Illinois Math and Science Academy - IN2: The Steve and Jamie Chen Center for Innovation & Inquiry


Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube and AVOS Systems, Inc., generously designated a $1,000,000 lead gift, through the Schwab Charitable Fund, to the IMSA Fund for Advancement of Education to benefit his alma mater, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA).

IMSA is a publicly funded STEM academy with about 600 10th through 12th grade students. Internationally recognized, it develops creative, ethical leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As a teaching and learning laboratory created by the State of Illinois, IMSA enrolls academically talented Illinois students in its advanced, residential college preparatory program, and it serves thousands of educators and students in Illinois and beyond through innovative instructional programs that foster imagination and inquiry. IMSA also advances education through research, groundbreaking ventures and strategic partnerships. (

This gift to IMSA was the start of what is now called IN2, The Steve and Jamie Chen Center for Innovation & Inquiry. IN2 is a $1.9 million, 6,500 sf innovation, collaboration, prototyping, and business incubator space located inside the existing Aurora, Illinois campus.

Our process:
Cordogan Clark & Associates began designing this space by gathering information from IMSA and visiting local spaces that perform similar activities. Gathering information is the designer listening. "What are the goals?" is the first question we ask. Sounds simple, but channeling the user’s wants into architecture takes understanding, skill, and talent. Secondly, we visited 1871 ( located at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, and IIT's University Technology Park (, both collaboration spaces. 1871 is a place where start-ups interact with businesses, educational institutions, and governments. If 1871 is part of the highway, IMSA's IN2 will be an on-ramp to the highway.

There's a new paradigm in the way young people learn today. Google and Facebook, for example, were companies created by young people while they were still in college. They had no funding or business experience, but they were their own kind of expert in new technologies. 1871 and others use this history to make it easier for students (or anyone) to create, design, and test new ideas and share it with others who may be able to help them start a new business. These places benefit students, and they benefit businesses. Businesses are able to mentor students, plus they get to see new talent and new ideas. There is a new kind of freedom for young people to act upon their ideas NOW before they graduate college and have decades of business experience. IN2 is designed to give students a place to create, act upon, and share ideas.

The Gameplan:
Once we understood the goals and visited similar spaces, the third step was a design charrette. The designers collaborated with IMSA students, teachers, and representatives from businesses, local government, and other academic institutions. Using the on-ramp goal, a collaborative and consensus based concept was selected for implementation into a floor plan.

The Result:
The space design of IN2 resembles a contemporary office space more than a traditional academic classroom. It is unprogrammed space. Students have control over where and how they work. Yet it is more than just a "flexible" environment: It contains multiple scales of collaboration spaces, from a one-on-one moveable chair configuration, to a four person "phone booth", to an eight person conference room, to a fifty person seminar area. IN2’s Maker Space is a place to tinker, a place to design and create by DOING. And it's not just about soldering, 3D printing, or painting, but also about online content creation, gaming, and coding. The computer revolution is relatively new, and has been dominated with "virtual" ideas and many questions. The Maker Space is a place to take these virtual ideas and make them real. The center will also feature an office space for an entrepreneur-in-residence, as well as a media wall, idea bar, and cafe. IN2 is about sharing information and getting feedback in real-time. More and more people today are using online review sites, blogs, and social media to make personal and business decisions. IN2 will give students the tools to present, share, discuss, and build their ideas. It is designed to provide tools for students to not only ask the important questions in today's world market, but to potentially create answers. It is a new classroom prototype and an on-ramp to the future world market. IN2 will open in the fall of 2016 and be a home for classes, after-school work and study, and opportunities to connect with the community in a safe environment. By bringing students together with outside players from Illinois, Britta McKenna, IMSA’s chief innovation officer hopes IN2 will serve as a sort of math talent development magnet. “I think there’s an opportunity for mentoring at all levels and connecting our students to the local community (and) to higher education,” she said. “The benefit also I think is to really introduce our students to Illinois mentors and keep them in the state.”

Read an article in the Chicago Tribune -

IN2 Steve and Jamie Chen Center for Innovation & Inquiry

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