Scholarship Stories from the University of Illinois Springfield

Stories of students at UIS and the generous scholarship donors who support their dreams

Overcoming obstacles fulfills Ivette Ortiz’s dream of college

Ivette Ortiz for blog

A faraway goal, way off on the horizon, with no clear path and many obstacles in the way.

From the time her kindergarten class visited a police station, Ivette has wanted to serve her community as a police officer and then someday join the FBI.

But to do so, she would need a college degree—and that seemed impossible.

“Both of my parents came from Mexico,” she explains, “and both were able to get only a sixth gra

de education. They have always emphasized the importance of education and have encouraged me to go to college, but it always seemed like I would never be able to make it.”

Facing down the first obstacle

Through her years growing up, Ivette’s family—two parents, Ivette and a younger brother—have struggled financially.

Her father is a landscaper, and her mother a waitress. “During the winter,” Ivette says, “when my father can’t work outside, it’s basically only my mother supporting us.”

At age 15, Ivette started working at Golden Corral to help support the family, and this made college seem even more impossible. If I go to school, she thought, how am I going to help my family?

Ivette’s parents encouraged her dream. If they needed to, they told her, they would cut back to bare basics to make it happen.

As she applied, Ivette was pleased to discover she qualified for need-based financial aid.

She had another surprise: all the schools she applied to wanted her to come.

In the end, she chose UIS because she really liked the criminal justice program at UIS. “I also really liked the distance from home—not too far and not too close—and I really liked the campus size.”

Ivette started classes at UIS in the fall of 2013.

And then came an even greater threat to success…

After her first semester, excited to be home and looking forward to the holiday festivities, Ivette took the train back to her hometown of Carpentersville.

But when she emerged from the train, only her cousin stood on the platform.

“Why are you picking me up and not my dad?” she said.

The news was bad: Ivette’s father had suffered a sudden and serious health issue, and he was in the hospital.

“My mom didn’t want to worry me, so she hadn’t even told me this had happened!” Ivette says.

To make everything worse, without insurance, the family would have to pay for all the doctor appointments and medicine and other bills themselves.

“I’ve never really had Christmas presents,” says Ivette, “but that winter we had to be even more careful. That was an incredibly rough year.”

Homesick anyway, seeing her family’s need, Ivette thought, I can’t leave my family now!

But Ivette’s dream of college was her parents’ dream, too, and they were adamant: Ivette would absolutely return to school at the end of break.

Back at UIS, Ivette found a job. “That helped a lot because I was able to send some money back home.”

She has worked ever since, and she continues to be extremely frugal: “No shoes or clothes when I can be buying my books instead.”

Fortunately, Ivette’s father is doing much better. “Thank God!” Ivette exclaims. “The doctors say it’s because he’s a very strong man.

Soaking every opportunity for all that its worth

No one will ever be able to accuse Ivette of wasting her time at UIS. She’s taken advantage of so many opportunities for leadership, service and academic development.

She’s a—

  • Criminal justice major while also minoring in psychology and Spanish;
  • Member of the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS);
  • Mentor for Necessary Steps, which helps first generation students;
  • Mentor for a new organization for first-generation Latino college students;
  • Volunteer for the Illinois Innocence Project where she translates documents into Spanish so inmates can better understand them (next year she’ll be a full-fledged intern with IIP);
  • Member of an official interest group for Gamma Phi Omega, a Latina based sorority with multicultural membership—Ivette is working with others to bring the sorority to campus; and
  • Student worker in the Office of Records and Registration on campus.

The Suzanna Kay Shiner Scholarship

Another of Ivette’s many activities on campus—playing the viola in the UIS Chamber Orchestra—helped Ivette qualify for the Shiner Scholarship, created in memory of a free-spirited daughter of then UIS professor Larry Shiner.

Suzanna Shiner was an expert in sonar mapping of the ocean floor. In June, 2002, her ship, The Performer, was on its way to search for a downed British helicopter in the Atlantic when Suzanna suffered a burst blood vessel that ended her life.

Family and friends of the UIS community, where her father, Larry Shiner, was a philosophy professor, as well as others in the Springfield area, rallied together to establish the Suzanna Kay Shiner Scholarship in memory of the brilliant young math major, musician and daughter, and this year Ivette is the recipient of this scholarship.

Last year, Ivette received another scholarship, also created in memory of a spirited and successful young woman.

The Lee Humphrey Dodd Scholarship

In 1994, Lee Humphrey Dodd, a Springfield-area attorney, became the first woman to be named first assistant state’s attorney. Her family established a scholarship in her memory in 1996 to honor her life and assist students like her in Public Affairs.

Receiving this scholarship seems particularly appropriate.

Growing up, Ivette heard many times that she could not be a police officer because she was a girl, but that just made her even more determined. “Our criminal justice system needs some change,” she says, “and if I want change, I have to be in there to change it.”

It seems likely that Lee Humphrey Dodd would have approved.

Honored to receive Suzanna’s and Lee’s memorial scholarships

“My experiences at UIS,” she says, “have helped me develop both leadership and social skills, and through them I have discovered my strengths.”

To her scholarship donors, she says, “My family is delighted to hear that I can continue going to school. It seemed like I would never be able to make it this far, but now I can see that I will get my degree and accomplish my goals.”

We welcome your support in any amount to the  Suzanna Kay Shiner Memorial Scholarship and to the Lee Humphrey Dodd Scholarship.

1 Comment

  1. Aw Ivette! Making us proud! Great job, you’re doing great things!

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