CHANCE celebrates 50 years with recognition banquet


CHANCE celebrates 50 years with recognition banquet

By Fatima Siddiqui

DeKALB — The McKinley “Deacon” Davis CHANCE program held its 50th anniversary recognition dinner Saturday in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center.

The evening consisted of speeches, the story of how CHANCE began, awards and performances. CHANCE selected five students to receive $5,000 each towards their expenses at NIU. CHANCE also awarded many staff and alumni for their exemplary service or professional work.

People were encouraged to nominate who they think should be honored. The CHANCE program was going to honor 50 alumni to correlate with their 50 year anniversary. However, they honored more than 100 because of the overwhelming amount of nominations.  

The Counseling Help and Assistance Necessary for a College Education[CHANCE] program was a vision of the sixth NIU President Rhoten Smith, in 1968. The title of the program comes from its first director, McKinley Deacon Davis.

CHANCE Director Denise Hayman said Smith wanted to be involved with students who were protesting the Vietnam War and making demands for greater education, like providing additional resources and creating greater access to success for students.

The program’s mission is to provide opportunities to students in higher education. The program helps students graduating from high school to apply to NIU and further their education. Students who do not meet the current requirements of the university when applying through the Office of Admissions will be referred to the CHANCE program.

NIU requires first-year students to apply with an ACT score of at least 19 and a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75, or an ACT score of at least 23 and a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5, according to the NIU Undergraduate Admissions website.

CHANCE requires all applicants to interview and take a math test to qualify. Out of 4,700 applications, a maximum of 500 students are selected to participate. Hayman said CHANCE students have to apply for FAFSA and pay their tuition just like any other student; they are not offered a full ride.

Alumnus Luis Martinez graduated high school in Chicago with a low GPA. He was told he wouldn’t be able to study at NIU. He graduated from the College of Business in 2014 with the help from CHANCE. His estimated GPA upon graduating was 2.1; however, Martinez graduated with a 3.7 GPA. He was involved with finance, the Mexican Club and Barsema.

“This program gave me life,” Martinez said. “CHANCE was another opportunity for me to be successful.”

On his days off, Martinez helps out at his former high school by tutoring math to students. He also continues to stay involved with NIU and the CHANCE program.

“CHANCE is the opportunity to excel,” Martinez said.

Former CHANCE Director Leroy Mitchell was a part of the program from 1980 to 2008. At that time, the program was evolving, and the higher administration was testing out new policies.

Mitchell said he noticed many students were more focused on school after joining CHANCE and having successful careers after graduation. Mitchell said more students were adapting to computers, and reading levels got better over the years.

“Every year, it was a war to keep the program up and going,” Mitchell said. “But all of the presidents were really supportive.”

Karen Wilkerson, alumna and supervising attorney for Department of Children and Family Services, said she remembers moving to DeKalb and the obstacles she overcame.

“I didn’t know what it was like to have a pizza delivered to your house until I came to DeKalb,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson lived in a small town with about 600 people. For her, moving to DeKalb was like moving to a big city.

In the early ’80s, NIU was one of the few schools that had a program like CHANCE.

“I knew I wanted to be in a school where I got encouraged and supported, and I didn’t feel like I was going to get that at U of I,” Wilkerson said.

Lisa King, alumna and current CHANCE associate director, said she remembers the help she received at NIU when no other university was willing. King said the counselor was constantly reaching out to her about her progress, even before she graduated high school. The counselor communicated with the English, math and communications department to ensure King would enroll at NIU.

“It was a real supportive academic community,” King said.

King said CHANCE helped students to familiarize with the community. She said it wasn’t just about the academic aspect of NIU that students needed help with, and CHANCE helped students with getting involved in clubs, sports, and other activities on and off campus.

“I don’t even know that I had the vision when I first started, to graduate from college,” King said. “After a while, it became a vengeance, like I’m not leaving without a degree.”