Have you been on a campus visit? Did you take a campus tour? If so, you met one of our 80+ Illinois Student Admissions Representatives (I-STARs). The I-STAR position is one of the most sought after positions on campus. I’m lucky enough to work with all of them, and I’m inspired by their journeys at Illinois. It’s a bittersweet time of year when a handful of I-STARs walk across the graduation stage. As an ode to their time at Illinois and to speak to you (yes, YOU!) one more time, a few I-STARs wanted to share some of their greatest moments and challenges at Illinois. I interviewed Anh, Lauren, LJ, and Micah and I found their responses to be insightful, inspiring, and so genuine. Read more about them at the end of this post.
What is something that surprised you about Illinois?
Lauren: The diverse and expansive opportunities. Freshman year I studied abroad in Tanzania, got involved in undergraduate research, and was on the women’s rowing team – all of which were super diverse opportunities, none of which were available to me in high school, and each of them was essentially handed to me when I walked onto campus. Since then, I’ve joined a handful of new RSOs and the opportunities have just kept coming.
LJ: One thing that surprised me about Illinois was how community-centric it was. Even though it is such a large school, there is a huge focus on community whether that be through your major, college, RSOs, or your residence hall. From my first day on campus, I felt that I was a part of several small families rather than being alone at this large research university. I did not expect this coming, especially being from a different state than most of my peers, and I still feel this close sense of community to this day.*
Micah: One thing that surprised me about Illinois was the sense of community. Walking around as a prospective student, I was constantly greeted with friendly faces. From advisors, to tour guides and admissions staff, to people on the street, I felt at home walking around Champaign-Urbana. I knew that wherever I went, I would be able to strike up a conversation with someone and connect with them.*
*Editor’s note (by Kaci): I promise, I didn’t prompt them to answer in such similar ways. They responded separately, but I think it’s pretty beautiful.
We know college can be hard, what’s been your greatest challenge at Illinois?
Micah: My greatest challenge at Illinois was finding a solid transition from high school to college. I didn’t make a good faith effort to study, or set a good priority list. As a result, my academics struggled and it set me off on a poor start to my college career. It allowed me to start digging myself up, slowly but surely, and I found out what it meant to be a good student. This meant using campus resources to my advantage, meeting with professors or TA’s and networking with students in my major.
LJ: My greatest challenge I faced at Illinois was being more confident in myself and my opinions. Coming to such a large campus from a high school with a total enrollment of 100 students, I found it difficult to share my personality and opinions the first couple of weeks just because I was scared that I was going to say the wrong thing or sound dumb. I learned quickly that there are no such things as stupid questions or stupid thoughts. I am much more confident in myself than I was as an incoming freshman and I have to thank my professors and peers for creating a welcoming environment in classes that allowed me to grow as a student.
Lauren: Time management and self-growth. The diversity on campus provides so many opportunities, but you have to actively choose to get involved in activities that push you out of your comfort zone. On the flip side, you also have to find a healthy balance between coursework and fun, which can be a surprisingly hard challenge when transitioning from 35 hours of class each week to only 10-20 in college.
What experience in the classroom had the most impact?
Micah: The most impactful learning experience inside the classroom was a course I took first semester senior year called HDFS 261. It was anything but traditional, and with a small group of 15 students, one professor and two undergraduate TA’s, the course turned into a sort of self-help group. There was so much full disclosure, and everyone felt comfortable sharing their most intimate moments. One day, we did a privilege walk. It was among the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had. Regardless of where I ended up in the line, it truly made me realize how lucky I’ve been growing up and put my life struggles into perspective.
Anh: Definitely ENGL 301 – “Critical Approaches to Lit and Text.” I was required to take this class to complete my English minor, and didn’t expect to enjoy it very much (or at all, honestly) because it focused on ideas applying ideas from thinkers and philosophers who are long dead (Marx, Descartes, etc.) to analyzing text. Nevertheless, this class has been my favorite throughout my four years here. Not only has it taught me to analyze literature, but it taught me to approach any work (book, film, speech, etc.) from a critical perspective. This has enabled me to engage more with social and political ideas that I might not have understood before, or was too afraid to approach. **Bonus: ENGL 119 (Literature of Fantasy) was a class I took on Harry Potter (and it counted as a requirement for my minor and as a Gen Ed!). Enough said.
What about outside of the classroom?
LJ: In addition to the great learning I experienced inside of the classroom at Illinois, I had the opportunity to intern not just once, but twice in Washington, DC. My first experience was a trip with Illinois in Washington which is our program that grants course credit to students wanting to intern in DC. I made great friends over the summer I interned in Sen. Mark Kirk’s office and was able to explore DC and live like a local. My second summer was in the White House Internship Program which was amazing in and of itself. After already being there for one summer, I had made friends who returned to the city as well. Even though I wasn’t there specifically with Illinois students, I was able to be around fellow Illini for the summer as well as network with other students from across the country.
Lauren: Study abroad forever and always!! When I went to Tanzania my freshman year, I fell in love with the culture and the people and became aware of so many stereotypes portrayed in the media about Africa as a negative place, so when I returned home I made a more conscious effort to break out of my comfort zone and open up my world.
