Digital leaders gathered on September 26 at the historic Congressional Country Club (CCC) for IFE’s 8th Annual Civic Tech Celebration. This year’s pandemic-modified event was held safely outdoors with a capped attendance on the Windsor Terrace amid sun-kissed views. Among the organizations represented were Presidential Innovation Fellows, the PIF Foundation, Coding It Forward, US Digital Corps, USDS, 18F, Technology Transformation Services, and many others in the civic tech space.
Kicking off the celebration with her trademark, “Welcome, Sports Fans!” Coach Kathy Kemper gave remarks honoring the civic tech movement, noting that strong bipartisan agreement for tech-in-gov harmoniously reflected the goals and values of the co-founders of CCC, former US Presidents from both sides of the aisle. She observed that the Institute for Education’s core mission of harnessing data, innovation, and soft diplomacy has led the organization’s drive to support civic tech starting from the inception of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Today, IFE continues to champion and celebrate the many talented technologists who choose to step up to serve and benefit society.
Inspired by the very same civic tech leaders in attendance, especially Megan J. Smith, former USCTO and founder of shift7, IFE co-founded the CS@SC coding camp at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering. Now in its 7th season, CS@SC has advanced computer science and coding skills for over 6500 students in underrepresented student communities. This year, the Jim Valentine Scholarship Award was given to 13 students and one teaching assistant for their outstanding work during the 2021 summer camp. This inaugural award was given in memory of James Valentine, IFE co-founder and spouse of Coach Kemper, who passed away this year after battling metastatic prostate cancer. Jim believed in helping others help themselves, and whole-heartededly supported educational initiatives such as CS@SC. For many students, this camp is game-changing, setting a trajectory for life-long learning and success. IFE is proud to continue to raise the funds used to provide full, need-based scholarships for this vital program.
Concluding her remarks, Coach Kemper commenced with the annual award ceremony to honor special individuals for their exceptional service: Wanmei Ou with the Distinguished Service Award, presented by Megan Smith; Joshua Di Frances, the IFE Change Agent Award, presented by Matt Lira (former Special Assistant to the President for Innovation Policy and Initiatives, and previous recipient of the same award); and, in a new surprise twist, New York City was given the IFE High Impact Award. John Paul Farmer, NYC CTO, graciously accepted the award on behalf of his city from former USCTO Aneesh Chopra amid laughter and joyful hugs. Finally, Ambassador Ashok Mirpuri and Gouri Mirpuri of Singapore, long-time IFE supporters, partners, and collaborators, were awarded IFE’s first Diplomatic Leadership in Innovation Award, presented by Megan Smith, John Paul Farmer, and Coach Kathy Kemper.
After last year’s hiatus, the afternoon was especially well-anticipated and meaningful. Many in the group were meeting each other in-person for the first time after 18 long months of remote collaboration. Merry mingling and animated conversations ensued. No one wanted to leave, until, cued by a glorious sunset, the bar was closed, and everyone bid adieu until next time.