An amazing resource on campus, The Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) has been serving UIUC students for over 50 years. In fact, it’s one of the oldest and most comprehensive support programs in the nation! Through mentoring, advising, tutoring, and more, The OMSA provides exceptional support services to thousands of first-generation, low-income, and historically underrepresented Illini each year. Two current students, Patrick and Kennedy, sat down to share their OMSA experiences, plus some advice, with incoming students.
Tell us about yourself.
“I’m a sophomore in the class of 2023. I’m undecided right now, but I’m looking to move into LAS and major in communication. I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and I went to CICS Longwood, which is a charter school. I was valedictorian for my senior class, so that was a good accomplishment for me.
“I’ve started my own organization called Moving Beyond the Myth, which is a mentoring program that I use to uplift the younger generation, being a mentor for high school and a part of students’ lives. I’m also a student intern at Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center [BNAACC] here at UIUC. I’m a student attorney committee liaison; I pretty much oversee all programs that interact with BNAACC and come to meetings.”
How did you initially connect with OMSA?
“It was actually kind of funny. It was the second or third week of school when my student success advisor emailed me. And the surprising part was that one of my mentors in high school actually told me he was gonna get me in contact with one of his guys here to help me out around the campus. And so shockingly, when we met … I asked him a question about the guy, who used to go here as well. And then he told me, ‘He told me to look out for you.’ So that was kind of ironic, and it was cool.
“My first interaction with OMSA was great. I really felt like they were there to help me, and I felt at home but far away, as it were. It was easy to connect with my student success advisor and feel like this was a place that was sent to help me.”
How has OMSA impacted your time at UIUC?
“OMSA really impacted my life by giving me confidence. Coming from Chicago, Illinois, typically a place where I pretty much see people that look exactly like me every day, versus coming to UIUC, where I really don’t see as many African Americans or minorities here on campus, it was really hurting my confidence in a way, because it kind of got in my head that I’m really the minority in a room—like, I came from being a majority to a minority in such a blink of an eye. That was shaking my confidence, like, ‘Do I really belong? How can I thrive here?’
“When I came to OMSA and was able to talk to my student success advisor and see all the students that come in, that really gave me confidence, like, ‘I belong.’ And my student success advisor helped me because he came from the same city as me; he came from that background as well and actually graduated from here. So coming from that and seeing how he thrived here and was able to really flourish at UIUC really helped me boost my confidence and helped me get over the hump. …
“Having that opportunity to connect with students and success advisors—just having people to talk to, not even about schoolwork—really helped me feel at home. It helped me feel like I had somebody that believed in me on campus. The relationship with OMSA was really there, and I felt like it really helped me be a better student.”
What are three things you’d like to share with incoming students about OMSA?
“The first thing I definitely would share with new students is don’t be afraid to go see what OMSA is about. Coming in as a freshman, you probably have a thought in your head, like what college is about, but you don’t really know. So take the opportunity to see different programs and things that are set aside for you; it’s very helpful. I definitely encourage students to make sure they just go check it out, even if they don’t like it the first time or the second time. Just check it out and see what they have to offer.
“My second is, when you get to know OMSA, ask questions. You don’t know what the advisors and the people that work at OMSA know and what they can tell you about school. Like, for me for example, I was able to ask questions about particular classes—because my advisor was on campus, he probably knew a little bit about classes, how professors are, and what class I should take for this major. … It gives you a glimpse of what the campus life is about.
“Also, I would definitely encourage students to make sure they use the academic advisor and success advisor to look at their classes for each semester. Just having two different points of view of the classes you take really can be helpful. One advisor can see something that another advisor doesn’t, and then they can interact and make your classes be even better for the semester to make it much easier to transition from high school to college.”
What’s next for you?
“I definitely know that I want to do communication, but I still don’t know if I want to narrow it down or focus it. So the next step for me is to take more classes and see what I really enjoy about communication. Do I like the business side of it? Do I like the relationships? Do I like interviews? Where do I thrive? Basically, where I see myself fit.
“So the next step for me is having the opportunity to really learn who I am as a person, because I know for a fact that I grew from high school to college. I’m in a new chapter in my life, so I want to see what is out there for me and see exactly what Patrick Byrne will be in the next year.”
Tell us about yourself.
“I’m a sophomore Interdisciplinary Health Sciences major with a health diversity concentration. I’m an OMSA Ambassador and also Vice President of Internal Ambassador Affairs. … I’m also pre-med, and I’m a first-generation student from Chicago. I chose UIUC because of all the opportunities available.”
How has OMSA impacted you?
“It’s kind of overwhelming just how much support OMSA has given me. … The best student tutors are always there. For all my STEM classes, like biochemistry, I just go to tutoring for that with OMSA, and I feel like they’re really the best. I actually have tutoring today for organic chemistry.”
What have you been able to do or hope to do as a result of your relationship with OMSA?
“OMSA is a lot about leadership. … Coming to UIUC and getting involved with OMSA taught me so much about leadership and student engagement. That was kind of hard for me to figure out, because I was like, academic success, that’s all we have to focus on. But student engagement is another part of being on campus and part of being a college student.”
What advice would you share with an incoming student?
“I think a big thing would be to reach out. I came into college and was afraid of emailing my professors. I don’t know what it was; I think it was like, ‘They don’t know who I am, and there’s, like, 500 other people in this class.’ … I think that’s one big thing that students shouldn’t be afraid to do, because I know a lot of first-gen students and even minority students suffer with, like, imposter syndrome. But you belong on this campus; you were admitted for a reason. So just don’t be afraid of that. Please reach out when you have questions or anything like that. And also, you’re not alone. There are so many resources like on campus.”
What would you say to a student who is a little shy or apprehensive to approach OMSA?
“I think it’s easier to do things when you have a support system rather than handling them on your own. I know a lot of students come in, and they’re like, ‘Chemistry, I got it.’ And then the first test hits, and you get, like, a D. What do you do then? Reaching out to OMSA was the best thing I could do. That was Chemistry 101, and I’m taking Chemistry 232 now. So if I never had that foundation for Chemistry 101, if I’ve never had those tutors, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
“I think that’s one really big thing. It’s good that you feel a certain way, like you feel like you can handle the content, but academics here, they can hit really hard. So I think using any resource you have is a really good idea, even if you think don’t need it—you can find that out later, but take all the resources you have at the beginning.”