Students’ D.C. trip puts personal touch on bid for Obama library

Michael Belmonte, Jauwan Hall, Kris Fuentes Cortes, Danielle Leibowitz, Barbara Henley, Mikita Lee, and Arthur Nishimoto

L-R: Michael Belmonte, Jauwan Hall, Kris Fuentes Cortes, Danielle Leibowitz, vice chancellor Barbara Henley, Mikita Lee and Arthur Nishimoto in D.C. to lobby for the Obama Presidential Library. Photo: Michael Bonfigli

Six UIC students visited Washington, D.C., earlier this week — but it was no ordinary field trip.

The students met with congressional staffers and the Barack Obama Foundation to give a personal touch to UIC’s bid for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum.

The students were a representative cross-section of UIC: medical student Michael Belmonte, communication major Kris Fuentes Cortes, Marine Corps veteran Jauwan Hall, public health student Mikita Lee, UIC student trustee Danielle Leibowitz, and computer science doctoral student Arthur Nishimoto.

“Each of our stories embodied a connection between the mission of UIC and what we presume will be part of President Obama’s legacy,” said Leibowitz, a senior in the teaching of mathematics who — like 44 percent of UIC students — is eligible for the federal Pell Grants the president has supported.

“We wanted to show our shared destiny and to drive home the point that there’s an undeniable connection between the two,” she said.

The students were accompanied by North Lawndale representative Charles Leeks, Barbara Henley, vice chancellor for student affairs, and university librarian Mary Case.

They traveled to D.C. Sunday and spent Monday in meetings with congressional staff for Reps. Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez and Mike Quigley, the staff of Sen. Dick Durbin, and Alyssa Mastromonaco, former deputy chief of staff to President Obama and current staff member of the Barack Obama Foundation.

“Everybody that we met with had really nice things to say,” said Leibowitz.

“They learned a lot about UIC,” she said. “UIC is going to get a lot of positive attention from this.”

Michael Belmonte, Mikita Lee, Jauwan Hall, and Danielle Liebowitz

Michael Belmonte, Kris Fuentes Cortes, Jauwan Hall and Danielle Leibowitz in Rep. Danny Davis’ office. Photo: Michael Bonfigli (select image to download larger file size)

Belmonte, a second-year medical student in the urban medicine program, told congressional staffers how UIC’s health care mission mirrors Obama’s agenda.

“One of the best things about UIC is that we’re able to really provide care to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they can pay, are citizens, or have insurance,” Belmonte said.

The highlight of the trip for Belmonte was meeting with Mastromonaco at the Obama Foundation.

“She looked at us when we were done and said, ‘When I was your age, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this,’ and that made us feel very proud to be there and hopefully make a difference in the decision.”

The group received a positive response at all its meetings, Belmonte said.

“People were impressed with what we put together and they loved the student perspective.”

The students were professional and engaging, Case said.

“Everyone was so on top of the game,” she said. “The students were just fabulous — so articulate and passionate with their stories. It really made me proud to be here at UIC.”

Cortes, a junior in communication who volunteers as a health educator at nearby Chicago Public Schools, talked about the work UIC students do in the community.

“UIC has so much to offer, not only in terms of its students but also the community,” she said.

“We are one of the most diverse campuses, and there are so many neighboring schools that can foster future UIC students. We are students, but we are going to be professionals at work and in research. We are going somewhere.”

The bid is available online.


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