November 2016

Courage to Follow Your Passion

Female Founders at University of Chicago Polsky Center

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to step back and reflect on what really matters to you. And then to make a radical change in your life to commit to being true to what you believe in.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with several female entrepreneurs at the University of Chicago Polsky Center, as part of their monthly Female Founders Series. Not only did I meet some amazing women who have taken the plunge into the challenging world of entrepreneurship, but I discovered living examples of leadership and passion.

University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Polsky Center has a wide range of resources for entrepreneurs, both for university-affiliated people, as well as extending its reach into the surrounding neighborhoods. On this morning, I met with about 10 entrepreneurs—all in various stages of thinking through a new approach for their emerging businesses. Here are some of their stories…

  • One woman is from Englewood and she and her daughter are at the very, very early stages of defining their business model. She was looking for resources, and contacts and examples of how to network. She took notes, taking in the ideas for formulating her plan. She was especially interested in local neighborhood venues for training, such as Englewood Accelerator and the Polsky Center programs.
  • Another woman—highly energetic and already involved in “several businesses”—was looking for new ideas and ways to leverage her outreach. An avid social media user, she represented a different end of the spectrum. Already involved at conferences, and potentially expanding globally, you could see her literally evaluating ideas from the table and how she could take her business to the next level.
  • Next to me was a deep thinker, a University of Chicago alum, who was developing a business to assist people involved with sexual abuse. Clearly this was an entrepreneur who aligned her deep commitment to social justice with an important cause for women (and men). My sense was she knew where she wanted to focus and the impact she wanted to have to make the world a  better place, but she needed some ideas to develop a specific plan, refine her outreach and communications. I hope this was time well spent for her important mission.
  • Across from me was a recent departee from the corporate and consulting world, who has a clear vision on how to improve health delivery on a global level. Building her plan seemed to come naturally to her, and she is in the stages of refining her model. Extremely articulate, I have great confidence she will be a success.
  • Health care delivery was also the focus on another budding entrepreneur, who had lot of questions on how technology can help launch her business, especially how the Cloud and other “pay as you go” technical resources would be of value at the beginning of her business cycle.

All the women have great questions on mentoring: Where to go to meet mentors? What programs have various advantages? How do you ask a person to be your mentor (is it rude? How do you figure out who to ask?)? What can you expect from a mentor?

We also had a good dialog on social media and the room was somewhat split: some loved it and used it heavily. Others were new to social media beyond Facebook and LinkedIn. Some thought Twitter was amazing, others felt it was too random. Finally, we discussed the broad Chicagoland ecosystem for resources. We agreed that you need to prioritize your time, or you could “go to a meeting and eat cold pizza every night of the week.” We also agreed that the various services and organizations are complementary and an entrepreneur should be continually evaluating how each organization can help her reach her individual business goals.

Our host Kristin Barrett reviewed the various resources you get with membership at the Polsky Center and we also reviewed specific resources that Microsoft brings to Polsky for the entrepreneurs, including Office Hours with Dave Giard and access to Microsoft Azure and BizSpark, based on your business needs. I’d like to thank Kristin and her colleague Steph Avalos-Block for inviting me to meet with these inspiring women, who are taking a personal and professional risk to pursue their dream. Taking a risk like this is not easy and it takes a certain personality type and a specific skills to bring it all together. Through programs like the Female Founders Series at the University of Chicago Polsky Center, women entrepreneurs have a safe place to dialog, learn and be successful.

Data an Essential Tool for the Civic Leadership Academy

The University of Chicago launched the Civic Leadership Academy two years ago to provide professional growth and development for talented leaders working in nonprofits and government agencies in Chicago and Cook County. From the start, we knew that increasing the awareness and skills about civic tech needed to be an integral part of the academy. In this work, Microsoft Chicago has been our closest partner.

To create and shape better policies, smarter programs, and more effective services, 21st century urban civic leaders don’t necessarily have to know how to run a regression analysis. They do need to know how data can support their work—everything from how to find data to how to analyze it, from when to question data to using it to spark new ideas.

