Illinois-based IntelliWheels, Inc. set to compete for grand prize in nationwide InnovateHER Challenge


There are more than one million small businesses in Illinois, and collectively they account for a significant share of the state’s economic production and hiring. On March 17, one standout Illinois entrepreneur will compete in a nationwide competition that could net her cash and prizes that will take her business to the next level.

Marissa Siebel-Siero of IntelliWheels, Inc. is one of 10 finalists competing in the 2016 InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge, put on in partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration and Microsoft. At the event, being held in Washington, D.C., Marissa will pitch her product: Tinker, the first ever 3D product configurator in the wheelchair marketplace that gives customers feedback and control. A panel of expert judges will select three winners from the field, with $70,000 in prizes at stake.

Now, in its second year, the InnovateHER competition seeks to uncover products or services that will fill a need in the marketplace and have the greatest potential for commercialization. Last year, the SBA and Microsoft engaged over 100 organizations and reached over 1,000 entrepreneurs across the nation through InnovateHER.

For more information on the competition and to keep up with developments, including the winner announcement, visit Good luck to all of the entrepreneurs pitching their innovations!

Don’t Be Nervous About Mentoring A Room Full Of Teenagers… It’s Fun!

You’ve seen several recent blogs about our wonderful partnership with Lake View High School and the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) for our 2015-16 STEM Challenge on the Internet of Things. Our friends Allie Barwise and Emily Cooper of ISTI have shared how the Mentor Matching Engine (MME) is a great resource for virtual and online mentoring to supplement in person discussions. Today, I’d like to share some of our in person mentoring experiences with several of the Lake View High School STEM Challenge teams as they are working their way through the process of developing their presentations.

WP_20160223_16_38_36_RichWe started with a kick off from Principal Grens who reminded the students that their presentations will culminate in a “winner” for the statewide competition in May 2016. The students had a chance to meet Microsoft’s new Education account manager Simon Ibbitt, who has recently moved run the UK where he ran Microsoft’s Education practice. We introduced the in person mentors, which included the great team for the ISTI: Allie Barwise, Emily Cooper and Utsav Gandhi. The in person Microsoft mentors included Simon, Frank Migacz and myself. And the whole program was organized and spearheaded by Lake View’s amazing assistant principal Angela Newton.

We basically worked in a “speed dating” or round robin format, where each mentor spent about 8-10 minutes with each individual student team. The students were extremely well prepared, with formal draft PowerPoint presentations to discuss. The focus on this year’s Challenge—how can the Internet of Things positively impact the Lake View High School community—can take several different paths. But each group had a problem statement, a pictorial of how IoT works/connects to the Lake View community, and a description of their solution. This is where we really had a lot of fun.

Education account manager Simon Ibbitt meets with Lake View High School students

One area where adults sometimes feel awkward about the mentoring process is their concern about “knowing enough” and not looking “stupid” in front of a school group. (Guess what—the students might feel exactly the same!) While each of us on the Microsoft team has a wide range of skills, we each brought a unique and helpful perspective to the students as they are fine-tuning their presentations. Frank is more technical so his insight was super helpful in crafting the technical solutions, Simon has been working closely with students for the past four years so he has a high comfort zone, and I’m the one who sees the potential in each child, so I pushed them to think more strategically and with broader impact.

I’d like to highlight a couple of the ideas under development. I selected these because I think they represent the broad spectrum of how our young people of thinking about the potential of technology positively impacting our lives. Keep in mind these are in the early concept development stage and there is a lot more homework to be done on refining the technical solution.

