September, 2011

  • Heroes of #STEMtember: Atari, Math, and Trek dreams turning to reality with Kudo Tsunoda

    Tara Grumm, online marketing manager, Microsoft Citizenship

    As part of our ongoing series this month on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers, we had the pleasure of sitting down with the Creative Director of Kinect for Xbox, Kudo Tsunoda (pictured left). Not only is Kudo a rock star in the gaming world, but we learned that he’s a STEM hero in his own right! I would cheer if my little one grew up loving math like Kudo does. It’s an impressive skill to love such a challenging subject but my Dad always reminded me that I should embrace how Math is an exact science and I came to learn that he had a great point. If you think that the people who crunch those sophisticated formulas, solve complex problems and write code for those amazing video games spend their days just sitting in their dark offices drinking Mountain Dew… you are sorely mistaken. When you stretch your creativity and work on groundbreaking inventions like Kinect, you get invited to appear on a late night talk show.

    Editors Note: We have declared this month #STEMtember to build awareness of the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Earlier in the month we released some research into how parents and students view STEM education and we’re publishing profiles of people with some of the coolest STEM jobs. Keep an eye on the blog or follow #STEMtember on Twitter, discuss on Facebook, or you can read all this month’s post by clicking on the tag #STEMtember on this blog. 

  • The 4 coolest STEM careers I wish I studied for…

    Editors Note: We have declared this month #STEMtember to build awareness of the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Earlier in the month we released some research into how parents and students view STEM education and we’re planning a number of profiles of people with some of the coolest STEM jobs. Keep an eye on the blog or follow #STEMtember on Twitter, discuss on Facebook, or you can read all this month’s post by clicking on the tag #STEMtember on this blog. 


    Even though the years are flying by, I don’t think I will ever forget what it was like to be a kid in middle school… What an awkward age that was! As a 6th grader I was just discovering that girls didn’t have coodies and still imagined that one day I would be a professional basketball player like Mike. But at some point before 8th grade, I realized I would likely need to focus my on studying as very few ever make it to the NBA. Looking back to my middle school and high school years, I was ripe for being influenced, inspired, and encouraged to study in certain areas; yet I was never drawn to science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) education. Why is that?

    Were my English and history teachers really that cool? Looking at many of the possibilities I just can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if I had focused my studies on STEM subjects.

    The other day, our team sat around a table and made a list of people who have really cool STEM focused careers. We decided reach out and interview those folks to gain insights into their STEM thoughts, educational experience, and seek advice for the future generation. So for the next few weeks we will be posting blogs from our team as we interview these STEM super heroes.

    To kick things off I thought it might be fun to explore the top 4 STEM careers I wish studied for:

    1) An Astronaut: This last spring I was fortunate to visit Kennedy Space Center in Florida to see off the Astronauts in the second to last shuttle launch in NASA history. While I watched astronaut Greg Chamitoff wave goodbye to his children (pictured left), the thought occurred to me; Greg is not saying “goodbye kids, daddy will be home after work”… No, he is saying “goodbye kids, daddy is going to be shot into space on the fastest ride this planet has to offer, leave the atmosphere for a few weeks, explore outer space, and will be home when orbit permits”. Well maybe he wasn’t saying that exactly, but you get the point. Too bad I didn’t choose to study physics and advanced aerospace.   

    2) A Fighter Pilot: I have to give credit to the Blue Angels and Tom Cruise in Top Gun for my pipe dreams of wanting to fly MACH 3 with my hair on fire. Anyone lucky enough to catch a Blue Angels show (pictured left) in person will attest to the sheer awesomeness of the sight and sounds of a fighter jet. I wish one of my teachers would have told me the engineering path of a pilot; guaranteed that bit of information would have dialed in my attention span in calculus class.

    3) A world famous chef: Only in my own kitchen do I pretend to be Curtis Stone. Wouldn’t it be great to create the tasty treats that people from all over the world seek to consume? Chefs are scientists in their own right, understanding how ingredients pair as well as the biological instincts involved with eating food. One who studies the science of food could have the world at the palm of their cooking mitts! 

