CHAMPAIGN – Aaron Graham decided to start his college career at Parkland because his grandfather, Paul Curtis, taught there years ago.
Graham and Ashley DiFilippo, a Seymour resident, both decided Parkland classes would be good preparation for the University of Illinois. They'll start their studies at the UI this fall with a nice nest egg, $4,000 in scholarship money, thanks to "two-plus-two" scholarships awarded by Parkland and the UI.
"I was very happy and surprised," said DiFilippo, a Parkland honor student who will major in English at the UI and plans eventually to attend law school.
"It's going to be a big help," said Graham, who plans to continue working at the orchard his family owns southwest of Champaign and eventually to join the Parkland faculty, teaching history.
Officials say the scholarship program, started two years ago, has been so successful, they decided to double the number of recipients this year.
"This is a nice relationship between the UI and Parkland," said Julie McGown, assistant director of the Parkland Foundation, which provides the money for the scholarships. "We make sure students know about the scholarships and fill out the applications and the UI picks the students to receive them."
"We're looking for well-rounded students who are making an effort to get a degree, who have good grades and who are working in their community to make it a better place," said Karen Cooley, assistant director of development for student affairs at the UI .
"We work well together," Cooley said. "It's a great way to honor students for the accomplishments. Any time a two-year and a four-year college cooperate, it's beneficial to students and to both institutions."
The "two-plus-two" scholarship is one of more than 200 scholarships available to Parkland students, the only one directly linked to the UI. Carl Meyer, head of the foundation, said the value of those annual scholarships exceeds $144,000.
Meyer said individuals and businesses make the program possible.
"State and federal funds for education are diminishing, and we need to pick up the slack," he said.
DiFilippo's Parkland grade point average was nearly perfect, and she was an active member of Phi Theta Kappa, a scholastic honorary. She said the community college lived up to her expectations. "I really liked being taught only by professors ," she said. "I loved being there. Classes were challenging."
DiFilippo said applying for the scholarship was a lot of work and she knew there would be a lot of competition, so she was surprised when she received it. She plans to continue working at Bergner's while she attends the UI.
Graham's mapped out an ambitious course of study to prepare himself to attend graduate school and teach history.
"I'm trying to be proficient in Hebrew and Arabic because I think those are two languages useful today," he said. "It's going to be a tough load, but I'm confident and I'm going to try to get all A's."
After he receives his undergraduate degree, Graham plans to go back to Parkland to talk to mentors about graduate school studies to prepare him to teach at the community college.