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Our Blog

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Are You a Leader or A Troll?


I recently published a blog on LinkedIn about women in STEM. While I rolled through the comments I noticed a comment from someone I wasn’t connected to with an opinion that wasn’t very thoughtful or constructive. Upon reading it I was immediately brought back to the time our interns had a troll spouting out hurtful and non-constructive anonymous feedback via performance reviews of their fellow interns. The feeling in the studio was heavy that day. Performance reviews usually cause a lot of self reflection and feelings, but something was different this time.

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Developing the Future Through Transition

We just celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., at the i.c.stars annual Stakeholders event. As we think about what his work has enabled change agents of today to accomplish I am happy to report that the health of i.c.stars is in great shape. We just celebrated our 34th cycle commencement (congratulations to everyone!) and we launched cycle 35 last week on schedule. We are entering 2016 with a very strong cash position, a development team exceeding goals month after month, and a program team consistently meeting our growth goals for finding, training, and putting talent to work.

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Wishing you a wonderful 2016

On behalf of i.c.stars we want to wish you the best for 2016. May you keep on seeing stars this new year.

ABC7Chicago NewsViews Features i.c.stars

December 27, 2015
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Seeing STARS for the Holidays


There’s a tradition here at ic.stars where we exchange gifts for the holidays. But, this isn’t your ordinary Secret Santa, it’s Secret Santa with a twist.

It comes with a few rules:

  1. There is a 10 dollar limit on the gifts.
  2. It starts from the end of Thanksgiving till when we break for the holidays.
  3. You have to get your Secret Santa a gift every day during that period.
  4. Don’t get caught in the process of giving. You’re supposed to be a Secret Santa, remember
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Leaders Value Both Hope and Facts - You Can’t Have One Without The Other


One of our alumni Vera Shabazz came by last week. I’m so happy Vera came home because she reminds me of what I love about futurists. In a recent blog post I talked about how the interns were working through Geek Week. Vera came in just in time to offer a testimony about her experience with the internship and Geek Week and how facing the fear of the unknown was well worth overcoming fear. She always has an open heart about what can be and a willingness to take it all in.

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Fight or Flight - Leadership Means Never Getting Too Comfortable


By now you may have heard about the strict guidelines that our interns at i.c.stars have to adhere to, 12 hour days, no lates or absences, performance appraisals after every 3 week sprint and constant reflection about who we are and what we are becoming. One of the less talked about and surprising things that can occur at the end of the internship is that an intern can be denied a spot in the residency. After the 4 month internship graduates are invited into the 2 year residency program. Residents have career services, college counseling, screen share mentoring and full use of i.c.stars resources. We expect that our interns give their best the entire internship and there are consequences for falling short of these expectations.

When an intern is denied a spot in the residency they can take one of two routes. They can feel sorry for themselves and throw away the investment they’ve made over the last four months and go back to doing what they were doing before i.c.stars or they could exercise resiliency and make something of their experience by proving us wrong. Just because you don’t receive an invitation to the residency doesn’t mean that you didn’t do the work in the internship, no one can take those experiences from you, so what will you do with them?

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Leadership and Mastery - The Path Is Hard


It’s hard for us to celebrate our successes. However, If something goes wrong it’s easier for us to talk about what went wrong in detail. We will tell it over and over again and we have willing audiences. They want to be with you when you’ve got bad news. But when you are celebrating your success, people will say “don’t get a big head now.” It’s weird. We aren’t socialized to celebrate one another. Because doing this takes practice I encourage you to exercise the ability to celebrate yourself and others. If not you? Then Who? If we can’t tell each other that the moment that you stepped outside of your comfort zone was fantastic and amazing and if we can’t tell each other, “I see you,” then who?

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A Place at the Table for Women in STEM

My dear friend, Paulina Fin Caprio, grew up in mergers and acquisitions and financial services. She definitely has The Geek going for her in terms of numbers and scale. We put our heads together and thought it would be a terrific idea to bring women entrepreneurs and investors together at the same table to share a pot of tea, i.c.stars-style.

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It’s National Chemistry Week!


The week of October 18th is National Chemistry Week, and as a former chemistry teacher, I’m excited about recognizing the fun and excitement that chemistry is all about.

From my experience, kids love science, especially chemistry. And what’s not to love? You get to see what happens when you mix things up and intentionally cause a reaction. At the end of the day, science is the study of truth, and kids are always asking why. It’s not until we become adults that we buy into the narrative that science is hard and not fun. But the best kept secret is that it’s really fun!

