Microsoft Introduces SPARCS Students to New Innovation Center

Microsoft Introduces SPARCS Students to New Innovation Center

SPARCS is about Sustaining Passion, Ambition and Resolve for Career Success. The year-round Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence and business partner program for high school aged Minnesota young women, aims to generate excitement around technology education through an engaging relationship with information technology (IT) professionals in a supportive environment.  Ultimately, SPARCS experiences are designed to inspire and empower young women to become technology confident and competent.    


SPARCS experiences was conceived in 2014 by the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards program following the realization that the likelihood of a young woman shifting from technology ‘curiosity’ to technology ‘committed’, significantly increases when the following occurs:

  • The learning experiences are interactive and  ‘sisterhood’ oriented
  • New technology tools are introduced allowing for IT skill development
  • Career options are explored
  • Small group interaction with women in the IT field occurs
  • Numerous activity choices and touch points are offered
  • Business, schools, and community-based providers collaborate to maximize impact

Recently, Microsoft opened their doors to welcome over 100 high school aged young women and I.T. professionals for an all day interactive learning and networking at their Edina innovation labs.  This is the third consecutive year that Microsoft has partnered with the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards program to expose young women to industry professionals and roles from a variety of local companies and organizations. 

Here’s what the participants revealed they most enjoyed about their SPARCSdoesMicrosoft day

  • The virtual and augmented reality session was amazing
  • I liked learning that a lot of people didn’t know much about technology but ended up in the IT field
  • I loved being able to personally speak with women who directly work in technology and learning about their experiences in the workplace. It showed me the diversity!
  • I liked the “Voices” executive coach session, I thought the speaker was amazing.  It actually helped me overcome my inner conflict
  • I just loved exploring the different fields we can go into
  • The 3D thing was cool and the 3D printer area
  • My absolute favorite part was talking to the mentors today. So inspiring to talk to women in a field I want to go into.  It was awesome meeting with women in the field.
  • I loved the holographic lenses
  • I have never been very informed about technology, and this experience was eye opening and extremely informative
  • I really loved the diversity of the people, staff, and positions that we learned about. It really emphasizes the opportunity that STEM and technology can provide. Not to mention how big companies like Microsoft help with all types of different products.
  • The factory tour was by far my favorite part seeing the cool things we can do
  • I loved the data analysis and hololens session, although they all were a lot of fun! It was a nice balance of different aspects of IT and it was great being able to make connections

Mary MathiowetzMicrosoft’s Mary Mathiowetz coordinates the involvement of her colleagues, partners and customers, as well as, use of the Edina facility. “Microsoft supports women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) on all levels.  We want to show that the community enjoys uniting and supporting women in STEAM.  And to that end, we love to partner with programs such as SPARCS.”  — says Mary.


Barbara ChurchillBarbara Churchill, who offers executive coaching, speaking and retreats for emerging and established leaders and entrepreneurs who are seeking to improve confidence, find their voice, and build brands that are reflective of their values, was back by popular demand.  The participants loved her encouraging messages about building confidence and connection.


The MentorMash portion of the day provided students with the opportunity to interact with professional women from various industries whose technology related roles are as interesting, as they are diverse.  These professionals offered career preparation advice, and demonstrated their professional and personal passion for technology. Special thanks to the following women for sharing insights such as their educational and career paths with our SPARCS students:

– Amanda Flanders – Microsoft

– Michelle Hines – Thomson Reuters

– Shonnah Hughes – PepUp Tech and Salesforce MVP

– Saundra Inman – Microsoft

– Amanda Klein – Microsoft

– Molly Kuehl – Microsoft

– Marigelle Marapira – Veritas Technologies

– Karen Martin – BDPA and Independent Contractor

– Shauna Lynn Menning – Microsoft

– Brianne Michaels – Land O’Lakes

– Karen Moen – Microsoft

– Lanna Niemeyer – Prime Therapeutics

– Amy Patton – SPS Commerce

– Brenda Pieck -Thomson Reuters

– Andrea Rivers – Microsoft

– Melanie Rush – Microsoft

– Natalie Wood – Microsoft


Young women’s technology education and career success is also dependent upon men in the I.T. field  who provide encouragement, knowledge, and guidance. We also wish to  extend our gratitude to the following technology professionals for their support and  generous contributions:

– Data Analysis/Hands-on Lab – Todd Kitta, Greg Kostick, Erik Zwiefel
– Factory Alley – Jeff Brandt
– Mixed Reality – Bart Sneary, Doug Splinter
– General Support – Nick Stillings


SPARCS events are typically free, or low cost.  Some students receive scholarships to attend technology camps.  The funding to support SPARCS programs comes from financial sponsors of the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards Program.   Program sponsors and partners are needed to ensure the ambitious goals of the program are realized.  To learn more, visit Sponsor  Aspirations in Computing!


Contact Director of IT Career Pathways and Partnerships, Russell Fraenkel at (612) 659-7224 or

Sponsor a SPARCS Experience

The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Awards Program, partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to honor and support young high school women for their computing-related achievements and interests. As part of the award program, honorees are awarded SPARCS Experiences which is funded by the MNAiC and its generous partners and sponsors.