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Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Gabrielle Lyon, Chicago Architecture Foundation and Heather Van Benthuysen, Chicago Public Schools

Civic education has always been a priority in Chicago, as a city that prides itself in its political involvement and civic engagement. Yet it has only recently become a requirement for Chicago’s students. Heather Van Benthuysen, Civic Education Manager at Chicago Public Schools, has changed this, and is working to inspire Chicago students to become active participants in their communities through experiential civic education.

Remember the Wacker’s Manual of the Plan of Chicago? Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for No Small Plans, a graphic novel inspired by and built for CPS teens based on the Wacker’s Manual. The 144-page novel follows the adventures of teens in Chicago’s past (1928), present (2017), and future (2211) in Chicago’s individual neighborhoods.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Heather Van Benthuysen and Gabrielle Lyon, Vice President of Education and Experience at Chicago Architecture Foundation, to explore No Small Plans and civic education in Chicago.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Heather and Gabrielle live on Advisor.tv.

Support No Small Plans — purchase or donate a copy in advance here.

Chicago City Data User Group — The Impact Genome: Predicting Social Impact

The government and the social sector in philanthropy are the only places in the economy that measure impact only after a program has been funded.  Every other business uses data to predict the impact. The Impact Genome is a universal evidence base to research, evaluate and predict what works in social change. The Genome spans 132 common outcomes across 11 areas of social impact.

The idea is to apply the same concept used in the music genome (think of how Pandora figures out what you like) to a decision-support platform for civic funders and policymakers. It will allow practitioners to build programs using evidence “decoded” by pulling in unstructured data from academic research studies together with existing social policy.  They then use that data to estimate the impact of the programs (and standardize the reporting).  Among other benefits , this project will also allow  for benchmarking and rationalize how resources are allocated.

This short video explains it. And on April 5th, as part of our Chicago City Data User Group, we got to hear Mission Measurement founder Jason Saul talk about the genesis of this project, the data it uses, and the data it will create.

Miss our meetup? Have no fear — we meet on the first Wednesday of each month. You can catch up on what you missed in the Twitter moment below:

Civic Tech in Chicago — April’s Top Events

Spring has sprung! We’re ready to shed our extra layers, head out of the underground, and enjoy the (almost) warm weather. Plus, this month is officially Information Technology Month in Illinois — there’s so much to celebrate!

Embrace the season with us with these top events this month:

All Month

Innovate Lake Erie
Cleveland Water Alliance

The Erie Hack is a data and engineering competition that unites coders, developers, engineers, and water experts to generate enduring solutions to Lake Erie’s biggest challenges. The competition includes $100,000 in prizes for the most creative and effective hacks. Working from challenge statements derived from ideation sessions with NASA representatives and regional stakeholders, teams are charged with creating innovative digital tools, hardware innovations, and engineering solutions that build “the Blue Economy”: the emergent economic sector dedicated to the sustainable stewardship of bodies of freshwater around the globe. The Erie Hack provides regional high school students, college students, and professionals the opportunity to combine their own expertise with solid mentoring to create technologies with the potential to invigorate Lake Erie’s environment and economy.

ITA Tech Challenge Teaser

​In conjunction with the Illinois Governor’s new proclamation that April is Information Technology month, and to provide an additional opportunity to practice your coding and programming skills before the fall Tech Challenge, ITA has launched the Tech Challenge Teaser. This challenge is similar to the Tech Challenge in the fall, but on a smaller scale and is administered 100% virtually between April 3rd and April 14th.

April 4

Chi Hack Night — Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring
6:00pm
Braintree office 222 W Merchandise Mart Plz 8th Floor, Chicago

Flooding in the Chicagoland area due to excess stormwater has resulted in over 182,000 claims of property damage with a total estimated cost of $735 million over the last five years. This damage is the result of combined sewer system backups into homes and waterbodies.

To alleviate this, the City of Chicago has allocated $50M to augment the combined sewer system with green infrastructure. The program has focused on implementing a combination of traditional and green stormwater infrastructure.

Last year City Digital, part of UI Labs, kicked-off their Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring pilot that brought together a team including Microsoft, Opti, Senformatics, West Monroe Partners, and AECOM to develop a new collection of technologies to remotely monitor the performance of green infrastructure.

With the City of Chicago, the monitoring technology has been deployed at four green infrastructure sites across the City to monitor the performance of a variety of green infrastructure types, including a bioswale, permeable pavers, infiltration planters, and tree grates.

