When Sanchit arrived at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) from India, he was discouraged by how few work and scholarship opportunities existed for international students. There was a lot of competition for paying jobs on campus, and new students on F-1 visas were not eligible for anything off campus. In addition, it seemed like UIC scholarships for international students were limited to just one $5,000 award – for which everyone in the UIC Global program had applied.
“The tipping point for me came when, after looking forever, a professor who I had a good relationship with asked me to be a research assistant,” said Sanchit. “So, we sent in my application, and it turns out there was a work-study requirement that made it very difficult for international students. Either I would have to work for free or he could lose his research funding.”
Sanchit was starting to feel frustrated, so he reached out to Kali Heifetz, managing director of UIC Global. “The best way to complain about something is to do something about it,” said Sanchit. “And so I emailed Kali and told her, ‘I want to start an organization for international students.’”
With Heifetz’s direction, Sanchit took a new perspective on the problem. He realized that at University of Illinois Chicago, students have the agency to solve the problems they identify, such as a lack of funding opportunities for international students. He started The Umbrella Org to foster a community for international students and to build scholarships to fund international education in the US.
“The United States is a place where there’s a direct relationship between hard work and progress. They go hand in hand,” said Sanchit. “Also, there are people here who are focused on your success and they’re here to help you. So, asking for help is the first step [that] can lead you to so many places.”
Sanchit asked himself how The Umbrella Org could best serve the international community and solve the problems he faced firsthand. He wanted to help students assert their independence and reduce their parents’ financial burden by contributing to their educational costs. With the help of his UIC Global project mentors, Sanchit began to shape a solution in the form of a scholarship.
“When I started with this last fall, it wasn’t an organization, it was just an idea. It was hard for me to show others my vision,” said Sanchit. “But finally, we got our idea on paper and got registered, and that’s when things started changing.”
The Umbrella Org’s first project is the ¡Podemos! International Student Completion Scholarship, which awards funding to international juniors and seniors whose financial circumstances will otherwise prevent them from finishing their academic program at UIC. The university emailed faculty, staff, and students detailing the crowdsourced fundraising campaign in early September. In addition, Sanchit planned in-person events to bring people together, including a three-day weekend in October with fun social events.
“We envision an organization that does fundraisers, but one that is also developing a community,” said Sanchit. “Together we can create a lot of positive change.”
Sanchit’s Advice for Studying in the United States
Sanchit’s family isn’t wealthy, and he knows his parents sacrificed for him to go to university. His mother prioritized a quality education for her children at any cost to herself and Sanchit’s father. Sanchit originally arrived at UIC with enough credits from his high school boarding school classes to graduate early. He was planning on graduating with a business degree in less than three years.
“But in deciding what I want to do, I realized that things were going a little bit too fast for me, and I slowed down and it was good that I was able to explore,” said Sanchit. “A lot of people helped me out: I had good mentors and even the business center here really [helped], where I spoke to a career coach.”
After exploring different majors (and even changing his major three times), Sanchit decided to stay a little longer – three and a half years– to pursue a degree in finance while exploring his natural interest in entrepreneurialism. Staying longer also allowed him to meet and network with other similarly minded students, plan the ¡Podemos! Scholarship and $50,000 fundraiser, and find a student successor to run the programs after graduation.
“I would say the entire point of college is gaining that experience, right?” said Sanchit. “Apart from learning, college gives you an experience that you cannot replicate. I’m graduating this December, but I could have graduated last December. I decided that I want to do something more and experience more. Once you start your career, you are so busy with your work, you might not have time to explore and learn about yourself and who you are.”
Sanchit is planning on staying in the United States after he graduates this winter. He’d like to stay in Chicago, where he has grown a network of career contacts and a close group of friends. He also wants to be close to UIC, where the Global team helped him take a challenge he found on campus and turn it into a success story for international students.
“They helped me understand that change is possible here,” said Sanchit. “There’s nothing that we can’t do. I feel that was the biggest support.”
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