Shelley Stern Grach

director + community advocate

Shelley Stern Grach
Meet Shelley
They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.

Welcoming UChicago’s 2017 Civic Leadership Academy Cohort

The CLA (Civic Leadership Academy) class of 2017 welcome reception is held at the Chicago Cultural Center on Wednesday, Jan., 11, 2017, in Chicago. (Photo by Joel Wintermantle)

In 2017, Microsoft is once again honored to be partner with the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA). This is our third year supporting the CLA program and each year, we see an increase in the depth and maturing of the program curriculum, as well as the caliber of the cohort participants. For those of you who may not be aware, the Office of Civic Engagement launched the Civic Leadership Academy in 2014, in partnership with the University’s five professional schools – Chicago Booth School of Business, Harris Public Policy, Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, the UChicago Law School, and School of Social Service Administration – and Institute of Politics, as well as Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) Chicago, Civic Consulting Alliance, the City of Chicago, and Cook County.

On Jan. 12, the 30 fellows began a rigorous six-month program that will teach essential leadership skills and provide the time and space to collaborate on a capstone project that addresses a practical challenge facing each fellow’s organization. In March, the fellows will travel to the University of Chicago Center in Delhi, India, for a weeklong global practicum. Upon completion of the program, they will receive a certificate in civic leadership from Harris.

This is the first in a series which will focus on the CLA, and how it lays the foundation for leadership and communication across Chicago and Cook County with civic, public sector and nonprofits leaders. I am privileged to be working with William Howell, faculty advisor for the Civic Leadership Academy, and the Office of Civic Engagement staff on a program for the cohort on February 10, which will focus on leadership and civic tech, as well as to be accompanying the cohort to India for their global practicum in March.

Please see below social media from the January 11, 2017 Welcome Reception for the 2017 Civic Leadership Academy participants.

Lake View High School Kicks Off 2017 STEM Challenge — This Year, A Focus on Civic Engagement

Microsoft mentor Larry Kuhn workshops with Lake View students. Credit: ISTI

A new year usually means making lots of changes — sometimes simply for the sake of change. My view is that when you have a program that is working extraordinarily well, keep those changes to a minimum and continue the positive momentum. That is exactly what PJ Karafiol, Principal, and Tyrese Graham, Assistant Principal of Lake View High School have done with the 2017 STEM Challenge, sponsored by Microsoft and managed in partnership with the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI).

Microsoft has supported Lake View in the STEM Challenge for the past two years. As we enter into our third year of the Challenge, we decided to keep the focus on the same challenge as last year: “How can the Internet of Things (IoT) help the Lake View Community?” Since this is a broad challenge, it allows tremendous freedom for the students to look at the benefits of IoT from a physical school perspective, a community perspective, or a civic perspective (such as transportation, logistics, etc.). Similarly, Microsoft is funding the Challenge process, and is bringing in a great set of employees to be mentors during. The cycle kicked off on January 17th with an auditorium filled with students, faculty and mentors, as well as a design workshop to increase student collaboration and communications.

Lake View students workshop designs at the STEM Challenge. Credit: Shelley Stern Grach

So, what is new and different?

This year, the program will be integrated into the Civics classes. As you may know, Civics is a required class for all Illinois students, thanks to strong support from the McCormick Foundation and the State.

Bringing the STEM Challenge into the Civics classes offers the program to more students because it is a wider scope than technology. While we certainly don’t want to lose the “STEM” part of STEM Challenge, the focus is more on the civic engagement aspect of the solution — technology is a key enabler, but technology alone can’t solve a key community problem. It’s the integration of creativity, collaboration and communications with technology that will prove the most effective.

Duane Davis, ISTI’s STEM Challenge coach, gives feedback to students. Credit: ISTI

We gave the students a few more hints for success:

  1. Make the most of your time with your mentors
  2. Use the Mentor Matching Engine, designed by ISTI, frequently. The mentors love the flexibility to interact with the students on line as well as in person.
  3. As you build your solutions, in addition to the documentation, PowerPoints and verbal presentations, try to include something more physical in your design — perhaps a diorama, a model, something electronic or robotic.

It’s early in the process for this new group participating in the STEM Challenge. But if the energy and interest evident at the Kickoff is any indication, this will be the best STEM Challenge yet!

Below are some of the best tweets from the Kickoff.

