Runway to Opportunity: New Education Partnership to Fast-Track Chicago Students into STEM Careers



By Tad Vezner
Chicago Public School students at a press event announcing Illinois Tech's Runway 606 program at Illinois Tech's Kaplan Institute

A new initiative created through a collaboration between Illinois Institute of Technology and two other major Chicago educational institutions will create specific pathways to tech fields while providing supportive mentorship and cutting the time it can take a student to earn a master’s degree by as much as two years.

Runway 606—a joint collaboration between Illinois Tech, City Colleges of Chicago, and Chicago Public Schools—allows students who earn their associates degrees in high school to then apply those credits toward specific STEM master’s degree programs at Illinois Tech.

At the March 20, 2024, launch of Runway 606, top officials from all three institutions spoke excitedly about the program—and, perhaps more importantly, the vision behind it.  

The first-of-its-kind program is aimed at providing CPS students with an accelerated pathway to high-demand, well-paying tech careers while growing the local tech talent pool.

“We have always prided ourselves on being an opportunity engine,” Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi said, adding that the Runway 606 program was “a seamless pathway in terms of moving students and learners into high-demand, high-wage, high-need jobs for  the country so that the city of Chicago can prosper, the state of Illinois can prosper.”

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said that during a meeting with Echambadi and City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado about the initiative, “It was within minutes that I knew we all had the same values.”

In addition to getting CPS students more college credits,  Martinez noted, “What I heard was, ‘We’re going to support our children, we’re going to have mentors, we’re going to have wraparound support.’

“The design was so thoughtful.”

Salgado added that “accelerated programs like Runway 606 will help our students achieve their education goals faster and at a lower cost to them and their families, which is critical.”

Turning to the students in attendance at the press conference, Salgado noted the program will “optimize the talent that our young people have—and to do it when you’re ready, and you’re ready now.” He was met by nods from the audience.

Armando Rodriguez, a senior at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood, said that he will graduate in 2024 with three separate associate degrees in computer science, networking, and cybersecurity. He said he’s been leaning toward attending Illinois Tech for some time due to its tech focus, as well as its academic and financial assistance.

“I hope to be here one day,” Rodriguez said just before speaking at the press conference, where he added during his speech: “This journey has taught me that with determination and the right opportunities and support from the right people around us, achieving our dreams is within reach for anybody and any student.”

Fatima Patel, a senior at Infinity Math Science and Technology High School in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, will graduate high school this year with an associate’s degree in computer information systems. She says she always wanted to get into computing, but the Runway 606 program “really sparked my interest in the subfield of cybersecurity.”

After a successful pilot program launched in fall 2023 with 85 students attending CPS Early College STE(A)M schools, the partner institutions—Illinois Tech, CPS, and CCC—signed a landmark collaboration agreement in December to launch Runway 606 citywide. 

The first Runway 606 pathway builds on the pilot program, focusing on those wishing to pursue careers in cybersecurity. In Chicago alone, cybersecurity jobs increased by more than 70 percent from 2010 to 2024. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2025.

School officials noted that the program’s aim is to quickly expand the program beyond cybersecurity to encompass other in-demand tech fields such as computer science, business analytics, and other STEM career paths within a few years. In addition to higher degrees, students can also pursue certifications, credentials, and a wealth of professional experiences to build their resumes.

This fall juniors and seniors in any CPS school who meet the relevant eligibility criteria can participate in the dual-enrollment Runway 606 cybersecurity pathway.

“Runway 606 is a testament to what we can accomplish when we work together for the betterment of our city and its young people,” Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a written statement. “This program is not just about creating pathways to success; it's about building a stronger, more resilient Chicago.”

Added Chicago Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Johnson, who spoke at the launch, “Through Runway 606, we’re not just addressing the skills gap; we’re actively working to dismantle the barriers that have historically kept underrepresented communities out of the tech industry.”

For more information about Runway 606, visit or contact

Photo: Chicago Public School students [from left] Chase Fuller (junior at Crane Medical Prep High School), Fatima Patel (senior at Infinity Math, Science, and Technology High School), Mishal Johnson (senior at North Grand High School), and Armando Rodriguez (senior at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy) look on during the Runway 606 launch event on Illinois Tech’s Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.