    4) A Tesla engineer: Have you ever been 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds? Thanks to my good friend Tal Moore (his car pictured left), I have, and believe me I was grinning like a child at a birthday party. These cars are amazing; they sound like a

    spaceship, start and stop on a dime, and provide the thrill of a lifetime. Bet if I would have studied mechanical engineering I could have been able to one day afford the $100,000+ price tag, or maybe I could have just built one myself.

    These are just a few examples of the incredible possibilities for kids who study STEM. The next generation of innovators, astronauts, pilots, electric motor engineers, famous chefs and more - could be your child, your little cousin, your little sister/brother, or a child you mentor.  

    What cool STEM job do you find inspiring? Why not tell us using the #STEMtember on Twitter or on Facebook.


    All photographs taken by Nathan J. Peterson

  • Clinton Global Initiative – Making Change Happen

    By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Global Community Affairs at Microsoft.

    Last week at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York city was at once a most exhilarating and tiring week. President Clinton continues to bring his star power, his deep concern around global development, and his expertise to energize all of us to do more. After a week of mingling with heads of state, actors, rock stars, models, business leaders and other change-makers one has to believe that the world, even in these difficult times, continues to become a better place. The conversation with Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi was in some ways the highlight of the meeting as both people through their individual struggles have brought hope to the global community. The sheer scale of CGI commitments can be quite surreal at times when the results are shared, yet when we see the breadth of poverty around us we become somewhat skeptical and come to believe that no progress is being made. However, the examples of impact that were highlighted at CGI shows that change is happening and in many cases it is about a positive impact on one life at a time. We should never forget that.

    On Monday evening I spoke to about a 100 undergrad students at Columbia University. It was both fascinating and concerning to hear the quality of the Q&A that followed my remarks. For over an hour and half the students debated with me on topics ranging from the impact of technology on our lives and whether jobs are being lost due to technology. Fascinating on one hand because these young minds were so focused on trying to come to grips with the problems they see around them. Concerning on the other because they fear we are not leaving them a better world and that those in power do not have their interests in mind.

    One of the fantastic things about CGI is the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are making change. Craig Kielburger the founder of the Canadian based nonprofit Free the Children which he founded as a 12 years old because he wanted to free kids from slavery. The organization provides active citizenship education programs in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, reaching 3,500 school groups annually. The organization's We Schools in Action program fills stadiums with tens of thousands of young leaders who provide more than one million hours of community service every year.

    I was just moved by the striking plea from Caroline Casey of Kanchi who wants all disabled people to have their dignity and not be identified by just their disability. There are 1 billion of people who around the world who have some form of disability and yet can be fully contributing members of society. She herself is legally blind but refused to accept her disability and wanted to be a race car driver – she eventually did drive a race car and raced against another blind driver. Caroline is building a business case to influence media and business through incentives and the Ability Awards that recognizes good business practices towards individuals with disabilities.

    Credit: Todd_France / Clinton Global Initiative

Clinton Global Initiative 2011 Annual Meeting

Keynote Lunch: Values-based Leadership

    Caroline Casey speaking at the CGI conference

    Then there is Petra Nemcova who I have come to admire for her steadfast support to build schools for children impacted by a natural disaster and who in six years has built over 56 schools where kids not only get an education but get some normality back into their lives. Petra her team at the Helping Hearts Fund create sustainable livelihood opportunities.

    Linda Lockhart started the Global Give Back Circle to help girls in Kenya make the leap from high school to university. She provides the girl with training, support and most importantly mentors – and many of these girls are now becoming leaders in their own right.

    I also met Ashok and Amrita Mahbubani who though the Ekta Foundation are making a significant difference in Haiti by helping build technology infrastructure and extend it into classrooms by partnering with Inveneo and NetHope.

    Speaking of NetHope. ,Microsoft is partnering the organization to expand its NetHope Academy to Africa and Latin America to train 1,000 interns over the next three years. NetHope launched its inaugural NetHope Academy class in Haiti in September 2010 after recognizing an acute shortage of local, qualified IT staff at NGOs working to help Haiti recover after the 2010 earthquake. In March of 2011, 39 students graduated from the program and more than 80 percent of them achieved full-time employment. This commitment to action at CGI represents a new and significant expansion in the size, scope and geographic reach of our small, but highly successful program launched last year in Haiti.