 

Helping CHA Students “Take Flight”

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Photo via CHA, Twitter.

We spend a lot of time in Chicago focusing on helping CPS students get into college. But how do we help ensure they are successful and connecting to the business world while they are in college?

The terrific team at the Chicago Housing Authority has an answer: The “Take Flight: Staying the Course” Program. Managed by Crystal C. Coats,  Senior Manager, Corporate and External Partnerships, the “Take Flight” program focuses on CHA students who are in college (mostly freshmen-juniors) who grew up in the CHA community, and who are getting velvet glove treatment to make sure they are doing well, in college, have a resource network locally, and are introduced to prospective employers for jobs after they graduate.

Microsoft Chicago was honored to support this program. The students were coached on how to interact with the “Professionals” while over 20 organizations hosted tables for a round-robin speed dating discussion with the students. The Professionals ranged from theatre and arts to health care and technology. All provided a career path or internships for the students to learn about. Many thanks to the following organizations for providing time, talent and guidance to the students:

cha-to-doAt the Microsoft table, we had a steady flow of inquiries and questions. It was clear to me that CHA have selected a wonderful group of students, who were doing well in college (many were outside of Chicago so we also discussed their first “away” experience), interested in internships and planning for their career, or just looking for advice as they decided on their area of concentration or major. I was especially impressed with:

  • A young lady who was majoring in Computer Science. When I asked her how she became interested in CS, she said it was from a summer camp she attended at IIT/Illinois Tech while in high school. Hats off to IIT!
  • A great conversation with a young lady who had recently switched her major to Criminal Justice. We are both fans of the “Chicago PD” TV show and we discussed the previous night’s episode. An unspeakable crime was solved using Big Data to analyze DNA sample matches to narrow down and identify the suspect. She didn’t realize the connection to software in helping solve crimes. It was a fun, enlightening conversation on both sides.

Congratulations to the entire CHA team for developing and flawlessly executing such an important milestone for their students. We were honored to participate and look forward to future events.

Cold Temps, Warm Hearts in Detroit!

Oh, the weather outside was frightful last week, traveling from sub-zero Chicago to sub-zero Detroit. I felt like I was in a “Frozen” version of Groundhog Day, repeating Chicago’s coldest weather in how many years as it arrived in Detroit. Lucky me. I had my flannel-lined jeans, my Omni-Heat Pillsbury Dough-girl coat and, of course, my Uggs. I can do this!

First stop was Tech Town for a full morning with our great friends DataDrivenDetroit@D3. Met with the whole team and got to play Mrs. Claus as Microsoft donated a sleigh full of Surface Pro 4’s to the D3 team to use for CUT Groups, community work and analysis. We even got red type pads to mark the holiday season.

Group with Surface Devices

In addition to playing with our new toys, we discussed plans for 2017, including expansion of CUT Groups and looking into a regional data collaborative. D3 is doing amazing work to accelerate the civic tech ecosystem.

My next meeting was with Mark Crosswell, of Points of Light. Mark and his wonderful colleague Megan Christenson, run the Civic Accelerator, a Points of Light program. Our Civic Tech Fellow, Ivoire Morrell and I wanted to learn more about this program, which is focused on Youth Education and Workforce Development. “CivicX” is the first national accelerator program and investment fund in the country focused on “civic ventures”—for profit and early stage ventures that solve social problems by including people as part of the solution to critical social programs. The 10 week, boot camp-style program convenes 10-15 teams in person and online with the goal of equipping each venture to seek investments and scale their social innovation. You can learn more about the Civic Accelerator at @civicaccleratr#CivicX, and cvcx.org.

Microsoft has been a big fan of CivicX and Ivoire, my Chicago colleague Adam Hecktman, and I have attended mentoring workshops through the 2016 program, which focuses on my two favorite (and freezing!) towns of Chicago and Detroit. We discussed the overall program goals with Mark, then Ivoire and I headed off to Ford Motor Company’s corporate headquarters in Dearborn, where Ford graciously hosted CivicX Demo Day 2016, which was organized and run by Megan…

At the gorgeous auditorium at Ford, we saw the various teams presenting their concepts in a Ted-talk format. The entrepreneurs each had 3 minutes to pitch their solution. The audience voted for Most Innovative Solution, Greatest Social Impact and Most Compelling Story. I absolutely LOVE these categories! Having worked 1:1 with some of the teams as they were developing their plans, it was awesome to see the progress and inspiring to see the focus on social impact.

