Category Archives: Community

Inspired & Impacted By a Young onTRAC User

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Inspired & Impacted By a Young onTRAC User

The story of meeting 10-year-old onTRAC user, Toby Tate, and providing him with a short mentorship was one that inspired employees of Interactive Achievement, leaving us revitalized with the contagious childhood energies of curiosity, playfulness, and an enduring sense that the world is but our oyster; filled with infinite opportunities to explore and fulfill dreams. In a most-humble summary, this was a mentorship that mentored us, too!

Discovering a Gem

Monday, July 7th, 2014 was a typical summer day at Interactive Achievement. The Technology team had just settled into their summer routine, shifting away from production support and into feature development. We were in the process of reviewing resumes from a number of candidates when a message from Dr. Scott Tate, a Research Associate at Virginia Tech came across our HR Director’s desk. He attached a letter from his ten year old son Toby expressing his desire to be a software designer and interests in Interactive Achievement, our development practices, and our core values. He wanted to know if there were any opportunities to “volunteer” and work with our developers.

Now it’s not every day one gets a written letter from a ten year old … especially one that is using your software in school on a regular basis and has already taken courses in writing JavaScript from CodeAcademy. This was someone we had to meet! I called Toby’s dad to make the arrangements and invited our technology team into the conversation. We put aside a Friday morning to entertain Toby and his family. The wheels were in motion!

He Arrived Like a Jedi

When Toby and his dad arrived, it was clear he was prepared. Notebook in hand, he had a list of 30 plus questions he wanted to be answered. As we toured the building, we shared questions, answers, and stories. The questions ranged from “how did you get interested in writing software” to “where do you think the software development market is going” to “what do I need to do to become a better software designer?” He was also curious about inspiration. He was precocious. He was persistent. He was patient. He was on a mission!

I did my best to field his questions, and I asked a few questions of my own. His answers were well-thought out and open. If he did not know the answer, he said so, asking questions to better understand the context of the inquiry. It was clear the experience and opportunity had extreme value to Toby, and he was taking in everything.

Impacting the Team at Interactive Achievement

We wrapped up our tour of the office with a visit to our HR Director, Jacqueline Lackey’s office.

In her words:

“He came around the corner and asked if he could ask me a few questions. If there is one thing this kid is good at, it’s making adults truly think about their education and career choices. Toby asked me about how I ended up at Interactive Achievement and how I knew I wanted to work in Human Resources. I had to be perfectly honest and tell him that I tried a lot of careers out before I ended up with one I loved. He asked me to continue exploring volunteer opportunities, and I promised I would. With the pressure off of me, I walked him upstairs to the technology department where he continued grilling the employees. Having his energy in the building was refreshing and inspiring.”

Next up was Rob Williams, our Development Manager. Toby asked direct questions, maintained good eye contact, and explored insights into Rob’s experiences as a developer and manager. Rob shared our agile approach to getting from point A to point B in the development cycle and how to adjust to the unexpected (sometimes on a daily basis). Rob explored a project Toby had discovered; the dismantling of a tube TV Toby had found in the trash. They discussed the various types of people and processes involved in building the TV.

Toby met with two members of our development team next, Derick and Carine. Derick is one of our senior developers and architects. He has a soft spot for mentoring. Carine is a User Interface developer with an eye for design and simplified user experiences.

In Derick’s words:

“Before his visit, I had already heard that Toby was using the Internet to teach himself a programming language, and he was only ten years old. I remember thinking to myself, ‘That’s some initiative for such a young person!’ I was not completely surprised when he walked into the room with us, introduced himself, and then pulled out a clipboard and a pen and announced, ‘I have some questions for you.’ He asked some great questions, and it was fun to tell him the stories about the paths we have taken in life to end up at Interactive Achievement, working on a product of which we are all very proud.”

The day was also amazing for Toby’s dad, Scott.

“We really appreciate the time you and your team spent with Toby on Friday. It was a valuable experience for all of us. Please thank everyone for us. Just this morning, as we continued to process the visit, Toby mentioned how everyone there seemed so excited about their work, passionate about the company and had such interesting stories to tell. Meighan and I also feel really fortunate to have had a chance to meet such a great group of people and to learn more about your work.”

Embracing Our Company Culture of H.U.G. Everyday

This is a drawing by Toby, representing his experience at Interactive Achievement. He even referenced the arcade game in the Tech Department. :)

This is a drawing by Toby, representing his experience at Interactive Achievement.

This is one of the many reasons I do what I do. I love connecting people, solving problems, and growing community. Kids are an integral part of that community.

