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Issue 4

June, 2011


Inside this Issue:

Director’s Message

Succeeding in Graduate School

Making a Difference Abroad

Leading Change for Student Parents

Debra and Ira Cohen Pay it Forward for I-Promise

Maximizing Your Academic Advising Relationship

Recognizing Student and Alumni Achievements

Enriching Student Lives Through RSO Leadership

Images from I-Promise Spring Events



Director’s Message

SusanA special group of over 90 I-Promise students earned their undergraduate degrees this past month. They join the ranks of approximately 300 I-Promise alums who graduated over the past two years. For the majority of students in the class of 2011, they are the first in their families to achieve this significant milestone. They came to this campus having overcome numerous obstacles.  Using their intelligence, talents, and perseverance, they have not only earned a college diploma, but they have also enriched the lives of others through their research, classroom discussions, extracurricular activities, volunteer service, and friendship. Academically talented (two Bronze Tablet scholars, 50% of students on the Dean’s List; numerous awards and special recognition as noted in the “Accomplishments” below), it is worth noting that 30% of students are continuing with graduate or professional studies.  To highlight just a few, one student is pursuing doctoral studies in Mathematics at the University of Michigan, another will join a Master of Fine Arts program in Dance at NYU, and still another will seek a Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy at Rush University. Several others are already gainfully employed in their chosen fields such as teaching, finance, and engineering. Others are interning, serving the community, and exploring future career options. The I-Promise community recognized the graduates and celebrated their successes in April at the Senior Reception, which can be viewed by clicking here. On a personal note, this class came to the University the same year I did, and it is with gratitude and admiration that I was able to share these past few years with them. We wish them all the best and look forward to a continuing relationship in their rightfully proud new status as alums of the University of Illinois.

Susan Gershenfeld

Director Illinois Promise Student Services


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Succeeding in Graduate School

It is a great achievement for many students to attend college.  Approximately 70% of Illinois Promise students represent the first generation in their family to complete a four-year college degree.  Approximately 30% of I-Promise students also make the decision to enroll in a graduate or professional program after completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois.


CeciliaCecilia Macias graduated from U of I in 2009 with a degree in Communication.  Her jobs at U of I and other extracurricular activities led her to pursue a graduate degree in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education at Ball State University.  She said, “I originally thought I would do PR, but through my involvements I quickly realized that’s not what I really wanted to do.” 


However, her success and admission into graduate school would not have been possible without the support of mentors in her life.  She said, “As a first generation student, I didn’t know anything, and they showed me what I needed to do.  They got me involved in the process.”


Cecilia acknowledged graduate school does come with its own set of academic challenges. “You have about three classes a week, and each class requires an extensive amount of work,” she noted.  There is also a lot more independent learning that happens in these programs.  “You’re seen as a professional by professors, and they expect great things from you.”  To pay for graduate school, there are assistantships available that usually cover all of the tuition.


Cecilia is graduating with her MA in July, and she plans on working at a university.  She encourages students who are thinking about applying for graduate or professional school to start looking for references, updating their resume, studying for the GRE, continuing to concentrate on academics, and most importantly, finding a school that provides you with an assistantship.  “Going straight from undergrad to graduate school can open up a lot of opportunities.  You’ll have a master’s degree and nobody can take that away from you.”


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Making a Difference Abroad

Illinois Promise students are grateful for the assistance they have received to attend college, and many plan to give back to the community after graduation.  However, some have already dedicated themselves to service. 


SilviaSilvia Gonzalez, a 2011 graduate in Art Education and Photography, traveled to Ecuador over winter break through an RSO called International Impact.  Silvia always knew that she wanted to travel abroad but was primarily interested in volunteer programs.  When she found out she was accepted into the Ecuador program, she was thrilled.   She said, “I was called and told, ‘Yes, you’re in,’ and I freaked out!”  She was nervous for her family’s reaction, but they were completely supportive.


The trip to Ecuador had a huge impact on Silvia’s life.  “I learned a lot.  That sounds cliché, but I learned what collaboration means with different people…It was a beautiful experience,” Silvia enthused.  Volunteering with kids, the elderly, and doing manual labor made Silvia realize that she wants to spend the rest of her life helping people and doing not-for-profit work.


