FOCUS Program Launched in Fall 2021

Picture of Students

The FOCUS (Fostering Opportunity, Community, and Unwavering Support for Underrepresented First-Generation Students) scholars program launched in the Fall 2021 semester. The first cohort of 15 talented undergraduate students were granted a $2,500 scholarship to mitigate the financial burden of participation over two semesters. This was made possible by the generous funding and support of our corporate sponsors American Family Insurance and Synchrony Financial. 

In August 2021, the FOCUS program opened with a program kick-off at the i-Hotel, which welcomed the FOCUS scholars, campus partners, and corporate sponsors to meet on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. During this event, we had the chance to share the mission of the FOCUS program, hear from campus partners as well as our sponsor(s) from Synchrony, and converse with one another over dinner.

The first half of the FOCUS program launched in early September 2021 with 8 workshop sessions, facilitated virtually and in person. Sessions covered a range of topics varying from career and self-development, navigating a professional work environment, and embracing and having pride in your identity. Session topics were developed and facilitated with the experience and perspective of first-generation, Black, and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) at the forefront. This was with the intention of creating a safe space where open dialogue around topics that are often intimidating for students belonging to these respective groups can occur. Many of these sessions were planned and facilitated by various representatives of our sponsors, campus partners, as well as external guest speakers. Despite limitations to in-person interactions, Synchrony and American Family Insurance have made it a priority to remain engaged with the FOCUS scholars through involvement in sessions and networking engagements.

To start the Spring 2022 semester, the FOCUS program is excited to engage in the Winter Immersion experience in collaboration with Synchrony. This event will be a three-day experiential opportunity to expose the FOCUS scholars to corporate and industry settings and to build relationships with the Synchrony Team. This semester, 11 new workshop sessions will focus on the technical aspects of career development, such as crafting effective professional documents, interviewing, and the job/internship search process.

We look forward to future involvement from our corporate sponsors, campus and community partners and the FOCUS scholars!