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Faces of MAP

MAP matters – and it matters in a very personal way to not only the thousands of Illinois students headed to college in the fall, but also to everyone who benefits from the knowledge and skills those students acquire while earning their certificates or degrees. A well-trained and educated workforce is crucial to the economy of Illinois, and funds allocated for MAP grants are an investment in our state’s continued growth and prosperity.

Below are just a few examples of how MAP recipients have made the most of the assistance they received, and then found a way to "pay it forward" by assisting others who might need a helping hand.


MAP Matters for Noelle Dodge

Faces of Map Noelle DodgeGrowing up in a difficult and often tumultuous family situation, Noelle Dodge dreamed of opening a 24-hour day care to help single mothers and homeless families. But she put the dream on hold when she had a child shortly after graduating from high school, and took on a series of administrative jobs to make ends meet. When a down-sizing eliminated her position managing the cell phone program for 500 people at a large company, Noelle found it almost impossible to find comparable employment. “I couldn’t even get a job answering phones without a college degree,” says Noelle.

Working through significant financial challenges, including a foreclosure on her home, Noelle’s husband helped her realize that she needed to go back to school—but should do what she really loved—helping others. Inspired by her daughter, who is the first in the family to receive a college degree, Noelle looked into counseling courses at Elgin Community College (ECC).

Noelle first learned about the MAP grant at ECC, and thanks to combination of MAP and the federal Pell grant, Noelle was able to earn two associate’s degrees and two vocational certificates (in generalist counseling and family violence) for less than $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

An internship at the Ecker Center for Mental Health – which eventually transitioned into Noelle’s current part-time job – has provided the skills and experience that define her new dream: to open a family rehabilitation center to assist families in crisis.

Today, Noelle is taking classes at Judson University, where she plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in human services in August of 2015. She is the recipient of a $2,500 Coalition of Women Legislatures (COWL) scholarship. In addition, she is completing the first internship ever approved within Judson University’s Human Services Department. Eventually, she hopes to obtain a master’s degree in either human services or social work.

Everything that has happened in her life thus far, says Noelle, has happened for a reason. “I believe opening a family rehabilitation center is my calling. I went through what I did as a child to get me to the point where I can now help struggling families. And I couldn’t have gotten here without MAP.”

MAP Matters for Sandra Hoston

Faces of Map Sandra HostonFor students who receive a MAP grant, the funding offers a critical opportunity to obtain a college education and embark on a career. For Sandra Hoston, however, MAP meant so much more. MAP funds helped her turn a corner in her personal life, leading her to a positive and enriching path—and one where she would help others do the same.

Growing up with an abusive father, spending years in an abusive relationship, and dealing with 25 years of her own drug and alcohol addiction, Sandra reached a point in her life where “enough was enough.” With the help of her mother and siblings, who helped care for her four children, Sandra went through in-patient treatment for her addictions, and received domestic violence counseling at a women’s crisis shelter. Overcoming abuse and addiction revealed to Sandra her calling—to become a domestic violence counselor or a child abuse counselor.

At 47 years old and with no financial resources, Sandra not surprisingly had fears about returning to school. She wondered if she would “fit in” with other students, and had no idea of how she would pay for it. But she was ready to take the risk.

“I knew that my biggest failures in life came when I didn’t try,” says Sandra. “As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, you have to be willing to go to any lengths to accomplish your goals.”

When staff in the financial aid office at Elgin Community College told Sandra about the MAP grant, she realized that earning a degree was actually within her reach. Between MAP funds and a merit-based scholarship for good grades, Sandra has been able to attend classes on a full-time basis.

And the risk Sandra took has led to outstanding results. When she completed her associate’s degree in Human Services in December 2013, she was selected from approximately 200 students to deliver the commencement speech. She is now working on her bachelor’s degree through Columbia College (on the Elgin Community College campus), where she has been placed on the Dean’s List for the first time in her life. She is a certified first responder who volunteers with the City of Elgin and the Providing Advocacy, Dignity, and Shelter (PADS) organization. She anticipates completing her bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2015. 

“God placed people in my path to help me when I needed it,” Sandra says. “Now I want to turn around and help others.”

MAP Matters for Tenisha Swift

Faces of Map Tenisha SwiftIf you look up the word tenacious in the dictionary, you’ll see that the definition reads, in part: “… not easily stopped … very determined to do something.”* You might also see a picture of Tenisha Swift, because her drive to obtain a college education is the very embodiment of that definition.

Both of Tenisha’s parents passed away before she had reached her teens. Living with different family members throughout high school, Tenisha did not have consistent parental figures to help her navigate the process of preparing for and applying to college, nor did she have financial support from her family. But knowing that her parents would have wanted her to work hard and attend college has always been behind her drive to achieve. Tenisha has focused her energy on making her parents proud, and is now an involved and highly-successful student at Joliet Junior College. In addition to excelling at her studies (she carries a 3.3 grade point average), Tenisha is the secretary/treasurer of the Collegiate Club Council, Vice President of the Black Student Union, a member of Student Advocates for Success, and active in the Student Government Association.

A combination of MAP, federal Pell grants, and a federal work-study job helped Tenisha take advantage of all these opportunities. Thanks in part to the MAP assistance she receives, Tenisha hasn’t had to take on a lot of student loans. She will finish her associate’s degree this summer and is planning to transfer to Governors State University to complete her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Tenisha’s dream is to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“MAP matters to me and thousands of other students who have the desire, dreams, and drive to go to college, but not the resources,” says Tenisha. “For many of us, MAP is the ticket to our future.”

* “tenacious.” Merriam-Webster, 2014. Web. 28 April 2014.

MAP Matters for Elena Herrera

Elena Herrera knows first-hand the impact of MAP and how it can shape the future for Illinois students.

Faces of Map Elena HerreraElena grew up in Chicago's Brighton Park area, the youngest of 12 children whose parents didn't have the opportunity to complete elementary school. At age 38, Elena became the first in her family to attend college with the help of MAP grants, getting an associate's degree from Moraine Valley Community College in 2010.

Extremely active in student-led efforts in 2009 to ensure that eligible students enrolling in college would not be denied MAP funding, Elena testified at several public meetings on the importance of MAP, and traveled to a rally in Springfield in 2009 with thousands of other college students to tell the story of why MAP is so important to them in earning their college degrees.

While she had originally intended to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a leadership seminar in Washington, D.C. inspired Elena to embark on a new career path. Again with the help of MAP grants, she was able to pursue a bachelor’s in urban planning and public affairs at University of Illinois-Chicago.

Since then Elena has continued to pay it forward, serving as a student organizer and consultant for Student Advocates for Success, counseling students at Moraine Valley (for which she received the college's 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award), and guiding her nieces and nephews in getting to college. Most recently, Elena launched two successful substance abuse recovery homes in Blue Island; Bridge House for men, and a women’s home called Advance Her Chance.

"Higher education changed everything for me," says Elena. "It gave me the skills and credentials to emerge from poverty and make a better life for myself, and empowered me to create positive change in my community. MAP helped make all of that possible."

MAP Matters for Shanicka Burdine

Faces of Map Shanicka BurdineFrom the time she and her cousin visited campus during an eighth-grade trip, Shanicka Burdine dreamed of attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Although neither of her parents had attended college themselves, both strongly encouraged her to pursue a college education. Being the middle of five children and realizing her family would not be able to fully fund her schooling, Shanicka applied herself to her studies in hopes of securing a scholarship. Resourceful and committed to attending college, Shanicka sought out information on how to make it happen, and first heard about the MAP grant through the TRiO Upward Bound program at Thornwood High School.

Shanicka was accepted to UIUC, but her dream of attending the university only came true as a result of MAP and federal Pell grants that helped fund her education.

“I feel very fortunate to have received MAP because I wouldn’t have been able to go to UIUC without it,” says Shanicka. “I worked hard at school to put the funds to good use—I didn’t want to have funds available to me and not get things done in a timely manner (4 years) where they could have been used by someone else.”

Indeed, Shanicka is an example of the tremendous value of the investment Illinois makes in its citizens through MAP funding. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology in 2010, Shanicka went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership (with a concentration in higher education) from Lewis University. Today, she is an Educational Case Manager for the TRiO Student Support Service program at Moraine Valley Community College, where she helps first-generation, low-income and disabled students with academic needs to succeed in college.

“My goal is to help others receive the same opportunities I was afforded.”


MAP Matters for ISAC Staff and ISACorps Members

Several members of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) staff and current and former members of the ISACorps have first-hand knowledge of the power of MAP: they are prior MAP recipients who are now helping others realize their dream of obtaining a college education. ISAC’s Division for College Access and Outreach (CAO) – and, specifically, the ISACorps – seeks to help students from families with no prior college-going experience navigate the process of applying to and entering college. Our Capacity Development and Training staff help train the professionals that support students across the state. Meet some of our current staff and former ISACorps members who are also MAP recipients.

Lydia Dunmyer

Faces of Map Lydia DunmyerLydia Dunmyer has a passion—and talent—for music. Even with tight financial resources, Lydia’s mother supported her daughter’s musical pursuits, from piano lessons to trips from her home in DuQuoin to Carbondale to study voice because Lydia’s high school didn’t have a choir. In the same way, her mother strongly encouraged Lydia to attend college even though, at that time, she had not attended herself.

Because her family did not have the financial resources to pay for Lydia’s education, Lydia applied herself to her studies in high school in hopes of earning scholarships. Her hard work paid off, and she received a General Assembly Scholarship for her first year. While grateful for the scholarship, Lydia knew that it, alone, would not be enough to see her through four years of college.

Although she had never heard of the MAP grant, Lydia submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) after learning about it from her high school counselor. Thanks to a combination of both the MAP grant and the Federal Pell Grant, Lydia only needed to take out one small student loan before graduating from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) in 2011 with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. And, Lydia’s mother eventually earned a college degree, also with the help of a MAP grant.

