SJR Column: Students Becoming Leaders, October 2018
The University of Illinois Springfield is known for Leadership lived – a reputation that reflects the University’s roots in the home of Abraham Lincoln – an educational community where talented faculty and staff help learners become leaders in a broad range of endeavors.
As Chancellor, I have the privilege of getting to know many UIS students each year, observing first hand this learner-to-leader transformation that ultimately results in college graduates who contribute to their professions and their communities – human capital that serves the public good for Illinois and beyond.
I recently spent time with three UIS students, all seniors, each of whom has their own Leadership lived story:
Will Newton didn’t know what to expect a few years ago when he left Chicago to attend UIS and major in Political Science.
“It was rough at the beginning and I don’t think I was ready to live independently at first,” says Will, “but now as a Student Ambassador working in Admissions, I’m helping other students like me make a successful transition to college.”
“Thanks to my supervisor, Jill Briggs, who’s been with me in both good times and bad,” he continues, “my skills have matured and I’ve learned to be accountable.” Will also cites valuable leadership lessons learned as a member of the University’s award-winning Model United Nations team that participates in National Model UN each year at the headquarters in New York.
Will recently started working as a communications intern for the Illinois Senate Republican staff. He plans to become a college admissions counselor after graduation and may eventually go into public service.
Like many Chicagoland students, Will traveled about 200 miles to attend UIS, but Maria Espinosa followed a much different – and more lengthy – path. Maria is from Ibagué, a city about 2,600 miles southeast of Springfield in the heart of Colombia, South America.
A top performer on the UIS Women’s Golf Team, Maria graduated from high school at 16 and declined numerous Division I offers in favor of the then up-and-coming UIS Division II Women’s Golf program where she knew she could pursue ambitious goals in both academic studies and athletics.
“In December, 2014, Coach (Frank) Marsaglia flew from Illinois to Florida to watch me in a tournament for just one day,” says Maria. “He met my dad and was the only coach who came to meet me in person.”
“When I was new and Coach asked me what my favorite flavor of Gatorade was, it was a little thing that really mattered to me,” Maria continues.
“UIS – my teammates, coaches and faculty – have become my second family,”
In addition to competing on the Prairie Stars Women’s Golf Team, Maria is completing a rigorous Biology major with a minor in Public Health. She worked with a UIS research team last summer in Ghana, West Africa, and is now applying to graduate schools with aspirations to earn a graduate degree and do medical research in microbiology and immunology.
Molly Looby is a proud Southeast High School graduate from Springfield – a double major in Communications and Political Science who transferred to UIS after spending her freshman year at Eastern Illinois University. In addition to full-time studies, Molly works part-time at the campus Women’s Center where she helps organize events. She is also President this year of the College Democrats, a student organization on campus.
“Every moment here at UIS, in and out of classes, has been a moment of development for me,” says Molly.
“From professors who are so passionate and professional, to rising up as a leader in student organizations – it’s been powerful.”
Molly plans to pursue a masters degree in Public Administration at UIS after completing her undergraduate degree. Having already completed two summer internships at the Illinois AFL-CIO, she is looking forward to a career working in labor relations.
Almost every day, I walk past “The Young Lawyer,” a beautiful Lincoln sculpture that was a gift to the UIS campus a few years ago. Sometimes I take a moment to add a flower to Abe’s lapel – a new tradition that emerged shortly after the sculpture’s installation. On the edge of the sculpture plaza is a stone with the following Lincoln quote:
“You cannot fail if you resolutely determine that you will not.”
The quote always makes me think of the many resolutely determined UIS students I’ve known over the years, learners who have become leaders while earning their University of Illinois degree at UIS. I’m proud of each one of them and grateful for the contributions they are making every day as alums and citizens. That’s Leadership lived.
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois at Springfield