Illinois Promise eNewsletter
Issue 2 - June 2015
Director's Message


Susan Gershenfeld 

Life on campus is different in the summer. The chimes at the Altgeld Bell Tower ring on schedule yet the campus is relatively quiet as most students have moved out of their residential halls and apartments for other opportunities and experiences during the summer months. As Director of Illinois Promise, it's a time to prepare for the next academic year and reflect on the past. In looking back on the past academic year, we were introduced to 313 new I-Promise scholars (no student who qualifies for the scholarship is turned away), and we congratulated the seventh graduating class of I-Promise scholars. This year we continued the freshman mentoring program, which is only possible through the commitment of more than 130 volunteers who are current and retired faculty, professional staff, graduate students, community leaders, as well as I-Promise upperclassmen. We also expanded our services to upperclassmen I-Promise scholars through a generous grant from a private family foundation, which allowed us to hire two part-time I-Promise alumnae to address challenges of transitioning from college to the workforce. We began this through alumni mentor support, information on internships and other resources in a bi-weekly eNewsletter, skill-building workshops such as speed-interviewing, and "Dial-a-Coach" that utilizes I-Promise alums who received graduate training in human resources and work in that field to provide quick, informed opinions or second opinions on matters relating to the transition from college to career (see article below for more information). We are also building an I-Promise alumni network through LinkedIn. In looking ahead, the 2015-16 academic year will be our 10th Anniversary, which is a special occasion that will also be marked by the retirement of the I-Promise founder, former Chancellor Richard Herman, who has served on the faculty in the College of Education for the past several years. Another development for the next academic year is to plan for my successor. After eight wonderful years working with I-Promise scholars, I will be returning to the Boston area at the end of fall semester in a dual career move. I look forward to making sure there is a smooth transition for the I-Promise scholars and the leadership remains strong as the students deserve nothing less. In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful summer.


Susan Gershenfeld


"The best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do  

is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing."  -- Theodore Roosevelt 


Congratulations Class of 2015

Chancellor Wise with Brian Fernandez,  
essay award recipient  

A celebration honoring the seventh graduating class of I-Promise scholars took place on April 10, at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. While there were many highlights of the evening, special recognition was given to Brian Fernandez, Sociology and Latina/o Studies double major and recipient of the Richard and Susan Herman Essay Contest award. Also, the senior class raised funds through two successful fundraisers for an engraved paver, which will be placed on the east entrance of the Alice Campbell Alumni Center and will read, "Illinois Promise Class of 2015." Click here to see the reception video.




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Exciting New Resource Exclusively for I-Promise Scholars 


Have questions on interviewing? Selecting a job or internship? Negotiating an offer? Professionalism in the workplace? Dial-a-Coach! Get answers to your questions.

How? Email Coach.IPromise.Illinois@gmail.com your career related questions and receive timely (within 48 hours) feedback, opinions, and advice from I-Promise alumni who have been trained and work in human resources. Be sure to take advantage of exciting new service for I-Promise Scholars, you don't want to miss out! 




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Renters Beware

Are you thinking about getting an apartment? Like many students before you, there is a point in which you are ready to explore apartment living. But how much should you be spending on your apartment? With apartments having a huge range on their monthly costs (between $250 to $850 per person) how does one choose an apartment? Below are some general tips for selecting housing.

  • Set your budget before you start looking. Think through your finances prior to looking for an apartment. Set a maximum on what you can realistically pay and then only look at apartments below that limit.
  • Remember you are signing a contract. You will be responsible for paying the rent for the entire duration of the contract, which is typically 12 months.
  • Look at the long-term instead of the short term. Your room and board stipend will be directly deposited in two equal payments. On its face, it appears to be a lot of money, but it has to cover your rent, utilities, renter's insurance, food, and any other costs that arise.
  • Use the tenant union. They have resources for you including complaint history on local landlords, lease reviews, and a budget sheet to help you determine you finances.

Feeling pressured? Many of your new friends and acquaintances may be able to rely on their families to help pay expensive rent. It's natural to want to fit in, but there can be serious consequences if you commit to housing that is too expensive. It is best to avoid having to work too many hours to cover your rent or being forced to choose between eating and paying your rent. Here are some tips for handling the pressure to get an apartment that is too expensive.

