December 2016

Year in Review: 2016 in Civic Tech


What a year 2016 was! From implementing computer science as a graduation requirement in Chicago’s schools to the Cubs winning a world series, we’ve stayed on our toes as new, exciting things continue to transform our community.

A look back at an amazing year on the Microsoft Chicago Blog:


Big Shoulders: Billy Banks, Associate Director of The Garage at Northwestern University

Academic accelerators are the next big thing and Northwestern University is jumping on the band wagon with the creation of The Garage. Billy Banks, Associate Director of The Garage at Northwestern University, discussed with Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman this venture in inspiring students and professors to explore entrepreneurship.

Kevin Wei_FellowFellow Profile: Kevin Wei

Every year, we gain an incredible cohort of civic technology fellows who inspire us through their hard work and dedication to utilize technology in local government and community applications. With each step forward our fellows make, we help make Chicago more interconnected through technology. Meet one of them, Kevin Wei.


10Voices Of Change — #LookUp! Space is Freaking Awesome
Michelle B. Larson, President and CEO, Adler Planetarium 

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we were honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women. One of those women is Michelle B. Larson, President and CEO at Adler Planetarium.


Opti_UChicago_Illustration1Opti RTC: Managing Sustainability at UChicago

Our Azure partner Opti uses new technology approaches to managing stormwater and sewage runoff. Through smart green infrastructure monitoring, Opti has built a new monitoring system at UChicago that gathers data on water and helps manage runoff for better infrastructure.

How the Internet of Things can Prevent Bullying
Shelley Stern Grach

As 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, where students at 19 Illinois high schools address real-world problems in partnership with 10 industry and academic partners. While at one of their brainstorming mentoring sessions, Shelley Stern Grach met with students using IoT to combat bullying.


ITKAN teams up with Microsoft and Directions to deliver SQL Server/Business Intelligence training!
Adam Hecktman and Pat Maher

ITKAN, a professional organization affiliated with the Illinois Technology Foundation, whose mission is to develop passionate IT professionals with disabilities, partnered with Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team in Chicago, as well as Directions – a nationwide leader in IT, business and enterprise training solutions and one of only 12 Microsoft Gold Managed Learning partners – to train and secure professional positions for a class of (6) ITKAN members.

Mayor's Office for People With DisabilitiesMaking Chicago The Most Accessible City in the Nation
Karen Tamley, Commissioner, Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD)

“Making Chicago The Most Accessible City in the Nation” is the tag line and mission of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) where Karen Tamley serves as Commissioner. She highlighted MOPD’s work and took time reflect on how far our city, our nation and her life experience has changed for the better.


CaptureIntroducing the DigiSeniors Program
Kevin Wei, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

The Microsoft Chicago Civic Engagement and Retail Store teams were hard at work with the leading individuals and agencies of the City of Chicago to develop a curriculum to help senior citizens get the basic digital skills, access and safety knowledge that they need to keep up with the ever-evolving technology world. After nearly a year’s worth of development, feedback, pilot sessions, Microsoft Chicago was happy to announce the launch of the DigiSeniors curriculum.

PowerBI Visualization: Community takes Commitment
Ivoire Morrell, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

In the first of a three-part series on Detroit Crime statistics, causes and potential solutions, Microsoft’s Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell shared a powerful story of the history, economic impact and future narratives of Detroit’s most economically depressed communities. It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on the raw data, and illustrating the impact on Detroiters, that we can together build a stronger future.


ew_incubatorUncovering Advanced Science, Technology, and Startups at the University of Illinois Research Park
Adam J. Hecktman

Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman toured University of Illinois Research Park, where both enterprise companies and startups bask in the glow of advanced science and research. Laura Freichs, the Director of Research Park, guided him on a tour and meeting with researchers.


2016-11-11The Character of the American Veteran: My Project RELO Experience
Adam J. Hecktman

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. Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman attended and witnessed the kind of deep professional education, personal development, character building and intellectual challenges that have defined their military careers.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: 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. Microsoft Chicago’s Shelley Stern Grach sat down with PJ Karafiol, Lake View High School’s newest interim principal.


python-sh-600x600Learning Python to Celebrate #CSEdWeek
Adam J. Hecktman

The goal of the annual Computer Science Education Week is primarily to inspire students to take the time to learn about computer science, specifically coding. Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman celebrated Computer Science Education Week this year by diving in deep himself and took on the challenge to learn to code with Python.

Thank you to all who joined us in sharing the important stories that shape our community. Let’s work together for an incredible 2017.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Janet Smith, Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at UIC


At the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), students and faculty alike are working to build a better Chicago. With a focus on urban and community development, Co-Director Janet Smith leads the program in various areas of growth, including housing, transportation, and policy.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Janet Smith to discuss the work being done at the Voorhees Center and how we can help improve Chicago together.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Janet live on

Cold Temps, Warm Hearts in Detroit!

Oh, the weather outside was frightful last week, traveling from sub-zero Chicago to sub-zero Detroit. I felt like I was in a “Frozen” version of Groundhog Day, repeating Chicago’s coldest weather in how many years as it arrived in Detroit. Lucky me. I had my flannel-lined jeans, my Omni-Heat Pillsbury Dough-girl coat and, of course, my Uggs. I can do this!

First stop was Tech Town for a full morning with our great friends DataDrivenDetroit@D3. Met with the whole team and got to play Mrs. Claus as Microsoft donated a sleigh full of Surface Pro 4’s to the D3 team to use for CUT Groups, community work and analysis. We even got red type pads to mark the holiday season.

Group with Surface Devices

In addition to playing with our new toys, we discussed plans for 2017, including expansion of CUT Groups and looking into a regional data collaborative. D3 is doing amazing work to accelerate the civic tech ecosystem.

My next meeting was with Mark Crosswell, of Points of Light. Mark and his wonderful colleague Megan Christenson, run the Civic Accelerator, a Points of Light program. Our Civic Tech Fellow, Ivoire Morrell and I wanted to learn more about this program, which is focused on Youth Education and Workforce Development. “CivicX” is the first national accelerator program and investment fund in the country focused on “civic ventures”—for profit and early stage ventures that solve social problems by including people as part of the solution to critical social programs. The 10 week, boot camp-style program convenes 10-15 teams in person and online with the goal of equipping each venture to seek investments and scale their social innovation. You can learn more about the Civic Accelerator at @civicaccleratr#CivicX, and

Microsoft has been a big fan of CivicX and Ivoire, my Chicago colleague Adam Hecktman, and I have attended mentoring workshops through the 2016 program, which focuses on my two favorite (and freezing!) towns of Chicago and Detroit. We discussed the overall program goals with Mark, then Ivoire and I headed off to Ford Motor Company’s corporate headquarters in Dearborn, where Ford graciously hosted CivicX Demo Day 2016, which was organized and run by Megan…

At the gorgeous auditorium at Ford, we saw the various teams presenting their concepts in a Ted-talk format. The entrepreneurs each had 3 minutes to pitch their solution. The audience voted for Most Innovative Solution, Greatest Social Impact and Most Compelling Story. I absolutely LOVE these categories! Having worked 1:1 with some of the teams as they were developing their plans, it was awesome to see the progress and inspiring to see the focus on social impact.

Here are some photos of some of the Pitches:

As I bundled off to return to 8 inches of snow over the weekend in New Buffalo, I reflected on the incredible momentum and positivity in Detroit. Truly a great revival story, that has a broad spectrum of organizations and very committed people. If Chicago is the city of Big Shoulders, Detroit is the city of Warm Hearts.

Oh, yes, it could have been worse. Ask the Chicago Bears. Happy Holidays!!!!!

SWC Technology Partners, Microsoft and Alain Locke Charter School Partner to Spread Good Cheer this Holiday Season


SWC Technology Partners, a Midwest business-technology consultancy and IT solution provider, has partnered with Microsoft and Alain Locke Charter School to spread cheer this season to local professionals and holiday shoppers alike in Oak Brook, IL. Fifty students from Alain Locke Charter School’s All-Star Choir and Band travelled from their campus in Chicago’s East Garfield Park to Oak Brook for a performance of holiday songs at SWC Technology Partners headquarters followed by an encore at the Microsoft Store at Oakbrook Center for staff and customers to enjoy.

“It was a very warm, and cheerful event — especially with a surprise visit from Santa himself,” said Megan Wright, Community Development Specialist at Microsoft. “The students all enjoyed a technology scavenger hunt and received goodie bags. Special thanks to our friends at SWC and the talented students at Alain Locke. We hope to do this again next year!”

SWC has partnered with Alain Locke Charter School since 2011 on initiatives to enhance the lives of the students, providing hardware and IT expertise to progress the school’s educational technology and infrastructure, ensuring Alain Locke stays competitive with today’s scholastic demands. SWC has also become part of the school community by participating in various fundraising and volunteering activities throughout year.

