A Letter to Karin Norington-Reaves (From Karin Norington-Reaves)

Mar 28, 2017   |   Karin Norington-Reaves, CEO, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

It was likely my proudest moment in 3rd grade. I’d written a paper on this new invention called CAD (Computer Assisted Design). I was so excited by this new technology and the ability to draw using a computer. I drew a picture of the computer, keyboard and the special “pen” that could be used to “draw” designs. I prepared my first essay outline (the longest the teacher had ever seen!) and a cover page. The future was at my fingertips. I couldn’t wait to share my new found knowledge with anyone who’d listen.

With the advent of smartphones, robots that vacuum your floor and driverless cars, my CAD discovery seems so insignificant now. But in 1977, it was a big deal. Personal computers didn’t exist. Indeed mainframes, dinosaurs that filled entire rooms, sometimes floors, were the norm. This was a far cry from today’s compact, lightweight portable devices everyone now carries in their pockets.

My curious 8-year-old self did not foresee the technology that we now take for granted. Nor could I have known how much I’d rely on it, be beholden to it, or sometimes even crave a break from it. (I’ve given up Facebook for Lent for the past two years!). I’m now a 47 year-old Chief Executive Officer of the nation’s second largest workforce development system. I manage a large non-profit organization with a budget of $60 million and a staff of 65 people. On any given day I receive as many as 100 emails across my work and personal accounts. I carry two phones, a Surface Pro, USB cords, a projector adapter, an external battery charger, a WiFi hotspot and an oversized purse every single day.

None of this entered my mind when I opted to bypass lunch period during junior year of high school in favor of typing class. I attended the performing arts program of a school with multiple educational tracts—typing was not offered in my program. But I thought it was important to learn to type in preparation for college, so there went lunch. It was the right move. That typing class was the launching pad for my word processing skills and the ability to type up to 90 words per minute. While I perfected college application essays on my mom’s IBM Selectric, Apple and IBM computers would be the tools for completing college papers, law school application and appellate court briefs. Later, I’d move from merely typing to designing presentations, to analyzing and demonstrating data through attention-grabbing graphics.

So much of my life would be significantly more difficult without the technology I use daily: the Outlook calendar that coordinates my and my children’s schedules across my work and personal devices; the address book that holds phone numbers I once committed to memory but now would be hard-pressed to recall in a pinch; the apps through which I manage my retirement, checking, savings and credit card accounts. And, text messaging! Oh how many times has a quick text helped me keep an appointment, find out where my children are, or get updates on an event I couldn’t attend?

My children undoubtedly think I’m corny when I wax nostalgic about how “there were no ______ when I was your age.”  But it’s true, there were no cellphones when I was growing up, no computers, no apps, no flatscreen TV’s, Bluetooth or You Tube. I’m not really that old—it’s just that technology has evolved with an incredible speed. So much so that I’m certain in another 20 years when my children are parents, they’ll hear themselves saying to my grandchildren, “we didn’t have that when I was your age!” and they’ll smile. And they’ll realize that just like me, they too were able to master all of the new technology as it became the norm and changed their lives forever.

Karin Norington-Reaves serves as CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. In this capacity she oversees the administration of federal, state and philanthropic funds and the creation of effective programs that assure symmetry between the skills demanded by a changing economy and those offered by the region’s workforce. Karin serves on the Cook County Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) as well as on the Board of Advisors for LISC Chicago.

Karin brings more than 10 years of experience in education, community/economic development, and workforce development to the position. Prior to her appointment Karin served as Director of Cook County Works; Deputy Director of the Office of Urban Assistance for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and Chief of Staff for the City of Chicago’s 20th Ward. Karin holds a J.D. from Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas, Texas and a B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. 

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