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Spring 2021


Mentors Matter: The Power of Mentorship

 Scarlette and Dhanai

Although Scarlette Briones hasn’t been on campus long, she’s already making a long-lasting impact. In fact, Scarlette will be honored as a Distinguished Mentor Award recipient at our upcoming virtual award celebration!

The International Student Advising Specialist first heard about Illinois Promise from one of her office colleagues. She signed up and Assistant Director Shanicka Burdine matched her with her mentee, Dhanai, who aspires to work internationally and maybe become a lawyer in either Europe or the U.S.

As a first-generation student who had many mentors herself, Scarlette knew that being a mentor had the potential to make a difference in a student’s life. “ I would not be where I am today...had it not been for my mentors throughout my life.”

Though the pandemic has mostly kept them apart, Scarlette and Dhanai get together every week over Zoom, where they continue to get to know one another, share their interests, discuss job opportunities, ways to get involved, and talk about school and life in general.  During the spring term, Scarlette and Dhanai were able to meet for lunch once restrictions were lifted and they continue to meet, virtually, on a weekly basis. 

And as much as Scarlette serves as a friendly ear and resource for Dhanai, they constantly learn from one another. “I am always learning from my mentee through listening to her experiences and understanding her perspectives. Being in this role has made me more aware of why I may think a certain way or how to challenge my own points of view. I think this experience has also changed my mentee in that it has given her the opportunity for another support system. My hope is that the relationship is another outlet for her to build her own knowledge and come up with her own conclusions for what she hopes to achieve and what makes her the happiest.”


Scholar(s) Spotlight: Pathways and Passion Projects


To help offer up a glimpse into the incredible diversity of experiences, interests, and directions scholars take on their unique undergraduate journeys, we are highlighting not one but THREE scholars this spring!


Nathaniel Langely, Sophomore, Political Science and English


Nathaniel transferred to Illinois following his freshman year at a small college.  He jumped into virtual classwork with both feet and earned a position as a columnist for the Daily Illini (DI).  With an eye on someday going to law school and potentially working for the federal government at places like the Justice Department or the State Department, Nathaniel attended an Illinois in Washington (IIW) information meeting, which he learned about during an appointment with his Illinois Promise coach.  Nathaniel applied to the program, and was accepted!  He has been  working on securing an internship in D.C. and is working closely with the IIW program coordinator.  While the pandemic has made these opportunities more scarce, Nathaniel remains fully engaged on campus and was recently promoted to the role of Opinions Editor at the DI! The support he’s received from Illinois Promise is not lost on Nathaniel and he reports that an education from Illinois would be impossible without it.  This support has opened a weath of opportunities and he plans to study abroad in the future.


Mariah Maldonado, Senior, Social Work


As a first-generation college student from Chicago and one of eight siblings, Mariah knew that the path to and through college wasn’t going to be easy.  So, when she received the notification of her financial aid award and Illinois Promise eligibility, her decision about where she would attend was simple, “taking into consideration all of my financial aid packages...especially with I-Promise’s help, I saw no reason to not take this opportunity. I knew that I wanted the campus-life and college experience the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign could have given me, but I do not think it would have been as impactful if I had to always worry about my financial situation.”  

And she’s made the most of it. She found a home away from home as she connected with Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority.  Additionally, Mariah has worked on campus for University Dining, La Casa Cultural Latina, and University Housing, eventually landing a Research Assistant position for a faculty member in the School of Social Work, which motivated her to apply to graduate programs.  Mariah will finish her degree this summer and will immediately attend a one-year graduate program at either the University of Chicago or the University of Michigan.  “I hope to one day work with individuals who have been previously incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system in relation to their mental health and connecting them with other services that would be most beneficial for them.” 


Anonymous, Senior, Gies College of Business


Illinois Promise scholars are intellectually curious, academically talented, and diverse in myriad ways, including their interests inside and outside of the classroom.  As the first in their family to attend college, this scholar learned early that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is the key to self-growth and discovery and Illinois Promise offered a chance to do just that. “During my undergraduate experience, I faced many uncertainties. I was the first in my family to go to college and was unsure [about this new environment]. The Illinois Promise program helped me through the college transition process and matched me with a mentor who could lend me a supportive ear and give me greater insight into other perspectives. I was able to interact with other students who were also first-generation college students. Thanks to Illinois Promise, I found a community of support that helped me feel at home at UIUC.” 

As the financial, mentoring, community, and coaching support of Illinois Promise created a strong foundation for academic success, this allowed for time to develop a passion project.  As an amateur photographer, the pandemic created an opportunity to begin exploring the “hidden” neighborhood art. “I enjoy exploring the city and learning about the history of those who walked the same sidewalks I did. I often find monuments, plaques, buildings, murals, graffiti and sculptures that hold stories of a time that no longer is. Sometimes life moves too fast, and we become desensitized to the charm of the little things. We become accustomed to routines and our environments. Going out of my element and visiting new neighborhoods helps me break out of my routine and reminds me how there is always more to life. I try to capture these small intimate moments I have with the city I love and leave a memory of a moment in time.” This exploration and discovery led to the creation of a website that curates much of this critical artwork. As someone who doesn’t want the work to be overshadowed in any way, this scholar prefers to remain anonymous.

