Desmend Jetton – VISTA Experience

Our 2016-2017 VISTA Alum, Desmend Jetton, is now working at the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition. ISTC is a nonprofit organization that works to “cultivate technology-based economic development throughout Illinois.” We learned a little more about ISTC and how Desmend’s VISTA year is informing his work there.



What is your position at ISTC?

Currently, I am the 2017-2018 ISTC Program Intern. I have the privilege of handling all communications, media outreach, and press releases regarding Illinois’ innovation footprint -through innovation, data, education, and policy advocacy.

A key publication I do media outreach for is our Coalition’s  Illinois Innovation Index which gauges Illinois’ innovation prowess in: college entrepreneurship, Statewide STEM Talent (Illinois is now #2 nationwide in the share of Computer Science and STEM graduates!), and Statewide Research & Development

In addition, I’m lucky to work with the Illinois Science & Technology Institute, which connects corporations with classrooms to solve real-world problems with corporate mentors. This year, the Institute has a record-breaking year of classroom and corporate partnerships statewide.

I also assist with finding mentors using Mentor Matching Engine, a virtual mentoring platform that pairs Illinios high school students with professionals for mentorship through student driven-research projects. All research projects are matched with a teacher and student and the commitment is max an hour a week. We are looking for STEM and social science expertise, but anyone can sign up to be a mentor(hint-hint)!  

How did your experience as an ILCC VISTA at IIT prepare you for your current work?

Global Leaders Program Community Innovation Engagement
The Global Leaders Program at IIT is a two year program for High School Juniors and Seniors passionate about STEM.

My service year as a ILCC VISTA was invaluable in preparing me for my role at the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition. As a VISTA for Illinois Tech’s Global Leaders Program, I had the opportunity to interact and collaborate with Illinois’ vibrant science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) ecosystem while also preparing our students for college success.

Due to our team being lean and Illinois Tech’s intimate setting, I was able to work with our department on tasks that I doubt I would have had the opportunity to do in a behemoth department. Learning how to use MailChimp to send our scholars reminders of workshops and our newsletter transferred to me taking on our Coalition’s Catalyst.

Further, my experience as a VISTA galvanizing mentors for our GLP Community Innovation projects has helped my outreach to mentors for the Coalition’s 501c non-profit the Illinois Science and Technology Institute’s Mentor Matching Engine. Since Illinois Tech is a member of the Coalition, many of my references knew the job listing advertiser and were able to put in a good word for me.

Learning about the ISTC internship, my experience being prepared for the role, and my knowledge of Chicago’s tech ecosystem wouldn’t have been possible without my ILCC VISTA service year.

What is the civic impact of your work at ISTC?

ISTC’s industrial agnostic approach allows us to make informed decisions on policy that affect Illinois and ultimately, U.S. bred innovation and discoveries. We are strong proponents of the Startup Act, legislation that would allow international entrepreneurs access to the US to start businesses. In 2014, immigrants made up more than 20 percent of all US entrepreneurs, despite representing just 13 percent of the overall population. In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 firms have at least one first or second generation immigrant founder.
Further, we just released our Catalyst arguing for Dreamers and DACA resolutions to be extended. By increasing the number of highly-skilled STEM workers eligible for residency in the U.S., the Startup Act would give Illinois employers increased access to talent, while also helping the state retain international students studying at in-state universities.

I’m also extremely blessed to be working underneath Mark Harris, President/CEO of the Coalition who holds an extensive history in Illinois civics and policy. This includes serving as deputy chief of staff for the State of Illinois, working as associate director for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and serving in senior positions at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Civic education is a tenant of my VISTA service year that I i will not forget. Civic engagement and policy advocacy is just one pillar of innovation that contributes to new inventions for the benefit of a more just society.


Learn more about the Illinois Campus Compact VISTA program here: https://illinoiscampuscompact.org/americorps-vistas/ 

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