A Data Journey: Ivoire Morrell

| Meghan Urisko, Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow in Detroit

In the past two years, we’ve had the pleasure of having Ivoire Morrell on our Microsoft Cities team, first in his capacity as a civic tech fellow and then as a project manager at Data Driven Detroit. This June, Ivoire moves on to his next chapter, as he pursues a new path with Mosaic Midtown Detroit. I sat down with Ivoire to trace his incredible journey.

How did you find out about the Civic Tech Fellow role? What motivated you to apply?

While working as an IT Assistant at Lawrence Technological University, my supervisor encouraged me to apply.  Initially, I was uncertain applying because I had already made a commitment to a summer internship. The Microsoft position however, aligned more with my predestined purpose: to help bring liberation to oppressed and desolate communities.  So, I submitted my resume to see what would happen.

What did you accomplish while at Microsoft/D3?

So much! The work I accomplished during my time at Microsoft/D3 primarily fell into 3 intertwining categories:

Computer Science/Coding Education

  • Volunteered with the Microsoft TEALS (Technology, Education, and Literacy in Schools) program to teach Computer Science at the Detroit International Academy for Young Women (DIA)
  • Lead coding sessions at many Hour of Code events in Detroit
  • Individual coding sessions at various Detroit Public Schools
  • Participated in a STEM panel at NAACP‘s Career Day/Youth Summit
  • Partnered with Athlete’s for Charity to provide coding education and mentorship to students at Clark Preparatory Academy

Community Outreach/Partnership Efforts

Hands-On Application of Computer Science/Coding

  • Assisted with the early stages of development of the Metro Detroit Data Alliance (MDDA) at D3
  • Collaborated on the coding and web development of D3’s recently revamped website
  • Coded and developed D3’s Early Childhood Data Portal
  • Coded and Developed a Reports Tool to catalogue the community investment reports that exist in the city of Detroit

What experiences did you have at Microsoft/D3 that will help you in your future career?

My experience taught me so many great lessons. One thing I gained was a deeper understanding of the inner workings of Detroit and how to build relationships with many of the great organizations striving to resurrect it. I also learned about the impact data can have when it comes to making decisions.

Lastly, I learned about Detroit’s education system. Working at DIA and speaking to Detroit youth throughout the city, I gained a deeper understanding of the internal issues they face every day. Educational system issues aside, other issues need to be congruently addressed to aid youth development. I’ve heard students tearfully express how they’ve lost loved ones due to gun violence. Some students shared that they dealt with suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness due to situations they’re forced to endure in their communities. I knew of the problems the city faced before starting my fellowship, but being able to hear testimonies directly from our future generation pushes me even more to do everything within my power to make things better for them.

Did you have any mentors or key people who helped you grow in this role?

There were so many amazing individuals who played integral parts in growth with this role, but if I must narrow it down, there are four people who made my time at Microsoft/D3 especially meaningful.

  1. Erica Raleigh, Executive Director, D3 – one of the most thorough, humble, and passionate leaders in Detroit She exudes confidence not only in herself, but also in the individuals she leads. This confidence encouraged me to work more efficiently and I can’t thank her enough for being a remarkable leader.
  2. Bob Branch, IT Director, D3 – Bob’s technical expertise was vital to my success at D3. He helped me through some challenging times as a programmer which helped me to strengthen my programming skills and for that I am very grateful.
  3. Noah Urban, Senior Analyst & Project Lead, D3 – As my supervisor, Noah always saw me as a person first, and employee second. He was my constant advocate in terms of balancing my responsibilities and my professional relationships to ensure my time at Microsoft/D3 was enjoyable, but also filled with growth. Words cannot express my gratitude!
  4. Shelley Stern Grach, Director of Civic Engagement, Microsoft Chicago – My deepest gratitude goes out to Shelley for everything she’s done to make this fellowship a fantastic experience (and for granting me this opportunity in the first place). A part of my future will success will always be attributed to Shelley for all she has done for my career.

I could go on all day, but a few others (just a few) worth mentioning are: Garlin Gilchrist, Gary Beaver, Donna Bank-Hoglen, Boitshoko Molefhi, Jeana D Bunn-Hector, Charles Stacy Harris, Meghin Mathers, Laura Lyons, Ayana Rubio, and Drew Costakis.

What was your favorite thing you worked on while with Microsoft/D3?

My two favorites were CUTGroup Detroit and teaching with the TEALS program. Both allowed me to move away from my cubicle and ingratiate myself with the vibrant citizens of Detroit. CUTGroup Detroit allowed me to see the city from a different perspective, whereas teaching allowed me to combine two of my passions in a way that brought educational edification to my students while building everlasting relationships. My students are astounding, brilliant, and destined for greatness!

What do you think the people you worked with learned from you?

I’ve learned so much from all the experiences, that I haven’t even thought about what people might have learned from me. I shared this question with one of my colleagues, Meghin Mather, and this is what she stated: “In my time working with Ivoire, he’s taught me, by example, to be patient and to approach challenges or frustrations with grace and view them as an opportunity for learning and growth. Those are valuable lessons I will carry with me throughout my career.”

What have you learned from your fellowship experience?

I could write a whole essay about the things I learned while in my role, but one lesson I learned that really will help me moving forward is the practical practices in developing a useful website. The entire experience constructing the D3 website taught me the importance of preparation and visualization of a site through digital wireframes before creating any code. Without a clear vision of how you want your website to look/contain, your development efforts more than likely will be dissolved. Preparation and digital visualization before implementation is my new formality for creating websites.

Have your career goals changes while working for Microsoft/D3? If so, how has your experience impacted your future goals?

Becoming a change agent who contributes to the social, economic, environmental, and personal advancement, particularly for those living in adverse conditions, has not changed. My time at Microsoft/D3 has only amplified that passion. I have learned so much about the ecosystem of Detroit and the problems organizations are striving to solve. I have learned about the plethora of resources that exist to make an impact on a community. I’ve established strong relationships with passionate people who share my goal of seeing all Detroiters prosper.

What is next for you? What are you looking forward to?

The next step of my professional journey is just astounding and entirely unexpected. Starting in June, I will serve as Youth Pastor/Director at Mosaic Midtown Detroit.  I received an unbelievable opportunity that combines all my passions in a way that allows me to fulfill my life’s purpose.I will oversee youth/children’s programs, lead the IT team, spearhead social media initiatives, and learn community development through the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).