Jessica Irwin is determined to succeed.

Jessica Irwin is also balancing a lot: a full-time job as a patient care liaison at Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, mom to 15-year-old Matthew and 13-year-old Ava, and Illinois State student who commutes to classes. She doesn’t let the busyness of her life get her down; instead, it’s a motivating force for reaching her career goals.

Irwin is studying criminal justice in hopes of pursuing a career in juvenile probation and parole. “I don’t think a lot of people want to take time to work with troubled youth in and around Central Illinois,” said Irwin. “I want to change that.”

Left to right: Ava (13), Matthew (15), Jessica, and Paul. Paul and Jessica were wed in October 2018.

Irwin’s own children have been observing the life changes she’s making. “Both kids think that it is really neat that I am here at Illinois State, but they have also seen firsthand how busy a semester can be when also working full-time as well,” said Irwin, who has begun taking her children along on the journey. “I recently brought my youngest, Ava, to classes with me. She really enjoyed being able to experience a day in the life of a college student.”

Irwin is the first in her family to go to school, but she hopes not the last. “I hope my children see that no matter how old they are, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.”

Irwin received the CEFCU Member Appreciation Scholarship, which has relieved the financial burden of attending college as a working parent. “My scholarship made it possible for me to cover necessary supplies and books that I would not have been able to afford otherwise,” said Irwin.

Irwin is already going above and beyond to make her education count. Two classes taught by Dr. Shelly Clevenger gave Irwin the opportunity to do two separate civic engagement projects. In the first, Irwin assisted in a paint night at the YWCA hosted by Illinois Art Station. The art created was sold at a fundraiser to benefit the YWCA Stepping Stones program and Neville House. In the second, Irwin created a book for children experiencing victimization.

Irwin is determined to be an advocate for others, but not without first appreciating the people who are rooting for her. “My scholarship donors are making possible my education at Illinois State. I have always been a Redbird at heart and am excited to see what my future holds.”

Illinois State students come to campus with a vision for their futures, one that is encouraged and celebrated by donor support. To learn more about the ways that you can lift up current and future Redbirds, visit