A Reason for Being


Faith is a young, charismatic environmentalist with a can-do attitude and a beloved Beagle Lab mix named Sam. Now, thanks to Illinois Commitment, she’s also an Illini. We sat down with Faith to learn about her experience with Illinois Commitment, her Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) major, and her hopes for the future.

Before Illinois Commitment, what were your plans related to higher education?

“I knew I wanted to go to a university or just achieve higher education in general. I just didn’t know where. My mom, I remember, she told me the summer going into my sophomore year, ‘Make a list! Just start making a list.’ And the only thing I could think of was, ‘How are we supposed to afford anything?’ Because, you know, money has always been sort of an issue. But I made a list … I had no idea what I was going to do, but I definitely wanted to go to college. And I knew I had wanted to go to college for a long time. It just was a matter of how at that point.”

Faith and her mom
Faith’s mother has been one of her biggest advocates throughout her college journey. “It’s definitely helped make the process easier, to say the least,” says Faith.

Your mom sounds really supportive.

“My mom has always been so supportive of me through everything we’ve been through as a family. I think that she’s always wanted me to go to college and do things bigger than myself because she never went to college. She went to college for a year but she dropped out because the funds were insufficient. And she’s always wanted for me to have a better life than her, so she was really supportive.”

How did you find out about Illinois Commitment?

“I was sitting in my AP lit class, and I was just filling out my Common App. I hadn’t really been considering Illinois too heavily, but I remember I got the email, and I literally turned to my AP lit teacher, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Illinois Commitment is a thing now!’… and I was literally shaking. … I remember emailing it to my mom, and my mom was like, ‘No way! You can go to college now!’ … I was so happy when I found out that Illinois Commitment was going to be happening—relieved, really relieved. We felt like there was so much weight lifted off of our shoulders.”

“I’ve been able to function without having to constantly think, ‘Oh, where’s this money going to come from?'” Faith says of Illinois Commitment. “It’s definitely just been a really huge relief.”

What opportunities has Illinois Commitment opened up for you?

“Well, going to college? That was really cool. I mean, we were going to make it happen regardless, but I’m not going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. I’m really only paying for room and board right now, and that is fantastic. It’s opened up opportunities of relief, honestly, and also academically.

“I wouldn’t have been able to come here without Illinois Commitment. I wouldn’t have had this cool opportunity with a professor I really liked and researching a subject I really liked.”

Can you tell us more about your research?

“I’m working with an assistant professor in my department, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Her name is Professor McKenzie Frances Johnson. … She has a grad student that works with her specifically. Her name is Kealie Vogel, and we’re working on how the Dakota Access Pipeline has affected Illinois landowners in any way—whether that be their crop yields, which would be linked to economic loss, or if environmental degradation was at play, so if their property values decreased.

“Every week, I have a meeting with Kealie, and we go over what the projections are in terms of calling people. … I’ve been doing a lot of logistical stuff, but the bigger picture is really important. It was in the newspaper somewhere in some Illinois county, and someone noticed that we were doing this project. I guess the pipeline had run through his land, so he called us and was like, ‘I want to be a part of this.’ We have been sending out letters to people to participate … but the fact that someone came to us and was like, ‘I want to be a part of this’ was really cool.”

What makes you so passionate about the environment?

“I’ve always been sort of an activist, I guess. My mom was once like, ‘Just be aware that the world is a weird place. It’s scary, and people like money, and people like power, but know that you can rise above that.’ I was probably eight, and I was like, ‘Nice. I don’t know what any of that means.’ And then as I’ve gotten older, obviously you are exposed to those scary things, and you’re exposed to power manipulation and what people can do.

“In my sophomore year, a lot of things about climate change started popping up everywhere— like Facebook, YouTube, the news—and I was just inundated by it. … It was everywhere, and it was consuming me, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is happening?’ I took an AP environmental science class, I did my own research. … There were a lot of things that were happening to people and the environment that I had no idea about, and I started to learn the human impacts. … From there on, I started to realize, ‘Okay, I can mix my love of social justice with my love of the environment.’”

What are your long-term goals?

“I would like run for public office and be a congressional representative. … That’s really something I’ve been looking into because I feel like if you have an issue with a system, you need to become part of that system and change it from the inside out. …

“In my NRES class yesterday, we were watching this graphic of global heating and we were watching videos about severe weather and how that associates itself with climate change, and we were seeing the human impact that has had in the sense that people have lost their lives. And you could hear a pin drop in our classroom. Normally we’re a chatty class, we love to talk—but not a word, it was dead silent. And that was a huge academic moment for me, because it really put my goals into perspective: I need to do something—I have to do something—because who else will?

“I literally saw a tweet right after that class; it was like, ‘Someone’s gonna do it; it may as well be you,’ and I was like, ‘Retweet,’ because I need to advocate for other people. I need to do that. I can’t just sit back and be quiet, because then I’m being complicit.”

How do you think positive change can be brought about?

“I think the best change is to give people a voice and give people resources that they need in order to have a voice. I have this French saying that I like to tell myself—‘ma raison d’être,’ which means, ‘my reason for being.’ I was able to have defined my raison d’être because I had a great support system at home, despite our struggles, and I’ve had a great school system because I was provided that regardless of my economic or social status. But not everyone does. And not everyone has the resources to find their raison d’être.

“My raison d’être is to help people and to represent them, so if I can represent people and give them the resources to find their reason for being, that’s my reason for being.”