Actionable Innovations Conversations Show Notes: Sandee Kastrul

Winter Series — Week 9

Sandee Kastrul

On Friday, March 25, 2022, Lucy Gray interviewed fellow Chicagoan Sandee Kastrul whom she first met when they both gave TEDx presentations at the National School Board Conference several years ago. Sandee has taken her deep knowledge and experience as a K12 educator and parlayed it into a smart, effective boot camp program that identifies promising young talent and trains them to work in the field of information technology and serve also as community leaders. Learn more about i.c. stars here.

Many, many thanks to Sandee for sharing her story and expertise with us.


  • i.c. stars is a workforce development program for young adults in the field of technology. It consists of a 9-week boot camp that steeps participants in the culture of the technology world.
  • Bill Strickland is an educator that has inspired Sandee. He started an education program around beautiful spaces and beauty in general in Pittsburgh that has been scaled around the country.
  • Sandee points to a professor at Harvard as another inspiration. Frances Frei helps people figure out what they are best at according to Sandee.
  • Sandee started out as an actor and as a teacher. You have to hear this hilarious and awesome story that reflects her experiential philosophy and approach to education. Click here to listen to this specific part of the interview. Sandee used the language of science to engage and teach high school students about life.
  • Educators are CEOs of their classrooms and all the same skills are relevant.
  • In her teaching work, she saw a lot of talented, resilient kids who needed a space to unpack the skills that they had accrued in life.
  • She figured out that in order to stay globally competitive, businesses needed workers “who could walk between worlds” meaning people who have developed resiliency as a result of navigating different home, work, and school experiences. Sandee felt that there was an untapped source of creativity and talent in young people who came from underserved situations and wanted to create pathways for inner city youth to opportunities in technology. Later in the interview, Sandee reiterates that the young people in her program already have the requisite resiliency skills; i.c. stars is just providing a context for them to “unpack all that resiliency”.
  • The intent with i.c. stars was to teach system thinking through technology and create community leaders. Participants are able to solve complex technical problems and then apply those same skills to solving complex problems in their own communities.
  • Each i.c. stars bootcamp cohort is comprised of 20 participants and is sponsored by a corporate client. The client gives the cohort a business problem to solve. The cohort is divided into 4 or 5 teams, each creates its own consulting company, and these teams compete against each other on the given project. It is essentially project-based learning with a real-life audience, and Sandee mentioned that there are many twists and turns during this process in which the young people in the program learn a myriad of skills. They shift from being students of technology to being consultants.
  • A core value to i.c. stars as an organization is helping participants understand that it’s not just what you get, but what you give, when enrolled in their program.
  • “We make our learners responsible for applying that learning and teaching someone else, or doing something with it… learning connects to meaning to connects to doing which connects to leading. So we’re not just looking for technologists, but we’re looking for leaders and we’re looking for people who are passionate about being a change maker.” i.c. stars look for enthusiastic, curious, persevering students.
  • i.c. starts staff have created their own assessments for resiliency and more because what existed wasn’t sufficient and/or was biased.
  • i.c. stars gets results. The average earning increase for i.c. stars graduates in three to six months is 300%. Many graduates are now homeowners and are active as civic leaders.
  • “Good education causes us to reflect on who we are.”
  • There are three learning modalities throughout the i.c. stars program: traditional fundamental education (learning to code, learning various systems in the business world), experiential/competency experiences (teams working on RFPs), and just-in-time learning (workshops based on needs).
  • Approximately 900 people have graduated from the i.c. stars program based in Chicago. The program has been expanded to Columbus and Milwaukee, and soon, Kansas City. Expansions have happened based on feasibility studies and market needs. Their niche is smaller cities where there is a drain on talent, but there isn’t a drain on innovation.
Our Interview with Sandee Kastrul

About Sandee Kastrul

Sandee is the proud president, co-founder and chief hope officer of i.c.stars, a workforce development organization and a social enterprise. i.c.stars exists to develop change-driven individuals to excel in technology careers and effect change as community leaders. Under Sandee’s leadership, i.c.stars has been recognized by Strada Education Network, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and the Brookings Institution. Prior to i.c.stars, Sandee designed interactive programs for GED students at Jobs for Youth, implemented a professional development program with Harold Washington College Career Center, and developed experiential learning modules for over 70 schools. Additionally, as a consultant for the Illinois Resource Center, Sandee provided schools with diversity training and cross-curricular teaching methodologies. Sandee is an Advisory board member of the Chicago Innovation Awards and an advisor for the Axelson Center.




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