Toby is an exceptional human being, and I look forward to hearing about his adventures. His parents, Scott and Meighan, have their hands full. Supporting their son’s adventures and explorations in his community and his areas of interest can be time-consuming and expensive. They are doing it right, and we here at Interactive Achievement live our core values every day.

H.U.G. – Honorable, Unselfish, and Generous. It is how we do business every day, with our clients, our students, our staff, and in our community.

Thank you Toby, for an exceptional experience!

IA’s Magical Week Mentoring the VT KnowledgeWorks Global Challenge

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Creativity is in the Air

It is this time of year I love most! The smell of fall in the crisp air, nature starting to make that last push before winter, and diverse communities coming together to make magic happen.

As students, parents, teachers, and administrators prepare to go back to school, and Interactive Achievement’s infrastructure and support staff prepare for the fall volume, there is a buzz and excitement in the air – and this excitement is contagious!

Young Changemakers Collaborate

This past week, 14 teams of international entrepreneurial students competed to win $30k in prizes for their startup businesses in the Virginia Tech KnowledgeWorks Global Partnership Challenge. The week-long celebration of entrepreneurship brought student teams from China, Australia, France, Mexico, England, Italy, Chile, Belgium, Colombia, Canada, Austria, Malaysia, Egypt, and the United States. The competition provided a unique opportunity for student teams and faculty from all over the world to collaborate and initiate their personal global networks through learning, socialization, and friendly competition. These entrepreneurs are creating ventures in everything from: social gift giving, organic textile production, clean energy, and many other innovative technologies. A team from Egypt even came up with a way to translate text into sign language using animated avatars.

Young people from all over the world have descended on the Roanoke – Blacksburg region, at the invitation of VT’s incubator in the CRC, to spend time with host families, engage with local business owners, focus their business and technical skills and knowledge, and develop their presentations, continuing to invest in their vision, and their hope to change the world.

The App that Makes a Difference

Interactive Achievement was blessed to mentor one such team. They hailed from Paris, France and are developing tools to help kids with cognitive disabilities engage the world around them. Their company, Auticiel, has already created 3 apps for smart phone and tablet devices that primarily focus on Autism and fostering social integration for its users. One of their apps, Autimo, helps users to recognize emotions and facial expressions through games and animated content. Their vision is to help people with cognitive impairments overcome these difficulties by developing intuitive, enjoyable focused mobile apps and tools that they can use to communicate, interact and lead independent lives.


We Wanted to Keep Them

After a few days getting to know Team Auticiel, we didn’t want them to go. Their unbridled energy and passion was contagious, and brought a liveliness to the office that made everyone upbeat. The team spent Tuesday and Wednesday of last week with us at the Interactive Achievement Head Quarters- hashing out all of the final details, polishing their pitch, and receiving feedback from CEO Jonathan Hagmaier and other energetic IA’ers. Troops of IA employees packed into the meeting room to hear the talented students present and help provide them with valuable feedback for their entrepreneurship competition. Jonathan Hagmaier left them with a piece of uplifting advice that confirmed that their presence with us left more than a lasting impression; “no matter what happens in the competition tomorrow, you are winners. What you’re doing for the world- is making it a better place. That is what matters. And that is what makes you winners to all of us here.”

The Big Win

The competition was held on Thursday, August 22, 2013 in the Washington Lecture Hall at the Hotel Roanoke. They rocked their presentation, and went on to win the competition for a grand prize of $25,000 to go towards developing Auticiel!

What an amazing mission, what an amazing team, what an amazing opportunity to truly invest all that you are in something that has purpose.

This week I have been blessed and am thankful the Universe has offered me this path. Thank you!

Creating Impact through Company Volunteering

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Company Volunteer Day

Over the past few weeks IA employees have been enthusiastically contributing to our ‘Backpack Drive’ in order to reach our company goal of stuffing 100 backpacks by Aug. 2 with school supplies for our local Rescue Mission’s Back to School Blast for students in need.

The IA Volunteer Committee agreed that for every backpack donated by IA employees, they would match with an addtional backpack purchase. That means overall, 107 backpacks were raised and stuffed for this philanthropic effort!

After stocking up on the back packs, IA Employees took the afternoon to gather into the Rescue Mission and stuff them full of school supplies for students anticipating their first day of school.

Collaboration between local organizations and volunteers helped our community reach the goal of:


How Our Mission ties into our Volunteer Program

At Interactive Achievement we embrace three major values: Honor, Unselfishness, and Generosity. You got it; we embrace HUG…pun intended. With a culture based around developing personal strengths, Interactive Achievement employees are empowered to make decisions, continue learning, and find their passion. As a company that employs educators, we’re passionate about education as a building block of productive lives.

