Students stress importance of keeping college affordable

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon meets with chemistry researcher Leslie Fung and students Swathi Madugula, Sean Suastegui and Mena Poonaki.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon (second from left) meets with chemistry researcher Leslie Fung and students (from left) Swathi Madugula, Sean Suastegui and Mena Poonaki. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

When Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon visited UIC last week to talk about keeping college affordable, she met four reasons why it’s important: Sean Suastegui, Swathi Madugula, Jeff Li and Mena Poonaki.

The four undergraduates talked with Simon about their work-study jobs in the lab of chemistry researcher Leslie Fung.

“I’m being trained for my future,” said Poonaki, a junior majoring in chemistry who is putting herself through college with scholarships, loans and work-study. She also saved money by taking some of her first courses at community college, she told Simon.

UIC was the lieutenant governor’s first stop on a tour of all 12 Illinois public universities to talk about affordability, financial aid, student retention and graduation.

She also met with faculty and campus administrators in student and academic affairs during her Oct. 11 UIC visit, including Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, provost and vice chancellor Lon Kaufman and vice chancellor Barbara Henley.

“It’s really fun to see what’s going on here,” Simon said as the students showed her around the chemistry labs where they work in Science and Engineering South.

The students talked about the importance of work-study, which lets them work on campus “instead of driving 20 miles away to work in a department store,” as Poonaki said.

As a member of the eligibility task force for the Monetary Award Program, Simon advocates strengthening the state’s financial aid program and the way grants are awarded.

She also supports the College Choice Reports, which would provide standardized information online about cost, average debt and completion rates for all degree-granting institutions in Illinois.

After Simon spoke with the students, Fung handed her a souvenir: a card with the periodic table of the elements.

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