Illinois Promise eNewsletter
Issue 1 - December 2014
Director's Message

At a time when there are so many destructive and polarizing forces in the world, the New Year gives us the opportunity to appreciate what is good in life. The accomplishment of the I-Promise community is certainly one of the good things that all of us (students, parents, mentors, donors, faculty and staff) can appreciate.


This New Year also marks the 10-year anniversary of I-Promise. Many lives have been positively impacted because of the scholarship during the past decade. We have approximately 1000 alumni and more than 900 I-Promise scholars currently benefiting from the power and promise that a world-class Illinois education offers.


As we enter a new year and an important anniversary, at the heart of the I-Promise story are the students and all of those in the circle of support. It is a 10-year tradition, and that is just the beginning. Pictured above is this academic year's mentor-mentee reception, which is one part of the many traditions we are creating together.


Susan Gershenfeld, Illinois Promise Director


"Everything you can imagine is real." - Pablo Picasso


Lhea Randle
Meet Lhea Randle

The I-Promise staff is growing! Lhea Randle who was a member of the first graduating class of I-Promise Scholars, has returned to campus in her new role as I-Promise Program Support Specialist under a two-year grant from a private family foundation. In this role, Lhea primarily assists upperclassmen transitioning from our college campus to their chosen career fields.


As an undergraduate student she was involved with the I-Promise community where she served as a student ambassador for her peers and on both the Student Advisory Committee and Senior Reception Planning Committee. She was also a peer mentor for a freshman I-Promise student.


In her new role, Lhea is growing the I-Promise alumni mentor program. The program gives current students an opportunity to be matched with alumni in their prospective fields to ask targeted questions, gain specific career advice, build relationships and receive overall guidance while transitioning into the workplace. If you would like to be matched with an alumni mentor, contact Lhea at lrandle2@illinois.edu.


As a result of extra staffing, we will be planning more targeted, skill-building workshops - (the first workshop on internships will be taking place January 24, see article below) - and building an alumni network, as there are now approximately 1000 I-Promise graduates .


"Interacting with students!" is Lhea's enthusiastic response about her favorite aspect of her new position, which is very hands-on. She enjoys witnessing "the different avenues students are pursuing" and guiding them in helpful directions to achieve their goals. If you have not yet had the opportunity to meet Lhea, please stop by the I-Promise office in 2015!

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Donor Spotlight: Alumnus Michael Goldstein Makes Largest Gift of $1 Million to Fund Illinois Promise Scholarships


Michael Goldstein 

Throughout his life, Michael Goldstein, (LAS  '65 with Honors in Sociology) has maintained an acute understanding of the disparities that exist in America, especially in education and the economy.  His firm belief in the powerful opportunities that education can bring led him to explore options earmarked to help young minorities in the Chicago neighborhoods where his family's grocery store once provided so much for him.


It was in that family-owned store started by his grandfather where Michael first learned about economic realities.  Located on East 35th Street in Chicago, "Goldstein's Progressive Food Store" had predominantly low-income customers.  Working as a stock boy along with his older brother and cousins on weekends and vacations under the supervision of his father and uncle, Michael soon understood that this community supported their middle-class life.


Michael says, "Because I want to ensure access to an Illinois education for high-achieving students from all economic and social backgrounds, in memory of my grandmother Cora Kallis Goldstein, known for her family's heritage of charity, I am funding scholarships in the Illinois Promise program specifically for underrepresented students in Cook County."


Michael is especially impressed that the I Promise program covers four year's tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies for scholarship recipients.  He adds,  "I sincerely hope my donation will enable these students to feed their interests, find out who they are, what they can do, and fall in love with what they do for a living."


Recalling the valuable advice he received as a freshman from a knowledgeable upperclassman in his Garner House dorm, he urges Cora Kallis Goldstein Scholars to "Take the professor, not the course, because in the future those professors may inspire you."  Michael is wary of students rushing into majors and careers without balancing their long-term best interests.  


Again, acknowledging his family's economy over several generations, Michael hopes that some number of the seven Cora Kallis Goldstein I-Promise Scholars he is funding in four-year cycles over the next several decades will employ their Illinois education to work toward solutions to economic disparities within Cook County.  

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Strong First-Semester Performance for Incoming I-Promise Scholars

First-semester GPA matters! Past research shows first-semester GPA is a positive and significant predictor of college graduation. Specifically, students with a first-semester GPA of 2.33 or higher are significantly more likely to graduate within six years. If your GPA is lower, we want to work with you so that you can beat the odds. If it is higher, congratulations (but don't let up).


