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Virtually fueling young minds during COVID-19

  • Posted on July 23, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

I had the most amazing week last week. It was the second year of our FUEL: Innovation, Leadership and Technology Conference, attended by our Avanade STEM scholars and summer interns.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s event was held virtually. And although it required a lot of rethinking, making it a virtual event couldn’t have been better, since we got to host a much larger crowd. In addition to our STEM scholars and summer interns from North America, we were able to open the door to our scholars and interns in Europe and Brazil too, resulting in an impressive 120 students from more than 39 universities.

FUEL is specifically designed and conducted by Avanade, along with our university partners, to prepare the future generation of workforce and leaders.

“If I had to summarize FUEL is one word it would be: inspiring. […] most rewarding was the ability to connect, speak to and hear from leadership across the various parts of Avanade.  Listening to each of their unique journeys and being passed the knowledge to succeed is what makes an experience like this so rich.” - Stephon Tomlinson, Avanade Intern and Instagram Takeover Host

This year’s theme was “Future Forward,” which carried a very powerful message. It was all about embracing change, seeking opportunities, looking at the art of the possible and how to influence the future. I know it seems a lot to ask of young people — but honestly having spent the past week in their company, I know this generation is going to make a lot of positive change.

At the same time, we wanted the week to be fun and inspirational for them too — with our (now famous) Hackathon Challenge thrown into the mix. we challenged our audience to find solutions to some of the worlds biggest problems: the work environment post COVID-19, inclusion & diversity and environmental sustainability. 

The conference featured an amazing set of keynote and speakers, We got off to an amazing start on Monday with keynotes from Chancellor Wolf Yeigh, of the University of Washington Bothell, and Avanade’s Chief Growth Officer, Craig Gorsline.  Students were fired up and engaged in the discussion , with our esteem speakers. A key message coming out of this session, which resonated well with the students: "Just go for it. Don't sit in the side-lines; you'll learn on the way and Virtual is the new norm." 

My highlight from day 2 of FUEL saw some excellent interaction between students and speakers — plus a lot of fun. We started the day with a Brunch and Learn session with Dave Gartenberg, our Avanade CHRO. Dave spoke about the job market in a post-COVID-19 environment — and had encouraging words for students: “Be creative, take opportunities to gain experience through internships and volunteering. Companies will always hire one more great person.” We also delved into the world of Data and AI with Toby Goldblatt and Jed Khan from our Data and AI team—in addition to a career workshop hosted by Lisa Kochert and Isabelle Fernandes, from our Talent Acquisition team.

“I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in Avanade’s first-ever virtual FUEL conference. […] it has allowed me to network with people from different geographical areas who share a common interest in innovation. I had the ability to expand my knowledge and find solutions to problems in diversifying the STEM field, […] to present my ideas and work with a group of talented Avanade scholars in the hackathon project.” - Tanya Bhimani, Avanade Intern and Instagram Takeover Host

Day 3 of FUEL kicked off with an excellent session with Suzanne Dann, our General Manager Northwest Region, speaking about leadership through a crisis.  Suzanne shared her personal story — recounting how her mother bought an Apple computer in 1983, and encouraged her to get into coding. By giving her the right support, Suzanne’s mom set her on her course.  She also encouraged our scholars and inters to “get in the boat”...be present, (even if virtually), be at the table, join different groups and take on additional roles to ensure you meet a wide variety of people.  Day three also saw us taking a closer look at Extended Reality and Virtual Reality, with Jeff Vilimek, our North America Innovation Lead.

Day 4 of FUEL, another great day with Asheesh Advani, President and CEO of Junior Achievement Worldwide and Innes Grant, our Nonprofit Industry Lead here at Avanade discussing how Nonprofit will cope in a post COVID-19 world. Asheesh and Innes started by sharing their early career journeys and in particular the focus on how you must learn from failures. Both spoke about early set backs in their careers and how they took every opportunity to learn from these experiences and move on. Again, we had excellent participation from our young audience—who clearly demonstrated that “purpose” is going to be high on the agenda for them in the workplace.

“Though virtual collaboration can seem extremely daunting, FUEL conference gave us the opportunity to tackle this challenge headfirst. With  Microsoft teams and mural we were able to work alongside new individuals across multiple time zones and countries, to build a product that will impact the future. What a great opportunity!” - Julia Williams, Avanade Intern and Instagram Takeover Host

And of course, Day 5 was all about recognizing the winners of our hackathon. All of our hackathon team members will receive a mentorship from Avanade through our emerging tech team, as well as the opportunity for support to build prototypes of their solutions and make them accessible on our premier ideas showcase shared between Avanade, Accenture and Microsoft.  The judges struggled as the standard was so high, but we had to have winners, and so here they are:

  • Inclusion & Diversity Hackathon: Universal Voice of the Unheard. This team were selected not only for their innovative use of technologies, but also for focusing on the underserved deaf community. 
  • Environmental Sustainability Hackathon: Recyclify. Their tools and techniques were leading-edge, but really it was how they had zoned in on the need to change behavior that won the prize for this team.
  • Workplace Challenge: Guard Up. The team had delivered a solution with immediate applicability, that leveraged innovative technology including Data and AI, and had both human and business impact. 
  • Popular Vote: Free Cycle.  This team looked for innovative ways to decrease waste and increase recycling through an app which gave users suggestions on how to reuse and recycle products. 

What an amazing end to a fantastic week. Very big thanks to everyone involved.

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