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Make a Difference Spotlight: Mixing Talent with Opportunity

Do you remember your high school chemistry teacher?

If you were lucky, you had a teacher like Sandee Kastrul — someone talented enough to make chemistry relevant, accessible and fun. Back in the 1990s, deep in some of Chicago’s poorest and most crime-ridden West Side neighborhoods, Sandee had a gift for engaging her students and bringing concepts like the three states of matter – gases, liquids and solids – to life. Girls found it easy to imagine themselves as flowing liquids, musicians and other artists self-identified as amorphous gases, and even jocks recognized their affinity to stolid solids.

The great thing about Sandee is that she didn’t confine her magic to the classroom. Over the years, she stayed in touch with her students and took an interest in their lives. And when she saw one sharp student after another graduate from high school, excel in college but then settle into low-paying, pink-collar jobs, she refused to accept the status quo; she acted.

In 1999, Sandee co-founded i.c. stars. This is an organization that puts Chicago young adults on a path to soar — as entrepreneurs, as business and IT professionals, and as community leaders. Through project-based learning, full-immersion teaching and strong partnerships with leading corporations, technology services providers, grant makers and individual volunteers, Sandee and her team connect talent with opportunity. During and after the program, i.c. stars interns and alumni benefit from mentorship, critical contacts and relationship building, and merit-based employment.

I find it pretty impressive that i.c. stars has transformed 200 high-potential urban young adults into some of the best technology professionals and community leaders around. But Sandee will tell you they’re just getting started.

In fact, the i.c. stars vision is to create 1,000 such “inner city computer stars” by 2020 – and not just in Chicago.  This is a model that could work just as well in Rockford, Aurora or Atlanta, but it will require people like you and me to contribute time, talent and/or treasure to the cause.

Case in point: If you’re in the Chicago area, consider purchasing a ticket or sponsorship to attend i.c. stars’ Techbash 2011. You’ll have an opportunity to personally meet many of the program’s alumni and network with 40 company CIOs, who will be serving drinks as celebrity bartenders at the event.

Next up: i.c. stars community and alumni success stories

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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