A proud member of the Marching Illini, Evan has also become a wellness ambassador at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign during COVID-19. We sat down with him to talk about his love of performance, his desire to keep Illini safe, and the sense of community on campus during these times.
Tell us about yourself.
“I’m from Bartlett, Illinois, which is a Northwest suburb of Chicago. I’m a junior, and I’m a history major with a minor in secondary education. I am an I-STAR [tour guide], I’m serving as a COVID-19 wellness ambassador this semester … and I’m a member of the Marching Illini in the sousaphone section. I participate with Illini Student Musicals, as well as Potted Meat Sketch Comedy. … I love performing, whether that’s with instruments or through live theater.”
Why did you choose UIUC?
“Both my mother and my sister went to Illinois, so I had been around the community a few times. My sister is only a few years older than me, so when I was in middle school and high school, she was also in the Marching Illini. I attended a good amount of basketball games and football games, and I definitely loved the school spirit; it’s an exciting environment.
“When I was a senior in high school, when it was time to get serious about the academic stuff, the stuff that’s super important, I knew I wanted to major somewhere in the humanities—history, political science. So when I was doing some research, I was really blown away by the academic community. … The quality of the faculty and professors on staff is awesome. [I read] about all the research and work they’ve done, and how research in history and political science is available to underclassmen. … I thought that was really, really cool.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I have a minor in secondary education, so that’s definitely something I want to get started with career-wise. I want to start with being a history educator on the secondary level, because I’ve always really connected with teachers and appreciated them for what they do, and I wanted to do the same for students.
“From there, [I want to] keep my options open. I love movies and performance, so maybe I’ll get involved with media in some way, tying in history or political science or something like that.”
What’s your most memorable experience at UIUC?
“The homecoming football game last year—when we toppled undefeated, number six Wisconsin and when everyone rushed the field—was just so cool. And for the next month, the level of Illini spirit was increased, like, tenfold. We really rode that wave for awhile. It’s really nice to think about, and it’s making me hopeful that stuff like that can happen in the future.”
What in-person activities are you currently involved in?
“Besides being an I-STAR, or tour guide, on campus, my other on-campus job is being a COVID-19 wellness ambassador, which is a job that I heard about back in July. I applied for it not really knowing what it was gonna be like. It’s been one of the highlights of my semester. Basically, we’re peer educators; we go out on campus and we have this cart full of little wellness packets that have a map of the testing sites, hand sanitizer, masks, that sort of thing. …
“I [also] participate in Illini Student Musicals, which is a completely student-run musical theater group. This weekend, we are putting on an in-person show in Foellinger Auditorium for a small audience of just 25 university students. Even though it is inside and it is live theater, we’re wearing masks the whole time, and we are distancing even while performing. … But to get to do some performance stuff in person with that group is very cool.”
Why did you decide to become a wellness ambassador?
“I’m not a community health major or a public health major or that sort of thing, [but] I just know that I really want to be here, and I want other people that I care about to be here and be safe. I know, as Chancellor Jones has said, it really takes a community effort, especially now, to keep everyone safe; everyone has to do their part, whether that’s mask-wearing, limiting sizes of social gatherings, doing stuff outside.
“I want to hold myself accountable and spread information about safety and ways that we can continue to enjoy university life safely, even when circumstances are much different than what everyone would be hoping for.”
What kinds of experiences have you had as a wellness ambassador?
“We had a Zoom call with Chancellor Jones. [We got] to hear him talk about what he’s seeing from his end, his outlook on the rest of the semester, the rest of the year, and moving forward, which was a really cool experience. And to hear him thank us for what we were doing and keep[ing] everybody safe felt good.
“We also had a meeting with Dr. Marty Burke, who created our saliva test. If we didn’t have that saliva test, we don’t know where we’d be on campus right now, right? Or if anybody would be on campus at all. So to hear him talk about his outlook on things was really cool as well.”
How do you feel Illini have helped lift each other up this year?
“I think people have done a good job showing one another what it’s like to do things safely. We’re so lucky to have a lot of beautiful outdoor space. People are really taking advantage of those big, open spaces even more than before. … It is a new normal, but to get together on the Quad with friends and enjoy the nice weather while it’s here—I think there are still great experiences to have.”
How have you been able to maintain such a positive mindset at this time?
“There are lots of people that don’t have this opportunity to be on a college campus and have the testing that we have available. … And even outside of the university context, there are those that have been hit very hard economically and within their families.
“I want to keep in mind that the fact that I get to be here and still interact with my peers and professors on campus and take a lot of really great classes and have some of these in-person opportunities [is] not an opportunity that everyone has been granted. … I’m very fortunate.”
What advice do you have for new students coming into the college environment right now?
“Find an identity and a sense of self that you can take with you moving forward in the professional world. … I think what COVID times have granted everyone—not just university students—is time for self-reflection. … It’s important to take advantage of that extra time that you might have to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy.
“These are, as everyone’s been saying, unprecedented times. That’s kind of been the big phrase since March. And so, to live in these unprecedented times is scary, right? … We’re all going through it, but we’re going through it together.”