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Inner City Computer Stars Mixes Tech Training, Social Change

Inner City Computer Stars — also known as i.c. stars — helps people from underserved communities join the high-growth tech job sector. Established in 1999 by Sandee Kastrul and Leslie Beller, i.c. stars feature educational programs to bridge the gap for disconnected young adults. The nonprofit’s mission is to help create greater economic opportunity for these communities and “activate a technology community of change agents to power social and economic freedom.”

Photo Courtesy i.c. stars

For Kastrul, the nonprofit’s president and a former teacher who noticed some of her students were working dead-end jobs to pay the bills, it was an “aha” moment to realize that many young adults did not have access to training for higher-paying jobs in tech fields. So, she created a nonprofit to provide greater access in an industry where, in the United States, 83% of executives are white, and women in tech are offered a salary of 3% on average less than men for the same job. 

Through i.c. stars, Kastrul hopes to not only educate these underserved communities but also prepare them for community-based advocacy to achieve a positive social purpose.

She believes that when young adults focus their talent on tech and community impact, their success in both increases dramatically.

“The powerful part of technology is that at the end of the day, it’s about solving problems and building solutions,” Kastrul told “Forbes.” “We thought, why can’t we be the ones to solve problems and build solutions to the issues our communities face every day through technology and leadership? What if we teach technology skills and also use that same framework to develop community leaders?”

In July, Kastrul was inducted into the Chicago Innovation Hall of Fame for the positive impact the company has had on the community. 

Photo Courtesy i.c. stars

“I love technology because it’s creative, and it shouldn’t matter what you look like,” she added. “When we teach programming, we move from being consumers of technology to being makers. And that shift from consumer to maker — I think that’s social justice. That’s power.”

i.c. stars offers business, leadership, and technology training programs, all supported by sponsors who lead workshops and train the students in the program.

The sponsors are no slouch, with big-name firms including Microsoft, United, and Northwestern Mutual. 

The nonprofit’s programs are 16 weeks long, 12 hours a day, and five days a week. Students can also participate in mock job interviews and receive two years of ongoing support and IT corporate leader mentorships after completing the program. Sample programs include how to build web-based applications and coding.

Video Courtesy i.c.stars Milwaukee

“Our sponsors not only are supporting us financially, but they’re coming in and leading workshops,” Janine Dickens, i.c stars’ sponsorships and events manager, told WTMJ-TV Milwaukee. “They’re coming in and talking directly to our interns, doing mock interviews with them.” 

Today, i.c. stars has offices in Chicago, Kansas City, and Milwaukee. Participants can apply for programs directly on the nonprofit’s website.

“We’re looking for adults who are coming from underserved communities,” said Dickens. “We have a full-time recruitment manager who’s out in the community looking for people who are talented and have a sense of larger than self.”

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