Studio assistant program changes lives

Unpaid work actually works to alleviate mental health and personal struggles at Amara Yoga and Arts. Three studio assistants have become mentally healthier after working for free at Amara.

Amara is a yoga studio and art gallery that has over 20 studio assistants who work 3 hours out of the week cleaning around the studio, directing clients to the correct classes, signing up new clients, and everything else in-between. In exchange for the free work, studio-assistants are allowed to take as many yoga classes as they want. The studio owner, Kathryn Fitzgerald finds these assistants through the community and from friends of current studio assistants.

One studio assistant, Sharon Jackson lost her job and fell into a deep depression and anxiety. Because of this, she decided to go back to school at Eastern Illinois University in order to get a higher degree (at the time she only had her associates) in hopes of finding a new job. During a conversation with one of her teachers, Mary Atteberry, she had mentioned how yoga had helped her mentally. Sharon said that she could not afford yoga and that’s when Atteberry mentioned the program. She was then introduced to the owner and was brought on as a studio assistant.

Jackson said she took several classes a week, “It really helped with my self-esteem, sense of health and getting better in my body.”

Jackson also has many artistic interests that she was never able to really pursue. Amara holds different workshops and classes that need advertising, and Sharon offered to draw on the chalkboard in Amara.

The accepting environment that the studio provides is what keeps her on as a studio assistant. Jackson gets to use her artistic abilities without feeling judged and is allowed to do what makes her happy.

Another studio assistant, Colleen Read, was going through post-traumatic stress disorder, and the therapist she was seeing told her that yoga and meditation could be very beneficial to her. She was familiar with seeing Amara and signed up for a membership. Reed is a full-time student and a CNA, and that it was becoming hard to pay for a membership. Read then contacted the owner herself, and that’s when she found out about the program.

Read continues to attend classes weekly. She said, “I never really had self-love or confidence. I always felt stiff and uptight. I feel like I have really found me and that my anxiety has been alleviated.”

Studio Assistant Juan Gonzalez Machain was recovering from substance abuse and an experience he is grateful that happened to him in order to be the person he is now. One day while running into a friend, Amara came about in discussion and he was interested in being a part of the program. The program has continued to make a positive impact on his life and guide him in the right direction.

Yoga itself is a great way to cope with stress and various mental health issues, and Amara has found a way to give people this mental freedom.

Sources talked to:

Sharon Jackso-studio assistant

Colleen Read-studio assistant

Juan Gonzalez Machain-studio assistant

Kathryn Fitzgerald-Studio Owner

Terri Decker-studio assistant

Billi Jo Hart-In charge of studio assistant program

How do you get fans in the stands?

This past year, Illinois football had it’s lowest average home attendance in the past 5 years. Illinois basketball had its second-lowest attendance in the past 5. There’s a serious issue with Illinois Athletics right now, and it’s not just the disappointing play.

Cassie Arner, associate athletic director in charge of marketing, fan development, and strategic communication, has spent plenty of time around Illinois sports. Serving as the Football sports information director from 1997-2010, she spent six years at Auburn before returning back to Illinois in January 2018.

“We’ve got to get people interested,” Arner said in an interview. “If you look across at the most successful student fan bases, they’re ones that are participating early. They’re coming to the stadium early, they’ve got events that are coinciding with whats happening at the football stadium. They’re not doing things that are separate.”

The “things that are separate” that Arner is referencing, is what’s known on campus as “block”: Fraternities and sororities pairing up to spend their Saturday mornings, sometimes as early as 6 A.M., going to campus bars rather than the football games.

“If you look at our largest individual group, which is our greeks”, Arner said, “they’ve been participating far away from the stadium. That’s a big challenge.”

Sabrina Thiel has the Director of Marketing and Fan Development at Illinois since 2014. When asked what the athletic department was doing to attract students, she saw opportunity in Grange Grove.

“Before there wasn’t an area for a student to tailgate,” Thiel said, “that’s why they would go to the bars. Block used to be: go to the bar and pregame but you bought a “block” of tickets and you sit in your block of seats.”

Bobby Ernsting, a sophomore in Sigma Chi, doesn’t want to go to the football games until the level of play improves.

“Why would I spend my Saturday mornings watching us get destroyed every single time?” Ernsting said. “I would go to the games if we were somewhat competitive.”

