‘UIC gave me a chance,’ says Lincoln Laureate

Leigha Sommer

Senior Leigha Sommer didn’t always have the 4.0 that she has maintained her entire UIC career.

“I was not a good high school student, and I was certainly ashamed of my academic performance then. I had some Cs and Ds that were a result of a lot of personal struggle and growth throughout high school,” Sommer said.

UIC gave Sommer a fresh start that pushed her in a way that high school did not.

“I began at UIC, and I sort of reclaimed my educational experience,” she said. “UIC gave me a chance.”

Sommer, a student in the UIC Honors College, is UIC’s Lincoln Academy Student Laureate, recognizing her outstanding work on campus and in the community. The competitive award is given to seniors from each college in Illinois who have followed in the path of former President Abraham Lincoln by committing themselves to leadership and positive social change. She will be recognized at a ceremony in Springfield Nov. 16.

“I was not by any means an exceptional student in high school,” Sommer said. “This nomination just kind of serves to represent that I am capable. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of failures and a lot of support, but it makes me excited about what I have yet to accomplish in the future.”

She started her freshman year as a marketing major but later switched her focus to economics and English, and she picked up three minors: philosophy, political science and sociology. 

“I transferred into the College of LAS and began taking courses in just about any subject that piqued interest. I became able to examine worldly problems through the lens of an economist, a rhetorician, a sociologist, political scientist and a philosopher,” Sommer said.

At UIC, she’s also won the UIC Chancellor’s Student Service and Leadership Award, as well as the Dr. Michele M. Thompson and Dr. H. Woods Bowman Merit Scholarship from the economics department. Sommer is an LAS Dean’s Student Advisory Board member and an LAS recruitment assistant.

“If you would have me told four years ago that I would be where I am today, I simply would not have believed you. The amount of personal, professional and intellectual growth throughout these years is something I will forever be proud of, and I owe a lot of that to the UIC community,” Sommer said.

She also has been involved with UIC organizations such as Economics Club, Student Activities Funding Committee and Phi Alpha Delta, and she has worked for the UIC Center for Student Involvement. Outside of UIC, Sommer has been a part of organizations like World Learning and After School Matters, and she volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

“It is important to me that, in these opportunities, I am aware of my own position in society and identity and work with that,” Sommer said. “Advocating for youth is where I feel most connected, and I hope to be able to continue my work in a meaningful way.”

After graduation in spring 2020, she plans to attend law school.

“I hope to be able to gain clinical experience throughout law school and eventually make meaningful strides in reform for the child-welfare system. It is something that is very personal to me and my story and to be able to promote justice for children and their families through legal representation, policy advocacy and law reform is what I am focused on,” Sommer said.

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