IA employees are asked to dedicate some of their work time to charity. The company serves its community by holding intra-company contests to raise sponsorship money, volunteering for the company’s philanthropic organization – the IA Foundation for Kids, supporting entrepreneurship through our Regional Technology Council, and supporting our communities through a variety of volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering Benefits Companies, Employees & Communities

The benefits of a company volunteer program include forming an impact cycle that positively affects employees, companies, and communities. Corporate social responsibility has been shown to: raise employee morale, boost employee health, provide skill development, increase employee loyalty and happiness, and provide a better sense of overall purpose. Benefits to the community include creating quantifiable social impact, which in turn makes your community a better place to live for everyone. Who doesn’t want that?

Here are a few ways that a company volunteer program can benefit you:

1.) Raises Employee Morale

96% of Americans agree that volunteering makes people happier. It gives people a sense of purpose, belonging, and can increase job satisfaction. Purpose causes volunteers to feel a deeper connection to communities and to others. These benefits in turn foster an environment of increased communication across departments, and between employees and supervisors.

2.) Boosts Employee Health

92% of people who volunteer through their workplace report higher rates of physical and emotional health. Volunteers report feeling greater amounts of optimism and a better ability to cope with stress and keep their stress levels low, leading to feeling better physically, mentally and emotionally.

3.) Provides Skill Development

88% of employee volunteers report that volunteering provides networking and career development opportunities. This creates an effective way to develop leadership skills. “Volunteering can also develop soft skills that are instrumental in a business environment, such as problem solving, mentoring and communications,” (CauseCast).

4.) Increases Employee Loyalty

66% of employees reported a greater commitment to the company as a result of their experience volunteering.

According to the Huffington Post, “the facts are clear: promoting and providing employees with meaningful volunteer opportunities helps to attract top talent; engage, develop, and retain employees; boost public image; and improve the bottom line.”

Optimizing Social Media at Linkedin Live

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Linkedin Live event

If you follow me on Twitter or we’re connected via LinkedIn, then you know I attended the first ever LinkedIn Live Thursday, June 27th at Virginia Tech. The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC) hosted the event which consisted of panel discussions, workshops and networking. I had the privilege of attending both the “Finding Talent” and “Networking” workshops where I learned about optimizing myself and my company on LinkedIn in order to find the best connections, resources, and talent.

Personal Page Take-Aways for LinkedIn:

Best advice: Define your purpose. Figure out the way you want to be using LinkedIn- Will you add personal effects or make it strictly professional? Who are you looking to add to your network? Why? What do you hope to gain from your connections and groups?
  • Add a picture to your profile! There was debate about using a professional photo versus cutting your friends out of a group shot.
Best advice: Cameras have timers for a reason; find a blank wall and perfect a selfie. Some advice I need to take myself!
  • Complete a summary of yourself! This is your chance to get yourself noticed and have viewers learn more about you.
Best advice: Get creative, show your personality, and let people know that you have personal goals!
  • Engage in LinkedIn “Groups”- Education should be a two-way street and we all have something to learn AND share.
  • Recommend and endorse others and ask for the same in return.
  • Update your profile often. No one wants to see stale information that doesn’t reflect you in the now.

Company Page take-aways for LinkedIn:

  • Update your company’s profile, product offerings, and picture often to best reflect who you are and what you can offer both prospective clients and employees.
  • Use your company page to connect with all of your employees. Encourage them to spruce up their profiles (see list above).
Something to remember: Potential candidates are looking at employee profiles to see what their co-workers are like. Personal profiles help reflect the company’s culture!
  • Use the search engines available on LinkedIn to narrow your job applicants to find the best fit faster.
  • Leverage your LinkedIn network and groups to find great future employees.

LinkedIn is great, but don’t forget that in-person networking is a great start and builds your online network in a more personal and faster way.

Penny Wars Creates a Manic Monday

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Penny Wars Creates a Manic Monday


If you know anything about IA you know two major things about us: (1) we love a good competition and (2) we believe in being Honorable, Unselfish, and Generous.

The company commenced on a Penny Wars journey in April and finished up in June with the sole purpose of raising money for the Interactive Achievement Foundation for Kids. We pitted “Business” against “Technology” and fought fiercely to one-up each other until the very end. The losers of the Penny War had to wear 80’s gear for the whole day on Monday, June 17th. After hours of counting change, it was determined that Technology was victorious by a mere $1.31. As a company we raised well over $1,000 to give to the Foundation for use with its Success Store Program.

