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Margo Day with students at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School in Kenya.

Microsoft this morning named Margo Day as its new vice president of U.S. education, leading the team that works with schools and colleges in the United States on a variety of educational and technology initiatives.

A veteran sales and marketing executive, Day has been at Microsoft since 2001. But her recent experience extends well beyond our country’s borders. She recently returned from a year-long leave of absence focused on helping girls in rural Kenya in partnership with World Vision, the Christian charity organization based in Federal Way, Wash.

Meet our latest Geek of the Week. Continue reading for Margo Day’s answers to our questionnaire, including her perspective on her new role and insights from her time away.

What do you do, and what are your favorite things about it?

Margo Day

I’ve just returned to Microsoft after a year’s absence, and am in a new role as Vice President of US Education. What’s fantastic about my new role is the opportunity to partner closely with K-12 schools and Higher Education institutions across the US, including teachers, to help students feel inspired in the classroom, graduate, and be ready to enter the workforce. To accomplish this critical feat, we have a national team that focuses each day and in every state on working with institutions, faculty, students and government leaders. And because teachers are truly the cornerstone in helping students succeed, we have unique programs in place that train teachers on their use of technology and connect them with each other to inspire classroom best practices.

Partners in Learning is one of these programs. Since 2003 – long before my arrival – it’s built a community of 11 million educators in more than 20,000 schools in 119 countries with an initial $500 million investment. And just last week, we announced a $250 million, five-year renewal of the program. But the money’s not important here. The investment in teachers is what’s important. With professional development support and networking, we’re giving them the tools and resources they need to help every student reach their full potential.

To be part of making education better is so exciting.

What did you do during your year-long sabbatical, and how has it changed your perspective?

I used my sabbatical to focus my energies on raising funds and awareness for the Kenya Child Protection and Education project in partnership with World Vision. The project will positively affect over 17,000 children in five areas of the North Rift Valley in Kenya through building primary and secondary schools, deepening community advocacy for female education, transforming community attitudes towards early marriage, and significantly reducing female genital mutilation where practiced.

I traveled to Kenya three times to see the school building progress, the changes in the girls attending the schools, and to visit all of the new communities that will be beneficiaries. In one community, I was the first Caucasian that they had ever seen; in another, the women of the community literally picked me up and carried me around while they were dancing, presumably from being filled with hope — a National Geographic moment for sure! I also traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and met wonderful men and women who were touched by the difference this project would make, and gave of their time and financial resources to help.

The genesis of the current project started in late 2009 when I met 34 young girls (Pokot) living in a rescue center, who had fled their homes because they didn’t want to be married at age 13 or 14 or subjected to the brutal cultural practice of female genital mutilation. With World Vision, we built St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School to give these girls and others in the community access to quality education and an alternative to the centuries-old practice of early marriage, as well as shelter from the inevitable pregnancies that would result. Over 165 girls are now attending St. Elizabeth’s which means their families are foregoing the dowry that accompanies marriage and investing in their girls’ future!

Even in my new role, World Vision is still close to me. On Saturday, we announced a new program in partnership with them, as well as British Council and Intel that will put donations, software, technology training and professional development, among other needed resources, for Kenyan school children. In the next five years, the program will scale across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. This will have a profound effect on the futures of those children.

During my year away, I also had some fun. I went scuba diving in the Andaman Sea on a live-aboard Indonesian wooden schooner and did a three day trek into the mountains of Thailand; visited Angor Wat in Cambodia; went scuba diving with whale sharks and manta rays at Praia de Tofo off the coast of Mozambique, went to the very edge of Victoria Falls in Zambia, and spent time on an amazing safari in Kenya during the wildebeest migration and had a cheetah and her cub jump onto the roof spar of our truck.

How has this changed my perspective? In two ways. The first is understanding just how important education is, and that access to quality education is the cornerstone and the differentiator for a prosperous and full life. The second is, at our core, we’re not that different from one another irrespective of where we live in the world – we all want our children to have the best life possible, we all want to have joy and to be loved, and we all want a safe place to live and enough to eat. One person is not better than another, and when you give, you’re giving the gift of opportunity for someone to realize their dreams. In return, you receive something just as great – a more fulfilled and meaningful life.

Your advice to others who would like to do something similar?

Just do it! Take a step, try something, whatever it is, and you’ll learn where to best apply your time and talent. Focus your energies on one area of interest (either geographical or topical), and work with one or two NGO’s who have a proven track record of sustainability.

The biggest challenge you’ve witnessed on your trips to Kenya?

Changing the pervasive cultural attitudes and behaviors of men towards their girl children. I’ve met many men who truly believe that marrying their girls at the age of 13 is the right thing to do.

Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.

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The most inspiring moment you’ve experienced on your trips?

At the newly commissioned sciences and computer lab at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School. In the lab, I saw girls performing chemistry and physics experiments, demonstrating their true potential and love for learning that, just three years earlier were destined to be married by the age of 13. During that same day, I saw other girls creating documents with Microsoft Word and navigating Microsoft Windows who, just one year earlier had never seen a computer. We’ve brought STEM to the North Rift Valley of Kenya and are giving such tangible hope to girls for a far better life through education – what an inspiring moment to see that education in action!

What types of technologies did you take with you and use there?

I took my Samsung 9 laptop – it’s so lightweight, sleek and fast. I could easily blog, upload photos and videos, and use Skype when calling or sending IMs. That said, I’ve just gotten a Microsoft Surface RT and a Nokia Lumina 920 phone and could have easily traveled with either of those.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life? (Help us out, we need it.)

Prioritize your work and your life, and let go of the lowest priority things – they’re really not that important and you don’t have to do everything. Life is a wonderful marathon, not a sprint – enjoy the journey of it!

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows 8, hands down!

Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? Janeway

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter – beam me up! I travel a lot and this would save so much time and hassle.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Create a social venture that would develop a partnering model between governments and NGOs training newly skilled technologists in the developing world, with enterprises in the developed world, and create a work exchange.

I once waited in line for … Tickets to see Paul McCartney. It was a great concert!

Your role model: My dad. He was a man of his word, full of integrity, very pragmatic and humble, loved his family and achieved great professional success. He was intelligent, curious, an independent thinker who saw the irony and humor in so many things. Growing up, he was very poor and lost his father when he was only 5. Through determination and a belief in himself, he found a way to attend and graduate college, have a great career and offer a better life for his kids than he had as a child. I aspire to be like him.

Greatest Game In History: 1980 Miracle on Ice. ‘Do you believe in miracles? YES!’ (Al Michaels) I love it when the underdog wins.

Best Gadget Ever: The slinky

First computer: Macintosh (512K disk drive)

Current phone: Nokia Lumina 920 – it’s gorgeous

Favorite app: Sudoku

Favorite hangout: In the US, Mt. Rainier National Park; in the world, St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School in Kenya – I LOVE those girls!

Favorite cause: Kenya Child Protection and Education Project (World Vision)

Most important technology of 2012: Windows 8

Most important technology of 2015: Machine learning

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Live your life to the fullest. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so make every day count in your relationships and in your work.


Twitter: @Microsoft_EDU

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