Microsoft Achieves International Rockstar Status

| Donna Woodall

It’s days like these when working at Microsoft makes me feel like a Rock Star.

Recently Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) reached out to Microsoft requesting a speaker for the STEM panel at their annual Youth Assembly, a United Nations-hosted summit for young people with an interest in leading social change in their home countries.

As our team started brainstorming about whom to invite from Microsoft to participate on the STEM panel, an idea struck. I asked, “What if in addition to the panel we also host our YouthSpark LIVE programs for these global students attending the Youth Assembly?” And just like that, we became the showstopper rockstars at The Youth Assembly at the United Nations.


Why did I think Microsoft should bring YouthSpark LIVE to The Youth Assembly at the United Nations? We learned that this was the 20th session of the Youth Assembly at the United Nations which presents an enormous opportunity to “challenge, stimulate, and ensure youth engagement and participation in achieving an inclusive and sustainable future where no one is left behind.”

There would be over 600 students from around the globe attending this gathering: 30% would represent the U.S. and Canada, while the remaining 70% consisted predominantly of students from developing countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The students are fluent in English and are social change leaders in their home countries.

I saw this as a “perfect storm” for Microsoft YouthSpark: a large community of youth who are socially conscious, a summit inclusive of two full days of STEM tracks, an audience of diverse and underrepresented young people ages 16 to 28, and an opportunity to demonstrate how our technology can be leveraged to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I also hoped that exposure to computer science training and resources through Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative would inspire ideas in these young people that could change lives.

CTO Paul Edlund showcases HoloLens Technology. Photo by Johnny Vacar.

On August 10 and 11, 2017, Microsoft held several standing room only sessions to nearly all the 600 plus student participants from across the globe. We led interactive, hands-on STEM activities demonstrating that everyone can learn how to make code and use technology to pitch new ideas, leveraging Microsoft MakeCode as well as our Hacking STEM curricula. Microsoft CTO for the Central Region Paul Edlund presented a 90-minute TED-style talk on Technology as a Force for Inclusion, including demos of our HoloLens technology to support social challenges. On the Assembly’s STEM panel, Microsoft Principal Researcher and Assistant Managing Director David Pennock shared lessons learned about STEM for social good based on our Microsoft research.  

CTO Paul Edlund, Technology as a Force for Inclusion. Photo by Johnny Vacar.
Microsoft Principal Researcher, David Pennock, STEM for Social Development Goals. Photo by Johnny Vacar.

So, whenever we host events, I think about what lessons are we hoping to impart? And, what have I learned?

Our hope for these and all young people is that they will adopt technologies to support their pursuit of and passion around social change. That ideally is their takeaway.

But what I learned is that young people are much more socially conscious than my generation. Today, young people are passionate about correcting social ills throughout the world. I was happy to discover that for these students, Microsoft is still a well-respected organization around the globe. In fact, our sessions sold out the very first night of the event’s registration. I even saw some students trying to “sneak” into our sessions by pretending that they had lost their ‘ticket’ just to participate with us.

I observed young people who are smart, passionate, and deliberate in their work. A series of robust conversations ensued in all our sessions.  

But what impressed me most is their humility and appreciation of our presence at the conference. The number of tweets about our sessions exceeded 13,000 impressions. The comments and questions following Paul Edlund’s talk were heartfelt and sincere. For two days, we were “rock stars” with an audience of international students who at every turn took the opportunity to engage with us, share their projects (one student put a 10-page term paper in our Microsoft researcher’s hands), and take photos with us and with our technology.

I actually felt like a celebrity, and this event served as a strong reminder that for those of us fortunate enough to work for Microsoft, there are days when we can consider ourselves Rock Stars.

Donna L. Woodall

Microsoft U.S. Citizenship

Director, Northeast Region






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