Student-led initiative builds community, provides support for students

United Support Network logo

Amidst the trauma of isolation, racial oppression and the public health crisis of COVID-19, now, more than ever, is a crucial time to build a community and advocate for mental health. United Support Network has created an open and inclusive space to help support UIC students’ diverse identities and ambitions.

“It gives students the chance to connect with other students outside their program/classes, find support from their peers, and vent about day-to-day stressors,” said Isabella Di Figlio, a UIC student in social work and USN’s director of marketing and outreach.

USN is a student-led initiative, supported and supervised by the UIC Counseling Center. The organization is led by a team of five student directors, two faculty advisers, Dr. Rob Ballantyne and Luis Salas, and a trained group of leaders who all work together to support their members.

Topics during their weekly group meetings consist of schoolwork challenges, personal concerns, uncertainty about post-graduation, pandemic-related challenges, emotional/mental health, and much more.

They’ve also begun offering monthly interactive activities, accompanied by e-gift cards for event winners. Some examples of USN’s virtual events:

  1. Self-Care Pajama Party: Students Zoom in their PJs while connecting over self-care routines and mindful coloring. Students vote for their favorite pictures and the winner receives a $25 e-gift card.
  2. Spook-Tacular Zoom Night: A Halloween-themed event in which students participate in a costume party contest and a lively game of charades. Winners of both activities are awarded $25 e-gift cards.
  3. 2 Truths & a Scavenger Hunt: At the start of the Spring 2021 semester, USN invited students to an interactive scavenger hunt. Students were able to get to know each other through the classic icebreaker, “Two Truths & A Lie.” They then competed for the top 3 spots in a friendly hunt to find silly items around their home. The top three winners were awarded $25 e-gift cards.

“We were created by UIC students, for UIC students. We all have a shared experience of working through school together, but we can connect on so much more,” Figlio said.

UIC students interested in becoming group leaders for USN’s support groups are required to complete PSCH 386: Crisis Counseling Techniques. This course serves as the training program for UIC Paraprofessional Counselors. UIC leaders co-facilitate weekly groups, attend weekly supervision meetings, participate in community-building events, and help with marketing efforts on campus. Here is the application.


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