About the IA Foundation for Kids

The Interactive Achievement Foundation for Kids is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Roanoke, VA. The foundation’s mission is to help students through achievement programs in Virginia and beyond.

Currently, the foundation hosts a program called The Success Store. The Foundation has served several schools and afterschool programs through an earnings-based reward program. The program, which operates on a semester-based schedule, allows students to earn Success Bucks for homework completion, attendance, stewardship, and grades.

This past spring Success Store students shopped at the Success Store, spending their hard earned Success Bucks on items such as clothing, gift cards, electronics, games, and books.

Just a few of our employees getting into the spirit of Manic Monday!


Start-Up Kids

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The Start-Up Kids is Coming to The Lyric Theater and The Taubman Museum

The Start-Up Kids is a documentary about young entrepreneurs all over the world. The story allows them to share their story from conception to where it is today. Some of the stories are from companies many of us may know well: Vimeo and Dropbox.

As a small company that began with an idea and an entrepreneurial spirit, we want to invite you to attend one of the events. The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council will be showing the film twice this month. The event is $5.00 per person.

Blacksburg, VA
When: February 19, 2013
Time: 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Where: The Lyric Theater
*Networking will follow at PKs at 8:15pm

Roanoke, VA
When: February 21, 2013
Time: 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Where: The Taubman Museum
*Networking begins at 5:00pm at Billy’s Restaurant; movie starts at 6:30pm

Register HERE!

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Teacher Shout Out

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Say Thank You to Your Favorite Educator

Herff Jones, a company that many will know for selling class rings, graduation announcements, and yearbooks, just to name a few, is also sponsoring the Teacher Shout Out contest. The company will reward the top 10 educators and their schools! For more information visit the Teacher Shout Out website.

Do you know an educator that deserves a pat on the back? Make it officially by sending them a Shout Out by March 15th and vote for your favorite Shout Outs until April 30th.

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Digital Learning Day

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Are you prepared for Digital Learning Day?

What is Digital Learning Day (DLD)? According to, “Digital Learning Day is a national campaign that celebrates teachers and shines a spotlight on successful instructional practice and effective use of technology in classrooms across the country”.

When is Digital Learning Day? February 6, 2013

How can you participate in DLD? It’s easy and FREE to sign up. Sign up HERE!

If you want more information you can follow Digital Learning Day- @DLDay2013 or use the hashtag #DLDay to follow the conversation! Like them on Facebook too!

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January is Bullying Prevention Month

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Bullying Prevention Month

Bullying is a huge problem in and outside of our schools today. With so many people having access to the internet, cyberbullying has become a new avenue for targeting individuals. According to 2010 statistics provided by Bullying Statistics, 2.7 million students were victims of cyberbullying.

Other bullying statistics:
– Over half, about 56 percent, of all students have witnesses a bullying crime take place while at school.

– A reported 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied while at school.

– There are about 71 percent of students that report bullying as an on-going problem.

– About one out of every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.

– Some of the top years for bullying include 4th through 8th graders in which 90 percent were reported as victims of some kind of bullying.

– There are about 282,000 students that are reportedly attacked in high schools throughout the nation each month.

So what can we do to help our children and our students?

1. Kids Health has several resources ranging from Teacher’s Guides for Bullying to Teaching Kids Not to Bully to Helping Children Deal with Bullying.

2. Stories of Us is a website dedicated to “Promoting Positive Peer Relationships.” The website has resources for educators, students, and the community. They even have videos you can share with your students.

3. Make Beats Not Beat Downs is a non-profit organization using art and music to help both bullies and those that are bullied.

4. Stomp Out Bullying is initiative that gives not only resources for dealing with bullying, but works with teens to become ambassadors for the cause. Stomp Out Bullying also has a hotline that people can call for advice.

Share your resources for the prevention of bullying in your school and community. Together we can make a difference.

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Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

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“As a nation, we must find the courage and the conviction to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies – now.” -President Obama

Helping kids cope with tragedies at school

In light of recent events in Newton, Connecticut, we’d like to share some resources for talking to your children and/or students about dealing with such tragedies.

The U.S. Department of Education shares “Resources for Schools to Prepare for and Recover from Crisis.”

One of their recommendations is to “give children the chance to talk, write, or draw to express their emotions. Please create the time and space for them to do that.”

Another resource the U.S. DOE has in their blog is “Resources for Parents following Traumatic Events.”

The National Association of School Psychologists also has resources for teachers and parents to help make children feel safe after a crisis.

If you have any additional resources, please share them with our readers.

Leave a comment on the blog or email us at!

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