Say yes to &: Stories about students who chose Illinois
Saying "yes" to LAS means more than choosing a college. It means opening the door to "&."
It's exploring the fundamentals of human behavior. And pushing the boundaries of science. Going inside the lab. And making the world your classroom, with international programs that explore new ideas in a culture that's 1,000 years old. All to create one, singular degree that gives you the tools to excel.
To help you understand what that looks like, we invited five current LAS students to share their experiences. Read on to see how they're using the power of "&" to achieve all they've hoped for. And more.
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“The amount of research positions, student jobs, shadowing, and internships that are available on this campus geared towards all majors is so abundant, it's hard not to find something you'll be interested in.”
Be assertive and put yourself out there. That's Daniella Kalume's advice for new students.
And she's followed it during her time at the U of I, joining the Orange Krush, becoming president of the Alpha Omega campus ministry, and pursuing an internship at Research Park that earned her an award for the "Best Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Startup." But before all of that, she was just another high-school senior with an interest in chemistry. And an important decision to make.
Born in South Africa to Congolese parents, Daniella moved to America with her family in 1998. But it was her interest in STEM studies that drew her to Illinois.
"When I was a senior in high school, I applied to three universities," says Daniella. "What sold me on Illinois was the financial aid, the academic, and social opportunities, and campus life as a whole."
She also liked the idea of being able to participate in undergraduate research.
"I was able to work along-side a retired faculty member, Alexander Scheeline, who created a startup company in Research Park called SpectroClick." Once there, she threw herself into her work, conducting experiments, collecting data, researching reactions, and mentoring high school students on spectroscopy.
According to Daniella, the honor she received for that work was one of the highlights of her college career. "Sometime doubts creep up and make you think that you are not cut out for the major you're in, but having someone with as many credentials as Dr. Scheeline compliment you on your work ethic is definitely rewarding in itself."
“I felt that by sticking to one major I would miss out in my experience and that each one has a purpose in my journey.”
For some, choosing a major is a one-and-done decision. They make the call and move forward, never looking back.
But for Edith Munoz, it was more a journey of discovery. The third of five children, Edith initially came to the U of I from West Chicago with plans to pursue a degree in psychology.
"I knew that Illinois was an exceptional school to attend and had great psychology program," she explains. Not long after arriving however, she began to question whether a psych major was really the best route for her.
"I've changed majors a few times, to be quite honest," she says. In the end, she decided to pursue a double major in political science and Latina/o studies with a minor in Spanish. "I decided to stick with these three because I felt it gave me the opportunity to get different aspects of what I am truly interested in, which is immigration law." For Edith, the ability to explore her options and still graduate in four years was a major advantage.
In addition to her studies, Edith joined the Gamma Phi Omega International, a sorority that encourages new Latina students coming to the U of I with an annual scholarship. During her senior year in high school, she became one of those fortunate students. Now, she's helping make those decisions, having served on both the scholarship and cultural awareness committees of the organization.
As a student who initially struggled to find her path, she encourages others to pursue their education in a college that welcomes that journey. "Don't feel guilty about not knowing what you want to do! Over time, you will find out. This is a great campus to explore your career and yourself."
“I really believe Illinois molds its curriculum to allow students to explore other areas of study differing from their major, crafting them into well-rounded students prepared for an ever-changing world. ”
For some, diversity is something to be tolerated. For Anna Chlopecki, it's an idea to be embraced.
In fact, it's one of the main reasons she chose the College of LAS at the University of Illinois, in addition to the phenomenal mathematics program that appealed to the aspiring math major from Niles, Illinois.
"I wanted to study in a diverse community, one which exposed me to many different cultures and ideas," says Anna, who believed the experience would allow her to make new friends and develop an appreciation for other cultures.
Diversity in her education was also an important factor. She liked the "wiggle room" in the general education requirements and the wide variety of interesting classes, exploring everything from the environment and the law to a class on Polish culture that helped her connect with her heritage. "I really believe that Illinois does an amazing job in allowing me flexibility and freedom with my courses.
One emphasis for her has been on time in the lab. "I am not only able to conduct mathematical research under respected professors and graduate students, but I am able to learn their techniques, thought processes, and logic to go about solving problems," she explains. "Research was a very important factor in terms of choosing a university, and I am satisfied with the amount of research I am able to be involved with as a sophomore in college."
Outside of class, she's had her share of other enriching experiences, presiding over the campus math club, serving on the James Scholar Student Advisory Board, and delivering a mean serve in intramural tennis. But for now, her main priority is preparing for life after college. And she's using another great resource to explore that, taking advantage of career fairs and other events that help her network with potential employers.
