November 2, 2009 By Hilton Collins
Photo: Teisha Jones (left), principal, Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology; Matt Hancock, executive director, Center for Polytechnical Education/Photo by Matthew Gilson
The United States is often seen as the world's technology leader, but the 21st century could bring some challenges to the throne.
Consider this: The Rand Corp., a nonprofit research organization, reported in a 2008 document, U.S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology, that the European Union awarded 41,000 science and engineering doctorates in 2002 compared to America's 27,000. In the paper, Richard Freeman, a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, forecast that by 2010 Europe will produce twice as many doctorates in the field as the United States, and China will produce about 25 percent more than the U.S.
But an innovative endeavor in Chicago could become an example of how to improve America's standing. On Sept. 8, 2009, the Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology (CAAT) opened its doors. The academy is the result of an effort -- led by Mayor Richard M. Daley and CIO Hardik Bhatt -- to fill the need for skilled IT workers and tech-savvy executives at Chicago companies and within city government.
CAAT is operated by the Center for Polytechnical Education, a nonprofit focused on training young people to be shining technology stars in a changing economic universe. Matt Hancock, the center's executive director, hopes the subject matter will help build technical prowess and creativity within the next generation so they can strengthen the economy.
"We want to see our graduates getting great jobs, then going into management, going into ownership of companies, starting new companies and driving the creation of the new kinds of businesses that we'll see in our future," Hancock said.
The school will train students in multiple science and engineering subjects, including robotics, computer programming, biotechnology and Web development -- along with the conventional subjects that are required by state law.
"We have to make sure we're offering the students the seed courses they need, so that means students will take English. Students will take math. They'll take science. They'll take subjects in social sciences as well. They'll take P.E. -- all those are sort of the baseline course offerings," said Teisha Jones, principal of the new academy.
As students progress in their studies, they'll gain work experience at companies and guidance from a mentor in the business world. CAAT graduates will leave the school with various IT certifications, industry experience and know-how before they ever step foot inside a university classroom.
"The most exciting thing is knowing that I will have an opportunity to potentially change the lives from the students entering the door, and understanding that it is definitely an opportunity of a lifetime to sort of build and mold these students to be leaders in the field of technology," Jones said.
If all goes well, CAAT will be part of the solution for local companies that need to find the right talent for high-tech operations. The school came about because of a series of events that began years ago. Bhatt co-chairs the mayor's Council of Technology Advisors, and said the city commissioned McKinsey, a management consulting company, in 2005 to conduct a pro bono study on the local technology sector to assess the region's IT strength.
"They basically looked at all the technology -- information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology -- and they came to a conclusion that the Chicago area in general is moving ahead more slowly compared to the coasts of the United States," Bhatt said.
Chicago needs more talent to revitalize these areas. Between late 2006 and early 2007, Bhatt convened meetings with local businesses and postsecondary institutions
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