  • Be upfront. Let your peers know that you are looking to keep your expenses low and that you do not want to spend a lot of money on your housing.
  • Stand your ground. Be explicit about the budget that you have set for yourself and let potential roommates know in advance your maximum rent.
  • Suggest low-cost alternatives. If you have a roommate in mind, before looking at apartments together, do some research on affordable apartments and send the listings to your potential roommate. This will let them know your apartment expectations and help you both to determine if you should be roommates.
  • Luxury can come later. It's okay to strive toward luxury, but keep in mind that you do not have to live out the dreams of luxury in college when you have a limited income.
  • Be honest with yourself. Think about why you might want an expensive apartment, and be honest about what you can afford.

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A Perfect Partnership
KewonteThomas and Scott Wilkin
Kewonte Thomas, a freshman seeking to major in Mechanical Engineering, and Scott Wilkin, Associate Director at National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and Senior Adviser at Applied Research Institute (ARI), were paired through the Illinois Promise mentorship program this past fall.  


Scott and Kewonte share a special relationship. While sitting together for the interview, the strong bond was palpable, feeding off each other's energy and adding to each other's comments and stories. Scott is proud to "look at Kewonte as if he is one of my [his] own kids and ensure that he is both happy and successful in all aspects of his life" while  

Kewonte is happy to have a role model on campus pushing him to realize his academic and personal potential.  


The Illinois Promise mentorship program is a mutually beneficial experience for the two. Scott and Kewonte meet once or twice a week to connect and share their life happenings. Kewonte noted that Scott is "not only a friend to me, but a relative. He reminds me of an older brother or uncle". Kewonte has met Scott's family and provided Scott the insight into what kids are interested in nowadays and the obstacles they may face throughout their college careers and home lives. They are from two different cities and cultures- Scott grew up outside of Monticello on his family farm while Kewonte was born and raised in Chicago. Both believe that the act of sharing their life experiences with each other makes them better people.  


Scott's pride in Kewonte's accomplishments is evident. Kewonte produced a video upon high school graduation that focuses on the affects advertising and social media profiling has on society. Specifically, how media utilizes the average teen to get messages across to other people, negatively stereotyping African American teens. Kewonte's success was shared with the nation and with the help of his teacher will be featured at a film festival at the University of Pennsylvania.  


Aside from supporting each other, they participate in a wide variety of activities ranging from visiting different restaurants, hanging out with Scott's children and playing the guitar together. Out of all of their adventures, Scott is most fond of having Kewonte visiting his farm and meeting his family and looks forward to meeting Kewonte's mother in the future.  


Scott and Kewonte hope that all members involved in the Illinois Promise mentorship program share a relationship similar to theirs. Scott advices mentors to be themselves and enjoy the time and experiences shared with their mentees while Kewonte stressed the importance of taking the opportunity to learn from others.


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Spring Semester Images
Seniors participating in the "Senior Showcase" pictured with
Chancellor Wise at the I-Promise Senior Reception held April 10th.



I-Promise mentors and mentees participating in an end-of-year reception at
Memorial Stadium on April 26th.


I-Promise scholars and friends enjoying the annual BBQ at Illini Grove on April 29th.


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I-Promise Scholar Gives Back While Studying Abroad in Spain

Jenny Aguayo 

Jenny Aguayo is currently a junior majoring in Community Health here at Illinois who aspires to pursue a career in higher education. Like many Illinois Promise Scholars, Jenny wished to study abroad during her time on campus but faced the challenge of financial instability. Jenny's intrinsic motivation and determination paved the way to spending her 2014 spring semester in Granada, Spain. With the assistance of the Illinois Promise Scholarship, I4I Scholarship and a subsidized loan, the financial burden was waived and helped her realize her dream of traveling abroad.  


While attending a Language Intensive Institution in Granada, a professor suggested Jenny volunteer at a particular community outreach group that their university shared a partnership with in order to fulfil her required volunteering credit. Jenny spent 8 weeks volunteering at a gypsy community consisting of impoverished youth and adults who resided together in a parish. It was here where Jenny utilized her Spanish to assist fourth graders with homework, present sex ed. workshops to sixth graders and speak to older women about women's health, domestic violence and social issues.  


