'IN2' launches innovative student ideas into reality at IMSA

The days as a simple preposition are over for the word "into," at least at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.

Into, in this case spelled "IN2," is now an innovation hub at the school, and it's the first such facility for entrepreneurship and technological creativity at a secondary school in the state, said Britta McKenna, IMSA's chief innovation officer.

The 6,400-square-foot innovation center features spaces large and small for students to work with their peers and business leaders toward developing fresh ideas into projects and potentially products, IMSA officials told a crowd of about 400 Thursday evening at the school's 30th anniversary open house.

"It allows students to explore and learn in spaces found in universities and labs," said Jose Torres, IMSA president. "IN2's purpose is to inspire student to turn ideas into reality."

The $2.2 million facility, built with gifts of $1 million from IMSA alumnus and YouTube co-founder Steve Chen and $650,000 from the Tellabs Foundation, is the residential high school's ode to forward progress, McKenna said. Doing things the same old way in education will lead to students who emerge unprepared and behind their peers.

"In order to leap ahead, we have to try something different," McKenna said, "and that's what this space is designed to do."

IN2 has been open as a testing ground since September, allowing students such as IMSA senior Addison Herr of Naperville to work with their peers and expert coders on projects of their own creation, like Herr's virtual reality tour of the school, which is given to students at other high schools.

The program he and other students designed to work with the Vive virtual reality headset by HTC allowed Herr to conduct a virtual ribbon-cutting for IN2 while open house attendees were all gathered across the hall in the auditorium.

"IN2 is ridiculously cool. It's been super-helpful," he said. "Having an actual space is very handy."

The space includes a learning lab, an idea bar with "Idea Baristas" who can offer advice and tips, a makerspace, an innovation commons, a mentoring office, group collaboration spaces and a cafe.

It has hosted hackathons, "Shark Tank"-esque pitch sessions to potential investors and entrepreneurship lessons for IMSA students and a dozen middle and high school students from across the region who paid $250 to become IN2 members. Students at suburban schools other than IMSA who are interested in memberships for next year should email, McKenna said.

Giving makerspace tours to impressed Aurora leaders Thursday, IMSA senior Zach Ungerleider of Northbrook said the makerspace corner of IN2 includes technology such as 3-D printers, 3-D pens, a Carvey machine that forms shapes by whittling down blocks of wood, and a physical object scanner to create digital images of tangible things.

McKenna said IN2's finishing touches went on this spring - just in time for officials to welcome Chen to speak at his alma mater during a panel discussion about the importance of education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

When asked how he took YouTube from an idea to an actual video-sharing website launched in early 2005, Chen said it's about preparation, learning the market and taking risks - all things he began to learn during his time at IMSA.

"It's that first baby step that allows you to see the early successes," Chen said.

His advice mirrors a long-held IMSA philosophy printed on signs in the makerspace that encourage perseverance during the process of trial and error.

"Failure is not the opposite of success," the signs point out. "It's part of success."

  YouTube co-founder and Illinois Math and Science Academy alum Steve Chen, right, talks about the impact of technology during a panel discussion and opening of a new facility that includes a makerspace, a learning lab, an idea bar, a mentoring office, group collaboration spaces and a cafe on the IMSA campus. Chen donated $1 million toward the project. Daniel White/
  Addison Herr, a senior at Illinois Math and Science Academy, performs a virtual reality ribbon cutting to open a new 6,400-square-foot community innovation center on the campus. IMSA is also celebrating its 30th anniversary. Daniel White/
  Britta McKenna, chief innovation officer at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, talks about STEM outreach in front of the new 6,400-square-foot community innovation center, partially financed by YouTube co-founder and IMSA alum Steve Chen. Daniel White/
  Illinois Math and Science Academy senior Malik Roberson stands behind an electric longboard he constructed in a new group collaboration space on the campus. The board can reach speeds of 22 mph, with some of its components made with a 3-D printer. Daniel White/
  Illinois Math and Science Academy opened a new 6,400-square-foot community innovation center. The new facility includes a makerspace, a learning lab, an idea bar, a mentoring office, group collaboration spaces and a cafe. Daniel White/
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