Microsoft Citizenship Blog

  • 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

     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

  • Youth Opportunity Top of Mind at Social Innovation Summit

    By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    “We’ll laugh, some of us may cry, we’ll be inspired and we’ll even dance.” These are the words that I used to kick off the “Opportunity: Youth” session at this year’s Social Innovation Summit. These are the same words that came to pass throughout our time at the Summit and specifically as my colleague, Yvonne Thomas, and I heard from young people who have discovered and created opportunities to better themselves and our world.

    We were honored to have two incredible young women who have successfully completed programs supported by Microsoft YouthSpark join us for a fireside chat during our session hosted at the United Nations. They shared how their lives have changed from the support of Microsoft YouthSpark partners, Year Up and Girls Who Code. Franklyna “Franky” Gabriel shared her challenges as a young woman in Computer Science and how Year Up gave her opportunities that helped her land a job at Facebook where she has been working for more than a year. Kafilah Muhammad shared her excitement for learning and applying Computer Science through her participation in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program.  In only eight weeks and as a high school student who had never taken a computer science course in her life Muhammad built a fully functional website.

     Yvonne Thomas, Franklyna "Franky" Gabriel, Kafilah Muhammad

    Founder and Emmy-award winning filmmaker at Stillmotion Inc., Patrick Moreau, shared how he brings the stories of young people making change in the world front and center. As a storyteller he shared what makes a great story including the four pillars leading with People, then Place, Plot and Purpose. This is exactly what he did when sharing the story of Vivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer of Make A Stand, in his company’s first feature-length, independent documentary #standwithme.  At nine years old, Vivienne discovered that millions of women and young girls just like her around the world are enslaved. Wanting to create more awareness of the issue and to help move forward her vision of a world where all 18 million enslaved children are free and safe she created a lemonade business.  Vivienne sold lemonade every day for 365 days to both raise money and awareness for her cause.

    Vivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer, Make a StandVivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer, Make a Stand

    Vivienne, her younger brother and her parents joined us at the Summit where she told all of us that "You don't have to be big or powerful to change the world. You can be just like me." She also announced that her next "project" is a new mobile crowdfunding technology that will allow anyone to make a stand—wherever they stand.

    Nely Galan, founder of The Adelante Movement, joined us to share how women and specifically young Latina women, as an emerging economic market in this country, are being inspired to take themselves to a higher place for the sake of their children. She urged young women to become entrepreneurial, raise more money, and know that their voices in their communities must be heard. She urged women to buy more buildings – not shoes!

    Nancy Lublin, CEO and chief old person of, and Jen Chiou, executive director of the Crisis Text Line, joined us and shared how their work is saving lives and giving young people a way to communicate in a time of crisis – and in a way that is familiar to them. Michael Smith, director of the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service, then joined us and gave examples of how each of us can turn social innovation into social impact. Marshall Davis Jones, internationally acclaimed World Bridger, brought many of our words together with the intersection of his spoken-word art in an inspiring performance. He artfully shared the experiences of young people from all walks of life – from their challenges, overcoming their challenges and bringing hope into their lives.

    While at the Summit, we also shared examples of how technology can be used as a tool for good. Wendy Norman from Skype for Good, a Microsoft YouthSpark program; Dyane Smokorowski, a teacher from Kansas; and Mike Soskil, a teacher from Pennsylvania, shared how Skype is connecting classrooms, teachers and students around the world to provide real-world learning opportunities. Smokorowski shared how she and a teacher in Africa are connecting their classrooms to learn more about each other’s cultures. Soskil shared how his students and those they are connecting with are getting see parts of the world they may never have the opportunity to travel to or experience.

    I was also happy to announce at the Summit that the next version of our HelpBridge app was released and I urged everyone to download the app to have a way to communicate with their loved ones in the unfortunate need to connect during times of disaster.

    As you can gather, we are grateful to participate in and sponsor the Social Innovation Summit and each year we leave more inspired, more hopeful for the future and even more motivated to deepen the impact of the work that we do every day. With this in mind, it was fitting that our session ended with impromptu dancing from the Harlem Shake. And just when I didn’t think that was possible to top off, I had the opportunity on behalf of Microsoft and alongside other Social Innovation Summit leaders to end our time in New York by ringing the closing bell on Wall Street!

     Akhtar Badshah celebrating with the Harlem Shake Dancers



  • An Extraordinary Lesson and Skype

    By Karen Bergin, Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Those unique and wonderful moments when different groups of people, from different parts of the world, come together to speak with one another are perhaps some of the most magical Skype opportunities imaginable. Recently, a high school English class from Lake Stevens, Washington was selected to participate in a Skype in the Classroom event. This class of sophomores and juniors was united with Blake Mycoskie – the founder of TOMS – for an inspiring conversation on entrepreneurship, motivation, college life, and social-good businesses like his. You can watch their conversation unfold and read all about it via Cierra, one of the students who was “face to face” with Mycoskie.

