Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

name = Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

motto = The world’s leading teaching and learning laboratory for imagination and inquiry
established = 1985
type = Public Boarding School
president = Glenn (Max) McGee
principal = Eric McLaren
city = Aurora, Illinois
state = Illinois
country = United States
campus = Closed Residential
enrollment = 650
grades = 10–12
faculty = 55
founder = Leon Lederman
mascot = Titans
colors = Columbia blue and silver
newspaper = [ The Acronym]
yearbook = Gallimaufry
website = [ IMSA] [ Student Council] [ Lorax Environmental Club] [ Leadership Education and Development (LEAD)]
picture =
image_caption = Ilinois Mathematics and Science Academy

The Ilinois Mathematics and Science Academy, or IMSA, is a three-year residential public high school located in Aurora, Illinois, with an enrollment of approximately 650 students. Enrollment is both offered to rising sophomores, who must undergo a competitive admissions process involving grades, recommendations, essays, and the SAT, and rising freshmen who have had the equivalent of 9 years of education. However, rising sophomores are usually chosen over rising freshmen if IMSA has to decide between two applicants. Historically, nearly one-in-three to one-in-five applicants a year are admitted. Due to its nature as a public institution, there are no charges related to tuition or room and board, with only a small annual activities fee which may be reduced or waived based on income.


Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, director emeritus of nearby Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, was among the first to propose the school in 1982, and together with Governor Jim Thompson led the effort for its creation. (Thompson has noted with pride that he chose to build IMSA instead of competing for the ill-fated supercollider project.) The school was established by the Illinois General Assembly in 1985, and first opened to students in 1986. The Academy is housed in a building originally constructed in 1978 as the north campus of West Aurora High School, with seven outlying dormitories built after IMSA took over the campus. IMSA's first class graduated in 1989, with the commencement speech delivered by Lederman. IMSA is one of the few high schools to possess a .edu second-level domain.

The founding president of the school is former Batavia Superintendent Stephanie Pace Marshall, winner of the Lincoln Laureate Award, who was involved with the project from the start and helped write IMSA's original legislation. Marshall retired from the position on June 30, 2007, and was named President Emerita by the Board of Trustees. She still has an office on campus and continues to position IMSA on the national and international stages. Marshall serves on the board of several non-profit and for-profit institutions, including nearby Tellabs. The current principal, the day-to-day operator of the school, is Eric McLaren, who began his IMSA career as a Resident Counselor and has filled many administrative roles during his tenure.

Although the school received a budget cut in FY 2002, its budget has increased recently, largely due to the support of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and House Minority Leader Tom Cross.


Prospective students, who are usually freshmen in high school but in some cases can be students in eighth grade, must fill out an extensive application to gain admission to IMSA. This application can now be completed online and can be found [ here] .

The applications consists of an official transcript from the student's last 2 1/2 years of school, scores on the SAT I, several long and short essays totaling roughly four to five pages, three teacher recommendations in science, mathematics, and English, and a list of awards and extracurricular activities. Since it draws students from across the state, it is sometimes considered a magnet school. The class of 2011 is approximately 250 students, and it the largest in IMSA history. "The average SAT for the in-coming class of 2011 was Critical Reading - 591 and Math - 651. Our average GPA was 3.88/4.0." []

In order to draw greater numbers of applications and "transform teaching and learning," IMSA has an extensive outreach network run by The Center@IMSA. Some students who are invited to attend IMSA are admitted on the condition that they successfully complete a three-week, intensive preparation course (EXCEL) over the summer. IMSA has a fairly low retention rate; incoming sophomore classes number roughly 240, but graduating classes are only about 200. The reasons for this may include the difficulty of the IMSA curriculum, home-sickness, or disciplinary expulsion, as well as the fact that no transfer students are admitted to replenish the ranks of departed students.


Students at IMSA take rigorous college preparatory courses, with all classes being taught at the honors level, though IMSA philosophically spurns the Advanced Placement curriculum. Each student must fulfill a set of specific credits in order to graduate. This set of credits is broken down by academic subject. Each semester-long class counts for 0.5 credits, unless it meets with greater-than-normal frequency.

In addition to the academic program, IMSA also offers over 50 clubs ranging from political groups and religious clubs to volunteer organizations [] . All these clubs are chartered by the [ Student Council] , often called StudCo.

IMSA bills itself as an "educational laboratory", and as such is frequently trying out new and experimental pedagogical techniques. These range from how classes are laid out to what is taught and even to who takes them; in the early 1990s IMSA received national attention for an exploratory study on whether girls learned physics better in single-sex or co-ed environments, as conducted by charter physics faculty, Dr. David Workman. IMSA's main math sequence, entitled "Mathematical Investigations" and in development by IMSA faculty since 1991, was published in handbook form in 2005 and is beginning to be adopted by other school districts in the state of Illinois, such as Community Unit School District 303 in St. Charles (at St. Charles East & St. Charles North). IMSA's core science curriculum has been through a number of ground-up restructurings. Its current implementation divided the old scientific inquiry curriculum into four classes: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Methods of Scientific Inquiry.

