i.c. stars Pivots, and Keeps Serving and Learning

Author: Leigh Lynes

i.c.stars students in class
Photo credit: DW Johnson Photography

Picture it: A classroom space in the heart of Chicago. Young adults, in business attire and clustered around laptops, the room buzzing as they talk through their latest coding project. 

Later, they switch their attention to earnestly questioning four classroom visitors--LEO researchers Patrick Turner and Chris Kelly, and LEO faculty affiliates Bill Skimmyhorn and Julian Reif. Why is i.c.stars engaging in research? How is the study designed? What types of evidence could it yield? Is it even ethical to be conducting such work?

i.c.stars runs a technology and leadership skills program for low-income youth, designed to help them forge successful careers in the tech industry. Together, LEO and i.c.stars are studying the program to learn what impact it has on students' future employment and earnings prospects.   

Patrick, Chris, Bill, and Julian visited i.c.stars as a prelude to the start of enrollment into the research study. The team at i.c.stars has worked hard to help get the project off the ground since the partnership began, and the students' questions testify to the culture of learning and evaluation that permeates every level of the organization.

i.c.stars had just begun recruiting students to join the study when Covid-19 broke out across the U.S. Still, responding to motivated young people isn't something that should be put on hold, and i.c.stars moved its entire training program online as cities around the country instructed residents to stay at home. Luckily, i.c.stars specialize in tech, so they were able to make this change quickly. Students have now been participating in the completely virtual program for weeks, and engagement is as high as ever.   

Recruitment and enrollment into the research study--a process that was originally planned to be conducted almost entirely in person--has also been taken online, using social media and online job boards to get the word out about i.c.stars' program, and video conferencing software to interview prospective students.

All of this, without missing a beat. i.c.stars has continued to serve its students, while also keeping the launch of a LEO research study on track. The on-time opening of enrollment into the study was a day to celebrate. Even more so in the face of so much challenge and change.