship would be to host several members of Bridges at an ITKAN monthly members meeting. They agreed not to overthink the dynamic, the subject matter or the process. Instead, they would simply welcome the students to the group and allow them to experience ITKAN, meet some members, and learn about some cutting edge technology. They could experience a group of people who, like them, manage differing abilities along with all other aspects of their life, including on-going education and professional development.
Our expert for the evening, Paul Edlund, Chief Technologist – Microsoft Midwest, would have no problem holding their attention. He is well versed in Microsoft’s work on research around how technology will impact work, education, collaboration, and just about every other aspect of life. It is a conversation on which he enjoys engaging others. Pat Skyped into the meeting and experienced Paul’s energetic presentation as he moved from tripod to smart board to monitor illustrating sensor technology, data visualization, and other tools that would continue to move the definition of how all of us work in an increasingly demanding world, with or without disability.
To quote Kelly:
They were all so thrilled about the opportunity to meet Paul, otherwise known as “the most important person at Microsoft!” by Jyrus of our group. During the meeting, Joshua, Jyrus, Orlando, and Briangel were grinning from ear to ear as Paul explained the myriad projects that Microsoft is working on using technology to help others around the world. They were able to see that Microsoft’s scope went well beyond computers, and truly was a company that believes in research & development, empowering others to discover, and growing their brand through innovative ideas and people. Paul inspired them to be the best employees as well, and he said Microsoft is looking for “Type A, inquisitive, and driven people.” Our candidates walked out knowing that they could have a place within Microsoft or somewhere within the IT field, as long as they worked hard, were passionate about their work, and wanted to always present their best selves. Their grins from the beginning of the meeting turned into beaming smiles with each of them believing that they could take charge of their future!
Take charge of their future indeed. Because they are the future.