Success Stories

Brandies Meva'a
Co-founder
SourceDigital Marketing
Brandies' Story

Brandies Dunagan

i.c.stars graduate, 2006
 
Finding the i.c.stars training program came at the perfect time in my life. I was
unemployed and unable to find a job, with only three weeks of unemployment left.
It was a stressful time and I had nowhere to turn. I was considering returning to a
telemarketing job I once loathed. I was on my own, and unable to rely on my family
for support and needed to get back to work. Then I happened to see a TV news
story about i.c.stars, and even though I wasn’t a techy person, I was drawn to the
leadership development component and knew I was smart enough to learn about
technology. Within weeks I completed the i.c.stars interviewing process and began
the program.
 
I had always been community-oriented so I really enjoyed the program. I learned
cool technology skills and better understood how I could take Bold Chicago to
greater heights, the organization I became a founding board member of nine years
ago that targets Chicago Public School teens. As a result of the i.c.stars program, I
have become a stronger community organizer, with a flourishing website business
and community organization.
 
My training through i.c.stars has changed my life in ways I never dreamed of.
With the leadership skills I acquired, I now can think past the day-to-day chore of
working to make ends meet, and instead create opportunities for others and make
the community a little better each day.
 
Today I volunteer my time to teach html to teens through The Black Data Processing
Association and sit on two committees for Black Angel Network, helping bring
its mentoring program for girls up to 21 years old to community organizations,
including the South Shore Cultural Center.
 
The initial volunteer work I did following the i.c.stars program in 2006, which
included building websites for the CPS Recycling Project, the CPS Harris Fellows
Project and Black Angel Network, led to opening my own business, Second Nature
Digital. The website services I offer to my clients are firmly rooted in i.c.stars
leadership principles and specifically cater to community organizations and small
businesses. I always work within their budget and provide the software solutions

they need so they can also help make the community a little better every day.

Tiffany Mikell
Owner/CEO
MikellSolutions, Inc.
The Mikell Solution

After spending most of my life going to magnet schools, it was a difficult adjustment

to enter a Chicago public high school. The lack of structure and other necessities
such as books was hugely disappointing and I felt like I was wasting my time so I
dropped out and earned my GED. I wanted to be a high school English teacher but
struggled with colleges, changing from one to another until I had my son, Cameron.
 
I learned about i.c.stars when Cameron was eight months old, and even though I
didn’t have any technology skills I was a logical thinker and knew I needed a career.
I needed to be a positive role model and provide a good future for my son. As a new
mother, the rigorous training program concerned me at first—not being able to
miss a day or be late even once. Cameron was born premature and in and out of the
hospital a lot, and I had to rely on friends and family who implored me to quit the
program. But the challenge of the assessment initially made me want to get involved
and the promise it held for a brighter future kept me going.
 
Sticking with the i.c.stars program did more than teach me the value of commitment,
it helped me overcome personal obstacles and become an adept problem solver.
Following the i.c.stars program, I enrolled in a 30-day java boot camp with a few
dozen others, hoping to get hired by Accenture. Many participants had a college
degree, but with the skills I acquired through the i.c.stars project-based curriculum,
not only was I able to compete, I was hired as an Associate Software Engineer.
 
Four years later, I am still at Accenture where I am involved in the African American
Interest Group, working with high school kids who shadow me on the job for
a day, and offer onsite presentations to Chicago Public Schools students about
working. I also like to volunteer my time to help strengthen the community and
spend Saturday morning and afternoons coaching participants in the Black Data
Processing Association. And, of course, my commitment to i.c.stars endures and
since 2009, I’ve been coordinating the alumni involvement for the annual TechBash.
Aaron Cox
Business Development Manager
onShore Networks, Inc.
Adding Value Among Chicago's Entrepreneurs Through The Training At i.c.stars|*

When I first heard about i.c.stars, I was home for the summer after completing my

first year in business management at Jackson State. Intrigued about the training
program i.c.stars offered, I learned more and decided to apply to the program
instead of returning to college. I wanted to spend my time and energy working
towards something that mattered to me, and the i.c.stars program promised to be
more valuable in helping me develop business leadership skills and teaching me
how to bring value to any organization. I was also excited about the opportunities
I’d have to network with industry leaders.
 
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and knew that i.c.stars would give me
the hands-on experience I needed to get into the corporate business world right
away. Shortly after graduating from the program, I landed my first full-time position
with a prominent investment banking firm where I stayed until recently.
 
I strengthened my networking skills so much through the i.c.stars training
program that when I attended the iOpener conference in August 2010, I was
offered a position with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. I work as a
membership outreach associate, helping businesses understand our benefits. I’m
also spearheading the Chamber’s inaugural 2011 Entrepreneur Resource Guide for
new Chicagoland businesses.
 
I also initiated the i.c.idols competition as a part of the i.c.stars training program to
help interns sharpen their networking and interviewing skills. Talking about your
skills helps to more clearly shape important key messages about yourself. Practice is
key when it comes to precisely expressing how you can add value to an organization
and the i.c.idols competition teaches participants how to sell themselves, including
honing their “elevator pitch,” and preparing them for every possible business
opportunity.
Vera Shabazz
IT Support
United Airlines/GTS
Dreams Taking Flight in IT

Great news - I landed a job with United Airlines! I start later this month in their IT service center. This is quite an accomplishment considering that I used to think “IT” was a pronoun, not an acronym for “Information Technology.” But not anymore. Through the 16-week training program at i.c.stars I learned the skills needed to field calls and resolve technical problems from all over the world.

It’s quite a change from the banking industry where I started working as a teenager. I left banking in 2006 because I wanted to do something more with my life than count other people’s money. My dream was to help victims of domestic violence, and starting with little more than an idea, I did just that.

I helped women living in shelters find permanent homes, connect to community resources and get jobs. It was on a search for a job for one of my clients that I heard about i.c.stars. After going to the training session to check it out - I mean, who gets paid to go to school? - I discovered it was not too good to be true but an incredible program dedicated to giving people like me technical and professional skills to advance in our careers.

And advance I did on September 20 when I joined the Friendly Skies. But don’t worry, I haven’t given up on my dream to help victims of domestic violence. With assistance from i.c.stars, I have assembled a top-notch board of people in the business community who will help my resource center, Virginia’s House, assist women trying to pull their lives back together after suffering abuse.

Thanks for cheering me on and good luck to everyone else out there looking for a job or a better job.

Beatrice Elizalde
Health Care Service Corporation
Real life leadership

While working towards my bachelor’s degree in business management at Robert Morris College, my grandmother had a heart attack. I decided to take a semester off to support my mom who had been taking care of my ill father and would need to care for her mother. Her hands were full and she needed me.

I had just earned an associates degree in Computer Networking and figured I could return without a problem to complete my B.A. Unfortunately, I lost my scholarship because of my leave of absence, and even though I continued my internship through the City of Chicago, I didn’t make enough income to finish my degree.

I was looking for a solution, a way to earn extra money in order to return to college when I came across an i.c.stars ad offering pay-based training. I already had a strong technical background—in addition to my degree, I created several information-tracking databases at the City of Chicago—and I knew the program was right for me.

The i.c.stars training program offered so much more than I could have ever expected or dreamed of. In addition to sharpening my technology skills and applying real solutions to real projects, I developed leadership skills and learned how to work with a team of people to achieve targeted results. For the first time, I understood how to delegate tasks and allow others to take responsibility and ownership of projects.

More importantly, I also learned how to develop a business plan, and during my training I created a five-year plan for a community center that would teach kids how to use leadership skills to make opportunities for others. Now five years into the plan, I have developed a relationship with the principal of Nathan Davis Elementary School, where I have been offering various programming through my organization Inspire by L.O.V.E. (Leadership, Opportunity, Value, Education) for the past four years.

I’ve recruited a team of dedicated volunteers who have worked with me for many years and formed partnerships with local businesses to host fundraisers and other activities in order to give money back to the community, provide a backpack filled with school supplies to 85 percent of students and make donations to shelters. Inspired by L.O.V.E. programs like the annual Christmas Talent Show and the Back to School fundraiser are designed to get kids involved so they can develop their leadership skills and teach or learn from others.

I learned the importance of giving back to the community through i.c.stars, and do my best to juggle raising my four children, growing my business, working full-time and volunteering. Even with my busy schedule, I’m inspired by volunteering at i.c.stars, teaching interns project management and emotional intelligence skills as well as getting involved in annual fundraising events for Chicago Cares, United Way, and others through my full-time employer.

A Measurable Impact

Initial placement rate:
90%
Industry retention rate:
81%
College attendance rate:
55%
Alumni actively engaged in their communities:
72%
Average 12-month earnings before program:
$9,846
Average 12-month earnings after program:
$57,240