Length of School Day and Mods

The school day at IMSA runs between 7:30 am and 4:15 pm; however, most students do not have classes for all of the school day. Every school day is divided into 20 mods of equal length. They are 20 minutes long with a 5 minute break between mods. Therefore, 2-mod classes are 45 minutes long, 3-mod classes are 70 minutes long, and 4-mod classes are 95 minutes long. Currently, there are no 5-mod classes, although there have been in years past. Between mods 10 and 11, there is a 35 minute break, the midday break, usually utilized for eating lunch.

Frequency and length of classes

IMSA students only attend class for four days per week, with Wednesdays reserved for research and co-curricular activities. Each student has two schedules to keep track of: one for Monday/Thursday, and one for Tuesday/Friday. A given class may meet all four days, but need not meet for the same amount of time each day. Some classes meet only two days a week. The pattern for each class is usually reduced to a pair of numbers: a 3-2 class meets for 3 mods on Monday and Thursday, and only 2 on Tuesday and Friday, while a 0-4 meets only on Tuesday and Friday, for 4 mods each day. As a result, there is considerable variation as to how many classroom minutes each course has per week:

Course requirements

IMSA students have a fairly rigid set of requirements at a departmental level, but within each department (especially in math and the sciences), they have many options for meeting each requirement. The class requirements are as follows, along with the typical meetings times of courses in that department (for clarity the symmetric alternatives are omitted---e.g. "3-2" below means "either 3-2 or 2-3"):

* Math: 3-2 for six semesters, though a small number of upperclass math electives are 3-0.
* Science: two 4-0 classes for two (sophomore) semesters, but some classes can be tested out of, then four semesters of electives. Most electives are 4-0, but some are 5-0, and some are 3-2.
* Foreign language: 3-2 for four semesters.
* English: 3-3-2 for two (sophomore) semesters(new as of the 2006-2007 school year one day a week without English), then 3-0 for four semesters.
* History and social science: 3-3-2 for two (sophomore) semesters (same as sophomore English), then 3-0 for three semesters.
* Wellness: 3-2 for one (sophomore) semester, then 3-0 for one semester.
* Fine arts: 2-2 or 4-0 for one semester.

There is also a two semester additional requirement that can be filled by either math or science electives. Once these requirements are complete, students are free to take electives in any area. Most students take a full six semesters of foreign language, for instance, and despite its nominal status as a "math and science academy", IMSA offers a variety of electives in English and History as well.

Other Academic Programs


During the week before the second semester, students are required to participate in Intersession, a week they choose from among dozens of enrichment sessions and off-campus trips. Most students choose to participate in two half-day or one full-day on-campus course(s), while a relatively small number travel abroad on faculty-sponsored trips to countries including France, Spain, and Russia, and others perform a week of mentorship. Classes range from "Build Your Own Computer" to studying lighthouse keeping at Washington State. Alumni often teach Intersession courses and lead overseas trips along with faculty members. Clubs are also allowed to take trips and do activities during this time. The scuba club takes a trip to the Caribbean, while the FIRST Robotics team 2022 spends the entire week building the current robot.

Student Inquiry and Research

Most Wednesdays are "I Days" (for "inquiry") and are usually reserved for research in the SIR programs. [] These programs give students the opportunity to develop their own scientific research and/or to work with scientists, primarily from around the Chicago area. All IMSA students are encouraged to participate in this program, and several every year publish their research results in academic conferences and journals.

Usually, only students in grades 11-12 participate in these programs. Sophomores go to Navigation (first semester) or other required activities, usually seminars, (second semester) from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM, where they are helped with adjusting to residential life and other affective issues; they then have the rest of the day off to work on assignments from their classes.

External Programs

Unlike many other secondary schools, IMSA boasts a broad array of extracurricular and summer programs for the teachers and students of the state of Illinois. The Center @ IMSA, the branch of the academy that coordinates these programs, is composed of the Kids Institute (KI), the Problem Based Learning Network (PBLN), and Excellence 2000+ (E2k), the Illinois Virtual High School (IVHS), and 21st Century Information Fluency (21CIF). KI runs several summer experiences dealing with science, math, and/or technology, including some residential programs. PBLN is largely the professional development arm of The Center that aims to certify teachers in Problem Based Learning, a philosophy deeply rooted in many of IMSA's cirricula. They do run one summer program for middle school students called Summer Sleuths, in which students are challenged to solve a serious problem affecting the state of Illinois; to formulate a solution with the assistance of newly certified PBL teachers, the Sleuths must develop research and analytical skills as well as scientific and mathematical knowledge. E2k is an after-school enrichment program that aims to stimulate schools and students in the instruction of math and science. They also "place a special emphasis on students who are historically under-represented and under-served in math and science."

Many IMSA students help out with these external programs. Kevin Bock, '04, and Katie Linder, '04, were crucial to the development of IMSA on Wheels, a KI program that brings science demonstrations to schools and films videos for distribution across the state. The Summer Sleuths are also guided by "Watsons", IMSA students whose charge is to help develop the students research and analytical skills on a more interpersonal level.

The Center is also partly responsible for the export and implementation of IMSA curricula in other institutions, the most notable of which is Mathematical Investigations (see above).

tudent life

Residence Halls

There are seven residence halls on campus. Each hall is composed of four wings housing up to 24 students each. Three halls are all-male, three are all-female, and a seventh contains two all-male wings and two all-female wings. All rooms have their own attached bathroom and standard residence hall furniture for two students. Furniture includes a desk, wardrobe, bed frame, mattress, and desk lamps for each student. Two pairs of rooms in each wing ("quads") have connecting doors that the residents can petition to have opened. One room per wing is built to be more accessible to disabled students, with a different room layout and a larger bathroom.

Each wing also has a lounge area with a kitchenette and a television. Many wings have accumulated a variety of other living equipment, including chairs, couches, and entertainment centers.

tudent Council

In addition to its primary role as the mediator between administrators and students, the Student Council controls large aspects of the residential life. The [ Student Council Website] maintains a trip wiki, which lists trips to local restaurants, stores, and venues that are taken by residential conselors. The website is also used by all student council chartered clubs as a means of communication. Campus-wide events are displayed here and students have personalized calendars listing all their club meetings.

Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Program

IMSA is unique in that it is one of few high schools that has a program whose main purpose is to educate students about leadership. The LEAD program, which is mandatory to incoming sophomores, teaches essential skills and concepts that serve as an integral part of leadership. The first semester of the program consists of teaching concepts; the second semester of the program focuses on applying concepts learned in the first semester to the real-world. The 2007-2008 LEAD program introduced an organizationasimulation as the real-world integration. The LEAD program is almost entirely student-run, with two student co-coordinators and approximately 20 facilitators each year, in addition to a faculty member that simply oversees the program.


IMSA consistently ranks at the top of the nation in standardized test scores (of roughly 200 students in the senior class, about 50 are National Merit Semifinalists), as well as in the prestigious Siemens-Westinghouse and Intel Science competitions. The class of 2005 produced six semifinalists each for Siemens and Intel. There was also one finalist for the Siemens competition, and three finalists in the Intel competition. In addition, two of the finalists in the Intel placed in the top ten; one student stood second overall, while another won sixth place. The class of 2006 continued the success, with five students being named semifinalists in both the Intel and Siemens competitions.

Six mathematics teachers have been honored with the Edyth May Sliffe Award: Titu Andreescu (1994), Ronald Vavrinek (1995), Micah Fogel (2001), Steven Condie (2002), Michael Keyton (2003), Don Porzio (2004), and Steven Condie (2nd award) (2007). [] Asteroid "21441 Stevencondie" is named after Dr. Condie. []

IMSA has repeatedly been included on Newsweek's annual list of "Best High Schools in America", along with approximately 20 other schools, due to the above-average SAT and ACT scores of exiting students. Two other Illinois schools are also featured on the list: University Laboratory High School in Urbana, IL, and Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago, IL.fact|date=December 2007

tudy Hours and Work Service

Study hours are a two-hour block set aside from 7 pm to 9 pm on Monday through Thursday for all sophomores. Study hours are almost always waived by the second semester of sophomore year.

In addition, as a graduation requirement, each student at IMSA is expected to complete a mandatory amount of academically unrelated service work for the school (3 hours a week for juniors and seniors and 1 hour a week for sophomores). Like the federally-funded college work-study program, a variety of jobs are available, both skilled and unskilled. The program serves two purposes: to expose the residential students to work experience and to assist the school's state-controlled budget by providing free laborers.

Notable alumni

* Ramez Naam '90, software developer, author
* Rob McCool '91, author of NCSA HTTPd web server and early Netscape employee
* Dominic Armato '93, voice actor
* Sam Yagan '95, co-founder of SparkNotes and OkCupid and former president of eDonkey
* Russel Simmons '95, co-founder of Yelp, Inc. and early PayPal employee
* Steve Chen '96, co-founder/Chief Technology Officer YouTube, early PayPal and brief Facebook employee
* Tay Zonday '00, YouTube Celebrity ("Chocolate Rain") attended but did not graduate from IMSA
* Micah Kanters '08, voice actor for Mazda's "Zoom Zoom" marketing campaign, attended but did not graduate from IMSA

ee also

*North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
*Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities
*University Laboratory High School

External links

* [ IMSA's website]
* [ IMSA Student Council Website]
* [ IMSA's School Profile (2006)]
* [ Microsoft Terraserver satellite photo of school campus]

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