Mikayla Pollard, Class of May 2020
- College of Applied Health Sciences
Before starting at Illinois, I had already chosen to major in Speech & Hearing Science with a concentration in Speech Pathology in the College of Applied Health Sciences, along with a minor in Psychology. I knew both areas would provide the opportunity to work with diverse populations with unique needs, and to make a positive impact on clients’ lives. But, I still wasn’t sure exactly which path I wanted to take within my fields of interest. To help guide me, I became actively engaged in several internship and leadership opportunities on campus where I worked on multidisciplinary teams and was exposed to the roles that a variety of professions play in the advocacy arena, which led me down the path I am taking today.
I think about the ways that Illinois made a difference for me in terms of communities that made a significant or meaningful impact on my journey. Some of those experiences were career-related. Beginning my Sophomore year, I had the opportunity to work as an undergraduate research assistant in the Development in Neurogenetic Disorders Lab under Dr. Laura Mattie where I was able to combine my interests in working with children and working with individuals who have intellectual disabilities. Junior year, I interned at The Autism Program in Urbana where I staffed a community resource and referral center for parents and professionals working with individuals on the autism spectrum. We provided hands-on support and education ranging from visual schedules, to social stories, to low-tech augmentative and alternative communication devices. This solidified my confidence in my major choice. Then, as President (during my senior year) and Disabilities Advocacy Chair (during my junior year) of Best Buddies at Illinois, I empowered our chapter members to advocate for the acceptance and inclusion of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities within our broader community. The one-to-one friendships offered within this organization taught me about putting one’s abilities above their disabilities – and the meaning of unconditional friendship. These experiences truly inspired me to pursue my current career path.
Other experiences were deeply meaningful on a personal level, such as my engagement with the Chabad Center for Jewish Life. This community provided me with a home away from home that encouraged me to strengthen my identity and to have the self-confidence to take on leadership roles. With the mentorship of Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel, I served as Student President of the 1000+ member organization during my sophomore and junior years. I acted as a principal speaker against antisemitism at numerous campus and community-wide events, and traveled to Berlin, Germany to participate in community service and outreach events. This experience helped me connect more deeply to my Jewish heritage, connect with and encourage others to find meaning in Judaism, and find my inner strength to advocate for others.
As you can see, I was fairly active on campus. The big thing for me was to not be afraid to take advantage of new opportunities and to really diversify my experiences while on campus. I tried many things, and a few of them stuck. When I felt really connected, that is where I pursued leadership roles.
What is next for me? I am now pursuing a Doctorate of Clinical Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. I love that my classes are so small, personal, and interactive. I can integrate and apply experiences from my years at Illinois into my classes. The transition has been a little odd with everything in the Zoom format, but I enjoy meeting new people and have been actively reaching out to form relationships. We just have to be more intentional to make connections. Remember, everyone is in the same place. I reach out because everyone needs to connect – especially now.
My number one piece of advice to current Illinois students is to network, network, network – it’s all about the networking! For me, networking opened countless doors and opportunities that would not otherwise have existed. And, one connection led to the next. It could be establishing relationships with a professional in your area of interest, a professor, or other students – they are future alumni too. The earlier you start building your network, the better.
(Last Updated: March 3, 2021)