2 are on their home court

The University of Illinois homecoming court has some local flavor.

Vilas Dhar and Elizabeth Pittelkow, both raised in Champaign, will be honored along with 18 other students after the first quarter of the Illinois-Minnesota football game.

When choosing a college, Dhar considered venturing west to Stanford University or going to the East Coast to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he ultimately picked the University of Illinois for more reasons than an opportunity for good home-cooked meals.

"The community is a vibrant place to grow up, and I wanted to stay here for some years and see if I can give back," said the senior, who will graduate in May with a double degree in biological engineering and computer science.

The road to the homecoming court is a three-step process. Students either receive nominations from friends or self-nominate and complete an application form. Then, applications are screened by volunteers and the field is narrowed to 30 students. Lastly, each candidate is interviewed by three judges, who select the 20 members of the homecoming court – 10 men and 10 women.

Pittelkow received an e-mail Oct. 10 with the good news.

"I was incredibly excited and honored," said the three-year Snyder Hall residence assistant. "Homecoming court is a tremendous honor. I have friends who have been on the court before and they said that it has been one of the best experiences they had on campus."

As a lifelong East Central Illinois resident, she said the university has always been close to her heart. She even dressed as an Illini cheerleader for many Halloweens while growing up.

"Being from Champaign and Danville, I have always been an Illini fan," said Pittelkow, a member of the Phi Mu sorority and Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity. "I'm proud to be part of the orange and blue culture."

She's sharing the weekend experience with her parents and brother Jeff. They attended the homecoming parade and dinner reception Friday and planned to be at a Saturday pregame picnic at UI President James J. Stukel's home.

"Homecoming is an integral part of what this campus is about. I was proud that I was selected to represent the university," said Dhar.

The senior is passionate about students taking a greater role in the community and social issues. This fall, he founded the Worldwide Human Rights Foundation, a registered student organization intended to bring awareness about injustices around the globe. Dhar said college universities create the ideal environment for students to learn about today's political culture and the technology available to make life better for others worldwide.

The homecoming court has been through some changes, said Willard Broom, associate dean of students at the UI. It began as a homecoming queen contest where one of 10 women won the crown based on students' votes. Then in the 1980s, students cast votes for king and queen, which was announced at a Friday night pep rally. About five years ago, the UI eliminated the king and queen tradition.

"The two people felt bad about taking attention from the other 18 because these were all remarkable young people," said Broom.

"It didn't feel like the honor it was intended to be."

The complete homecoming court is Allison Beyer, Erik Bostrom, Natalie Jo-Mae Bomke, Dan Bolin, Carmen Coad, Andrew Erskine, Jamie Lynn Graves, Vilas Dhar, Kara Huffman, Brett Mense, Kristi Kenney, Jeff Kibler, Kasey Maasberg, Christopher Rose, Tiffany Patrick, Adam Morris, Elizabeth Pittelkow, Gerry Welch, Krystal Wilson and Christopher Walti.

You can reach Ernst Lamothe Jr. at (217) 351-5223 or via e-mail at elamothe@news-gazette.com.

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