2017 Homecoming Court seniors


By Ashley Rayan, Contributing Writer

Every year, 20 seniors are selected to be on the Homecoming Court. Seniors submit an application, and are evaluated and interviewed by faculty and staff at the University. The students who are chosen are incredibly talented and involved in their respective fields. Each student was asked for a brief bio and their favorite part of the past three years at the University.

Ibrahim Abubakar

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Major: English; minor in Secondary Education

Campus Involvement: My biggest time commitment in a club is through LAS Leaders, but apart from that I both tutor and observe at Urbana High School.

Favorite part of the last three years: My best part of the last three years on campus was definitely freshman year Homecoming! I had never understood school spirit until I experienced Homecoming at UIUC for the first time.

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All of the orange and blue and seeing all of the students, and even alumni who came back because of how much they love the school, was an amazing experience that I could never forget.

Jake Akstins

Hometown: Monee, Illinois

Major: Actuarial Science

Campus Involvement: Multicultural advocate (third year in Nugent Hall) for University Housing and Social Justice and Leadership Education, Actuarial Science Club (president), Beckwith Residential Services Disability Awareness Program Planning Committee, undergraduate assistant (FIN 230), previous LAS 101 intern, previous NASPA undergraduate fellow.

Favorite part of the last three years: Connecting with my mentors, Kim Otchere and Tekita Bankhead, and collaborating with them to plan large-scale campus initiatives.

Lorianna Anderson

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Major: Social Work

Campus Involvement: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. (president), Illinois Student Government (senator), 100 Strong mentoring program (mentor), Illinois Promise.

Favorite part of the last three years: Honestly, my best part was joining my sorority. It was the thing on campus that showed me I can be a leader. It showed me that I can be a president of an organization and allowed me to grow as a person because of it. I was able to accomplish things I didn’t think I could do previously. Zeta has made me a better friend, sister, listener and overall leader.

Briana Banks

Hometown: Olympia Fields, Illinois

Major: Integrative Biology; minor in Chemistry

Campus Involvement: President of the Alpha Nu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a research assistant at Carle Woese Institute of Genomic Biology, an LAS 101 intern, academic initiative chair for Minorities in Pre-Medicine, and group leader for 100 STRONG retention program.

Favorite part of the last three years: Through being a leader in my organizations, we have galvanized thoughtful discussions and programs regarding mental health, educational development and international awareness, lessened cross-cultural barriers and vocalized concerns of the minority communities to administration.

This University has taught me how to stand up for what I believe in, take advantage of all presented opportunities and step out of my comfort zone.

Maria Climaco

Hometown: Arcola, Illinois

Major: Community Health; minor in Chemistry

Campus Involvement: Philippine Student Association: Filipino Americans Coming Together co-coordinator, ACE-IT facilitator, research assistant at the Infant Cognition Lab, FIMRC: Medical Missions Trip in La Merced, Peru.

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of the last three years on campus were learning about my own Filipino culture as well as other ethnicities. Coming from a small hometown where I was the only Filipino in my high school, the University of Illinois provided a plethora of opportunities when I arrived. With the diversity on this campus, I have become more open-minded and have been able to appreciate a variety perspectives.

Lauren De Vries

Hometown: Western Springs, Illinois

Major: Speech and Hearing Science

Campus Involvement: Extracurricularly, I have been involved with the Student Alumni Ambassadors and Phi Sigma Sigma.  I work in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs as a Fred H. Turner fellow and as a student worker in the Child Development Lab. I also study communicative differences in the Child Language and Literacy Laboratory in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science.  

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of my last three years on campus have been the opportunities to grow, not only through my studies or extracurricular involvements, but also through learning about the incredible things my peers are passionate about. Illinois is full of diversity in students’ backgrounds, identities, and interests which fosters collaborative learning and growth outside of the classroom that I have truly valued.

Francesca Fridman

Hometown: Glenview, Illinois

Major: Communication; minor in Public Relations

Campus Involvement:  I am involved with IlliniThon Dance Marathon, my sorority Delta Zeta, Panhellenic Council and Recruitment Board, and I work for the Department of Communication and the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research. I am a communication leader, James Scholar, and a member of Order of Omega. I also volunteer at the Champaign County Humane Society.

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of my last three years on campus was the Quad! I know that’s so general, but sitting on the Quad on a nice day, just people (and dog) watching, is my absolute favorite thing to do.

Spencer Haydary

Hometown: Loves Park, Illinois

Major: Psychology, Communication

Campus Involvement: I serve as the chief of staff on Illinois Student Government, as well as a member of the traveling team for Model United Nations. I also work as an administrative intern at the Illini Union.

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of my last three years on campus is when my good friends Raneem Shamseldin and Joey Domanski were elected as the president and vice president of the student body. What made this so special is that it gave us the opportunity to all work together in order to address the greatest needs of the student body, and push for reforms to diversity and inclusion, campus safety and improving the campus climate overall.

Robert Klein

Hometown: Northbrook, Illinois

Major: Agricultural Leadership Education

Campus Involvement: The Illinois Leadership Center; undergraduate research

Favorite part of the last three years: The opportunities to become self-sustainable and the community I’ve built.

Grace Merrett

Hometown: Macomb, Illinois (which is next to Ma-brush, ha!)

Major: Recreation, Sport, and Tourism Management

Campus Involvement: My involvement ranges from advocating for improved student experience with Student Fee, Tuition Policy, and Campus Recreation Advisory Committees and Student Alumni Ambassadors, supporting the Greek community with Greeks Support Homecoming, Alpha Epsilon Phi, Order of Omega, and developing myself professionally through various employment positions within Campus Recreation (having served as Director’s Intern and Zamboni Driver, among other positions).

Favorite part of the last three years: I am so thankful to have grown so close to such a diverse array of people over the past three years. They, all in their own unique ways, have helped me grow as a student, leader, socialite, professional and friend. Every day they remind me of how amazing life is and encourage me to become the best version of myself.

Monica Milkint

Hometown: Hinsdale, Illinois

Major: English, Disability Studies

Campus Involvement: I am currently the President of the Student Alumni Ambassadors.  I have held leadership roles in the Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity, Atius-Sachem Leadership Honorary and the Student Advocacy Coalition as well.

Favorite part of the last three years: All the people I have met and the family I have created on campus; Everyone has made my experience meaningful and special. My Illinois experience wouldn’t have been the same without each of them making their mark on my life and our time on campus.

Xavier Morgan

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Major: Agricultural Communications; minor in Food and Environmental Systems

Campus Involvement: Illinois Student Government, senator, College of ACES, Senate of the Urbana-Champaign campus, treasurer and co-founder, UNIFY Food Security Initiative, board member, Student Organization Resource Fee Board (SORF), internal vice president, ACES Executive Council, National Student Advisory team member, Agriculture Future of America.

Favorite part of the last three years: Being able to serve the students and the University that has given so much to me. Also, being able to network with University administration and student leaders.

Benjamin Nagelhout

Hometown: Lindenhurst, Illinois

Major: Accountancy, Business

Campus Involvement: NROTC, Student Alumni Ambassadors, College of Business Peer Advising, Krannert Center Student Association.

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of my last three years was continuing to find new and exciting opportunities to take part in on campus; from conducting research at the Illinois Marathon to studying the Cuban Missile crisis in the capital city of Havana, Illinois has never ceased to amaze me in what the school offers its students, you just have to look for it.

Ciera Phillips

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Major: History; minor in Secondary Education

Campus Involvement: I am a member of the Minority Association of Future Educators (former vice president), Chez Scholar, and a member of the Alpha Nu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Favorite part of the last three years: What I enjoy most about my campus experience are all the families I formed through the many opportunities the University has granted me. My time as the vice president of the Minority Association of Future Educators not only allowed me to connect with others who value education as much as me, but also gave me the chance to engage with the Urbana community and tutor children.

I became a member of the Alpha Nu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and was granted an everlasting sisterhood and network with some of the most talented women on campus and nationally.  My experiences have exposed me to a wide range of diversity and given me an abundance of leadership skills. What I enjoyed most are the many communities I’ve gotten to be a part of throughout my four years of undergrad that have transformed me into the leader I am today.

Ana Rodas

Hometown: Volo, Illinois

Major: Graphic Design; minor in Art History

Campus Involvement: Catholic Illini, University Housing, La Casa Cultural Latina, ambassador for FAA and Art + Design, I-CAUSE, Latino/Latina Studies Department.

Favorite part of the last three years: My college story has united me with professionals, artists, activists, grads, spiritual directors and administrators, but most importantly with myself. Through my involvement in the organizations and departments that were mentioned above, I’ve come to find my true self that is comfortable in the world and can see it’s purpose.

I’ve learned many lessons facing obstacles in life, but each one has helped expand my mind and paved my way to my future. I know there will continue to be many more opportunities in the future to improve and educate myself more, so I know that UIUC is just the beginning of my story.

Stephanie Santo

Hometown: Orland Park, Illinois

Major: Psychology, Communication

Campus Involvement: NAMI on Campus, Delta Xi Phi, Communication Leaders, Undergraduate Psych Association/Psi Chi, Penny Dreadful Players.

Favorite part of the last three years: The many opportunities that I have had access to on campus!

Kaity Spangler

Hometown: Avon, Illinois

Major: Agricultural Leadership and Science Education

Campus Involvement: Explore ACES Steering Committee, Agricultural Education Club, Alph Tau Alpha, 4-H House Cooperative Sorority, Collegiate Farm Bureau, Collegiate FFA, Post-Secondary Agriculture Students.

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of the past three years on campus has definitely been finding “my people.” I am so thankful to be in a program where I am more than just a name and a face. I am actively involved within my major, College of ACES and University of Illinois, and have had the opportunity to do some really cool things with my teachers and fellow students and friends.

Fredeurika Toussaint

Hometown: Tinley Park, Illinois

Major: Community Health, Psychology

Campus Involvement: On campus, I am currently a resident advisor in University Housing and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I am also a manager at the SDRP and currently interning with a hospital in town.

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of my past three years on campus is the abundant memories and networks I’ve made here! I’ve met so many people who have changed my life and I hope that I have had an ounce of an impact on them as they have me. I also love the abundance of opportunities presented to me here as well. It has made me a better friend, ally, advocate and sister.  

Aleia Tripp

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Major: Community Health

Campus Involvement: I am involved in Pre-Dental club; I am the vice president. I am the mentor program director for the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program. I am also a member of the Provost’s Student Undergraduate Advisory Board.

Favorite part of the last three years: The best part of my last three years on campus has been receiving the Mentor of the Year award through I-LEAP. It meant a lot to me because I developed the mentor program within the organization and it was rewarding to see my mentees growth from the day they stepped foot on campus. You had to be nominated by your mentee and then April, the program director, made the decision on who to give the award to. It was a very rewarding moment in my college career!

Editor’s note: Jillian Kaehler is on Homecoming Court but did not respond when reached out to.

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