Illinois Promise
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
Spring eNewsletterFebruary, 2014

Director's Message

In August, 2013, 295 new I-Promise scholars arrived on campus, our largest incoming class since the program's inception in 2005. Helping all new students adjust to campus is important, and it is particularly crucial for I-Promise scholars. We are grateful that Chancellor

Renato Yutuc 

Wise hosts a welcoming reception so new I-Promise scholars can meet each other, program mentors, and campus leaders.  Knowing others with the I-Promise scholarship certainly helps with the adjustment. I-Promise RSO President, Renato Yutuc (pictured here), who is a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering, spoke about the value of the I-Promise community and scholarship during the Chancellor's Welcoming Reception. He emphasized the importance of being involved and building community.  Since this reception, new and continuing I-Promise scholars have had the opportunity to meet and support each other through a variety of events, including the mentor-mentee reception in November (picture below). The same will be true for spring semester when there are additional events planned (you can read about some of these events below).  It's never too late to get involved! Looking forward to working with you in 2014.

Susan Gershenfeld

Director Illinois Promise Student Services
I-Promise mentors and mentees at fall reception.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

-Maya Angelou 

Help Make First-Gen Communities Visible through the Performing Arts

Are you a first-generation college student? Do you want to make a difference by engaging in the performing arts? If so, there's an exciting project that awaits you!  Through a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is collaborating with New York-based contemporary theater organization, SITI Company, to engage selected communities in the performing arts. One of these selected communities is first-generation college students.  The project will provide an opportunity for students to decide what should be performed on stage in order to help make first-generation communities more visible. The students will then have the opportunity to perform the show! The creators, directors, and actors with SITI Company, along with the Krannert Center, will provide the infrastructure for this three-year project.  Year one is planning, year two is performing, and year three is evaluating. The artists will return to campus April 2-6, 2014. Between now and then, there are opportunities for students participating in the project to get to know each other and attend shows at the Krannert Center as a group. If you want to participate or would like additional information, please email Monique Rivera at

Richard and Susan Herman Senior Essay Competition

 "As a public university, we must ensure that talented students of all economic backgrounds have access to our programs.   

Susan and Richard Herman
If the face of our campus does not reflect our society, we cannot fulfill our obligation to create the leaders of future generations."  This message was given nine years ago when former Chancellor Richard Herman created the I-Promise program.  Since then, 819 I-Promise students have earned Illinois degrees.


If you are an I-Promise senior, you can express what your scholarship has meant personally by participating in the Richard and Susan Herman Senior Essay Competition. In a 500-word essay, you need to answer the following two questions:  What has attending the U of I and receiving the I-Promise scholarship meant to you?  What are your bold dreams for the future?  The author of the winning essay has the

Emily Malamud 

honor of presenting the essay at the I-Promise Senior Reception on April 4. In addition, the winner is acknowledged with a beautiful award and a $500 financial contribution that is applied to reduce any college loans.  Last year's essay winner was Emily Malamud. The deadline for submission is Monday, February 17.  Please send the essay as a PDF attachment to Susan Gershenfeld with your name in the subject line. Questions? Contact Susan at 217.244.7719.


Join Us to Improve Your "Dining Skills for Today" - March 19

Join other I-Promise students on Wednesday, March 19 from 6-8pm in the Colonial Room at the Illini Union for a four-course dinner and an opportunity to polish your dining skills!  


Soon enough you'll be entering the working world. A lot of business is conducted at parties and dinners, meetings that on the surface seem purely social. Knowing how to take advantage of the potential in these situations adds to your 9-to-5 abilities, especially since many people are not at ease in such environments. Dining Skills for Today will give you a useful set of tools for those special situations where business relationships are developed and strengthened in social settings.


Presenter/Facilitator Beth Reutter will cover: Business Entertaining, Host/Hostess and Guest Duties, Place Settings, Silverware Savvy, The Silent Service Code, Body Language at the Table, Handling Accidents, Difficult to Eat Foods, Forms of Service, American and Continental Styles of Eating, and Toasting, as well as other dining tips.


This event is partially subsidized to help defray the cost per I-Promise student. RSVP before February 19 and receive the early-bird discount -- $10 per person. After this date, the charge is $15 per person and reservations will be accepted until March 12.  The full cost of this dinner and educational opportunity would normally be about four-times what is being charged. For further information and to reserve your seat, call Susan Gershenfeld at 217.244.7719 or email

First Week Back on Campus - Spring Semester Images


Panel discussion featuring (left to right: Dr. Chris Span, Gabriella Garay, Kim Hodges, Nick Musso, and Dr. Dorothy Espelage) at "Realizing the Dream:  Exploring Social & Economic Class on Campus" a campus forum, which was held during MLK week.


Marjorie Mizes (Vice President and Publisher, Accuity) returned to campus to lead a session entitled "The Value of Hands-On Experience: How Internships Can Be Your Key to Success." Marjorie is a 1979 graduate and an I-Promise mentor. Click here for a video of the session. 


Senior Nick Musso and Sophomore Sajani Gumidyala co-facilitated a session with I-Promise mentor and Specialist for International Projects, Teneisha Ellis, on ""Study Abroad: A Class All Its Own" to inform I-Promise scholars about the opportunities to study abroad.

Wheels without Breaking the Bank

Considering breaking the bank to buy a car? Alejandra Ortiz de Alba has an alternative that could work for you! Alejandra, a junior in the College of Media, has been using ZipCar for about a year and says it's convenient, affordable and a great way to travel.


She says, "ZipCar makes life a lot easier. Going grocery shopping on the bus can take several hours, and I'm not a big fan of wasting time. "


Alejandra recommends that fellow I-Promise students sign-up for ZipCar. She says, "We're all here with the same financial needs. We can't afford school and luxuries. Having a car can be really expensive." Car payments, gas, repair bills, insurance and on-campus parking that averages at $600 adds up fast - easily requiring thousands of dollars a year.


With a $25 application fee and $8.25/hour to rent a car, a ZipCar can be a much more cost-effective alternative to owning a car.


Alejandra shared with I-Promise how convenient it is to access ZipCars. "There's one at Allen, Bausfield, ISR. No matter where you are on campus, you can find one."


The steps to getting a ZipCar are: create an account, receive a key card in the mail, go online to reserve a car, and access it using your keycard. ZipCars are also available for mini-road trips. ZipCar asks customers to fill up with the free gas card provided in the car and to return the car on time for the next customer. ZipCar also sends a text message to customers when the time to return the car is approaching. If the car is not reserved immediately after the current reservation, ZipCar allows customers to extend reservations in 30-minute increments.


Alejandra advises, "Before spending all of your savings on buying a car, consider ZipCar."

Coca-Cola Scholars Double in Numbers!

Last year, I-Promise received a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation to support six, first-generation, incoming I-Promise scholars. In order to be selected, students needed to be the first member in their family to attend college, along with other criteria.  This academic year, we have a new cohort of six students.  The generosity of the Coca-Cola Foundation will support four cohorts over four years, for a total of 24 Coca-Cola scholars. Mentoring and other support services are provided as part of the program, in addition to scholarship support.

(Left to right, front row: Jasmine Colon, Alejandra Reyes Pena, Nashae Roundtree; middle row: DeJenea Shaw, Adrian Guereca, Melody Wong, Timothy Morris; back row: Joseph Ratliff, Sally Szeto, Arielle Domontay, and Daniel Vargas)

Meet John Seral: U of I Alumnus and I-Promise Donor


John Seral 
They're the backbone of Illinois Promise. The faces you don't see. The people who believe in you, without seeing your face. They are the donors. University of Illinois alumnus John Seral wants students to have the opportunities he had. That's why he gives back.


John laughs as he remembers his parents' advice when applying to college, "Pick a state school and don't screw up!" They didn't have money to pay for college, so John got a summer job at Dominick's and paid for school on his own.


While at the University of Illinois, John double majored in Mathematics and Computer Science. He later worked as Chief Information Officer at General Electric Corporation and is currently the Advisory Partner for Clayton Dubilier & Rice. He chooses to give back to his alma mater because of its excellent educational quality, remarkable brand, and the bright students it cultivates.


John says, "I realized what the brand of U of I did for my career. The education was the key element that got me to where I wanted to go." He says when applying for jobs, "The minute employers saw Illinois, they saw instant credibility." He wants the same opportunity for Illinois Promise students.  John also wants I-Promise students to experience the same financial freedom he was able to work towards. John says, "When I went to school, I didn't have loans because it was so cheap. I don't want [current students] to worry about the financial aspect and avoid having a huge loan hanging when they graduate."