Jenny enjoyed every aspect of volunteering at the parish, but upon reflection on her favorite memory shared this: "when I asked the group of sixth graders to define what a sexual interaction consisted of, a boy replied, 'Sex is when a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman share physical interactions'. I was shocked as to how open minded this group of kids were... Their culture was so progressive and changing with the times. It was a profound moment".

After her time spent with this community, Jenny realized she wanted to continue her community outreach volunteerism and applied to become a McNair Scholar. The McNair Scholar Program is under the Office of Minority Student Affairs and is designed to help minorities pursue a PHD. Through this program, Jenny is able to conduct research under her mentor Dr. Nicole Lamers, an International Education Specialist in the college of LAS.  


Jenny will be collecting surveys and interviews with I-Promise students about the obstacles they face when they're deciding whether or not to study abroad. This particular research study will extend up until graduation and is beginning to show the steady increase in studying abroad within the last ten years. However, with this increase comes the stagnant amount of minorities, first generation and low income students who apply and carry out studying abroad. Jenny's main goal is to provide information that will increase I-Promise and minority involvement with study abroad and inspire students to seek out the endless possibilities it can bring. She has experienced first-hand what expanding your horizons can do and encourages all I-Promise Scholars to do the same!



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A Young Entrepreneur's Passion for Bicycling   

As a junior within the College of Business, Ricardo Pierre-Louis has an impressive lists of accomplishments as an entrepreneur. The most intriguing aspect of entrepreneurship for Ricardo is meeting like-minded people who are both passionate and working towards solving important issues. For Ricardo, the overarching passion that drives his creations is bicycling.


Ricardo currently has six products and/or services that he has been accredited for helping create with the Neutral Cycle team: Open St., Roadside Assistance, an application for smartphones called SaveTheBike, Big Yellow Bike Riding Service, Speedwagon Coffee Shop and Chambana Bike.


Just one year ago, Ricardo assisted in the formation of an event called Open St. that occurs in Urbana, Illinois. This year, Open St. will occur on June 27 and will consist of various physical fitness activities such as a basketball tournament, yoga sessions and rock climbing. Additionally, attendees will have the opportunity to hear from several business sponsors and work alongside government agencies. Ricardo hopes that this annual event will give both Champaign and Urbana residents the opportunity to participate in physical activities while having a good time.


Ricardo Pierre-Louis (center)

Roadside Assistance is a service in which bicyclist can receive bike repairs by a fellow bicyclist on a bike equipped with tools and repair equipment. The idea was born when Ricardo noticed the need for an on-the-go repair service for his fellow peers. For a bicyclist,it is much more efficient to bring the repair shop to the bike rather than carrying it to a shop.


Ricardo's favorite creation is his smartphone application, SaveTheBike, which helps bicyclist track down their stolen bikes. The app was born after one of Ricardo's customers had his customized bike stolen. In a local newspaper, an article entitled, "Neutral Cycle Fights Crime" explains the story. After three months of searching, the customized bike was found incidentally at its place of purchase, Neutral Cycle. The man who had stolen the bike was arrested and served 5 years in prison due to his previous criminal history. Ricardo took this event as a learning opportunity and created an application to help track bicycles. The ultimate goal of Ricardo's app is to reach the capacity of detecting all crimes, not just bike theft.


Currently, Ricardo is working on building and setting up Speedwagon Coffee Shop. The shop is set to open this July and will be a hybrid of specialty coffee drinks and pastries. It will be located at the intersection of Fifth St. and Green St. and Ricardo will fulfil a few different roles within the coffee shop, store manager, coffee barista and janitor while still attending school full time.

Ricardo advises all prospective entrepreneurs to utilize their time wisely. For Ricardo, this consists of waking up every day at 5am and partaking in his morning ritual of reading the daily newspaper and crafting his own coffee brew before arriving at the Neutral Cycle office. Additionally, he stresses the importance of having a small checklist of things-to-do and getting them done every day until it all comes together. He states, "One must have enough conviction to get things done. Success will be sure to follow".