Here are some photos of some of the Pitches:

As I bundled off to return to 8 inches of snow over the weekend in New Buffalo, I reflected on the incredible momentum and positivity in Detroit. Truly a great revival story, that has a broad spectrum of organizations and very committed people. If Chicago is the city of Big Shoulders, Detroit is the city of Warm Hearts.

Oh, yes, it could have been worse. Ask the Chicago Bears. Happy Holidays!!!!!

Corliss High School Kicks Off STEM Challenge

Corliss students work together to build a marshmallow tower

For the past three years, Microsoft has partnered with the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (@ISTCoalition) and Lake View High School (@SCS_LakeviewHS) for the STEM Challenge. This is a great collaborative program which ties together curriculum, technology and mentoring from Microsoft employees to complement the teachers’ instruction on how to solve real world problems using technology. This year, we are thrilled to add Corliss High School as a Chicago Early College STEM School partner. We recently launched the STEM Challenge Kickoff event at Corliss on November 9th.

The focus this year is for the students to look at how the Internet of Things (IoT) can result in solutions for community issues in the Corliss neighborhood. The kick off day began with Dr. Leonard Harris, the Corliss principal, welcoming the group and outlining the agenda for the day, which saw many opportunities for mentor-student collaboration. From an ice breaker activity to a team building marshmallow tower workshop, the mentors from Microsoft worked hands-on with their student teams to start building the relationship that they will maintain through the end of April 2017. Further engagement occurred over a networking lunch where the Corliss students came prepared with questions about the mentors’ career paths, expertise and roles within Microsoft. The kick off came to a close with the Corliss STEM Challenge student groups presenting to Microsoft on their IoT research to date, and a group photo showcases the progress already made on this year’s partnership.

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Students and mentors brainstorm together

Students will continue to work with their Microsoft mentors while researching their solutions with a school-wide share out planned toward the end of the project. This year’s collaboration will wrap up on April 27th at the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) STEM Challenge Showcase, featuring presentations from 26 schools working with 12 companies.

We would like to thank the terrific faculty and staff at Corliss High School and our long-time partners Emily Cooper and Allie Barwise from the ISTI. It will be great fun to have two schools learning about IoT this year…. maybe some friendly competition? Who knows?

How To Get Involved And Support People With Disabilities — From Global To Local

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Did you know that December 3rd is the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” every year? How about that more than 1 in 10 residents of Illinois live with a disability, yet only 35% of working-age Illinoisans with disabilities have jobs?

Group of five individuals standing by ADA25 sign

Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been celebrated annually on the 3rd of  December around the world.

The theme for 2016’s International Day is Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want. This theme notes the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role of these goals in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.

This year’s objectives include assessing the current status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and SDGs and laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons with disabilities.

Shelley Stern Grach giving speech with transcriber of text visible on Surface Hub

I had the honor of attending an excellent program which complemented the International Day— the Global Aspects of Disability Panel Discussion,  hosted at The Northern Trust and supported by the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network (CBLN). The mission of the CBLN is to drive success through disability inclusion and to advance disability inclusion by providing the business community with tools, resources and solutions that drive employee hiring, engagement and performance. Check them out at www.chicagolandbln.org

Group listening to speeches.

Other resources that CBLN provides include:

  • Education programs, such as the Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit, the premier conference in the Midwest exploring business issues related to disability inclusion
  • Resources to connect businesses to the untapped labor pool and tools to gauge performance, including the USBLN’s Disability Equality Index (include copywrite marking)
  • Networking and access to share best practices

Later that same day, Microsoft had the honor to host the  networking program for the ADA 25 ADvAncing Leadership program! What a great time we had! ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s long term vision is that Chicago’s vibrant civic life will include people with disabilities to reflect the diversity of the population. Its mission is to build a pipeline and network of leaders with disabilities who are deeply engaged in the civic life of the Chicago region and advance the careers of people in that pipeline. Programs include:

  • Civic Connections project – to increase the number of people with disabilities serving in civic leadership positions
  • Members Network-Leaders who attend quarterly educational and networking events
  • Leadership Institute-a competitively selected class of 16 emerging leaders with disabilities

Team of 4 ladies in chairs smiling at cameraWhat can you do?