“From my experience, I feel that the faculty, professors, and fellow students genuinely care about you and your success, and are very willing to help you out if you need it. ”
When Terrell Spurlock began considering schools, Illinois wasn't at the top of his list. In fact, it wasn't on his list at all.
Because it was in his home state, and like a lot of high-school seniors, the Southside Chicago native was anxious to go someplace far away from home. Only a last-minute plea from his girlfriend convinced him to apply. But now, he's grateful he did.
"After I did more research on the school and weighed my options, I realized that if I went to Illinois I would have a lot of opportunities my other choices could not offer, for an affordable price. Knowing my family is a two-hour drive away if I ever needed them affected my decision as well."
A few months later, the first-generation college student arrived on campus with a passion for history and a drive to make a difference. He followed the latter into an internship with the Chicago Urban League, a nonprofit organization that — among other things — helps families find homes and students follow their educational pursuits. "Working with them this past summer has been one of the highlights of not only my summer, but my life."
Deciding on a major, he says was a slightly different experience. "It wasn't until I did more research that I realized all of the routes I could go in life with a history major," says Terrell, adding that it's important to develop the soft skills, like critical thinking, communication, and writing. "You will definitely do that in the College of LAS."
Currently, he's preparing for the GRE and looking into graduate school programs. "Being at Illinois has instilled a confidence in me that, no matter how difficult the problem, a solution is never too far behind."
“Coming to U of I has been the greatest choice I've ever made and will forever rank amongst the greatest experiences of my life. The U of I is, and will forever be, my home.”
Tyler Seal is the last of four siblings to attend the University of Illinois. From the time that he was 12, he knew he wanted to come here.
But that didn't mean he wasn't open to exploration. "I did consider other schools," says Tyler, who says it was the "diverse and astonishing" amount of academic and social opportunities that made him decide to come here.
He chose a major in integrative biology, which explores ecology and environmental dynamics with an under-text of biology.
By the second semester of his freshman year, he was already in the lab, thanks to a class that introduces new students to research. That led to a grant from the Animal Biology Summer Research Fellowship and the opportunity to study underlying factors that influence animal behavior.
"This experience alone opened up a world of possibilities for me," he says. "They allowed me to conduct my own research while also working with other graduate students on their projects."
By the end of his junior year, he had completed most of his required courses and had free reign to study other things that matched his interests. Currently, he's taking an anatomy course, as well as a medical terminology course to help prepare for physician assistant school.
He's also pursuing his EMT license through IEMS, an on-campus RSO, to gain valuable experience in the medical field. "Every class here has taught me how to better approach a problem and tackle it efficiently. It's that dedication and determination that allows you to propel yourself out ahead and make yourself stand out."
“I was able to realize which career path I want to aim for, and the university gave me the opportunity to seize the experiences I needed to realize it”
As an international student, Aamodini Gupta could have chosen any number of amazing schools to attend around the world — and she considered her options, looking at schools in both the United Kingdom and the United States. But as the owner of a curious mind, she knew she wanted more than a great degree; she wanted the freedom to explore.
At the time, she had a strong interest in astronomy. She also wanted to peruse English literature. At LAS, she knew that she could explore both.
So, she traded the warm climes of India for a new life Illinois. By her sophomore year, she was already conducting undergraduate research in her chosen field. As much as she loved the stars, however, she quickly learned that she loved data and numbers more. "Once I realized that, I decided to do something about it, and the math department made it easy for me."
Soon she was pursuing a double major in math and statistics and exploring the working world through exciting internships with EY and KPMG in Ghana. That was followed by another internship with a startup company called Bellwether Analytics where, finally, all of the pieces fell into place.
"This time around I got the experience that I finally needed," says Aamodini, who loved every aspect of the job, from constructing predictive models and using financial forecasting techniques to meeting with clients and presenting her results. "This experience in particular helped me realize that, for me, data analytics and consulting is where I am headed."
Currently, she's looking at full-time job opportunities as well as grad school options. As for her initial love, she was still able to complete a minor in astronomy. And while she never pursued a degree in English literature, she was able to explore it thoroughly, taking two courses she "absolutely loved."
Through all of her explorations, she found the career center to be an invaluable resource that allowed her to meet recruiters firsthand and get the upper hand on job and internship possibilities. "Three out of the four technical experiences I have had were through the university. I was able to realize which career path I want to aim for, and the university gave me the opportunity to seize the experiences I needed to realize it."
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