“I believe that the definition of leadership is making opportunities for others. I am a leadership geek and find that the richest opportunities for all of our futures lie in education. I am a believer in reciprocity in education and that as educators we are both teacher and student. I believe that the world can be a classroom if we open ourselves to the notion that application, concatenation and liberation start with listening.” — Sandee Kastrul, President & Co-Founder, i.c.stars
During my 12 years at the Local Economic & Employment Development [LEED] Council, I worked with many “Traders in Hope” on staff, among our training graduates, and as business and community partners. Organizationally, we played off our name and called them “LEEDers.”
I was inspired by Sandee Kastrul the first day I met her when she was the graduation keynote speaker for one of our computer skills classes. I quickly recruited her for our board of directors and workforce development committee. Sandee was and remains one of those quintessential peers that we all seek for counsel.
For those of you who stumbled on “concatenation” as I did, I went beyond the Word Thesaurus to ascertain that it is defined as “the linking of things together, or the state of being interconnected.” That works as an objective for community development. Used as the adjective, concatenate, it certainly describes Sandee. No surprise to its tech origin as “the linking of computer characters, strings, or files in a specific order to form a single entity equal to the sum of the lengths of the original entities.”
Sandee shares that a key motivation for her to start i.c.stars in 1999 was seeing one of her most talented students from her teaching years working for minimum wage as a housekeeper in a Chicago hotel. This chance encounter made her wonder what she could do to make sure underprivileged workers could meet their fullest potential. She sought to create opportunities for people who were highly talented but lacked career opportunities because of their socioeconomic background.
Since then, i.c.stars has been identifying, training, and jump-starting technology careers for Chicago-area low-income young adults who, although lacking access to education and employment, demonstrate extraordinary potential for success in the business world and for impact in their communities. To date, over 300 students have graduated through this rigorous program.
i.c.stars offers a unique two-year program that provides an opportunity for low-income young adults to develop advanced technical and leadership skills while earning an Associate degree. The program begins with a sixteen-week internship that immerses participants into the technology sphere, where they learn and master business, leadership and technology skills. Using project-based learning, participants work in teams on a range of projects. There are 300 learning objectives over the length of three projects. Each project is four weeks long and the initial program wraps up with career readiness training and job shadowing to provide interns with on-the-job training. Each student earns as much as 1,000 hours of hands-on practical business experience and social media expertise.
After this initial training period, eligible participants are promoted into residency and fellowship programs. An i.c.stars “resident” will work with an outside partner or within the i.c.stars|* social enterprise, i.c.connexion, to deliver social media management for paying clients. After a period of 4–8 months, individuals may opt to move into the Corporate Fellowship Program working as i.c.stars fellows on technology projects at major corporations in the Chicagoland area.
Upon entering the residency program, trainees receive college counseling and assistance with enrollment into the City Colleges of Chicago to obtain additional credentials and expertise. Participants who complete their i.c.stars requirements and their Associates Degree receive full-time job placement assistance for career opportunities at some of Chicago’s top companies.
You can check out this short Chicago Tribune video interview with Sandee to hear from her directly.
You can follow her on Twitter: @SandeeKastrul and check out this 10/28/14 tweet with a link to video highlights from i.c.stars’ recent iOpener Innovation Conference.
You can also download a quick fact sheet about i.c.stars.
When you do any of these, you will discover why I consider Sandee Kastrul to be a “LEEDer in Hope” as she helps others trade up from their current situation by seeing the stars in their future.
I asked Sandee for her choice of inspirational lyrics.
She recommends “Never Too Late.”
Don’t fear ur teachers,
coz if u listen u can hear music in the school bell
And don’t fear your preacher
if u can’t find heaven in a prison cell
And don’t fear your own self,
paying money to justify your worth
And don’t fear your family,
because you chose them a long time before your birth
And it’s never too late to start the day over
It’s never too late to pick up the phone
(pick up the phone and call me)
It’s never too late to lay your head down on my shoulders
It’s never too late to come on home,
come on home
Never Too Late