ThinkChicago Lollapalooza: Bringing Together Remarkable Students

| Anna Draft, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

Every summer, Chicago’s signature music festival, Lollapalooza, fills Grant Park with the sounds of musicians and music fans. The word, Lollapalooza, meaning “remarkable person or thing,” defines not just the music festival, but it has also come to define the remarkable students that visit Chicago each year for ThinkChicago.

ThinkChicago takes place the week leading up to Lollapalooza (the music festival) with the goal of retaining and attracting top tech talent to Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, World Business Chicago and the University of Illinois, invite University students to Chicago to learn about the city’s vibrant innovation ecosystem, and to show visiting students what an incredible place Chicago is to live and work. For the third year in a row, Microsoft has had the honor of contributing to ThinkChicago’s wonderful efforts. This year, we facilitated a panel on Civic Innovation and we introduced the students to Microsoft Chicago’s efforts in Machine Learning, Civic Technology and Urban Engagement.

The first day of ThinkChicago kicked off at Motorola Chicago, where the students were welcomed by Mayor Emanuel.

Following Mayor Emanuel’s introductions, Microsoft’s own Shelley Stern Grach moderated a panel on Civic Innovation in Chicago. The panel featured Charlie Catlett from the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), Danielle DuMerer from the Department of Information Technology (DoIT), Katie Olson from UILABS, and Kenneth Watkins from Blue1647. The discussion focused on how science and technology are enabling and empowering Chicago’s communities. Many of the key messages expressed the importance of policy, and transparency and collaboration amongst various sectors, as vital to driving innovation and success across Chicago.

To draw on the panels introduction and discussion of Civic Innovation, the students transferred to mHUB Chicago where they took part in a Civic Innovation Challenge. Microsoft’s Adam Hecktman was there to see the students at work.

For the final day of ThinkChicago, Microsoft Chicago hosted 60 students at our Envisioning Lab for a demo by Adam Hecktman on Machine Learning. Adam introduced the students to AI facial recognition, sentiment analysis, speech to text, and the immeasurable capabilities of emerging technologies.  

Microsoft Chicago Fellows, Soren Spicknall and Anna Draft (me!), followed up with insights on Microsoft’s Fellowship program. Soren spoke to the group of his work in Data Science and Civic Technology and how both are being applied for social good. I spoke of my work in Public Policy and community engagement and how both are necessary for improving digital literacy and accessibility. Thanks to Microsoft’s Fellowship program, Soren and I have been able to pursue our passions. We have also been able to experience how collaboration (between ourselves on a smaller level, and amongst Microsoft partnerships, on a grander level) drives innovation and success across Chicago.

Before the students were set free to experience four full days at Lollapalooza, we concluded with Q&A. The ThinkChicago students were curious, they asked applicable questions, and they were wonderful to connect with. Since ThinkChicago, we have received a number of positive inquiries from the students interested in everything from Civic Innovation, Machine Learning, Data Science, Public Policy, and job opportunities!  

Congratulations, and a very big thank you to Mayor Emanuel, World Business Chicago, the University of Illinois, the amazing panelists, and the students for coming together for ThinkChicago. The City of Chicago is set for success thanks to everyone’s remarkable efforts and dedication.

For more information about ThinkChicago, visit  

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