Why I am forever grateful I joined LAS Honors

Zolzaya Byambasuren is a rising senior majoring in molecular & cellular biology and minoring in public health. During the past school year, Zolzaya served on the James Scholar Student Advisory Board as the social chair and as an LAS 122 intern. This upcoming year, she is excited to continue serving as an LAS 122 intern and start her role as the president of JSSAB. In her free time, she enjoys baking and spending time with her friends.

Zolzaya ByambasurenJust after my acceptance to UIUC, I received notification that I was invited to the LAS Honors program. Initially it seemed LAS Honors consisted of mindlessly submitting experiences to satisfy the points system. However, I could not be more wrong!

To me, the most valuable part of the program regarding academics is having the opportunity to foster meaningful relationships with professors through specialized honors projects. By taking honors sections of classes, I dove deeper into course content while directly working with the professor to advance my knowledge. Another big benefit of participating in the Honors program is having priority registration. Priority registration is important because I know that I will never have to worry about a required class being full, especially since the university has so many students registering for classes.

The LAS Honors program has supplemented my academics, but I have been even more fulfilled outside of the academic realm of the program. The James Scholar Student Advisory Board (JSSAB) has been a big part of my involvement in LAS Honors. The group of students in JSSAB work together to build community among James Scholars and encourage connections among students while exposing them to organizations, events, and opportunities available on campus. I attended JSSAB events in my freshman year and was interested in furthering my involvement in the organization after learning that it is student-led. After expressing interest and interviewing, I became a social committee member in my sophomore year, and I immediately felt a sense of belonging within the organization. As a social committee member, I would assist the social chair in planning and hosting social events for JSSAB. I continued my involvement in the organization by becoming social chair in my junior year and was elected president for my final year at UIUC.

All first-year James Scholars are required to take LAS 122 (Leadership and Society) in their first semester. The class is a time for first-year James Scholars to ask upperclassmen questions and request advice while also discussing important topics like leadership and community service. When I took LAS 122, I was able to get to know my peers in a small and approachable environment. It would be no surprise that I wanted to become an LAS 122 TA when applications for the internship opened up. The main reasons I wanted to lead first-years was to support their journey of getting acclimated to campus and give them advice on what I wish I had known when I was a freshman. Being an LAS 122 TA was a rewarding experience because I was able to cultivate a welcoming environment at a big and intimidating campus.

Ultimately, the LAS Honors program is what you make out of it. There are numerous opportunities for you to strengthen your academics and extracurricular experiences, but they are only opportunities. You will take the initiative to participate in experiences, and you have the choice of taking what you want from that experience. LAS Honors is here to support you and make your undergraduate years more meaningful. In fact, most of the experiences you will participate on campus will count towards the honors point requirements, so the Honors program is better categorized as a reward system rather than another requirement to fulfill. Without LAS Honors, I would never have gotten out of my comfort zone to participate in the transformative experiences I discussed earlier. By participating in the LAS Honors program, I have grown tremendously, not only as a student but also as a person and leader on campus.

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Zolzaya Byambasuren