University offers new entrepreneurial degree


Photo courtesy of Michael Semaca

College of Engineering Dean Andreas Cangellaris speaks at the University’s Innovation, Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship kickoff event on Friday.

By Michael Semaca, Staff Writer

Students wishing to become entrepreneurs now have the chance to receive academic credit for the ventures they pursue in addition to their traditional classwork.

The College of Engineering officially kicked off its new degree program in Innovation, Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship, or ILEE, on Friday.

The dual-degree program is designed to give engineering students a way to learn strategies to become successful entrepreneurs in the real world upon graduation. It is the first such program the University has offered to students.

Many of the program’s creators were in attendance at the event on Friday, including Andreas Cangellaris, the dean of the College of Engineering.

Cangellaris said that the program was created after receiving feedback from prominent alumni. A common complaint alumni told him was that the University gave no academic credit for their entrepreneurial endeavors they voluntarily undertook on top of their classwork.

“These people were telling us ‘you cannot imagine how many people like us you have every year as part of your college, as part of your campus,’” he said. “‘You need to empower them to go beyond the boundaries of the classroom, to go beyond the limits of the discipline, and think about the other things that they can take advantage of on this campus.’”

Andy Singer, the director of the Technology Entrepreneur Center, said the new degree is based on the experiences successful alumni had during their time at the University. They decided their experiences could be used as a template for future students.

“We’ve seen students over the last 10 years really be excited about innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership,” Singer said. “There have been a number of remarkable students that have come through the University of Illinois whose talents go beyond scale.”

Interim Provost Ed Feser was also in attendance Friday. He acknowledged how difficult it is to get a new academic program started at the University, and commended the individuals responsible for getting the degree program underway.

Feser said the program isn’t something new for the College of Engineering and acknowledged that it has been producing great entrepreneurs for decades. He hoped the degree would help to continue that trend.

“What I like about this program is that it’s an attempt among a number of attempts around the campus to scale up what we’re doing in innovation and entrepreneurship by providing you with the kinds of systematic skills and knowledge you need to really have a big impact,” Feser said.

Sixteen students from across five different engineering departments are currently enrolled in the program for its inaugural semester, including Corey Weil, sophomore in Engineering. Weil is currently enrolled in an ILEE class, and said he’s impressed by the other students in the program.

“It’s a little intimidating and motivating,” he said. “You’re in this room with 16 really, really impressive people, so it kind of validates to you that you’re doing something special and you’re getting credit for it. And it motivates you, because you see all these people here and you want to work with them, learn from them, and it makes you want to work harder.”

Jessica Austriaco, sophomore in Engineering, said the program was perfect for helping her achieve her goals. She was eager to see how the degree will develop in the future.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this program is that it’s completely new, and because of that you can do anything with it,” she said. “I like to make pathways and create things to help other people that will one day also follow, and that’s one of the biggest reasons I’m excited about the program.”

Austriaco agreed with Weil’s notion that the other students in the program will help her succeed.

“This group is definitely a group of ideas,” she said “Just working together and bouncing ideas off each other and juxtaposition, I think it’ll help us grow immensely as a group and as individuals.”

[email protected]