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UIS wasn’t Adam Warda’s first choice for college.

Following high school graduation, Adam enrolled at Southern Illinois University, where Adam had a baseball scholarship.

Unfortunately, he suffered an injury and didn’t get to play as much as he had planned. After his sophomore year, he returned home to attend a junior college.

While there, he caught the eye of UIS baseball coach Chris Ramirez, and that brought him to UIS.

He’ll be graduating at the end of fall semester. So even though UIS wasn’t his first college, it will definitely be his last!

“Education, education, education!”

Adam says college has always been in his future because his parents made education such a high priority.

“They always preached education, education, education,” he says. “They drove it into my head that education was really important—the main thing.”

In this, Adam’s parents were aiming higher for him than they had been able to achieve for themselves.

“My mom and dad never had an opportunity to attend a university,” Adam explains. “My mom immigrated from Syria and my dad from Iraq.**

“Dad’s a machinist and went to junior college, and my mom attended beauty school. English not being their native language made it hard for them to transition into upper level course work.”

So they channeled their hopes toward Adam. “They’ve been my biggest supporters,” Adam says, “through school and through life.”

Accounting became his career destination

Adam says he realized how good he was in math during middle school when he kept being placed in upper level math courses.

After a brief experiment studying architecture and engineering in high school and some timely advice from his parents, Adam began taking accounting courses. In these, he found his calling. “I really took off,” he says now.

But if accounting was his destination after college, he’s always known his ticket to that future would be baseball.

Athletic success at UIS

“Sports is the reason I’ve been able to get through college,” Adam says, and he has certainly done well at UIS. From Adam’s Prairie Stars page, last year Adam:

  • Started in 49 of the team’s 50 games at second base;
  • Led the team in batting average (.318), runs (29), hits (54), doubles (14), walks (20), on-base percentage (.414) and stolen bases (11);
  • Was named first team All-GLVC, just the second UIS player to ever earn the award;
  • Recorded a hit in 32 games including 16 multi-hit games;
  • Collected a season-high three hits six different times;
  • Slugged a pair of home runs in a 3-for-4 effort with four runs scored against McKendree (April 1);
  • Finished the season with a .977 fielding percentage.

Wow! Coach Ramirez sure has an eye for talent!

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Extremely happy at UIS

“I’ve loved every bit of my time at UIS,” Adam says. For Adam (and other student-athletes at UIS), “every bit of it” includes a packed schedule during the semester:

  • 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m., four days a week: Weight training
  • 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Classes or classwork
  • 2:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., four days a week, year round: baseball practice.

Wait—even in winter? “In winter,” Adam says, “we practice in the Student Life gym. They set up cages for us to use.”

  • One day a week, student-athletes volunteer somewhere in Springfield. The baseball team tutors children at a nearby church. “That day they let us off from practice,” Adam says.
  • Student-athletes must also fulfill required study hours. “Six hours a week is required for most of us. If your GPA falls under a certain GPA, then you have to log more hours. If you have a good enough GPA, you don’t have to log any hours at all.”

With that schedule you can see why most student-athletes don’t have time for a part-time job during the semester, making scholarships all the more important.

The Pam McClelland Accountancy Scholarship

When I asked Adam about paying for college, he quickly gave credit to his mother.

“My mother helps me a lot,” he says. “She took it on herself not to let me struggle with loans after college, so with her help and financial aid, I’ve made it this far without loans.”

This year, Adam had a wonderful surprise: He was chosen to receive the Pam McClelland Accountancy Scholarship.

Pamela McClelland is a retired partner from the accounting firm Kerber, Eck & Braeckel (KEB) here in Springfield. She came to the university when she was almost 40 without any intention of getting a degree. All she wanted was to brush up on her bookkeeping skills.

Accountancy professors like Don Stanhope knew talent when they saw it. With their encouragement, Pam not only graduated, but did so with highest honors.

Then she excelled in the four-part certified public accountant exam, winning the Elijah Watts Sells Award in the process. This award is given to the few students each year who score in the top five percent nationally on all four sections of the CPA exam. With this award in hand, Pam joined KEB and as she worked toward becoming a partner, she also earned a master’s degree from UIS.

As a graduate, Pam has been an excellent friend to UIS, serving on advisory boards and helping to raise money for other accountancy scholarships. In 2004, she received the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Alumni Award, and in 2015, she received the William E. Winter Award for Outstanding Advocate Leadership for UIS from the University of Illinois Foundation.

“It’s really an honor to receive Pam McClelland’s scholarship,” Adam says, and no wonder!

No job worries for Adam

Last spring, in a thank you letter to Pam, Adam wrote that in the future he would like to have a job in public accounting at a firm like Crowe Horwath, where he would be interning over the summer.

This fall, he was happy to announce that he already had a job with them, starting in June 2016.

At Crowe Horwath over the summer, Adam dealt mostly with cash, accounts receivable and payroll.

“It was great,” he says, assuring me that nothing about the summer changed his mind about accounting. “I worked with great people, and it was a great experience overall.”

He has returned for one more semester before graduating in December. In the spring, he’ll take graduate accountancy courses at UIS, preparing for the CPA exam sometime next year.

Adam, we’re glad to have you here at UIS, both for your baseball skills and for the reputation of our accountancy program that you are already spreading in Illinois! You have certainly fulfilled the UIS Prairie Star tagline: Rise Here – Rise Now.

We welcome your support in any amount to the Pam McClelland Accountancy Scholarship Fund.

** When Adam, who is very proud of his Assyrian heritage, told me about his parents, I thought of the current refugee crisis and asked if his mother or father still have relatives in Syria. He said their whole families came with them, but that they both have friends and acquaintances still in the Middle East. “It’s tough for our people there,” Adam said, “especially as Christians, which is what we are.” Later, as he left the interview, he told me it would be fine to share this about his family, and then added, “I’m fortunate to be born and raised here in the United States. Who knows what could be happening to me otherwise?”

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