Tellabs Awards $1 Million to Fund STEM Initiative at Aurora University

Tellabs Awards $1 Million to Fund STEM Initiative at Aurora University

(CREDIT: Aurora University)

The Tellabs Foundation recently has awarded $1 million to develop, house and provide scholarships for a new STEM education program at Aurora University that is targeted at high school students.

The Michael J. Birck Innovation Engineering Program, which will offer the first two of a series of four courses beginning this summer, is the result of a collaborative effort between the university, school districts, local and global corporations, and nonprofit organizations to boost STEM education.

STEM is an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Discussion of STEM-related programs has become a local, state and federal government priority because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields, according to the “Study in the States” website.

The U.S. Department of Labor expects that there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields by 2018, but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them.

The Michael J. Birck Innovation Engineering Program and the Michael J. Birck Collaboration Center for Innovation in which it will be housed at AU are named in honor of Michael J. Birck, the founder, CEO and chairman of Tellabs Inc. Birck died in 2015.

“STEM education — particularly for girls, minorities and children from financially vulnerable families — had always been a key area of interest for Mike Birck, and it remains so for us,” said Carol Gavin, executive director of the Tellabs Foundation.

“That’s one reason why the Tellabs Foundation was an early supporter of the STEM Partnership School at AU, which is aimed at third- through eighth-graders. With the addition of the Innovation Engineering Program, area students now have the opportunity to experience a thorough STEM education from elementary school all the way through to graduation. That will be a game changer for many of them, and we are glad to be a part of it.”

The program will give high school students the opportunity to work directly with local technology and engineering professionals. Students will receive two undergraduate credits for each course they successfully complete.

Through hands-on, “real-world” projects, students will learn concepts and processes that are common in current design and engineering practice, as well as develop the interpersonal and communication skills that are required in today’s business world. Students will also build an awareness of ethical business practices and learn about a wide variety of career opportunities available in STEM-related fields.

“The Innovation Engineering Program is unique because our corporate and nonprofit partners were at the table from the moment we started planning,” said Sharon Miller, chair of the Aurora University Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

“They provided the perspective of the workplace and the language of innovation,” she said. “Their practical understanding of how engineers approach new ideas and the processes they use to develop them was invaluable in developing the courses.”

Miller explained that students will work closely with these partner organizations as part of each course, both in the classroom and on-site at local commercial labs and facilities.

Partners include Cabot Microelectronics, Caterpillar Inc., Cordogan Clark & Associates, Fermilab, Fox Valley Park District, Magnetrol International and Southern Company Gas/NICOR.

The Center will be located in renovated space within Stephens Hall adjacent to the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School. It will have its own outside entrance.

The Michael J. Birck Collaboration Center for Innovation features 3,200 square feet of flexible classroom and lab space, as well as a garage and “maker space” complete with high-powered computers, 3-D printing and scanning technology, laser cutting tools and other equipment that students will use to design, prototype and perfect their own inventions.

“We want students to be comfortable with the idea of tinkering intellectually as well as tinkering with their own hands,” Miller said. “This is a space where both can happen.”

The Michael J. Birck Innovation Engineering Program at Aurora University is now accepting applications for the summer courses “Leading Design” (June 12-30) and “The Invention Process” (July 10-28). Both courses will run Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Enrollment for each class is limited to 25 students entering grades 9-12.

The application process for need-based scholarships for students from Kane, DuPage and Kendall counties is now open; recipients will be announced in late spring. To learn more, go to, or contact Sharon Miller at (630) 844-6194 or

SOURCE: Aurora University news release