The first proposal focused on Public Safety and Personal Security. The idea is to connect the Internet of Things and Cloud computing to a doormat that has sensors. The doormat could capture information about the regular members of the household, potentially shoe size and weight. Then, through machine learning, the doormat could capture “repeat visitors” like the UPS delivery person, Aunt Martha and best friends of the family. The interesting part is if there is a true intruder to the household, the doormat could capture their shoe size and weight and transmit this information through links to an alarm system that is connected to the IoT and Cloud as well as to Chicago Police, 911, etc. I thought this was a functional, reasonable to execute idea. I added a couple of suggestions: perhaps the doormat could also collect dust or debris from the intruder’s shoes (CSI-like) and perhaps you could develop a thinner version of the mat to wrap around the front doorknob to collect hand size, fingerprints, etc. Let’s see if they listened to me or not :).

The second approach resonated with me because the students were looking at a social justice issue that is unfortunately too prevalent in schools today—bullying. This was a creative approach using thermal heat sensors to determine whether a student was feeling unusual emotion—like fear, anger, etc. The team has several different displays of the various thermal outlines for various emotions. For example, there could be a bully who would scan as angry or aggressive, and the victim who would scan as fearful. Through the Internet of Things, the data collected could start seeing repetitive incidents and start signaling the school administration of these interactions. We also talked about capturing locations and timing of the incidents so the school could provide more adult supervision as they see patterns emerging.

I was super impressed with all the students I met with. First, they were incredibly professional and prepared—they had their problem identified, a good start on their visuals for their presentations and seemed to have a good handle on the fact that they were collecting data to use in their analysis to solve or prevent the problems. On the whole, they were really social and took pictures, posted our meetings on Twitter and Instagram and had a great time.

As you come across opportunities to support your local schools and students, I encourage you to feel comfortable volunteering for in person mentoring. Candidly, it’s a blast and you will be impressed with how mature the students are in their thinking. Congratulations to all the Lake View High School students who are participating in the 2015-16 STEM Challenge. Sure, you are learning about technology and teamwork, but you are also tackling important social issues and you are leaders in helping to make the Lake View community a better place.

Chicago Public Schools Announces Computer Science as Graduation Requirement

Computer Science Education Week at Chicago Public Library

Photo: Chicago Public Library

Chicago has a reason to celebrate today. As part of Chicago’s Computer Science for All (CS4All) initiative, the Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved the addition of computer science as a graduation requirement for all Chicago Public Schools high school students beginning with next year’s freshmen. This makes CPS the first major urban school district to make computer science a requirement for graduation.

We have witnessed first-hand the power of STEM education while working with Lake View High School, an Early College STEM School. Microsoft has been working with Lake View to provide curriculum, mentorship, and partnership, while working with their visionary teachers and leadership. The goal is to bridge the wide gap between demand for STEM professionals and the limited supply of students graduating with the matching skills. Chicago is doing its part to close that gap.

In working with CPS, Microsoft has now seen a glimpse into what the future of technology looks like, and it is extremely promising. Team Microsoft wishes to congratulate CPS and all the teachers, students and staff who have worked so hard to make this possible. Read on: 

New CPS Computer Science Graduation Requirement to Prepare Students for Jobs of the Future

Conversations on College, Careers, and Civic Engagement

Career Advancement Seal RGB

The University of Chicago focuses on preparing their students for life beyond college, through rigorous academics, community engagement and programs that provide the students exposure to various workforce opportunities—professional, corporate, entrepreneurial, and so forth. One of the more intimate and impactful programs is the Executive Speaker Series. The Executive Speaker Series for undergraduates provides a small-group forum for Senior Leaders at the forefront of business to share their experience and insight with undergraduates in the College. Two of The University of Chicago’s Career Advancement programs, UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship and UChicago Careers in Business, are helping students explore a mission-driven career in business with the Executive Speaker Series. The Executive Speakers Series for the 2015-2016 academic year focuses on the topic of “Achieving Meaning and Service in Your Professional Career”. The Series offers meaningful engagement for UChicago students with Senior Leaders whose perspective can shape and add value to their pursuit of a professional career. UChicago has 6-7 speakers presenting during the academic year, around 2 per quarter. See a quick overview of this year’s speakers, with the upcoming addition of Jay Rasulo, former CFO of Disney, to the lineup.