But according to Cassie Arner, the level of play will only improve if the fans start coming, and soon.

“The fans have to come first,” Arner said, “because we will not be able to recruit the highest level of student-athlete if they come to a place and there’s no passion, no dedication from the fanbase.”

Some places may not want to see a dedicated fan base such as the campus bars. If more students start tailgating and going to the games instead of heading to the bars, the culture change would hurt revenue.

Matt Baran, a manager at the Red Lion, located on the corner of Third St. and Green St., said, “As bad as it sounds, its been good for business that our football team has sucked the past few years.”

Baran, a senior studying Mechanical Engineering, has been a manager for two years. In his time at the Red Lion, he said there’s often been Saturdays that they don’t even have the Illinois football game on TV at block.

“I remember the Ohio State game this past year, we changed the channel after the first quarter we looked so bad,” Baran said. “People would just rather watch good football.”

Anthony Ryan, a manager at a rival bar, Kam’s, feels differently about if the football team improved.

“Of course I want to see our football team make a bowl game or our basketball team make it to the NCAA tournament,” Ryan said, “even if that means losing block.”

“We’re building our relationship with greek life,” Sabrina Thiel said. “We’re trying to get them to not do block at the bars, but do block at Grange Grove.”

This past fall, the athletic department pitched the idea of tailgating in Grange Grove to a small number of fraternities and sororities, but the idea fell through after just one week.

“We had a few fraternities that were on board with it, but they were just supposed to create their own thing, but they still signed a contract with a bar,” Thiel revealed.

After the university realized that the bar the greek houses chose to pair with, Joe’s Brewery, failed to obtain the necessary licenses to distribute food and liquor within Grange Grove, the tailgates were shut down for the rest of the year.

Another way the athletic department tried getting students to come last year was by bringing in Chicago-based artist Louis the Child to perform in Grange Grove before the Nebraska game on September 29. Even then, with high student attendance, students left afterward and didn’t watch Illinois fall 28-6, failing to score a touchdown

With a new offensive coordinator and a recruiting class highlighted by four-star defensive tackle Calvin Avery, the football team hopes to give students and local fans alike a reason to fill Memorial Stadium next fall.

“I hate to say winning helps, but it does,” Thiel said, “but also the atmosphere helps.”

Life of a Walk-On Athlete

While most college basketball players dedicate themselves to the sport hoping to go to the NBA, Drew Cayce is using the sport to advance his career in a different way.

Cayce is a junior and a walk-on athlete for the University of Illinois men’s basketball team. He has been playing basketball since the age of eight and decided he wanted to continue playing after his high school career.

“I am not good enough to play professionally and I have known that for some time now,” said Cayce. “When I knew I wasn’t gonna make it to the pros. I saw that I could use college basketball as a networking tool, to help me meet people for my life post basketball.”

As a junior in high school at La Lumiere, Cayce was the third leading scorer on a basketball team that finished their season ranked 5th in the country by USA Today.

He received offers to play on scholarship for a few small Division One schools and many Division Two schools. Cayce said the way he saw it, his high school was already playing at a high level, and going to one of those schools would almost be a step down for him.

Cayce’s responsibilities on the Illinois team are much different than what his job was in high school.

“My role has changed every year I have been here, but mainly to prepare the players playing the most minutes and be a leader for the younger guys,” said Cayce.

Freshman guard, Mark Smith, spoke to Cayce’s strengths on the team.

“What Drew brought to the team was confidence.” Smith said. “He always worked hard and was a good leader.”

After high school Cayce joined the Creighton University basketball team and redshirted his freshman year. He was not on scholarship at Creighton either. Being a red shirt means that a person sits out the season so they can develop their skills and extend their playing eligibility for another year.

Cayce then transferred to Illinois as a sophomore and had to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.

“I wanted to be closer to home and I figured if I had the opportunity to play here I should take it, considering many alumni are based around where I live in the Chicagoland area,” Cayce said.

Cayce’s family lives in a northern suburb of Chicago in Libertyville, Illinois.

This season Cayce appeared in nine games and finished with four points and four steals.

Cayce knows that many people do not understand why he has dedicated his college life to basketball when he receives little playing time.

“You know I have thought about stopping a lot, but I think I made it this far so I might as well finish it out,” said Cayce. Plus, the connections I am making I am not going to get anywhere else.”