Operated by the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, the Civic Leadership Academy is a six-month certificate program grounded in the leadership development framework conceived by faculty at the UChicago Booth School of Business. Sessions are taught by faculty from the University’s five professional schools and expert practitioners from civic institutions.

One of the earliest modules for this year’s cohort was dedicated to how data can push the work of a civic leader forward. Professor Kerwin Charles, now interim dean of the UChicago Harris School of Public Policy, presented on data, measurement, and analysis, Rayid Ghani, the research director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data, led a discussion of predictive analytics—the importance of crafting the right questions to inform what data is collected—and Harris Professor Will Howell presented on civic integration and application discussion.

In the module on advancing leadership goals, a panel discussed Chicago’s emerging civic tech ecosystem, widely praised as one of the best in the country. Assembled and moderated by Microsoft’s Shelley Stern Grach, the panel featured Derek Eder, founder and partner of the firm DataMade; Fabian Elliott, founder and CEO of Black Tech Mecca; Julia Ellis of Ellis & Associates Consulting; and James Rudyk, executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center (and a graduate of the academy’s first cohort). The fellows heard about what civic tech is, what it offers, and how to get involved here in Chicago.

The importance of data-informed decision-making goes beyond the Civic Leadership Academy curriculum. The concept is woven into the entire experience. Fellows are encouraged to collect data during discussions with a green pen, a technique promoted by Linda Ginzel of Chicago Booth faculty, for example, and they explored data that can impact and support their work, such as open data on workforce retention rates for employment programs for men who had been incarcerated and market research on funding sources for nonprofit equity and venture funds.

Data-informed planning underlies each fellow’s capstone project, which apply the skills they develop over the course of the academy to build or improve a program at his or her full-time job. For some fellows, making better use of available data is the central goal of their project. In a recent blog post, Rudyk described how Microsoft helped the Northwest Side Housing Center build a single database to merge and manage all available data across its seven programs.

Patrick Murphey, assistant commissioner in the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, compiled a scattered assortment of City data that detailed the zoning history of privately and publicly-owned parcels of land. The zoning-related decisions were organized and uploaded to a publicly-accessible map in order to enhance property search results. The new zoning map is currently in test form and expected to fully replace the current zoning map in January 2017.

To help more nonprofit and government agencies, we’re pleased that Microsoft will host “office hours” for the next cohort of academy fellows, offering more one-on-one guidance and support. And, of course, we will continue to emphasize the role of data in becoming an effective civic leader. To be successful in today’s civic sphere, that knowledge is essential.

drbdouglasheadshotDerek R.B. Douglas is the Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago. He leads the University’s urban development and civic engagement efforts, collaborating across campus to enhance local communities and enrich the work of faculty and students through research, education, and direct engagement.

#ILGive – Stronger, Better and More Important Than Ever


One way in which we can tangibly demonstrate the compassion and the innate goodness that resides in all of us is to make a contribution to a cause that is near and dear to our hearts.

Here’s our chance!  Following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season of giving. On Tuesday, Nov. 29th, the #ILGive campaign will be launched – a 24-hour online giving event that allows all of us ‘who live here – to give here’.

#ILGive represents the largest and most successful fundraising drive in Illinois.  Its goal is to help hundreds of local charities raise money to support their work in our communities.  All donations made through #ILGIVE go DIRECTLY to the nonprofit of your choice.  

Now in its fourth year, #ILGive hopes to raise $9 million for local charities – ensuring our communities, our cities and our state stay strong and vital.

How to participate?  It’s EASY.  

  1. Pledge to Give to your cause on November 29th – and then share it on your social media channels.  
  2. If you don’t already have a favorite local charity, check our ILGive’s List of participating nonprofits to help you find a great cause.

ON November 29th, go to #ILGive and invest in your community.

eric-weinheimerEric Weinheimer is President and CEO of Forefront, Illinois’ statewide membership association for nonprofits, philanthropy, public agencies, advisors, and sector allies. Prior to his leadership at Forefront, Eric was President and CEO of The Cara Program, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive training, job placement, and support services to individuals who are homeless and struggling in poverty. Eric earned a BS from Boston College and an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service. Eric serves on the Advisory Board for the Social Enterprise Initiative at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and serves on the Board of Directors for the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: PJ Karafiol, Interim Principal at Lake View High School

Shelley Stern Grach and PJ Karafiol, Interim Principal at Lake View High School

As part of our commitment to STEM and technology, we’re thankful to partner with local schools in Chicago that are embracing technology in their curricula and day-to-day processes. One of these schools is Lake View High School (LVHS), one of Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools, which enables students to earn both a high school diploma and college credits.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with PJ Karafiol, Lake View High School’s newest interim principal, about his views on the future of LVHS. Karafiol hopes to expand on the school’s STEM programming, as well as offering students real-world experience in the fields which they are studying.

Watch Shelley’s chat with PJ live on

Metropolitan Family Services Works to Empower Chicago

Since I moved to Chicago in 1988, I’ve been involved in many ways with the extensive nonprofit community here. Over the years, my husband and I have had the opportunity to support many organizations, both personally and professionally. One of the pillars of the Chicago nonprofit community is Metropolitan Family Services. Metropolitan Family Services empowers families to learn, to earn, to heal, to thrive. Part mentor, part motivator, part advocate, since 1857 Metropolitan Family Services has been the engine of change that empowers Chicago-area families to reach their greatest potential and positively impact their communities. Metropolitan Family Services has more than 890 full- and part-time professional staff dedicated to providing quality services to families throughout Chicago, DuPage County, Evanston/ Skokie and the southwest suburbs. Metropolitan serves more than 72,000 families and individuals as diverse as the communities in which they live, with 81% being part of the working poor or lower-middle class.

In 2012, Microsoft donated over $1 Million in software to MFS to enhance its technology infrastructure. Technology helped MFS increase their organizational efficiency, enabling them to deliver services more effectively to families in need. Since that time, I’ve stayed in touch with their wonderful staff, including President and CEO Ric Estrada and just- retired COO Colleen Jones.

My husband Mark and I recently joined the MFS family to celebrate Colleen’s retirement and #MPowertheNight at the Radisson Blu, where nearly 600 supporters gathered to applaud this amazing organization and its leadership. Although this was personal on our part, it’s important work done by special people, and I’d like to share the event with you.

Some highlight’s from MFS’ #MPowerTheNight event:

A week in the life of a Civic Tech Evangelist Part 2: Points of Light Civic Accelerator

This is part of a series by Ivoire Morrell, a Microsoft Chicago Civic Tech Fellow and all-around civic tech enthusiast. See part one of this series here.

Points of Light

The next stop after the #micities conference was on Thursday, October 13, where I attended the Points of Light Civic Accelerator First Look event in Detroit. The Points of Light Civic Accelerator is a program that truly embodies civic engagement. With the increasing number of unemployed young adults in the United States who lack the workforce-ready skills to land employment in growing industries, and with Detroit having one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the nation, the proactive problem solvers at Points of Light proposed the question: How might we improve educational outcomes and ensure workforce success for youth in Detroit and the Great Lakes region? The solution to this dilemma: The Civic Accelerator.

Civic Accelerator (CivicX) is a groundbreaking program that serves as an advocate toward furthering the advancement of emerging for-profit/nonprofit civic ventures within the Midwest and beyond that focus on education and workforce development. Placing these different ventures into a 10-week entrepreneurial boot camp/investment fund, Civic Accelerator focuses on building expedited innovation of educational outcomes and youth workforce development in areas including: Alternative learning models, experiential training, developing 21st century job ready skills, carving workforce pathways, and creating greater access to internal liberators (social services, professional mentoring, career services, and healthy living).