Run by my friend Jerry Huang, UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship (UCIE) Senior Program Director, Nancy Schaller, UChicago Careers in Business (UCIB) Senior Program Director and Elena Danos, UChicago Careers in Business (UCIB) Program Coordinator, the Executive Speaker Series is offered through the UChicago Careers in Business, Career Advancement department. Jerry, Nancy and Elena contacted me to see if Microsoft would meet with the students to discuss the Civic Tech movement and think through how the students could become more engaged. I jumped at the opportunity.


First—University of Chicago! You may know that my daughter is a 2015 graduate of the College so our family has strong emotional ties to the University. Want to learn how to burst into tears on cue? Sit in Rockefeller Chapel, watching the incoming cohort walk down the aisle while the magnificent E.M Skinner Pipe Organ plays. Microsoft also has many civic ties to the University, which we have discussed in our previous blogs. These include the Office of Civic Engagement’s Civic Leadership Academy and the recently announced Digital Alliance with the University’s Community Programs Accelerator. Our CEO Satya Nadella is a graduate of the Booth School of Business.

Second—The Students! Smart, international in both background and focus, committed, inquisitive, willing and wanting to make the world a better place. The students’ academic focus areas included Economics, Computer Science, International Studies and “Undecided”. Our conversation started with the Civic Tech movement, what it is, how its growing and some of the key organizations in the Chicago area. We discussed how civic engagement can be the great equalizer, crossing demographic and economic artificial boundaries. But we also discussed how lack of access to broadband and digital skills training can be a huge barrier to improving one’s life and neighborhood. The students are looking for careers in public service, nonprofits and policy. They love Chicago and their questions were spot on regarding how to use open data, digital skills and public private partnerships to impact economic growth, improved education and improved public safety.

Univ of Chicago Jerry Huang Jan 2016.pptxWe also turned to very current topics to illustrate the point that policy and government oversight need to be balanced with the local community having a voice in what’s important and essential. We discussed the Water Crisis in Flint as an example of an underserved community not having the voice, the social media network and impact and guidance on how to be heard. After the program, several of the students inquired on how to get “started and connected” in Civic Tech and Civic Engagement. It’s inspiring to see our next generation focused on making the world and their local communities better places, and having a resource like the University of Chicago Executive Speakers Series to make those connections come alive.

The Future of Mentoring: Mentor Matching Engine

As part of our ongoing series focusing on the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) statewide STEM Challenge, this guest blog will focus on a technical solution to solving a big undertaking—getting volunteers to work with students on STEM and “soft” skills. While there are many, many great stories about corporate and other businesspeople volunteering their time and talent to assist students, the reality is that schedules are challenging—for both the businesspeople (travel, meetings, their own family commitments) and for the students (sports, homework, part-time jobs). Understanding that a critical element to success in the STEM Challenge process is connecting adult role models to the students, the ISTI developed the Mentor Matching Engine (MME) which helps solve scheduling issues and encourages online dialog.

The Microsoft team supporting Lake View High School is excited to be participating this year using the MME. It certainly looks like a great solution for busy people, who still want to support our youth. We have a dozen volunteers who are getting registered on MME, which will be used to supplement in person mentoring at Lake View High School. We are looking forward to the combination of virtual and 1:1 mentoring!
— Shelley Stern Grach


This year, 29 high schools are part of the R&D STEM Learning Exchange (RDLE) – a public private partnership led by the Illinois Science & Technology Institute to better connect high schools and industry to increase interest in STEM careers. RDLE serves as an intermediary to catalyze collaboration between these groups through solving real-world problems and facilitating project-based mentoring.

One of the ways RDLE is expanding mentoring opportunities is through the Mentor Matching Engine (MME) – an online platform developed by ISTI in partnership with the Illinois Math & Science Academy.  MME connects Illinois high school students and their teachers to STEM professionals virtually to support and enhance student-led research through mentoring.  MME allows mentors and students to connect in a way that reduces transaction costs for all.  Students and mentors can collaborate anytime, anywhere.

Students working on STEM Challenges, such as Microsoft’s Challenge partner Lake View High School or those conducting independent research are exposed to multiple perspectives along the STEM pipeline through project-based mentorships with a STEM professional.  By using examples from their own organizations and experience, mentors provide perspective on how STEM is applied beyond the classroom, giving students insight into the potential impact and reach of their projects and applications in the real world.

Research is student driven. Students explore a topic of interest by developing a question that can be answered through an investigative process. Teachers help to guide students through the research process, but let them seek out resources and develop their own solutions.  Through MME, students request mentors with relevant subject matter expertise to provide guidance about their topic in a discussion format with features like document sharing and video conferencing.

Mentors from partner organizations, like Microsoft, are able to supplement in-person visits with students or even have a fully virtual mentorship through MME. Students are able to consistently go to their mentors for guidance and receive real-time responses, regardless of where their mentors are located.

At ISTI, we are excited about connecting the classroom with tools like the Mentor Matching Engine as we prepare the next generation of problem solvers.


About ISTI

The Illinois Science & Technology Institute (ISTI) leads the R&D STEM Learning Exchange. ISTI is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit and an affiliated complementary effort to the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition. The ISTI was established to enhance opportunities for philanthropic public-private partnerships and to develop and deliver educational programming.


AB headshotAllie Barwise

Allie Scully Barwise is Managing Director for the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI). Allie leads program development, strategic planning, and external relations for the R&D STEM Learning Exchange.

Prior to joining the ISTI in 2013, Allie was with the Clinton Global Initiative, primarily focused on education issues and domestic economic recovery. She also worked for a boutique content and communications firm to develop programming for The Economist, and contributed to communications projects for Wikipedia, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Allie holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Development Studies from McGill University.


EC headshotEmily Cooper

Emily Cooper is Director of Programs for the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI). Emily’s primary focus is on managing the R&D STEM Learning Exchange programs and professional development. Prior to joining ISTC, Emily was a Legal Assistant at Purcell & Wardrope, Chtd. and Hauselman, Rappin & Olswang, Ltd. She developed a passion for education while tutoring students in both Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Emily earned her Master of Public Policy degree with a concentration in Education Policy from American University, and holds a B.A. from Indiana University Bloomington.

The STEM Challenge is “Coming of age” at Lake View High School

R&D STEM Learning Exchange Challenges

A 2016 series on innovative programs that help STEM/STEAM come alive for Chicago’s students, in partnership with Lake View High School, an Early College STEM School.

com·ing of age


  1. the reaching of the official age of adulthood and legal responsibility
  2. the reaching of an advanced stage of development

Last year, we wrote about the wonderful partnership Microsoft enjoys with the Illinois Science & Technology Institute (ISTI). Microsoft and Lake View High School participated in the Second Annual R&D STEM Learning Exchange Challenges Student Showcase on May 20, 2015. This was a terrific program and our first time working with the teachers and students at Lake View High School on this state-wide Student Challenge. Microsoft is again supporting the ISTI and Lake View High School in 2016 for the Third Annual R&D STEM Challenge.

This trailblazing, public-private effort connects students to future STEM careers. This school year, through STEM Challenges and the Mentor Matching Engine (MME), the R&D STEM Learning Exchange will reach more than 1,200 students at 29 Illinois high schools. The Exchange promotes inquiry-based learning, builds critical thinking skills and provides perspective on R&D applications for participating students. This ultimately helps strengthen Illinois’ industry by enriching its talent pipeline.

“The mission is to spark interest, preparing students for R&D careers here in Illinois. When we build a pipeline of young professionals, we invest in Illinois’ future innovators. The continued growth of this program and our strong public-private coalition of committed high schools, industry and academic partners demonstrates the deep need for and interest in these learning opportunities,” says Mark Harris, President & CEO of ISTI.

