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Illinois Experience: Matthew Graziano

Matthew Graziano, Long Grove, came to the University as a freshman with “no idea” of what he wanted to do in life.

He says his Illinois Experience helped him clarify his goals and channel his skills and energies into areas where he can do the most good. Today, Matt is a senior who’s pursuing a double major in political science and statistics with minors in leadership studies and mathematics. He plans to pursue a career in law or economics.

You’ve taken part in lots of programs at the Illinois Leadership® Center, and now you’re a Graf Intern there.  What’s been your greatest takeaway from those programs?

It all comes down to building relationships with people, and not in a superficial way.  When you have a really great relationship with someone, they’re able to challenge you to become better. You get to hear some really neat perspectives from other people and learn something yourself. A lot of times, people can get tunnel-vision with their own ideas and it’s great to hear about others’ strengths and how they can contribute to things. That really hit home for me!

Is there any specific I-Program that stands out for you?

Insight, which is all about self-management and self-awareness. One thing that really shaped me was StrengthsQuest®.  That whole philosophy essentially is that everyone is good at something, and should be putting themselves in situations to use those skills and do things they really enjoy. That seems like such a trivial concept, but for me as a sophomore, it wasn’t.

How have you put that into practice?

I came in (to the program) a very competitive person, wanting to be the best at everything I touched. But that’s not possible or realistic. And hearing that kind of philosophy made me think about using the things I really value and am really good at, whether in my major or in my career path.

You also discovered that you have a passion for tutoring, for helping other people be their best. How has that been a part of your Illinois Experience?

I got involved in tutoring through Phi Eta Sigma, the national honor society.  I worked with Garden Hills Elementary, Urbana Middle School, Urbana High School and such. I’d get other students interested in tutoring and get them in touch with the coordinators there.

I also started a tutoring-by-appointment program on campus to tutor college students.  Essentially, the idea was that if students need help with a class they could shoot me an email and I would pair them with a tutor for that class. In the past, they (who?) had weekly (scheduled) tutoring sessions, but they weren’t really getting people to tutor.  When we made the change from the old way of doing things, we had an increase of tutoring hours from maybe 10 to over a hundred with tutoring-by-appointment.  The program’s still going today, and it’s much larger than it was when I started it.  So that was a really successful thing that I was happy with.