Before heading to CivicX First Look, I made a stop at Data Driven Detroit for a meeting with my friend Dustin O’Hara, who is a doctoral candidate in Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). We met to talk about CUTGroup Detroit, which is one of the projects Dustin is researching for his dissertation focused on Smart cities and civic engagement. During our conversation, Dustin mentioned an awe-inspiring community revitalization project he is researching in the Highland Park called Avalon Village. Knowing of my passion for rebuilding communities through reading my blog series, Community Takes Commitment, Dustin invited me to take a tour of Avalon Village and to meet the individuals behind this conception.

CivicX First Look

Moments after leaving D3, Dustin and I arrived at Avalon Village. The atmosphere of the area was simply astounding. Construction workers were wrapping up one of the parks many imaginative institutions called the homework house. The homework house will serve as an after school destination of creation allowing students to receive help with homework through tutoring programs, create music at the in house recording studio, learn about STEM, and so much more. Avalon Village will also host other environment enhancers including a restaurant called the Blue Moon Café, a store called the Goddess Marketplace where female entrepreneurs can sell their products, a greenhouse to café food system, alternative living/business spaces made out of shipping containers, urban gardens, basketball courts, and other enlightening establishments.

The mastermind behind this virtuous vessel of communal cohesion, Shamayim Harris, became inspired to initialize Avalon Village after a tragic hit and run incident claimed the life of her 2-year son, Jakobi Ra (rest peacefully young Jakobi). In his honor, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Avalon Village. Her Kickstarter campaign was a huge success raising $243,690 and gaining donations from others who strive to see positive change in impoverished Detroit communities. The first installation at Avalon Village was Jakobi RA Park which serves as a gathering place for celebrations and other community events.

I did not get a chance to meet Shamayim during my visit at Avalon Village, but I would just like to say your story of tragedy to triumph is compelling and truly admirable. Through your resilience during affliction, you have pioneered a grassroots movement that is not only reshaping the infrastructure of Highland Park, but transforming the minds and hearts of the citizens that dwell in the community, giving them hope for a brighter tomorrow. I pray that your movement scintillates the cerebral sensors of citizens living in impoverished communities throughout the globe, inspiring them to initialize similar strategies to revolutionize their neighborhoods.

After leaving Avalon Village, I headed to MASH Detroit, a dynamic community co-op that hosts collaboration efforts between innovators and creators across Detroit, which was the destination for CivicX First Look. After greeting the magnificent Points of Light team which includes Ayesha Khanna, Mark Crosswell, Megan Christenson, and Jasmine Cato, I took my seat and awaited the start of the evening’s main event.

The format for CivicX operated like a friendly shark-tank style even where the newest class of Civic Accelerator participants were given three minutes to pitch to the audience what their respective ventures are doing to stimulate educational and workforce development in the city of Detroit. After each ventures pitch, the audience was given two minutes to ask questions and provide intuitive insight on the content of each pitch, highlighting what was effective, what was ineffective, and what could be improved or modified to increase the vitality of the presentation. The ventures were divided and presented in three different categories: 21st Century Skills, College Prep & Completion, and Workforce Success.

Points of Light

21st Century Skills

Amongst the different ventures that presented for 21st century skills were Atlantic ImpactDetroit Food AcademyFlying ClassroomHenry Ford Learning Institute, and WeThrive. Each venture offered a refreshing perspective on how to impart 21st Century Skills to the youth of Detroit. Atlantic Impact, a nonprofit organization from Detroit, MI, for example transmits educational growth to Detroit students attending highly impoverished schools by using local and global travel to traverse the terrains in which students live, exposing them to different environments, which sequentially triggers a new found sense of hope for the student’s future. WeThrive, a nonprofit entrepreneurial mentorship program from Santa Monica, California, collaborates with college students from different universities, pairing these students with middle school students from under-resourced communities, allowing the middle school students to learn life/educational skills from individuals who are activity pursuing academic excellence.

