News from the University of Illinois System

Real Impact stories highlight the real difference that people, programs and partnerships, across the system, make to the state’s economic, social and cultural well-being. For more, know Andrea.

By Laura Mabri

Harumi Barron may never forget the day she found out about Hope Chicago. As she walked in, she knew this was not a typical Benito Juárez Community Academy assembly. Parental attendance was mandatory. However, the apprehension evaporated when Barron and her classmates saw the banners and T-shirts.

“They announced that Hope Chicago meant going to college for free. She blew my mind when I realized they meant all of us,” she said. “Everyone was smiling and celebrating.

“I immediately wanted to share about Hope Chicago with my dad. He wanted her to know that she didn’t have to carry the burden of paying for college. I wanted him to feel relieved.”

Barron joins the first cohort seeking debt-free higher education or vocational training thanks to Hope Chicago. The program is available to about 4,000 students at five Chicago high schools, many from historically underrepresented groups, plus one parent or guardian each. Student support covers tuition and fees, room and board, books and a laptop, plus an annual stipend.

“While U of I System financial aid has nearly doubled in the past decade, Hope Chicago serves as another tipping point in putting a college degree within easy reach. Students of all stripes have so many pathways to careers they are passionate about at our universities,” said Nick Jones, system executive vice president and vice president of academic affairs. “I hope Chicago’s life-changing opportunities for students and families will also strengthen and add diversity to the Illinois workforce.”

navigating the university

Barron is now attending his dream college, the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). He found the urban campus welcoming from the start.

That doesn’t mean the elementary school student wasn’t nervous.

“It is difficult when you are in a new environment. You worry about being judged,” said Barron, who says his first math class is his favorite. “It was in a large conference room with many students. “But you can still make friends with the person sitting next to you.”

Students wearing COVID masks have a giant check that says

Photo courtesy of Hope Chicago


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Beyond academics, Hope Chicago helps students adjust to college life and explore careers.

“As you can imagine, freshmen can feel confused or overwhelmed. Hope Chicago campus contacts serve as liaisons and advocates for Hope Scholars,” said Kara Holloway, UIC director of scholarships.

“It is key to the program that Campus Contacts at each university help Hope Scholars successfully navigate and thrive. We have a wealth of resources and opportunities to share.”

family influence

Barron grew up in Pilsen, a predominantly Latino community. His father, Julio, has installed hardwood floors since they moved to the United States from Mexico two decades ago. His mother, Susana, stayed home to raise Barron and his siblings, Susana, 15, and Julio, 13.

“It’s a huge responsibility to be first generation and to be Latina,” Barron said. “When my dad calls me, he always says that he is my number one fan. To represent my community in this way is heartwarming.”

Harumi Barron and her sister flank their brother against a background of Christmas scenery

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Her father plans to take advantage of the classes and vocational training offered by Hope Chicago.

“My dad has been in meetings with Hope explaining the options on offer and is looking at options for a commercial program,” Barron said.

With family always in mind, she takes being a role model very seriously.

“My sister and my brother tell me that they want to be like me,” she said. “I tell them to be even better.”

The loving older sister even helped them learn English.

“I love interacting with children. It will be a gift to share knowledge when I am a teacher,” she said, adding that she plans to stay in Chicago after graduation.

lasting impact

In the system’s first cohort, UIC welcomed 108 Hope Chicago students. Twenty-eight students from Hope Chicago attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and two attended the University of Illinois Springfield.

That bodes well for a trend the system and the universities want to continue. A growing number of graduates of the U of I System universities choose to stay in Illinois. Almost 75% remain here and contribute to the state economy, up from 64.5% in 2017.

UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones is a member of Hope Chicago’s board of directors.

“Dr. Jones is a welcome addition to the team,” said Hope Chicago Executive Director Janice K. Jackson. “Her dedication to youth and education, along with her experience in higher education, will impact both Hope Chicago and organization and the students and families we serve.”

How Barron articulates the impact of the program is likely to be echoed by other Hope scholars.

“Without Hope Chicago, I would have to work 10 times as hard to achieve what I’m passionate about,” he said. “It’s an incredible gift to not worry about financial barriers.”

The University of Illinois System creating unique pathways for students from all walks of life is only part of what makes us totally extraordinary. To share a story idea, send a message [email protected].