The end of summer marks the end of my fellowship with Microsoft. This role has been the most rewarding opportunity of my life. As the Civic Tech Fellow for the Cities Team in Detroit, I was given the opportunity to make tangible, positive change in my city while building important skills for my career.
I applied for this role at the end of my first year of graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information, where I ultimately earned a Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction. Earlier in the year I had done a class project with Data Driven Detroit, one of Microsoft Detroit Cities Team’s strongest partners. D3 reached out and suggested I apply. Though I had already committed to a Digital Co-Op elsewhere, I knew this opportunity to work with a leading tech company in a city that I cared so deeply about could not be passed up.
One of the most important projects I worked on as the Civic Technology and Innovation Fellow was the Civic User Testing Group (also known as CUT Group Detroit). In conjunction with Data Driven Detroit and the City of Detroit Office of Innovation and Emerging Technology, Microsoft worked with Smart Chicago Collaborative to bring this project to Detroit. I was fortunate enough to grow and expand this program. In addition to usability tests and analytics, I was able to help D3 understand how other research methods such as rapid user testing, user interviews, A/B tests, paper prototype testing, and surveys can help our civic partners improve the digital tools they use to serve Detroit residents. It was an incredible opportunity to lead research projects and allowed me to take my course work and directly apply it to the needs of everyday Detroiters, using tech to improve their civic experience.
Parkman Coders was probably my favorite project to work on. I met Detroit Public Library Librarian Qumisha Goss, better known as “Q,” at a discussion group on digital literacy in Detroit. As soon as she told me about her program teaching kids to code in Python through interactive lessons on Detroit’s Westside, I knew the program was a perfect fit for Microsoft Detroit Cities Team’s goal of supporting kids in learning computer science. We were able to support the library in purchasing supplies so that more kids were able to participate in the program. This summer, I went to Parkman Branch weekly to help Q teach young library patrons to code. I loved meeting the different children and seeing them learn to garden and grow their digital literacy skills. It is so rewarding to know that these kids will grow up believing that careers in technology are possible for them, because Miss Q told them so.
One of the most incredible parts of this experience was the women in leadership roles who mentored me. Shelley Stern Grach, my supervisor, is an incredible leader whose heart is felt in all the work she does. Local Community Manager Donna Bank Hoglen was a great role model–Detroit’s philanthropic community is so lucky to have her dedication, enthusiasm, and positivity. Store Manager Alexa Hinds and our local Microsoft Educator Shavonne Smith were great examples of competence, kindness, and grace. I feel so lucky to have been a part of our 1 Michigan Team.
I also worked closely with Andrew Speice as he worked to grow TEALS first year in Detroit. Under his leadership, the program doubled the number of schools enrolled. I am thankful to have played a small part in this program which provides Detroit students with the opportunity to learn computer science.
Finally, it was amazing to work so closely with the folks at Data Driven Detroit. I had worked with them on class projects prior to my fellowship and really admired everyone, especially Director Erica Raleigh. Everyone was so supportive and kind. I was able to use my skills in UX research to help Noah Urban, Meghin Mather, and Laura Lyons grow the reach of the CUT Groups program. Bob Branch and I worked closely on the MDDA API infrastructure that was being developed and he always made me feel like I was smart and “technical” enough for my role in this project. Jeff Bross taught me a lot about project and relationship management and was always there to help me think through any issues. Stephanie Quesnelle and Ayana Rubio were incredible models for community engagement as they worked on the Community Advisory group project, which deeply influenced my own approach to qualitative and community-based research. I was very lucky to have our first fellow, Ivoire Morrell, sitting at D3 for the majority of my fellowship—he was an incredible resource and his dedication to Detroit inspired me every day. It meant so much to work with, learn from, and be respected by people I admire so deeply.
The Microsoft Civic Tech Fellowship has been an unforgettable experience. As I move on into my career as a UX Researcher, the values of accessibility, digital equity, and community engagement will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.