Finding a Niche and Serving Society

“Leaving high school with an understanding of the infinite windows of opportunity available at that pivotal point in my life, I was not ashamed to come to college undeclared,” said Danielle Leibowitz. “From a young age, my mother—who was very artistically inclined—encouraged me to be creative. My father—a math whiz and ranked backgammon player—taught me to play chess and ‘focus on strategy’ when I was just a toddler. With that dual background, I had a hard time choosing a single career path, but coming to LAS, where there is such a variety of options, I knew I would find my niche.”

Danielle Leibowitz

Danielle Leibowitz. Photo by Laura Ress Design

Now a junior in the teaching of mathematics program in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Leibowitz didn’t just find her academic niche at UIC, she also became heavily involved in student government, helping her clarify both her immediate career goals and a long-term vision.

“One of the first friends that I made here was very involved in student government. He brought me to a meeting and I knew immediately that student government was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Leibowitz, who serves as the UIC Student Member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees this year.

Young Leibowitz plays chess with dad

The young Leibowitz plays chess with her father Robert. Photo courtesy of Leibowitz

“Growing up in Wilmette, I attended New Trier High School, which I liked because of the great academics. However, something I really like about UIC, that wasn’t as prevalent in high school, is the rich diversity,” explained Leibowitz. “As a student whose parents each had to work three jobs just to keep me in the district, I feel more at home at UIC, where other students have similar situations. Furthermore, being immersed in this environment in which so many students work hard just to afford school, it strengthened my desire to pursue a career where I could directly impact the community, specifically through education.

“At LAS, I realized I could combine my interest and abilities in math with my passion for community service,” Leibowitz said.

After graduation, she will take her commitment into the Chicago Public Schools. Despite her comfort with all things mathematical, Leibowitz is keenly aware that for most students math can be intimidating. “With the rising importance of the STEM fields in today’s society, I find it essential to show students that subjects like math don’t have to be daunting and that they can actually excel in these disciplines,” she stated.

Ultimately, Leibowitz wants to work in educational policy at the state or national level. “The educational system is tied to every part of our society and it is the biggest conundrum we have in this country. To change any part of that system you have to look at the effects on the community, the economy and the individuals; you need to examine the details and have a global perspective. I find the prospect of working in education not only to be intellectually stimulating, but also very meaningful,” she said.

For the present, Leibowitz is busy fulfilling the responsibilities of honors student and student leader. As an elected member of the Board of Trustees, she participates in Undergraduate Student Government, the Graduate Student Council and the Health Professional Student Council. In addition to her numerous campus obligations, she will also travel to Springfield and Urbana for meetings.

“As the Student Trustee, my role involves relaying information between the students and the administration, creating the transparency that so many students want,” she said, explaining that her position on the BOT allows her to serve as an ex-officio officer to Undergraduate Student Government.

“I plan to work with advising to improve the lines of communication so that students are more aware of the many opportunities and resources available on campus. I will continue my involvement with the various student organizations and will work with the USG to increase involvement with our legislators,” added Leibowitz, who also serves on the LAS Student Advisory Board.

“Before coming to college, I knew I wanted to make the most of my experience, so I planned things very deliberately,” she said of her hectic schedule, which includes a part-time job. “I stacked on the classes my first two years and also took summer school so that my junior and senior year I would have a lighter load, allowing me to focus on personal endeavors, such as my new leadership position.”

The intensity of her schedule notwithstanding, Leibowitz maintains her positive outlook and enthusiasm. “Every day, we are always teaching and learning,” she said. “Everywhere I go and every person I talk with has something marvelous to share, and the people I’ve met at UIC are the most inspiring.