Don’t Be Nervous About Mentoring A Room Full Of Teenagers… It’s Fun!

| Shelley Stern Grach

You’ve seen several recent blogs about our wonderful partnership with Lake View High School and the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) for our 2015-16 STEM Challenge on the Internet of Things. Our friends Allie Barwise and Emily Cooper of ISTI have shared how the Mentor Matching Engine (MME) is a great resource for virtual and online mentoring to supplement in person discussions. Today, I’d like to share some of our in person mentoring experiences with several of the Lake View High School STEM Challenge teams as they are working their way through the process of developing their presentations.

WP_20160223_16_38_36_RichWe started with a kick off from Principal Grens who reminded the students that their presentations will culminate in a “winner” for the statewide competition in May 2016. The students had a chance to meet Microsoft’s new Education account manager Simon Ibbitt, who has recently moved run the UK where he ran Microsoft’s Education practice. We introduced the in person mentors, which included the great team for the ISTI: Allie Barwise, Emily Cooper and Utsav Gandhi. The in person Microsoft mentors included Simon, Frank Migacz and myself. And the whole program was organized and spearheaded by Lake View’s amazing assistant principal Angela Newton.

We basically worked in a “speed dating” or round robin format, where each mentor spent about 8-10 minutes with each individual student team. The students were extremely well prepared, with formal draft PowerPoint presentations to discuss. The focus on this year’s Challenge—how can the Internet of Things positively impact the Lake View High School community—can take several different paths. But each group had a problem statement, a pictorial of how IoT works/connects to the Lake View community, and a description of their solution. This is where we really had a lot of fun.

Education account manager Simon Ibbitt meets with Lake View High School students

One area where adults sometimes feel awkward about the mentoring process is their concern about “knowing enough” and not looking “stupid” in front of a school group. (Guess what—the students might feel exactly the same!) While each of us on the Microsoft team has a wide range of skills, we each brought a unique and helpful perspective to the students as they are fine-tuning their presentations. Frank is more technical so his insight was super helpful in crafting the technical solutions, Simon has been working closely with students for the past four years so he has a high comfort zone, and I’m the one who sees the potential in each child, so I pushed them to think more strategically and with broader impact.

I’d like to highlight a couple of the ideas under development. I selected these because I think they represent the broad spectrum of how our young people of thinking about the potential of technology positively impacting our lives. Keep in mind these are in the early concept development stage and there is a lot more homework to be done on refining the technical solution.

The first proposal focused on Public Safety and Personal Security. The idea is to connect the Internet of Things and Cloud computing to a doormat that has sensors. The doormat could capture information about the regular members of the household, potentially shoe size and weight. Then, through machine learning, the doormat could capture “repeat visitors” like the UPS delivery person, Aunt Martha and best friends of the family. The interesting part is if there is a true intruder to the household, the doormat could capture their shoe size and weight and transmit this information through links to an alarm system that is connected to the IoT and Cloud as well as to Chicago Police, 911, etc. I thought this was a functional, reasonable to execute idea. I added a couple of suggestions: perhaps the doormat could also collect dust or debris from the intruder’s shoes (CSI-like) and perhaps you could develop a thinner version of the mat to wrap around the front doorknob to collect hand size, fingerprints, etc. Let’s see if they listened to me or not :).

The second approach resonated with me because the students were looking at a social justice issue that is unfortunately too prevalent in schools today—bullying. This was a creative approach using thermal heat sensors to determine whether a student was feeling unusual emotion—like fear, anger, etc. The team has several different displays of the various thermal outlines for various emotions. For example, there could be a bully who would scan as angry or aggressive, and the victim who would scan as fearful. Through the Internet of Things, the data collected could start seeing repetitive incidents and start signaling the school administration of these interactions. We also talked about capturing locations and timing of the incidents so the school could provide more adult supervision as they see patterns emerging.

I was super impressed with all the students I met with. First, they were incredibly professional and prepared—they had their problem identified, a good start on their visuals for their presentations and seemed to have a good handle on the fact that they were collecting data to use in their analysis to solve or prevent the problems. On the whole, they were really social and took pictures, posted our meetings on Twitter and Instagram and had a great time.

As you come across opportunities to support your local schools and students, I encourage you to feel comfortable volunteering for in person mentoring. Candidly, it’s a blast and you will be impressed with how mature the students are in their thinking. Congratulations to all the Lake View High School students who are participating in the 2015-16 STEM Challenge. Sure, you are learning about technology and teamwork, but you are also tackling important social issues and you are leaders in helping to make the Lake View community a better place.

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Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.