Microsoft Citizenship Blog

  • Seattle girls learn the "undercover greatness" of computer science

    By Yvonne Thomas, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Citizenship & Public Affairs

    Since the age of five, Hana Yohannes knew she wanted to create apps and work with technology for a living. “I saw so much power in computers in terms of what they can do for us,” she says.

    The 16 year-old Seattle high school student is one of 20 girls who spent their summer on Microsoft’s campus participating in Girls Who Code, a program we support as a part of Microsoft YouthSpark.

    Girls Who Code is an intensive seven-week immersion that offers hands on, project-based computer science education while providing a glimpse into life at some of the most vibrant technology companies. Participants learn several coding languages, mobile app development, how to program robots, and web design. Students are paired with female mentors, take field trips to meet other professionals, and learn how computer science is applied to the world on a day-to-day basis.

    Price Jimerson, another Girls Who Code participant, first became hooked on computer science through another YouthSpark program: Technology Education And Literacy in Schools (TEALS). TEALS pairs engineers from companies such as Microsoft with classroom teachers to teach computer science daily in 70 schools in 12 states. Price was excited when she learned that she would work with a Windows Phone every day through TEALS. “Then I realized it was hard work,” she acknowledges. But soon she was creating apps and even posting them in the Windows Phone Store.

    “Computer science is the greatest opportunity there is,” Price explains. “But it’s an undercover greatness because most kids don’t know about it.”

    That’s exactly what we’re addressing through Microsoft YouthSpark: helping more young people imagine the possibilities they unlock for themselves, their families, their communities and the world by learning how to use, create and apply technology.

    One of the ways that Girls Who Code teaches how computer science is applied at companies such as Microsoft is by giving participants the opportunity to “work backwards,” by visualizing how a certain person’s needs can be addressed with technology. Price’s team dreamed up an imaginary 70 year-old retiree named Edith Johnson, who requires a wheelchair and has impaired vision. But Edith, according to Price, still wants to go to the Seattle Art Museum. Their solution was to create an app that uses geolocation to provide large-text descriptions of exhibits nearby, making Edith’s overall visit more convenient and enjoyable.

    Girls Who Code participants at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington were also able to design elements of physical computing. They worked with Arduino, an open-source electronics platform to build apps that interact with sensors and microphones. Hana and her team created a circuit board that turns a music app on and off with the clap of a hand.

    Girls Who Code and programs like it tackle one of the tough challenges that we’re working to address through YouthSpark – that too few young people have access to computer science education. Too few receive hands-on experience with the kinds of hardware and software that Girls Who Code provides.

    “Being in the computer science field had always been something that I thought about but never really had the tools or resources to delve deeply into,” observes Bemnet Assefa, a junior at the Evergreen High School Campus in Seattle’s Highline School District. “The Girls Who Code Summer Immersion program provided me with the opportunity. That’s why I’ve dedicated my summer to it, and I don’t regret it one bit.”

    Bemnet also enjoyed spending time on Microsoft’s campus. “The environment is very laid back and there are a lot of resources that are available,” she says.

    As they wrapped up their summer at Microsoft, Hana, Price and Bemnet reflected on how to reach other girls, and young people in general, about the near-infinite possibilities technology education presents. They agreed that common perceptions need to be confronted. “People think technology companies are full of geeks who wear thick glasses and don’t go outside,” Price observed, in a building situated a block away from one of Microsoft’s soccer fields. “Really it’s an awesome culture of people who do coding for the greater good.”

    If you are inspired by these terrific young women, and want to learn about what a career in technology might hold for you, we invite you to visit our YouthSpark Hub, a place to explore free resources, such as coding lessons, and programs to help you imagine and create a better future. By accessing these and other opportunities, you, too, can be a girl (or a boy) who codes.

  • Harnessing the Power of Technology to Fight Human Trafficking

    Guest Post by Professor Mary Leary, Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America

    Human trafficking is a social problem as complex as it is horrific.  Often referred to as “modern day slavery,” the effect of this victimization is enormous.  It encompasses a crime that is both domestic and global, affects both men and women, injures both adults and children, and occurs concomitantly in both public and hidden spaces.

    Similar to its efforts to combat online child exploitation, which led to its successful collaboration with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the creation of Photo DNA, Microsoft has begun partnering with leaders in the field  to combat child sex trafficking.  While a body of research is beginning to emerge regarding this horrible phenomenon, much remains to be learned.  Notwithstanding that reality, there are at least two points regarding child sex trafficking on which all would agree.  First, technology is playing an increasingly significant role in the commission of child sex trafficking – and technology also offers new ways to help fight these crimes.  Second, the solution to combatting this complex crime is multi-disciplinary and will demand leaders of all sectors of society to join together to counter this assault on our children at every front.

    On July 24, Microsoft took an important step in its initiative to combat human trafficking by convening a “generator” discussion in Washington, D.C.  Generators are facilitated sessions designed to find opportunities for technology interventions within specific issue areas.  Consistent with its continuing work with the White House Office of Science and  Technology, Microsoft convened this generator as a forum for many of the nation’s leaders in the fight against child sex trafficking to join together and discuss ways in which technology is used and can be harnessed to disrupt child sex trafficking. 