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Student Recognitions & Accomplishments
The eighth annual Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) is a signature event that was held on campus April 23, showcasing student excellence in research through oral and poster presentations as well as performances. Congratulations to the I-Promise scholars listed below for presenting their research at the URS.


  • "The Impact of Family Leisure Activities on Health Status" - Amber Alton, Junior, Human Development and Family Studies
  • "Validating the Use of Silicon Photonic Microring Resonators to Determine Tissue Specific Profiles of MicroRNAs and Comparison to qRT-PCR" - Chris Para, Junior, Chemistry
  • "Mistreatment to Shame: A Call for Change in Public Policy" - Dessiree Malone, Junior, Sociology
  • "Patronization and Attitudes Towards Individuals with Disabilities" - Diamond Kinermon, Sophomore, Community Health
  • "The Invisible (S)elf" - Gary Montesinos,Senior, English
  • "Examining I-Promise Students: Preliminary Study on Why Minority Students Don't Study Abroad" - Jennifer Aguayo, Junior, Community Health
  • "Influence of Bedrock Topography on Illinois Episode Glacial Ice and Meltwater Flow: Keyesport Quadrangle, Illinois" - Kasia Walkowska, Senior, Geology
  • "Characterization of Sulfolobicins with a Sympatric Population of Sulfolobus Islandicus" - Kimberly Allen, Junior, Molecular & Cellular Biology
  • "Remote Acculturation and Dietary and Physical Activity Patterns in Jamaica: The Culture Health and Family Life Study" - Melissa Bravo, Senior, Human Development & Family Studies
  • "ABCA1 Differences Between Determinants of Lipid Profile Phenotypes in Young Mexican Adults" - Teneisha Griggs, Senior, Animal Sciences
  • "Very Superstitious: A Look at American & Chinese Taboos" - Toni Wordlaw, Senior, Advertising


Kasia Walkowska and Chris Para at URS Poster Presentations


The McNair Scholars Program prepares participants to be the next generation of scientists, researchers, and professors through rigorous graduate school preparation, academic development, and research training. With funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education, eligible sophomores, juniors, and seniors apply to this competitive and prestigious program, which is located on campus in the Office of Minority Student Affairs. This academic year, congratulations are extended to the following students for being accepted to the McNair Scholars Program:

  • Chris Para, Junior, Chemistry
  • Jennifer Aguayo, Junior, Community Health


On April 12, several I-Promise scholars received recognition for their strong academic performance at the 47th Annual Mom's Day Scholastic Awards Breakfast Ceremony. This event is a celebration of academic excellence and achievement among underrepresented, EOP, PAP, and TRIO students. Students are honored if they received a 3.45 GPA or higher for spring or fall semesters, 2014. Congratulations to all Honorees, including the I-Promise students who gave permission to be listed below:

  • Alexandra Ivory, Junior, Psychology
  • Ashley Dodson, Senior, Special Education
  • Brenda Mendez Gutierrez, Senior, Psychlogy
  • Clara Mata, Sophomore, Kinesiology
  • Gaby Rahming, Junior, Community Health
  • Jemia Simpson, Graduate Student, Social Work
  • Jennifer Aguayo, Junior, Community Health
  • Kimberly Allen, Junior, Molecular & Cellular Biology
  • Minhua Wu, Transfer, General Curriculum
  • Nidia Duenas, Senior, Community Health
  • Qiling Chen, Junior, Community Health
  • Sajany Gumidyala, Junior, Integrative Biology
  • Stephen Prince, Senior, Statistics
  • Xiaoyi Huang, Sophomore, Education


Congratulations also to I-Promise scholars...

Jeniece Baines (Senior, Elementary Education)! She received two scholarships for a study abroad trip to Australia this summer, which will be her first time out of the country. While in Australia, she will be visiting Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns, Sydney, and Canberra to explore the different educational systems in both urban and rural areas from K-12 in general and special education. She will also observe the teacher preparation programs at the universities and attend two conferences focusing on literacy and teacher preparation.


Margarita Santamaria (Sophomore, Music)! She was hired to be a resident advisor at Allen Hall for the fall 2015. As a resident advisor, Margarita assumes an active leadership role in developing and maintaining a positive and inclusive community environment within the residence halls. She was also accepted into the Orange and Blue chapter of NRHH. The National Residence Hall Honorary is an honors organization that emphasizes four pillars that include service, recognition, leadership, and scholarship. The top 1% of housing residents are members of NRHH.