College Prep & Completion 

ALEX (Anyone’s Learning Experience)FletchGenFKD, and Overgrad were the four ventures that pitched their solutions for College Prep & Completion in Detroit. While all of the ventures were great, the venture that really caught my interest was Fletch. Fletch is a For-profit organization out of Chicago, Illinois, that helps colleges increase utilization of student support services including tutoring, advising, and financial aid. Using a mobile application, Fletch allows students to input their college courses and form study groups with other students on campus. Students are able to upload course material, share notes, and receive virtual assistance from other students in their study group. The app also allows students to receive updates on different university support services like financial aid, tutoring, advising, and career services through push notifications. The overall goal of this initiative is to help all college students achieve academic success through using the plethora of resources implanted on college campuses, which will result in higher college retention rates.

Workforce Success

BLOCDetroit Training CenterGrow Detroit’s Young TalentThe Impact LabJOURNI, and Skill Scout were the ventures that pitched their solutions for Workforce Success in Detroit. While each venture presented unique and insightful approaches to enhance workforce success in Detroit, JOURNI and Skill Scout thoroughly impressed me. JOURNI, a non-profit organization established in the city of Detroit, strives to empower individuals from undeserved, urban communities by providing them with the tech education needed to compete and thrive in the local ecosystem. Through providing youth centered programming courses, beneficial job opportunities, social economical resources, and other services, JOURNI is depositing vital technological skills to those who are less fortunate. Learning these skills will allow individuals to break through the barriers that barricade their brilliance, uplift their communities through technological progression, and earn better employment opportunities.

Skill Scout, a For-Profit company located in Chicago, Illinois, was simply sensational. This organization transforms how companies and candidates connect with each other through using video job posts and engaging work sample applications. Instead of reading through a long job description, candidates can view the job they desire through simply watching an engaging video showing what the position entails using this platform. Skill Scout takes an inventive, future focused approach to linking job candidates with job opportunities in a way that will rewrite the future of job searching.

Points of Light

October 13th was one of the most inspirational days I have had as a civic tech evangelist. From visualizing the remarkable community transformation at Avalon Village to learning about the invigorating educational and workforce development ventures at CivicX, I feel extremely encouraged about the future of Detroit. Not only do I feel encouraged, but I feel empowered to work more diligently toward making a substantial impact in Detroit. One narrative that is shared between Avalon Village and CivicX is the passion for positive progression. The individuals at both of these destinations have heroic hearts and astounding ambition. Their movements are not driven off self-gratification or personal personification but off the liberation of other individuals who are in less fortunate situations. I have nothing but deep gratitude for what each entity is doing to help others and I wish them all overflowing success.

Stay tuned for the third part of my blog series where I document my experience at the Sunlight Foundations Transparency Camp in Cleveland Ohio.

The Character of the American Veteran: My Project RELO Experience


Credit: Project RELO

When I agreed to take part in the
Project RELO experience, I was about as informed as you are now. All I knew is that it had something to do with spending time with military vets. Perhaps like you, I thought I had a good handle on the value that America’s veterans bring to an organization. Leadership, of course. Tenacity, certainly. Endurance, check. However, after going through Project RELO, my perspective has permanently been altered, and I see that while those are qualities that vets unquestionably bring to the table, they woefully understate their value.

Project RELO is a non-profit that brings business leaders together with veterans on a multi-day series of “missions” on a military base. For a short three days, business leaders live what can only be described as a glimpse of the military experience. We witness the kind of deep professional education, personal development, character building, and intellectual challenges that have defined their military careers.

During the day, our military vets were our guides at the massive Camp Grayling in Northern Michigan. Our “battle buddies” took us through simulators where we fired imitation rounds from real machine guns and other military weapons. They ran us through convoy training and virtual reality simulations. We experienced mock negotiations with tribal leaders, navigated underground sewer tunnels, and simulated an urban assault. This just scratched the surface of helping us appreciate the extent to which our military members are trained.

At night, we debriefed, ate dinner, and had deeply earnest discussions around the fire. Incidentally, this was my first experience sleeping in a tent (best sleep ever). We learn from the veterans, in a very personal way, what they bring to an organization.

Although it can hardly be compared to a military experience, Project RELO enabled me to formulate a mental model of how military experience brings out the adaptive, collaborative, communicative, and loyalty traits in these men and women. These are merits that so many companies in corporate America say are terribly hard to find. It is best to grasp these qualities by meeting my veteran friends:

Casey: Each business leader was assigned a battle buddy. Casey was mine for the first half. Casey is a young, enthusiastic, incredibly energetic, highly intelligent young man with a strong sense of kinship. Immediately upon meeting Casey, you are part of his family. His loving and empathetic nature could lead you to believe that he was raised with strong parental bonds. Negative. It was his many deployments overseas, in battle and in peace, that kindled his collaborative spirit and his recognition of the value in every person. It was during his infantry experience, starting at age 18, where Casey formed his notion family. Casey depended on his team in the ways his team depended on him: emotionally, professionally, and, at times, existentially.

Marsha: Marsha turned 29 years old on this trip. She had been in the military for 10 years. Marsha decided early on in her career that she would take every opportunity that the military afforded her to build on her already solid foundation of intelligence. She took whatever downtime she had, even when deployed overseas, to study new languages, learn new skills, collecting associate degrees and certifications along the way. Marsha has a hard to describe warmth and sweetness about her that draws people in. You immediately know that she is a person with whom you want to spend time. A person that you want to converse with and who makes it very easy to open up. These qualities no doubt served her well professionally. Marsha’s job in the military was gathering human intelligence.

Mike: Mike (“Fletch”) claims to have only two emotions. While he may only show two, spend any amount of time with him and you get the strong sense that he is a far more complex person. A first responder now, Mike’s military career was as a Naval Officer. His passion and talent is developing others. Mike took us through a simulation that demonstrated the difficulty of keeping a motorized convoy together. Without realizing what was happening to us, we (the business folks) went from a disorganized mess to a semi-organized team. During our de-briefing, Mike helped us realize that the difference from our beginning to our end was that we discovered the power of communication. If Mike could bring us that far and make us feel that proud in an hour, imagine spending your career under his tutelage.

Jimmy “Fixit”: Jimmy “Fixit” was my battle buddy for the second half. He is without question the most selfless person I have every had the pleasure of knowing. We call him Jimmy Fixit because there is nothing he cannot fix. Part of a familial line of welders, it is not just his ample technical skill that makes up his gift. His military experience honed his resolve, creativity, and genuine desire to make others safe, happy, and great. Forget any notion of vets being rigid and protocol-driven. He showed me that one of the most valuable skills that a military vet brings is adaptability. Jimmy is quick to tell you he loves you, and he means it.

Rick: Proud father of four in West Seattle. Rick is warm, kind, and has a razor sharp intellect. He better. He is a retired US Coast Guard Rear Admiral. From Rick, I learned that American vets bring more than technical skill to a project. They bring an adaptive and collaborative mindset that is often overlooked when thinking about vet value. Rick taught me the importance of character, which is essential when you are the Commander for keeping over 3000 men and women (sometimes over 4000) in a state of readiness to respond to just about any emergency situation. Rick is the perfect gentleman.

Christian: Our guide for Project RELO, Christian, embodies and personifies leadership done well. When you talk to Christian, you are the only thing in the world that is important. You want to succeed because he wants you to succeed. You won’t fail because he assures you that you won’t fail. He will subtly facilitate the kind of teamwork, collaboration, and support that drives you to want to make others succeed. Christian loves people, teams, organizations, and of course, the veterans. All he wants from you is to share that passion. He does this by tapping into your potential and helping you realize your part — your value — in the team experience. Christian was a Captain in the Marines and is now the CIO of a large global enterprise organization.

Adaptivity. Collaboration. Passion. Compassion. Command. Character. Intellectual horsepower. Empathy. Scale. Enthusiasm. These descriptors appear time and again in corporate job descriptions and reqs. And here they are, in ample supply, in our military veterans, just waiting to be applied to the corporate domain. It seems to me that correcting the veteran underemployment problem should, in theory, be a no-brainer. Yet it hasn’t happened.