LISC Chicago, City of Chicago and Community Partners Launch Southwest Corridor Collaborative


Last month, LISC Chicago, LISC’s national CEO Maurice Jones, Mayor Emanuel, the City of Chicago and our community partners the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and Teamwork Englewood, announced the Southwest Corridor Collaborative (SWCC). This partnership between government, community organizations and businesses is taking a targeted people and place-based approach to economic development.

LISC Chicago has an established reputation in the city for developing and delivering a community development methodology that meaningfully engages residents and stakeholders in setting a vision for their neighborhood and implementing that vision through aligned programs and investments. Through SWCC, LISC will bring that methodology and approach and build a focused economic development strategy to the south and southwest side communities. LISC’s intent is to document and learn from SWCC in order to replicate the work in other cross-community commercial corridors in the city.

LISC has been committed to these communities for the last 36 years. We have supported capacity building in the neighborhood organizations, community planning, special programs and real estate lending. The SWCC came out of one of LISC Chicago’s foundational investments, Quality-of-Life Planning, which Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chicago Southwest created 10 years ago and are currently completing their second community-led visions for their future.

We are recommitting for another decade to continue to build capacity and deepen our efforts on economic development. LISC’s commitment to the SWCC includes seed funding this effort to cover capacity building and support at our neighborhood partner organizations and $50M in lending for investments in real estate and local neighborhood businesses targeted as part of this initiative.

SWCC is a collaborative effort focused on creating living wage jobs through physical, human and business investment. These geographic areas of focus are along 63rd Street from Cottage Grove to Pulaski and incorporating key nodes along Halsted and 79th Street to produce data-informed but community-led strategies to leverage the investments needed to achieve the goal of job creation. Investments will be made in real estate, housing, small businesses, transit and employment opportunities.

SWCC will approach neighborhood led economic development planning, implementation and investments guided by the following priorities:

  • Job Creation: Identifying strategic industries to locate/expand in the target area that will provide living wage job opportunities.
  • Infrastructure: Preparing physical locations within communities for business/job attraction and expansion. Assemble land to develop into project-ready commercial locations. Secure sufficient broadband, wireless and utility service capacity at existing and new properties that appropriately meets the needs of targeted industry sectors. Guide and finance transportation improvements (roads, sidewalks, public transit) to meet business and workforce needs.
  • Connecting Residents to Jobs: Preparing and connecting residents to living wage job opportunities through household financial stability; skills development to build a talent pipeline for middle skill jobs; and partnerships with large employers and job placement agencies to connect residents to quality jobs.
  •  Supporting Entrepreneurship: Establishing a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem to catalyze business startups and expansions. This will include capital access – loans, grants and equity deployed through local partnerships; developing affordable and project-ready spaces in the area; partnerships with business and financial mentors; linkages to sales relationships with anchor institutions in partnership with World Business Chicago and others; and, investments supports like incubators, accelerators and other direct assistance to neighborhood entrepreneurs.
  • Investment: SWCC will organize/create a navigable process for a full-suite of products and incentives to attract businesses and other investment to the area. This will include innovative use of LISC resources including grants, loans and equity as well as identifying and facilitating city and state resources, collaborating with other partners and leveraging direct investments from private financial institutions.

The outcomes we will achieve are simple. More jobs, more investment, more businesses and more people living and working in the neighborhoods.

I want to thank our committed SWCC partners which include: Ald. Foulkes, 16th Ward; Ald. Moore, 17th Ward; Chicago Cares; Comcast; Community Investment Corporation (CIC); Cook County Land Bank; The National Equity Fund; The PrivateBank; Urban Partnership Bank; US Bank; and, World Business Chicago. Of particular note is the Community Investment Corporation’s commitment of $10M in lending for housing investments.

To learn more about the initiative you can read the Crain’s Chicago Business article or check out DNAInfoChicago’s story. View photos from the announcement here.

If you are interested in joining us a SWCC partner, please contact Caroline Goldstein at or 312-422-9556 or Phillip Moore at or 312-422-9555.

meghan-harte_headshotMeghan Harte serves as the executive director of the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). A national leader in comprehensive community development, LISC Chicago’s mission is to connect neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.


