How IMSA Helped Alums Ultimately Lead YouTube, PayPal, Yelp, More

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

How IMSA Helped Alums Ultimately Lead YouTube, PayPal, Yelp, More


Byline: Kerry Lester klester@dailyherald.com

How IMSA helped alums ultimately lead YouTube, PayPal, Yelp, more

Until they set foot on campus, many of the Illinois Math and Science Academy's most acclaimed alumni say they felt not only unchallenged academically but isolated from other teens as they holed up at home, playing with computers and studying manuals.

But leaders including co-founders of YouTube, PayPal and Yelp say their time at the public boarding school in Aurora, consistently ranked as one of the country's top institutions for math and science, did more than prepare them for college and graduate school. It's where they learned to take risks, solve problems and fail as well as succeed.

As IMSA says goodbye to 200-some seniors this weekend, some of its famous alumni tell how the school helped them come into their own.

Steve Chen, YouTube co-founder

Steve Chen said high school was "more important than college" in terms of his personal development. He spoke during a return trip to campus in March, when a 6,000-square-foot center for innovation and inquiry was dedicated in the name of Chen and his wife, Jamie Chen.

Coming from Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, where he attended freshman year after moving to Prospect Heights from Taiwan, Chen said he went from being "sort of the only one that was playing around with computers" to having a peer group that "got" him.

"The first week I was really lost with the amount of independence I was given," he said of IMSA, where students are given the freedom to roam campus labs and parents aren't around at the end of the school day. Ultimately, that helped him in his work as an entrepreneur, teaching him about "being comfortable with not having structure, taking the chance to go and start the company."

Chen returned to Hersey for his senior year of high school, graduating in 1996. He then went on to graduate from the University of Illinois and served as an early employee at both Facebook and PayPal.

Yu Pan, PayPal co-founder

Years after high school graduation and a move to Silicon Valley, Yu Pan still hung around with several former IMSA classmates. Those relationships led to his position as one of the founding team members of internet business PayPal, Sarah Lacy notes in her book, "Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of the Silicon Valley."

At PayPal, Pan developed an application to allow for the secure transmission of funds, initially so people could make eBay auction payments. He was also the first employee at YouTube, working as an engineer and on product development under Chen.

Pan, who came to IMSA from Chicago and was given an alumni award in 2007, also worked for Google. After recently becoming a father to a young daughter, he co-founded Kiwi Crate, a subscription service that sends age-appropriate kits to help kids learn science, math, art and technology.

Jessica Droste Yagan, Impact Engine CEO

Sam Yagan, OKCupid co-founder

Jessica Droste Yagan and her husband, Sam, are members of the talented Class of 1995 who have gone on to dominate their respective fields as they parent three young children. …

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