    The facilitated discussion, organized by Dan Bross, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, and Courtney Gregoire, Senior Attorney in the Digital Crimes Unit, brought together representatives from law enforcement, non-governmental organizations, academia, federal authorities, and private industry to brainstorm about possible areas of focus for Microsoft as it moves forward in its commitment.  I had the opportunity to participate in this important meeting.  As one of six recipients of funding from Microsoft to conduct research regarding this issue, it was truly an honor to be able to share the results of my work with such a group of diverse leaders in the field.  I presented the participants my findings regarding the role of technology in child sex trafficking cases, which were recently published in the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy.

    The bulk of the day was spent garnering information from these diverse actors regarding the manifestations and characteristics of child sex trafficking and the need for these groups to work together to combat it.  The participants, encouraged to think “outside the box,” generated several areas of potential focus. Although these organizations may take different positions on some issues, they found much common ground in their analysis and creative ideas for solutions. These are now being processed by Microsoft to determine next steps in contributing to a comprehensive response. 

    Technology has, unfortunately, played a dual role in child exploitation.  Yet it can – and must - also play a role in disrupting this crime.  All who participated in the discussion in Washington are committed to that disruption and hopefully moved us closer to its realization.

  • Microsoft Celebrates Student Innovators at Imagine Cup World Finals

    By Jane Meseck, Director, Corporate Citizenship

    Last week marked the 2014 Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finals, where more than 125 students, representing 34 countries around the world, traveled to Seattle for a week of inspiring presentations, intense hands-on judging and student project showcases – all to compete for the grand prize: $50,000 and a private meeting with Bill Gates.

    Throughout the week, student teams competed in the Games, Innovation and World Citizenship categories to showcase their products and innovations to panels of judges. Student projects addressed a number of issues, including accessibility, social media, physical therapy “gamification” and much more.

    More than 80 percent of World Citizenship teams created innovative ways to use technology in the medical field. This year’s grand prize winner, the Eyenaemia team from Australia, created an app that digitally screens for anemia by taking a simple selfie on your smart phone. Below is an overview of all the winners in each category:

    Games Category:

    • First Place, $50,000 prize and PAX Boot Camp: Team Brainy Studio (Russia) Project: TurnOn
    • Second Place, $10,000 prize: Team Bomon (Korea) Project: Under Bed
    • Third Place, $5,000 prize: Team Illogic (Egypt) Project: Puppy in Bubble

    Innovation Category:

    • First Place, $50,000 prize and Microsoft Ventures Boot Camp: Team Estimeet (New Zealand) Project: Estimeet
    • Second Place, $10,000 prize: Team Tep (Hungary) Project: Tep
    • Third Place, $5,000 prize: Team Butterfly (Bahrain) Project: Nail Polish Mixer

    World Citizenship Category:

    • First Place, $50,000 prize and Microsoft YouthSpark Boot Camp: Team Eyenaemia (Australia) Project: Eyenaemia
    • Second Place, $10,000 prize: Team SMART crew (Taiwan) Project: Versatility of Usens: From Lab to Life
    • Third Place, $5,000 prize: Team Access Earth (Ireland) Project: Access Earth

    Imagine Cup Day at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) brought the event to an exciting conclusion. Sponsored by Avanade, the day featured performances by D20 Brass Band and the School of Rock, among others. Imagine Cup competitors demonstrated their projects and the public had the opportunity to vote for their favorite Imagine Cup project. Team Chemicalium from Bosnia, took home the “Avanade People's Choice Award,” along with a check for $2,000. The event also featured a surprise, when Robert Feldstein, Director, Office of Policy and Innovation at the Seattle Mayor's Office, joined Lori Forte Harnick, General Manager, Microsoft Citizenship and Public Affairs, on stage to proclaim August 2nd as Imagine Cup Day in Seattle.

    Microsoft Imagine Cup is Microsoft’s premier student technology program and competition, and a cornerstone of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative. It provides an opportunity for student technologists, developers and aspiring entrepreneurs from all academic backgrounds to collaborate, develop a technology application, create a business plan and gain a keen understanding of what is needed to bring a concept to market.

    For more details on last week’s event and announcements, please visit the Imagine Cup Virtual Press Room.

  • Empowerment Through Technology: A Journey

    By Lori Forte Harnick, general manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs

     Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center) and Lori Forte Harnick, General Manager of Microsoft Citizenship & Public Affairs (fourth from left), on stage during the commitment announcement

    At the age of 18, Thuy Pham found herself moving from low-end job to low-end job, living on her own and struggling to make ends meet while taking a few college courses to try to get ahead. This tale is all too familiar, unfortunately, and like many other young people facing similar challenges, Thuy had to drop her classes to focus simply on day-to-day survival.

    But, here’s where Thuy’s story takes a new turn…riding the bus home from work one evening, exhausted and discouraged about the life she had hoped to build for herself, Thuy spotted an ad for Year Up – a nonprofit that offers IT skills training and internships for youth at risk of falling through the cracks and into a downward spiral of poverty and hopelessness. In this ad, Thuy spotted an opportunity to take a new path on her journey, one that would help her not only to survive, but possibly…just possibly...to thrive.

     Year Up student Thuy Pham is currently interning at Microsoft to build her IT and technical skills

    Today, Thuy is completing her “Year Up” – a 12-month course of study that includes an internship in Microsoft’s IT department, ready to take her new skills and job experience out into the thriving IT job marketplace, where chances are pretty good that she’ll be greeted eagerly by the growing number of companies seeking employees with IT skills.

    Thuy’s journey is one of millions that Microsoft is proud to support through our global YouthSpark initiative, which matches young people around the world with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship.

    Today, at the Clinton Global Initiative America event in Denver, Colorado, I had the honor of presenting a commitment to increase Microsoft’s actions to empower American youth to capture their opportunities for employment in the IT sector. Not only are we increasing our internship program with Year Up, we are also expanding our Job Shadow partnership program with Junior Achievement and expanding the availability of YouthSpark Summer Camps at Microsoft retail stores across the U.S.

     A Junior Achievement job shadow event at the University Village Microsoft Store in Seattle

     Together, these three programs provide a continuum of educational opportunities for youth throughout their development – from ages 8 through 18 and beyond -- so that they can imagine and experience the opportunities that await them in the IT field, and so that they can write their own stories about their journeys of empowerment…of survival…and of success.

    To learn more about resources and opportunities for youth, please visit the Microsoft YouthSpark Hub...and tell us your story, too.

    You can follow Clinton Global America at this Livestream link.

  • The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship: making a difference for young people and our economy

    By Jane Broom, Director of Community Affairs, Microsoft

    Today was a great day, as nearly 800 Washington state students learned that not only have they received the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) for the upcoming academic year, but the award has increased to a total possible award of $22,500 per student over five years (up from $17,000 in previous years).

    This program provides a financial incentive for middle-and low-income students who have earned Washington state high school diplomas or GEDS to pursue science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and health care degrees at state universities and colleges.

    In 2011, Microsoft and Boeing each committed $25 million to WSOS. And this year, thanks to a $25 million investment in our young people by the Washington State Legislature, the state’s contribution has grown to a total of $30 million. It adds up to a total of $80 million in funding to make it easier for young people to pursue their dreams -- students like high school senior Maria Ines Maravilla.

    “Euphoria was my first reaction when I learned that I received the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship,” explains Maria. “This scholarship means a lot to me, not just financially, but also personally because this is my chance to start my first year of college on the right foot, with dreams and a smile on my face to know that I have taken a step closer to fulfilling my goals.”

     Maria Ines Maravilla

    The young woman from Yakima, the first in her family to go to college, hopes to study bio-engineering, become a scientist and work on life-saving vaccines. “I want to work in my own laboratory, surrounded by microscopes, pipettes, test tubes, gowns, gloves and of course, microorganisms. I want to be a scientist and working toward cures that save lives.”

    Another student who has benefitted from the WSOS program is Tae Denwongkun. Tae, who comes from a family in which neither parents were able to attend college, graduated from Shorecrest High School. A University of Washington senior, Tae is about to complete his degree in information technology with a concentration in human-computer interactions. He hopes to land a job as a technical project manager or an information architect. “This scholarship means a lot to me,” he says. “I was glad that I didn't have to find part-time jobs urgently. Instead, I was able to focus on my school work and look for a job related to my studies. It was the most joyful moment during the summer of my junior year when I learned that I had received a scholarship.”

    Tae Denwongkun

    Then there’s University of Washington senior Janelle Van Hofwegen. Even though her tuition was covered by the Husky Promise program, she still had to hold down a job in order to pay for her living expenses, including her dorm room. During her first years of college, she worked at sub sandwich shop, berry processing plants and later as a teaching assistant. Janelle took her first computer science class as a sophomore and was hooked right away, declaring a double major of computer science and human-centered design and engineering. “Computer science is a good blend of being challenging and creative at the same time,” she says. “One of the reasons it’s creative is that you learn that there is more than one way to solve a problem.”

    Working up to 20 hours a week while attempting a degree as challenging as computer science is tough. However, when she was awarded the WSOS scholarship, Janelle says, “I was able to focus on school and less on getting so many hours, which was a huge relief.” Janelle graduates this month and has landed a job as a software developer at the video-streaming company Hulu.com.

     Janelle Van Hofwegen

    Janelle is a great example – and one of many – of young people who are getting jobs in high-demand fields. Our support for WSOS is an extension of our global effort to connect young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship through our YouthSpark initiative. This is especially important as we work to fill 25,000 STEM job openings in our state -- a number that is expected to double in the next five years. Closing the gap between job openings and qualified candidates would generate, according to a Boston Consulting Group/Washington Roundtable study, a total of $720 million in annual state tax revenues and $80 million in local tax revenues by 2017.

    We encourage businesses of all sizes help make a difference in the lives of young people – and to help close that job skills gap – by contributing to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship at www.waopportunityscholarship.org.

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