  • HelpBridge App Can Help Those in Need During Natural Disasters

    By James Rooney, senior program manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs
    When disaster strikes do you and your family have a plan? This week marks National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and while every storm season comes with uncertainty, there are ways to prepare and stay safe using the latest technology.
    Microsoft offers several resources and tips to keep you safe, and out of harm’s way, during natural disasters.
    1. Stay Connected

    ·         Use technology to your advantage: During times of disaster, social media and texting are quick and effective ways to communicate with friends and family.  Last year, Microsoft launched HelpBridge, an app designed to help people connect with one another, and with volunteer and donation opportunities, during any type of disaster.  HelpBridge is a free cross-platform mobile application (Windows Phone, Android, iOS) that provides you with the ability to send status updates to pre-selected contact groups via email, SMS, Twitter and Facebook.  Through your phone’s GPS capabilities you can also choose whether to share your location in your alerts. Today, Microsoft released an update to the app including a new easy to navigate User Interface and push notifications. In times of disaster, Skype can also help you stay connected via the internet or a mobile device when phone services are down.

    2. Plan Ahead

    ·         Develop a family emergency plan:  One of the best ways you can weather the storm is to prepare for it. Microsoft Excel offers several free templates, including emergency contact lists and family emergency plans. Remember to plan for senior citizens and pets in your household, and communicate this plan to family and friends so they are aware. Your plan can be accessed during a disaster by saving it to a cloud service, like OneDrive, so you can access your documents on any computer or smartphone – even when Internet access is not available. 


    The United States Department of Homeland Security also offers several resources and games to make disaster preparedness planning easy for the whole family, including Facebook application, bReddi, which helps you and your family prepare for emergencies. The American Red Cross and FEMA provide extensive preparation guidance and status information for various types of natural disasters, including hurricanes.

     3.    Use Your Resources and Take Action

    ·         Monitor your health information: Quick and reliable access to your health and medical information is important to ensure the appropriate medical aid during a natural disaster. HealthVault helps you gather, store, use, and share important health information for you and your family by creating an emergency profile. Here you can manage and track your family’s medical contacts, allergies, medication, immunizations, and health conditions.  Your medical providers can securely log in and see a full picture of your history and medical needs.

      Download the HelpBridge app here and visit Microsoft Disaster Response site to learn more about the Microsoft Disaster Response program.  

  • City Year is "Fired Up" at 25!

    By Andrea L. Taylor, Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, North America, Microsoft

    “Every 26 seconds a student gives up on school in America,” according to City Year. Compelling evidence indicates that turning around just one low performing high school in a community has the potential to yield a $23 million benefit to society annually.

    Last Thursday in Boston, City Year’s founding community, the 2014 In School & On Track National Leadership Summit was convened to review current work to address this challenge in 25 U.S. cities and international affiliates in the United Kingdom and South Africa.  This annual event generated a series of provocative, targeted conversations about the current impact of City Year in 242 partner schools with more than 2,700 City Year Corps members serving schools that enroll more than 150,000 students. Microsoft YouthSpark is a proud sponsor of the City Year national program with an emphasis on math skills training and targeted employee engagement in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago and Seattle.

    City Year’s ongoing Long Term Impact goal to dramatically increase the number of students on track to graduation remains the highest priority. Blueprints for Local Impact were introduced as the next stage of the strategy involving work with School District leaders and other stakeholders to develop highly localized multi-year plans.  In addition, the Blueprints for Local Impact will allow City Year to follow cohorts of students from elementary through high school to help ensure that the most at-risk students achieve success in school and beyond.

    An ambitious 25th Anniversary Campaign was announced with a goal of raising $150 million to support strengthening national capacity to deepen impact and to increase local City Year programs nationwide. CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown proudly announced that $118.9 million has already been pledged to date to provide the resources for scaling to new cities and sustaining these programs to address the nation’s high school graduation challenge.  Further details about City Year’s National Plan are expected in August to reach projections that would allow City Year to grow to 12,000 corps members in 1,100 schools, serving 800,000 students annually by 2020.

    The 25th Anniversary Gala held at the Boston Pops in Symphony Hall was an inspirational celebration and capstone marking City Year’s quarter century of service.  Corps members in their trademark red jackets and chants about being “Fired Up” contributed to a wonderfully supercharged environment! 

    President Bill Clinton was honored with the 25th Anniversary Legacy Award for his ongoing support of City Year and as the founder of Americorps, the innovative national service program that has provided one billion hours of results-driven service by more than 830,000 men and women since its founding 20 years ago.  Also participating in the festivities was Wendy Spencer, CEO, the Corporation for National and Community Service that manages Americorps and includes service programs such as City Year and Teach for America. Clinton’s belief in the power of diverse, idealistic young people to change the world was amplified in his remarks and shared with the enthusiastic audience of donors, staff, alums and friends.

    Harper Hill, City Year Los Angeles Board member, author and actor added to the evening program, along with performing artist Judith Hill.  The Boston Pops Orchestra, wearing the cherished City Year red jackets and led by Keith Lockhart, presented an eclectic program from Beethoven to the Beatles. City Year’s focus on attendance, behavior and course performance appears to have a bright future ahead with a spectacular kickoff as they move toward a half century of unique service to help students and schools succeed.

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