URBANA, Ill. – Six graduates from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are preparing to embark on a year of public service as part of the new class of Illini Science Policy Scholars.

The Illini Science Policy Program, offered through University of Illinois Extension, matches advanced-degree graduates with mentors in Illinois government and Extension to gain hands-on experience addressing critical issues in Illinois through public service. This year, three scholars are joining Illinois legislative hosts, and three will work with state agencies.

“Public service professionals play an important role in supporting the health, safety, and economic needs of communities, something we’ve seen highlighted during the pandemic,” says Deborah Seiler, coordinator of the Extension and Public Engagement Connection Center, which administers the program. Seiler says the Illini Science Policy Scholars share a passion for giving back to their communities and are ready to take on major challenges facing Illinois residents, from broadband access to food insecurity.

The 2021 Illini Science Policy Program awardees are:

“Illinois students are leaders in every field, including advancing basic science and translating research into results that impact the daily lives of people across the world,” says Charles Watkins, chief-of-staff of the Office of Illinois Lt. Governor, Juliana Stratton, a new participating host office this year. “Having a scholar from the Illini Science Policy Program join the Office of the Lieutenant Governor will help create a more equitable future for Illinois while providing a training ground for a public policy professional that can transform our state.”

The scholars will contribute to public service and policy initiatives over the next year with both their host offices and Illinois Extension, gaining a broad view of potential careers. Scholar projects will focus on Extension’s critical issue areas of food, economy, community, health, and environment. Some of the scholars will also address issues of equity and access within these topics.

"Graduates should consider a public service career in Illinois because we are in dire need of energetic, innovative, community and equity-focused talent to help solve some of the most pressing issues we deal with today,” says hosts Rep. Sonya M. Harper, joint chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, and Rep. Karina Villa, co-chair of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus, in a joint statement. “The 2021 scholars will be immersed in this critical work with the Illinois Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses, especially as together with our Foundations we implement policy to address pervasive disparities in our communities.”

The Illini Science Policy Program is supported by Illinois' Office of the Provost Investment for Growth program, participating host offices, the University of Illinois Office of Government Relations, and PepsiCo.

“At PepsiCo, we know that higher education and on-the-job experience is critical to new grads achieving better pay, opportunities, and long-term economic security,” said Kenny Thompson, vice president of external affairs at PepsiCo, North America. “We are proud to support the Illini Science Policy Program, which, in partnership with the legislative leadership in Illinois, aims to solve challenges facing local communities by creating sound, well-researched public policy.”

SOURCE: Deborah Seiler, Extension and Public Engagement Connection Center Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.