How the Internet of Things can Prevent Bullying

| Shelley Stern Grach


I had one of “those” moments last Fall, when I was mentoring students at Lake View High School. One of those moments when you are struck by the honesty and bravery of this generation and when you feel more confident about the world being a better place.

Here’s the background….

WP_20160519_09_29_35_RichAs part of our ongoing partnership with Lake View High School, an Early College STEM School in Chicago, Microsoft supports the Illinois Science & Technology Institute’s STEM Challenge. The Challenge involves students at 19 Illinois high schools  addressing real-world problems in partnership with 10 industry and academic partners. The result: students build skills in research and development (R&D) through hands-on learning projects and gain valuable exposure to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. We initiated our partnership in 2014 with ISTI and piloted the Challenge at Lake View for that school year, focusing on “water” as an important environmental resource. For the 2015-16 school year, we decided to broaden our Challenge area and asked the students: “How can you use the Internet of Things to help the Lake View community.”

Microsoft volunteers met with the students and described the Internet of Things (IoT)and its possibilities, and the faculty at Lake View integrated theChallenge into their curriculum. Students self-selected into smaller teams and brainstormed on the possible uses of IoT to make Lake View a better community.

It was during one of the earlier brainstorming mentoring sessions that I met the “Bully Busters” team. While still in the formative stages, this group was looking at IoT, sensors and thermal imaging to identify repeated instances of bullying, and alert school adults for interventions. Consider these facts:

  • Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year.
  • 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.
  • 1 in 10 students drop out of school because of repeated bullying.
  • 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.

Their selection of the subject matter, their creative focus on thermal imaging, and their passion for the topic simply took my breath away. As a mom, I remember nights I lost sleep worrying about “mean girls” and other peer challenges that are unfortunately part of growing up. The fact that these young people had the maturity to surface this issue and then to creatively develop a solution using innovative technology is inspiring.

Here is their solution: Use the existing security system in the school, and add sensors with thermal imaging that detect body heat to signal different levels of stress. Captured in the Cloud over time, patterns emerge, which are then sent to school officials for interventions as appropriate.

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The Bully Busters competed with the other Lake View team and emerged as the top selection by judges comprised of Microsoft volunteers and school faculty. Along with the other statewide teams, their  efforts culminate in the Third Annual STEM Challenges Student Showcase held May 19, 2016 at Motorola Mobility’s Chicago office in the Merchandise Mart. I was honored to introduce the Bully Busters on stage, in front of a crowd of nearly 200 students, corporate sponsors and faculty across the state. We recognized this team for their innovative use of technology to solve a societal issue— and we complemented them on their personalized, brave approach to an issue that can have lifelong effects. You could tell by the applause how this topic and the innovative solution resonated with the audience.

Congratulations to the Bully Busters team!


  • Kevin Bautista
  • Sammy Maldonado
  • Dillon McDonnell
  • Esteban Villegas

And a huge THANK YOU to Luis Flores de Valgas, faculty advisor, coach and mentor and to Assistant Principal Angela Newton for her support and emphasis on STEM at Lake View High School. Your students are inspiring and will make the Lake View community a better place-guaranteed!

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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.