By Melanie Cain
During her senior year in high school in Geneseo, Jessica Lay planned to attend her local community college, where she intended to participate in athletics. However, during a high school college fair, she came across the UIS booth and after she’d talked with the counselor about a number of issues she walked away with a great interest in the university.
For one thing, Jessica learned that UIS offered athletics at the NAIA level, and that, with the Capital Scholars Honors Program, the school would be accepting freshman for the very first time that fall. She contacted the women’s basketball coach and was offered a scholarship to play at UIS. Jessica said, “I ultimately decided that it would be fun to be part of a charter class in one of the colleges in the University of Illinois system and have the chance to play sports.”
Jessica wasn’t sure what to expect as she started out at UIS -- her main focus was to earn her degree and play sports at the collegiate level. She simply wanted to do her best and balance academic, social, and athletic activities. She also wanted to focus more on what she could truly gain from a class, instead of merely worrying about grades.
One aspect of UIS that Jessica found helpful throughout her studies was the ability to work and interact with professors one-on-one. She said she felt fortunate that she was able to earn a degree from a state school while still being able to work closely with faculty.
When asked what she enjoyed most about her UIS experience, Jessica quickly brought up the Capital Scholars program, especially being a member of the charter class. “I feel that since we were on our own, almost secluded in a way, we tended to socialize with the whole class throughout the entire four years,” she said. “I felt that this gave us a chance to meet and become good friends with people that we might not have gotten to know to in a larger setting. Looking back, I enjoyed the bond that the class established.”
In addition to the many relationships that Jessica built over her college tenure, she also walked away with something that will benefit her for the rest of her life: “I have the tools and knowledge to stand up for something that I believe is right,” she said. “I learned a lot about people…and I feel that becoming close to some individuals whom I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet in a larger setting, and getting to know them, gave me a better understanding of cultural differences.”
Jessica earned her bachelor’s degree in both Business Administration and Visual Arts and graduated in May as a member of the first-ever Capital Scholars Honors Program. As for her future plans, she is hoping for a career in either sports marketing or event planning.
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