He advises college students to have a plan, to try new things, and to make necessary adjustments. He says, "I came in with one idea that was shaped with classes and internships that I liked. I came out of the university with 100 job opportunities, but you really don't find that passion until you try it."  For graduating students, he says to choose a path and stick to it.  "You might turn left and right. Some people look for an ideal - but if you don't choose a path, you're never going to get there. Head in that direction and connect with sponsors and people who want to invest in you. Sponsors are key people who believe in you."


John says he loves giving to I-Promise especially because, "'s the right thing to do," and he can see the impact of his contribution.  

Dream Turned Reality, Twice


Josť Ortiz became infatuated with Paris, France, when he was five years old. Watching movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Rugrats in Paris made him want to experience the city in real life. 

His mother knew taking a vacation was out of her budget, but she continued to foster Josť's interest by buying him French books and CDs for Christmas. He studied French throughout middle and high school, and he never gave up his dream of living in Paris.


This past year Josť beat the odds as a first-generation college student and made his dream come true not once, but twice. He studied abroad in Paris for two consecutive semesters, and he told I-Promise all about his experience.


He believes the opportunity was possible through planning, scholarships, savings, and the moral support of I-Promise. "Before going, I-Promise gave me the opportunity to take it easier on myself and save money. College didn't become a financial burden where I needed to go to work full-time and go to school full-time."


Once he arrived, Josť found an internship at Blogoteque, a blogging company that recorded local concerts. He translated songs from French to English. He got a chance to explore the city, meet cool people and immerse himself in Parisian culture. He said, "My French probably advanced the most out of all the [study abroad] students. I knew Paris more than most people."


Josť stayed in Paris for most of his time abroad. He did, however, visit Venice, Italy, to fulfill his mother's dream. He said, "She always wanted to go to Venice, so it was kind of like I was taking her with me. And it was just very emotional to do something that she would never be able to do."


Despite unfavorable weather, Josť enjoyed Venice. He remembered, "It was so romantic and a very beautiful city." Upon his return to the U.S., Josť's mom was overwhelmed with emotion. "I got her [Venetian] souvenirs and she just cried. She cried because visiting Venice is something that she always wanted to do."


Throughout his trip, Josť also kept in touch with I-Promise Mentor, Silvia Gonzalez. He called her every time he saw a painting by her favorite artist, JR, and she encouraged him when he got homesick. He said, "It was the fact that I had a mentor, and that I could immediately connect back to home, back to the University of Illinois, back to I-Promise, that was just really comforting."


He said, "Study abroad got me out of my comfort zone." He started to see himself as more than a student.


Before going abroad he thought, "I'm an Illini. I'm from the University of Illinois. I make really good grades. I'm taking all of these cool classes." Studying abroad humbled him. "When I got there, no one really cared. I think it's important that once you're here, being an Illini is something to take pride in, but you also have to see that there's more to life."


Studying abroad put his University of Illinois identity into perspective. "It makes you grow up and see where you need to go next in life. Yes, U of I is something important in my life, but where am I going to go next? " He learned that his past didn't define him, and accomplishing one goal - like attending the University of Illinois - encouraged him to strive for more and more.


Josť encourages students to always follow dreams regardless of economic status. He advises scholars who want to study abroad to begin planning ahead as soon as possible by saving money, looking into funding options, researching countries abroad and preparing for how to deal with culture shock and communicating in a different language (if applicable).

She Didn't Give Up

What makes it impossible to reach for the stars? How about growing up in a culture where women are expected to marry by the age of 18, rather than enter college? Or not having enough money for college? Add in parents who were not formally educated past fifth grade to the equation. None of these obstacles, nor the ones that came later, in life stopped Quyen from believing she could be anything she wanted to be. It is a belief that saw her through an Illinois degree and led her to a career as a physician's assistant (PA).


Quyen Bui, and her family moved from Vietnam when she was 12 years old. Immigrating to the United States afforded her new educational opportunities and class mobility. Her family settled in Chicago where she attended a public school and excelled in her classes. After high school she was able to attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign thanks, in part, to the Illinois Promise Scholarship. Although she was attending a prestigious university, high school had not prepared her for the rigorous course load. She struggled through material in biology and chemistry classes which was review for most of her classmates.


Quyen recalls, "I finished my first semester with minimal grades, and I really thought at that point that I chose the wrong school; I should have gone to the community college." But she didn't give up.


