Award-winning program empowers first-year students to reach their goals

The Flames Leadership Network takes a holistic approach for empowering first-year college students to reach their full potential and academic aspirations.

The program was honored with the John N. Gardner Institutional Excellence for Students in Transition Award from the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition during the virtual 27th National Conference on Students in Transition Oct. 13-16.

“The Flames Leadership Network really answers the question: ‘What does it take to help a student so that they can succeed here at UIC?’” said Elizabeth Houlihan, director of the Office of First-Year Initiatives and interim director for the Academic Center for Excellence.

“This is a really critical moment of development, and we owe it to our students to help them navigate through that first year so that they can acclimate and feel that sense of belonging.”

The program, which is led by the Office of First-Year Initiatives in collaboration with Career Services and Academic Center for Excellence, provides holistic, one-on-one support to students, as well as other resources and opportunities.

“[The award] goes to institutions that have designed an outstanding collaborative initiative to enhance significant traditions during the undergraduate experience,” Houlihan said. “We were able to talk about the way in which we really collaborate across campus. We cannot possibly do any of this work alone.”

The network provides each participating student with a transition coach who collaborates with their academic advisor and a semester stipend of $200.

“We have monthly workshops to support students in the program in strengthening essential skills related to success. We connect students with Career Services and provide them with proactive, asset-based coaching and services tailored to each stage of their college career,” said Nikos Varelas, vice provost for undergraduate affairs and academic programs.

The Flames Leadership Network began in fall 2017 with 77 students and this fall has grown to include 600 new students. The program is supported by donor funding.

“We are fortunate to have received significant philanthropic support for this program. It’s an impressive program — I’m very proud of it,” Varelas said.

“What we know to be true is that relationships matter and students need to know that there is somebody who is going to be responsive and supportive, not only to the student’s academic journey but their personal journey, too,” added Houlihan. “The program really revolves around how much support can we provide the students, what can we get them to do to make them feel empowered about the decisions they are making.”

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