  • Learn about the global and local resources available to business leaders and to people with disabilities.
  • Please check out the talented people for this year’s cohort at www.ada25chicago.org
  • Reach out! It’s about people reaching out to people and connecting.

Courage to Follow Your Passion

Female Founders at University of Chicago Polsky Center

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to step back and reflect on what really matters to you. And then to make a radical change in your life to commit to being true to what you believe in.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with several female entrepreneurs at the University of Chicago Polsky Center, as part of their monthly Female Founders Series. Not only did I meet some amazing women who have taken the plunge into the challenging world of entrepreneurship, but I discovered living examples of leadership and passion.

University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Polsky Center has a wide range of resources for entrepreneurs, both for university-affiliated people, as well as extending its reach into the surrounding neighborhoods. On this morning, I met with about 10 entrepreneurs—all in various stages of thinking through a new approach for their emerging businesses. Here are some of their stories…

  • One woman is from Englewood and she and her daughter are at the very, very early stages of defining their business model. She was looking for resources, and contacts and examples of how to network. She took notes, taking in the ideas for formulating her plan. She was especially interested in local neighborhood venues for training, such as Englewood Accelerator and the Polsky Center programs.
  • Another woman—highly energetic and already involved in “several businesses”—was looking for new ideas and ways to leverage her outreach. An avid social media user, she represented a different end of the spectrum. Already involved at conferences, and potentially expanding globally, you could see her literally evaluating ideas from the table and how she could take her business to the next level.
  • Next to me was a deep thinker, a University of Chicago alum, who was developing a business to assist people involved with sexual abuse. Clearly this was an entrepreneur who aligned her deep commitment to social justice with an important cause for women (and men). My sense was she knew where she wanted to focus and the impact she wanted to have to make the world a  better place, but she needed some ideas to develop a specific plan, refine her outreach and communications. I hope this was time well spent for her important mission.
  • Across from me was a recent departee from the corporate and consulting world, who has a clear vision on how to improve health delivery on a global level. Building her plan seemed to come naturally to her, and she is in the stages of refining her model. Extremely articulate, I have great confidence she will be a success.
  • Health care delivery was also the focus on another budding entrepreneur, who had lot of questions on how technology can help launch her business, especially how the Cloud and other “pay as you go” technical resources would be of value at the beginning of her business cycle.

All the women have great questions on mentoring: Where to go to meet mentors? What programs have various advantages? How do you ask a person to be your mentor (is it rude? How do you figure out who to ask?)? What can you expect from a mentor?

We also had a good dialog on social media and the room was somewhat split: some loved it and used it heavily. Others were new to social media beyond Facebook and LinkedIn. Some thought Twitter was amazing, others felt it was too random. Finally, we discussed the broad Chicagoland ecosystem for resources. We agreed that you need to prioritize your time, or you could “go to a meeting and eat cold pizza every night of the week.” We also agreed that the various services and organizations are complementary and an entrepreneur should be continually evaluating how each organization can help her reach her individual business goals.

Our host Kristin Barrett reviewed the various resources you get with membership at the Polsky Center and we also reviewed specific resources that Microsoft brings to Polsky for the entrepreneurs, including Office Hours with Dave Giard and access to Microsoft Azure and BizSpark, based on your business needs. I’d like to thank Kristin and her colleague Steph Avalos-Block for inviting me to meet with these inspiring women, who are taking a personal and professional risk to pursue their dream. Taking a risk like this is not easy and it takes a certain personality type and a specific skills to bring it all together. Through programs like the Female Founders Series at the University of Chicago Polsky Center, women entrepreneurs have a safe place to dialog, learn and be successful.

Metropolitan Family Services Works to Empower Chicago

Since I moved to Chicago in 1988, I’ve been involved in many ways with the extensive nonprofit community here. Over the years, my husband and I have had the opportunity to support many organizations, both personally and professionally. One of the pillars of the Chicago nonprofit community is Metropolitan Family Services. Metropolitan Family Services empowers families to learn, to earn, to heal, to thrive. Part mentor, part motivator, part advocate, since 1857 Metropolitan Family Services has been the engine of change that empowers Chicago-area families to reach their greatest potential and positively impact their communities. Metropolitan Family Services has more than 890 full- and part-time professional staff dedicated to providing quality services to families throughout Chicago, DuPage County, Evanston/ Skokie and the southwest suburbs. Metropolitan serves more than 72,000 families and individuals as diverse as the communities in which they live, with 81% being part of the working poor or lower-middle class.