Her advice for students interested in studying abroad or volunteering in different countries:  “Just do it.”  Silvia explains that funds can be achieved through scholarships or by using personal strengths to raise money.  She said, “Take risks once in a while.  Strategize how to actualize your plan.  I feel so refreshed, and I feel stronger about my beliefs in activism.”


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Leading Change for Student Parents

Carmen Wilson just finished her junior year and is majoring in Health.  She transferred as a sophomore and is leaning towards becoming a personal trainer.  She is also a parent. 


CarmenCarmen came to the University of Illinois because of the financial support offered through the I-Promise program, but she soon realized that the support for student parents was limited.  She said, “I thought it was going to be easier because I just assumed that they would have resources for students with kids – even grants or scholarships.  But there was nothing.”  She aims to successfully complete her degree while also providing a good environment for her three-year-old son Donavan, whom she affectionately calls Diggy.


Carmen became involved with I-Parents, a program in the College of Education that strives to improve the lives of area children through collaboration of time and resources in the support and education of parents and families. She has various goals in this role, including trying to develop a family resource center.  She said, “It’s the little things like where to have group meetings, or missing and failing classes because of sick kids.”  With the help of Susan Gershenfeld and other administrators on campus, she also has developed RISK Advocacy, a new program providing support for student parents.


Assuming a leadership position can seem like a daunting task, especially with the added responsibility of being a parent.  However, Carmen approaches leadership by keeping others in mind.  “I don’t search for problems, but when I notice that there’s a problem, I take the initiative to solve it.  I don’t solve it just for me as an individual, but I keep in mind that there’s somebody else who is affected by it.”



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Ira and Debra Cohen Pay it Forward for I-Promise

Illinois Promise is possible largely due to donors such as Ira and Debra Cohen.  Ira graduated from the University of Illinois in 1980 with an Engineering and Computer Science degree.  Debra and Ira are now extensively involved with the University through the Foundation, Alumni Association, and Computer Science Department.  They are also huge football and basketball fans.


IraDebraThe Cohens heard about Illinois Promise through former Chancellor Richard Herman.  Ira said, “He had come to us, and it sounded really interesting.  There was definitely a need to fill the gap for students from certain economic levels to be able to come to the University.  If you’re qualified and able to succeed, money shouldn’t be the thing that keeps you from coming.”  Debra was also excited about the opportunity.  She said, “It’s something we feel very strongly about.  Education is key.”


Ira and Debra are also very supportive of the new mentoring programs.  Having been mentors for other programs in the past, they understand the importance of mentoring.


Debra encourages students, “Take advantage of the program.  Then go out and be successful. If and/or when the opportunity presents itself, pay it forward.”  Similarly Ira says, “Dare to dream.  If you need help, just make sure you ask for it.  Don’t let problems get to a point where they are too difficult to solve.”


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Maximizing Your Academic Advising Relationship

“The student-advisor relationship can be one of the most meaningful relationships a student can develop on campus,” writes Julian Parrott, Assistant Provost & Director of the Campus Center for Advising and Academic Services (CCAAS).


The largest of the three units in CCAAS is the Division of General Studies (DGS), the foundation of which is built on academic advising.  DGS advisors are all experienced and dedicated professional advisors who care deeply about the academic and life goals of their students. Over 3,000 freshmen and sophomores – usually approximately 25% of Illinois’ freshmen class – enroll in DGS as they want to explore academic options before declaring their majors or are students in transition between colleges and/or majors.

Some students may ask, “What can an advisor do for me?”  DGS advisors, for instance, are required to master information pertinent to every campus major and minor. Such a depth and breadth of knowledge is enhanced by discussions with major advisors. They also keep you on track for timely graduation. In addition to their expertise on academic requirements, advisors work to know you as a student, are in your corner, and are supportive mentors.  This kind of relationship can shrink a large campus like Illinois and make it feel close and personal.  An excellent advisor will look beyond course scheduling to the holistic student. This includes modeling, inspiring, and challenging you to delve deeper into your own interests and abilities and to connect more meaningfully with opportunities for academic and personal growth that are found in volunteering, leading a club or society, studying abroad, researching, etc.


