City Scholars launches in Chicago

This post was originally published by the Illinois College of Engineering Communications Office

City Scholars is a new initiative, which brings 37 carefully-selected engineering students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering to Chicago where they will live, work and study for the spring semester.

Starting Jan. 18, the City Scholars will work 20 hours each week as paid interns, connect directly with executives, experts, and civic leaders at some of Chicago’s top companies, and take University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign engineering courses, both online and locally, toward graduation.

Ocient, JPMorganChase, Walgreens, Arity and TastyTrade were just several of the participating companies whose representatives engaged with students at a speed networking event on campus last October to make the initiative’s launch a reality.

Mark Tebbe, chair of ChicagoNext, helped open the evening to a room full of people ready to find the best match. Tebbe jokingly compared the inaugural event to speed dating before highlighting the important reason behind the matching process.

“That’s the purpose of the City Scholars program; to create an opportunity where you can find out from outside the classroom what the real world has to offer and how you organizationally can make a difference in these large and great companies, as well as some startups in Chicago,” said Tebbe.

Alexander Bieniek, a junior majoring in computer science, was one of the students to attend the event. He accepted Walgreens’ offer and is one of the 37 scholars headed to Chicago.

Bieniek, who will work in web and app development for the company, is ready to embrace the opportunities he believes City Scholars will give to him within his field.

“I think that this exposure to a growing tech scene will give me an edge when I apply elsewhere in the industry,” he said. “I hope to find opportunities for my future through the professionals that I meet during my time in Chicago.”

Ruiqi (Zoe) Li, a junior majoring in statistics and computer science, will work in front-end developing for Signal, a cross-channel marketing company which helps company brands identify their customers. Li said the insight she will gain from this experience will be the greatest benefit for her future.

“Talks held by CEOs will enlighten me to finding my career focus because they tend to talk about which area is the most popular one in the current market and which would become popular in the future, “she said. “Besides, their own secret of success is important as well.”

For Li, another perk to City Scholars is the chance to live in Chicago. Li, who is from Beijing, China, said she misses city life.

Mike Dwyer, Director of Talent for, a nearly 20-year-old technology company in Chicago, is hoping students like Li will continue to be drawn to the Windy City’s vibrant downtown scene and one day make the city a destination.

“The University of Illinois is one of the top engineering schools in the country; we would love to have students who graduate from there come to Chicago and join our team,” he said.
“ is an established tech company with a strong brand name, but we still operate much like a startup.”

Dwyer points to the company’s quick growth in innovation and its new headquarters on the Chicago River as incentives for students to consider starting a career there.

“With its close proximity to U of I, growing tech community, and majestic surroundings, Chicago should be at the top of the list for graduating students,” Dwyer said.

Two City Scholars hired by will get a chance to learn more about software engineering at a company with two decades’ worth of data and a marketplace where people buy and sell cars.

Signal also hired two City Scholars and Cliff Rhyne, Software Engineering Manager, is ready to teach future generations of developers.

“At Signal, we love to foster that mentality and our team is eager to share our knowledge,” he said. “We hope that coming out of the program, the scholars are excited about what they’ve learned and eager to apply their new knowledge to solve real world problems.”

Both Rhyne and Dwyer see a bigger picture for Chicago where competition is stiff from tech hubs like Boston and San Francisco. They also believe City Scholars is a solution.

“Chicago suffers from a shortage of experienced software engineers relative to demand, but this partnership can help solve that problem,” Rhyne said. “The first step is attracting strong talent to Chicago so more companies will relocate to the area, creating a prosperous tech community.”

After spending considerable time in those tech hubs, Dwyer said he believes in Chicago and its ability to compete with other cities.

“We have a hard work ethic in Chicago. We’re Midwest nice. I think this would be a great place to see more tech companies come and grow,” he said.

Participating companies in Chicago are:

BlueCross BlueShield
CME Group

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