In 2012, Microsoft donated over $1 Million in software to MFS to enhance its technology infrastructure. Technology helped MFS increase their organizational efficiency, enabling them to deliver services more effectively to families in need. Since that time, I’ve stayed in touch with their wonderful staff, including President and CEO Ric Estrada and just- retired COO Colleen Jones.

My husband Mark and I recently joined the MFS family to celebrate Colleen’s retirement and #MPowertheNight at the Radisson Blu, where nearly 600 supporters gathered to applaud this amazing organization and its leadership. Although this was personal on our part, it’s important work done by special people, and I’d like to share the event with you.

Some highlight’s from MFS’ #MPowerTheNight event:

Elevating the Dialog on Nutrition and Data

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Through a colleague at Microsoft, I was recently asked to participate in an Innovations Panel as part of a program from the national nonprofit Common Threads. In case you are not aware, Common Threads believes cooking is a life skill. Founded in 2003, Common Threads’ mission is to educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical wellbeing, empowering them to be agents of change for healthier families, schools, and communities. Through hands-on cooking programs and nutrition education, this  nonprofit organization provides a preventative health program solution in urban schools to children, families, and teachers in under-served communities. All programs are supported by Common Bytes, their digital nutrition education platform. As students play the games, individually or in groups, they follow a recipe journey to learn how that recipe comes together from the very beginning.  Students will earn points for their classroom, school, and district. Common Threads provides training and hands on skills for parents, teachers, students and families, thereby positively impacting our local communities.

While many of us are fortunate enough to have wonderful grocery stores near our home, and have been taught from an early age the importance of nutrition and good diet, this is unfortunately not the case for many urban youth and their families. Common Threads fills the gap for urban children who have inadequate diets and they focus on the positive aspect of nutrition as a change agent in our communities. To give you the scope of their impact, in the 2015-16 school year + Summer, Common Threads impacted Chicago students  in the following ways:

  • 25,000 individuals reached
  • 193,000 meals and snacks served
  • 230 schools and partner sites locally

On Wednesday, October 4th, Common Threads convened an expert panel discussion, focused on the process of program innovation in the non-profit sector. Our goals were to emphasize the importance of partnerships—public and private—in innovation; use real examples of innovation to share with the audience; discuss ways that organizations can learn to collaborate better, and discuss recent technological innovations related to childhood nutrition, development and education.

In addition to myself, the following respected individuals discussed the importance of nutrition and innovative approached to a large group at Pepsico Chicago’s Sustainability Center:

lori-alexanderLori Alexander, Manager of Nutrition, The Quaker Oats Company

In her current role, Lori transforms nutrition research into new business opportunities and accelerates business growth through collaboration within a global network for Quaker.

Tarrah DeClemente, Manager of Student Wellness at Chicago Public Schools

Tarrah oversees CPS’s Student Wellness Department and the implementation of LearnWELL, an initiative that encompasses the requirements of the district’s tarrah-declementethree
wellness policies: Local School Wellness, Healthy Snack and Beverage and Physical Education Policy. She provides leadership and guidance related to strategic planning, grants and budget management. She promotes and market the school meal program including highlighting nutrition standards, local procurement efforts, and variety of flavor profiles.

Sam Koentopp, Program Manager, The Kitchen Community

sam-koentoppSam Koentopp is a gardener and teacher from Chicago. He now cultivates 1,000 square feet on Chicago’s north west side and uses his experience and passion to teach gardening to teachers and students in Chicago Public Schools as a Learning Garden Educator with The Kitchen Community.

Alyssa Plotkin, National Program Assistant, After-School All-Stars

alyssa-plotkinAlyssa Plotkin joined the ASAS team in 2013 and now serves as the National Program Assistant. Prior to joining the ASAS team, Alyssa was a high school ESL mathematics teacher in Miami, FL at Miami Central Senior High School, through Teach for America. Alyssa attended the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

Dr. Judith Shelton, Curriculum Director, Ariel Community Academy

judith-sheltonDr. Judith Shelton has played an active role in the success of the Ariel Education Initiative since its inception. Working closely with Principal Lennette Coleman, as well as with parents, teachers and students, “Dr. Judy,” as she is known throughout the school, fosters a unique environment that personalizes education and provides resources targeted at meeting each student’s specific needs.