“It's always good advice to demonstrate verve and initiative - contact the advisor, make an appointment, go on in and have a chat - it doesn't have to be about courses but simply to introduce yourself to your advisor, to outline goals, hopes, and plans,” emphasizes Julian. He continues, “A student who does this will feel connected and supported and the advisor will be thrilled by the student's desire to build a fruitful advising relationship.”

But, what if things don’t go right because of misaligned expectations, miscommunication, or if you heard things from your advisor you didn’t want to hear?  Julian’s advice includes: 1) don’t blame the messenger because you didn’t like the message; and 2) don’t walk away for whatever reason from your department’s advising.  If you feel that continuing a working relationship with an advisor is untenable, then Julian recommends seeing if there is another advisor available, or talking to a college level advisor or advising dean.


Good advising is so important; it's essential for you as a student to keep at it.


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Recognizing Student and Alumni Accomplishments

Featured below is information on I-Promise students and alums who have shared their successes during this academic year.


Bronze Tablet

RobertThe University Honor designation, the highest academic honor awarded to an undergraduate, is limited to those students who have demonstrated their capacity for sustained academic excellence of a high order.  To be eligible for this honor, students must have a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.5 and must rank – on the basis of cumulative grade-point average – in the upper three percent of their college graduating class on the basis of all work taken through the academic term prior to graduation. Robert Walker, ’11 Mathematics and Philosophy, is one of two I-Promise students from the 2011 graduating class who received this honor. Both of these students will have their name inscribed on a bronze tablet that is displayed in the corridor of the University Library. (Photo credit: Erich Adickes/Adickes Creative Services)



Office of Minority and Student Affairs (OMSA) Scholastic Awards

The Mom’s Day Scholastic Awards Ceremony held in April honored the academic achievement of students who utilized OMSA’s programs and services and achieved a grade point average of 3.45 or above.


There were 33 I-Promise students who received a GPA of 3.45-3.69, including: Kaiilah Brown, ’11 Communication; Iva Gaylord, ’13 E. Asian Languages and Cultures; T’Keyah Loggins, ’14 Broadcast Journalism; Jose Ortiz, ’14 Undeclared; Arturo Romo, ’14 Urban Planning; and Debbie Sanchez, ’12 Accountancy.


Twenty I-Promise students received a GPA of 3.70-3.99, including:  Roy Bell, ’12 Electrical Engineering; Jenitra Cannon, ’13 Undeclared; Bianca Flowers, ’13 Broadcast Journalism; Yecenia Iturbe-Mendes, ’14 Sociology; Roxzy Mabry, ’11 Kinesiology; and Luis Pabon, ’14 Computer Engineering.


Six I-Promise students received a perfect 4.0 GPA, including Robert Walker, ’11 Mathematics and Philosophy.


Congratulations to all!


Undergraduate Research

The fourth annual campus-wide Undergraduate Research Symposium took place in April.  Four I-Promise students presented their research, including April Moore, ’11 Communication.  The title of her research presentation was “Maternal parenting and eating habits:  Does matriarchal influence play a factor in children’s eating behaviors and weight gain?” 



Robert Walker, ’11 Mathematics and Philosophy. Clarence E. Brehm Scholarship


Joanna Bridge, ’11 Engineering Physics, Layla Suzanne Ryan Scholarship in Astronomy; National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship


Silvia Gonzalez, ’11 Art Education and Photography, Lois Marie Art and Design Scholarship


Illinois Leadership Center – Leadership Certificate

The Leadership Certificate is a structured program designed to provide students with experience and growth in leadership. Student who enroll in the Leadership Certificate Program dedicate at least 2-4 semesters to meet various program requirements.


Two I-Promise students completed their Leadership Certificate this year: 

Mauriell Amechi, ’11 Communication

Baozhen Li, ’11 Industrial Design


Senior 100 Honorary

Senior 100 Honorary is a University of Illinois Alumni Association program that acknowledges notable U of I seniors for both their past achievement and future commitment to the University.  Two I-Promise students received this honor:


Mauriell Amechi, ’11 Communication

Silvia Gonzalez, ’11 Art Education and Photography


Other Awards, Recognition, and Accomplishments

Mauriell Amechi, ’11 Communication, received three awards: (1) Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center's "Outstanding Senior" Award. This competitive distinction honors one student from the graduating class of 2011 for dedicated service to campus and community activities, demonstrated leadership and professionalism, academic accomplishments, and commitment to the Cultural Center as an undergraduate. (2) Department of Communication Senior Honors Thesis: The Content and Effects of Online News Portrayals of African American Males. One of only two students in my department who received High Distinction honors for completing a senior honors thesis with a faculty member. (3) The Ohio State University Graduate Enrichment Fellowship and College of Education and Human Ecology Scholarship. The Graduate Enrichment Fellowship is awarded through a centralized university-wide competition to those applicants who show outstanding scholarly accomplishment and the most outstanding potential for graduate study.