Adam Hecktman, Microsoft’s Director of Technology & Civic Innovation Chicago, Dana Al-Qadi, Engineer at AECOM and Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer at the City of Chicago will present details on the pilot formation, solution deployed, and initial findings from this effort.

April 5

The Impact Genome: Predicting Social Impact
6:00pm – 7:00pm
Microsoft Technology Center, Chicago | Aon Center 200 E. Randolph Ste 200, Chicago

Join us on April 5th to hear Mission Measurement founder Jason Saul talk about the genesis of this project, the data it uses, and the data it will create. 6:00pm at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago.

April 7

ADA Diabetes Innovation Summit
​12:00pm – 5:30pm
MATTER 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza #1230, Chicago

The American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Innovation Summit promises a unique, interactive and immersive experience focused on building a network of those committed to exploring investable opportunities that will accelerate and catalyze the Association’s mission.  Feedback from the diabetes community will fuel conversations about daily challenges facing individuals living with diabetes.
April 10
Roosevelt @ UIC & ICPR: Who Writes the Rules Matters
11:00am – 12:30pm
UIC Student Services Building 1200 W Harrison, Chicago

Roosevelters know that Who Writes the Rules Matters, so we’re bringing together students and legislators in partnership with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform to figure out how everyone can have a seat at the table. Join us for a panel discussion followed by a collaborative workshop as we seek to understand structural and practical barriers to democratic access for young people.

April 12

April 2017 Chicago International Student Career Fair – Employer RSVP
10:30 AM – 3:30 PM
DeVry University 3300 North Campbell Avenue, Chicago

The Chicago International Student Career Fair will provide a platform for your company to meet hundreds of talented, skilled professionals, students and alumni.

Connect with international professionals and talent from universities. We are confident that this event will provide you with unique access to our talented international students in greater Chicago specializing in business, technology, health sciences, fine arts, architecture, engineering and more.

April 19

Celebrating Hon. Adlai and Nancy Stevenson
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform 500 N Dearborn St, Suite 518, Chicago

On Wednesday, April 19th, ICPR will honor Hon. Adlai and Nancy Stevenson with the Mikva Legacy Award for Truth and Justice at Noon at Petterino’s in Chicago

Judge Mary Mikva will join ICPR to present the Stevensons with this honor for their extensive work in Illinois through advocacy, public service, and the Stevenson Center on Democracy

April 27

Microsoft – Adapting Experiences for Virtual and Mixed Reality
5:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Tech Nexus (Conference Room C/D) 20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1200, Chicago

The principles used for building a standard 3D experience fundamentally change when considering virtual and mixed reality. New devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens lets users interact with digital content in relation to the real world, disrupting the way we build experiences. This session will explain how to consider these concepts during development as well as introduce the new medium of building 3D Mixed Reality applications and games using C#, Visual Studio, and Unity. Whether itching to build your own applications or enthusiastic about designing for these ever-changing virtual mediums, you’ll walk away with the tools to build your own.

A Letter to Lorena Mesa (From Lorena Mesa)

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.

Greetings Lorena!

Or should I say “What up Sailor Scout?” I know you are dying to find out what happens next in the Sailor Moon / Tuxedo Mask love saga and waiting for the English dub is so difficult. Don’t worry. What happens is even better than anything you could ever imagine.

How’s the development of the Sailor Moon fan page going? Did you find out how to make a gradient background fill? What about aligning your images properly? HTML is difficult, especially when there isn’t much documentation. I promise you – it’s worth the effort. Difficult problems are the most fun to solve. Remember that.

By the time you are thirty, everyone is going to want to know how to code. Your effort learning the basics of HTML and CSS will inspire you to teach other women to code, specifically young women.

Want to know something else? When you’re thirty, you’ll be able to watch all the anime you want with the click of a finger thanks to online streaming services. No more waiting for those not-so-good fan dubs at your all too infrequent trips to Mitsuwa, the Japanese marketplace!

Lorena, I know sometimes you feel alone because your interests may be different than those around you. That’s okay. It’s your interests that make you, well, you. Okay, so maybe anime isn’t the most popular thing. Perhaps learning HTML and building fan pages on Angelcities isn’t “normal” for a teenaged girl. But who wants to be “normal”? Lorena, you have an appetite for exploring the unknown, learning something new, trying the wild and wacky!

Your willingness to try new things out will reward you with a rich life and satisfying career (ultimately as a software engineer!). You’ll be able to travel internationally to speak at conferences, to organize communities that align with your core values, and to teach others the things that you love the most. Many will tell you that your passion for learning has been an inspiration for them in their own lives.

Continue to be bold, Lorena. Do as Sailor Moon does and “never back down from a real fight”. If you want to code – code. If you want to watch anime – watch anime. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it.

This, I promise you, is the secret to “live long and prosper”. (Oh yes, there will be more Star Treks. And yes, they are so good!)

In geeky solidarity,
Future Thirty-Year-Old Lorena

Political analyst turned coder, Lorena Mesa is a Sprout Social platform software engineer, Director on the Python Software Foundation, PyLadies Chicago co-organizer, and Write/Speak/Code conference organizer. Lorena loves to make meaning out of data, asking big questions and using her code to build models to derive that meaning. Part Star Wars fanatic but mostly a Trekkie, Lorena abides by the motto to “live long and prosper”.

Contact Info: lorenamesa.com @loooorenanicole

A Letter to Sarah Sexton (From Sarah Sexton)

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.

Dear Sarah,

Being a wallflower blending into crowds is fine, for a while. The teenage years were a shy and innocent time. But well-behaved women never make history. When life throws you some nasty curveballs, you will be forced to do a lot of growing up. (Start reading Game of Thrones right now to learn how to adapt.)

You don’t like being in the spotlight right now, and that’s fine. There will be days when there is no ceremony to congratulate you for your accomplishments. There will be days when the world is dark. During your adolescence, you will see your world get so dark that you will think there is no end in sight to your grief. But the good news is: You are powerful. You are unconquerable. I say this because at age 26, I’m still alive, living independently in a lake-view high rise apartment on the north side of a huge, bustling city. You don’t just survive – you THRIVE. Teaching my brain how to think with logic and reason and going into the Computer Science major in college was the best decision I ever made!

I changed majors FOUR times. I loved art, animation, writing, AND computers. I could save you a year’s tuition and tell you to skip straight to the Computer Science department and minor in Communications, but I am afraid that any advice that does not put me right here at this moment in time would be a mistake. It’s okay to fail, if you do it fast and early, because the more you fail, the more you learn. Your attention to detail, technological skills, critical thinking, and high capacity for quick learning will serve you well.

The best course of action for trying to succeed, in a world where not everyone has the same advantages, and not everyone is treated equally, is to be the most confident and capable at what you do. Always understand that everyone else is also living a life as vivid and complex as yours. I work in the tech industry, populated by the brightest minds and the hardest workers. It is a constant challenge, but I live for that challenge, and it is the most rewarding struggle. It is perfectly acceptable to stand on the shoulders of giants. Let everyone see that you can do the job you were hired to do. If you can do that, respect and responsibilities will follow.

If you quit anything because of nay-sayers, you’d be letting the haters win. You’d be doing exactly what they want you to do. You’d be giving up and letting them get away with it. So instead of dropping out of a club because you’re being bullied, I challenge you to become President of it. Instead of fleeing a college major because you’re being harassed in it, I challenge you to make the Dean’s list every quarter, fight for straight As, report the harasser, make friends with everyone else in that department, and graduate with honors.

To paraphrase a quote from my favorite 14-year-old character in Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen, “It is true that I am only a young girl, and do not know the ways of war. Explain to me how you propose to defeat ten thousand applicants with your one job application. Innocent as I am, these odds seem poor to me.” The answer is simple: Take hold of your power. What will you do? “I will do what queens do. I will rule.”

Love,

Sarah at 26 years old!
P.S. Here’s some words of wisdom down the pathway of years: The only resource you can never get back is Time, and nothing is more important in the long run than your Soul. So never waste too much time, and never allow anything to crush your soul. The old “gingers have no souls” joke is good for a laugh, but you DO have a soul, and it is with you every time you look in a mirror and every time you go to bed. Mom and Dad love you, and all your friends love you, but only YOU can keep your soul well-fed and happy. You don’t have to “sell out” to make money. You’ve passed your most difficult test in life if the mirror’s reflection is your friend.

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

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. 

Celebrating World Water Day 2017

Water makes the world go ’round — but what happens to it on a day-to-day basis?

At this point, we are all aware that water conservation is an urgent need. Only 1 percent of the planet’s water supply is fresh water, and much of that is used for production purposes. Between 2000 and 2050, manufacturing is expected to increase its use of fresh water by 400 percent.

So how can we incorporate water conservation into our growing need to use more water?

Tech companies are using data to find the answers — Microsoft has partnered with Ecolab and Trucost to prioritize resourcefulness and sustainability through data analysis and smart financial modeling. Together, we’ve launched the Water Risk Monetizer in New York City, a water risk analysis and financial modeling tool that translates water scarcity risks into financial terms, and enables businesses to factor current and future water risks into decision making.

Through the dedication of growing technologies like IoT, machine learning, and other cloud-based technologies, we’re hoping to inspire others to use tech to minimize environmental impact and help us in our commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness.

Recently, our own Adam Hecktman joined West Monroe Partners to explore water quality and scarcity, as well as the impact industrialization has had on water conservation. As our supply of clean drinking water continues to dramatically diminish, our industry has a responsibility to seek solutions to water problems. Organizations like City Digital and Opti use smart sensors to address these issues, and we’re looking forward to learning about other projects at today’s World Water Day Summit.

Read Adam’s blog with West Monroe Partners here.

Read more about the Water Risk Monetizer on the Microsoft Green Blog.

A Letter to Dorri McWhorter (From Dorri McWhorter)

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.

Dear Dorri:

Being 17 years old is such an interesting time as you try to reconcile all that you know that you are to what people believe they want you to be! I’m so happy that you found the letter that you wrote when you were 11 years old. You know the one…your note to Santa. You wrote:

“Dear Santa, How are you? You’ll never believe what I want for X-mas. Just 3 simple things: 1) to make everyone alive today be ok; 2) To give me a little something like a picture of you to show people you are real. (if you have a picture with you now, please give me one) if possible; 3) This is a big one! What I want is for you to ask my parents if I could be there accountant for 1 month. It won’t cost them a thing! (well maybe a few $100.00s! ha-ha) I just know I could do it. They can trust me. I just know I can do it! Please ask them for me! If they say no. Please ask them to give me an explanation why or why not.  I could start January 1st, 1985. Please have them see me for more info. Thanks, Santa. Love your friend, Dorri McGee. PS I left you a sucker! Write back please.”

Wow, you were so naïve and hopeful then AND you still are!

Somehow you have managed to still hold on to the hope for a better world! I remember when you were a senior in high school and you were so involved in everything including cheerleading and Future Business Leader of America (FBLA). You were actually selected by your senior class as most likely to succeed and most school spirit (no, those things don’t typically go together)! You still work hard and play hard, but I know you are often misunderstood, as people think you’re way too nice and cheerful to have the deep reflective intellect you that you have. People actually think they are complimenting you when they say, “you don’t seem like an accountant,” when you just want them to appreciate all that you are!

I’m so glad that you were able to participate in the FBLA Work Program. Being able to spend half-days in a corporate finance department really solidified your love for business! I know you were so proud of the spreadsheets that you created for the finance team. You really took to all the computer applications that allowed you to do financial analysis but create graphs and charts. You were so proud and felt you really found a way to show how valuable you could be through your use of computers. You were even selected by your school to present at the annual Work Program luncheon your accomplishments! This was great as you were also selected to represent your school at Badger Girls State, where you participated in mock government and was elected State Treasurer! Not many other seventeen-year-olds at the time could reference your experience with computers!

I’m happy to say that you have been able to combine your business skills and desire to make the world a better place! You have recognized how valuable computer skills can be and have ensured that you support other youth to gain greater skills through your work at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, including TechGYRLS, which aims to encourage girls in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) and Developing Digital Diversity (3D), a program targeting STEAM and leadership training for boys and girls.

There is so much more to do and your experiences along the way have definitely prepared you! So go forth and show up boldly, my dear! I want you to always hold the words of author Marianne Williamson close to your heart. She says, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” So with those words, Shine bright and dream bigger my darling!

With much love and appreciation,

Dorri

Dorri McWhorter became the CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago in March 2013. She has embarked upon a journey to transform the 140 year old social service agency to a 21st century social enterprise. Dorri is moving the agency into the digital age by re-launching the TechGYRLS program, which focuses on developing STEM awareness for girls ages 9 through 14 and introducing 3D: Developing Digital Diversity, which provides web and mobile application development training to adult women. Dorri was included in the inaugural list of “The Blue Network”, comprised of the top 100 innovators in Chicago, by Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation.  In Spring of 2015, the YWCA launched its own e-commerce site, YShop.org, which provides carefully curated goods and services from businesses that support the mission of the YWCA.  In 2016, McWhorter was recognized by Good City Chicago receiving its Innovative Leader Award.

A proven leader in the corporate and social change sectors, Dorri prides herself on being a socially-conscious business leader throughout her career.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Lauren Woods, Service Learning Coordinator, Chicago Public Schools

How do we get students to engage in service?

At Chicago Public Schools (CPS), high school students (freshman to senior year) are taking part in service learning that extends past the limitations of volunteerism. While a typical volunteer opportunity is standalone, students are taking part in long-term service relationships where they build relationships with local organizations and develop lasting commitments to service.

Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods spotlights CPS’ commitment to service learning with Lauren Woods, Service Learning Coordinator.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Lauren live on Advisor.tv.

A Letter to Michelle Larson (From Michelle Larson)

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.

A brief statement to my 20-something self

“Michelle, check your email.”

Reflections on a time I felt empowered by technology

Technology was never my thing. I grew up in Alaska, loving the outdoors, happy to bask in the natural beauty of pristine glaciers, majestic mountains and – my favorite – glistening northern lights.

I chose to go to college in Montana for two reasons; 1) not wanting to live in Fairbanks (think 50 below zero!) and 2) wanting to retain access to the rural, mountainous outdoors.  As a student, riding my bicycle ten miles to study on the banks of the Gallatin River was my idea of a perfect day. At the time, I didn’t own a computer, or a cell phone, and most had never heard of the Internet – including me.

No, I am not ancient.

Then, out of nowhere, ”Check your email,” he said.

Michelle and her husband.

This physics nerd I was dating kept talking about a great new tool the university had set up for each of us.

“Email? No thanks, I’m fine.”

Then, I overheard in the hallway that you could take a course to learn the language of a computer, and program the computer yourself.

“Sounds challenging and totally awesome,” this physics nerd said.

“Michelle, check your email.”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

I enrolled in that programming course. “Hello, World!” changed my world.

“Michelle, check your email.”

Next, NASA asked the solar physics group in our department for help in utilizing a new public resource, called the Internet, to bring amazing satellite images and movies of the Sun into everyone’s home. “Sounds challenging and way cool. Sign me up!”

But first, I wanted to help people become familiar with the Sun and its motion in the sky. Using my new programming super powers – and a stack of excellent Nutshell books – I developed a website that taught anyone how to track the Sun to find true north, and then build a latitude-specific sundial to tell time. Within hours of putting my creation on the Internet, I heard from students in Australia; “Can you make a version for us in the Southern Hemisphere too?”

Hello, World! Indeed!

“Michelle, check your email.”

That moment, the moment I launched a sundial webpage and students on the other side of the planet responded, that was my technology-empowerment moment.

“Michelle, check your email.”

“Okay. What?! 800 new messages?”

That nerd boyfriend (now nerd husband) and his sneaky cohort of tech-savvy graduate student friends had been secretly sending me messages, every day, for months!

“I wonder if I’ll ever get this inbox down to zero?”

Michelle Larson discovered astronomy in her 20s, when she pointed a pair of binoculars at the Moon. The stunning details visible on its craggy surface were a complete surprise, and the experience left her eager to find out what other secrets the sky had to offer. Now, as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Michelle leads a talented team that helps people of all ages explore and discover our Universe.

Michelle enjoys making science approachable, often through connections to familiar, everyday items. Don’t be surprised if you end up speaking with her about rising cells of cream in your coffee, or her potato that looks like a comet. You may even find yourself exclaiming, like one young visitor did after looking through her telescope, “Hey! Saturn looks just like a Chevy symbol!”

Before joining the Adler in 2013, Michelle held positions in science education and administration at Utah State University, The Pennsylvania State University, the Montana Space Grant Consortium, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the University of California–Berkeley. She earned a PhD in physics from Montana State University, where she studied neutron stars and realized her passion for sharing science with the public. Michelle is a member of the American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society; she also serves on several advisory boards.

Michelle lives just outside Chicago with her husband—who is also an astrophysicist—their daughter, and three cats.