Microsoft Reactor Field Trip with Cedar Heights Middle School

On Nov. 17, 39 IGNITE Students from Cedar Heights Middle School in Kent, WA visited Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters for an exciting IGNITE Field Trip to learn about computer science and STEM careers! The students got an enthusiastic welcome from a large group of Microsoft volunteers and met their host for the day, Kristi Yankacy, a Senior Engineering Manager.

After an introduction to Microsoft and the interactive learning space in Microsoft’s Reactor building, they settled in for a coding lesson.

Elizabeth Maher, Principal Software Engineer, gave a coding overview, including basic programming terms. Then, students dove into their own programming, with the support of volunteers Balaji Balasubramanyan, Genevieve Warren, Connie Yau, Simran Pujji, Dave Allen, and Tatiana Kapos. Using the Small Basic curriculum, they learned to make a turtle draw squares, and then draw several squares to make a flower. The students were lively and eager to participate, and they were rewarded with some cool Microsoft swag! Many students experimented with having the flower drawn faster, creating a flower with more pedals, or creating a flower with different color pedals. 

After the formal lesson students even had time to import the code for Tetris into Small Basic. The volunteers talked about how programming is a collaboration; you can’t steal other’s code, but it is completely acceptable to give credit and build off other’s work. While some students enjoyed just playing the game, some modified the code by changing colors or changing pieces to all be one square. Some even figured out how to give themselves lots of points! Students had a great time showing off how they “hacked the game.”

One student who was familiar with programming tried some challenge questions, and she was able to show the rest of the group some other cool things they could accomplish with Small Basic.

Students really appreciated the hands-on experience and the opportunity to ask as many questions as they needed in order to understand the process. 

After the coding activities, the group was joined by another group of IGNITE students for lunch and a panel discussion, facilitated by Iqra Shaikh, a Product Manager with Microsoft Azure Data.

Vineeta Pandey, a Senior Product Manager, is the only female engineer in her family. She didn’t have much guidance, and it took a decade of working to identify her strengths and interests and find joy in her work. Her advice to students is to think about where you want to end up to help plan where to begin and how to get there, ask for advice and feedback, and never undervalue your skills; instead, find an avenue where you can apply them.

Megan Schumacher, a Senior Data Scientist, was very into sports in middle school. She was good at math but wanted to be a cook or a chef. She didn’t see STEM as a career option until participating in DigiGirlz, Microsoft’s free STEM program for high school girls. The program was so much fun, she decided to go to college for computer science! Her parents didn’t support her decision because they didn’t think she would be successful, but Megan pursued a STEM career anyway, and she’s so glad she did. Being a data scientist is fun and challenging and allows you to contribute to something that millions of people around the world use.

Megan Trabun, Software Engineer II, had family in the healthcare industry and wanted to do something different. She has degrees in Computer Science as well as Media and loves problem solving and being an accessibility driver. It can be challenging to make things look beautiful and accessible, but helping people feels good!

Cassandra Collins is Principal User Experience Design Director at Mission Engineering, creating unique user experiences within Orbital, Space and Military. Growing up, she never imagined herself in a STEM/STEAM career. Her parents were supportive but wanted her to do something “traditional”, while she was drawn to art and technology. With the encouragement of teachers and her mom, she took art and coding classes. As she began her career, she took many challenging positions where she found herself in many situations, alone as a woman and person of color, but that didn’t stop her! Through the support of her mentors, friends, and family, she kept excelling in digital art and technology. Eventually, she landed a dream job at Microsoft working on cool games and products!

As a Technical Program Manager, Daetri Reed helps facilitate communication from engineer to engineer and works with other teams. She stressed that from the outside it can look like everyone is a coder, but companies need people with all sorts of skills and interests. Daetri was inspired to pursue a STEM career for the financial stability. She even showed a video of outfits she can afford because she works in STEM! 

After hearing from the speakers, the students asked many great questions:

  • What was the most important class you took in college to get here?
  • What is your favorite thing at Microsoft?
  • Are you surrounded by men?  If yes, what do you do about it?
  • What hours do you work?
  • What is the most difficult roadblock?
  • How do you deal with big egos?

The main takeaways were:

  • There are still challenges for women in STEM, but there have also been strides in diversity, especially in the last 10 years. It’s important to get allies from inside and outside your community, and also to be part of the change.
  • You will often be your hardest critic. It’s important to learn to work through self-doubt, and it’s ok to need help! Build your support network and use resources available. 
  • Even if you don’t want to be a programmer, there are many other jobs in STEM, and many different paths to get to your career. Take classes that are interesting to you, but also make sure you are exploring coding and tech-related classes. 
  • STEM jobs provide a good salary and flexibility. Think about the lifestyle you’d like to live when choosing a career—several of the speakers said they pursued a tech career because it gave them the financial freedom to travel and make purchases. 
  • There are no limits to what we accomplish! Let your work show how smart you are. Men “forget” you’re a woman, but don’t be afraid to be bold, brave, and stand up for yourself.

It was very helpful for students to hear a message that encourages students to pursue their interests, work hard, and not to be afraid to be the “only” in the room. 

Thank you to the amazing team at Microsoft for providing such a memorable experience: Kristi Yankacy, Elizabeth Maher, Balaji Balasubramanyan, Genevieve Warren, Connie Yau, Simran Pujji, Dave Allen, Tatiana Kapos, Ed Price, Allison Amaral, Iqra Shaikh, Vineeta Pandey, Megan Trabun, Megan Schumacher, Daetri Reed, Cassandra Ho, Sunitha Muthukrishna, Linda Diefendorf, Mary Beth Thome, Cassandra Collins, Romi Koifman, Cathy Moya, Irina Yefimov, and Shirley Tan. And thank you IGNITE Educator Stephanie Konschu and the engaged and enthusiastic students at Cedar Heights Middle School!

After attending this event:


of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class


of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities


of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

This was a fun activity! You can make a great salary working at Microsoft. Coding is a fun activity, but there are lots of different positions at Microsoft besides just coding.” – 8th grade

Today inspired me to never give up and to work hard. I was amazed by how much work was put into this event. I was also amazed by how happy the employees are.” – 8th grade

“This event inspired me to start learning more about coding, both at home and in school.” – 8th grade

“Today’s event inspired me to learn coding and programming. It was a memory to not be forgotten!” – 8th grade

“It was awesome to see how programming works and how people design computer software. Listening to the different panelists, it gave me some ideas for some job options I may be interested in. I want to thank every volunteer there. Getting to meet some people who have met Bill Gates and been to his house was also really cool!” – 8th grade

I had so much fun at Microsoft. I felt like I was doing something I actually liked which related to a future job. This could be a future career option for me.” – 8th grade

“The event showed me that I can be successful in STEM and that it can help me to not only have a fun and engaging career, but also a career that pays well. The coding activity with the turtle was fun.” – 8th grade

“I thought that today was really fun, and a unique experience. It was also a very educational experience, overall. I really enjoyed learning how to code, learning more about STEM from the panelists, and learning about Microsoft.” – 7th grade

“This event made me feel like there’s no need to rush- everything will fall into place. I don’t have to freak out about the future, which is a relief!” – 8th grade

“The environment of the event was really good. The speeches inspired me to not give up. The coding was fun and Microsoft has nice employees.” – 7th grade