Reema Abi-Akar, Class of May 2015

  • College of Fine and Applied Arts
  • Division of General Studies
Photo of graduate, Reema Abi-Akar

Embrace uncertainty with an open mind.

I entered the University of Illinois in the Division of General Studies because I couldn’t decide on one specific major. I considered biology, journalism, or even something new. Since college is a time for exploration, I used my general education courses to discover fields I knew little about. In this way, I was introduced to Urban Planning, which piqued my interest in the first class I signed up for, then the second. Before long, I decided to go all in to become an Urban Planning major in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. I enjoyed the interdisciplinary components of the major and the idea of incorporating numerous subjects to make an impact on a community. But I did not leave my early interests in science and journalism behind. During my junior year, I chose a Natural Resource Conservation minor to develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and sustainability. Additionally, throughout my four years, I was a Features Reporter for the Daily Illini. In this role, I wrote 100 articles and interviewed hundreds of people. I appreciated the personal connections that I made and all I learned about the campus community. There are so many resources available at Illinois, and my eyes were opened through these experiences.

Deciding what to do after my bachelor’s degree was not easy. I kept thinking: “What do I want to do?” In my senior year, I decided on graduate school with a sustainability focus. I am now enrolled in a Master of Science program in Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, with a focus on Sustainable Systems. I feel that I made the right choice, and am passionate about my trajectory. In one class, we conducted a life cycle assessment of two products, tracking their energy use and carbon footprint from manufacturing to use to disposal. My two partners and I are also conducting a group master’s project with a focus in waste management in Detroit. We are analyzing the environmental and social impact of a waste incinerator on the locality and exploring potential zero-waste alternatives like recycling and composting. This project is particularly exciting because of its potential to impact the surrounding community. After my master’s degree, I hope to make a difference in the surrounding community, whether that involves the public sector, the federal government, or an NGO.

To current Illinois students, I would say: “Do not get discouraged!” Things may not go the way you imagined. That is okay. You never know what unexpected opportunities will pop up because of that. I experienced uncertainty in my academic life, and I have been rather indecisive since I was little. In fact, I never quite knew what I wanted to be when I grew up; it would change every week. Uncertainty doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Even if it is worrisome, learn to accept uncertainty. Take steps to discover what is available, and find things you never would have known if you didn’t have an open mind.

(Last updated: March 2016)