Microsoft brings series of YouthSpark events to U.S. military bases

By U.S. Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Chris Cortez, vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs

Raising children with the education they need to be prepared for the future is no easy task. For military families facing frequent relocations or navigating the transition into civilian life, it can be even more challenging.

As the head of Military Affairs at Microsoft, I see firsthand how passionate Microsoft is about assisting our military service members, veterans, and their families—especially when it comes to setting them up for success in today’s digital economy. And for a company that aims to empower everyone to achieve more, making it easier for military children to learn computing and critical-thinking skills is the right thing to do.

That’s why Microsoft is proud to expand our ongoing support for military families by hosting YouthSpark, a digital skills education program for children, on U.S. military bases. On March 20 and 22, 2018, the program brought 200 elementary and middle school students to YouthSpark events at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Group of students
On March 20 and 22, 2018, the program brought 200 elementary and middle school students to YouthSpark events at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Similar to Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), which teaches critical digital skills to service members transitioning from active duty and veterans, YouthSpark aims to excite elementary and middle school students about pursuing STEM careers by introducing them to STEM-related studies, especially computing and IT.

Since its launch in 2012, the program has touched the lives of tens of thousands of young people in the U.S., working to close the gap in digital skills literacy by improving access to computer science education for youth who are least likely to have it.

And indeed, military children face unique challenges when it comes to education. My own family used to move every three to four years. For my children, each move meant starting over—adjusting to a new school and trying to make new friends.

My daughter Gini reminded me recently of a time we moved while she was in high school, and her new school didn’t offer a music or performing arts program. She’d loved music and dance as a kid, but she was suddenly forced to adapt. So she turned to sports and eventually became a captain on two teams. It’s one of the many life lessons she’s carried into adulthood, which has helped her along her career, and I couldn’t be more proud. But the story also reiterates why bringing YouthSpark to military bases is such an important step.

“Growing up in the military is a unique experience, and it teaches you so many amazing life skills,” Gini said. “But what you’re exposed to and the opportunities you have are often determined by your immediate surroundings, which are constantly changing.”

Girl with robotic hand.
YouthSpark aims to excite elementary and middle school students about pursuing STEM careers by introducing them to STEM-related studies, especially computing and IT.

By bringing YouthSpark to military bases, Microsoft is opening new opportunities for these kids to learn and grow, encouraging and making it possible for students of all backgrounds to embrace technology.

Having such a personal connection to Microsoft’s efforts, I was thrilled to attend our first YouthSpark event at Camp Pendleton, and inspired by how the hands-on learning excites the students. Over the course of what amounted to a full school day, children were immersed in a range of computing lessons—from basic digital skills to high-impact computer science programming. Instructors promoted the importance of creative and critical thinking and emphasized the significance of students’ ability to help create and shape the technology of our future.

Because when children can picture themselves creating the future—and they attain the skills to do it—their potential to innovate is limitless.

“As an educator, I’m always encouraged to see leaders like Microsoft invest in the future of our students,” said Brad Hamby, principal at Santa Margarita Elementary School. “By working together to bring YouthSpark to Camp Pendleton, it gives the students a chance to engage with Microsoft technology, learn how it can be applied to solve real-world problems, and have fun while learning.”

There is a growing need for innovative digital solutions that address current and future challenges across industries—including national security and defense. By teaching military children the digital skills they need to participate in a technology-driven future, Microsoft Military Affairs and YouthSpark programs are championing creative solutions for the good of all.

Boy working at computer.
Children had the opportunity to learn hands-on computing and critical thinking skills during the YouthSpark events.

“With YouthSpark, Microsoft is shining a light on the role our children play in creating our future and doing right by these families and the entire technology industry,” said Col. Chris Richie. “When we give our children the tools for success, we set up our entire community for success.”

Additional YouthSpark events on military bases are scheduled for this year at: