Scholarship Stories: Dr. Mauriell Amechi

Scholarships impact the lives of students beyond the classroom. Your generosity has forever impacted students like Dr. Mauriell Amechi, an alumnus of the Illinois Promise program.

Dr. Mauriell Amechi (LAS ’11) is an accomplished professor, researcher, and advocate. He is also a mentor—a role that allows him to pay forward the support he received as a young scholar and share how he carved his path to success.

“It isn’t where you start. It is where you finish,” he said.

As a young man, Dr. Amechi was dealing with real pressures, and his performance in his first years of high school reflected that reality. However, some of those pressures lessened when his grandmother adopted him and several of his siblings through the kinship foster care process while he was still in elementary school. This important step toward a stable home life coupled with his fierce determination enabled him to pull up his GPA and land on the Principal’s List every semester for the second half of his high school career. He knew he wanted a career in business, and with the help of his high school guidance counselor, Anna Gonzalez, Amechi set his sights on Illinois’ highly competitive business school.

Dr. Amechi’s first application to Illinois ended in a denial letter. Despite the disappointment that often comes with rejection, he remained undeterred. He knew he had what it would take to succeed at his state’s flagship institution. He just needed to prove it to the admissions counselors. With the help of Ms. Gonzalez, he resubmitted his application and was admitted to Illinois as a general studies major, with plans to apply to the business school his sophomore year. Two months before his high school graduation, his grandmother, the woman who was his guardian, passed away. He knew he would do everything it took to make his dreams a reality and to pay tribute to her.

In the fall of 2007, Dr. Amechi entered the University of Illinois with the goal of taking all the required courses to show the Gies College of Business that he was ready for the rigor of what the program promised, but those prerequisites would prove to be more than Dr. Amechi could complete in just one short school year. However, he’d learned to make the most of what was before him and how to pivot. He knew he was enjoying the general education classes he was taking, and he also had a unique admissions process and insight. Through his experiences in the McNair Scholars program and his conversations with education professor Dr. Christopher Span, he was introduced to all the opportunities available in the field of educational research.

Now setting his sights on a career in education, he also leaned into the Illinois Promise Program.

“Through the program, I was starting to really develop my leadership skills, to have a community with other students from similar backgrounds and developed a great relationship with the director at the time, Susan Gershenfeld, who became a strong supporter of mine.”

Dr. Amechi went on to work for the Illinois Promise program and Ms. Gershenfeld. She created projects for Dr. Amechi to work on that aligned with his interest in education research, including encouraging Amechi to develop programming for students in I-Promise throughout the year.

As his time as an undergraduate student progressed, Dr. Amechi started to think about his next step.

“Going into my senior year, I knew that I wanted to go to grad school, I knew which grad schools I was going to apply to, and I knew I wanted to be a college professor or a senior administrator in higher education. The Illinois Promise program really helped shape me.”

Upon graduation, Dr. Amechi attended The Ohio State University and then the University of Wisconsin, earning his doctorate by 28. One year later, Dr. Amechi fulfilled his dream of becoming a college professor and researcher who advocates for educationally disadvantaged students. Dr. Amechi is now the founder of Foster Youth Empowered, a consulting firm dedicated to addressing persistent inequities in high school and college completion for underserved adolescents impacted by foster care systems.

Dr. Amechi recently sat down to mentor a young woman looking for leadership advice. “She reminded me of myself, someone who wasn’t willing to be passive or complacent with their current situation or circumstances. Someone who’s self-motivated, determined to give back to the community, understands that they may need some help to get there, and is not afraid to ask for guidance or support,” he said. “That is the type of support that I hope to be, the example I hope to give to others.”