i.c. stars – a Chicago-based workforce non-profit organization focused on tech training and leadership for low-income adults – officially opened its new office space with a ribbon cutting ceremony and announcement of its program expansion.
i.c.stars hosted a ribbon cutting formally opening its new headquarters space in the heart of Chicago (750 N. Orleans) this week allowing the nonprofit to double its capacity operating two cohorts simultaneously in its learning studios. The new office allows i.c.stars alumni to work remotely as well as future program expansion.
i.c.stars shared details of its expanded hiring partnership with United Airlines, and a new pilot program with New Moms, a fellow Chicago nonprofit organization.
“Now we’re able to grow not only our enrollment, but our alumni on staff, our impact, and innovation,” said Sandee Kastrul, a former teacher who founded i.c.stars.
i.c.stars provides low-income young adults the skills and network they need to secure careers in the high-paying field of information technology and to change hiring practices around nontraditional talent. Through its tech-based, educational, and career development program, i.c.stars offers overlooked young adults a solid foundation of technical skills and leadership training. i.c.stars identifies non-traditional talent, trains them for higher-paying, technology-based jobs, and mentors them for success.
To date, more than 800 students have participated in i.c.stars in the Chicago metro, with thousands of community members and employers reached through workshops and events. i.c.stars reports a 90 percent training-related placement rate for its participants as well as an industry retention of 80 percent at the one-year employment mark.
United Airlines, headquartered in Chicago, is among a number of companies that have consistently hired i.c.stars’ graduates. United Airlines Chief Information Officer Jason Birnbaum, who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, spoke about i.c.stars positive impact.
“Our partnership with i.c.stars has opened doors to exceptional talent for United Airlines,” Birnbaum said. “These individuals are driving innovation with a wide range of perspectives contributing to some of the most visible projects at United. Their exceptional skills, enthusiasm, and agility have added significant value,” Birnbaum said. “Since 2018, we have hired more than 40 i.c.stars apprentices into United’s Innovate Early Career Development Program, and our partnership will only continue to grow.”
Birnbaum now serves on i.c.stars Chicago Advisory Board and has been active with the organization for over 10 years.
i.c.stars program graduates are in high demand with other employers including Accenture, Northwestern Mutual, HUB International and US Foods.
New Moms Pilot Program
i.c. stars announced a new pilot program with the nonprofit New Moms, thanks to initial funding from the Chicago Community Trust. For 40 years, New Moms has been providing support for housing, job training, academic coaching and other provisions giving moms and their children a path to success. The pilot program will focus on an IT career pathway training, with an entrepreneurial slant from i.c.stars, that leads to family-sustaining wages for these young moms.
“We’re hoping to dismantle the system that keeps just white men in IT and move more women of color into IT and this is a way to do that,” said Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, New Moms’ Senior Director of Workforce Development. “We’re really eliminating barriers that stifle their success.”
Beginning in February, this pilot program will have 10 young moms and include education and parenting-focused coaching; support with transportation, childcare subsidies, laptops, and direct cash transfers until they complete the year-long program.”
Approximately 48 percent of i.c.stars alumni go on to earn a degree through higher education and industry certification. More than 70 alumni have started their own businesses.
In addition to its Chicago headquarters, i.c.stars is also operational in Milwaukee and Kansas City.
How i.c.stars works
Participants in the i.c.stars program participate in an intensive four-month immersive training that combines project-based learning with full-immersion teaching. They learn marketable technology skills in a hands-on setting as they learn coding and methodologies. Participants receive a stipend during the program, a laptop, higher education support, and career mentorship.
During the final month of i.c.stars’ bootcamp, career readiness activities
accelerate with mock interviews, resume reviews, and career coffees. Employers come on-site to interview i.c.stars participants for open positions.
The program also provides wraparound support, including trauma-informed counseling to participants. Case managers assist participants every step of the way, from access to stable housing to internet access assistance or help with cell phone bills.
Nothing spells success better than comments from i.c.stars program grads.
Kevin Gates, now a senior manager with Microsoft, came to i.c.stars 24 years ago at the suggestion of a teacher. He had dropped out of high school and was working as a cook at the House of Blues. He enrolled in i.c.stars, turning in his application on a floppy disk.
“It truly changed my life,” said Gates of his experience. “By design, i.c. stars creates an environment that brings together technology, real world projects in a universe of companies …who work together to put people in the studio, not just to mentor but to model and scope out people they may want to hire. And that is exactly how my role started to change when I joined Microsoft as an associate technology specialist.”
Today, Gates serves on the i.c.stars national board, committed to serving the organization that gave him a successful career path.
“My life would be significantly worse if I’d never attended i.c.stars,” said another graduate. “They gave me the tools to be self-sufficient in a professional environment and provided the connections I need to advance my career as I desire. I owe everything I have and everything I’ve done at my company to i.c.stars.”
Those interested in learning more about the program, engaging as a business/community partner, please contact Amanda Hogan, Managing Director, i.c.stars Chicago at email@example.com.
Currently operating in Chicago, Milwaukee and Kansas City, i.c.stars began in 1998 when Sandee Kastrul, a former teacher, saw one of her most talented students working for minimum wage as a hotel housekeeper. This chance encounter made her wonder what she could do to ensure underserved young people reached their fullest potential.
i.c.stars is focused on helping talented high school graduates of GED holders soar rather than winding up in dead-end, minimum-wage jobs. Working with low-income young adults, providing them with employment opportunities and preparing them for community-based advocacy allows i.c.stars to achieve its social purpose.