News Local/State

U of I Announces New Data Science Center, Research Park Expansion

Ed Seidel

Ed Seidel, vice president for economic development and innovation at the U of I, gives an update about the Illinois Innovation Network to a standing-room only crowd at the Illini Union South Lounge on August 29, 2018. Christine Herman/Illinois Public Media

University of Illinois officials announced two big projects for the Urbana campus Wednesday: a new data science center and expansion of the Research Park.

Both projects will get state funding as part of the Illinois Innovation Network, the U of I’s new statewide research enterprise.

U of I Urbana Chancellor Robert Jones said the new data science center, which will be built on the current site of Illini Hall, will be a hub for cross-disciplinary research and workforce development.

“The campus will also be investing $10 million as part of a five-year strategic plan to grow critical infrastructure to advance campus computing with equipment that will facilitate our steep trajectory toward building a data sciences powerhouse,” he said.

The campus will invest an additional $10 million over five years to hire new faculty in departments across campus, Jones said.

Governor Bruce Rauner did not attend the event at the Illini Union where the announcement was made. But he sent a video message in which he expressed confidence that the Illinois Innovation Network would “far surpass the output of Silicon Valley.”

Following the announcement at the Illini Union, audience members asked campus officials questions about the Illinois Innovation Network, whose main hub, the Discovery Partners Institute, will be located in Chicago.

One of the questions was regarding what the Illinois Innovation Network will do to decrease poverty in surrounding neighborhoods.

In response, Killeen said he’ll consider it a failure if the campus’s efforts create wealth but don’t close the gap between the haves and have-nots.

“Most of the models we looked at were all about creating prosperity, and didn’t really bring forward the social equity piece,” Killeen said. “I think that needs to be built into our genomic thinking.”

Campus officials said they welcome ideas for how to better partner with organizations and agencies to achieve the goal of benefiting the communities in which the various hubs of the statewide network will be based.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman