Revamped website links UIC students to campus resources for success

When Ja’Waun Williams began his first year at the University of Illinois Chicago, he knew that if he was going to thrive in college, he couldn’t do it alone. When Mayra Villa joined UIC, she felt culture shock from the new environment. Cristal Ramirez transferred from City Colleges of Chicago with an associate degree, but she still felt as nervous as any freshman might when she first stepped onto the UIC campus.

Now seniors on their way to graduation, the three students excelled at UIC by learning to tap into the plethora of opportunities provided to them.

Ja’Waun Williams (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

“UIC is committed to providing every opportunity to help students succeed from the minute they are accepted,” said Nikos Varelas, vice provost for undergraduate affairs and academic programs. “Our revamped website provides students with easy access to services, from tutoring assistance for a specific class to information about student success units where they can find a community that can help them succeed.”

Students also can learn more about UIC’s student success centers during an Open House March 3, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Varelas said.

The student resources website is broken up into eight sections and provides links to the most frequently sought services by new students, including advising, coaching, tutoring, student success centers, financial aid resources, hardship assistance, and access to wellness and counseling centers, among others, Varelas said.

Williams credits his success to reaching out early to campus resources, in particular the African American Academic Network, which promotes success and high impact engagement for students of African descent through comprehensive programming, and the CHANCE Program, which aims to increase recruitment, retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students.

“Coming into the gate my first semester freshman year, I joined those two organizations. They were great at helping facilitate and navigate me for the rest of my tenure at UIC,” said Williams, a senior in the College of Education.

Current Student Resources

Coming from a school in the south suburbs made up almost entirely of Black students to the more diverse campus at UIC was a struggle for Williams because it forced him to leave his comfort zone. While interacting with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures helped him grow as a student and a person, he said having the African American Academic Network and CHANCE Program available made the transition to UIC smoother. He also joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and is currently the campus chapter’s president. 

“I always say the best thing about joining the organizations was the fact that I had a group of like-minded individuals and brothers who not only wanted to achieve and excel as much as I did, it was a collaborative effort in which we all pushed each other,” Williams said.

Mayra Villa (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

For Villa, the opportunity to join another organization, the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services Program, eased her transition from her high school on the Southwest Side of Chicago. The thought that the large campus would be her home for the next four years was daunting — until she discovered LARES. She joined the LARES Leaders program and is a student worker now, assisting other students.

“Thanks to LARES, I was able to find my place on campus and turn it into a little safe space,” said Villa, who is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “In my freshman year, I would occasionally stop by at the office to do homework in the study room or meet with my LARES adviser.”

Villa used LARES as a resource to get pointers from her adviser, Daisy Lemus, on complex issues such as filling out financial aid forms or sometimes just for a listening ear.

“As a first-generation college student, it can be a difficult and tedious process trying to navigate through that information,” Villa said. “There are times where I just check in with Daisy to let her know how some of my classes make me feel. Usually, there isn’t a specific issue, but it’s nice to sometimes vent.”

Kiely Fletcher, executive director of financial aid and scholarships, said students should become familiar with their student portal. She reminds students to fill out FAFSA forms as soon as they are available every October. Students also can find answers to their questions by visiting the financial aid office in the Student Services Building, 1200 W. Harrison St., from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Ramirez said transferring to UIC was one of the best decisions she made, partly because of organizations like the Native American Support Program and LARES, as well as the “overwhelming amount of resources” she found at UIC.

“I can’t participate in all of these organizations, but whenever I can, it’s amazing,” said the senior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It’s been about building my community through those organizations.”

Cristal Ramirez (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

She said these resources helped her reach out to campus organizations and made the large campus more manageable. She also used resources from those groups to reach advisers who could help with issues like financial aid and tutoring.

“I’ve been to the Writing Center, and the tutors are always very helpful, very willing to help, and completely don’t judge you at all,” Ramirez said. “It’s a very welcoming space, virtually and in person.”

She said LARES provided her with advisers who were available to her for academics and issues like time management, which supplemented the work from her academic adviser. NASP also served as a place where she found comfort and a welcoming attitude.

Echoing Williams and Villa, Ramirez said students should reach out to campus groups during their first year to see what they offer and to meet new people who could serve as networking resources and find support.

“Do this as soon as you can because you’re going to fall behind at some point, and that’s when you are going to want help and everyone’s going to be booked,” Ramirez said. “You’re not going to know who to look for and then you’re going to freak out.”

All three students praised the updated student resources website and said it should be a resource for every new student.

“It breaks it down into the details of what you need. ‘Resources at a Glance’ has everything,” Williams said.

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