Celebrating the Hour of Code with Detroit Middle School Students


In recognition of Microsoft reaching over 300 Detroit Middle School students for Hour of Code on Friday December 9th, 2016, Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey, awarded Microsoft Technology Center the prestigious Spirit of Detroit award.  In addition, the Technology Center was also recognized by Congresswomen, Brenda Lawrence, with a Proclamation declaring December 9th Microsoft Technology Center Day.

dsc_0173The Microsoft Southfield MTC hosted Hour of Code with students from Hamilton Academy Middle School in Detroit. The Hamilton students won an essay competition for the privilege to attend Hour of Code at the MTC.  The 13 middle schools who participated in the competition were able to experience Hour of Code via Skype. Charles Stacy Harris and Kevin H. Smith broadcast from the MTC while the Hamilton students were treated to a tour.

We are honored and humbled with the award and proclamation.

dsc_0163 Thank you to the Drew Costakis and the entire MTC Staff and a special thank you to our partner, Sandra Ware, Director of Community Engagement, MTA Elementary School, for creating a great day for the students!

Corliss High School Kicks Off STEM Challenge

Corliss students work together to build a marshmallow tower

For the past three years, Microsoft has partnered with the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (@ISTCoalition) and Lake View High School (@SCS_LakeviewHS) for the STEM Challenge. This is a great collaborative program which ties together curriculum, technology and mentoring from Microsoft employees to complement the teachers’ instruction on how to solve real world problems using technology. This year, we are thrilled to add Corliss High School as a Chicago Early College STEM School partner. We recently launched the STEM Challenge Kickoff event at Corliss on November 9th.

The focus this year is for the students to look at how the Internet of Things (IoT) can result in solutions for community issues in the Corliss neighborhood. The kick off day began with Dr. Leonard Harris, the Corliss principal, welcoming the group and outlining the agenda for the day, which saw many opportunities for mentor-student collaboration. From an ice breaker activity to a team building marshmallow tower workshop, the mentors from Microsoft worked hands-on with their student teams to start building the relationship that they will maintain through the end of April 2017. Further engagement occurred over a networking lunch where the Corliss students came prepared with questions about the mentors’ career paths, expertise and roles within Microsoft. The kick off came to a close with the Corliss STEM Challenge student groups presenting to Microsoft on their IoT research to date, and a group photo showcases the progress already made on this year’s partnership.


Students and mentors brainstorm together

Students will continue to work with their Microsoft mentors while researching their solutions with a school-wide share out planned toward the end of the project. This year’s collaboration will wrap up on April 27th at the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) STEM Challenge Showcase, featuring presentations from 26 schools working with 12 companies.

We would like to thank the terrific faculty and staff at Corliss High School and our long-time partners Emily Cooper and Allie Barwise from the ISTI. It will be great fun to have two schools learning about IoT this year…. maybe some friendly competition? Who knows?

How To Get Involved And Support People With Disabilities — From Global To Local


Did you know that December 3rd is the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” every year? How about that more than 1 in 10 residents of Illinois live with a disability, yet only 35% of working-age Illinoisans with disabilities have jobs?

Group of five individuals standing by ADA25 sign

Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been celebrated annually on the 3rd of  December around the world.

The theme for 2016’s International Day is Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want. This theme notes the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role of these goals in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.

This year’s objectives include assessing the current status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and SDGs and laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons with disabilities.

Shelley Stern Grach giving speech with transcriber of text visible on Surface Hub

I had the honor of attending an excellent program which complemented the International Day— the Global Aspects of Disability Panel Discussion,  hosted at The Northern Trust and supported by the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network (CBLN). The mission of the CBLN is to drive success through disability inclusion and to advance disability inclusion by providing the business community with tools, resources and solutions that drive employee hiring, engagement and performance. Check them out at

Group listening to speeches.

Other resources that CBLN provides include:

  • Education programs, such as the Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit, the premier conference in the Midwest exploring business issues related to disability inclusion
  • Resources to connect businesses to the untapped labor pool and tools to gauge performance, including the USBLN’s Disability Equality Index (include copywrite marking)
  • Networking and access to share best practices

Later that same day, Microsoft had the honor to host the  networking program for the ADA 25 ADvAncing Leadership program! What a great time we had! ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s long term vision is that Chicago’s vibrant civic life will include people with disabilities to reflect the diversity of the population. Its 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 advance the careers of people in that pipeline. Programs include:

  • Civic Connections project – to increase the number of people with disabilities serving in civic leadership positions
  • Members Network-Leaders who attend quarterly educational and networking events
  • Leadership Institute-a competitively selected class of 16 emerging leaders with disabilities

Team of 4 ladies in chairs smiling at cameraWhat can you do?

