When I started at Illinois, I explored a few options for academic majors. I found that the Agricultural and Consumer Economics major in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) was the match that I was looking for because it combined several diverse areas that spark my interest. I could explore business, finance, environmental sustainability, and environmental policy, and had access to agricultural and business courses with a global perspective. In my most memorable courses faculty engaged us in topics that were relevant to current world events. Assignments were challenging and pushed my classmates and me to be better, but expectations were also clear and achievable.

One of my most meaningful experiences on campus was my involvement in an organization called the Illini 4000, a student-run 501(c)3 non-profit on the Illinois campus. We raised money for cancer research and patient support services through an annual cross-country cycling trip from New York City to San Francisco. When I was a freshman, I was a rider on the 2016 Bike America Team making the trip of 72 days from coast to coast. During my sophomore year, I was a member of the Illini 4000 Portraits Project, an initiative to collect stories from people who have been affected by cancer. Interviewing caregivers, supporters, survivors, and relatives humanized the work of our organization in a powerful way, and was a truly life-changing experience. In my Junior and Senior years, I served on the leadership team as President and Treasurer, respectively. I also led the ride in the summer following my Senior year. As of 2019, the Illini 4000 has raised over $1.3 million in its ~13 years on campus, averaging about $100,000/year. That is quite an impact, and something I am proud to have contributed to.

My academic and leadership experiences on campus have come together well, as I now work in a corporate finance position as a Financial Analyst at PepsiCo. It is a great place to work, and provides employees with flexibility and autonomy to grow, explore, and take initiative. I found the lead for this position at the Business Career Fair at Illinois – as a student in the College of ACES! I encourage students from all majors to get exposure at the variety of fairs and events available on campus. Practice your elevator pitch so you can succinctly explain how your curriculum fits the skill areas employers are looking for. Getting over that hump, you can smoothly communicate how you are a logical fit.

For current students back on campus, the Resident Assistant (RA) side of me would encourage you to take time to explore. It’s important that you are learning and engaged, but also happy with what you are doing and how you are doing. On the more academic and achievement end, I would offer – you shouldn’t always be the smartest person in the room. If you are, you may need to reevaluate your environment. I always try to surround myself with people I feel I can learn from – through observation or direct dialogue. That’s where a lot of my growth comes from and being on campus is a fantastic way to get exposure to some of the brilliant minds of your classmates.