Joanette McBounds ‘08 came to Illinois State as a first-generation college student. Initially, she had difficulties adapting to college life. Now she is returning to be recognized for her outstanding work as a professional and committed public servant.

She is one of seven talented young alumni who will be inducted April 11 into the College of Applied Science and Technology (CAST) Academy of Achievement.

“I am very honored,” she said. “There are thousands and thousands of alumni, so just to be considered for such a prestigious award makes me so humbled and thankful to ISU, CAST, and every person who helped me during my journey.”

McBounds arrived at Illinois State from Chicago. Her experience learning at a vocational high school sparked her interest in technology.

“There really aren’t a lot of women in tech and there really aren’t a lot of African-Americans in tech,” she said. “I looked at that and started thinking it could be a good path for me.”

McBounds chose Illinois State after being impressed by the programs offered by the School of Information Technology and her college visit. Even though McBounds was excited to start her educational journey, she still had apprehensions, especially as the first person in her family to attend college. Fortunately, she was able to adjust thanks to the helping hands of her resident assistant (RA) Cari Czako ’05.

“She told me that I needed to come out of my room and start meeting new people,” McBounds said. “It was a small thing, but it really meant a lot to me.”

McBounds’ experience drove her to want to help other Illinois State students in the same way. She served as an RA on the International Floor for three years and in 2006 was selected to represent Illinois State at the Illinois Resident Assistant Association Conference.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was through the experience of being an RA that I felt like ISU was home.”

When she graduated from Illinois State with a degree in information systems, she returned to the Chicago area to accept a full-time role with AT&T. She had interned with the company as a student. Today she serves as an IT release manager and ensures IT billing applications used by customer service representatives are functioning as intended.

McBounds is also the lead on high-revenue, high-impact projects that aren’t quite ready to be unveiled to the public. She has earned her master’s degree in public administration from Roosevelt University.

McBounds has a desire to give back to her community. To this end, she served as the president of Women of AT&T-Northern Illinois, where she led over 700 people in philanthropic and professional growth opportunities. Under her leadership, the organization focused on programs to help young women excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

McBounds also serves as the founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Sowing Success through Education to Encourage Dreams to Soar (SEEDS). Sowing SEEDS provides educational programming for youth and takes part in community outreach projects such as caring for the homeless. McBounds said she was moved to start an education-focused nonprofit because of the impact education had on her life.

“I wanted to start an organization related to a passion area of mine and education is definitely my passion,” she said. “I love inspiring youth, and Sowing SEEDS gives me a platform to do it in a bigger way.”

McBounds maintains close ties to Illinois State. In February she was the keynote speaker at TRiO Day, a campus celebration of TRiO-provided services that help traditionally underrepresented students rise. McBounds spoke about how mentors prepared her to be a game changer at Illinois State and beyond. She gave current Redbirds the same advice Czako had given her as a freshman.

“There are so many experiences available to you as a Redbird,” she said. “Go out there, meet new people, and get involved.”