Tell me about a lifelong friend or mentor you met at Illinois…
Micah: A lifelong mentor I met at Illinois was the Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Dovid. Dovid gave me a reason to reconnect with my religion but also showed me the true definition of integrity, character and hard work. After my bar mitzvah, I really had no reason to stay in touch with my Judaism. I went from a predominately Jewish town and surrounding, to a large campus where Jewish people are among the minority. Chabad gave me a home away from home; it became more than a physical place and turned into a community of friends. Rabbi was always there for me 24/7, and constantly showed that he is available to everyone. He is selfless and hard working and someone we should all try to embody more.
LJ: I have met many of my closest friends at Illinois. One is my friend Mary whom I met in my Philosophy 101 class during my first semester freshman year. I never thought I’d see her again after the class, but the next semester we were in the same History 200 section which is the entry research class for History majors! At the midpoint of this course, we decided we should continue this tradition and take a class every semester together leading up to graduation (which we successfully completed)! This led into a close friendship where we now do pretty much everything together from getting coffee to getting pedicures this week before our graduation.
Anh: A mentor that I’ve met at Illinois is Molly McLay, the assistant director of the Women’s Resources Center (WRC), coordinator of the First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education (FYCARE) Program, and one of my supervisors for the past four years. As a social worker, instructor, and assistant director of the WRC, Molly has a plethora of daily responsibilities. Still, she finds time to relax and sit down with others at the end of the day to discuss recent movies or sing in her feminist rock band, Love Handles. Molly’s drive for her work inspires me to engage in as many activities as I can, and shows me complete commitment to, and love for, one’s work is achievable. I can only hope to have the same love and dedication for my work as Molly has for hers.
Illinois has proven to me that talent and greatness are in abundance around me. For example, I met my friend, Terry, by chance when I happened to sit near him in MCB 250 (Molecular Genetics) in my sophomore year and talked about a band we both liked. Since then, Terry has become a good friend and study partner of mine. Terry amazes me. For someone who told me he didn’t care too much about academics before college, his academics are stellar, and his genuine interest in biology and chemistry are admirable. This coming Fall, he will be continuing his education as a graduate student in chemical biology at the California Institute of Technology. Congratulations, Terry! I know he’ll go on to do great things, and I’m looking forward to being able to call him a doctor of biology further along the future.
Lauren: Friends – the group that I studied abroad with in Spain; we traveled to a new country every weekend and had each other for support when the rest of our friends and family were thousands of miles away, we shared so many experiences that our friends and family couldn’t begin to comprehend and that’s something we will always have with each other
Mentor – Angie Wolters is the director of the Women in Engineering program and she is a rockstar; she always knew what was going on in my life, and that made me want to get involved more with Women in Engineering to give back to her and to continue to reach out and support other current and prospective women in engineering
What you will miss most about Illinois?
Micah: I’m going to miss relaxing on the main quad, or meeting my friends for Espresso Royale coffee. But I will especially miss some of my favorite food spots! Maize, Cracked, Big Grove Tavern, Destihl, and more!
Anh: The Main Quad! And downtown Champaign and Urbana 🙁
LJ: I think the one thing I am going to miss most about Illinois are my wonderful roommates that I’ve lived with the past two years. Lauren and I met through being on Illini Pride Executive Board, the overarching student fan organization for Illini Athletics, and have shared many memories together in Memorial Stadium and more specifically in Row 1 of Section 116 of State Farm Center cheering on the Illini to victories. Dana and I met sophomore year before moving in to our apartment junior year. One of our biggest accomplishments was finishing our binge-watch of Gossip Girl before graduation. Our third roommate Colleen I just met this year, but she has been an absolute blast to have as a part of our apartment and she always brings such positive energy. I’ll never forget the fun times in Apartment 210 and I’m so sad that they’re coming to an end. But, I can’t wait to see where life takes us all over the next few years!
Lauren: Having all my friends live within a few blocks from me, and walking around campus and seeing friendly faces on a daily basis…and hammocking on the quad on sunny days.
Want to read more?
Illini Success is a project that gathers data from our graduates after graduation to share their first destinations after Illinois. Launched in 2014, Illini Success shares data, stories, and facts about our graduates. What can you do with a degree in English? Community Health? Social Work? The annual reports can answer all of those questions! If you’re like me, you can spend a lot of time on this site looking at numbers and graphs. However, also take some time to read through some of the success stories to learn more about an individual’s Illinois journey and their advice for you!
Thank you to all of our graduating I-STARs!
Anh is from Bolingbrook, Illinois and majored in Molecular and Cellular Biology, with minors in English, Chemistry, and Pyschology. She is currently appling to medical school.
Lauren is from Park Ridge, Illinois and graduated with a degree in Bioengineering. She will start her bike ride across the country in New York City on May 18 with Illini 4000
Ljubica (LJ) is interning at the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in Virginia over the summer and will start her Master’s Degree in Public Policy at Gerogetown University’s McCourt school of Public Policy in the fall. She majored in Political Science and History and is from Bassett, Virgina.
Micah starts his law degree at Chicago-Kent College of Law this fall upon earning his degree in Human Development and Family Studies. Him and Sam grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Since Micah’s graduation, Sam is enjoying being the ‘best Fishman I-STAR.’