Learning the ‘Intricacies’: High School Students Get Glimpse of Opportunities Through Illinois Tech Summer Programs



By Tad Vezner
Business Bootcamp Summer Program

After an intense week of day-long courses on how to build their own food truck business, high school students from across the Chicagoland area and beyond reflected on how their summer program at Illinois Institute of Technology had affected them.

“I was kind of already thinking about going into business, but I wasn’t absolutely sure. This program makes you think more about what type you would like to do,” says Esai Hernandez, who will be a senior at Chicago’s Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School in the fall. Hernandez was part of the Business Bootcamp program this summer, one of roughly two dozen Elevate College Prep summer programs offered to middle and high school students who wish to get a taste of the college experience, or a specific area of study, at Illinois Tech.

“I’ve had a tie-dye business, a podcast, I’ve made music. I have a lot of ideas, but I don’t necessarily know how to make those ideas successful and make money,” Hernandez says.

Aaron Stewart, who is going into his freshman year at Kenwood Academy High School in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, adds, “I kind of want to take this again. I never liked group work, until this one.

“Before, I just knew starting a business is hard, and it takes a lot of money and effort,” continues Stewart, whose parents each own their own small businesses. “Now, this taught me all the intricacies.”

Students noted that the courses were longer than they were used to, but most students touted how useful the courses were, even though some had taken basic finance classes in high school.

“They want to know more options, what they can choose. They know some areas [of business] very well, and have some idea what business schools teach, but it’s not very clear,” says Sang Baum “Solomon” Kang, an associate professor of finance at Stuart School of Business who was the Business Bootcamp instructor.

Business Bootcamp, a week-long program that took place on Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus, taught students the basics of running a small business, as well as the types of business degrees they could pursue. Students explored economics, operations, entrepreneurship, finance, and marketing through the lens of owning, opening, managing, and operating a food truck, and engaged with an actual food truck owner to give them a practical perspective.

“In Chicago there’s not many [high school] business programs. I go to a privileged school, and we still don’t get this.” says Hannah Tan, who will be a junior at Chicago’s Jones College Prep.

The ECP program has specific partnerships with surrounding schools on Chicago’s South and Southwest Sides, and it focuses its programs on students who might not be aware that Illinois Tech is right in their backyard.

Through the ECP program, 430 middle and high school students took part in its summer programs across June, July, and August 2023, spanning topics such as sustainability, next-generation technology, computing, game development, and cybersecurity. The programs serve both as preparation for college, and as an introduction to STEM-related topics and career paths. 

ECP’s summer programs are just part of its offerings for students in middle school and high school. ECP also offers dual-enrollment courses, paid apprenticeships, stand-alone events, and its three-year, intensive DevUp program for students from Chicago. As part of its summer programs, ECP offers one-week and two-week programs on campus—including some where students live on campus for the duration of the program—and online. All of its summer courses are led by Illinois Tech faculty members. 

“It’s very helpful to be able to have students explore different fields and interact with faculty on campus, or grad students who have been in these fields for a long time, especially if a student is undecided about college or a major,” says Mindy Lemus, who manages the Elevate College Prep program. “It gives a brief introduction to that field.”

Lemus notes that the programs do not just offer knowledge.

“For our residential programs specifically, students stay on campus to intersect with other students and create new friendships. Many are from the Chicago area, but some are from out of state or out of the country,” Lemus says. “That’s so helpful for them, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Photo: Students in the Business Bootcamp program eat hot dogs on the last day of the Elevate College Prep summer program. Aaron Stewart [blue hooded sweatshirt] and Esai Hernandez [behind Stewart with the water bottle] wait in line.