They say you go to college to find yourself. When Issy went to college, she also found three majors, two minors, an unforgettable experience in Washington, D.C., and a love of the humanities.
A first-generation college student, Issy originally entered UIUC as an English major on a pre-law track. She picked up a second major in Political Science her first year on campus, followed by minors in Spanish and History. By her junior year, she had dropped her pre-law ambitions and added her third and final major, Latina/Latino Studies.
“Like a lot of people, I was pre-law when I entered college,” says Issy. “Because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved to write and read and critically think.”
This love of critical thinking led Issy to the university’s Humanities Research Institute, HRI for short, where she began interning her junior year. It was here where Issy’s passion for the humanities truly grew, as she discovered the near-infinite opportunities available to her in the field.
“I was one of their main communications interns,” says Issy. “And I realized there were so many positions where I could be doing what I wanted to do.”
Her time at HRI also taught her the important role of research within the humanities.
“Humanities research is attainable. It’s what you want to make it; it is the study of knowledge,” Issy explains. “There are so many things you can do with it.”
As part of her work with HRI, Issy was responsible for reaching out to students to collect survey data on how they interact with the humanities and humanities research.
“[We asked] them, ‘What is humanities research? What do you define research as? What is your perception of the humanities?’” she says. “We had three different focus groups talking to students from all different disciplines, all different years, seeing how they engage with the humanities and the Humanities Research Institute so we can better engage in outreach and also communicate with an ideal population.”
During her time at HRI, Issy was eager to soak up every bit of knowledge she could from the team of staff and professors.
“I was always under their wing, that little stereotypical intern with my clipboard writing down everything … I think they saw that young person who [was] bright-eyed and excited, and I was always putting my best foot forward,” Issy says. “Being able to talk to them and learn from them—such amazing mentors and intellectual scholars—and them being willing to share their stories and their experiences definitely transformed my experience.”
In March 2020, her enthusiasm and talents granted her a nomination from HRI to travel to Washington, D.C., as a representative of UIUC, making her the first undergraduate student to receive this honor.
Alongside UIUC professors also sponsored by HRI, Issy collaborated with individuals from the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Northwestern University as part of the State of Illinois congregation to lobby for the National Endowment of the Humanities.
“I was in D.C., on Capitol Hill. [It] was an amazing experience,” says Issy. “I just fell in love. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ … I was walking the halls that some of the most famous people in the United States have gone through, and I felt like my voice was heard.”
She spent her time in our nation’s capital engaging directly with Congress, emphasizing the importance of humanities funding in education.
“We really collaborated on bringing forth the most essential points and then presented those on the third day to members of Congress. We would wait outside their offices to be allowed in, and we had maybe five, seven minutes with each congressperson,” Issy says. “At the time, the administration was threatening to cut our funding, so [we were] trying to convince them to go against that and advocate and sign on to a specific letter of advocacy.”
What stood out to Issy the most during her time in D.C. was the opportunity to stand in front of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office.
“I gave one of her interns a sticker, and I was like, ‘I’m just a little Puerto Rican girl from Chicago, and she is a role model of mine,’” Issy says. “The intern was like, ‘Yeah, you just missed her, so you don’t get to meet her. But it’s really important that you’re here, and I’ll definitely give this to her.’”
For Issy, this moment solidified her drive for change.
“I’m here in D.C., outside of this woman’s office, who’s 27, the youngest person to do this, and she’s transformed the world. It made me feel like I could too, and that was really moving.”
Issy’s next step is graduate school, and she plans to someday work as a university administrator.
“I essentially want to … make higher education more accessible for all types of identities and students that are currently in the system,” she says.
Issy will also, of course, continue to push the immeasurable value of the humanities.
“We are complex beings that see the world in so many different lights, and the humanities connects you to that. … It continues to be for all types of students; it doesn’t matter what your specific interests are, what your passions are, what your background is. Being able to fall in love with the humanities, I think, is a universal skill that really should be taught to all types of students.”