  • Learn about the global and local resources available to business leaders and to people with disabilities.
  • Please check out the talented people for this year’s cohort at
  • Reach out! It’s about people reaching out to people and connecting.

Looking Back at Computer Science Education Week 2016


Last week, we joined a revolution as Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) launched worldwide, inspiring students to incorporate CS education into their daily lives. We celebrated by sharing stories from Lake View High School and Corliss Early College STEM High School, schools around the Chicago area that are focusing on computer science as a priority, and by participating in Hour of Code events throughout the Chicago Metro area.

Meanwhile, our community engaged on the same level, hosting Hour of Code events at Chicago Public Schools and beyond. We’re thrilled to see our neighbors committed to the future of education, honoring the importance of computer science for all.

A look at local celebrations of CSEdWeek:

It’s raining. It’s pouring. We’re flooding.

Flooding. There is something about water coming into your house that is so…invasive.  And when it comes in as bacteria carrying storm water from a sewer system, it is that much more upsetting and expensive.  Now multiply that equation by 181,000 (the number claims of property damage from flooding in the Chicagoland area over the last 5 years), and you have yourself a $773 million situation.  This is the situation that the City Digital Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring project was designed to address.  Let me explain how we got here.

Sewer systems in major cities across the US and around the world often times are a century or more old.  Chicago built ours in 1856, as a combined system (carrying wastewater and stormwater together, away from people and homes and toward treatment plants).  And while the city spends approximately $50 million per year to clean and modernize the sewer lines and related structures, it is still a system built on notions of water events prior to our knowledge and understanding of climate change.  

Climate change has altered the behavior of water events.  As an example, storms are now more intense, shorter in duration, and more localized than they were 100 years ago.  This taxes the sewer systems in various locations around the city during times of intense rainfall.

In addition, there is far less green space in the city than there was 100 years ago.  Green spaces soak up stormwater.  The soil, and native plants living in it, utilizes that water and naturally cleanses some of the runoff.  When we build streets, roadways, parking lots, and buildings, we replace that green space with something impermeable.  Streets and rooftops, are like man-made rivers – they take stormwater and send it into the sewer system.  More hard surfaces + less green space = more water going into the sewers.

For years, we have known that adding “green elements” to the built environment diverts water from the sewers and puts it back into the natural system.  Rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, and permeable pavers are all natural elements that act to ultimately get more water back into the ground, less into the sewer system.  What we haven’t known is:

  • How much water is diverted from the sewer system?
  • Which green elements work best in which locations and under which conditions?
  • What is the quality of the water once it goes through the natural system?

Enter the world of sensors and data.  The Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring project was one of the first projects to use the City of Chicago as a test bed for experimentation at scale.  In this case, we used the city to test a water monitoring solution that could scale to multiple cities around the globe.  City Digital selected multiple locations around Chicago to place sensors in different “green elements” to understand how they reduce the impact of flooding.  As an example of one such green element, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, we incorporated permeable pavers (instead of impermeable asphalt) into a street scape system, which itself was part of a broader City project to create a shared plaza.  We added sensors beneath the pavers to determine how much water was absorbed into the ground (utilizing expertise from engineering company AECOM, and University of Illinois based-startup, Senformatics), and thereby diverted from the sewer system.  

optiOn Goose Island (where UI LABS is located), we built a bioswale with native plants. Working like rain gardens, bioswales are areas at the bottom of a sloped landscape filled with native vegetation to drain runoff water and remove pollution.   Again, sensors were added to determine the amount of water absorbed into the ground, water that otherwise would have been diverted to a sewer.  And other locations in the city will have other types of elements, and sensors to gather data on their performance.

Once the sensors pick up this data, it is collected in the Azure cloud.  There, it is city-digital_dashcombined with other data sources (such as weather forecasts) and is prepared for visualization on a dashboard through our Azure partner Opti, who focuses on new technology approaches to managing stormwater.  Over time, the data collection and analysis will also include metrics on the quality of the water as it passes through a natural system, allowing us to understand how runoff is handled.  Bringing all of this distributed data together will enable insights that a city can use as it plans for capital improvements.  

Imagine if every time a city made plans for street surfaces, parks, streetscapes, or the water system itself, it had the data to understand how to best leverage the opportunity to add green infrastructure.  Further, it would have insights as to which types of green infrastructure would work best in various locations.  Of course, we plan on extending type of experimentation to other water issues, but that is a blog for another time.   For more information on Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring and other City Digital projects, go to