Cayce said at times it can be hard to stay motivated throughout the season. He mentioned winter break as one of those times, because no one is on campus. Over breaks like this, the team does a lot of activities together to keep the morale up. Cayce added that focusing on being positive helps.

As the team spends so much time together they become close and real friendships form.

“I am probably closest with Tyler Underwood, but I mean I am close with everyone on the team, Cayce said. “You get to know the new guys every year and the bond is really strong.”

Tyler Underwood is the son of Illinois men’s basketball coach, Brad Underwood. Tyler is also a walk-on for the team. Tyler described Cayce’s contributions to the team.

“Drew is always energetic and talkative. He is someone guys look for to help them. He brings high basketball IQ and good shooting to the team, as well as being an exceptional teammate and leader.”

When looking to the future, Cayce is not exactly sure yet what his plans will entail, but he knows that the contacts he has made at Illinois will help him. Cayce said he may want to get into coaching. His time as a college athlete has shown him what he could be doing one day, and it has helped him form relationships with people in the field.

Cayce said he will not have enough time to do an internship over the summer because he will be in Champaign for basketball. However, he plans to further the connections he has made and gain as much experience as he can.

“I have set up a bunch of shadow opportunities. I have been reaching out to people I have met boosters, donators, and stuff like that,” said Cayce. “Coach Underwood has really gotten me to meet the people I need for what I want to do.”

As of right now Cayce is thinking, if not coaching, then he wants to get into sales. He is majoring in Communications and plans to get an MBA after he graduates.

“I think Communications will help with sales as I am a pretty outgoing person and I know how to talk to people and get to know them, which I see as beneficial,” said Cayce. “Plus working on business after my undergrad will help with my life in general.”

Cayce talked about a possible future in sales and how he will gain experience this summer.

A New Twist on a Old Tale

The Armory Building has been around more than 100 years, recent renovations from the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning may prove that you can still teach an old dog new tricks. In the past year, the CITL has brought the old military building into the twenty-first century.

The Center for Innovation and Teaching is normally responsible for helping faculty teach as effectively as possible. It provides faculty development programs, holds introductory courses for teaching assistants, and administers the instructor course evaluation system.

However, some in the CITL, like Jamie Nelson, Head of E-Learning, felt they could be doing more. The Armory Innovations Space was how they were going to do just that.

The Innovations Studio is part of a push by CITL to try out other types of classroom experiences and move past the regular lecture-type class. By introducing professors and students with the latest technology, its goal is to remove the mysticism behind these machines, and allow teachers to examine how they could integrate technology into their classrooms.

The Armory Innovations Spaces were created as part of a 4-million-dollar Capital Project, meaning the university fully funded and paid for it. Much of that budget went to building and room renovations. Most of the technology in the Innovation Spaces is either loaned out or only a few thousand dollars.

The 3-D printers, Nelson pointed out, are all loaned out by MakerGirls, a small organization that holds classes and events at the Spaces to help promoted STEM, science technology engineering and mathematics, in young girls.

The Innovations Spaces includes the “Tec-Hub”, Innovations Studio, and a virtual reality room. Each space provides different experiences and resources to the students.

The Tec-Hub is filled with emerging technologies, a VR headset, 3D printers, and a laser-cutting machine. All open for professors and students to try out.

Aside from class tours and events, the Tec-Hub has open hours when it encourages anyone to come and try out their equipment. Some teachers have already taken advantage of the space, leading to them integrating the technologies they tried out into their classrooms.

Dr. Ashley Mitek, a professor in the College of Veterinary Sciences, came during open hours just to look around, but after trying out some of the Computer-Aided Design programs, she has implemented 3D modeling into her class.

When I saw 3D printing at the open house, I immediately knew I needed to use it someway in the course…So for their capstone project, I asked them to design something that facilitates performing a physical examination in any species,” Mitek said.

Using the program introduced by the Tec-Hub, Mitek’s students designed a variety of 3D designs meant to aid veterinarian examinations. After the success of her first technological trial, Mitek now plans to advocate for the implementation of 3D technology for other classes at the Faculty Summer Institute, an annual conference for educators held at the University.

Lisette Chapa, a recent graduate of UIUC works at both the Tec-Hub, and another of the Innovations Spaces, the Innovation Studio,  a super high-tech classroom, according to her.

“It has two computers, both are touchscreens. One that is a touch table, and then one is on the big screen… It’s a space where you can really share stuff over the computers,” Chapa said.

This focus on sharing is part of an experiment to move away from lecture-based classes. Instead of receiving a majority of the information from the professor in class, it is instead learned out of class. The class is then focused on classmate interaction and projects, with the Innovations Studio’s sharing capabilities facilitating this.

Jim Wentworth, an E-Learning Specialist, is head of the Innovation Spaces as well as in charge of the CITL’s VR, virtual reality, room. It consists of one small helmet, a computer, a TV screen, and a small space to allow for movement during VR sessions. While the Tech-Hub also has a VR setup, the VR room is more to explore the teaching capabilities of virtual reality as well as look into building specific environments for VR to aid teachers.

When you put on the virtual reality helmet, everything a person sees and hears is artificial and is designed for different purposes. Biology students have used it to examine body parts and molecular structures up close, and architecture students are to walk around and study rooms and buildings entirely designed by themselves.

The room has already garnered some interest from faculty as Wentworth explains. One business professor, Professor Madhubalan Viswanathan of Business Administration, is looking into the difference in the experience of VR versus the real life, as Wentworth explains,

The past year has been a trial period for these Innovation Spaces, and according to the CITL, the university has been more than welcoming to the changes. Now all that is left is for the university to decide where the CITL should go from here, a decision the provost is in charge of making.

“We are trying to determine whether it makes sense for the CITL to be in the business of producing VR experiences. They are costly… Right now it’s not really a mandate from campus that we are in that business,” Wentworth said.

While the CITL’s Innovation Spaces have been open only a single year, it has already inspired many teachers and projects. It would seem that even after a century, Armory still has a few tricks up its sleeve.



Illinois Fraternities Feeling Affects of Alcohol Policies

An unknown visitor, a party, and alcohol. By the end of the night, members of Sigma Phi Epsilon found their fraternity reported to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) judicial board  for a conduct hearing.

The hearing concluded with the fraternity’s punishmenta two-year social probation.  The probation, however, was little more than a slap on the wrist. A second violation, the University said, would result in another probation, this time over 5 years.

Sigma Phi Epsilon’s lax punishment seems to fall in line with consequences other fraternities have faced for misbehavior at Illinois. According to data obtained from the University’s Interfraternity Council, half of UI’s 42 recognized fraternities committed alcohol violations at least once in the last four years. However, only three fraternities are currently on conduct probation.

Its no secret fraternities have been under fire. A study by Professor Hank Neur of Franklin College found a majority of recent student deaths have been fraternity members. Moreover, Neur found a majority of the deaths involved alcohol.


Although universities are ultimately responsible for monitoring their campuses’ respective chapters, the call for fraternity reformation has been largely targeted toward the Fraternity National Organizations (FNO).

Kevin Bergbauer, a former member of Alpha Chi Ro at Illinois, says the fraternity’s nationals took action to punish the chapter, not the University.

“Our charter got pulled after a girl fell and injured herself after drinking,” says Bergbauer. “Ultimately it was our nationals that decided to pull our charter after a recommendation from the alumni board.”

Sigma Nu, Pi Kappa Phi, and Beta Theta Pi are just a few fraternal organizations facing lawsuits for failing to enforce hazing and alcohol policies. 

Many of the universities, however, are not facing lawsuits. A family member suing Pi Kappa Phi went as far to say Florida State did nothing wrong. “We sued those who had a role in  Andrew’s death,” said the father of the Pi Kappa Phi pledge.

A number of national organizations have responded by implementing a dry-house policy, a ban of all alcohol within the chapter house, regardless of age.

The pressure to reduce alcohol affiliation is being by fraternity members throughout Champaign. However, many members have found ways around their national policies.

Anthony Diperte, a member of Acacia Fraternity, believes the fraternity’s national organization is trying to implement social restrictions by banning liquor with an alcohol content higher than 10% at all events.

“We break some of the national rules, like the ban of hard alcohol,” says Diperte. “We feel it’s a little harsh. We have the feeling that with sober monitors at each party we can keep it safe and under control.”

IFC records show Acacia has been found in violation of alcohol policies twice since 2013, one of which occurred in November of 2017 for hosting an unregistered event with alcohol present.

Despite the violation, Acacia does not appear on the IFC list of fraternities under probation.

When questioned about alcohol policies, a spokesperson for Acaia’s national organization asked what the information would be used for and failed to respond further.

Alcohol policies are difficult to enforce because they are mainly monitored by national advisers who are not consistently present within the chapter house.

“We have alumni that oversee our chapter,” says Frank Acoste, a member of Kappa Sigma. “But they aren’t here all the time, maybe once a week.”

Another problem is that national rules differ from fraternity to fraternity. Jake Borla, a member of Theta Xi, says his fraternity currently “has no specific policy that outlaws consuming or possessing alcohol.”

Trenton Williams, a member of Phi Gamma Delta, says having a dry-house policy makes planning social events more difficult because without a house to drink in, members must turn to other locations.

“We turn to places like the bars because you can enter at 19, so a lot of our members still have a place to party at. Really only the freshman are affected.”

However, the push to move alcohol away from the chapter houses can cause problems, especially with some houses resisting the change.

“I would say we see more alcohol issues in the bars rather than the houses,” says Sgt. Joe Ketchem of the Champaign police. While FNO’s are rushing to adopt stricter alcohol policies, Sgt. Ketchum doesn’t foresee any changes to the campus bars.

While the bars seem like a safer  alternative for fraternity members looking for a good time, alcohol violations continue to pile up among Illinois chapters.

There are many reasons why fraternity members break national rules on alcohol consumption and the University must tackle these reasons before alcohol can be entirely eliminated from chapter houses.

Social Status

Fraternities feel pressured to keep hard alcohol to maintain their social standing among other frats and sororities

“I think that [if we enforced the rule] people would talk and word would get around,” says Anthony Diperte. “It would shy away people who don’t like other drinks.” 

The fear of negative social backlash from reducing hard alcohol consumption is partly exacerbated by sorority members. Some members see fraternities as a familiar place that offers an outlet for drinking.

 Julia Santos, a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority,  “being in the houses is really cool because I like seeing the history. People have been in some of these frats for decades, it just feels like a traditional college experience.”

“Going inside frats is just fun,” says Margaret Kopoulos, a member of the Kappa Delta sorority, “I thought it’d be gross and I wouldn’t want to spend any time there, but they’re a really fun environment to be in and even if it gets rowdy I don’t mind, that’s fun too.”

Conformity and Tradition

Almost 25% of Illinois students are involved in Greek life. Some students believe the large number of greek students creates a culture of conformity to preserve traditional fraternity activities, like drinking.

“The biggest problem I have is the conformity,” says Ari Theodoropoulos, an independent student.“I think some people [in greek life] feel like they don’t have anything besides superficial things like these letters and these friends.”

Conformity among members, especially recently initiated ones, is one factor that can be attributed to  hazing deaths but also presents a problem with adopting alcohol policies.

“[Banning hard alcohol] would hurt because other fraternities don’t follow this rule,” says Diperte. “We break that rule because nobody has it in place.”

However, many fraternities do have these rules in place. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, nearly one in five chapters in North America had adopted dry house policies over a decade ago.

“Our house recently adopted dry housing,” says David LaSota, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “Many of the older members were really upset, a lot of them dropped. When the newer members see that, seeing how the older guys react, they want to be like that, so they already have a negative view towards these policies.”

 culture shift

If fraternity members are resistant to change, how will change occur? Shawn Dalgleish, a chapter councilor at Illinois, says it starts with leadership from within.

“You have three buckets,” says Dalgleish, “people who are bought in to these policies, people who aren’t, and the largest bucket, the people who need convincing.”

“Chapters need to have leaders that are bought in. That gives them credibility to convince the people in the third bucket to buy in. Once that happens, you can begin to disassociate the second bucket.”

Dalgleish believes these changes are inevitable because national organizations are cracking down harder than ever on alcohol policies.

“With the way nationals are heading, I believe chapters are going to have to buy in or face the risk of losing their charter,” says Dalgleish. “Many of the larger fraternity organizations, like Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Chi are discussing dry house policies, and usually when the large organizations adopt a policy, the smaller ones follow suit.”

The pressure FNO’s are putting on their chapters is beginning to show results according to Dalgleish.

“I’m seeing this change starting to happen at many chapters that I advise. I’m hopeful these undergraduate leaders can shift the culture positively and keep that culture going.”


