At a press conference on Tuesday, university officials announced the grants, which will be put towards the creation of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) school that will bring together students and teachers from four districts: Oswego, Indian Prairie, and East and West Aurora.
The new donations—$500,000 from the Exelon Foundation, a nonprofit organization funded by the Chicago-based Exelon Corporation, and a matching $150,000 from Aurora’s Dunham Fund—bring the total cash on hand to $1 million. The Dunham Fund had previously provided $350,000 in seed money for the project.
The university still has a long fundraising road ahead—they will need to bring in a total of between $10 million and $15 million to make the school a reality. But AU leaders hope that this first major donation will set the tone, and bring others to the table.
Tuesday’s conference was the second time in a year AU leaders, state legislators and local dignitaries gathered in Alumni Hall to celebrate the partnership school. In July, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill laying the groundwork for the school, which will initially serve about 200 third- through eighth-graders from the four districts.
It will not be a charter school, however. Students will be selected based on grades, teacher recommendations, and interest and proficiency in science and math. District teachers will be chosen based on their leadership qualities and their abilities in science and math, and would serve between two- and four-year terms in the new school.
Aurora University will donate the land to build the new facility, which will likely be an addition to Stephens Hall.
Frank Clark, the chairman and CEO of ComEd (owned by Exelon), said the foundation is proud to support the partnership school, saying he has “a passion for education, science and technology.” Clark, along with Exelon CEO John Rowe, also started a similar project, the Rowe Clark Math and Science Academy in Chicago, in 2007.
Clark said it was the vision of Sherry Eagle, executive director of the university's Institute for Collaboration, and her team that sold him.
Michael Marcos, vice chairman of the Dunham Fund Board of Directors, said the “entire group at the Dunham Fund is excited about the STEM school project.” The proposal for the school grew from a Dunham Fund Challenge for Change competition, which the Institute for Collaboration won.
State Rep. Tom Cross, speaking on behalf of the four legislators (including State Sen. Linda Holmes and State Reps. Kay Hatcher and Linda Chapa LaVia) who pushed for the bill, said he was initially skeptical that the university could raise the money needed for the project. But he said the new grants are a very good sign.
“The fact that (the donors) stepped up this early with this amount of money says to everyone else that this is the real deal, this can happen, and this should happen,” he said.
Oswego School District Superintendent Dan O’Donnell said he, too, was skeptical that the money would begin rolling in, but he said he’s excited by the grants, and by the potential in the partnership school. He said it would provide good opportunities for students who perhaps had not decided that careers in math and science were for them.
Those students, he said, would be among their peers at the partnership school, and may discover a love for science and technology in that environment.
Aurora University is aiming for the 2014-2015 school year to unveil the new building, Eagle said. Once it’s up and running, Eagle hopes it will serve as a model for other areas hoping to create collaborative education systems.
For more on the partnership school plan, read .