Deepening Community Ties

By Tad Vezner

Illinois Tech has sat in the heart of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood since the university was founded—and with the help of a $2 million federal grant, a new initiative will soon deepen the university’s relationship with its surrounding community, providing cutting-edge skills training for thousands.

Planning has started on what university officials are calling the Bronzeville Opportunity Engine, which will transform an entire floor of the university’s Michael Paul Galvin Tower into a training and incubator space for local small business owners, students from middle school through adulthood, and working professionals who want to update their skills for a modern job market.

“The programming will reflect the needs of Bronzeville constituents, whether they’re workers, learners, or entrepreneurs,” says Alicia Bunton, Illinois Tech’s assistant vice president of community affairs.

In December 2022 former United States Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) announced that the 2022 federal government spending bill included a $2 million capital grant for the establishment of the Bronzeville Opportunity Engine, including “16,000 square feet of renovated space dedicated to community workforce development, small business and entrepreneurship education, startup incubation, and pre-collegiate programming.”

The space will take up the currently vacant fifth floor of Galvin Tower. While the university has a memorandum of understanding with the City of Chicago to serve five zip codes on the city’s South Side, Bunton says priority will likely be given to those in the immediate Bronzeville area.

“It’s a way of creating permeability,” Bunton says.

Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi said in a message to the university community that “we are truly honored and fortunate to call Bronzeville home, and we must fully embrace all of the opportunities and responsibilities that come with being a major university in this historic Chicago neighborhood.”