FirstGen Flames ready to see the world through new scholarship program
Jason Mei taught himself how to juggle this summer, but now he wants to discover other hidden talents while studying in another country.
“I want to see if I have any other eccentric ideas while I study abroad. Without being close to home, it’s all on you to explore and I just want to see if I can uncover something new,” he said.
Mei will have the opportunity to gain new personal, academic, and professional insights and skills thanks to a Chancellor’s FirstGen Flames Abroad Scholarship, a new annual program to encourage and support study abroad for first-generation undergraduate students whose parents did not complete a bachelor’s degree.
Mei, a second-year finance major in the College of Business Administration, is one of 11 students named earlier this year to the program’s first cohort. The group recently met for the first time during a special outdoor reception with Chancellor Michael Amiridis.
“Our goal, as with everything we do, is to provide students with the tools they will need to be successful after graduation. One of the greatest tools we can offer is the opportunity to study outside of their comfort zone – and to experience life and learning in another country,” Amiridis said. “UIC has always considered study abroad to be a high-impact program that goes far in preparing students for life outside of college. By awarding the scholarship to first-year students, we are providing them with the time and guidance to select thoughtfully and plan for a program that aligns with their academic strengths and career aspirations.”
Along with the scholarship, UIC’s Study Abroad Office will host a series of workshops for Mei and the other FirstGen Flames Scholars to collectively learn about selecting a study abroad program, finding additional funding opportunities, integrating study abroad into their academic major and using international education to advance their career.
Mei has pondered a college study abroad experience since his days at Jones College Prep in Chicago.
“Living in the city for eight years straight, your ears start getting used to the sounds of the city. I just want something different. I’ve read that people who study abroad tend to have a more mature perspective on the world,” said Mei, who lives in the Cermak-Chinatown neighborhood.
The credit for his eventual pursuit of an international academic exploration goes to his parents, who came to America from China three decades ago.
“They haven’t been able to go anywhere else, since they are so fixated on building my future and my older brother’s future. I want to respect their accomplishments. I want to be able to do something that they wanted to do as well. Having that experience and being able to say, ‘Hey Mom, hey Dad, I did it with you guys.’ Their dreams are living in me. I really resonate with that,” he said.
With South America and South Africa among his desired destinations, Mei believes expanding his own perspective and meeting people from different cultures will benefit him with interpersonal relationships in his personal and professional lives.
“Everyone is so diverse here. I still think I separate myself into ‘groups’ and never reach out to those other communities. I feel like studying abroad would actually give me some credentials that I can communicate with them,” he said.
Mei, who is currently an intern for TD Ameritrade and studying for his securities industry essentials exam, is also part of UIC Business Scholars, a highly selective four-year leadership and development program.
“That is keeping me going since I know that even in my career I will be surrounded by different people and having that study abroad experience is a way to strike up a conversation,” he said.
Other members of the inaugural FirstGen Flames Scholars cohort are Jocelyn Becerra, Celeste Bonga, Guadalupe Cuellar, Grecia Espinoza, Ivan Garay, Alex Lopez, Yadira Martinez-Victoria, Maegan Resuello, Jocelyn Ruiz and Emily Villagomez.