    There is incredible work underway around the world to address the issues we face. At Microsoft we feel very privileged that we have been able to support many of these efforts that are all about providing youth with opportunity so they can be the agents of change. As is customary at CGI it’s not just about talking, it’s about commitment. Microsoft have committed in partnership with Comcast, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and One Economy to provide broadband access and technology to 1 million students from low-income families in the United States to receive the benefits of software, hardware and broadband Internet service. There are over 7 million kids in the U.S. today who have no access to a computer, a mobile phone or the internet. This commitment aims to change that reality and help these kids to contribute to their own future as well as the prosperity of their own community.

    President Clinton summed it up best that it is better to try and fail that not try at all. He said that pessimism is making the decision to be disappointed in advance. Coming together to make change is what this week is all about. New Yorkers complain about the traffic and the gridlock because in addition to CGI, the UN General Assembly is in session with heads of State and diplomats rushing all over the city. But these people also show up at CGI where they come in contact with incredible, inspirational people like Craig, Caroline, Petra, Linda and others. Many of them are just committed individuals that wake up every day and against many odds go out and try and make change, one person at a time. We are honored to be part of this movement.

  • Back to School: Personalizing the PC so Students Can See, Hear, and Learn More Comfortably

    LaDeana Huyler, group communications manager for accessibility, Microsoft

    Going back to school means preparing for a new school year full of possibilities. While not on every traditional back-to-school checklist, making sure student technology is prepped and personalized for students is worth remembering.

    Whether you are a parent, educator, or both – you understand the challenge of supporting students with differing learning styles. And, if a student has trouble seeing, hearing, or concentrating, personalizing the PC can make it easier for that student to see, hear, and use it more comfortably and effectively.

    To help you ensure that your child or student’s PC is personalized to meet their learning needs, we have created a series of how-to articles, each with a video, to show students how to personalize their PCs to make them easier to see, hear, and use.

    · Easier to See. Traditionally, students with vision issues sit in the front of the classroom so they can see the chalkboard. Now that students are using PCs to learn, it is worth remembering to adjust PCs to ensure that students can easily read their computer screens. Learn 5 ways to make a PC easier for students to see.

    · Easier to Hear. If a child you know is having difficulty hearing you or their classmates speaking, they may also be having trouble hearing their PC. Discover 4 ways to make a PC easier for students to hear.

    · Easier to Control the Mouse. To be a kid is to be in constant motion. So when kids are asked to sit quietly at a computer and use a mouse, is it any wonder that some of them have a hard time controlling a handheld device designed for adults? Imagine what it’s like for a child, whose hand is too small for the mouse and whose fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are still developing, to navigate a PC with a mouse. Here are 4 ways to help students control the mouse.

    · Easier to Concentrate. Just like having a desk piled with papers, a messy computer desktop screen can make it difficult to find files and concentrate. You can help students concentrate on learning—especially critical for students who are easily distracted —by creating a simple, uncluttered PC learning environment. And, by reducing the number of screen elements vying for a student’s attention. See 6 ways to adjust the PC to make it easier for students to concentrate.

    · Staying Organized. It can be challenging to take good notes and stay organized--especially for students with learning difficulties. Often students report that they don’t take notes, because it’s just too hard. One advantage all note-takers have in the digital age is the opportunity to use tools, such as Microsoft OneNote, that make taking and organizing notes a lot easier. OneNote has many features that help students take notes faster and in different ways, and stay organized. It also helps with literacy challenges such as spelling and grammar. Learn 5 ways Microsoft OneNote can help students with dyslexia stay organized.

    For teachers and parents

    Consider establishing a Personalization Day when students are introduced to PCs for the year, both at home and at school. Personalization helps students become familiar with their PCs and to make them their own.

    · Encourage all students to personalize their PC. Use the personalization tips provided above to personalize the PC to make it easier to see, hear, and use according to a student’s personal learning style and abilities. For students who have varying abilities or learning preferences, this can help educators identify those who need accessibility features without singling them out. Involve all students in selecting personalization options on the PC and take note of how they interact with technology., For example if a student gets particularly close to the screen to see, he or she may benefit from increasing text or objects on screen or other vision options.

