After Hours in Chicago Captures the Same Meaningful Connection while Opening Up New Possibilities

3/29/2023 9:27:53 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Illinois CS students Omar Khan and Dawn Lim explain how their pursuits in computing became clearer after meeting with companies in Chicago.

Written by Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

As Illinois Computer Science continues to grow its presence in Chicago, alongside The Grainger College of Engineering, it’s uncovering new ways to connect its students and faculty with brand new opportunities in the exciting city.

Photo from the After Hours event in Chicago featuring a number of students speaking with company recruiters in an informal setting.
Students meet with company recruiters at the Corporate Connections in Chicago: After Hours event that took place in Chicago earlier in March.

One step in that direction occurred earlier this month with the Corporate Connections in Chicago: After Hours event, which promised an informal career reception for CS and Electrical & Computer Engineering students.

Occurring in the Discovery Partners Institute space on 200 S. Wacker Drive in Chicago, students could travel on their own or take a chartered bus to and from the event.

CS staff and faculty planned for the event with the Grainger Engineering City Scholars team. The result was a collaborative effort aimed at duplicating the same informal, yet intimate, sense of professional networking provided by the on-campus After Hours event hosted each fall and spring semester here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“We wanted to create a relaxing, intimate experience for the students and company representatives to have real conversations about the work that they each do in the technology space,” said Nancy M. Amato, Illinois CS Department Head and Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering.

Organizers also sought to open a few more eyes by showcasing the possibilities available within the city of Chicago.

“Many of the companies that visit us on campus are from Chicago and they often express how meaningful it is to see our building, as well as our students and faculty in CS spaces,” said CJ Coleman, Illinois CS Director of External Relations. “It was nice to flip the script, so to speak, and create this scenario where the students can see Chicago and what the computing industry in Chicago has to offer.”

The interest in the event was very strong – there was no problem identifying companies to participate even though it is past prime recruiting season, and the demand from the students was phenomenal, hitting the capacity on the bus from Champaign within hours, forcing the organizers to add another bus.

Headshot of Illinois CS Ph.D. student Omar Khan.
Omar Khan

Now in his first year as a Ph.D. student with Illinois CS, Omar Khan said that he took important new information away from the After Hours event.

Despite creating an intentional path within computing that included earning his undergraduate degree here at UIUC through the Computer Science + Crop Sciences program, Khan wasn’t exactly sure how his goals would intersect with companies so early in his Ph.D. experience.

His attendance at this After Hours event changed his perspective entirely, and provided a clear picture of how his talents could lend themselves to companies.

“My main takeaway from this event was that more companies are looking for graduate students than I realized – especially from the Ph.D. program,” Khan said. “I was under the impression that not many companies would be looking for students like me, but I talked to a few that expressed interest and gave me valuable insights when looking for internships as a Ph.D. student.”

The interdisciplinary research conducted at Illinois CS motivated him to apply here for his Ph.D., as he further explores areas like Interactive Computing as well as Computers and Education. Now, he knows just how companies in Chicago might lean on his expertise and passion for computing.

From his undergraduate experience in the CS + X program, Khan also knew what After Hours was like on campus.

He was thrilled to see a similar level of interest on display at the Chicago event. Khan was also excited to speak with fellow students about new possibilities becoming more available to them through strengthening connections between Illinois CS and Chicago.

“Given how competitive the tech industry has gotten nowadays, it’s been challenging to find my way toward my desired career path. But speaking to these companies and learning about the challenges that they are also experiencing at this time reassures me that I can find my footing,” Khan said. “The Chicago event definitely helped me become more excited about being a student here, as well as the opportunities available to me throughout the upcoming years, and eventually after graduation.

“The Chicago space will certainly be beneficial as students get a better sense of the opportunities and environment available to them in this city.”

Headshot of Illinois CS undergraduate student Dahyun dawn Lim
Dahyun Dawn Lim

Meanwhile, Dahyun Dawn Lim, an undergraduate sophomore in CS, explained that she came to study at Illinois CS because she wanted to serve humanity through computing.

“After seeing footage of a blind person using AI technology to operate a self-driving car, I realized that I could accomplish my goals through computer science,” Lim said. “At 18 years old, I created a smartphone app that allows people who are not familiar with music to easily transpose chords to any other key. Developing the app guided me toward taking CS courses at UIUC.”

Where she’ll accomplish her goals as she progresses through the CS undergraduate program, and after she graduates, is a mystery, though.

So, for Lim, events like this After Hours in Chicago allow her a chance to better understand some of the companies and how they could help provide a setting for her career aspirations. The feedback she received from recruiters was important as she positions herself for internships.

“I got information about how my specialized field can be used in each company, as they explained specifics about their teams and which ones connect well with my qualifications,” Lim said. “Of course, we can get some information online from company websites. However, meeting in-person and having an opportunity to talk in real-time made a lot of difference.

“The recruiters could give me personalized advice, which made me more confident about where I am and what I should think about for my future.”

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This story was published March 29, 2023.