Quyen Bui, ’11 Community Health, graduated with High Honors.


Sarai Coba-Rodriguez, ’10 Sociology and current doctoral student in Human and Community Development, TRiO Achiever Honoree.

Alicia DeLaRosa, ’12 Political Science, selected to be one of the three Fred H. Turner Fellow Interns for the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Office for this upcoming school year 2011-2012.

Iva Gaylord, ’13 E. Asian Languages and Cultures, chosen as an Orientation Student Leader for the Office of the Dean of Students, which was a very competitive employment opportunity that allows her to work with over 7,000 incoming students.

Christie Gill, ’11 Community Health,  (1) Studied abroad during Christmas Break in Paris, France; (2) interned at Carle Foundation Hospital; and (3) served as a member of many clubs and committees such as Sigma Alpha Lambda Honors Society, Women of Color and as a board member of the Black Congratulatory Committee.


Silvia Gonzalez, ’11 Art Education and Photography, (1) James R. and Dorothy E. Shipley Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement; (2) Volunteering abroad for two weeks in Ecuador through International Impact with FEVI. (Fund for Intercultural Education and Community Volunteer Services); (3) Participating in and out of campus through the following: Co-president of RSO Art Education Association; exhibiting a group of teaching artists from the Art Education program at U of I in the community of Champaign Urbana; exhibiting at Class Act and Boneyard Arts Festival.


Marcos Hernandez, ’11 English, Honors with Distinction for a thesis about the formal relationship between the dramatic works of Samuel Beckett and W. B. Yeats.


Baozhen Li, ’11 Industrial Design, received the Methaphase Design Group Award.


Gina Lococo, ’11 Kinesiology, graduated with Highest Honors.


Roxzy Mabry, ’11 Kinesiology, on the Dean's List the past five consecutive semesters.


Arturo Romo, ’14 Urban Planning, accepted to participate in a service trip to India this summer through Frontiers International Health Services (an RSO). It will focus on implementing health care in developing countries. Also, accepted a position to work at The Career Center as a Career Services Paraprofessional.


Debbie Sanchez, ’12 Accountancy, accepted 2011 summer internship with Deloitte LLC; also selected to participate in the Discover Tax: Diversity Leadership Conference by Ernst & Young in New York City, which was a 3-day, all-expense paid conference during the winter break and intended for underrepresented sophomores and juniors majoring in Accounting with a 3.3 GPA or higher.

Aleisha Stingley, ’13 Community Health, accepted to the study abroad program to go to Cape Town, South Africa over winter break '11; also accepted into the summer enrichment program at UIC's School of Public Health.

Chantell Strong, ‘11 Psychology, received honors from Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society and Phi Sigma Theta National Honor Society.

Robert Walker, ’11 Mathematics and Philosophy, received the Most Outstanding Award in Mathematics; also received First-Place Award for 2011 I-Promise Senior Essay Competition.


Ashley Waterman, ’11 Kinesiology, received Departmental Honors.


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Enriching Student Lives through RSO Leadership

Every year I-Promise students are in leadership positions in Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) on campus.  Among the 2011 I-Promise graduates, 50% held leadership positions, making a difference by enriching the lives of many students. Now that they have graduated, other I-Promise students have assumed leadership positions in many of these organizations. Read about the RSOs below and consider getting involved when you return to campus in the fall!


Central Black Student Union (CBSU)

The CBSU serves as the umbrella organization for the seven Black Student Unions (BSU) across campus. We also stand to serve other supporting Black organizations in their endeavors to thrive within the campus community where we collectively uplift our voices and our missions to create positivity and unity within the Black community. 

Abril Edwards, President.


