University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) Alliance

The goal of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign MSI Alliance is to increase the number of underrepresented students pursuing and obtaining doctoral degrees leading to successful careers in academia and beyond. We aim to build extensive multi-directional partnerships between Illinois and participating MSIs. By building these pathways through the educational system we can increase the university’s role in reimagining, restructuring, and reinventing the process to expand diversity in every discipline of our graduate programs with a social equity and access focus. Increasing the number of underrepresented doctoral students and faculty will also increase social justice within higher education, providing financial capacity and an equitable and unobstructed pathway to attend college along with the support needed to be successful.

“As you all know, you don’t get to the next generation of great, talented and impactful faculty members if you don’t first create the pathways and support structures that foster successful and fulfilling experiences for great, talented and impactful doctoral students across our entire higher educational network.” ~ Chancellor Jones

Through the guidance of the MSI Alliance Co-chairs and Advisory Council, the Illinois MSI Alliance plans to make an impact through implementing programming opportunities such as listening session and engagement events for all members of the community.

2022 Summer Explorations Program

The inaugural University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign MSI Alliance Summer Explorations Program was held at the Illini Union on the Illinois campus on July 22-23, 2022. Invited participants included one administrator, one faculty member, and two to three undergraduate students from various MSIs across the country.

The program consisted of keynote presentations, Illinois research center and institute presentations, MSI administrator/faculty and student presentations, and breakout sessions based on participant group. Throughout the program, the discussion was directed towards key themes of mutually beneficial partnerships and student engagement.

Many ideas and exciting discussions emerged during the program that reflect the intentions of the Illinois MSI Alliance to promote diversity, access, and inclusion with a focus on graduate education across a wide variety of academic disciplines, along with some additional reflections on key themes and future implications.

The Illinois MSI Alliance plans to sponsor similar listening sessions hosted on our campus and at partnering MSI locations.

A report summarizing the event and outcomes can be found here.

2023 Spring Student Forum

Fourteen students from across the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign MSI Alliance partner institutions participated in the Illinois MSI Alliance Spring Student Forum held on Friday, February 17, 2023 to build on conversations held during the July 2022 Illinois MSI Alliance Explorations Program. Dr. Wanda Ward, Executive Associate Chancellor for Public Engagement kicked off the virtual program by discussing the objectives of the Illinois MSI Alliance, including increasing the number of underrepresented students pursuing and obtaining doctoral degrees leading to successful careers in academia and beyond, and the long-term commitment the Office of Public Engagement has in meeting these goals. She also discussed the upcoming Illinois MSI Alliance Student Summer Research Experience, which will hold its inaugural program during summer 2023.

A morning roundtable, led by Illinois MSI Alliance Co-Chair, Dr. Lynford Goddard, Director of the Grainger College of Engineering Institute for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA), provided an opportunity to hear directly from the students and engage in their specific research interest. Students actively participated and provided feedback on what they hoped to benefit from the Illinois MSI Alliance such as opportunities for large-scale interdisciplinary research projects as well as possible leadership- and network-building activities. Dr. Goddard, along with the other two Illinois MSI Alliance Co-Chairs, Dr. Antoinette Burton and Dr. Gene Robison gave examples of programs their research institutes have in place that address some of these opportunities:

Dr. Burton discussed the Humanities Research Institute’s (HRI) program Humanities Without Walls, and how the current graduate students in the program echo the calls for experiences that will bring students from diverse backgrounds together.

Dr. Robinson explained that the University of Illinois has set up their research institutes to broaden participation across disciplines. He described the research institutes as connective tissue to build relationships throughout the university colleges and departments. For example, the Institute of Genomic Biology (IGB) is the intersection of biology, engineering and some social sciences that work together on several grand challenges. IGB students and faculty are offered opportunities for professional development. One example is the IGB Random Coffee Talks where faculty are paired up to discuss a research idea for 45 minutes – sometimes some interesting ideas come of these sessions.

Dr. Goddard reflected on programs offered at the IDEA Institute in the Grainger College of Engineering that might be of interest to the MSI students. The mission of the IDEA Institute is to support scholarship, innovation, collaboration, and leadership in the areas of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access at all levels. One of the Institute’s projects include the Grassroots Initiatives to Address Needs Together (GIANT). Some of the topics addressed by GIANT are mentoring, graduate programs for women, and the addition of engineering terms in sign language. Another initiative, the IDEA Allies encourages students to work together to problem solve.

The afternoon session was an interactive workshop entitled, “Imagine You,” led by Dr. Victor McCrary, Vice President for Research and Professor of Chemistry at the University of the District of Columbia and Vice Chair of the National Science Board. Dr. McCrary continued his dialog with the students from his 2022 Illinois MSI Alliance Summer Explorations Program keynote address on the importance of diversity in research across all fields of study. Dr. McCrary’s goal of the workshop was to help students understand their value proposition and offered tips on utilizing innovative prospects to gain the skills needed such as business knowledge, project management, cost estimation, and organizational design to be competitive in today’s job market. Some of Dr. McCrary’s interesting insights from a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business course entitled: Playing the Game included:

  • You must initiate and maintain network connections and those networks should lead to the outcomes you would like.
  • You should always carry a business card because you never know who you are going to meet. Serendipity is a real thing. Don’t waste interactions with people.
  • A mentor is someone who advises you, but a sponsor is someone in the room who will stand up for you.
  • The game is rigged against people of color, don’t be a victim.
  • Be sure to take courses outside your major field of study.
  • Have a good network of people that have skillsets you don’t – you should be able to pick up the phone and find help on things you don’t know.

Dr. McCrary closed by stating, “It doesn’t matter what you look like when the temperature rises – we will need all hands-on deck to address the climate crisis and other expanded spaces that will present future challenges.”

2023 Student Summer Research Experience

To build upon partnerships among University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign MSI Alliance members, the Office of Public Engagement is sponsoring a cohort of up to 50 students from all areas of study, over the summer to provide meaningful research experiences.

Each student will receive a stipend, housing and meals, and travel expenses to and from the summer program. Books, supplies, and materials needed to support their participation in the program will also be provided. Many activities will be offered throughout the summer to establish important relationships with faculty in their respective field of study including, conducting graduate-level research under the supervisor of an Illinois faculty member. Participants will become acquainted with the culture of graduate school and learn what is needed and expected of them as graduate students.

A summer research program helps students gain a competitive advantage as a graduate school applicant by participating in:

    • Intense research activities that broaden technical and presentation skills
    • Opportunities to present research results at a program symposium and in local research meetings
    • Seminars that introduce students to a range of research fields across disciplinary lines
    • Workshops on graduate admission procedures and professional development
    • Informal social gatherings that provide a forum for students and faculty to exchange ideas and perspectives


Antoinette Burton, Ph.D., Director, Humanities Research Institute
Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation

Lynford Goddard, Ph.D., Director, IDEA Institute
Grainger College of Engineering

Gene Robinson, Ph.D., Director, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation


Kandace Turner, Director for Public Engagement