Fostering Opportunity, Community, and Unwavering Support for Underrepresented First-Generation Students

What is FOCUS?

FOCUS is an intensive semester-long program created to aid in eliminating the gap in post-graduation outcomes and starting salaries between underrepresented, first-generation students and their peers to positively impact their career trajectory, earnings potential, and economic security for years to come.

Benefits and Eligibility

Why Should I Participate?

The program includes workshops and site visits to help you:

  • Explore a wide variety of occupations and careers
  • Foster development of critical career readiness competencies expected by employers
  • Cultivate a professional network of mentors and advocates
  • Create tools to confidently communicate their knowledge and skills
  • Identify affirming work environments
  • Compete for vital professional experiences
  • Negotiate initial offers to secure salary and benefits

You will receive $1000 scholarship to participate! The hope is that this scholarship will mitigate the financial burden of your participation.

Am I Eligible?

To qualify for this program, you must:

  • Be currently enrolled as an undergraduate student
  • Be a 2nd year or sophomore student
  • Be a first-generation college student- your parent(s) did not complete a 4-year college or university degree, regardless of other family member’s level of education.
  • Must be a member of a group historically underrepresented in education- typically includes African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinx, Pacific Islander, etc.

Class Schedule and Time Commitment

  • FOCUS Scholars must attend a weekly in-person class session every Thursday from 3:00-4:30 pm. The first session will be on Thursday, February 22, 2024, and the last session will be on Thursday, April 25, 2024.
  • FOCUS Scholars must plan on attending the Kickoff Event on Thursday, February 15, 2024, from 3:00-4:30 pm.
  • FOCUS Scholars must plan on committing up to 3 hours per week on in-class workshops and assignments designed to support their career development. 
Photo Collage of FOCUS student participants participating in various activities. Includes University of Illinois logo.
Group photo of FOCUS students posing in a classroom

FOCUS Applications are currently closed. Thank you to all who applied.

Who supports this program?

This program is a collaboration between The Career Center and the Office of Minority Student Affairs. It is made by possible through the financial support of the following supporters:

  • Synchrony Financial
  • Strada Education Network
  • American Family Insurance
  • State Farm Insurance


For more information, please reach out to the Senior Assistant Director for Inclusion Initiatives, Dr. Pankaj Desai at

FOCUS Scholar Success Story

Deja Spraggins: FOCUS 2022-2023

Headshot of Deja Spraggins

Major: Kinesiology

Minors: RST and Communication

What Motivated You to Join the FOCUS Program?

For me it was more so the “Who” that motivated me to join FOCUS. My OMSA advisor Shawn Hampton is the one who told me about the focus program. After reading into the organization and seeing just a little bit of what the goal was I knew I had to be a part of the program. I think what mostly motivated me to apply was that the program was a new beginning for students like myself to be more than a statistic and reach our maximum potential. Being a part of a new beginning is something so special and important to me. Not many people can say they were the first FOCUS Scholars at UIUC and I think that makes it all the better. With the program standing for perseverance of minority, first generation students how could I not want to be a part of this historical journey of excellence.

How would you describe your overall experiences as a FOCUS scholar?

My overall experience as a FOCUS Scholar could be described as life changing. While we only met once a week our meetings were both interesting and informative. Not one meeting did I not learn something new that could make a tremendous impact in my everyday life. Our meetings were always helpful and positive. Being a FOCUS Scholar is so much more than a title it’s an opportunity to escape all the negativity around you and focus on what’s ahead. It’s all in the name itself. Once you truly learn to focus the road to success is straight ahead and all we have to do is keep moving towards what’s right in front of us.

What was the most meaningful thing you learned or gained in the FOCUS program?

To be surrounded by people like myself who beat the odds stacked against them was the most meaningful thing I gained from the FOCUS program. All my life I feared being like everyone else around me. Often time minority families don’t have faith, hopes and dreams to be somebody big. They often stick to what they know but being around people who don’t want to stick to what they know is life changing for me. I’ve always wanted more for myself, and it’s very common that many people don’t understand why u want to be so different and leave home but FOCUS placed me around people who not only understood me but we’re just like me in similar circumstances. The program was one step towards success in my opinion. At a school like UIUC being in an environment that feels safe and offers you as much help as possible is a dream beyond compare. Sometimes as a minority at a large university you may feel overlooked but FOCUS was one of the programs that made me feel not only seen but heard as well.


FOCUS Scholar Success Story

Sirshaun Bush: FOCUS 2022-2023

Sirshaun Bush headshot

Major: Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communication (ALEC)

What motivated you to apply to the FOCUS program?

I was motivated to join the FOCUS program for several reasons heading into my sophomore year. At the beginning of the semester, I felt as if I lacked the necessary experience and exposure to the professional environment and skills that would most likely be sought after by future employers. The FOCUS program seemed like something that would give me the edge in competing in the job markets of today and that proved to be more than true.

How would you describe your overall experiences as a FOCUS scholar?

The FOCUS program was the ultimate "Ice Breaker" for me in terms of professional networking experience. Personally, this was the first time that I had been given the opportunity to build interact closely with future employers and begin to understand more of what would be expected of me within my professional career. This program helped me finally grasp an understanding of the ideal career outcome and setting for myself.

What was the most meaningful thing you learned or gained in the FOCUS program?

The most meaningful thing that I gained from the FOCUS program was a dependable network of peers and mentors. Participating in what they have to offer has helped me understand how much easier things can be depending on who you know and what they have access to. My experiences here have truly shown me that it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.


FOCUS Scholar Success Story

Shaniyah Jackson: FOCUS 2022-2023

Headshot of Shaniyah Jackson

Major: Women and Gender Studies, and Psychology

What motivated you to apply to the FOCUS program?

I was motivated to apply to the FOCUS program because I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do after I graduated. I didn’t have a focused career path.

How would you describe your overall experiences as a FOCUS scholar?

For me, FOCUS was a great experience. The program helped me figure out what type of work I was most passionate about and it also helped me become confident in the skills I have to offer to many employers.

What was the most meaningful thing you learned or gained in the FOCUS program?

The most meaningful thing I learned was where I began in my career field will likely not be where I end up retiring. There are going to be many different opportunities and paths I can take to help me settle in my dream career.

Become a FOCUS Mentor!

Are you a first-generation college student who has completed sophomore year? Do you want to help other students like you make the most of their time at UIUC and navigate their career preparation? Are you a former FOCUS scholar? Consider applying to be a FOCUS Mentor!