Altogether amazing generosity

Read about the people whose lives have been changed thanks to the generosity of our donors.

Heather Holmes poses with a camper during her time working work at a Missouri camp for people with special needsHeather Holmes

“They are the original seed planted inside a student’s head that says, 'Maybe I can be this, maybe I can do that, or maybe this dream is achievable.' Scholarships change lives.” — Heather Holmes, a College of LAS Lincoln Scholar

For some students it happens during a particularly insightful lecture or in the middle of a busy corporate internship—that “a-ha” moment when they realize not just who they are, but where their true passion lies. For Heather Holmes it happened in the middle of the woods.

The epiphany came during the summer of her sophomore year, when she had the opportunity to work at a Missouri camp for people of all ages with special needs. “The pay was minimal and, subtracting travel costs, I knew that I would end up making almost nothing,” said Heather. “That being said, I felt financial freedom through the scholarships I had received. So, I decided to pursue the opportunity. This decision changed my life. It was where I both discovered my passion and made the decision to become a physician assistant.”

For Heather, that meant learning to speak a language for which there was no written dictionary, like knowing that one camper meant she was in pain whenever she said her doll was in pain. Or that one little girl was so afraid of medical providers that the only thing that gave her the bravery to face her fears was discussing her favorite fast food. Heather soon began referring to these incidents as “Chick-fil-A” moments.

“I spent the summer learning these unique nonverbal cues alongside American Sign Language,” said Heather. “I discovered that communication barriers in health care can come in so many different shapes and sizes, and that it takes intentionality and sacrifice by medical providers to slow down the pace and truly connect with patients standing on the other side of communication barriers. This is why I decided to pursue the physician assistant path, because I felt that they have the opportunities to sacrifice their time, language, culture, and region to go in search of those patients who don’t have the ability to fit into our normal American health care system.”

Working at the camp meant helping children and adults with spina bifida, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and conditions so severe that it meant they might not be alive to see the next summer. For Heather, it was a life-changing experience.


Haydn LambertHaydn Lambert smiles while wearing a suit

“Donors enable students to focus not on their tuition bill, but on getting the most of what the university and college have to offer. An Illinois education is a real gift—I've loved every minute of my time here.” — Haydn Lambert, winner of the Wirt Family Scholarship

Every day, hundreds of new prisoners are incarcerated and locked up, not just behind bars but deep within a legal system that’s complex and increasingly challenging to navigate. Haydn Lambert never really thought about those issues when he was younger. Now, it’s his driving passion, thanks to one LAS class that opened his eyes to a world he’d never imagined. It was exactly the kind of transformational experience he hoped for when he came to Illinois.

Monticello, Illinois, could hardly be described as a hotbed of criminal activity. Located just 30 minutes west of Champaign, Haydn’s hometown, as he described it, is “different from the university by nearly every measure.” Different or not, life in Monticello created a student whose aspirations were like those of any other student with big dreams. “I knew that in order for me to have the kind of career I wanted—one which dealt with complicated world issues—I’d need a school that would give me not only knowledge of my field but also cultural competence and an appreciation for complexity,” said Haydn.

While the U of I may have been close to home-cooked meals and other luxuries of home, proximity wasn’t the driving factor in Haydn’s school decision. “I considered just about every state school. But I chose Illinois because it provided the interdisciplinary perspective that would prepare me to lead and solve complex issues with confidence.”

Once at U of I, he charted his own unique path, carving out dual majors in English and political science. At first glance, the two degrees may seem to have little in common, but for Haydn, they were perfect complements. “Because I’m an English major, I’m able to write more clearly and effectively about politics,” he said. At the same time, studying politics helped him look at problems and solutions through a critical and nuanced lens.


Nidhi Shastri poses while on her computer in front of a brick wallNidhi Shastri

“Scholarships like the one I received continue to be the saving grace and support that holds us up. Thank you for investing in our future and caring for our success." — Nidhi Shastri, winner of the Gary V. Kaiser and Patricia Kaiser Scholarship

Nidhi Shastri has been a writer, a speaker, a college radio newscaster, and a podcaster. During her time at Illinois, she has developed a wide range of communication skills and used them to help those who sometimes feel unrepresented in the broader culture. But before she could help others find their voice, she had to find her own.

For Nidhi, that journey started in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, a Chicago suburb that, while rich in diversity, was low in economic opportunities. “Over 50 percent of my high school was on free and reduced lunch,” said Nidhi. At times, she felt conscious about the economic divide she experienced.

“I sometimes felt bad looking at other more economically well-off schools, but I quickly adapted and use what I learned in practice in order to do well,” said Nidhi, who helped captain the school’s speech team to a state competition. “Though we didn’t always have the same economic benefits as other suburban schools we competed against, we had very passionate teachers, and through that I developed a strong work ethic and a passion for my community.”

After graduating high school, she briefly considered following her sister to Marquette University, but Illinois offered a better financial aid package, and something even more important—the ability to do her own thing. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and have an adventure on my own, and University of Illinois became a way to do that,” she said.


Read more scholar stories

Every year, the College of LAS helps students from various backgrounds and fields of study pursue possibilities by providing scholarships. The students featured above are just some of many who benefit from the generosity of donors.

View stories from previous scholarship recipients:

Interested in donating to similar efforts to help students throughout LAS? Learn how.


Donors support professorial scholars in LASRichard Romano

“It is a joy for us to be able to support the work of scholars who have been chosen by their own colleagues as outstanding contributors,” — Richard Romano

Outstanding professors in the College of LAS have been selected by their peers to receive named professorial positions, which provide financial assistance to support their research and teaching duties. The positions were created through gifts to the college. For example, Richard Romano (BS, '54, chemical engineering) and his wife, Margaret, established the Richard and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholar program, which selected six new professors this fall.

Romano said his entire family congratulated the "truly distinguished group of teachers and researchers."

"It is a joy for us to be able to support the work of scholars who have been chosen by their own colleagues as outstanding contributors," Romano said.

Feng Sheng Hu, the Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS, said the new appointments are a point of pride for the College of LAS.

"These named positions have been created by people who care deeply for the future of the liberal arts and sciences at Illinois, and the appointees are dedicated to their disciplines, the college and university, their colleagues, and their students," said Hu. "We're grateful for them and their good work."

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