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Entrepreneurship: Being A Maker Requires Fuel


I recently visited Milwaukee, one of our expansion cities. And before that I visited Columbus. I’m meeting with the service and business communities working together in these cities to raise funds to start local i.c.stars ventures. I’ve already been working with them for two years, just getting them started. Unfortunately, I can’t just jump into Milwaukee or any other city and set-up an i.c.stars. As much as I want to see the program expand, what I want more is for that to happen organically - I want them to drive it. So it takes longer than I would like it to take. But when they do get there, they are engaged and ready.

This is exciting, because as an entrepreneur, I’m a builder. I love the seed to bud spectrum of growth. I love to take an idea, to plant it, to nurture it and to imagine what it will become. To water it and to see it sprout, to help it grow and to watch it bud, and then hand it off so that I can work on the next seed ready to be planted. Different entrepreneurs are great at different things, at different levels. Some really geek out on operations - strengthening the bud, making sure that there are no weeds and everything is perfect for growing the seed to the next level.

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Leadership Starts by Surrendering To The Magic of What is To Become

I recently visited a school called Epic Academy. I really liked this school. It has good kids, great teachers and an awesome principal. What I really liked about it is that the expectations for their students are higher than you’ll find at most schools. Lowered expectations are one of the symptoms of a disease in our schools: faith loss. When you walk up to a school building, and it smells, and the walls are littered in graffiti, and not the beautiful kind, that is also a sign that the community has given up. That they don’t believe in the future. Because if we give up on education, we are giving up on the future.

Epic believes that these kids are the future and will go on to pursue great things. When you arrive on campus, you can clearly see the students’ pride in their school, that they take responsibility for its culture. I had two meetings at Epic. One was with five students, who were eligible for Ivy League schools, and I was there to help them with the decision to go away to school.

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She Who Pays, Wins

She Who Pays, Wins

We have a saying in the i.c.stars program about networking, or taking somebody out to lunch or coffee. “She Who Pays, Wins.” Our i.c.stars alums always have a secret objective during these meals: to get the check before anyone else can.

If you pick up the check, the first win is that you don’t have to write a thank you note. But ultimately, the win is a lot better than that. The real win is that this idea shifts us away from thinking that someone else needs to pay for us.

Instead. we can actually treat someone to something. And with that thought. we move the event from a transaction to a relationship.

Very often, I have lunch with alums, and they’ll try to win the check from me; it’s sort of a battle. I’ll often say, “No, I’ve got this. Why don’t you pay it forward and take somebody else to lunch?”

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Women, if You Want to Suit Up, Speak Up: Something for your tool-kit

Toolkits play an essential role in our survival. Sometimes the toolkit is simple - it’s for fixing the drain. A more complicated toolkit helps us navigate our culture. Toolkits are so important that every cycle, an intern is assigned the task of building a toolkit for the next cycle - a Swiss army knife of sorts. The i.c.stars internship isn’t a light commitment. With over 1000 hours spent in a project based learning environment, and an emphasis on honing leadership skills and solving business problems via technology, it’s a transformative experience for our interns. And with transformation, there are challenges.

When I heard Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk, “Why we have too few women leaders,” I was struck by the concept of making space for others at the table, and by the fact that women have always done that. We make space for the voice, the goals, the needs and desires of others and subsequently their place at the leadership table.

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Dream Speeches, Leadership and Roddenberry


A few weeks ago the latest cohort of interns were beginning career month. This is a special month in their time here at i.c.stars, because they have finished their project and now they are architecting their future, and not just what sort of role they want in the next few years. It’s more about what type of impact they will make in their communities and what their journey map looks like.

One of the career month activities they have is to write a dream speech. You write a speech for an award you are accepting 20 years in the future. This workshop is so powerful because not only do they have to imagine what they will do in the future but what the future looks like itself. The interns will then host a dream speech ceremony where they present their dream speeches and invite a witness who will also be there 20 years from now to hold them accountable for that dream.

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To Lead Out (Education)

One of the richest things about being an educator - and about the word, “education” - is the Latin root of these words, educere - to lead out. What’s always fascinated me as a teacher, educator and entrepreneur on the education stage is the question, “How are we leading our students out?”

Almost a year ago, as part of Chicago Ideas Week, I led a session called, “The End of School,” a very provocative talk about what that phrase means. My hypothesis was that the end of school does not mean the end of education. Instead, it means that we think about how to school people differently. The session included a group of very disruptive educators like Victor Saad from Experience Institute and the fantastic Co-Founder of Backyard Brains Greg Gage who fascinated us with tales of brilliant neuroscience experiments conducted on roaches. Everyone was enthralled.

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Who Do You Claim, and Who Claims You?

It is July, though given the cold, rainy summer we’ve had so far, you wouldn’t know it. We just celebrated Pride weekend in Chicago, and the icing on the cake was the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. And while that’s a huge event, what I really want to talk about is what it means to be near the end of a movement. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d live to see gay marriage legalized in my lifetime. What does it mean to declare our independence from a movement as it ends?

A Long Way Since Stonewall

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Illinois for a few years. We’ve come a long way since Stonewall. And in my lifetime, I’m seeing the movement — and it’s absolutely a movement — approach its ending. The PRIDE movement is proud now. But does marriage equality mean that the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality is complete?

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Shared Humanity Is What Truly Connects Us

When I set out two weeks ago to attend the SIM (Society for Information Management) Women conference and TEDWomen 2015, I didn’t think that the events would be so closely intertwined. I expected to hear really great content, meet some awesome women, and impart some of my knowledge from my perspective in the world.

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Top 10 Reasons to join i.c.stars Summer Giving Challenge

1. It’s a match! Every new or increased donation to i.c.stars made this summer will be doubled by a generous donor. Double your impact by giving before September 2nd.

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i.c.stars alumni geek out at ChicagosNext Hackathon

Just a day after presenting the functionality of their mobile app created for law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP at i.c.stars May 1st Conference, a group of recent i.c.stars graduates competed in a Non-prof

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Welcome to the Kitchen Table: "Belief"

I’m so happy to share my experience at the Skoll World Forum created by the founder of E-bay Jeff Skoll, in Oxford UK. One of the most intesting topic or theme from this years event is inspired by Kevin Starr from the Mulago Foundation. He brought us an excellent rubric for measuring happiness.

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An Afternoon with the Stars - Multi-Generational Marketing Predictions for the Future

In partnership with i.c.stars, the Chicago Chapter of the Business Marketing Association (BMA) will host an event on Monday, May 4 focusing on predictions for the future of marketing. i.c.stars is fortunate to be presenting forecasts from a diverse set of industries and perspectives. John Naisbitt, successful businessman and author of Megatrends once said, “To forecast the future, one must understand the present.”

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Feast or Famine

My family and I just celebrated Passover. Passover is a Jewish religious festival that lasts eight days every spring, commemorating the liberation of the Jews from Egypt. After many decades of slavery to Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, Moses pleaded with the Pharaoh. “Let my people go.”

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An Open Letter to Vivek Wadhwa: You Are More Than Welcome at the Table

I want to start off by saying, thank you. Thank you, Mister Wadhwa.

Thank you for stepping into the debate about the lack of women in technology and entrepreneurship, and thank you for shedding a light on more than one issue within it. First, you brought the gender disparity to light and presented it as a factual truth. I’m not sure why we even call it a “debate.”

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Mexico City Comes to i.c.stars

Recently, i.c.stars had the privilege of meeting some of our South-of-the-border neighbors from Mexico City. The visiting group took part in a contest run by Startup Mexico in order to discover new social solutions to combat social issues, one of them being drunk driving. The grand prize: a trip to Chicago, to see its sights and sounds and to meet interesting people and the organizations they belong to. Naturally, a get-together with i.c.stars was a must.

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What's Next in Cybersecurity?

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The Future of Ferguson

I recently visited Ferguson, Missouri, on the invitation of Thoughtworks, one of i.c.stars’ strategic partners and sponsors. We share similar values in terms of using technology as a tool to promote social justice. Our friends at Thoughtworks invited me to Ferguson to attend a Town Hall meeting with Hands Up United, because some Thoughtworkers are working with them.

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DNSimple connects with i.c.stars

Last week, i.c.stars was excited to make a new friend in DNSimple.


Life after the i.c.stars internship.

Sontcera McWilliams shares some her journey of becoming an i.c.stars intern, and her day to day life now as an i.c.stars employee “Tech Fellow”. Join her in her upcoming webinars and information sessions.

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The Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Hesed House

10. Mission to serve homeless persons in the Chicagoland area
Hesed House is a national model for ending homelessness
– one person, one family at a time. It is the culmination of nearly three decades of strategic evolution from a formerly acceptable model of “eats and sheets” to a Comprehensive Homeless Resource Center – a campus of centralized highly skilled professionals collaborating to provide the tools necessary to help individuals and families break free of the shackles binding them to homelessness.

A Measurable Impact

Initial placement rate:
Industry retention rate:
College attendance rate:
Alumni actively engaged in their communities:
Average 12-month earnings before program:
Average 12-month earnings after program: