Smarter Cities Challenge, Chicago: Contributing Expertise to Build Sustainable Value

IBM Enterprise Content Management Brand Specialist and Chicagoan Donna Mueller
was part of the seven-member Smarter Cities Challenge team that worked with the
City of Chicago’s civic and education leaders to develop a strategic plan to connect public education to employment. Below, Donna shares her thoughts about contributing her expertise to help improve Chicago’s schools.

My time on the Smarter Cities Chicago project was probably the most enriching experience I’ve had during my 32 years with IBM. It was unbelievably gratifying to use my background as an educator and my IBM expertise to learn about and potentially improve a school system in my own backyard.


One of the most interesting aspects to the project was learning about the vast network of organizations and agencies that independently support career and technical learning in the city. From the mind-bending activities offered to kids at the Chicago Public Library’s You Media (my personal favorite); to the much loved After School Matters program; to the passion and drive of the educators at Chicago Career Tech, who help people develop the technical skills they need for new careers; the number and quality of these organizations was hugely positive “new news” me.

The Smarter Cities team was able to interview the leadership at many of these organizations, and quickly recognized the value of the offerings and the reach they provided in support of our mutually-held objective of improving career and technical education. Chicago has a rich ecosystem of career and technical education services – some of it being capitalized on, some not enough. One of our team’s recommendations was for the city to reach across its diverse portfolio of services to help these various entities work together better.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the level of effort the Chicago Public Schools (CPS)  has dedicated to the wide swath of students formerly pigeonholed into “Vocational Ed.” CPS is now tracking these students into Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs designed to prepare them for 21st Century careers.

The reinvention underway at the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) – which is revamping its information technology (IT) curriculum – also is impressive. However, the Smarter Cities team’s observation was that CCC was revising its curriculum in parallel with efforts by CPS, rather than in collaboration with them. One of our recommendations to the city was that CCC and CPS coordinate resources to develop an integrated and more broadly-based approach to IT skills training. I felt that the CPS leadership was very open to the suggestions of the Smarter Cities team, and that some dramatic changes may be on the horizon.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel clearly has put a lot of thought into strengthening the city’s economy by attracting new employers in search of a highly-skilled workforce. I applaud the Mayor’s efforts to maintain the vibrancy and competitiveness of the wonderful city where I was born and raised. I’m proud to have played a very small part in helping to make that happen, and I’m proud to work for a company that has given me the opportunity to contribute.

Finally, the single greatest part of my experience was working on this real world social problem with an incomparable team of dedicated IBM experts. I learned so much from each member of the team. And for someone with a penchant for lifelong learning, that is the most important takeaway from the experience.

Download the “STEM Pathways to College and Careers Schools: A Development Guide” playbook.

Download the Grades 9-14 Chicago and IBM School Partnership fact sheet.

Related Resources:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Building a Smarter Chicago

U.S. News & World Report: Grades 9 Through 14 School Model Strengthens Education-to-Work System

Building the Pipeline to Tomorrow’s Jobs: Smarter Cities Challenge, Chicago

P-TECH: The First 100 Days

Student Perspective: How P-TECH Inspired New Hope After Just One Semester

Student Perspective: Switching to a Grades 9-14 School

City Forward: Job Outlook in Chicago

City Forward: Chicago Jobs by Industry & Education Level

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