In her two years as an ISACorps member for the Danville Area Community College district, Lydia has been helping to ensure that high school students receive the information they need to get to college—and the resources to help fund it. She plans to start graduate school in the fall to get her master’s in music so she can teach at the college level.

“MAP helped me to get to college and keep my student debt in check,” says Lydia. “That makes a big difference for me and many other students heading to graduate school or just embarking on a career.”

Emily Eilers

Faces of Map Emily EilersGrowing up in a middle-class family in Trenton, Illinois, Emily Eilers knew that both her parents wanted her to attend college. While her family was able to afford her first two years of school at Southwestern Illinois College, she needed assistance in order to attend McKendree University to complete her bachelor’s degree. She found that assistance in the MAP grant. MAP, along with student loans and a part-time job, allowed Emily to graduate with a degree in psychology.

Without MAP, says Emily, her student loan debt would have been significantly higher. And that’s a big burden when you are a new graduate heading into an entry-level position.

As an ISACorps member for the Lewis and Clark Community College District, Emily helped families navigate the college-going process.

“I loved seeing the relief that comes across the face of parents when, during financial aid presentations, they learn that financial assistance – like the MAP grant – exists,” says Emily. “I always emphasized that the MAP grant is free money that does not have to be paid back. Families don’t always understand the difference between grants and loans. College can be affordable, and MAP helps make that happen.”

Sara Espinosa

Faces of Map Sara EspinosaGrowing up in McAllen, Texas as an immigrant from Mexico, Sara Espinosa did very well in school. When her family moved to Chicago and she transferred to Gage Park High School at the end of her sophomore year, her teachers discovered that she had already mastered most of the math and science courses in the curriculum. With no advanced courses to offer Sara, she instead began tutoring freshmen in Algebra I.

Knowing that she would not qualify for financial aid until her status as a U.S. resident was finalized, Sara did not attend college immediately after graduating from high school in 2005. Once a resident, she worked with the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program, where she tutored in various subjects through the summer of 2006.

Although neither of her parents had been able to go to college, they strongly encouraged Sara to pursue higher education. Both Sara and her sister received MAP grants to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Sara’s MAP award, along with work-study at the university’s Study Abroad Office, allowed her to complete her degree with a minimal amount of loan debt. With a major in Communications and minor in Informatics and Latino/Latina Studies, Sara graduated from UIUC in May 2011.

“Once my sister and I were finished with college, I encouraged my parents to start community college,” said Sara. “I figured my sister and I had gotten our degrees, so it was time for our parents to take the opportunity to do this for themselves.”

Having heard about the ISACorps via college friends, Sara applied and was accepted to the program, and served as an ISACorps member for two years. She found helping students and families navigate the college admission and financial aid processes to be very rewarding and was able to find a full-time position at ISAC in the fall of 2013. As an Outreach and Professional Development Manager, Sara now helps train Illinois high school counselors and other professionals to support students through the college-going and financial aid process.

Sara explains, “Although I did have to borrow money to pay for college, having a MAP grant helped me borrow less. Without the MAP grant, I know I would not have been able to afford my education at the University of Illinois. Even though I have graduated, the MAP grant continues to be of great importance to me because it not only helped my sister and me get through college, but now, my mom is also a MAP recipient. I am very grateful for the MAP grant, and I really hope it will continue to be there to help future students in the same way.”

Kim Korando

Faces of Map Kim KorandoGrowing up with a mother who works at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), Kim Korando knew from an early age that she would pursue a postsecondary education. However, the cyclical nature of her father’s farming income, coupled with the fact that both she and her brother were in college at the same time, meant that her family could not fully cover all the educational costs. Thankfully, the MAP grant was there to help fill the gap.

Kim completed her general education requirements at John A. Logan College, and then transferred to SIUC to earn her undergraduate degree in social work. After completing her bachelor’s degree in 2008 with help from the MAP grant, Kim went on to earn a Master’s in Social Work (MSW).

Putting her studies in social work to use, Kim worked as a substance abuse counselor for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) at a juvenile detention center in southern Illinois, where she primarily worked with 14- to 16-year-old boys. During that time, she developed a passion for providing troubled youth with the tools and support they need to improve their circumstances.

“It was an incredible experience, but extremely challenging,” says Kim. “It solidified my passion for social work and for working with youth, but I knew I wanted to get broader work experience.”

When an ISACorps position became available in her area, Kim took the opportunity to change gears and diversify her work experience. After completing two years as an ISACorps member in the southern Illinois region, Kim moved to the Chicagoland area and spent one summer in the Oakton Community College district before transitioning to a full time position on ISAC staff. Kim currently serves as Manager of Illinois GEARUP (ILGU). Managed by ISAC, ILGU serves middle and high school students through a federal grant designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

“MAP helped me get to where I am today—it helped me get to a place where I could gain the education, skills and experience to forge my own path,” says Kim, “and I want to help others gain the opportunity to do the same.” 

More Faces of MAP

Interested in more Illinois students who have benefited from receiving a MAP grant? Read more