Between choosing his major and becoming more involved in his faith, Damonte’s journey is one of self-discovery. We sat down with him to learn more about his experience at Illinois and what has made him the student he is today.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
“I’m 19 years old. I’m a sophomore here at the University of Illinois. I’m an undeclared major, hoping to go into Religious Studies or maybe Communication.”
The undeclared major is housed in DGS. Can you tell us about DGS?
“DGS is Division of General Studies, so being in DGS allows you to take different courses to see what major could you possibly be in.”
What is DGS like at Illinois?
“I’d say overall, my DGS experience has been very awesome. The advisors there are very, very helpful. Very, very inspiring. … My DGS advisors have really helped me to explore majors by being open to hearing about the potential majors that I possibly want to pursue. One thing that I really liked is that the DGS advisors were very patient with me. They didn’t force me to have a major or career path already figured out. They allowed to work at my own pace, taking general classes so that I can figure out what major and career path I want to take. … You know, I will go in [to see an advisor] when I’m picking courses for potential majors or just when I need advice on academic stuff like time management or navigating around campus.”
You mentioned you’re hoping to go into Religious Studies or Communication now. How did you learn more about these majors? What led you to them?
“I researched the majors on the Illinois website so that I could learn what courses I needed to take and who I could contact to learn more about these particular majors. I also utilized the Illinois Majors and Minors Fair that is hosted at the Illini Union so that I could connect with representatives from both majors.
“One thing I have learned throughout my time here is that a major is something that you are passionate about, and God is something that I am passionate about. So keeping that in mind, I decided to pick a major that was centered about God, which was the best decision that I ever made.
“In regards to Religious Studies, what interests me is how religion can help you navigate through life—how when you need someone to talk to, that you have someone, when you feel depressed or sad, that you have someone to lean on for emotional support. … Communication is important in life because without it, people would not be able to understand each other. Also, Communication is really good to have … in the religious world, so that you can listen to people and give them advice.”
What does your faith mean to you?
“My faith means everything to me. For example, I am a Christian, and I was born into a family who lived and breathed it, which I am very grateful for. I believe that one core reason that I am in the position that I am in is because I relied strongly on God and my faith to get me through some tough times in my life. For example, I would not be back at Illinois my sophomore year if it was not for my faith and trust in God. I had a very rough first year of college: My grades were low, my social skills were poor, and my motivation for school was at an all-time low. Well, it was through my belief in God and my faith that I was able to come back to school and have a chance to get my life back on track. So, my faith means everything to me because it makes me who I am as a person.
“I would definitely say I am a very religious person, although I’m not very perfect, but I don’t think anybody else lives a faith that’s very perfect. But I think my faith has really helped me to become a good person, a great man, and I think my faith has really guided me around campus, helped me to work on my own issues, and helped me to stay strong down here.”
What church do you go to? How did you find it?
“Church of the Living God. It’s also called the Love Corner. … Someone gave me some advice about some good churches out here, so I visited one Sunday, and I just fell in love with the experience and decided to join right there.”
How has your experience been at your church?
“I would say the experience has greatly helped me. My pastor [Bishop Lloyd Gwin] has helped me to overcome some issues that happened in my life, and I think he’s been a major influence in me becoming the person I am, definitely. And his teachings really helped me to become the person that I need to be. … I feel really blessed to have a home for my faith here at Illinois.”
You talked a little about your grades being an issue freshman year. What resources did you use to help you get back on track?
“I was taking Math 112, which is Algebra, and I thought I was pretty good. But it turns out it was a little different than high school, so I decided to utilize OMSA [Office of Minority Student Affairs] for some help. I got a great tutor, and she was amazing. Eventually I ended up passing the class, so I think that was really good.
“They offered free tutoring to come in and just get help. I was also [going there] for MCB 150.”
What else are you involved with on campus?
“I’m involved in Reaching Across Classes, which is called RACs for short. It’s a mentorship program, and it allows people to connect with other students. And it allows me to get another support system. Also, 100 Strong—another mentorship program. And I’m also involved in Black Student Union. … Actually, in my church that I attend on campus, I am beginning to go into heading our youth program. Just waiting on confirmation from my pastor.”
What are you hoping to do after college?
“Maybe outreach, getting people involved in the church. Maybe helping other people who don’t have a faith, maybe just telling them about it so they can make their own decisions.
“I believe that by being involved in my church here at Illinois, especially in the youth ministry, that I will be able to build and grow, and eventually be able to get more people to come to church and learn more about God. … I will be able to help someone else, and help them as long as they want to be helped into understanding about God, faith, and religion.”
Update: Since our conversation, Damonte has decided to major in Communication, successfully transferring into the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS). He was also accepted into the LAS Access and Achievement Program.