April, 2014

  • Microsoft’s 2013 YouthSpark Challenge for Change Winners: Where are They Now?

    By Kari Sherrodd, senior manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    The inaugural Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest last year received hundreds of entries, and five inspirational winners were each awarded $2,500 to help fund their projects, as well as a Surface, a Windows Phone 8, an Xbox and a three-week volunteer travel experience to Kenya.

    One year later, Adam Dunn, Brian Hickey, Christina Ong, Meghan Shea, and Sneha Jayaprakash are moving forward with their dreams and making a difference in their communities. To learn more about what they’ve been up to, check out the Fire Hose Blog. The 2014 winners will be announced on Thursday, May 1.


  • DigiGirlz Inspires Young Women to Explore STEM Careers

    By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Careers in technology are a hot topic of discussion these days, and for good reason. According to Code.org, computer science is a top paying college degree and computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average. Outside the United States, the tech sector is also experiencing a fantastic amount of growth, making it a viable career option for young people around the world. But when I say “young people,” it’s important to point out that there’s a gender gap in those entering computer science jobs. There is a significant lack of women entering the field around the world.

    As part of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative, we created DigiGirlz to help address the lack of women pursuing STEM and computer science education. With DigiGirlz, we introduce high school girls to female mentors and show them a range of careers within the technology sector. The program has been growing year over year with events all over the world and just last year more than 4,000 young women participated. Recently, I had the great opportunity to attend one of these events, organized with support from Zup de Co, in Paris with 80 young women.


    The day started with a presentation from our host, Laurence Lafont-Galligo, Public Sector Lead at Microsoft France. “Is this the idea you have of someone working in the digital industry?” asked Lafont-Galligo, showing a drawing of the proverbial geek with thick glasses and pimples who looked like he had no life outside of the computer screen. A unanimous yes was the answer. “Well, let me introduce six digital women and see if they can change your minds.” These six female technology leaders – engineers, a web designer, a developer, and start-up entrepreneurs – led a roundtable discussion debunking misconceptions.

    The students were then divided into four groups: an introduction to the joys of coding; a mentorship session with a Microsoft employee to learn what a career in the technology field is like; a deep dive on Bing with software engineers; and a tour of the Microsoft offices so they could see demonstrations first-hand and get a sense of what it’s like to work at a tech company.

    In the coding session, the students had a blast learning how to program a robot named Mr. Nao. They learned the basic rubric of coding through simple games. I watched them sitting in small teams crowded around a computer screen, as they learned how simple keystrokes led to action on the screen. They quickly learned they had the power to take an object and move it, rotate it and multiply those actions. 

    Throughout the day, I had the opportunity to offer a few words of advice and encouragement for them to explore science, love math, and experiment with building things so they could grasp the basics of engineering. All of the girls I spoke with were having fun, but were also concentrating deeply on what was being said.  These girls will soon decide over the next academic year whether they will go into the science field or not, so this moment was a very important time to inspire them and get them excited about the possibilities of STEM careers.

    In my opinion, this is one of the most fun and important things that Microsoft does as a company. We work with young students to inspire their excitement about science, engineering, math and technology. We engage our employees to mentor these young girls, invite the students and their teachers into our offices, and let them have fun exploring a day in the life of working at a technology company.  Throughout the day we had the opportunity to motivate these 80 young women and help them explore new opportunities. That is truly what YouthSpark and DigiGirlz are all about!

  • We’re Matching Your Donations Today! Fund Innovative Projects to Transform Schools Worldwide

    By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Last month, at the Microsoft in Education Global Forum, I had the honor of judging “The School Pitch,” which was a challenge that asked principals and headmasters to share their vision for how they would transform their schools with extra funding and support. Modeled after the television show, Shark Tank, six finalists were chosen from dozens of great projects to pitch their ideas and win a portion of the prize pot:  $50,000 allocated across the projects that we thought had the most potential.

    Following the event, each of the finalists had the opportunity to continue raising funds for their projects through YouthSpark on GlobalGiving. I’m excited to share that today is a special Bonus Day for Microsoft YouthSpark on GlobalGiving. Starting right now and for the next 24 hours, Microsoft will match 50 percent for every donation to the donor’s selected YouthSpark on GlobalGiving project from $10 up and to $1,000 per donor.

    And, if you set up a recurring donation – the same amount to the same organization each month for the next three months– Microsoft will match your donations 100 percent, doubling your impact!  If you share our passion for supporting schools, please join us in donating to these worthy projects.

    You can learn more about each school project and donate to your favorite or all four that opted to be a part of the Bonus Day:


  • Seattle Art Museum Launches Microsoft-Powered Website

    By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    The Seattle Art Museum’s first site, an art deco masterpiece perched atop one of the city’s tallest hills, opened for the first time in 1933. It hosted about 300,000 visitors in its first six months. Two more Seattle Art Museum (SAM) sites were welcomed decades later: an expansive 150,000 square foot building downtown that was expanded in 2007 and the sprawling Olympic Sculpture Park on the city’s waterfront.

    The only known photograph from SAM's 1933 opening.

    Over the decades, millions have been enriched by the museum’s offerings. And now, through SAM’s newest site, which launched online yesterday, the public can experience new ways to engage with the museum. Seattleartmuseum.org, funded by a grant from Microsoft, stunningly presents the museum’s collection, exhibitions and programs in a new and exciting way.

    It’s not just a website, but a virtual showcase of the museum’s exhibitions, collections, and programs. SAM has created a visually rich, easy-to-navigate site that we believe will attract more museum visitors, donations and sponsors, and build on the museum’s reputation as one of the country’s great art museums.

    To those who lovingly cultivate the museum’s collections and build SAM’s following, it also represents a milestone in the way the museum presents itself to the public. The previous website was “wall-to-wall words,” according to Kevin Schroer, Creative Director at Seattle Art Museum. Kevin points out that the museum’s website had about 180,000 unique visitors a month but those visitors’ level of engagement was between zero and ten seconds: It is anticipated that website traffic will increase significantly as a result of this investment.

    “We can now beautifully and dynamically showcase SAM’s collections, exhibitions and programming to a global audience. Our hundreds of thousands of virtual visitors can now easily navigate information about visiting our three locations and engage with the museum in many different ways. We are very grateful to our stellar SAM team and Microsoft for the generous grant that made this new site a reality,” said Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO.

    In addition to funding the redesign, we provided Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 technology to serve as the collaboration platform for SAM’s web content management. Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 has made the website’s vast content more visually-engaging and user-friendly, while allowing for additional multimedia integration and flexibility. Now the website allows teachers to book school tours, parents to access information about family and teen programs and everyone to view virtual art collections.

    SeattleArtMuseum.org's new homepage

    Roberto Yglesias, Business Technology Director at Building i, a local technical services company brought in to help create the SharePoint-powered site, emphasizes how visitors can more easily access high resolution images and videos from the virtual collections, museum maps, visitor information and events, and purchase tickets since the site is now optimized for mobile devices.

    “By making the site fully accessible from mobile devices, people walking down the street looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon can pull up the SAM site, become really intrigued by what they see, and decide spur of the moment to visit the museum. These are moments of opportunity to engage the public that SAM just didn’t have before.”

    Key benefits of SAM’s new site include increased efficiency and cost savings. It’s hard to believe from looking at the new site that the museum used “out-of-box” web parts and display templates in SharePoint 2013 - that way, the museum didn’t have to create a lot of custom designs. And now the museum’s IT department is no longer the site gatekeeper.  Changes to the site can be made by more than a dozen contributors as part of SharePoint’s unique administrative controls, which allow the IT administrator to grant specific access to individuals, while also providing a single location to organize content, share ideas and manage a project. It used to take days to update the site. Today it takes minutes.

    “This kind of support – donating cutting-edge software and providing a grant to bring a new web experience to life – makes a real difference to an organization such as the Seattle Art Museum,” said SAM board chair John Frank, vice president for Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs. “I’m proud that Microsoft is so committed to the local community.”

    In Washington State, Microsoft works to strengthen communities and ensure a high quality of life for current and future citizens by making the arts one of our top priority investment areas. We believe that excellent, diverse, and accessible programming in the visual arts are essential for vibrant communities.

    That’s why we’ve been so proud to work with SAM over the years, and why we’re honored, through seattleartmuseum.org, to help bring their collections and programs to more people in the Puget Sound and around the world.

  • Meet 20 Finalists and Vote for Your Favorite Change-Maker!

    By Kari Sherrodd, senior manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    After reviewing impressive entries from more than 50 countries, our judging panel for this year’s Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest has finished the tough task of selecting 20 finalists. Now we’re asking you to make five of these inspiring change-makers our grand prize winners and our newest YouthSpark Ambassadors.

    Starting today through April 22, you can vote once a day for the project that inspires you the most. To help you out, each of the 20 finalists created a video sharing more about themselves and their projects.

    Watch their videos and cast your vote today!

    Meet the Finalists

    Many of the finalists are passionate about increasing access to STEM education and digital literacy skills training, or using technology to enhance curriculum. “I think it’s up to community leaders, like myself, to provide as many resources as possible to help bridge the skills gap, creating a smoother transition into a workforce that’s increasingly reliant on technology,” finalist Aaron Carr shared.

    • Aaron Carr (New York City, New York, United States) aims to partner with homeless shelters to create digital literacy training workshops that will help the homeless acquire the skills they need to enter the workforce and support their families.
    • Arturo Lucatero (Newberg, Oregon, United States) hopes to inspire young Latino students to pursue STEM education by funding and leading an all-Latino FIRST Tech Challenge team to help them get excited about robotics.
    • Dominic Co (Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines) plans to develop an online curriculum to supplement the teaching of literature by famous Filipino authors so the stories come alive and resonate with today’s high school students.
    • Juan Carlos Murillo (San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico) founded Sin Miedo al a Corriente to teach electrical engineering and computer science to underprivileged junior high school students through hands-on activities such as building electric motors and solar cars.

