Then there’s that day Microsoft came to Immokalee

by Noemi Y. Perez, President and CEO

As a nonprofit organization responsible for preparing the business leaders of tomorrow, we are fortunate: Southwest Florida’s business community has certainly taken notice.

As our region continues to experience unprecedented growth, many in Southwest Florida are understandably concerned as to the whereabouts of our future workforce. This issue doesn’t just apply to area businesses; residents also wonder who will fill the void in critical professional areas such as construction, education, technology, and healthcare, not to mention the assortment of service-oriented businesses we all rely upon.

The Immokalee Foundation’s award-winning Career Pathways Program is a comprehensive educational approach that breaks new ground in preparing students for professional careers that lead to financial independence. Through extensive research and analysis, the Foundation identified four specific pathways that lead to well-paying jobs that are in high demand in Southwest Florida: Business Management and Entrepreneurship, Education & Human Services, Engineering & Construction Management, and Healthcare.

Not only has The Immokalee Foundation received attention from the local business community, but international megacorporation Microsoft has also taken note.

The Immokalee Foundation, in conjunction with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and The Collier Industrial Development Authority, is working with Microsoft on an exciting new program to ensure digital skills training for Immokalee students.

This collaboration, named TechSpark Immokalee, is funded by a Microsoft grant and is the first of its kind in Florida. TechSpark Immokalee is a two-year pilot program aimed at bridging the gap between youth education and digital skills needed for success in the modern workforce. The program seeks to foster inclusive economic opportunity, job creation, and innovation in Southwest Florida.

The Immokalee Foundation recently welcomed seven Microsoft team members for the first-ever TechSpark Immokalee Microsoft Career Panel. This event enabled 9th and 10th-grade Career Pathways students to learn from Microsoft professionals representing a variety of specialties, including Data, Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Healthcare Technology, Cloud Solutions, Security, and Software Engineering.

Plus, all of the Microsoft panelists work remotely and are residents of Southwest Florida.

“We heard some incredible stories today,” observed James Caton from Microsoft and Board Member of Collier County Industrial Development Authority. “We had colleagues from Microsoft here today who were once interior designers and now working in tech. We had ex-military who are working in tech. There are so many ways to move into companies like Microsoft and have global careers in technology.”

As students in Immokalee have limited access to resources to prepare them for the continual digital transformation across industries, TechSpark Immokalee will include additional components, including a Middle School program launching in January 2024.

“At FGCU, we are developing the curriculum for the students,” said Dr. Daniel Linares Garcia, TechSpark Immokalee Fellow and Assistant Professor at the Stock Development Department of Construction Management at FGCU. “It is meaningful and impactful for them to get to know these technologies and what is coming up for them in the future.”

Without question, people of all backgrounds have a place in technology. “Diversity, inclusion, and representation in technology are important to me. As a woman in technology, I’m pleased to be here today to inspire our future leaders,” said Panelist and Microsoft Customer Success Account Manager Mary Fox. “My best advice for the students is to stay curious. Never stop asking questions. This is a big world. It doesn’t matter if you’re in technology or another line of work; things are always changing.” We say: “Bring it.”

About The Immokalee Foundation Since 1991, The Immokalee Foundation has been preparing the next generation of leaders through a 100% focus on education, career readiness, and professional development for students in Immokalee—from kindergarten through postsecondary education.

To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, become a mentor, volunteer as a career panel speaker or host, donate, or include the Foundation in your estate plans, please call 239-430-9122 or visit

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