Illini Swing Society
The Illini Swing Society socializes and connects with other people through the art of swing dancing. No partner or special shoes are needed. Make friends and learn the kind of dance moves that will attract admirers. Get hooked on the atmosphere and experience of swing. Check out upcoming lessons and dances for the summer on our website:
Camille Simon, Public Relations Chair


National Association of Black Journalists NABJ

The purpose of the NABJ-UIUC is to unite local Black journalists dedicated to truth and excellence in the news and full equality in the industry in order: (a) to expand and balance the media’s coverage of the Black community and Black experience; (b) to encourage students to identify careers in journalism; (c) to strengthen ties between Blacks who work in majority-owned media and Blacks who work in Black-owned media; (d) to sensitize the majority-owned media to racism; (e) to award scholarships and internships to Black students; (f) to be an exemplary group of professionals that honors excellence and outstanding achievement among Black journalists; (g) to work with high schools to identify potential Black journalists; (h) to chronicle the history of Black journalists.

Rachel Loyd, Programming Chair


Resource Information and Services for Students with Kids RISK

RISK is an organization for Illinois students who are also parents. The purpose is to provide information on University and community resources and services available for student parents and to create opportunities for connecting and networking among student parents.

Carmen Wilson, President


Writer's Organizing Realistic Dialect (W.O.R.D.)

The purpose of W.O.R.D. is to promote the writing aspects of any career field, especially careers in the performing arts. W.O.R.D. is one of the only RSOs on campus that is comprised of students who are dedicated writers (poets, song-writers, fiction, etc.) and performers who enjoy acting their crafts on stage. Behind any stage play, popular book, song, or movie, there are writers. We are those Writers who Organize Realistic Dialect.

Abril Edwards, Co-founder and Vice-President


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Images from I-Promise Spring Events

bbqOne spring tradition is to celebrate the end of the semester at the I-Promise BBQ.  Seventy-seven I-Promise students and their guests attended this event at the Illini Grove in April.  Some posed for a picture, and others participated in games and won prizes. Pictured (below on right) is Yecenia Iturbe-Mendes, who won a gift ceYeceniartificate compliments of the Ilini Union Bookstore.



The I-Promise Senior Reception also takes place in April.  This is a special event where seniors are recognized for their accomplishments and talents, and seniors have Quyenthe opportunity to show their gratitude for the scholarship.  Approximately 200 students and guests were in attendance at this year’s reception at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. As with the past two graduating classes, this senior class raised funds for a class gift -- an engraved paver that will be placed at the east-side entrance receptionto the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.  Through their creativity and marketable skills, the I-Promise senior class of 2011 exceeded their fundraising RoxzyBaozhengoal by providing manicures, selling flowers for Valentine’s Day, designing and selling an I-Promise t-shirt, organizing a bowl-a-thon, and more.  Here are a few images from fundraising efforts and the reception. (Pictured above and on left is Quyen Bui, pictured below on left is Baozhen Li and Roxzy Mabry; pictured on right is a group of seniors who posed with Director Susan Gershenfeld following the reception: Silvia Gonzalez, Baozhen Li, Mauriell Amechi, Debbie Porter, Kaiilah Brown, Jarron Farmby, and Lonzyo Holcomb.)



This is the second year the I-Promise mentoring program has been available to incoming I-Promise students, and the first year an alumni mentor program was offered to upper classmen.  To show gratitude for investing in their mentoring JayKhanhpartnerships and to mark the end of the academic year, everyone involved in the program was invited to the Illinois Suite at Memorial Stadium for a reception and tour of the stadium. Approximately 100 mentors and SilviaJosementees were in attendance, with several alumni mentors traveling from the Chicago-land area and even one alumni mentor and his spouse driving the distance from Arkansas. Several mentors and mentees were invited to provide testimonials on the value of their mentoring partnerships.  One mentee, Jose Ortiz (on right with mentor, Siliva Gonzalez) stated, I did not realize how impactful having a mentor would be. It was more than just a mentorship program, it was a friendship, and I am so grateful I had Silvia there during my overwhelming first year at the U of I.“ (Pictured on left is mentor Jay Geistlinger with Khanh Ngo.)




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Illinois Promise Student Services  |   Illini Union Bookstore Building  |   807 S. Wright Street Suite 320C

Champaign, IL 61820  |   217.244.7719

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