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Maggie Im shares her keys to success as an Illinois State University student, employee

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Maggie Im came to Illinois State University in 1992 as a first-generation college student and said she has thrived on this campus ever since. The keys to her success as a student were family encouragement, campus involvement and a great campus mentor. She thinks one of the keys to her job satisfaction and to retention and graduation of current students at the University is Success 101.

The University College program allows for personal attention in adjusting to college, financial aid counseling and money management skills, academic coaching and peer mentoring and common courses with a close-knit group of students. Today, Im teaches a course in Success 101 and said extending herself to her students and forming student connections and relationships makes coming to work each day a pleasure.

Im helped develop the Success 101 curriculum based on some of her experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student. She was raised in a Latino family with a father who worked in a factory and a mother who has remained a homemaker since coming to the U.S.

“My dad said he wanted me to do better than he and my mom had, and I had to leave home for college to grow up and do more for myself,” Im said. “ I was very homesick at first, missing my daily visits with my parents and brother as well as missing the foods I grew up eating.”

Im was a student in TRIO Student Support Services at Illinois State, a federally funded program that focuses on first-generation, low-income students. Im’s campus mentor, then TRIO Director Daniel Lopez, stressed the importance of being a leader on campus and having a voice, a concept that was somewhat foreign to Im as a Latina woman. He encouraged her to become involved at the University, which resulted in Im being involved in the Association of Latin American Students and helping to found Sigma Lamda Gamma, a Latina sorority.

Im, an assistant coordinator of University College Academic Advisement, started her first job at Illinois State with TRIO, helping the 225 predominantly minority students in the program remain in school and graduate. She said as a first-generation collegiate Latina woman, she identified the struggles she had and realized current students were having the same struggles. So Im encourages them to seek mentors and strong role models, to become involved on campus and to form a network to help them succeed in college. “Just because someone on campus doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean they are not invested in your success at Illinois State,” she said.

Im understands the push/pull struggles she faced as a Latina woman are very common to many of her students. While many parents and guardians want their students to attain a degree, they still are dependent on them to help out at home, financially or with other family needs.

“While my parents pushed me to do better, they often pulled me back to help,” Im said. “A Latino student is not just a student, but also has a family. It’s about the entire family. We struggle with that. I was not aware of how much my family depended on me until my father went through the last year of his life. I was making the drive to Chicago each weekend to talk with doctors because my family thought I could ‘speak their language’ better as an educated woman. Now I help my mom with all of the daily challenges a Latina women who speaks no English has. It is a little more difficult because I don’t fit my mother’s view of a traditional Latina woman, and I have a husband, four-year-old son Gabriel and 18-month-old daughter Amalia in Bloomington-Normal.”

Im met her husband, David, when he joined a Latino fraternity at Illinois State. He was raised in Los Angeles, Calif., speaks fluent Spanish and is of Korean descent. “We are truly a multicultural family,” Im said. “My mother-in-law speaks Korean to my children during the week, I speak Spanish and David and I communicate in English. My children will be tri-lingual.”

Im mentors college students, holds down a full-time job and raises her family as well as volunteers at the Unity Community Center, Western Avenue Community Center, Unit 5, District 87, McLean County Health Department and the court system. She considers Bloomington-Normal her home and wants to be a resource for the community.

“It is so common for first-generation, low-income students to not ask for help,” Im said. “I tell them to use those resources at the University that are available. Through Success 101, a weekly coach is available to help them with their academics and social life at Illinois State. But through it all, we stress not to forget why they came to Illinois State. Not to play football or join a fraternity or sorority, but to get a degree.”

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