You can find their work here:

When this scholar looks back on their time as an undergrad, the importance of the scholarship and support is foremost in their mind. “Coming towards the end of my undergraduate experience, I am well on my way to be the first in my family to graduate from university. I am grateful for Illinois Promise and the support I received from my family, friends, and mentors. I know that without their support I would have not reached such an important milestone. Although there are still many more challenges to come, I am confident that I have built a strong foundation for my career and endeavors here at UIUC.”


Coaching Counts: Fostering Connection


We recently hit the one year mark of living through a global pandemic.  This experience has affected all of us in many challenging, life-altering ways but, through it all, support for Illinois Promise Scholars has never waivered.

Upon becoming Illinois Promise eligible, scholars are assigned a “Promise Coach”, a staff member who is there to offer advice, facilitate connections, share resource information, and act as a sounding board. One year ago, as we transitioned to a fully virtual environment, we had to quickly regroup to figure out not only how we’d meet with students in the virtual space, but how we’d continue to engage with scholars in meaningful ways.  

Last fall, we told you about the many group activities held and the initiatives we’ve launched but here’s a snapshot of the engagement and impact of coaching:

In Fall 2020 alone, our team documented over 1000 coaching interactions and engaged with three-quarters of the enrolled I-Promise Scholars through New Scholar Orientation and Re-Orientation. Our newly launched online appointment scheduler makes it quick and easy for scholars to reserve time with their coach and meet.

What do scholars say about coaching? Responses on our Fall 2020 Survey included:

  •  “When I needed to talk to [my coach] most, she came through and helped me with all my struggles and questions.” 
  • “Having [my coach] in my life feels like a huge burden has been removed and knowing that I have someone to directly ask questions of when I don’t know what to do is an incredible blessing.”
  • “I-Promise coaching has allowed me to feel more prepared and less anxious about keeping up with all responsibilities in college.”

As we plan for the year ahead, we look forward to creating new and innovative ways to continue supporting our outstanding Illinois Promise Scholars!


Alumni Spotlight: Aiming High, Giving Back


Nashae Roundtree (Information Systems/Information Technology & Marketing, ‘17) is constantly setting new goals for herself. In fact, she reached out recently to discuss one of her newest goals “How can I be involved with I-Promise now?”  Her drive to succeed and her spirit of giving back all started years ago. 

Even before attending Illinois, Nashae had gained invaluable work experience as a Construction Manager through a CPS program and as a marketing intern with Discover. As a freshman, she worked part-time at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and as a Student Development Rep for the U of I Foundation (UIF).  That UIF position helped to shape her  workplace skills and habits. Nashae knew  that in order to be promoted to a supervisor position, she’d need to increase the amount of money she raised, which meant putting in extra hours and challenging herself.  This helped her build resilience and learn to master the “art of being rejected gracefully,” which really fueled her to keep setting higher goals….and to keep achieving them.

Her Illinois Promise experience helped her overcome her “confidence gap” and at the end of her freshman year, Nashae applied and was accepted into the Gies College of Business.  An internship opportunity with JP Morgan Chase turned into a full-time job offer in their software engineering program.  Overcoming that confidence gap was key to moving into the field, “people think of tech and they don’t think of themselves [as fitting into that function]”. Nashae eventually left to start a new role at Goldman Sachs, where she was quickly promoted to Data Analyst.  As she looked to continue her success and build upon her skills, she jumped into the Management Leadership for Tomorrow’s (MLT) MBA Prep program to help her become a competitive candidate for the country’s top MBA programs. 

Of course, Nashae is keenly aware of the many ways in which Illinois Promise helped her reach her goals, “if I wasn’t offered Illinois Promise, I wouldn’t have been able to attend Illinois.  Illinois Promise is that space that allows you to have this camaraderie ...that you came from a difficult path.  Just having this community was so beneficial for me, plus the resources like events with the Career Center and the [Spring Awards Banquet] was amazing because you don’t get that same level of congratulations….I now show my gratitude by paying it forward through connecting back with the Illinois Promise staff on ways to share my knowledge, being involved with 1871, a venture project helping disadvantaged groups bridge the gap between the skills that they have and the skills that they need, as well as my work with the Urban League.”

Nashae shared that the most important qualities for success are what she calls “future thinking” (figuring out how your current skills will help you in the future), leadership, curiosity, and understanding how all of these qualities transfer in so many personal and professional ways. 

And Nashae will be starting an MBA in Fall 2021.  We can’t wait to see what happens next for her!


Did you know that we're online?


Did you know that I-Promise is on Facebook and Instagram?  We also have a website! Like, follow, and visit our pages to stay up to date on the latest happenings with our scholars!

Alums and current scholars are also encouraged to use the Alumni Association's IlliniLink platform to connect!  Simply use the customized email invitation you received last fall to create your IlliniLink profile. If you didn't receive that customized link, you may register here: https://illinilink.illinois.edu/   When creating your profile, be sure to include that you are/were an Illinois Promise Scholar. Once registered, visit the "groups" section of the platform, search for Illinois Promise Scholars and Alumniand click "join group".  


The Illinois Promise Newsletter is distributed semiannually.  If you have questions, or if you'd like to be featured in a future issue, please send us an email.