The STEM Challenge program matches participating schools with leading corporations and research institutions. From January through May 2016, students will work alongside experts from Illinois’ top companies and together spur real-world innovation. Their work will be showcased May 19, 2016 and we expect our Lake View High School team to be leading the way in the Challenge!

Let’s take a look at why this kind of continuous investment is so important in Chicago! “The Challenge requires students to utilize the STEM principles of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking to problem solve and generate viable solutions,” says Angela D. Newton, Assistant Principal and STEM Coordinator.

*2014 Karen Mossberger research (using 2013 survey data).

*2014 Karen Mossberger research (using 2013 survey data).

  • In Chicago, approximately 30% of households have no internet subscription and about 20% have no computer. What is important behind the statistics, is that lack of skills, cost and interest are the most cited reasons adults give for not getting online.
  • Yet, it’s clear that digital skills are vital to success in seeking jobs. You need to be able to search online for jobs, fill out a resume online and demonstrate your online skills, credentials and certifications.
  • In Chicago, the demand for digital learning opportunities continue to increase, as evidenced at Chicago Public Library, at LISC Chicago Financial Opportunity Centers and at dozens of other community and entrepreneurial centers throughout the city.
  • More advanced STEM skills will result in better educational opportunities, more creativity to start new STEM related business and overall drive positive economic growth.

For 2016, we are looking to enhance our partnership with ISTI and Lake View High School students in the following ways:

  • Focus our 2016 STEM Challenge on  one of the hottest STEM topics today-the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • Bring in more Microsoft employees as mentors and participate through the Mentor Matching Engine (MME)
  • Increase the integration of the Challenge more broadly into the curriculum
  • Increase the length of time the students have to work on the Challenge
  • Elevate the professionalism of the Students’ presentations

We held our first kickoff event on this year’s Challenge at Lake View on December 1st.

We have seen tremendous support from the teachers at Lake View this year. They are excited to continue the “coming of age” of STEM and STEAM skills. “The MSFT Challenge requires students to become partners on a mission to plan and shape their reality, their STEM infused world; using the rising future infrastructure of the Internet of Things and their limitless imagination,” says teacher Bernardo Juarez.

Join us as we update you throughout the Spring on the STEM Challenge at Lake View High School and how our students are gaining knowledge in STEM/STEAM, how the Internet of Things impacts their lives, as well as those critical “soft skills” of collaboration, communications and critical thinking.

Microsoft announces global expansion of YouthSpark–focusing on computer science

Microsoft TEALS

Today at DreamForce, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced a 3-year, $75 million investment in our YouthSpark initiative to increase access to computer science education for all youth, and especially for those from under-represented backgrounds. Over the next three years, Microsoft will deliver on this commitment through cash grants and nonprofit partnerships, as well as unique program and content offerings, to increase access to computer science and computational thinking for diverse populations of youth.

One of the flagship programs is Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), which pairs tech professionals from across the industry with classroom educators to team-teach computer science in U.S. high schools.  TEALS aims to grow five-fold in the next three years, with the goal of working with 2,000 tech industry volunteers to reach 30,000 students in nearly 700 schools across 33 states. Recently, we featured Chicago TEALS Volunteer Tony Smith on our blog—learn more about their experience here.

To learn more about Microsoft’s new commitment, visit the Microsoft News Center.

To hear Satya’s comments, click here.

Introducing Microsoft Digital Badges in Chicago

In partnership with the Digital Youth Network (DYN), Microsoft Chicago is pleased to announce the creation of 5 Microsoft digital badges in the Chicago City of Learning (CCoL) initiative. These new badge playlists were rolled out by the Digital Youth Network throughout June and are being featured in the CPS Connects June Playlist.

The Chicago City of Learning initiative, supported by the MacArthur Foundation, is an opportunity for Chicago students to participate in major educational programs that support connected learning for youth. Microsoft is excited to participate in this forward-thinking initiative as part of our STEM and STEAM initiatives. This is a great way to boost youth learning and provide an interactive means of connecting more people to our rich training resources. By working to integrate select training resources into the CCOL system, Microsoft is one of the first major corporations to sponsor CCOL badges with existing online programs that are broadly available.

One of the exciting parts of the Digital Badging program is that students can get badges for a variety of programs, beyond the digital scope. Are you on a football team? Volunteering at a nursing home? Taking a ballet class? There’s a badge for that. By getting involved in a multitude of activities, students are broadening their horizons, and that’s great for demonstrating skills for future college and careers. Digital Badges offer students something tangible in return — a type of “digital resume,” so to speak. This program identifies all types of youth learning opportunities in the city, aggregating them into a kid-friendly website used by all public school children. Learners’ achievements are then rewarded by awarding digital badges for successful completion of programs. Digital Badges can then be shared with family, friends, teachers, or future employers.

We’re excited to launch our first Digital Badges as part of our investments in STEM education and community building. YouthSpark’s global initiative has been supporting students in STEM through various partnerships in our communities, from local programs like CCOL to national ones like Girls Who Code. As “V-1” of our digital badging program begins, we look forward to the opportunities presented to Chicago’s students now and in the future.

Students who participate in these Microsoft-sponsored programs can now carry a Digital Badge with them as proof that they have done great work in computer science. Participating programs include:

As an added bonus, Microsoft is working with the Digital Youth Network, inviting students who complete all the computer science badges to tour our Microsoft Technology Center and speak to leaders in the industry directly.

Looking forward, Microsoft is hoping to further this in all Cities of Learning initiatives nationwide, beyond Chicago to Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. We are continually looking for additional programs to add to the CCoL badges and will update you via social media as we bring new programs onboard with CCoL.

To sign up, students and parents can create an account with Chicago City of Learning.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship and @MSFTChicago.

If you have questions, contact our Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow Maira Khwaja at

Lake View High School Students Shine at STEM Learning Exchange Challenge

What happens when 600 innovative students come together in one room? Energy! Creativity! Can-do attitude! It’s great to see that across Illinois, there are hundreds of committed, driven students ready and able to solve every day STEM challenges.

The Illinois Science & Technology Institute (ISTI) hosted the Second Annual R&D STEM Learning Exchange Challenges Student Showcase on May 20, 2015, challenging students from 17 Illinois high schools to solve real-world problems in partnership with nine industry and academic partners. Microsoft’s Civic Technology & Engagement team joined the competition to witness students excited about research and development and careers in STEM fields.

This year’s Challenge addressed specific issues in science and technology, such as finding a way to provide power during a disaster or conducting a trade study for a missile defense system. Students have been working all year on the challenge, partnering directly with industry leaders to collect data and conduct experiments.

We are fortunate to support the amazing students and faculty of Lake View High School, an Early College STEM-focused high school that works closely with our local Microsoft team. In partnership with ISTI and Lake View High School faculty, Microsoft identified Water Management as a key, real-world Chicago program to solve. The students’ challenge was to use tools like sensors and analytics to diagnose and ultimately solve the water management issues in our community, which will help provide solutions for the greater Chicago region.

The ISTI Challenge was woven into the curriculum for multiple classes, and the students were grouped into several teams. We’d also like to congratulate the winning Lake View team, “Hydroswale” for their initiative in tackling the Challenge and bringing a steadfast solution to the public. The students developed a really creative approach to management water flow and cleanliness.


The students incorporated true STEM analysis, looking at various options, considering the benefits of various solutions prior to the development of the Hydroswale solution.


They also took a strong business approach, thinking through the benefits for the City of Chicago, the community, and taxpayers. Congratulations to the winning Lake View High School team of Kenia Maldonado, Oscar Rodriguez, Gavin Ou, Stephanie Vargas. Special thanks to Assistant Principal Angela Newton and Lake View Computer Science teachers Bernardo Juarez (Department Chair) and Bill Starzyk.

Lake View High School Students Shine at STEM Learning Exchange Challenge

Hats off to the hundreds of inspiring students who showed us the power of STEM education at the ISTI STEM Challenge. All the students are winners, and this outstanding process will serve them well as they further their education. Microsoft would also like to thank Mark Harris and Allie Barwise for their counsel, leadership and partnership on the ISTI STEM Challenge.

Welcoming Lake View High School Students and Partners at STEM Learning Exchange Challenge

The Illinois Science & Technology Institute (ISTI) is a 501(c)(3) public charity and an affiliated, complementary effort to the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition. The mission of the ISTI is to advance scientific understanding and technological innovation in Illinois through discovery, education, invention, and partnership. 

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Bridging the Technology Gap

Good Work Chicago: Bridging the Technology Gap

Last week, I had the honor to participate in a panel at Good Work Chicago’s annual conference. The panel topic was Bridging the Technology Gap for Women, Minorities & Under-Resourced Communities. It was delightful to be joined on the panel by long term colleagues Sandee Kastrul, President and Co-Founder of i.c.stars and Emile Cambry, Jr.: Founder and CEO, Blue 1647.

Diversity and accelerating the technology pipeline for minorities and women is a critical topic. We began the discussion by referring to recent research by The Brookings Institution. Approximately 9.5 million people live in this metro area. The fact remains that the more you learn, the more you earn, and education is a key indicator of success. In the Chicago area in 2012, fully 44% of 19 to 24 year-olds had either not obtained a post-secondary degree, or were not enrolled in a post-secondary program. For those individuals, unemployment rates are more than twice as high as for their counterparts who were on track for post-secondary education. To compound the challenges, the Chicago area also has large racial/ethnic gaps in the share of young people on track for post-secondary education.

Under Brookings’ new definition of STEM, “A STEM occupation is one that requires a well-above average level of knowledge in one or more core STEM fields (Science, Computing Technology, Engineering, and Math)”. Emphasis on well above- average. And at each level of educational attainment in the Chicago region, workers in STEM jobs out-earn their non-STEM counterparts. This is especially true for those with only a high school education, or those with at least a bachelor’s degree. There continues to be a gap between the job skills required for STEM jobs and careers. And women continue to lag in securing STEM skills and jobs.

Good Work Chicago: Bridging the Technology Gap

In addition to women, we also need to focus on building STEM skills with minorities, especially African American and Latino.

Good Work Chicago: Bridging the Technology Gap

It is through terrific programs like i.c.stars and Innovation Hubs like BLUE1647 that we find tried and true programs—and people—who are helping close this skills gap.

  • ic.stars provides a rigorous technology-based workforce development and leadership training program for low-income adults, developing Chicagoland’s most promising information technology talent with leadership goals and connecting them with career opportunities through our social enterprise and our partner organizations. Using project-based learning, participants work in teams on a range of projects during this intensive training course and two year practicum. i.c.stars also connects companies with  graduates for full time employment.
  • BLUE1647 is an entrepreneurship and technology innovation center that fosters economic development in technology and 21st Century skills through people development (classes, workshops, and events around technology), workforce development (through youth and adult technology programs to prepare individuals for high-demand jobs) and Business Acceleration (through shared coworking-services).  BLUE1647 provides impactful individuals and organizations the resources to realize their ideas for a better world.

As our panel considered the challenge of the skills gap, we touched on the following key points:

  • We have a lot of great talent that we are not supporting broadly enough.
  • Kids are creative and need a “space and place” to experiment, and a responsible adult to help them recognize their own potential.
  • Coding, IT and the STEAM side of STEM are of high interest to our young people.
  • We really need to accelerate programs like i.c.stars and Blue 1647 to extend the reach to our neighborhoods and truly engage all our Youth in Chicagoland.

Many thanks to Jimmy Lee and Ann Healing of GoodWorkChicago for inviting Microsoft to be part of this important conversation. It was an honor to host the dialog with my colleagues Sandee and Emile, and we all hope this will inspire and motivate more focus on our Youth and closing the diversity gap.