News & Views

Inspiration and Motivation for Chicago Ideas Week's Youth Program

by Contagious Team

At each of our four Now / Next / Why events this spring, Contagious partnered with a local not-for-profit organization for a workshop to close out the day, applying knowledge gained throughout the event's examination of experience. We tasked the brilliant marketers in the room to help these organizations with one of their major challenges. At Now / Next / Why Chicago, we worked with Chicago Ideas, an organization driving the cultural curiosity of the Windy City.

Chicago Ideas started with a simple mission: to bring accessible inspiration to the Chicago area. Since its inception in 2011, the program has brought world-class speakers and storytellers to audiences across the city every October.

With our challenge, we wanted to focus into one specific area: CIW YOU(th), the division of Chicago Ideas Week designed to create experiences for underserved communities, specifically for 450 high school students from at-risk areas. ‘The goal of the CIW YOU(th) program,’ according to the program’s mission statement, ‘is to empower students to seek new opportunities, pursue their passions and walk away with a newly inspired outlook and sense of their own potential.’

When Contagious met with with Rachel Graham, Chicago Ideas' Director of Youth Programming and Michelle McBride, Director of Strategic Partnerships, we realized the challenge is clear: not all school administrators realize the potential for transformation their students have access to, and they’re not as enthusiastic as they could be about sending groups or acting as chaperones. So we created a brief for the Now / Next / Why audience: Demonstrate the value of the CIW YOU(th) program to stakeholders and the broader Chicago Ideas community in order to have maximum social impact.

It was extremely helpful to have all of those bright creative minds working on this project,’ Graham told us after all the teams had presented on their ideas. ‘They had incredible ideas, even with only having minimal information on the project.’

Here are some of our favorite ideas for how CIW YOU(th) could rise to the challenge.


Set student-specific challenges

Isabella Villalobos, Brenda Martinez, Michelle Franco, Kelly Connor, Cheryl Jacobs and Sarah Gates made up a group which gave itself the nifty name ‘By Millennials, For Millennials’ and talked about integrating the students fully into the broader Chicago Ideas program, for example creating a challenge only students can solve, or helping the students create content that they could share at their own schools after attending or use in creating an education program for faculty members.

We could develop this idea with our chaperones during the training we do in the early fall,’ Graham says. ‘Working with the chaperones on a lesson plan for presenting what was learned back to their schools would be very cool.’


Make some mentors

Pen pals or mentors were the crux of another group’s idea, which also involved creating before and after content to emphasize how students’ minds were broadened and to highlight the new possibilities that came to life for them during Ideas Week. The team also suggested doing before and after interviews with participants, asking questions like ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and things of that nature before and after the program, to show how dynamic evolution can take place in a short amount of time.

We could try this with one or two classes this year,’ Graham says. ‘I can go into their classroom and do a few before and after videos. I love being able to show the students' evolution that takes place during the month of programming.’


Grow the rest of the year

Enduring programming was a theme with another group as well, which talked about creating a CIW YOU(th) internship program based on students reporting back their learnings and earning eligibility. Local universities could create special ‘next track’ opportunities for curious students who embark on simple but necessary steps like including their Ideas Week experience on their resumés. Additionally, multi-location visits via Periscope could bring the Ideas Week action to schools that weren’t able to send students.

We actually have our first four interns starting this summer,’ McBride says. ‘I can have them talk about their experiences at the different events during the week. We’re talking with the City Colleges about having college age students participate in CIW generally, and discussing next track opportunities with them could be interesting. Meanwhile, we’re working with the Chicago City of Learning to have students earn digital badges for each event they attend.’


Make One Change

Another group focused on the pivotal moments students could have during Ideas Week and suggested they articulate those simply in a schema they called One Change. Students would share their change, which could be built into an interactive experience that shows the changes the students made as a result, or a look into the future and so students could write their success stories and say ‘I did…’ as a result of participating in the week.

This one is great!’ Graham says. ‘I love the idea of naming a campaign “One Change.” This could be done through an Instagram campaign, or onsite on iPads.’

If you're in Chicago, check out Chicago Ideas (and maybe consider helping volunteer)! Thanks so much to Rachel and Michelle, and to all the groups for contributing great ideas. 

Stay tuned for our recap from Now / Next / Why San Francisco, coming next week! And don't forget to look back at our workshop recaps from London and New York!