Counseling Center Needs More Availability for Students

The Counseling Center at the University of Illinois tries to be an accessible place to help students deal with everything from academic to interpersonal concerns.

Allison Flores, 21, a junior in communications, had a couple of appointments her freshman year but was suddenly told to seek treatment elsewhere.

“They basically said I had a lot of issues and they weren’t equipped to deal with them so I would have to find someone outside of campus to go see,” says Flores.

She was diagnosed with two issues common to students, but was still refused care. Flores, who is from the north suburbs of Chicago, explains that it is hard to find good mental health care that is convenient in Champaign, and being turned away from somewhere on campus that is supposed to be accessible to all students made a huge impact on her.

“They made me feel worse about what was going on than I did before,” says Flores.

Flores is now seeing a professional near her home but says that having a resource at school would have helped her much more because of the close proximity to care. She has not tried the Counseling Center or other Illinois mental health services since she was turned away and says she probably will not again.

“They did not treat me as fairly as I thought they should,” she says.

Mental health on college campuses has been a topic of concern across the country. Ninety-five percent of college counseling center directors surveyed said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern in their center or on campus, according to the latest survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. Two-thirds of students who are struggling do not even seek treatment.

Campus mental health resources hope to help this problem, with accessibility being the main draw. The Counseling Center’s location just off the Quad even demonstrates this attempted availability. Even though the Counseling Center had a reported 12,700 appointments scheduled in the 2016-2017 school year, some students say even getting these appointments may be tough.

Junior in computer science Yoshi Komiya, 21, has used the Counseling Center before but says making initial appointments can be difficult for students.

“To make just the first appointment, you have to call at 7 am and hope for an appointment opening which you then have to make later the same day. This was hard for me because when I really needed help, I couldn’t just make an appointment in the week to plan around.”

Komiya says he went to a few appointments and liked his counselor, but thinks the process to initially get help should be easier.

Yoshi Komiya, 22, junior from San Jose, CA

“Maybe students should be able to call anytime during the day to book an appointment. Students are so busy and need convenience, and that might make them seek help more.”

The Counseling Center offers many different kinds of counseling, from groups to individual sessions. These can be used for a variety of problems students face. Senior Sahran Hussain, 21, attended several group sessions at the Center last year, but says he did not have much choice in the matter.

“They forced me into group sessions, when I was really only comfortable with individual sessions, and even told them that,” he says.

Group sessions can be helpful in counseling, but pushing uncomfortable students towards these more open types of therapy can cause anxiety.

The availability of appointments was also an issue for Hussain.

“They only had appointments two or three weeks after I wanted them. Having to call at 7 AM was a hassle as well,” he says.

Hussain eventually stopped going to the Center as he did not want to attend more group sessions, and could not get more immediate one-on-one appointments. He was disappointed in the care that he received there.

“I think the Counseling Center is a great idea, but it needs to be a little more available and open to students and all their concerns. They did not really listen to what I was comfortable with,” he says.

If students need help on campus, the Counseling Center is supposed to provide that resource. It does provide a 24-hour emergency consultation service collaboratively with McKinley Mental Health Department and the Champaign County Mental Health Department.

While this school resource is designed to help students, it seems that more could be done to make it accessible to the people it is designed to help the most. Mental health is a huge concern for young adults, and the pressures of school can become too much.

The University of Illinois also offers mental health services and appointment at McKinley Health Center. Students seeking help are urged to call McKinley at (217) 333-2701 or the Counseling Center at 217-333-3704. For emergencies, contact the Police Department immediately or Suicide Prevention Team at the Counseling Center at 217-333-3704 during the office hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).


Early graduates provide advice

Image courtesy of Mariel Elopre from

With the semester coming to an end, the class of 2018 is mentally preparing for the big day: graduation. Among these students, there are some who have finished their required credits in less than the usual number of years or semesters. Around 3% of the freshman class of Fall 2018 graduated early, and there will be several this weekend, too.

The term “early graduation” is ambiguous. Some students have “gap” semesters in which they are not enrolled, and graduating during summer and winter terms can be considered as well.

Philip Graff, data management analyst in the Division of Management Information, stated, “We don’t currently have any statistics — or even definitions — dealing with early graduation figures.”

Graff provided data from the University Office for Planning and Budget on the freshmen of Fall 2011, defining early graduates as those who graduated in less than eight semesters.

