By Amanda Ponzar @LivingUnited (Check out the end of this post for FREE Microsoft tools.)
Let’s be clear, I’m a BIG fan of Microsoft. Why? Their corporate citizenship team (whom I’ve worked with for five years) is great. These talented tech experts are committed to changing the world by leveraging Microsoft’s significant resources. I recently attended two Microsoft store grand openings plus their innovative Imagine Cup where students dream up crazy apps or solve major medical mysteries using Microsoft technology. On February 13, I attended Microsoft’s YouthSpark event, their newest powerhouse initiative designed to “close the youth achievement gap in education, employment, and entrepreneurship” (Twitter: @msftcitizenship & @MicrosoftIPC, #YouthSpark).
Microsoft convened nearly 100 Washington, DC government officials, nonprofits, students and more to focus on empowering youth through education and technology. Here’s what you should know and why you should care:
Fred Humphries, VP Microsoft US Government Affairs, talked about the opportunity divide. There’s an obvious skills mismatch -- kids don’t have the skills needed for current jobs and can’t compete in today’s global economy. Microsoft announced a commitment to reach 300 million youth worldwide to provide opportunities and technology.
Victor Hoskins, Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development in DC talked about making DC the largest tech center on the Eastern Seaboard. He mentioned DC is the only city with universal pre-K (Obama’s encouraging it for the country now) and that we have more jobs than people to fill them. He talked about the privilege of wearing a tie: “These guys don't realize what a privilege it is to wear a tie; that means you probably have car keys and a briefcase"
Martha Ross from Brookings Institution shared compelling stats with the core message that “the more you learn, the more you earn". Nationally, a Master's degree provides an 87% earnings premium; PhD provides 117% earnings premium. It’s not just about advanced degrees; it’s about credentials and certifications that provide job training. One-third of DC area jobs are STEM-focused fields (science, technology, engineering, math). DC has 54,000 young people (16-25 years old) who aren’t working or in school. When it comes to degrees, who has a BA? 63% of Asians, 59% of Whites, 31% of Blacks, 23% Latinos. This correlates with poverty levels – education is critical to breaking inter-generational poverty. Ross also discussed the gender gap – women are half of the US workforce but only 38% are in math & science areas. Brookings Institution also said 44% of DC adults have BA (#1 in country) vs. 29% in US.
Andrea Taylor, Microsoft’s Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said we have 1.4 billion youth on earth, and 75M youth ages 15-24 are unemployed; one in four are considered "working poor". Our
goal should be “helping people and communities realize their full potential.” “If you talk to families anywhere,” said Taylor, “they all want a better life for their children.” Microsoft’s committed to help all students, especially young women, with innovative tools, free software, training, education partnerships,
tech volunteerism and more. “We need to see young people as assets, not liabilities.”
Jim Dinegar, President and CEO of Greater Washington Board of Trade, bragged about DC as the strongest region in the country (good news: we have more Starbucks than anywhere else!) and talked about the need for transportation and education. Jim praised schools for evolving with the times, such as focusing on Chinese language training versus cursive writing to give students a competitive advantage.
Michelle Didero, Corps Member of City Year, serves on the Microsoft Team at Cardozo High School and talked about mentoring students, focusing on those who are off-track in attendance, behavior and course performance. It’s about relationships and getting to know kids so they feel like someone cares.
Emily Durso, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, talked about working together with DC public and charter schools and others to create a plan to prepare students for where jobs will be in the next 10-15 years. They’ve already started working in 12 schools with Microsoft. Early career awareness is essential so Middle School students understand the real-world application of learning. Schools will start providing industry certifications too. Plus, literacy isn’t just about reading, it’s digital literacy.
Irasema Salcido, CEO of Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools & Founder of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, talked about poverty rates of 40% in her Kenilworth Ward 7 in DC and her efforts to focus on cradle to college/career. It’s not enough to teach kids; we need to teach parents too – two-generation model. Salcido’s family came to the US as Mexican immigrant farm workers without knowing English; she has since gotten an MA from Harvard and moved mountains to help students in some of the toughest areas in the US.
Andrew Ko, General Manager, U.S. Partners in Learning, Education, talked about Microsoft’s DreamSpark site with free software and tools for students and teachers, plus the ability to get global industry certification in software the world uses. Ko mentioned US college students represent only 4% of engineering grads; China represents 30-40%.
What does it all mean? It means everyone – companies, schools, nonprofits, government and more – realize we can’t prepare tomorrow’s students unless we work together. Thankfully, Microsoft’s stepped up to the challenge, putting their significant mind and muscle toward a solution.
Check out YouthSpark Hub with tools for all ages
Check out more YouthSpark event photos
My past blogs on Microsoft:
-- Donna Woodall, Microsoft Corporate Citizenship Director & Amanda Ponzar
-- Students using the interactive wall computer
-- Victor Hoskins
-- Jim Dinegar
-- Donna Woodall, charter school student, Irasema Salcido
-- Panel & key Microsoft citizenship team members