Dr. Jen Brown, Director, Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities, Center for Community Health at Northwestern University

jen-brownJen Brown, MPH, is Director of the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (ARCC), the community-based participatory program working with the Northwestern University Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM) and the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences (NUCATS) Institute. The ARCC mission is growing equitable and collaborative partnerships between Chicago area communities and Northwestern University for research that leads to measurable improvement in community health.

In many ways, this was a panel unlike any I have previously participated in. First, the caliber of talent and educational degrees was outstanding. Second, we immediately “connected” on the focus of nutrition as a way to help our communities thrive overall. Third, while the topic of STEM and Public-Private partnerships are often discussed in the city, this panel had a unique focus on health and nutrition, and on  the importance of STEM throughout the educational cycle. Dr. Judy emphasized that Math and Science are closely connected to learning about positive diet choices and that students’ STEM skills were reinforced as they participated in classes on menus, gardening and cooking.  As we brainstormed about innovation, we discussed how using data can help  articulate our collective impact in underserved communities. Through the panel  discussion, we hypothesized the connection between lack of internet access and lack of 21st century skills with low nutrition education. We felt that it was not a coincidence that food deserts overlay digital access deserts, and that struggling families need access to better nutrition, as well as access to the internet. We agreed that everyone interested in improving nutrition needed to be more aware of the public, open data available  to analyze the connection between a student’s economic situation, STEM skills and access to good  nutrition. It was suggested that advocates for CommonThreads should be more closely connected to Civic Tech Programs and Meet ups and that there should  be a stronger “megaphone” for looking at health disparities in the Civic Tech community.

There are many, many challenging problems to solve in our communities today. But Step 1 begins at home. If we can work more closely and use data to effectively and efficiently target families in need of nutrition training and better  dietary resources, we can help improve students’ energy and cognitive achievement. We can help break a cycle of poor nutrition, caused by many issues, including lack of knowledge and training.  We can help families make healthy choices, providing stepping stones to improved success at school, and throughout their lives.

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Microsoft Participates in Museum Science and Industry’s Science Works! and Provides Hour of Code Classes to Students

And they call this work? Volunteering with students at Museum Science and Industry’s Science Works! isn’t work — it’s fun and rewarding.

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Team Microsoft is proud to be one of over 20 companies, universities and government organizations who helped inspire our youth for careers in STEM at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in October. Science Works! 2016 helps students learn about cool jobs and hot careers, straight from professionals during a two-day hands-on learning and career celebration. Open to youth and their families, with a wonderful supporting cast of teachers and chaperones, Science Works! provides an opportunity to play with technology, perform experiments, see what interesting jobs the STEM fields have to offer, and talk to STEM professionals about what excites them in their field. There was a wide range of choices to address nearly every area of interest: weather forecasting with CBS2 meteorologists and the mobile weather lab; energy lessons with ComEd; taking the heartbeat of dogs with veterinarians; and creating your own brainwave art through fun, interactive experiences.

Our team of Microsoft volunteers held three Hour of Code classes for nearly 100 elementary school students from Chicagoland. Working from the Code.org site, our team decided to work with the students on learning to code with Minecraft.

microsoft-science-works

Our team brought in Surface devices for the students to use and literally, every seat was filled. The students were amazing as they worked in pairs or teams of three to code and build with Minecraft. They were not only learning to code, they were learning about teamwork and collaboration. They were experimenting with critical thinking skills, figuring out logical steps in the coding process. And just as importantly, we learned along with the students. We learned that 5th and 6th graders have fine intuitive skills, and they create teams seamlessly while focusing on collaborative ways to achieve success. It was great to see how coding is just plain fun, as well as a skill that is valued in the workforce.

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Many thanks to the MSI staff who welcomed us to their wonderful, amazing space. Their planning and technical support provided a seamless experience for our team as well as the students. Congratulations to the teachers and chaperones who guided the students to our space, on time and ready to code. And most of all, a huge thank you to the students who showed their enthusiasm and passion for technology and who will be our leaders of tomorrow.