Illinois Tech’s one-of-a-kind Elevate program—providing opportunities for hands-on experiences, personalized mentorship, and career readiness—has contributed to the university’s largest class of undergraduate students in recent years. The Elevate program is a commitment to job readiness that incorporates a robust suite of hands-on experiences focused on preparing students for career success.
There has been a 25 percent increase in freshman enrollment since the announcement of the Elevate program. Among those who chose to enroll at Illinois Tech this semester, “preparation for career and job opportunities” was selected as the most influential factor by nearly half (48%) of respondents in a recent survey; also among the top reasons, 37% said “internships and other applied and experiential learning” was a persuasive reason to choose Illinois Tech.
Launched this fall, the Elevate program is a product of Illinois Tech’s efforts to adapt to the future needs of the workforce and help reimagine the future of education. As part of the Elevate program, eligible students can experience at least two outside-the-classroom hands-on or virtual opportunities including internships, undergraduate research programs, and study away opportunities. Illinois Tech anticipates that graduates who successfully complete the Elevate program requirements will be positioned to receive a job offer after graduation, perhaps in a timeframe as short as 6 months, and if they do not, they may be eligible for the university to assist them with taking graduate coursework or acquiring additional upskilling at Illinois Tech. Illinois Tech has a track record generally of job readiness: more than 91% of its graduates obtained full-time employment or decided to continue their education through graduate studies (among 2021 graduates reporting).
“Elevate represents a new approach to higher education—not only does this model focus on skills that are industry-ready and industry informed, it has the potential through hands-on and virtual experiences to bring opportunities for more students from all backgrounds, allowing them the chance to explore and gain industry experience at leading companies years before their peers,” said Raj Echambadi, President of Illinois Tech. “We hope that this new model of commitment to experiential learning and lifelong partnership with our students sets a new standard in higher education.”
Experience Is the Difference
As part of the Elevate program, every Illinois Tech student that enrolls receives a tailored career plan that goes beyond traditional academic guidance to map out mentorship, internship, and/or professional and personal growth opportunities throughout their careers.
Theo Guidroz, who graduated this spring with a Bachelor Science in Computer Science and Master of Artificial Intelligence, credits his hands-on Elevate experience learning about self-driving cars with helping him explore new interests and ultimately enabling him to land a great job offer at Google. “The Elevate experience helped me realize that college is much more than just taking exams and passing your classes. It gave me the opportunity to explore new interests and get prepared for the real world,” Guidroz said.
Illinois Tech’s focus on job readiness is evidence based. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 91% of employers seek job candidates with work experience, and on average, 80% of eligible interns receive a job offer. Illinois Tech’s focus on providing marketable skills for its students has consistently resulted in career development—92.8% of Illinois Tech undergraduate students are employed or progress toward higher learning after graduation.
Illinois Tech’s own data shows the role that hands-on experience plays in promoting successful outcomes: students who have completed an internship are more than 25% more likely to find full-time employment and have at least $10,000 higher median starting salary than peers who have not completed an internship.
Return on Investment
The Elevate program is another example of the value of an Illinois Tech education. Founded in 1890 in a rapidly changing, industrial society to educate the children of Chicago’s meatpackers, steelworkers, and machinists to become engineers, physicists, and architects, Illinois Tech has stayed true to its founding promise to serve as a place of opportunity for all students, regardless of their economic backgrounds. Illinois Tech is number one in the state for lifting students from families in the lowest 20% of income to the top 20%, number one in the Chicago region for occupational earning power, and third in the nation in upward economic mobility among highly selective private universities.
Illinois Tech has a history of leading experiential learning programs, including the Interprofessional Projects Program (IPRO). Founded in 1998, IPRO brings students together from various majors to work collaboratively to solve real-world problems in a multidisciplinary approach. IPRO projects and the issues they seek to address may be sponsored by companies and nonprofits.
Carrying this tradition forward, the virtual internship opportunities that are part of the Elevate program help students explore potential careers and earn valuable credentials in a virtual setting. These opportunities are available throughout the year, reaching college and high school students in more than 50 countries. The virtual environment helps students gain essential twenty-first century skills by collaborating on real-world projects in a format that will likely become an integral component of the workplace of the future.
More than 200 students have already participated in virtual internships as part of the program. The data visualization and the cybersecurity virtual internship powered by Cisco, are the most popular Elevate virtual internship experiences. There are also in-person workshops and short research experiences offered to local students including programs like “Biology Building Blocks: Cancer and Pathogens” and “Humanizing Technology: An Introduction to User Experience.”
“We all know that learning doesn’t begin at convocation and end at commencement,” says Mallik Sundharam, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. “We have looked deeply at the students of today and the market demands of tomorrow and took the opportunity to tailor our academic offerings by focusing on student success before, during, and after their time at Illinois Tech. We’re working to shift the definition of what it means to truly bring value to our students throughout their careers.”