    · Check online safety settings. The beginning of the school year is a good time to check the online safety settings of the PCs your students will be using. Team up with students to explore online safely, using a mix of guidance and monitoring. Seize the opportunity while students are young to help them establish good digital habits and skills they’ll need to deal with situations, information, and people online. Then, as they demonstrate readiness, help them use new services and tools. See Help protect kids online: 4 things you can do.

    Create a network profile. Have students create a personal network profile so their settings are available the next time they log into that PC, or onto a networked PC (if applicable).

    More resources for accessibility in education

    If a student has a disability or learning challenges, additional accessibility features and products may be necessary to enable that student to use a PC. If you believe a student has an accessibility need, here are some recommended next steps:

    1. Visit Microsoft’s Accessibility in the Classroom website for additional information.

    2. Download Accessibility: A Guide for Educators to learn about accessibility solutions for students with vision, hearing, and learning disabilities.

    3. Find an accessibility center or consultant in your school or community.

    LaDeana Huyler, group communications manager for accessibility, Microsoft. Huyler is passionate about increasing awareness about the power of accessibility, especially for children with learning difficulties and disabilities. She co-authored Accessibility: A Guide for Educators and, for more than ten years, has served as editor-in-chief of the Microsoft Accessibility website.

  • What do parents and students think of STEM education?

    STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is vital to solving the world’s toughest social problems; to helping companies create the next breakthrough innovation and to keeping local economies competitive. So how do we encourage more students to study STEM projects?

    To find out, we partnered with Harris Interactive to get an insight on STEM education from parents with children in K-12 education, and students currently studying in STEM degree courses.

    The parent perspective:

    The survey found broad agreement among parents that there is room for improvement in how we prepare children to pursue a STEM career.

    · Most parents of K-12 students (93%) believe that STEM education should be a priority in the U.S., but only half (49%) agree that it actually is a top priority.

    · Parents believe STEM is essential to ensure the U.S. remains competitive in the global marketplace (53%) and to produce the next generation of innovators (51%)

    · While 50% of parents would like to see their child pursue a STEM career, only 24% are extremely willing to spend extra money helping their children be successful in their math and science classes.

    · The top three careers that parents want their kids to pursue are:

    o #1 Scientist (24%)

    o #2 Engineer (21%)

    o #3 Physician & Dentist, Teacher (Both 17%)

    The STEM student perspective:

    College students pursuing a STEM degree were asked to rate how well their K-12 education prepared them for their college courses in STEM, and why they chose to pursue a STEM academic path.

    · Nearly 4 in 5 STEM college students say that they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier and 21% decided in middle school.

    · More than half (57%) of STEM college students say that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM.

    · Only 1 in 5 STEM college students feel that their K-12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM.

    · Students indicated they are selecting a STEM path to secure their own futures.

    o 68% say they want a good salary

    o 66% say it’s the job potential

    o 68% say they find their degree program subject intellectually stimulating and challenging

    The gender differences:

    · Male students are more likely to pursue STEM because they have always enjoyed games/toys, reading books, and/or participating in clubs that are focused on their chosen subject area. (51% vs. 35% females).

    · Female students are more likely to say that they chose STEM to make a difference (49% vs. 34% males).

    · While more than half (57%) of STEM college students say that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM, it’s especially true of female students (68% vs. 51% males) who give “a teacher or class” as the top factor that sparked their interest.

    · Females in STEM are more likely than males to say they were extremely/well prepared (64% vs. 49%) by their K-12 education, and are slightly more likely than their male counterparts to say that preparing students for STEM should be a top priority in K-12 schools (92% vs. 84%).

    You can read the full summary of findings here.

    Got a comment on these findings? We’d love to hear your thoughts either through the comments on this post or why not share your views on Twitter using the hashtag #STEMtember





    Microsoft has been committed to encouraging students to pursue a career in STEM for many years. We have put in place a range of global and local programs to encourage students to explore the possibilities of a career in STEM from the Imagine Cup to Partners in Learning, DigiGirlz, and the Kodu Game Lab.

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