Electrifying Opportunity: Illinois Tech Showcases Its Plans for a Future with Gaming


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The separate and rapidly converging areas of gaming, academia, industry, and community joined together on Friday, August 20, at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at Illinois Institute of Technology to showcase the opportunities that exist around gaming at Illinois Tech during the Electrify! esports event.

“Our goal is to bring the community together, bring the educators together, bring the corporate sponsors together because together we can build a phenomenal, phenomenal world,” April Welch, associate vice president for strategic initiatives at Illinois Tech, said during her kickoff speech. “That’s our goal. We want you guys to figure out what you want in your life, and we want to help you do that. Gaming is a wonderful path for that—all of the gaming ecosystem, all of the jobs around gaming.”

Led by Welch—who has played a key role in bringing gaming to Illinois Tech and the Bronzeville neighborhood—and student and alumni leaders of Illinois Tech Esports, the Electrify! event began with keynote speaker Andrea Berry (CS ’84), an Illinois Tech Life Trustee and award-winning broadcast media executive, who spoke about her career trajectory and how anyone can make a living doing what they love to do. There was also a presentation about the forthcoming Surge arena, Chicago’s first esports-specific facility that includes Illinois Tech Esports as a community partner and is slated to open in fall 2022.

Representatives from sponsors including LG, UGC, and SHI also spoke and provided demonstrations about gaming and similar technologies. CEO Sam Glassenberg also presented about Level Ex, which creates video games to train doctors on practicing medicine. Other organizations that attended included Columbia College Chicago, the International Game Designers Association, Google, Twitch, and the Bronzeville Esports League, an endeavor spearheaded by Welch and Illinois Tech Esports that will bring gaming education and opportunities to, initially, three Chicago Public Schools in Bronzeville. The league was officially launched at the event, with community members from John B. Drake Elementary, one of the schools slated to participate, in attendance. There was also no shortage of opportunities to play games, either—be it computer-based or giant, life-sized versions of chess and Connect Four.

Illinois Tech students played a key role in the event, which included organizing a Super Smash Brothers video game tournament and a scavenger hunt that awarded the winner a LG gram super-light laptop. They also worked booths to provide information about the Bronzeville Esports League, Twitch, and the virtual reality gaming device Oculus, and demonstrated next-generation technology such as how to use brain waves to race model cars.

More than 500 attendees and nearly 30 organizations filled the entire first floor of the Kaplan Institute across six hours of programming, underscoring the important role that gaming plays at Illinois Tech’s entrepreneurship center, which, along with Illinois Tech Esports, co-sponsored Electrify! and is working to advance gaming initiatives at the university.

“Our mission and vision for [Kaplan Institute] is to develop a new generation of tech leaders for Chicago and beyond that are more diverse, more community-minded, and entrepreneurial,” Kaplan Institute Executive Director Maryam Saleh said in her welcome remarks. “What we see here today, and our focus on esports, really is a good example of what we’re trying to do.”

Photo: Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives April Welch speaks during the Electrify! event on August 20 at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship.