by John Jonelis
What happens when you invite the community into your high school and send your high school students into the community?
Amazing things! You create a THIRD SPACE in people’s lives.
[Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer at IMSA.]
Britta – “You have your home and you have your work and you have third spaces in your life where you feel comfortable and find a community. Robert Putnam believed in third spaces. He has a book called Bowling Alone 1. It used to be that bowling leagues were that third space. People at the bar. Cheers. We want IN2 to be that third space in people’s lives.”
“Look at the ceiling. Look at the lights. Do you see the pattern?
IN2 – Symbolism in Architecture
It’s that intersection of outside and inside. Community coming together to make this a real learning laboratory experience. We want to come in and work on real-world problems and opportunities.
“People can bring problems and opportunities to us and say, let’s figure out how we can work together. Like the State of Illinois with the hackathon we just did—finding solutions to childhood lead poisoning.
“Think about all the things kids are doing that are not helping. Here’s a great place. I hope IN2 can be a third space in people’s lives.”
[The grandness of the idea and the imaginative scope hit home, but ask Britta how IN2 will implement it.]
“We can’t stand still. Education—if it’s doing the same thing over and over and over—is not moving ahead—it’s falling behind.
“IN2 is the intersection of what we do at IMSA and the community. We’re partnering with Invest Aurora, the Woman’s Business Development Center, the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center—they are all resources to help what we’re doing here grow and scale.
[Britta anticipates my next question and gets even more specific.]
“We’ve opened up a cohort of LINKubators 2 These are actual startup companies. We have three working in the space as a pilot. Our students intern with them and our network can help them grow. Our MENTORS, our IDEA BARISTAS, our SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS can all help them grow.
“Next fall we hope to have ten LINKubator startups working in the IN2 space during the day when the kids are in class. We’re trying to see what we’re good at and get a rhythm to the space.
“So whether it’s somebody in the community with an idea or a problem—whether it’s students that want to accomplish something new—whether it’s mentors from the community coming here to help the next generation of learners—whether it’s subject matter experts helping a non-profit grow—we want IN2 to inspire students and community to go on and be entrepreneurs and develop their ideas.
“Our goal at IN2 is to blend in with IMSA and be that resource for students and community beyond the classroom. That’s what this is all about.”
“I think one of our signature programs is our STUDENT INQUIRY AND RESEARCH program or SIR. That really distinguishes us because we don’t have class on ‘I-DAYS.’ Those are inquiry days—that happens most every Wednesday. Traditional class shuts down. We have class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
“‘I-DAYS are meant for independent exploration—inquiry or research. On ‘I-DAYS, student go down to 1871 and other locations to intern for startups. Now, with the new IN2 facility, our students can work with entrepreneurs right here as well. Either way, through the SIR program, they’re doing research with mentors and business teams.”
Sue Fricano & Tami Armstrong
[I’m joined by Sue Fricano—IN2 site coordinator, Tami Armstrong—Director of Public Affairs]
Sue – “MONDAY NIGHT LIVE is an event put on by Dr. Carl Heine each week. He brings in speakers and he develops programs for entrepreneurs.
“He puts external students on his TALENT board—entrepreneurial students coming in to learn the different stages of building a business and different skills used in building businesses.”
Tami – “A lot of the students here are part of that as well as members of the community that come to learn more about entrepreneurship.”
Sue – “At IN2 we are trying to give them the expertise to go out and make the initial steps of developing.”
[Betty Hart is the Innovation Center Program Manager.]
Betty – “We have girls in the STEM program, which is a mentoring peer-to-peer program for girls in 6th to 12th grade. We have events such as IMSA DAY OF CYBER, which focuses on encouraging students to seek cyber security careers.”
Betty –“We have TEAM STEM CAFE, which is a network of local high school students who host quarterly events focused on STEM related topics. And we have THINK CAFE, which is a community initiative that invites organizations to come in and pitch a problem or an idea.”
Britta – “Our charges really are this: The first is to be a STEM teaching/learning laboratory for our best and brightest students across the state. Then we have the FUSION programs.3 These are after-school programs at schools, grade 4-8, all around the state. And we also have the charge of educating the educators. We bring the teachers in and give them professional development, which helps them in science and math.”
Bring Back Socrates
[I pose a thorny question: Why teach entrepreneurship at such an early age, rather than prepare the students for college or jobs?]
Tami – “What we’re doing is launching the students so when they leave here, they’re prepared. There’s a big demand for ideas and innovation. Innovation is valuable, and very coveted. We’re supplying that to the workforce.
“We’re also launching research. How can students advance the human condition and solve the world’s grandest challenges?
“That’s what comes from IN2—the ability to make very difficult innovations. When you can harness them, bring them to a place like this, and connect the students with business and industry, dream and idea become reality.”
[Suddenly I get it. I asked the wrong question and now realize the goal is really quite straightforward—to encourage students to think for themselves—to let them discover how to learn. IMSA does it the same way it was done almost 2,500 years ago—self-directed inquiry and innovation—the Socratic Method.]
Britta – “People think we’re just this gifted school for 650 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from around the state, but we’re not. And people think we’re a private school and we’re not—we’re public. We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Illinois.”
“And we have a student team called IMSA ELEMENT that teaches the lean startup methodology. Build—measure—learn. Students developed a whole curriculum and teach it to each other. We’re entertaining possibilities.”
- “We need to be open to ideas, be able to move quickly, and say YES.”
- “And have FAST FAILS.”
- “And move toward SUCCESS and ITERATE.”
“We’re not afraid to do that here. In a world where you’re dealing with high-caliber students who don’t fail often, failure is a difficult concept. But once they get the hang of it, they actually become quite good at fast fails.”
Entrepreneur with a solution
Britta – “We’re not looking for the vast majority to really understand this space, because we can’t hold everybody. But about 17% in the world are innovators. That’s who we’re looking for—that 17%. Once we get a few of those, they bring their networks. Those are the early adopters, innovators, and they see things much earlier.”
Those are the people IN2 was built to serve.
This is the final article in this series.
Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2
Go to Part 2 – POWER PITCH
Go to Next Series – TOP OF THE LIST
IN2 Contact Info
Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506
Website – https://www.imsa.edu/
Carl Heine – firstname.lastname@example.org
Britta McKenna – email@example.com
Tami Armstrong – firstname.lastname@example.org
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.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved