Getting involved to spur change

Kenneth Thomas at the Old State Capitol

Ken Thomas at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. “Change is absolutely possible if you work for it,” Thomas says. Photo: Beth Powers

Kenneth Thomas has already won two elections, and he’s hoping there are more wins in his future.

Thomas, elected last spring to his second term as UIC’s student trustee, has set the stage for his dream job — becoming a U.S. senator — by serving in student government all four of his years at UIC.

“I have a strong confidence that there’s an ability, through the political process, to effect change in society,” said Thomas, an Honors College student and a senior in political science.

“Change is absolutely possible if you work for it.”

Thomas is the 2012 UIC Lincoln Academy student laureate, an honor given to an outstanding senior at each of the four-year colleges and universities in Illinois.

He was selected by a committee organized by the UIC Office of Special Scholarship Programs.

Thomas’s interest in politics stems from a young age, after he transferred from a school that was “not so good” to a better school in another working-class neighborhood.

“I realized the only way to solve that was to go into politics,” he said. “I wanted people from any socioeconomic background to have an equal opportunity to have a good education.”

His focus is still on education funding, but he’s now trying to give college students greater access to education.

As student trustee, Thomas has the responsibility of being the official UIC student voice on the university Board of Trustees.

But he’s done more than represent students at board meetings. He’s lobbied in Springfield and Washington, D.C., for more higher education funding and financial aid.

“This university is about teaching a diverse population,” Thomas said. “To keep that diversity, we have to help students keep costs down.”

As trustee, Thomas works to lessen any “disconnect” between students and university administrators.

“I’m trying my best to not only represent the students to the administration, but to also represent the administration to the students,” he said.

Thomas has served as a student senator and undergraduate student member on the executive committee of the UIC Senate, and a member of the LAS advisory board and the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Committee.

“It’s really important that we have students who are active on campus — it’s also important that we reach out and help build up the student body, not only for us, but for future students,” he said.

The Lincoln Academy Student Laureate isn’t his first award — he’s a two-time winner of the Chancellor’s Student Service and Leadership Award and a recipient of three scholarships this year: the Bernard Shaw Prize, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship and the S.E.E. Scholarship.

Thomas, who graduates in May, is applying to law schools in Chicago and on the East Coast with the goal of practicing law, then going into politics.

Since his freshman year, he’s always balanced schoolwork and extracurricular activities with at least 20 hours of work per week. He’s a community assistant at an off-campus apartment complex, helping to build a community environment among residents.

When he finds free time, Thomas likes to golf, explore the city with friends and watch the news.

“I’m religiously tied to the news,” he said. “I have to watch Anderson Cooper every night to make sure I’m keeping up with what’s going on in the world; otherwise, I feel lost.”

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Campus, Students