July 9, 2009 By Steve Towns, Editor
Photo: Chicago CIO Hardik Bhatt / Blake Harris
This fall, 150 ninth-graders will start classes at the Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology -- a new high school that the city hopes will produce its next generation of technology leaders and innovators.
Mayor Richard Daley and other city leaders view industries like biotechnology and nanotechnology as crucial to Chicago's economic growth. But area businesses struggle to find the right talent, and colleges complain that computer science classrooms sit empty.
Chicago CIO Hardik Bhatt -- leader of city efforts to boost technology-related education and work force development -- said the academy will rekindle interest in technology careers.
"In the 2000s with the dot-com bust and the offshoring trend, IT really got a bad reputation in the U.S. and parents started thinking that their kids didn't have a future going into technology," said Bhatt. "The universities had a tough time filling computer science classrooms. So they said, 'Focus on the pipeline down the line.'"
The academy will train high school students on cutting-edge technology and give them personalized career and college preparation. Each student gets a laptop computer, and technology is incorporated into every class. Students can earn industry recognized technology certifications and college credit. And they'll get advice from executives at tech giants like Microsoft, AT&T, Google and IBM.
"It's creating the role models for these students to see that there is a future in technology," Bhatt said. "There will be one-on-one mentoring. Each student will have a business executive who will mentor the student throughout their career. The student will have an opportunity to job shadow these executives."
The academy was created by the nonprofit Center for Polytechnical Education and is operated under a contract with Chicago Public Schools. This year's freshman class will graduate in 2013. The school will add 150 students each year, ultimately accommodating 600 ninth- through 12th-graders, Bhatt said.
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