2021 Homecoming Court
Thomas Ballard, Medinah, IL., is studying econometrics and political science and is passionate about public service. Active in the community, Ballard helps provide service opportunities to students as the President of Volunteer Illini Projects, as well as serve students through his role as a residential advisor. Committed to criminal justice reform, he has also interned with the Champaign County Public Defender’s office to help represent local indigent clients and currently performs empirical research in police use of force policy. After graduating, he plans to attend law school. Overall, he is extremely grateful for all the opportunities Illinois has given him!
Joey Birrittier, Waterloo, IL., is a passionate agriculturalist studying agriculture science education in the College of ACES. On campus he has been actively involved in a wide array of organizations, including Nabor House Cooperative Fraternity, Student Advancement Committee, ACES Council, Illinois Ag Ed Club, and Collegiate Farm Bureau. His fondest memories of college are meeting new people, recruiting future Illini, and finding a career with PepsiCo. Birrittier is grateful to have spent these past four years on campus being a proud Illini. He is truly humbled and honored to be a member of this year’s homecoming court.
Diana Brown, Westerville, OH., is studying molecular and cellular biology, while also pursuing a minor in psychology. As a member of the Illinois women’s volleyball team and their liaison with the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, she strongly advocates for athletes’ voices to heard regarding mental health and social justice issues. Brown leads bible studies through St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and is a member of the Gamma of Illinois chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Eta Sigma honor society. Driven to be the change, she wishes to attend medical school after receiving a master’s degree here at Illinois.
Hsuan-Yu (Taylor) Chen, Taoyuan, Taiwan, is studying bioengineering with a minor in art and design. He is involved in bioengineering and microbiology research and works as a lab technician in an imaging lab. He is also the president for Global Medical Training, the vice president for Formosa Volleyball Enthusiasts, and a hospice volunteer at Carle. Chen is currently applying to MD-PhD programs, where he’ll train to combine his passion for medicine and research and transform science into something useful for people. He hopes his participation in Homecoming Court will serve as an encouragement for his peers to take their Illinois experience above and beyond.
Courtney James-Atkins, Chicago, IL., is studying clinical psychology and Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is passionate about ensuring that marginalized people have access to affordable counseling. On campus, she is a member of The Alpha Nu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, a co-president of Moda Bellissima, and will serve as president of the Association of Minority Psychologists during the spring semester. James-Atkins is applying to graduate school, in hopes of pursuing a doctoral degree in child clinical psychology. She is honored to be on this year’s court and excited to represent Illini scholars.
Evan Ko, Orland Park, IL., strives to increase access and equity in engineering and education. Majoring in bioengineering with a minor in material science and engineering, Ko aims to bridge the gaps between communities and technology through his research in engineering education and experience in the healthcare industry. “Changing the conversation of engineering,” he is driven to represent historically underserved students in STEM, especially LGBT+ POC. Honored to be recognized as his most authentic self, he hopes that his story encourages his peers to know that when they show up as their best self, they can do their best work.
Cierra McCullough, Chicago, IL., a senior studying social psychology and sociology with a minor in criminology, law, and society on a pre-law track. McCullough is applying to law school for the fall 2022 school year. She has been involved in several organizations on campus some of which include Wrapsody Dance Company, where she serves as president, the Illini Union Board, In Living Color, 100 Strong, and more. She is also a proud member of the Alpha Nu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated where she is the community service chair. She hopes to continue to mentor students and help first generation students like herself navigate college. She is an extremely proud Illini and hopes she will have a lasting impact on those who she has mentored and collaborated with throughout her time at Illinois.
Shruthi Mekala, Hillsboro, IL., is majoring in interdisciplinary health sciences with a concentration in health and diversity in the College of Applied Health Sciences. She is both a Chancellor’s and James Scholar and is involved in a number of on-campus organizations, including Delta Kappa Delta Sorority, Alpha Epsilon Delta, the Illini Medical Screening Society, and WeCU. She has received the Greek of the Year Award, as well as a departmental Rising Star Award. Mekala is applying to medical school, where she hopes to become a family physician with obstetrics and continue to learn about and address health disparities in marginalized populations.
Ally Merrett, Macomb, IL., is studying sustainable design in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. He is president of a non-profit called Design for America. He performed comedy and improv. Merrett is guided by four values: creativity, play, learning, and love. The University has empowered him to explore this doctrine by sharing his voice in Varsity Men’s Glee Club, leading brothers in Zeta Psi Fraternity, drumming in his band the façades, designing a democratized world at the Siebel Center for Design, and most vitally, sharing time with loved ones. Thanks to everyone that helped him get here.
Diana Morales, DeKalb,IL., is a passionate first-generation student studying speech and hearing science with a concentration in neuroscience within the College of AHS. She is minoring in psychology and Spanish, with hopes of pursuing a Ph.D. after graduating in May. Her research interests include neurodegenerative diseases among the aging Latinx population as well as implementing culturally tailored interventions within low-income neighborhoods. She occupies herself by being involved in the Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program, Center for Social and Behavioral Science, various interdisciplinary research labs, intramural soccer teams, and playing the violin in the orchestra on campus.
Fredy Quevedo, Jr, Elgin, IL., is studying recreation, sport and tourism with a concentration in sport management. A first-generation Latino, Quevedo is passionate about mentoring younger students to help them achieve their goals. On campus, he was part of the planning committee for the Black and Latino Men’s Summit and is currently a research assistant with the department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism. Quevedo is thankful of the university and humbled to be part of the Homecoming Court. He is grateful for his family, mentors and loved ones that have helped him get to this point.
Kayt Raquel, Naperville, IL., studies marketing in the Gies College of Business with a minor in French. Kayt has loved getting involved on campus and has served as president of the Gies Scholar Program, chief financial officer of Kappa Alpha Theta social sorority, vice president of marketing for Phi Chi Theta professional business fraternity, publicity co-director for Student Alumni Ambassadors, and student representative of the Asian American Cultural Center Advisory Committee. After graduation, Raquel will begin her career at Google as an associate product marketing manager. She is incredibly honored to be a member of this year’s Homecoming Court.
Ria Ravi, Barrington, IL., is studying molecular and cellular biology with an honors concentration, and is distinguished as an LAS James Scholar. On campus, she is committed to moving the needle of science forward, contributing as an undergraduate researcher. Dedicated to acts of service and mentorship, she volunteers for the Avicenna Community Health Clinic & serves as an MCB peer advisor. She passionately works to be an exemplary role model through her various leadership roles, currently as president of her a cappella group, The Illinois Rip Chords, and as a student leader at Carle Hospital. Ria is honored to be a member of the 2021 Homecoming Court!
Tyler Roberson, Chicago, IL., is a student studying community health - health planning and administration. He is a student intern at the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center. He creates and organizes community events catered to minority students. Roberson has participated in the Summer Health Professional Education Program at Columbia University, New York, and Rush Summer Research Scholars Program in Chicago, IL. Roberson is applying to medical school to become a practicing physician. In the future, he plans to incorporate the leadership skills he’s developed at Illinois to implement interventions to help and serve communities.
Alliyah Rumbolt-Lemond, Evanston, IL., is actively involved in promoting diversity and inclusivity through multiple organizations she's involved in. She is completing a dual degree in journalism and sociology with minors in public relations and criminology, law, and society on a pre-law track. As a first-generation college student she has interned at the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center and for Fighting Illini Productions. Alliyah is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and coordinator of the Shelley Ambassadors program that focuses on bringing Black students to the university and retaining those students.
Muskaan Sawhney, San Ramon, CA., is studying molecular and cellular biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Her notable roles on campus are serving as executive manager in Enactus, president of Delta Kappa Delta Sorority, and vice president of MCB Leaders. Throughout her undergraduate career she has conducted research on nutrition and disease in the NHM Lab, Obesity Lab, and Strong Kids study. Serving as a 2021 Community Academic Scholar and intern at Integrative Medicine for the Underserved nonprofit Sawhney hopes that in her future she can pave the path for preventative care accessibility in marginalized communities.
Hannah Spangler, Bushnell, IL., is studying agriculture leadership education and communications (ALEC) with a minor in journalism. Spangler is passionate about educating others about the agriculture industry and advocates for the major role it plays in society. She has interned for Group Mission Trips, Illinois Farm Bureau, and Corteva AgriScience. Additionally, Spangler has worked on an ALEC research project to test the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning and reflections. She is an active member of the Agricultural Education Club, Collegiate Farm Bureau, ACES Student Advancement Committee, Delight Ministries, and 4-H House. Being an Illini runs in her family, so Spangler is honored to represent tradition and progress as a member of the University of Illinois Homecoming Court.
Karthik Subramaniam, Broomfield, CO., is pursuing a dual-degree in industrial design and engineering mechanics. Passionate about combining visual storytelling with problem solving, he has applied a love for design to creating UI/UX solutions for a plethora of clients, most recently as an intern at Microsoft and designer at the Siebel Center for Design. On campus, he has enjoyed being a member and mentor in the Design for America and Design Innovation Illinois organizations. Upon graduation, Subramaniam plans to continue applying creativity to large-scale problems at a large-scale company with a focus on technology, entertainment, and health.
Vongai Tizora, Forsyth, IL., has dedicated her undergraduate career towards serving underrepresented minority (URM) students in STEM and is studying bioengineering in the Grainger College of Engineering on the pre-med track. She has organized college-wide events celebrating diversity, launched a local K-12 STEM outreach program, and collaborated on an interdisciplinary, anti-racism task force composed of students, staff, and faculty. Currently, she is the president of the National Society of Black Engineers and a philanthropy chair for Alpha Omega Epsilon. She hopes to improve the retention and recruitment of URM students in STEM prior to addressing health inequity as a physician.
Faye Yang, Carmi, IL., is studying interdisciplinary health sciences with a health diversity concentration as a College of Applied Health Sciences James Scholar. She plans to attend medical school following a gap year with the goal of owning a fertility clinic. Her most transformative college experiences include giving campus tours as an I-STAR, serving as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry, and conducting human-subject exercise psychology research with older adults in the community. Yang is deeply passionate about health inequalities, volunteering at local clinics for uninsured and underinsured populations. Her selection to Homecoming Court proudly symbolizes representation for first-generation, low-income students.