Mayor Rahm Emanuel made it big after majoring in dance at Sarah Lawrence College and getting a master’s degree in speech and theater at Northwestern University.
STEM — the acronym for schools specializing in science, technology, engineering and math — was nowhere in his educational background.
On Tuesday, Emanuel announced a $2.6 million STEM partnership between the Illinois Institute of Technology, Exelon Corp. and Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center, his mother’s high school alma mater.
It was a chance to ask the man who managed to become White House chief of staff, a North Side congressman, an investment banker and mayor of Chicago on the strength of his liberal arts education whether such a success story would be possible 30 years from now.
“Well, you didn’t mention the fact that I can’t turn on my TV without my 16-year-old, which a STEM education would have helped,” the mayor joked.
“I did do ballet. And I did dance. I did not pursue, what was a possible career in it. But the discipline that came with dancing as a young boy actually prepared me for politics — for the criticism.”
Emanuel said he believes “firmly in a liberal arts education.” He noted that he “went in as a dancer, studied early childhood education, wanted to be a Montessori teacher and came out wanting to do public service.” He advises students all the time to keep an open mind.
But the mayor argued that the educational path he chose will no longer cut it in a world where technology, engineering and math have become a “foundational piece of education” to qualify for the “jobs of tomorrow, regardless of the field.”
“Go to any manufacturing plant across Chicago. It is more math, science and technology than it is doing widgets — a testament to the transformation technology is having across all types of fields,” the mayor said.
“So while I’m a big advocate for a liberal arts education, I am cognizant of the fact that you could do what I did without a STEM education in the past. [But] that’s not true for tomorrow and the future.”
In 2012, five technology giants joined forces with the Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges to open six-year public high schools that allow students to graduate with an associate’s degree and the expertise to qualify for high-tech jobs.
The $2.6 million partnership between Von Steuben, IIT and Exelon is more of the same.
IIT and Exelon will help develop curricula, mentor Von Steuben students, provide summer internships and help at least 300 students over five years reduce the skyrocketing cost of college tuition by taking classes at IIT.
Participating students will prepare to become successful college students by making campus visits, participating in STEM-based summer programming and gaining access to admissions guidance and guest speakers. They will also participate in internships that give them a leg up on full-time jobs.
“I hope this program leads to the next generation of Exelon employees,” said CEO Christopher Crane.