Overall, the average first-semester GPA for incoming I-Promise students is 3.02. The chart below shows that I-Promise students who voluntarily chose to be matched with an I-Promise mentor have a first-semester GPA that is higher than I-Promise students who don't have an I-Promise mentor, and this was also true last year (in both cases, the differences are statistically significant). Since the students self-select whether or not to have a mentor, we can't conclude that the difference is due to the mentoring, but it is an encouraging finding.

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A Wonderful Mentorship Experience
Mentor, Joan Zernich, with
Mentee, Rebeca Lau


Rebecca Lau is a sophomore studying Human Nutrition here at the University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign. During her freshman year, Rebecca was matched with her mentor Joan Zernich through the I-Promise Mentorship Program. Joan helped shape Rebecca's first year on campus and made Rebecca's first year away from home less intimidating. Although the program only requires a one-year partnership, Rebecca and Joan plan to continue their mentorship throughout Rebecca's college career, as well as post-college. Having Joan as a mentor "is like having a mother on campus, a person who is supportive, encouraging, and genuinely interested in my well-being," states Rebecca.


Joan's relationship with Rebecca is very special to her. She feels that the two were "lucky to have many things in common at the start of their relationship" and that it helped them to expand upon each other's interests. Joan believes that the key to having a successful mentoring partnership "starts with building the relationship." Another component that strengthens their relationship is mutual respect and admiration. Rebecca admires Joan's empowering and inspirational personality and is truly grateful that they were paired with each other last year. Joan appreciates Rebecca's openness to suggestions and her ease of accepting new challenges.


The university is near and dear to Joan Zernich's heart. Her husband is a professor emeritus, both of her daughters graduated from the university, and she received her Master's Degree in Education here. Through the I-Promise mentorship, she has found an impactful way to give back to the University of Illinois community and make a difference in a student's life.


Approximately one-third of incoming I-Promise scholars voluntarily choose during fall semester to be matched with a mentor in helping to ease the transition to college. Like Rebecca and Joan, many continue beyond the one-year commitment because of the trusting, caring, and impactful relationship that was formed during freshman year. Any freshman student who would like a mentoring relationship during spring semester, contact Susan Gershenfeld - sgershen@illinois.edu 



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Land Your Dream Internship With These Tips 
Marjorie Mizes


Marjorie Mizes, an Illinois alumna and Vice-President and Publisher for Accuity - an innovative company that provides solutions to banks and businesses worldwide, will be returning to Champaign-Urbana to help I-Promise students research, land and maximize internship experiences. Marjorie is heavily involved in the I-Promise Program as a donor, mentor and presenter.


Marjorie's experience of reading thousands of resumes, hiring more than 200 individuals, and her frank, funny, and real personality allow her to offer students an inside look into what companies are looking for in future employees. Be sure to attend her informational session where you can learn how to distinguish yourself as you approach prospective employers. Gain an edge during the recruitment process and while on the job.


A sneak-peek tip for students is to "not only email your resume but also print it on resume paper and mail it along with a cover letter in a hand-addressed envelope with a stamp." Marjorie will share similar tips during the informational session that I-Promise will be hosting January 24, 2015 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Career Center. RSVP is required by Jan. 22 by emailing Susan Gershenfeld - sgershen@illinois.edu 



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A Summer Abroad In Korea

With a little planning, study abroad is within any student's reach. Sheila Park, a senior double majoring in Advertising and teaching English as a Second Language, demonstrated this with her study abroad experience to South Korea this past summer. In addition to studying, Sheila was able to learn about Korean culture and meet family for the first time.    

Sheila Park


Sheila remembers being "worried about the finances as an I-Promise  Scholar" while planning the trip.  Fortunately, she was able to receive financial support through various scholarships and grants.  One source was the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.  The Gilman is one scholarship that any I-Promise student interested in studying abroad should explore.  The award is designed for undergraduates who might not be able to participate in study abroad experiences due to financial constraints.


Sheila received great insight from her I-Promise mentor Anthony Fontana:  "You have your entire life to work -- take the time to study abroad."   She certainly took that advice and ran with it.


She believes every student should have the opportunities that she had and that they should take a step out of their comfort zones! Sheila encourages all students interested to attend the information session she will be co-leading in conjunction with the Study  Abroad Office and National and International Scholarship Programs on  Saturday, January 24 from 2-3pm at the International Studies Building, room 101. RSVP by Jan. 22 to Susan Gershenfeld -- sgershen@illinois.edu.   

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Narrating Your Story Workshop - January 27  
As an I-Promise student, you have an incredible story! Do you know how to turn your powerful story into a compelling professional message? Attend
Narrating Your Story: Developing Your Professional Brand through Story Telling"
to learn how to narrate your story and present it as a short elevator speech or even a longer dialogue or interview response. This workshop takes place on Tuesday, January 27 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in SDRP 2050. RSVP by emailing Lhea Randle - lrandle2@illinois.edu with "RSVP Storytelling Workshop" in the subject line by Friday, January 23. 
ETIQUETTENetworking and Etiquette Dinner - March 18 
Join other I-Promise students on Wednesday, March 18th for two special events. First, from 5 to 6 p.m. there will be an opportunity to learn networking skills in a simulated reception environment. This will take place in room 104 of the Illini Union. Immediately following from 6 to 8 p.m., we will have a four-course dinner and an opportunity to polish our dining skills!   The dinner will take place in the Colonial Room at the Illini Union.

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. These events 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: Reception Networking will include: shaking hands, asking key questions, navigating conversations and following-up after making contact. The etiquette dinner will include: 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, toasting as well as other dining tips.


Early bird registration by February 18 is $10 and afterwards the price is $15. RSVP to Susan Gershenfeld - sgershen@illinois.edu   

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Laboratory Research Outreach 
Rachel Smith - Bolton


Rachel Smith-Bolton believes every undergraduate student who wants to should have the opportunity to participate in laboratory research. This is Rachel's fourth year as an assistant professor. Outside of the classroom, Rachel spends her time in the lab, using genetic techniques and microscopy to try and understand which genes are important for wound healing and tissue regeneration.


She began her research as an undergraduate, stating she "got very, very lucky" with her first lab opportunity. Rachel's TA took her under her wing and asked if she wanted to get experience working in a lab. It was there Rachel was able to explore her passion of science. Now, her goal is to educate students on the positive opportunities lab exposure can create and provide tactics as to how to "get their foot in the door" with professors.


Rachel serves as an adult mentor for I-Promise students through the mentorship program. While Rachel's knowledge helps her current mentees, she wishes to share her past experiences with a wider population. For the past two years, she has led an informational session for I-Promise scholars.


During the session, Rachel teaches students "how to approach professors in the right way" and explains the benefits of conducting research. She believes that it is important for undergraduates to gain lab experience "depending on your career goals and interests" and that "if you have never done it, you have no idea if you'll like it."


Additionally, Rachel explains many "how tos." These include: identifying labs that are right for individual students, correctly emailing each professor with their interest, succeeding during the interview process and clarifying lab expectations. Click here to see the PowerPoint from Rachel's presentation this past November.


Students should also check with their departments for available resources.

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Sophomore Mechanical Engineer Wins $10,000 Grant 
John Ser

 How many freshmen do you know who enter a national competition and experience success? Meet John Ser who is a sophomore I-Promise scholar studying Mechanical Engineering. Last year, John and his three friends had an idea that they were able to turn into a reality. The team of four spent hundreds of hours creating hardware in the form of a wristband and a programming system for a server aimed at monitoring a person's heart rate, epidermal temperature, oxygen saturation in the blood and respiratory rate. John clarifies his invention by stating, "This unique product is expected to sell for $30-40, depending on production, and will act similarly to having a doctor with you 24/7 by tracking health deviations."


With their prototype and perfected pitch, John and his team entered into the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CMIT) Competition. This annual competition is funded by professionals in the medical industry and rewards the most innovative team with a $250,000 grant to pursue their invention. 


John's biggest challenge throughout the competition was "competing as a freshman against graduate students whose projects were 3-4 years in the making." However, John and his team's idea were still exceptional, earning them a $10,000 grant to further pursue their research and development. The grant money will be allocated on "whatever the team's current needs are- currently the production of hardware prototypes and the necessary servers."


In the future, John hopes that he and his team will continue the development of their product and possibly apply for a patent. If successful, the team may sell their product to a company for its intellectual property.  

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Student Accomplishments

I was chosen to be placed with a news station as part of the Illinois Broadcasters Association's Multicultural Internship Program for the summer.

Alejandra Reyes Pena

Broadcast Journalism, 2015


I finished my first semester with ~3.8.

Ben Abraham

Biology, 2018



With persistence and determination, I kept progressing in two difficult courses and ended up performing well on both finals. I improved from an initial exam of 68/100 to an 82/100 in the final in one course and from an initial exam of 29/100 to a 103/100 in my second course.


Christon Jones

Applying to College of Media, 2017



This fall semester, I was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.


Jamil Henderson

Recreation, Sport, and Tourism, 2016



I am a recipient of Traveling Junior Quinn Fiction Writing Award. This grant allows me to pursue a fictional writing conference over the summer with workshop feedback from literary agents, editors, and published authors. 


Jenny Sophia Nunez

Creative Writing, 2016


I was accepted into the CCP 2015 Counseling Center Paraprofessional Cohort! 


Sydney James

Psychology, 2016



I accomplished getting an internship at the Dog Den for the spring semester. This is great for me to earn animal experience and build my resume for veterinary medicine school, and I can't wait to start.


Yolonda Bradshaw,

Animal Sciences, 2018


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