    From left to right: Aaron Carr, Arturo Lucatero, Dominic Co, Juan Carlos Murillo

    • Laura Fulton (Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, United States) created Science for Success to promote STEM education among young girls and encourage them to overcome gender stereotypes and cultural biases that may affect their interest in science.
    • Osazee Paul (Igueben, Edo State, Nigeria) intends to build a technology training center in rural Edo State, Nigeria that would be free of charge for the community.
    • Sathya Narayanan Subramanian (Coimbature, Tamil Nadu, India) plans to launch a portal that provides 10 hours of free digital literacy training covering everything from “What Is a Computer?” to basic tutorials on how to use computers in daily life.

    From left to right: Laura Fulton, Osazee Paul, Sathya Narayanan Subramanian

    Other finalists are determined to combat social injustice and inequality. As finalist Chelsea Montes de Oca explained, “No child deserves to have their future determined by their zip code. Every child deserves the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

    • Chelsea Montes de Oca (Denver, Colorado, United States) plans to create a program that empowers children in low-income areas to become community-minded advocates by writing for their school newspapers.
    • Jeremy Goss (St. Louis, Missouri, United States) will launch a nonprofit mobile farmer’s market using a reclaimed city transit bus to bring fresh, healthy, locally-sourced produce, meat, poultry, and dairy to food desert communities in the greater St. Louis area.
    • Sara Stifler (Forest Hill, Maryland, United States) and her friend Connie developed Journey In Their Shoes to combat hate, judgment and apathy among humanity by recording and publishing the stories and photographs of strangers, demonstrating a way to connect through differences.

    From left to right: Chelsea Montes de Oca, Jeremy Goss, Sara Stifler

    Several projects aim to provide therapy through music, poetry and play. “I have found my place in the world helping others,” shared finalist Brandon MacDougall. “Creative expression saved me, and it will save others.”

    • Brandon MacDougall (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada) plans to create weekly workshops around spoken word poetry, rap and public speaking to empower youth struggling with mental illness and combat the stigma surrounding mental health.
    • Cynthia Poon (Providence, Rhode Island, United States) developed Increment Studios to create toys that can be used by all children, but especially those with special needs and disabilities.
    • Daniela Orozco Vizcaino (Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico) founded Interludio to provide the healing power of music therapy to hospital patients.

    From left to right: Brandon MacDougall, Cynthia Poon, Daniela Orozco Vizcaino

    Three of our finalists are focused on youth empowerment and mentorship. “We want to inspire and motivate young adults to explore new things, to discover unknown possibilities, and ultimately live a more productive and fulfilled life,” explained finalist Brandon Polack.

    • Brandon Polack (Norcross, Georgia, United States) created Off THA Couch to inspire and motivate young adults to create lives full of purpose and meaning, and to engage with each other to create change in the world.
    • Tayler Ulmer (Chicago, Illinois, United States) founded My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), a mentorship program to broaden the horizons of young males and help maximize their potential by pairing them with college students to emphasize the importance of secondary education.
    • Yuhao (Danny) Huang (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) plans to grow his online platform, National Student Network, which centralizes thousands of education, internship and volunteer opportunities for youth in Canada, and the related National Young Leaders program that provides peer-to-peer mentorship.

    From left to right: Brandon Polack, Tayler Ulmer, Yuhao (Danny) Huang

    And these finalists created projects designed to address global health issues and disaster response. “I believe that health is a human right,” explained finalist Ali Greatsinger. “I want to help these communities harness their own potential to create healthy environments.”

    • Ali Greatsinger (Chicago, Illinois, United States) hopes to combat health inequality in Peru by piloting a breakfast program designed to increase adherence to tuberculosis treatment, which is often compromised by malnutrition.
    • Kumar Vivek (Davangere, Karnataka, India) is developing a Windows Phone app to help rice farmers diagnose paddy plant leaf disease, often caused by nitrogen deficiency. After uploading a photo of the crop, farmers will receive fertilization suggestions to combat the disease.
    • Mohamed Iqbal Isham Mohamed (Eastern Province, Sri Lanka) created a platform that collects data on Dengue fever and provides risk alerts via a mobile app to the community, doctors and medical workers to prevent the deadly disease from spreading.
    • Ryan Justin Reyes (Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines) developed SankalusuganQRX, a platform that aids with the search for loved ones after devastating natural disasters through a novel use of personal QR codes.

    From left to right: Ali Greatsinger, Kumar Vivek, Mohamed Iqbal Isham Mohamed, Ryan Justin Reyes

    We’ll announce the winners on May 1, so check back then to see if your favorite project won! Remember to vote once a day between now and April 22 and spread the word about #youthspark.

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