Unfortunately, Quyen's parents, never having attended college themselves, didn't understand her challenges and were unable to advise her. She began building relationships within Illinois Promise that gave her the confidence to keep going. She was paired with adult mentor Monica Bielski Boris, who nurtured her ambitious work ethic. She also built friendships with other I-Promise scholars. She said, "I felt a little more comfortable knowing I'm not the only one."


Quyen graduated from U of I in 2011 and went on to earn her graduate degree in a physician's assistant program Salus Professional School in Pennsylvania this past September.


Quyen expressed satisfaction with the career path she chose, but she explained that she had to make very strategic choices along the way. She said, "Most of the people I knew in college they have a safety net - if they don't have a job after college, their parents can still support them. My parents made it very clear: If I don't find a job after college, they can't help financially."


So Quyen did everything she could to prepare for a career while still an undergraduate. She shadowed PA's and doctors at local clinics and worked as an assistant aid at a hospital. And while she enjoyed it all, Quyen's proudest accomplishments include finishing her PA program, getting hands-on experience, and - even before that - starting the Pre-Physician's Assistant Registered Student Organization (RSO) on campus.


As a community service project during her senior year, RSO members traveled to Decatur, Illinois, once or twice a month and went door-to-door to give free blood pressure screenings. Decatur is among one of the most economically-challenged areas in the state and Quyen wanted to help in the best way she knew how.


One special case stands out to her the most. She recalls, "I came across one man - his blood pressure was off the charts - it was like 300. What that means is he needs to have an ambulance drive him to the emergency room, because he could stroke out any minute, and he had no idea what that means. And we had to tell him, 'You have to get this under control or you could have a stroke any minute now.'" Quyen and fellow students directed him to the hospital and to some local free clinics. 


Quyen never let financial obstacles stop her from reaching for the stars. Right now she has several job offers, but she's still looking, because she won't settle for mediocrity. She says, "I have no doubt that I'm going to find the job that is perfect for me."


Her advice to current I-Promise students is: "Don't give up!" She says "You may think, 'Why am I going to college? My parents didn't even go to high school.' But don't give up on your decision and what you sought out to do. You never regret doing something. You only regret not doing something and not trying."   

I-Promise Director Receives Honor

I-Promise Director of Student Services, Susan Gershenfeld, received the Robert P. Larsen Human Development Award in 2013. This award was presented by the Counseling Center at the University of Illinois for her contributions to the enhancement of student development.  



(Left to right): Karla McCowan, Director Counseling Center; Susan Gershenfeld;
and Dynesha Grissom Mason, Clinical Counselor.

Informing Mentoring Practices beyond I-Promise

In order to continuously improve the I-Promise mentoring program and to advance broader understanding of mentoring practices for undergraduate college students, I-Promise Director of Student Services, Susan Gershenfeld, has just published a "Review of Undergraduate Mentoring Programs."  It appears online before print in the Review of Educational Research, which is the number one ranked journal in Education and Education Research (based on the Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports).  Her study adds to the current literature by examining the function or role of the mentor, identifying and assessing key mentoring components, valuing and considering social validity as it relates to mentoring, and implementing a classification system for methodological rigor. Knowledge generated by this research has already been incorporated in the training for I-Promise mentors and mentees.

Student Accomplishments

During the fall semester, I was selected to be one of the 20 seniors that served on the Illinois Homecoming Court. More recently, I was just offered an internship for this summer at Ernst & Young as a Human Capital Consulting Intern. 

Stephanie Mieczkowski, 2014 Psychology


Last summer, I lived in Portland while interning for a non-profit called 1000 Friends of Oregon. This organization advocates for smart growth and management of Oregon cities while protecting agricultural areas, forests, and other natural lands from the negative effects of urbanization. During my time there, I researched the economic and social contributions of the state's agriculture industry. This research was published in time for the 2013 holidays, and will be used to convince legislators and all Oregonians to support investment in the state's agriculture industry. The article has been cited in two Oregon newspapers.  

-Arturo Romo, 2014 Urban Planning


I have accomplished being on the E-board of the pre-pharmacy club as the Alumni Relations Chair.  I will also be graduating in May of 2014 with a bachelor in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Ribhi Qattoum, 2014 Molecular and Cellular Biology


I passed the 100,000 view mark on my channel EpicKeenan: I'm also applying for a partnership with gaming network TGN.

Keenan Dailey, 2017


In 2013, I volunteered with Rustic Pathways twice. During spring break, I traveled to New Orleans and worked alongside the St. Bernard Project to build a home. During summer, I traveled to Costa Rica and joined an expedition to help save the endangered sea turtle. I will continue volunteering, this time with Alternative Spring Break, traveling to New Orleans again to help in rebuilding a home.

Jasmin Ramos, 2017 Psychology


I accomplished successfully maintaining my 3.5 minimum GPA to stay a James Scholar in Chemical Engineering

Isaac Strain, 2017 Chemical Engineering


Alumni Accomplishments

Bianca Flowers completed her first semester as a master's student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where she is specializing in business reporting. Her first published article as an Illinois graduate was featured in the New York Daily News, the fifth most widely circulated newspaper in the country. 

         Bianca Flowers, 2013 Broadcast Journalism


In the fall, Emily Malamud began working as the Assistant Director of Bands at Wheeling High School in Wheeling, Illinois.  In addition to working with the high school, she also directs two fifth grade elementary school bands in Mount Prospect.  More recently, she began volunteering as a diver at the Shedd Aquarium in the Caribbean Reef exhibit, where she gives a weekly underwater presentation about the aquatic life while feeding the animals in the habitat.

Emily Malamud, 2013 Music Education


Mauriell Amechi successfully completed a master's degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The Ohio State University in May 2013. As an aspiring educational researcher and budding scholar, Mauriell's research interests are primarily centered in three areas: the access, experiences and outcomes of underrepresented communities in higher education; college environments and their effects on diverse college students; and student engagement. These interests led to his master's thesis entitled, Refusing to Settle for Less: Narratives of Self-Authorship among Foster Care Youth in College. This empirical study explored the pathway to college for youth exiting the American foster care system--a population largely understudied. In addition to publishing in a national journal, Mauriell looks forward to the opportunity to share his findings at the national conference of the American Educational Research Association later this year. Click on the title highlighted above to learn more about his research.

Mauriell Amechi, 2011 Communication


I work for the Department of Justice on the west coast. I also assist U of I College of Media professors on their research, books, etc, while mentoring high school and undergraduate students on the importance of higher education.

Jarron Farmby, 2011 News Editorial; 2012 Journalism


Since graduating from the University of Illinois in 2011 with a degree in Accountancy, Lonzyo Holcolmb has worked for Travelers Insurance as an underwriter, providing management liability insurance for publicly traded companies. He continues to promote the notion of diversity through his roles as one of the company's diversity business network field champions in the Chicago office. It is also noteworthy, that he was selected as an MBA Prep Fellow for Management Leadership for Tomorrow in preparation for business school. He hopes to matriculate into a business school program in the fall of 2014. 

Lonzyo Holcomb, 2011 Accounting


Mabinty will graduate in spring 2014 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a master's degree in social work. She is currently an intern with the Champaign School District in the EL/Bilingual Department.  She is working with Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE), as well as the general English Language Learner (EL) students. In addition to working with SIFE and EL students, she and another social work intern are in the process of developing school-based Adult ESL classes for newly immigrated parents. Research indicates that students, whose parents are involved in their education, perform better in school than students whose parents are not. Hence the goal of the class is to increase parental involvement by helping parents gain the language needed to communicate with teachers, increase greater knowledge of the American education system, and help parents become advocates for their children. Mabinty is very excited about graduation in May, and the possibility of pursuing her Ph.D. in Education.

Mabinty Tarawallie, 2011 Sociology; 2014 MSW


I have obtained a second position in the Case Management department at Little Company of Mary Hospital in addition to working for Palos Community Hospital. I have also been volunteering with POSSE. 

Samatha Pittman

2010 Human Development and Family Studies; 2013 MSW

In This Issue
Director's Message
Help Make First-Gen Communities Visible
Richard and Susan Herman Essay Competition
Dining Skills for Today
Images of First Week Back on Campus
Wheels without Breaking the Bank
Coca-Cola Scholars Double in Numbers!
Meet John Seral: U of I Alumnus Turned Donor
Dream Turned Reality, Twice
She Didn't Give Up
I-Promise Director Receives Honors
Informing Mentoring Practices beyond I-Promise
Student Accomplishments
Quick Links

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