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Illinois Experience: Ashley Zelek

Being a parent isn’t easy – and it can be especially complicated for those who are juggling parenthood with University coursework, activities, and sometimes employment or an assistantship.  

Ashley Zelek, McHenry, is a senior majoring in Community Health.  Caring for her infant daughter, Juniper, is her #1 priority. A key part of her Illinois Experience is serving on the I-Parent Planning Committee that seeks to make the U of I a more family-friendly campus.


What does the I-Parent Planning Committee do?

We’re working on changing some of the academic policies so they reflect more issues that student-parents face. We’re also working on creating a new position, having someone dedicated to working just with student-parents, because right now we don't really have a centralized place where student-parents can go for information on financial aid, daycare and so on. We need somebody who can help work with professors and guide students so they can do their best in school, keep their grades up and still be a good parent.

What are some of the unique needs of student-parents?

When your child gets sick, you have to miss classes: she’s not allowed at daycare if she’s running a fever or not feeling well.  There was a point where I had to miss a week (of class) because my daughter was so sick.  

I’ve become pretty good friends with Rhonda Kirts (in the Dean of Students office) through this. She’s helped me so much, pointing me to different day-care resources I could access, talking with professors and getting me letters when I needed them.  Carol Baxter at McKinley Health Center also has been really helpful.  

Have you found yourself helping or mentoring others on how to navigate the University as a student-parent?

I’m friends with a TA I had last semester for one of my community health classes.  She’s a doctoral student. We were pregnant at the same time, and her son is a month younger than my daughter. So we’ve been comparing notes, and I’ve been helping her with daycare and that kind of stuff. 

Have there been any “aha!” moments for you in your time on campus?

The FYCARE (First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education) rape-prevention program had a huge impact on me because I didn’t know how many different stereotypes people put on situations like that. I found that extremely eye-opening, learning how much self-blame victims go through. That was one of my favorite classes I’ve taken through U of I! 

What does the future hold for you?

I’m applying to grad school, and I’d like to be an administrator in a hospital setting.