I.C. Stars: technology education for everyone

Technology and education go hand by hand. Technology is everywhere right now with all kinds of applications for companies, countries and people in general. You name it, and technology will be involved one way or another. Education is also everywhere. Almost everybody can be a teacher and has the potential of being good at passing information to other people.


Image courtesy of Bryan Alexander at Flickr.com

But sometimes, technology and education do not reach everybody. For example, you can see people that already have an IPhone but do not understand what it takes to make that same phone, where it is made and the technology it carries.  

On the other hand, education is not always available for some communities, especially low-income communities. So, does that mean that people that do not have access to education or technology cannot have access to better opportunities? Of course, the answer is no, even though reality shows us a different thing.

Well, the people at I.C. Stars took full charge against this issue and wanted to harvest the potential knowledge and commitment to technology that could be found in young adults within low-income communities.

This is their story and how they are helping adults and young adults with employment opportunities through educational programs that take them further into the technology field.

It was the year 1998 and Sandee Kastrul and Leslie Beller had a very important encounter that would take them to create a non-profit to help young adults in low-income communities.  Sandee saw one of her students, which she had taught years before, working in a regular job with a very bad paycheck, minimum wage and not so many benefits to continuing progressing in life. With this experience, she sat down to think about what could be done to change this situation for underprivileged workers and how could they actually reach their fullest potential in life and work or continue the path that most suited them. Here, she understood that the problem was that highly talented students, adults, and young adults lacked career opportunities due to their socioeconomic situation.

So, Sandee and Leslie also knew that the field of technology had a lot of job openings due to the boom of web pages and companies that based their operations on the web or on technology products.  Sandee also discovered, while she was teaching children from low-income communities, that children who did not have the opportunities to progress in life, were the ones that developed critical thinking skills even further because they had had to overcome many adversities early in life. She knew that these children in these communities were better problem solvers than most of the children, and the IT world was looking for these skills in young adults.

So the adventure started and they spent 18 months researching technology training programs, traveling across the United States and making contacts with as many people possible to reach out to the industry to make their plan work. Sandee developed a project-based learning model so they could have a base program to teach the children and Leslie looked for the financial support needed to get the program running.

Two years had passed and with the help of McGrath and Nathan Paige, both founding I.C.Stars board members and Dave Ormesher, CEO of Closerlook who gave an office space to i.c.stars for 7 years from 2000 to 2007 which had everything an office needs, I.C. Stars officially launched their program in the year 2000.


Image courtesy of energepic energepic at Pexels.com

The starting program was a 12-week program that had topics such as business leadership and career readiness skills and job shadowing opportunities. Financing continued and there was a partnership with the Society for Information Management (SIM) thanks to the work of volunteers such as Tony McDonald, Ergin Uskup and Marge Hayes, that saved the non-profit´s life when the 2001 dotcom crash happened. Leslie also achieved the help of the Quill company, where Steve and the Harvey L. Miller Family Foundation started to fund i.c.stars with yearly grants that continue up to this date.

In the year 2001, I.C. Stars found out that their former students had more necessities after they finished the program. With this in mind, the mission and vision were changed in order to address those students that wanted ongoing support and career opportunities. The selection process was also revised because they wanted to identify the students that had the potential of becoming community leaders.

After all this, i.c.stars became famous in the Chicago IT marketplace and found the support of two companies that wanted to give their programs hands-on experience in an IT environment: United Stationers and AT&T. United Stationers wanted to offer the students the real experience and AT&T wanted I.C. Starts to help them reach out to Chicago Public Schools.

And this is how. I.C. Starts was born to combine technology, education and amazing people that lacked opportunities in life to create and amazing project that gives opportunities to everyone.

Be sure to also check this post about a project that is giving more knowledge to the youth in the Chicago area.