Thursday, September 25, 2014

Semester 'abroad' at 1871 could keep tech talent in Illinois

Semester 'abroad' at 1871 could keep tech talent in Illinois

During an appearance with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday, 1871 Chief Executive Howard Tullman floated one of the best solutions I've heard in a long time for stemming the exodus of technology talent to the coasts.

Tullman wants to create a semester "abroad" program in Chicago for junior year engineering and computer science students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"People down there don't get what's going on in Chicago right now," Tullman said.
And why is it so important that they do?

The University of Illinois has one of the finest computer science and computer engineering programs in the country.

Alumni from that school co-founded YouTube (Steve Chen), PayPal (Max Levchin), Netscape (Marc Andreessen) and Yelp (Jeremy Stoppelman).

Andreessen deserves special mention. With Eric Bina, he created the first easy-to-use web browser, called Mosaic, at the university.

Tullman proposes that Chicago recruit these innovators early by transferring their classes for a semester to 1871, the tech-focused co-working center in the Merchandise Mart. There, in addition to taking courses from U. of I. professors, they would be exposed to peers and funders, and receive additional mentoring.

"It's going to take a lot of work," Tullman said. "Dealing with faculty and changing the curriculum, it's roughly the same as moving a cemetery."

I called the dean of the engineering school.

"I'm aware that conversations have taken place, but I have not heard directly from 1871 about this idea," Andreas Cangellaris said. "But this is an exciting idea. Many of the students would be intrigued enough to consider it. ... And I think most of our faculty members would want to take advantage of this presence in Chicago to pursue their own interests.

Faculty such as Ranjitha Kumar, who has her Ph.D. from Stanford. She is the chief scientist of Apropose, a startup that recently announced nearly $1.9 million in funding from New Enterprise Associates and Andreessen Horowitz, co-founded by — you guessed it — Marc Andreessen.

They are two of the best venture capital firms in the country.

Kumar, 28, is new to U. of I., having arrived a month ago. She deferred her appointment for a year to launch Apropose with fellow Stanford Ph.D. student Arvind Satyanarayan, Stanford undergraduate Maxine Lim and Stanford Ph.D. Jerry Talton, Apropose's CEO.

Where did Talton get his undergraduate and master's degrees? U. of I.

And where is Apropose based? Mountain View, Calif.

Apropose's product is in development. Kumar says it will help people use data to design more-effective websites.

She had never heard of 1871. She Googled it while we were on the phone.

So what's it going to take to build connections between U. of I. and Chicago?

"What it takes is a commitment from all of the partners to accommodate the added costs," Cangellaris said. "As you know, we are a public institution. Our budget is constrained in ways that a private institution does not need to worry about. ... But I see no reason why we can't come together and figure out how to make this work out."

I noticed that U. of I.'s engineering school does not have a donor's name attached to it.
So for those with the means and will to make this program happen, please insert your name in the blank space:

The _____ College of Engineering. Now how does that sound?

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