The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is a place where opportunities abound.
In our college, the leaders of tomorrow learn to analyze and solve problems, to work in diverse groups, and to view the world with a broad perspective. Since 2012, the LAS Lincoln Scholars Initiative has been opening the doors to this college experience through a program that provides significant renewable scholarships to academically gifted Illinois students in need of financial support.
Read about some of the inspiring students whose lives have been changed thanks to the Lincoln Scholars Initiative.
Interested in donating to similar efforts to help students throughout LAS? Learn how.
For Lotanna Ezenekwe, there’s a difference between knowing one is alive and understanding what that means.
“I knew I was alive; everyone knows they are walking, talking, breathing, but I didn’t know about all of the cellular processes and everything that goes into being alive,” she explained. “There is just so much more to that; it’s very complex.”
The Illinois senior is finishing her studies in molecular and cellular biology and is weighing her options as she decides which of two medical schools she will attend. Ultimately, Ezenekwe isn’t sure in what field she will specialize, though she’s considering a few options with the potential for deep impact.
“I like talking about women’s health and social justice, and that’s why I’m considering OB/GYN,” she explained. “Although, I had severe acne growing up, so dermatology is interesting to me. People don’t realize how much that impacts your self-esteem until they go through it. People talk about dermatology and think it’s vanity, but I think making people happy is very important.”
Keeping in line with helping others, Ezenekwe has worked as lead EMT with the Illini Emergency Medical Services, a team that volunteers during campus events in case of a medical emergency. The crew is on hand for athletic events, Krannert events, and any student activity on the quad.
“If you see people with red shirts and carrying a ton of equipment, that’s us, although, most people don’t see us until someone is actually in need,” she explained.
Ezenekwe also served on the executive board for Vis-A-Vis, a volunteer program that places Illinois students within Champaign-Urbana schools as mentors and tutors.
Four years ago, Ezenekwe chose Illinois because of the financial support available to her.
“Being at Illinois is one of the first times I’ve felt pride in my school,” she said. “I’m glad I go here. I feel like I couldn’t have made a better decision. I’m glad there was a monetary push for me to go to Illinois. As we are getting ready to graduate, more and more of my friends are starting to think about their debt. In the coming years, I feel I will be even more grateful. I think we have a great community. I’ve never met a Lincoln Scholar who doesn’t have an interesting story, and I’m grateful to the donors who continue to be generous with us.”
Daniel Fitzgerald has allowed an enduring passion of diving into history lead him to the University of Illinois. The senior from Roselle is a history major with a minor in secondary education.
“I chose to study history, because it has been a lifelong interest of mine, and I pursued a minor in secondary education to be able to share my knowledge of history with students,” he explained.
After graduation, Fitzgerald plans to share his passion as a high school social studies teacher near his home in the greater Chicago area and eventually become a public-school administrator or pursue further degrees to become a history professor.
“I chose the University of Illinois because of its outstanding history department and because it has the best secondary education program in the state,” Fitzgerald said. “I also picked the University of Illinois because of the quality of the campus and the many resources available to undergraduate students. The greatest impact that the Lincoln Scholars Initiative has had on my student experience is relieving a great deal of the financial pressures associated with attending college. This has allowed me to focus on academics, reach my full potential as a student, and better enjoy the time I have spent here.”
“Illinois was one of my top picks, but, financially, the Lincoln Scholars Initiative put the icing on the cake to come here,” he said. “I imagine it makes a larger impact than I’ll probably ever realize.”
The Libertyville native is in his final semester as a chemical engineering major thanks to the support of his scholarships, which allowed him to focus on studies without additional stress.
“I’ve absolutely loved it here,” he said. “The scholarship essentially allowed me to not get a job right out of the shoot. I feel that’s helped me get those opportunities in research and later on my coops, too. Without the scholarship I think that stretch would have been too much.”
His forthcoming degree has landed him a job with Baker Engineering and Risk Consultants, a safety consulting firm based in Chicago. With the job, he will travel to various sites around the country to offer insight into safety measures.
“I really like that the focus of the work itself is on safety,” he explained. “I think that’s something really important that chemical engineers do. I’ve had industry experience where I was able to focus on safety, and I know it can be applied across all of the chemical engineering disciplines and the impact seems to be positive.”
His post-graduation first destination was possible because Salazar found his passion for chemistry while in high school. When the time came to begin selecting his plan of study for the next four years, he turned to chemical engineering because it sounded like a challenge.
“I think a big part of why I love this area of study is the problem solving and being exposed to a situation or problem that you might not know how to solve, but you have to use what you learn in a totally different way,” he explained. “It’s challenging.”
From 2017-2019, Salazar worked on research in theoretical polymer physics and collaborated to publish a paper. Though with this challenging and rewarding work, he found a unique stress release with the Illini Service Dogs student organization. The campus program works with student volunteers to train mobility service dogs.
“Growing up I had a dog, and I’ve always been a dog lover,” he said. “On Quad Day, when all the clubs are out on the Main Quad, I saw the dogs, and I had to meet them.” Salazar worked as a second trainer for seven of his eight semesters on campus.
“I’m glad I came to Illinois,” he said. “I love it here, the environment and the opportunities and the intelligent people. It helps you grow as a person and as a professional, too.”
Biology wasn’t always Vanessa Sumano’s passion.
In fact, she abhorred the subject through middle school and most of high school until she landed in an upper level class with a curriculum that covered anatomy and physiology. Learning about the structure of living organisms and how they function set Sumano’s curiosity ablaze.
Now in her final semester at Illinois, Sumano–who is studying molecular and cellular biology and psychology–is considering her move off campus. Although, four years ago, choosing to attend the U of I was an easier decision to make.
“For most of high school I figured I’d end up at Illinois,” she explained. “I always knew it was a really great school, so it was always on my short list. However, a big consideration was the scholarship I received, and with that I feel the U of I has provided more to me than any of the competing schools.”
The Lincoln Scholars Initiative funding provided the support for Sumano to focus on her studies, pick up a double major, and participate in a service fraternity – all things that would have been nearly impossible had she been forced to work fulltime to fund her education independently.
“The financial support provided me the opportunities I wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere,” she said. “I was able to dedicate myself more to my school work rather than trying to work full time and try to be a student. I think I was able to do a lot more of my best.”
Sumano added her second major after considering dropping her MCB studies all together.
However, enrolling in the dual studies of MCB and psychology was transformative as she realized she can successfully complete both programs without sacrificing one. She hopes to attend graduate school and eventually land a career that will utilize both of her passions. Neurobiology research tops her list.
Outside of class, Sumano said she has gained professional and leadership skills while volunteering with the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. Since her sophomore year, she has dedicated more than 100 service hours and served on the leadership team for one committee.
“If I’d been working, there wouldn’t have been extra space for anything,” Sumano admitted. “The scholarship enabled me to do better. It’s something I hope I can pay forward in the future, because I never expected being able to come and be given the gifts that I was given.”
Read more stories
Few endeavors are more central to our mission as a land-grant institution than providing access to a liberal arts and sciences education for promising students whose financial situation might prevent them from enrolling at Illinois. The students featured above are just some of many who benefit from the Lincoln Scholars Initiative.
In addition the support offered through the Lincoln Scholars Initiative, the College of LAS provides numerous named scholarships to students throughout the college. Read stories about the impact of giving.
Inspired to get involved?
The College of LAS offers many opportunities to help students throughout the college. Learn more.