EFFINGHAM — Eric Comte, of Dupo, and his daughter, Caylie, were among many who came to Effingham Tuesday in order to learn about some of Illinois’ public universities, which are interested in recruiting some of the top students in the state.
“She’s been thinking that she was going to the University of Illinois, so we figured this was a good opportunity to get exposed to some of the other schools,” said Eric Comte. “She’s found out that some of the other schools have some of the programs that she’s interested in, so we’re looking at those as well.”
The pair traveled to the Salute to Illinois Scholars Program and College Fair at the Thelma Keller Convention Center from their small community in St. Clair County.
Caylie Comte, 17, said she has aspirations to become a psychiatrist. She wants to major in biology and psychology, while on the pre-med program. She learned at the event that Eastern Illinois University also has a program that would fit her college-to-career path.
The invitation-only event to some of Illinois’ brightest young people drew 230 students and their parents or guardians, plus university leaders. In all, around 500 people attended.
The program was hosted by the University of Illinois System (Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago); which partnered with Eastern Illinois University, Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University System, (Carbondale and Edwardsville.)
The U of I System created the event to tackle a recent out-migration of Illinois students to other states.
Julian Parrott, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois System, said the event was geared for high school students considered “college-ready” and also community college honor students who are potential transfer students.
Students were invited from each of the representative universities to speak about their experiences as a way to encourage others to come to one of the Illinois universities. Student speakers included an intro about themselves and why they chose the university they did.
“The overarching goal is to keep really, really good quality students in one of the state’s universities for their undergraduate careers,” said Parrott. “We know that if they stay in Illinois there’s a really good chance that they will stay and work and contribute to the economic and social culture and fabric of the state.”
Isaac Smith, 17, of Carlyle, has an interest in becoming a game warden. He visited SIUC and ISU booths to learn about the plant biology and conservation biology programs offered on those campuses.
“There were also people there for financial aid information at each of the universities,” said Jay Smith, his father. “I also have a 24-year-old who attends Greenville University.”
Jay Smith said he appreciated having several universities in one setting where they could speak to admission counselors all in close proximity.
Daniel Jensik, 18, of Herrin, spoke with Sally Parry, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at ISU.
“My two main options right now are becoming a pharmacist or a microbiologist,” said Jensik. “And I’m catering mostly towards SIU Carbondale because it is close to home and my dad works there.”
Jensik said Tuesday’s experience at the college fair was helpful in that he could get more insight in several area colleges.
“I’ve been asking questions like, ‘What are the most popular programs?’ at each college.”
Parry said the fair came with a steady flow of people and she fielded lots of questions from the parents and students.
A two-hour trip from Harrisburg brought Lillian Hart, 17, and her grandmother, Vicky Kepple, to Effingham. Interested in arts and music as a flutist, Hart picked up on some ideas to consider.
“It’s been very informative,” said Kepple. “She’s learned some things she didn’t know and about a school she really didn’t know about – University of Illinois at Chicago.”
Dan Mann, originally from Albion, serves as associate provost for enrollment management at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he’s worked for 15 years. The U of I has more 150 undergrad majors, plus graduate-level programs and online education.
“We are really recruiting from around the world, but our emphasis is on Illinois. The majority of our efforts are here in the state at events like this college fair,” said Mann. “About 75 percent of our incoming classes are from Illinois.”
Mann said this past fall the U of I enjoyed a record-setting enrollment of more than 50,000 students.
During the luncheon, Barbara Wilson, executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs for the U of I System, told the crowd that college education makes a difference.
“We really do encourage students to visit the universities,” said Wilson. “There’s nothing like actually walking among the campuses and talking to students who are there and getting a sense of these public universities.”
Wilson added that a college education is critical to success in many ways.
“We have a lot of data on this and we know that college graduates earn a lot more money than students who don’t go to college,” said Wilson. “We also know that college graduates are healthier. They are more likely to be leaders in their communities. They are more likely to vote, and they are more likely to be an active volunteer in their community.”
And students graduating from Illinois universities are more likely to stay in Illinois, she said.