IN2 the Future: The Groundbreaking Ceremony

Tuesday, February 23 could be considered one of the most pivotal days in IMSA’s history. After 30 years spent in a building that has enjoyed few architectural improvements, IMSA announced the construction of IN2, or the Steve and Jamie Chen Center for Innovation and Inquiry, after the million dollar donor and co-founder of YouTube and his spouse. Certainly no easy or cheap feat, IN2 was a project in the making for years that is finally coming to fruition. Yet, no matter how arduous the planning done, fundraising conducted, and work remaining, this architectural phenomenon at IMSA is nothing short of inspiring, not only to the academy but to similar institutions all over the world.

As a hub of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and innovation in itself, IN2 will be a center for collaboration and entrepreneurship with the purpose of uniting students, teachers, and the surrounding community. In doing so, this curious bunch of dreamers will consolidate their efforts to solve global issues, design and actualize new ideas, and of course ultimately advance the human condition. A renovated compartment of IMSA that is available to the entire public, IN2 will also be a 6,400 square foot space housing the numerous innovation-and-collaboration-promoting features such as open spaces, white boards, and ergonomic furniture, among others.

Beyond this renovation of the student union and Kid’s Institute rooms, IN2 is only part of the larger title “IN2 Innovation Center and Science Laboratories Groundbreaking Ceremony.” As the name suggests, the second floor B-wing science rooms also began long-overdue renovations. Major changes include transforming the dilapidated green house into an open space with whiteboards and couches for students, and merging labs into one long room separated only by a giant, collapsible whiteboard. Lab equipment, sinks, and desks will be upgraded and the teaching and learning environment given a new ambiance. An ideal hypothetical situation would entail one chemistry class beginning a unit on organic processes while a biology class begins its unit on biochemistry. The sliding whiteboard wall would move to merge the two classes into one separated by nothing more than their subtly different curiosities.

However, beyond the aspiration to “to promote innovation and collaboration,” IN2 also serves as a nexus to broader organizations tasked with entrepreneurship. The learning laboratory connects IMSA with nationwide higher education organizations ultimately reaping increased and improved opportunities for an already-prolific community. By focusing on the four STEM pillars of entrepreneurship education, teaching and learning, maker movement, and diversity, IN2 will be a tangible extension of IMSA located on the campus itself. Ideally, IN2 will churn out the innovators of the present and future, supporting other entrepreneurial organizations and opportunities at IMSA and beyond.

Current STEM- and entrepreneurship-focused Academy offerings include SIR, Independent Study, and Service Learning. Total Applied Learning for Entrepreneurship (TALENT) nurtures students into the innovative mindset and culminates in a competition named Power Pitch whose winner leaves with $3000 to fund their future product development. The unique opportunity of LEAD, a peer-to-peer education program for sophomores, teaches its students tactics of lifelong leadership through core theories and three electives targeting social entrepreneurship (SocEnt), public policy (EnACT), and research development (TRiAL).

In fact, Tuesday’s ceremony featured many student speakers from the aforementioned organizations such as Faithe Hill (chair of SocEnt) and Nick Rodriguez (president of TALENT), and also Tavis Reed (NAACP gold medal winner for biofuel research), Heidi Dong (Student Council President), and Cristal Quiñones (prestigious Questbridge scholar). These student leaders each read a personalized Twitter message reacting to the IN2 groundbreaking. The ceremony was also attended by many IMSA community leaders, including President José M. Torres, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Sheila MB Griffin, President of the IMSA Fund Board Ross Hemphill, and Principal Marie Dilon Dahleh. Other audience members to this historic moment included Senators Fordner and Wheeler and Representatives Tanner Edwards and Maria Manzo, as well as founding president and president emerita of IMSA, Stephanie Pace Marshall. Many crucial donors also made an appearance, including the million dollar donor himself, Steve Chen (see list below for full list of donors). Steve personalized a video for Tuesday, sharing in it, “When I look back at the critical points in my personal story, what helped me the most was my time at IMSA. They were the best years of curiosity and exploration of what was possible.”

Perhaps the most integral staff members in this road to groundbreaking were Britta McKenna and Dave DeVol, who respectively manage the innovation center and science laboratories. Dr. DeVol is also a popular chemistry teacher at IMSA. Because IN2 and IMSA can always accept donations, especially in light of the recent budget cuts and the budget it will require to achieve its goals, speakers at the groundbreaking called for continued support and donations.

At the ceremony’s conclusion, a team of IMSA students comprised of William Chi, Kathryn Downey, Judith Drake, Xinyu Guan, and Cherilyn Mendoza, supported by Mr. Urbanski and maintenance staff, created a spectacle for the audience with a chain reaction contraption constructed to launch confetti. Anna Shayabev, Nyxel Camerena, and Allie Platon worked with ITS to create a domino countdown video complementing Steve Chen’s earlier recording. Later, the visitors were lead around IMSA by members of the Student Committee for IMSA Advancement (SCIA) to the locations of renovation as well as Sodexo’s impressive assortment of sweets. Perhaps with this incredibly cohesive effort from members of the IMSA community, past and present, the goal that IMSA “by 2022 will be a global leader and a catalyst in innovation, inquiry, and social change” is not so far-fetched.

After this amazing groundbreaking ceremony, the prospects of IN2 seem very high, indeed. IMSA has always been the educational “gem” of Illinois, battling all hardship that came its way and advocating for innovative change within and beyond its community. The foundation of IN2 only accentuates this vision, as both the institution and its programming will serve as a model for education worldwide. In this way, perhaps IN2 will not become not just a resource for student innovation, but its natural home.

Please feel free to contact an ACRONYM Staff Member or Britta McKenna ( or 630-907-5934) for more information.

Breaking New Ground Campaign: IN2 Donors:

  • $1,000,000 or more
    • Steve ’96 (Cofounder of Youtube) and Jamie Chen
    • State of Illinois
    • Tellabs Foundation (Primarily for the B-science wing renovation)
  • $10,000-$999,999
    • Anonymous Class of ’89 and Spouse
    • AbbVie Foundation
    • The Ball Foundation
    • Andrew Dominic Baptist ’94 and Lindsey M. Baptist
    • BP America Inc.
    • Robert M. Chang ’89 and Ginger Chang
    • ComEd
    • Lloyd A. Fry Foundation
    • Be Hamilton (Gertzfield) ’97 and Willian Strickland Hamilton
    • Ross and Joyce Hemphill
    • Herb Knight and Friends
    • Lundbeck, Inc.
    • Mike McCool ’91 (Founder of NetScape)
    • Stephanie Pace Marshall and Mr. Dean Marshall
    • James D. and Marlene F. Pearson
    • Rich Foundation
    • Michael Suh (’97)
    • José M. Torres and Mrs. Isabel Torres
    • Cathy and Bill Veal
    • Sam D. Yagan ’95 (founder of Sparknote and OKCupid) and Jessica Droste Yagan ‘95

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