Fellow Profile: Kevin Wei

 |   MSFT Chicago Staff

Kevin Wei_FellowWhere are you from? Chicago suburbs of Naperville, fondly referred to as NaperThrill

School/grade/major: University of Chicago / 3rd year / Economics and Public Policy.

Last thing you searched on Bing: AMPK mTOR muscle hypertrophy

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? I’ve always valued learning/working with different perspectives; every new point of view is a new door that can lead to better problem solving. To me, Microsoft’s fellowship has a similar philosophy that offered me the opportunity to examine and improve ordinary civic solutions with an integrated approach from different communities.

As a Civic Tech Fellow, I get to interact and bring together every ‘sphere’ imaginable, from private companies, non-profits, governments, academia, activists, etc. Collaboration is a core ideal of what we do at Microsoft, and with the ever-increasing influence of technology in our world, the stakes only get higher. With everyone working toward the same goal of solving common civics issues, we can coherently work toward a greater good through tech.

What’s your earliest memory of using technology to help others? As a 5 year old, I showed my friend how to check out a library book through the computer without the help of a school librarian. I afterwards got yelled at because according to the librarian, my independent learning was equated to ‘threatening to take down the school’s computer system’. It was a traumatizing experience that spurred me to continue my technology trouble-making today.

Who is your civic tech mentor? Shout out to Erin Simpson, who’s currently at Civic Hall and has always been an inspiration for me to work in civic tech. I’ve always been a techie and involved with politics/policy, but Erin gave me an opportunity to combine both of these passions by introducing me to TechTeam, a student group affiliated with The University of Chicago Institute of Politics. TechTeam is a Student Civic Engagement project that provides local Chicago organizations (non-profits, advocacy groups, etc.) technical infrastructure, ranging from digital strategy to website design, always free of charge.. As one of the co-founders, Erin saw the potential in compiling passionate students that and channeled that energy to help organizations that do amazing work. Learning from like-minded students who genuinely wanted to change the world through tech was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without Erin. She’s really helped me in both my personal and professional development, and there’s no doubt that she’s the ‘next big thing’ (and basically already is).

What excites you about civic tech? People still refer to education as the ‘great equalizer’, making opportunities for people regardless of social status or class. Education is undoubtedly important, but I think our world has evolved to the point that it has expanded to include how to use technology in our daily lives. But in Chicago, around 40% of its citizens don’t have consistent internet access; that’s an enormous population that lacks access to opportunities for success and innovation. Soon, technical literacy won’t be a privilege, but an expectation, and I’m excited to be part of the civic tech movement which is fighting for eliminating such disparities.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? Creating communities that are connected by thoughts and ideas and aren’t separated by physical boundaries. Cities like Chicago have an incredible amount of neighborhood diversity, and if we can somehow bring those different perspectives together, civic tech can improve the conventional ideals of what civic engagement really means for all citizens.

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