College of Engineering launches City Scholars program to bring engineers to Chicago


Photo courtesy of Jiejie Wang

Members of the College of Engineering staff pose for a picture. The college has begun a new program to bring University engineers to Chicago.

By JieJie Wang, Staff Writer

The College of Engineering started the City Scholars program in January and sent 37 juniors and seniors to intern at 16 companies in Chicago while continuing to take classes.

Andreas Cangellaris, vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, initiated the 16-week program while he was the Dean of Engineering. Students are supposed to work 20 hours per week and are paid $25 per hour.

To balance their work and study, students work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and take classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

They live in University of Chicago housing and have the choice to take classes taught by engineering faculty members in the Illini Center or online. Some students are taking general education courses at the University.

Amy Fruehling, director of Engineering Career Services and member of one of the committees that developed the pilot program, said the reason they launched this program for these particular majors was they had companies that were interested in students from those backgrounds.

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“As the program goes, there will be more opportunities for students with different engineering disciplines and skills,” Fruehling said.

This time, only students from computer engineering, computer science, electronic engineering and industrial engineering had the qualifications to apply.

“Students are connected with the leaders of a lot of tech communities who really want to showcase that Chicago is a great place to begin your career and tech space,” Fruehling said.

Fruehling said the goal is to help develop a talent pipeline from the University’s engineering program to Chicago.

Historically, a lot of computer science students and electronic engineering students go to California or Washington, where many big companies, such as Google and Facebook, are located, Fruehling said.

“What we are trying to showcase is there are some tremendous opportunities and values in Chicago,” Fruehling said. “Tech communities in Chicago are good places for students to consider starting their careers. It really spurred that talent pipeline by looking at Chicago and not just all heading out to California. They might have the ocean, but we have Michigan.”

Larry Poon, senior in Engineering, who is part of the City Scholars program, is currently interning for Nextcapital Group in Chicago.

“The program has been wonderful so far,” Poon said in an email. “It took me a while to figure out how to manage my study and work schedule as well as life. I guess this is part of the learning experience; that’s something we don’t normally focus on while in school.”

Poon said the scholars meet with different entrepreneurs and experts in the field at least once a week.

“We had a lunch networking event just last Thursday with the CTO and CIO at Ocient. The feeling is special because even (though) you work for a company, you don’t always have chance to be connected to executives this way,” Poon said. “It was definitely valuable to learn about their entrepreneurship.”

David Bild, vice president of product delivery at Xaptum Co., has four interns all working as “product engineers.”

Bild said in an email that Mark Tebbe, University alumnus and adviser and investor of Xaptum, suggested it would be a great way to meet some really great students.

The goal of the program is two-fold, Bild said. First is to intentionally hire students who are self-motivated and want to “own” some aspect of their work.

Bild said several of their interns have already taken ownership of features on their product roadmap in the first two weeks. The company will be able to roll out these features to customers sooner because of the City Scholars.

“Secondly, we want to keep the great talent coming out of UIUC. It’s easy to lose engineers to the sexy, well-publicized tech and startup scene on the West Coast,” Bild said. “Chicago has a strong tech culture, too, and is arguably a better place to live. Bringing students here to experience that before they decide on a full-time position will help them make an informed decision.”

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