YouthSpark US class of 2013 digital yearbook shows off success stories

Oct 3, 2013

The following is a post compiled by the U.S. Microsoft Citizenship team.

In 2012 Microsoft launched YouthSpark with the commitment to empower 300 million young people through providing opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. Along with our nonprofit partners, we are pleased to share a few of our success stories from year one in the United States.


Simone Mackey

After growing up in a rough South San Francisco neighborhood, Mackey struggled to stay on the right path. She made it through school and eventually landed a job with the San Francisco Airport Commission. Mackey worked full-time at a gift shop while attending City College, and when she heard about the opportunity to join Year Up, she jumped at it. In Year Up, Simone gained the valuable technology skills that are driving her career today. Currently, she’s employed in McCann-Erickson’s IT department and pursuing a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration as well as an associate’s degree in computer networking and information technology.

“YouthSpark helped keep me from becoming a statistic – it’s common for kids from my part of town to end up behind bars or become a teen parent. YouthSpark is helping individuals such as myself stay away from that life and find a career I enjoy. It helped me see that there is a life outside my immediate surroundings.”


Lucia Quiroga

In her junior year of high school, Quiroga wanted to find a program where she could work and continue to attend school. After being introduced to WeCan WORKS, she received an opportunity to intern at a local hospital. The Houston-based Quiroga is moving up in the ranks thanks to her knowledge of Microsoft technologies. She is grateful for the opportunities that the YouthSpark program provided, including being the first person in her family to attend college. Her involvement has opened doors and created new opportunities. She hopes to finish her associate’s degree in the next year and become a child education specialist at the hospital.

“If you’re thinking about participating in YouthSpark, just go for it. It’s only going to benefit you. It’s not going to minimize your opportunities. It will only make your life better. Just jump!”


LaDarrius White

White always knew he wanted to work in the technology field. While attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, he worked part-time as an intern at Year Up, taking advantage of the Microsoft technology curriculum to gain experience with new technologies like voice over IP (VOIP). White successfully turned his internship into another opportunity when he was hired into the Microsoft Academy of College Hires (MACH) program. Now, he’s building connections with others in his field and looking forward to a long career promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and mentoring others.

“Before joining Year Up, I knew computer basics. Now, I can define what I’m doing at a much higher level and I’ve gained more insights into technology compared to most new hires out of school.”


Aisha Davis

When Davis’ mom and aunt first talked to her about joining DigiGirlz, she was less than enthusiastic. Her technical knowledge was limited to social media and she didn’t think she’d be interested in learning more. All that changed when she found Popfly – software that allows users to create mashups, widgets and other applications. From her DigiGirlz experience, she kept in touch with Microsoft, participating in the Imagine Cup student technology competition while attending Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. Now she works full-time at Microsoft as a technical account manager, where she helps companies get the most out of Microsoft services. In the future, she wants to give back by helping other people connect with DigiGirlz and YouthSpark.

“My life is different because of Microsoft DigiGirlz. Without it, I may have chosen a different path. DigiGirlz pulled me out of my comfort zone and impacted my future for the better.”


Michaela Brant

As a first-year teacher out of Cal Poly, Brant looked for a way she could make a difference at Apollo High School, a school for at-risk students in east San Jose. With a high number of dropouts, Apollo High School doesn’t fit the stereotype of a school with one of the top robotics teams in the world. But that was what Brant and her team accomplished. With training and sponsorship help from Microsoft, Brant’s students were able to achieve greatness they didn’t think possible, competing with local private school powerhouses and eventually earning their way to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championships in St. Louis.

“With Microsoft’s time and resources, our school was able to start and later become home to one of the top robotics teams in the world. Team members consisted of students who once were consistently skipping classes, and now are working every day after school to become the best that they can be.”


Anthony Halmon

In his younger years, Halmon felt a lot of pressure to become involved in gang-related activities. His life changed forever the year his father passed away and his daughter was born. Determined to take a different path, Halmon enrolled in the Perspectives Leadership Academy in Chicago and his grade point average skyrocketed from a 1.0 to 3.6. During his junior year, he became involved with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and designed the thermofier – a pacifier with a built-in thermometer, inspired by his infant daughter. He presented his invention at the White House Science Fair, where he met President Obama. Now, Halmon is a freshman at Cornell University, where he says he may pursue civil engineering. He wants to speak to upcoming generations and inspire them with his story.

“Take on opportunities and learn from them. Microsoft is a great organization. It’s helping youth stand out when they think they have no voice. It gives them the opportunity to stand out and add value to their life. Don’t set yourself to any limits.”


Ahshante’ Branch

During her senior year at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Branch attended an education fair on campus, where she learned about Microsoft’s YouthSpark and City Year. While in City Year, she got firsthand experience working with Microsoft technology, a skill she knows is critical for her professional career. Now as a City Year team member, Branch is mentoring students in technology and science.

“YouthSpark helps students structure their creativity so that their big ideas can become a reality.”


Tyree Browne

While participating in the Timothy Smith Network program, the Boston-based Browne asked his counselors if he could also join the self-technology center. Besides a desire to improve his communication skills, he saw this as an opportunity to enhance his technological acumen. Browne was one of three candidates chosen to participate in the self-technology center, and he used Microsoft technologies, including the Office suite, to increase his technology skill set. Today, Browne works with databases and is looking forward to going back to school, where he wants to add Microsoft certification to his growing resumé.

“I think students should take a look at STEM programs as a way to learn a necessary skill so that they can put their best foot forward in the job market. If they gain this expertise and put in the hard work, anything is possible.”


Dr. Heather Lattimer

Dr. Lattimer has been a professor at the University of San Diego for the past eight years, and is a well-known author of several educational books focused on literacy. With a successful career in academia, Dr. Lattimer saw Microsoft’s YouthSpark program as a great way to increase her technological expertise, which she sees as a critical teaching skill. Dr. Lattimer has found that YouthSpark is an important way to give today’s youth a chance to have their voice heard and shed light on the current education issues plaguing cities across the country.

“Microsoft’s YouthSpark program offers students, who are undecided about the career path they want to take, an opportunity to explore and ignite a passion in something they didn’t know existed. It is an opportunity for kids to see what else is out there, what kind of careers are available and new possibilities.”


Gary Young

In the last year, Young has been involved in Microsoft’s YouthSpark program and Year Up in Seattle, where he has been able to live his goal of working in technology. Through real world job experiences and being able to use Microsoft technology on a daily basis, Year Up helped solidify Young’s belief he wants to be in the technology industry. Young now has his eyes set on graduation and beyond, with the hopes that he can work on consumer products at Microsoft. (His friends think he’ll go even farther – most likely to become President.)

“YouthSpark offers young people an opportunity to gain exposure and real world experience in the technology industry, while providing the potential to enhance their network.”

We’re inspired by how young people across America are taking the lead in changing not only their lives, but the lives of others around them, creating a real impact for a better tomorrow. Learn more at

You might also be interested in:

Tags: , ,