Alumni Guest Post: Joye Williams-Mills

Joye WilliamsAbove: Joye Williams-Mills at the UIS 2016 Scholarship Luncheon, held on campus; Joye was one of the student speakers.

My UIS story: “I have learned to aim at the sky”

Guest author: (Wilverlyn) Joye Williams-Mills BA Legal Studies 2004

It’s really amazing what a little perseverance and Yankee ingenuity can accomplish!

At one point in my life, I thought I had it all: a great job as a Letter Carrier at the United States Postal Service, a nice comfortable home in suburbia, a loving husband and son, and good health and strength.

Overnight—poof!—it was gone.

I was unemployed, homeless, on the verge of a divorce, diagnosed with a severe mental illness and hospitalized for two years.

A turning point

Because I was a veteran of the United States Navy, I received care and counseling through the Veterans’ Administration. This later led me to attending the College of Lake County and graduating in 2002 with honors.

I was then accepted into  the Minority Leadership in Public Service program at UIS under the tutelage of the late Ms. Terri Jackson.

From the moment I stepped on the grounds of UIS, doors opened for me that I am certain would never have been in my grasp at any other institution.

I have never looked back.

UIS’ Leadership lived worked for me

As an undergrad, I participated in many activities. Off campus, I was a proud member of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order Elks of the World, which still provides me with opportunities for service work and social intercourse with individuals worldwide.

On campus, I had many opportunities to develop leadership:

  • I was involved with organizing a student lobby day at the State Capitol.
  • I represented UIS on the Student Advisory Committee for the Illinois Board of Higher Education (where we had direct input into policy decisions).
  • I worked on a case with the Illinois Innocence Project which resulted in the exoneration of an individual wrongly convicted of a crime.
  • I worked daily alongside our state representatives as a legislative aid.

And the crown jewel was meeting an individual who would become the most powerful person in the free world—President Barack Obama. While working on my senior project, I wrote a bill dealing with identity theft which then State Senator Obama sponsored in the state senate. It was eventually signed into law by then Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The convenience of online

In 2004, I received a Bachelor of Arts (cum laude) in Legal Studies and initially planned to continue my education toward a master’s in communication at another university. Unfortunately, I suffered a relapse and was unable to accomplish that goal.

Not one to let little things stop my progress, in 2013 I returned to the College of Lake County and received a certificate in Paralegal Studies.

Realizing I had work left undone, I investigated the UIS Legal Studies Master’s degree program and discovered it is conveniently available 100% online.

I began the program this fall and find it second to none. I have been able to take all the classes I need in the proper sequence and the electives offered have enabled me to tailor my coursework for my particular interest.

More than that, I find the program stimulating, challenging and thought provoking, and I now have a new perspective on our legal system, society and their interconnections.

Civic engagement where I live

Because I am online, when a project comes due, I am able to work within the community where I live to complete it.

This semester, for example, my class on Policy Reform for Wrongful Convictions required us to do a public education project. I chose to contact a local radio show host and several other media outlets in Lake County, Illinois.

I successfully secured an interview on the local access radio station and on another cable television show at a later date. I also engaged with students in the paralegal program at the local community college on the topic of wrongful convictions.

Last semester, I also contacted the local VA hospital for a class project.

In these experiences, I’m always happy to recommend UIS because it is the best place in the world to receive an education—whether on campus or half way around the world sitting in a war zone.

The curriculum is challenging, the instructors are of the highest caliber, and they CARE about providing a quality education as well as the progress and success of their students. That caring goes well beyond the classroom and matriculation.

What’s ahead

Upon completing my studies in 2018 (hopefully, the Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!), I would like to join the Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program (ILSIP) at UIS and then re-enter the workforce as a polity advisor for a politician or a government agency.

At UIS, I have learned to aim for the sky—a lesson I hope to pass on to my five beautiful grandchildren.

Thanks, UIS, for molding me into the person I am today.