Minhua Wu (Transfer, LAS General Curriculum)! She received three awards at the Office of Minority Students Affairs (OMSA) Annual Mom's Day Scholastics Awards Ceremony. First, Minhua was selected as one of the four OMSA Achievers, which involved her giving a speech about her personal story to an audience of over 700 people. As Minhua said, "I consider this as my biggest achievement of the year, because it was my first time giving a speech in front of that many people. I worried a lot, but the result came out to be so great, and I heard so many kind words of encouragement and congratulations from people that I knew and didn't know. Most importantly, both of my parents came from Chicago were able to share the joy with me on that day." She also received a Google Scholarship and an award for academic excellence, which is given to students who have a 4.0 GPA in the spring 2014 and/or fall 2014 semester(s). 


Romelia Solano (Junior, Political Science and Latino/a Studies)! She is the recipient of the Rita and Leonard Ogren Award for Academic Excellence from the Department of Political Science. Additionally, Romelia has been selected to participate in the 2015 Ralph Bunche Summer Institute hosted at Duke University.  The Ralph Bunche Summer Institute began in 1986 and is named in honor of the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former American Political Science Association President, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche. The Institute is a full-paid, 5-week academically intensive summer program designed to simulate the graduate school experience, provide mentoring and training in research methods, and expand academic opportunities in the field of political science.


Royel Johnson (2010, Political Science)! He successfully defended his dissertation titled "Measuring the Influence of Juvenile Arrest on the Odds of Four-Year College Enrollment for Black Males: An NLSY Analysis."  Royel earned his PhD in Higher Education and Student Affairs Programs with a cognate in Race and Social Policy at The Ohio State University. Dr. Johnson is a
Policy Analyst for the Center for Higher Education Enterprise (CHEE) at The Ohio State University.

Rebeca Cienfuegos with mentor,
Linda Weiner 

I-Promise Freshman Selected for NY Case Competition!  

Freshman I-Promise Scholar, Rebeca Cienfuegos, received big news that she would be one of only two freshman and four total students to participate in a case competition to create an innovative business solution for KPMG in New York on August 6-10th. Rebeca, who competed against
50 other students to be selected, is very excited, particularly by the opportunity to travel outside of Illinois. She is hoping that her Model UN experience and her team's plans to diligently practice this summer will allow her team to prevail. Humbly, Rebeca showed gratitude for her mentor, Linda Weiner, and I-Promise Director, Susan Gershenfeld, for their encouragement to pursue these types of opportunities. Join us in rooting for Rebeca and her team at the competition!

Jenny Aguayo and Marianna DiVietro
Mentoring Relationship Remains Strong Despite Distance! Jenny Aguayo traveled to Denver to meet her I-Promise mentor who relocated there last year. Jenny and Marianna DiVietro were matched during Jenny's freshman year in fall, 2012, and despite the distance, their relationship remains strong. Jenny writes, "It [the trip] was great!!! I got some quality time with two of my favorite people in a gorgeous city I'd never been to before. Marianna never fails to open any door she can for me, and as much as I love her for that, I am grateful for her unconditional support and friendship."

The First-Year College Experience: Quotes from Freshmen 


 "Transitioning from high school to college was not at all easy for me. It was difficult adjusting to the new environment which affected my academics of my first semester. However, I turned things around my second semester. I grew as a person and became more responsible with my academics. I reached out for help that had always been there and thanks to that I was guided through a much easier path. I enjoyed my second semester the most because in that short amount of time I learned new characteristics about myself, and I built new habits that will bring me more success in the future." Geovanny Martinez, Division of General Studies


"I had a spring semester full of growth and joy. The most exciting part of this semester for me is that I was accepted into the Diao Research Group in the department of chemical engineering. As a part of the research group, I am working on enhancing performance of organic semiconductors through nucleation control. In addition to this, I was also accepted for the Illinois Scholars Undergraduate Research Program (ISUR). It's been an amazing first year for me here at U of I. I can't imagine what's in store next for me." Reahman Afshar, Chemical Engineering


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