As an ISPP Scholar, Angelique Evans is appointed with the Illinois Black Caucus/ Black Caucus Foundation. Her work is significant as she focuses on using data to critically analyze themes relating to the barriers to higher education for students of color in high performing fields. She also is working to provide ways in which Black and Brown students see opportunities beyond their own backyard through such initiatives as study abroad. Angelique shared some thoughts with me about the ISP program, and her work so far.
Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?
I had been interested in finding a way to implement various aspects of my doctoral studies in real-life settings. During a discussion with a sister scholar about my desire to find ways to engage with policy, Black and Brown communities, and further my research, she mentioned this program. She shared the program background and intent with me, and I said I wished I knew someone who had done it. She and another scholar I know had been Illini Science Policy Fellows in different cohorts. Learning about their experiences in technology and other fields of government, I decided to investigate the program more. I was surprised by the range of offices and work available to interested participants, and the Black Legislative Caucus Foundation (ILBCF) caught my attention. I did some research on the ILBCF and, after doing so, was even more inspired to apply. I am glad I did because the opportunity has been excellent thus far.
Tell us a bit about what you hope to accomplish as a result of being a 2024 Scholar.
I hope to grow as a scholar-practitioner and advocate for Black and other minoritized Americans in Illinois on matters concerning education, health, social, and criminal justice. I hope to learn how to effectively lead, assist, and make sustainable, effective change in the political realm while also engaging with communities in meaningful and impactful ways. I hope to grow my network to continue beyond this experience, making change for the betterment of minoritized communities and aiding in educating and promoting more advocacy within these communities.
Tell us about what you are working on for your host agency.
I am working on various projects with the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, including planning our upcoming Generation Next Young Professionals Summit on November 16 and participating in our monthly Brain Trust. Our Brain Trust consists of medical professionals, community leaders, advocates, and legislature members coming together to discuss important issues and health-focused topics within our community. These discussions are very informative, enlightening, and engaging and provide an opportunity for us to propose ways to engage with the community, combat obstacles unique to our community and the medical field, and make sustainable change.
My largest project is focused on the ILBCF and its educational endeavors to create equitable and accessible higher educational opportunities for youth in our community. Specifically, I am engaging with evaluating the ILBCF's scholarship program, engaging with alums, and welcoming feedback on how we can improve this program for future scholars. I am also working with members of our fellowship program to do the same.
Tell us a bit about what you are working with your Extension Mentor (or what you will do).
I am in the early stages of curating an early access, awareness, and pathways program for Black Americans and other minoritized students, as well as their families, to learn about global education. My research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign focuses on the historical and continued exclusion of Black American students and locations within the Black Diaspora in study abroad programming. Ideally, I'd like to create a space for students and their families to learn about study abroad programs, what steps to take to engage fully, how to be successful, and programs with host locations within the Black Diaspora (Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean). Additionally, I want to touch on the best time to study abroad, funding opportunities, the path to passport ownership, and representation within the field. I want to create an interactive, engaged, and safe space for students and their families to engage with the topic of studying abroad and exploring the world.
What does being in public service mean to you?
Public service is an intentional act of engagement for the betterment of a community. Community can be as small as a neighborhood block or a singular classroom and as expansive as an entire state, nation, or group linked by a common goal. Public service requires more than thinking about what you would do but engaging with those who are front and center, asking them what they need, and then working to get it and sustain the change you're working for. Public service is having difficult conversations that require honesty in ways that we aren't always prepared to share aloud, but silence begets assumed compliance, which is often not the case. Public service requires a love and devotion to the improvement, excellence, and well-being of the communities you serve and working hard to bring it to fruition. It requires engagement, patience, understanding, listening, and, most importantly, action.
What makes the work you are doing as an ISPP Scholar meaningful to you?
There are so many aspects of this work and experience that are meaningful to me, the top being part of a community within the ILBCF and the Black Caucus that exemplifies Black excellence, hard work, advocacy, and genuinely working for change. This is the first experience I've had to engage with and watch intentionality with grace and accountability. I appreciate being in rooms, involved in discussions, and being able to curate a program, all of which have tangible outputs but also lasting impacts. To be encouraged in my goals, both professionally and academically, in ways I haven't experienced outside of my scholar circle is invigorating. Being able to show up and represent this organization, my scholarship, and the university authentically for young scholars and professionals is a dream come true. Showing that this work is meaningful and necessary and that there are folks who are working for the continued betterment, health, and well-being of our community is an honor. Finally, being able to talk to my elders about the work I am doing and things I am learning to personify the dreams of those who have gone before you in ways neither of you imagined is a feeling unlike any other.
What is one thing you have learned since becoming an ISPP Scholar that has made an impression on your transition from graduate student to career individual?
There is always (more) work to be done. One win, while significant, could mean only a small battle in the big picture. Always look for the next move, but also celebrate the wins. I am learning to balance work and scholarship, as I am also working on my dissertation. It is a delicate balance that is important to maintain in addition to creating healthy personal practices for myself. This experience, in addition to the work I am doing, is teaching me a lot about myself as well.
Why is/are the issue(s) necessary to the communities with which you are working?
Before taking on this role, I think my answer would primarily hinge on the human rights and humanity of the Black community (local, state, national, and international). However, this role has allowed me to engage not only in the humanity and human rights aspects of issues concerning the Black community's education, health, social and criminal justice, all of which are addressed in the ILBC's four pillars, but the realities and numbers behind the disproportionate care of Black folks. Engaging with these issues outside of textbooks, as well as real-life examples, solutions, and innovative conversations on change, is very impactful. Change must come, and having the opportunity to work with people who care not only about the issues but also about those impacted has been essential in this experience. The importance of addressing these inequalities and creating new pathways to inclusivity, care, and empowerment within the Black community of Illinois is beyond words.
Who is impacted by the issue(s) you are working on?
The big picture is that we are all impacted by the issues we at the ILBCF are working to address. More often than not, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is thinking ahead of its time and trailblazing the issues that deeply impact the communities we serve. We make a difference not only here in Illinois but nationally as we lay the foundation for pathways other states can follow.
What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?
I am amazed at how much I am learning about policy, advocacy, and general processes and pathways to change. I am enjoying learning about laws and initiatives, both state and federal, that are being implemented on topics that I care about, like health care, education, and equity. I have also been amazed at how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole on a topic and think of solutions to issues you read about, but the challenges that may come with addressing root causes and creating sustainable solutions that last beyond a specific term. Things I may have once looked at as common sense solutions, I am learning, can be more multifaceted than what initially meets the eye.
If you could do one thing through this program and think, "Wow, I did that," what would you like it to be?
The successful curation and implementation of the study abroad program that I am working on with my program mentor. But also to build upon it and curate pathways and programs that meet the diverse and unique needs of Black American students and other minorities within this field. I would love to continue the work in the future and lead programs abroad to our sister city in Ghana in a year or two, hopefully with some of the students who participate in this pilot program. Additionally, I'd like to see the ILBCF scholarship program, HBCU fellowship program, and other mentoring opportunities flourish. I want to be a part of the work that creates pathways for our community to grow and thrive while also creating a network of scholars nationwide to help build future generations of scholars.