For underrepresented students, a chance to learn about college life


Michael Watkins, director of undergraduate recruiting for UIC Business, talks with a prospective student. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services


College life can be pretty daunting. That’s why prospective students from the Chicago area turned up in droves at UIC recently to learn and ask questions about what to expect.

About 400 local high school seniors and their families attended the New Student Breakfast hosted by African American faculty Feb. 28 in Student Center East.

The annual breakfast provides black students accepted to UIC a snapshot of what to expect as incoming freshmen at UIC, as well as the multiple avenues of support available.

The invitation-only event, organized by the African American Recruitment and Enrollment Initiative, encourages the recruitment, retention and graduation of more black students and students of color, while promoting and supporting success at UIC. This is the fifth year UIC has hosted the breakfast for admitted African American students and their families.

“These are highly qualified young scholars and we are competing with a number of universities nationally to convince them to enroll at UIC,” said Cecil Curtwright, associate vice provost for academic and enrollment services and the initiative’s co-chair.


Tamnekia Grant, area coordinator for Campus Housing, talks about the benefits of living on campus. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services

“This event gives us an opportunity to showcase our university, have the students meet our African American faculty and answer any questions families might have about the university,” added Curtwright, pointing out that the most important message of the event is that UIC is committed to students being successful — not simply enrolling here.

Kevin Browne, vice provost for academic and enrollment services, described the event as an opportunity for students to put UIC into a “context for your future.”

“It doesn’t matter where we rank. It doesn’t matter what we do. None of that matters if it’s not a good fit for you. We want you to find out if this is the place that you can spend four years in your life to earn a degree,” he said.

Browne asked everyone to write down a date: May 9, 2019, graduation day. “We think you can complete this degree in four years,” he said.  “The goal is to make sure you can be successful.”

Robert Winn, associate vice president for community-based practice at UI Health, answered the question, “why UIC?”

“This place — right here, right now — is on the verge of doing something very different than any other university, I think, in the country,” he said.

“I am so excited for you to be a part of what I think is the future of where we’re going in medicine and health right here at UIC,” he said, adding, “Let’s just get this done.”

Students participated in breakout sessions hosted by Admissions, Student Financial Aid, the African American Academic Network, the Urban Health Program, the CHANCE program, Summer College, Campus Housing and more.


Robert Winn: “This place — right here, right now — is on the verge of doing something very different.” Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services

Representatives from the colleges of Education, Business Administration, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Sciences and Applied Health Sciences were there to answer questions. Parents attended concurrent sessions on financial aid and the UIC Experience.

Optional tours of residence halls and campus were available, as well as tickets to the UIC men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader.

Besides meeting black faculty members who shared their personal experiences, families heard from Aginah Muhammad, director of the Office of First Year Initiatives in the Center for Student Success Initiatives.

In her alumni keynote address, Muhammad suggested students embrace the concept of “4 C’s and an F”:

  1. Character: nothing takes the place of having good character
  2. Confidence: become aware of who you are and your value
  3. Consistency: whatever you do, do it well and with honor at all times
  4. Commonality: find things in common and develop new friendships
  5. Faith: have faith in yourself and your ability.

“The depth and breadth of your intellectual journey at UIC will depend on these five concepts,” she said.

Muhammad’s speech inspired Tammy Castor of Plainfield, attending with her son, Brandon. “When I was coming into college, I wish I had that speech,” she said. “I think it hit home with some of the students that were in the audience.”

Brandon, a senior at Plainfield North High School, said the information-sharing was helpful. “I liked hearing about how college life is going to be and how we can change the future,” he said.

Students were impressed by the support UIC offers.

“I feel that entering college is a very intimidating thing,” said David Franklin, a Gary Comer College Prep senior. “UIC has a large number of supports, even more so than a lot other schools that I applied to, to help the entering students.”

Leah Walker, who attended from Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood with Franklin, said the event gave her a better understanding of UIC’s campus.

“UIC is a relatively large school, but it feels like a small one,” Walker said.  “I think that’s comforting.”



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