What I learned about our military veterans in this immersive training experience was nothing short of profound. Everything I knew about vets before was cliché. Eating with them, sleeping with them, learning from them, relying on them, laughing with them, crying with them, they awakened in me the pathway for developing the same attributes that I admired so greatly. If they could give me this level of personal growth in 72 hours, imagine what they could bring your organization.

Credit: Project RELO

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Meredith Sparks Ament, City Colleges of Chicago & Margaret Martyn, Harold Washington College


City Colleges of Chicago is the largest community colleges system in Illinois and one of the largest in the nation, serving more than 100,000 students annually at seven colleges and six satellite sites. City College’s goal is to give students access to quality education with programs ranging from two-year associate degrees to weeks-long occupational certificates. Harold Washington College in Chicago is a part of the City Colleges system.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, Meredith Sparks Ament, from the Office of Strategy for City Colleges of Chicago, and Margaret Martyn, President of Harold Washington College, discuss new programs launched at City Colleges related to business and technology. The College to Careers Initiative, they explain, created a better curriculum where students are able to gain relevant skills and real-world experience thanks to the relationships City Colleges has forged with 150 industry leaders. They highlight an apprenticeship program with Aon Insurance and more.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Sparks Ament and Martyn, live on


YouthSpark Live Chicago inspires middle school students to explore tech careers

YouthSpark Live

Nearly all jobs today require at least a basic knowledge of technology, and careers that call for advanced computing skills are on the rise. However, computer science education is still largely absent in schools. Microsoft is dedicated to ensuring that all youth — no matter where they live or what their background may be — have the opportunity to learn computer science and computational thinking.

On Nov. 4, as part of that commitment, Microsoft Chicago hosted 60 middle and high school students for a free YouthSpark Live event. The daylong experience enabled local youth to collaborate, get creative and support one another — while exploring the latest technology.

YouthSpark Live events bring young people together to not just learn about technology, but also shape a plan for their future. Participants identify the skills they need to reach their goals, determine how technology can propel them forward, and connect with programs to help them along the way.

The Chicago event was possible thanks to Microsoft’s partnership with Chicago’s Greater Englewood Community Development Corp. (CDC), which is aimed at helping people in the area get the necessary skills, tools and support to achieve digital literacy.

“We’re pleased to work with Microsoft to inspire Chicago-area youth and help them build the computer skills that will be essential to their future career success,” says Glen Fulton, executive director and president at Greater Englewood CDC. “YouthSpark Live supports our digital literacy training initiative by helping close the skills gap through increased access to computer science education.”

Over the next three years, Microsoft will invest $75 million in community programs — such as those offered through the Greater Englewood CDC — designed to boost access to computer science education for young people, especially for those from under-represented backgrounds, and build greater diversity into the tech talent pipeline.

YouthSpark Live Chicago offered students a wide range of activities to choose from:

  • Hands-on technology breakout sessions
  • Cutting-edge tech demos
  • Coding workshops
  • Panel discussions with government and community leaders representing a variety of perspectives on today’s economic and societal challenges

Attendees worked with Microsoft and community leaders throughout the day to complete a YouthSpark Live Action Plan, outlining steps to take along their chosen tech training path.

Microsoft YouthSpark is a global initiative to increase access for all youth to learn computer science, empowering them to achieve more for themselves, their families and their communities. Visit the Microsoft YouthSpark Hub or Microsoft Philanthropies to learn more and find out how you or your students can get involved. Attendees worked with Microsoft and community leaders throughout the day to complete a YouthSpark Live Action Plan, outlining steps to take along their chosen tech training path.

Welcoming ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s 2017 Fellows Class!


ADA 25 Advancing Leadership announced the 2017 Fellows Class at the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network’s Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit on October 21st. The 18 competitively selected emerging leaders with disabilities will participate in a Leadership Institute retreat in January and March of 2017.

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s mission is to build a pipeline and network of leaders with disabilities who are deeply engaged in the civic life of the Chicago region and advancing in their careers – consistent with the promise of the ADA. ADA 25 Advancing Leadership began as a legacy project of ADA 25 Chicago – an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and leverage the milestone to ensure greater inclusion, empowerment, and opportunities for people with disabilities.