One of the early graduates is Peter Tatkowski, third-year student in Engineering, who had never intended to graduate early. He happened to be able to graduate in three years because he came into the University with around 20 credits in physics and math and had been taking a lot of classes every term. 

He thought it would be impractical to stay on campus for another year when his requirements were finished, and graduating early also meant saving money.

Tatkowski took an average of 18 credit hours each semester, which is the maximum number of hours a student can take at the University without special permission during the fall and spring terms. Aside from a semester when he studied abroad and took 15 credit hours, he consistently took more classes than the average student.

“It was honestly not that bad of an experience. It was a little tiring second semester of my second year, but I made it,” Tatkowski said.

During summer breaks, Tatkowski worked, did research and also took classes. He will be going to ETH Zurich, a STEM university in Switzerland, after he completes his internship this summer.

Tatkowski shared that the reality that he is graduating has not hit him yet. He is sad he isn’t graduating alongside his friends, but he knows that wherever he goes they will still keep in touch. He added that he wants to visit them later on if he can.

“I’m not processing graduation yet… it will happen when it happens,” Tatkowski said.

But not all students are open to the idea of graduating early.

Hannah Chung, freshman in ACES, is currently eligible to graduate a semester early if she continues to take around 17 hours a semester and enrolls in several classes during the summer. Regardless, Chung isn’t sure if she wants to do it.

Chung was familiar with the University campus before she even attended the school because she is from Champaign. Despite this, her freshman year has been new and exciting, and she wants to get the full college experience by staying all four years.

“I don’t mind taking more classes, but I don’t know if I’m going to be ready to leave college just yet,” Chung said. “I also want to graduate with all my friends, not with a different, random class.”

Some students are taking full advantage of the benefits that the University has to offer. Krishna Dusad and Shivansh Chandnani, both third-year undergraduate students in Engineering, are part of the 5-year BS-MS program, which allows students to achieve both bachelor’s and master’s degrees within five years.

Before he even came to the University, Dusad had been considering graduating early if possible. As an international student from India, he had not been familiar with the AP system. When he found out about how AP credits could be transferred into college credits, he immediately took AP exams and came into the University with around 25 credit hours, which is more than a semester’s worth.

Dusad explained that he never had to take an overload of classes. He took around 16-18 credit hours every semester and took two classes one summer, but other than that, he didn’t do anything special in order to graduate early.

“Fall of my sophomore year was terrible. It was very taxing and really hard, but I learned to plan better and it gradually got better,” Dusad said.

Dusad added that especially as an international student paying the international tuition, graduating early helps save a lot of money. On top of receiving his bachelor’s degree in three years, he could get his master’s in a short amount of time as well.

In the information Graff provided, Non-Resident Aliens (NRA) make up 7% of the students who graduated in less than three years and 14% of those who graduated at least one semester early. This is the largest demographic.

“I was actually deciding between studying here and Imperial College London,” Dusad said. “One of the biggest reasons for deciding to come here was because I realized I could graduate early and the program was pretty flexible.”

Dusad will be interning at Uber this summer before he comes back to campus for his master’s program.

Like Dusad, Chandnani had also planned on graduating a semester early. He also came into the University with credits from AP exams. But unlike Dusad, Chandnani took overloads of courses for many semesters. He explained that although it was tiring at times, being busy kept him engaged and helped him stay focused on his academics.

Because he had been taking more than the maximum number of hours for each semester, he didn’t have to take any summer classes like Dusad in order to graduate early. He spent his two summers doing internships.

The summer before his sophomore year, he interned in Chicago with Textura. Before his junior year, he interned at Jump Labs, located in Research Park. This summer, he has an internship at Facebook.

Chandnani shared that one of the biggest reasons why he chose to do the BS-MS program is because he can see his friends again when he comes back to school in the fall.

He also explained that applying for a master’s degree in the program is very different from the normal application process for graduate school. In his opinion, applying through the program is much easier.

“Usually, you start applying around a semester or so before — so if you started in August you would be applying in December — but since I am part of the program, I had to apply more than a year before,” Chandnani said.

Chandnani provided some tips for people who are considering early graduation.

“Don’t burn yourself out by taking more than you can handle, but it is doable. Course overloads are manageable as long as you have good time management skills,” Chandnani said. “There are also other options like taking summer classes. It’s good to graduate early — it saves you time and money.”