Seniors reflect on their time at UIS

While most students are somewhat removed from the graduation process, the soon-to-be graduates are undergoing one of the greatest transitions of their lives. For the graduating students, graduation is a time of reflection and nervous optimism, as they look forward to entering the proverbial “real world.”

Graduating senior Mike Chmielewski acknowledges this change, but also appreciates it as an opportunity to reflect on his experiences at UIS. “I have grown in almost every way,” he said. “In high school I was very timid, did not like talking to people, stayed to myself, and would not participate in anything besides class and band. Here, I have become way more outgoing.”

On his overall time at UIS, Chmielewski was very happy. “In regard to my time at UIS, I think it was amazing. You know a school suits you when you just enjoy walking around and taking in the sights of it all.”

Criminal Justice and Psychology graduate, Rebecca Romero also enjoyed her time at UIS. She said “the best part of going to UIS is that there are a lot of opportunities for growth and to figure out who you are as a person…To know everyone has your back and wants the best for you is the greatest part of being a part of a small school.”

Senior accounting major Jordan Wood agrees with Romero’s fondness for this small campus student body. Adding that he also likes the small class sizes.

Graduate student Irina Mason also agreed, saying “I like that the Psychology Department was small enough that it was easy to get to know professors very well and get involved in research.”

As a nontraditional student, Mason was easily able to adapt to a life of school and working full-time because “of the availability of evening and online classes.”

Mason says “UIS made it possible for me to achieve my dream. I was able to combine my day-time job with full-time class load and finished my degree in two and a half years.”

The small class sizes is what attracts many students to UIS. It provides the opportunity for more one-on-one interactions with professors, getting involved in departmental activities and making friends.

Communications major Hannah Schweiss said her favorite class was Dating and Relationships with Dr. Beth Ribarsky. “It’s really interesting to learn about dating scripts and how theories can apply to our dating lives” she said.

Kerry Portillo-Lopez, a business administration and management double major, most enjoyed a very different type of class: Mandarin Chinese!

“I learned a lot about China whether it was learning the language itself or history regarding calligraphy, the Chinese culture, or traditional holidays celebrated in China. Professor Li was an amazing teacher! Chinese is a challenging language since it is mainly strokes and not letters” said Portillo-Lopez. “My class had traditional Chinese treats and tea whenever a special event was approaching. You can never go wrong with trying food from across the world!”

When asked what her favorite UIS activity has been, Romero said Springfest, “I participated my sophomore year and that week-long event brought me closer to people I can say will be my best friends even after graduation. Something about being competitive and pulling all-nighters really brings people closer together.”

Another graduate, Shakiah Charmick, feels similarly about getting involved in campus activities. “My favorite moment at UIS was getting involved in certain organizations on campus, such as Christian Student Fellowship and Necessary Steps. It was so much fun being a mentor and being a support to other first generation students as myself.”

Portillo-Lopez also spent a lot of time involved in campus organizations and events. She says “I became involved in a couple of organizations since my freshmen year here. I have been a member of the Organization of Latin American Students, Asian Student Organization, International Student Association, and the UIS chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. I like the fact that Student Life and the student organizations give students the opportunity to become involved on campus with extracurricular activities as well as giving students the chance to become student leaders on campus.”

When asked what she would miss most about UIS, Schweiss, said “my friends; I’m graduating a year early so many of them will still be here.”

This can be a rough transition for some graduates. Leaving friends, or even family, behind is difficult and life in the working world is even more challenging.

Four years spent at UIS are not supposed to stand by themselves, but rather to supplement the student’s future endeavors. Securing future employment is vital; the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in March of 2014 3.4 percent of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher were unemployed.

This number rises, however, when narrowing that field to young graduates. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 7 percent of bachelor’s degrees between 20 and 24 years of age were unemployed in 2013.

Furthermore, the stress of repaying student loans means it can be critical to find employment immediately upon exiting the university. The Institute for College Access and Success reports that the average debt for students after four years at a university is $28,543. The average for UIS graduates in 2013 was $23,766.

Charmick plans to take the MCAT and go to medical school, eventually hoping to become a pediatrician. “Ending my time here I realized I am more focused on my goals to going to medical school.”

Wood is attending graduate school at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall to earn dual master’s degrees in business administration and human resources and industrial relations.

Mason says she is moving on to a Ph.D program, “In July of this year, I will be starting a doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of Louisville, where I have been offered a research fellowship. After I receive my PhD, I plan to do research in Health Psychology and also do therapy.”

Chmielewski is heading in a different direction, and hopes to become a police officer. “I will be someone who genuinely cares and helps everyone in society.”

Chmielewski has sent applications to several police forces in the state, and said, “While I am scared about moving past this chapter in my life, I know that I am prepared.”

And that is all UIS graduates can really hope for.