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership works to support the realization of disability as part of diversity in the Chicago region. This program is in part the answer to the continued requests I receive from leaders in the government, corporate, and non-profit sectors who are seeking qualified individuals with disabilities for civic service in Chicago. I am excited to announce this year’s Fellows class and look forward to the strides they will make in improving the Chicagoland region.

Congratulations to the following ADA 25 Advancing Leadership 2017 Fellows:

Tiffany Askew
Ombudsman Program Manager, Access Living

Adam Ballard
Manager of Organizing and Policy, Access Living

Kimberly Brown
Senior Business Analyst, Commonwealth Edison

Kevin D’Ambrosio
Office Supervisor, Faithful+Gould

Cheryl Farney
Certified Recovery Support Specialist and Medical Social Assistant, University of Illinois Chicago Hospital

Bridget Hayman
Director of Digital Content Marketing, Easterseals National Headquarters

Tsehaye Geralyn Hebert

Brian Heyburn
Doctoral Candidate, Disability and Human Development , UIC-Chicago

Esther Lee
Attorney, Disability Law Collective
Co-Founder, Able Community

Michele Lee
Finance Senior Administrator, International Treasury, Aon Corporation

Veronica Lozano
Women, Infant, Youth, Children Ryan White Case Manager, Howard Brown Health

Norma Jane Mejias
Doctoral Candidate, Disability and Human Development, UIC-Chicago

Chaitanya Manchanda
Cyber Security Professional, Discover Financial Services

Risa Jaz Rifkind
Program Associate, Chicago Community Trust

Margaret Sugrue
Community Relations Coordinator, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

Chad Turner
Vice President, Finance & Business Manager, JPMorgan Chase

Caity-Shea Violette
Manager of Marketing and Communications, Thresholds

Mark Williams
Grants Manager, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago

For more information about ADA 25 Advancing Leadership visit

unnamed-1Karen Tamley was named Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) in March of 2005 by Richard M. Daley and reappointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May of 2011.  MOPD promotes full inclusion of people with all types of disabilities and strives to make Chicago the most accessible city in
the nation.

In her role as Commissioner, Ms. Tamley leads numerous disability policy and accessibility compliance initiatives in transportation, city infrastructure, emergency preparedness, housing, education, and technology.  She also oversees the delivery of independent living services such as in-home supports, home accessibility modifications, amplified phones, and employment readiness to thousands of Chicagoans with disabilities.Commissioner Tamley serves as the City’s representative regarding disability related policy on a number of boards and committees, including the Pace Board of Directors, the region’s Paratransit service provider. In 2015, Commissioner Tamley was appointed by President Obama to serve on the United States Access Board, which develops accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostics equipment, and information technology. Most recently, the Civic Federation of Chicago and Motorola Solutions Foundation named Commissioner Tamley the recipient of the 2015 “Excellence in Public Service Award” for her extraordinary impact. 

Commissioner Tamley serves as the City’s representative regarding disability related policy on a number of boards and committees, including the Pace Board of Directors, the region’s Paratransit service provider. In 2015, Commissioner Tamley was appointed by President Obama to serve on the United States Access Board, which develops accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostics equipment, and information technology. Most recently, the Civic Federation of Chicago and Motorola Solutions Foundation named Commissioner Tamley the recipient of the 2015 “Excellence in Public Service Award” for her extraordinary impact.

Under Commissioner Tamley’s leadership, Chicago received the Accessible America Award from the National Organization on Disability and for two years, MOPD was named “Best Government Department” by the Deaf Illinois.

For 15 years prior to her appointment, Tamley served in management, policy and advocacy roles at disability organizations in Washington D.C., Denver and Chicago. Prior to her appointment as Commissioner, she was the Director of Programs at Access Living a center for advocacy and services for people with disabilities in Chicago.

Commissioner Tamley earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.