Let’s Get Down to Business

IMSA’s mission statement:

The mission of IMSA, the world’s leading teaching and learning laboratory for imagination and inquiry, is to ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition, through a system distinguished by profound questions, collaborative relationships, personalized experiential learning, global networking, generative use of technology and pioneering outreach. [1]

IMSA has always advocated imagination and inquiry through an innovative approach to education; to be different was accepted, and to be clever was encouraged. It would be a school for the best and brightest minds across Illinois, assembling a common desire for knowledge, creativity, and a better future for the world (and beyond).

Often, such ambitious visions fall short of expectations, and, to be certain, I would be hard-pressed to tell you when the last time an IMSA student used imagination or asked a profound questions when measuring chemicals into test tubes, copying equations from the board, or attending lectures on residential life regulations. More likely, students can be seen sneaking to friends’ rooms past curfew, writing English and history essays into the morning, and nodding off to soporific lectures. No, IMSA is not as it claims, on paper or pixels. Which isn’t to say that IMSA doesn’t foster passion and community – it does – or that it isn’t among the best learning institutions for high schoolers – it is – but it could be better.

IMSA does have all it needs to foster innovation, but it’s being handled poorly. The imagination and ideas are here. The passion is here. The resources are most definitely here. Meet TALENT, a program created to fill those gaps in learning. It teaches students how to foster ideas into businesses, passions into products, and collaborations into partnerships and friendships – and it provides the resources to do it: TALENT has broad reaches to successful individuals in business and technology willing to speak to, invest in, and partner with IMSA students. No other learning experience leverages students’ imaginations and passions, while fulfilling and delivering as a “system distinguished by profound questions, collaborative relationships, personalized experiential learning, global networking, generative use of technology and pioneering outreach,” as the mission statement puts so eloquently. In TALENT, students are learning how to think on their feet and survive in the real world, not how to discreetly take naps in class or survive disciplinary action for having lights on after midnight.

Innovation happens under the right conditions, but IMSA is not currently an environment conducive to such. Requirement after unnecessary requirement, an excess of academic pressure, and a focus on publicity over mission has led to stagnation and hesitation to do something big at IMSA. I mean, did you know IMSA’s TALENT (Total Applied Learning for Entrepreneurs) program is second only to SIR (Student Inquiry and Research)? It says so in the brochure IMSA sends to prospective students and college admissions offices! No wonder the majority of students hardly know what TALENT does, and less than a tenth of IMSA regularly attends its meetings. One questions the metric used in determining its placement on the brochure, but even more so, how such an ambitious and innovative program has become a minor ornament within IMSA.

The obvious, immediate solution is to inform students of the opportunities offered by TALENT. It’s not a lack of ideas, not a lack of passion, and not a lack of resources, but rather frustratingly, a lack of awareness that is creating the most resistance for innovation through TALENT. This article is the first of many future articles on entrepreneurship at IMSA; its purpose is to inform, impassion, and recruit students who were once inspired by IMSA’s mission, tickled by the desire to do something big.

Get started. Stop by the TALENT office just past the cubbies on the way to the Old Caf, and talk to any of the old people in there. You can also come by the Monday night sessions at any time, from 8 to 9 PM. There’s plenty of room.

To conclude, I want to stress that the purpose of this article is not to provide a disheartening view on IMSA’s fulfillment of its mission, but to look to the tangible future at what IMSA could be.


[1] Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, https://www.imsa.edu/discover/profile/mission_and_beliefs.

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