Photo by Estlin Mendez (They/them)
The first new academic building on Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus in over 40 years, the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship (Kaplan Institute) officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and press conference on the afternoon of Thursday, October 25. As part of the ceremony, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Bobby Rush, and donors Ed and Carol Kaplan were in attendance, among other notable guests of the university.
Photo by Estlin Mendez (They/them)
Before the official opening ceremony, the special attendees were taken on a tour of the building, with several student groups displaying their project work, including Illinois Tech Robotics (ITR), IIT Motorsports, and examples of interprofessional project (IPRO) courses, including IPRO 497-104: Developing Solutions to Enhance Urban Rail Ridership and IPRO 497-304: Big Data and Public Safety.
After their walking tour of the building, a press conference was held in the central Victor Morgenstern Pitch area of the building. In his opening remarks, President Alan Cramb welcomed the university’s guests, as well as President Emeritus John Anderson, while also referring to the day as the culmination of “a dream that started a number of years ago, and when it was discussed a number of years ago, it seemed impossible. But, due to the generosity of Ed and Carol Kaplan, due to the work of our trustees, due to the work of many of our friends…an innovation center that was focused on tech entrepreneurship would really make a difference in our university.”
President Cramb then asked Senator Durbin to share some remarks, who went on to state that “the Kaplan Institute and IIT will help Chicago and Illinois continue to lead the world.” Durbin then flipped the discussion to how “we need to help you in Washington [D.C.]” He expressed his belief that “in Washington, we need to focus more attention on research and on innovation…We need to do more. We need to do investment in innovation and research.” The pursuit of innovation at a local level, such as that exemplified by the Kaplan Institute, Durbin expressed, is how he believes that the U.S. will be able to continue its leading role in the world.
The next speaker at the ceremony was the architect of the Kaplan Institute, John Ronan. Ronan reaffirmed many of the key themes associated with the event, stating that “while knowledge and skills were once all that was needed to advance in life, today it’s creativity and entrepreneurial initiative which are the keys to success…And so our university buildings must also evolve to reflect this new reality.”
Referring to the building as an “idea factory,” Ronan shared his vision of the building as a “place of creative encounters between students and faculty across disciplines and a home for new ideas and meaningful innovation.” Ronan then went on to describe more of the building’s innovative components and structural elements, which can be read in more detail in the article "A guided visual tour of the Kaplan Institute building" on page 6. He concluded his remarks by referring to the original understanding of campus as having comprised of three building types: classrooms, laboratories, and communal buildings. “The Kaplan building will be all three. Intended for use by all, it’s a new kind of classroom building, a laboratory for ideas where students will shape the future.”
Third-year mechanical engineering major Molly Urbina was the next speaker invited to the stage. Urbina described her undergraduate experience thus far, specifically focusing on her coursework in the IPRO program and how her group “created a robot for inspection of vertical farms. Although we learned and gained many technical skills, I have learned that I could not be successful without collaborating with various disciplines.” The valuable teamwork skills her IPRO taught her led to Urbina understanding that “engineering is more than just building a mechanism: it’s working together to solve problems.” Urbina concluded by affirming her excitement about the opening of the Kaplan Institute, as “a driving force in student inventions.”
Mayor Emanuel spoke next, making the claim that “the South Loop-Bronzeville community will be the center of the new tech economy in the city of Chicago.” He related this to the prominence of Illinois Tech in the area, as the university that “brought technology to the city of Chicago and put it on the map as an innovator and being in the forefront of adopting new technology.” Emanuel finished his speech with a challenging statement “to Silicon Valley, Beijing, Tokyo, Berlin - watch out, Chicago’s coming for you” before thanking the Kaplan family once again for their generosity in making this building a reality.
The eponymous Ed Kaplan then gave his remarks, describing the story of how he came to see “it’s really all about the students and about the future of the students.” Through the Kaplan Institute, he “saw a way to significantly enhance the education we provide our students.” He went on to describe how he believes the Kaplan Institute will go about benefiting the university’s students: the facility itself, the multidisciplinary environment it fosters, the access to experiential learning it provides, the Idea Shop’s prototyping tools, startup facilities on the Mies Campus, and the relocation of the Institute of Design to the building. These elements, Kaplan believes, will allow Illinois Tech students “to select a career path of their choosing…and be in demand.”
Finally, the final speaker Cramb to the stage for the ceremony answered a vital question he found himself confronting in the years leading up to this day: “who’s going to lead this and make it happen?” In the end, Cramb and the trustees made the choice to select Howard Tullman as the executive director of the Kaplan Institute. Tullman’s speech reiterated many of the sentiments and innovation-based ideals of the prior speakers, focusing on the interdisciplinary nature of the Kaplan Institute’s work environment and how this will prepare students for “the new-collar economy.” He then gave numerous examples of the various skillsets, project types, and industry partnerships that he hopes will define the future of the Kaplan Institute.
To finish the ceremony, Tullman called forward “the two newest team members.” Two Pepper robots, manufactured by SoftBank Robotics then approached the stage and helped the members on stage cut the ribbon and officially open the Kaplan Institute.
With the cutting of the ribbon and opening of, what Cramb believes is “the best investment that can be made at this time,” the Kaplan Institute officially opened to the Illinois Tech body. Thus, began a new era in the history of this campus and university, as well as the city of Chicago and the realm of innovation.
Photo courtesy of Kaplan Institute