KOKOMO, Ind. — Because her professor believed in Sydney McIlrath, she began to believe in herself.
McIlrath arrived at Indiana University Kokomo unsure that college was for her, after struggling with a learning disability in high school. She found a supportive community and faculty who inspired her to succeed.
“It’s been really refreshing to be able to go to IU Kokomo and realize I am extremely smart, I can do the course work, I can earn As, and I can do it on my own,” she said. “I didn’t have the skills to get a job right out of high school, but I almost felt like I wasn’t smart enough, that I wasn’t capable of college. I finally found something that clicked with me, and I realized I just needed to find my place, and once I did, it was smooth sailing.”
McIlrath is very proud to have made the dean’s list, and even the chancellor’s list for students with a 4.0 GPA, during her time at IU Kokomo. With graduation coming up in May, this student who once wasn’t sure she could handle college is now considering graduate school, with encouragement from faculty members.
“That was something I never could have fathomed before,” she said.
As a new freshman with no declared major, she enrolled in a theatre class as a comfortable place to start, because she had done well in performing arts classes. During the class, Joann Kaiser, senior lecturer in communication arts, spotted her potential immediately.
“She told me, ‘I don’t know why you are undecided. The way you talk, you’re a communication major. It’s just going to take some time for you to understand that,’” McIlrath recalled, noting that it did take her a while to make the major official, and to email Kaiser to let her know she was right.
“I finally found somewhere that I fit in,” she said. “I told Joann, who knew from the beginning where I belonged, that I should have listened to her sooner.”
The Career and Accessibility Center helped her get started on the right foot, by providing accessibility letters for her professors, letting them know of accommodations she might need for her learning disability. She was pleased that everyone she gave a letter offered support and help.
“It was nice to know that everyone was so accepting, and wanted to be sure I thrived and was successful,” she said. “Once I got into my major and began to find my footing, I didn’t have to use the services anymore, and could do everything on my own. It was nice that accessibility services were there in case I needed them, but also nice to know I could do it without them.”
While earning a bachelor’s degree in communication, McIlrath also minored in theatre.
“Theatre helped me get out of my shell a lot,” she said. “It allows me to be creative. I looked at my minor as something I could have fun with, and it shows I’m good with my communication skills.”
She’s completing her minor this semester by serving as stage manager for the campus production of The Pirates of Penzance. It’s been a new and exciting opportunity for her, since she’s used to being on the stage during shows.
As stage manager, she makes sure all actors are where they are supposed to be, pulls the curtain, and assists directors Wendy Grice and Garry Grice from casting all the way to the final bows and striking the sets.
“I’m their right-hand person, making sure their vision is portrayed in the best way possible,” she said. “I’m really enjoying working with Wendy and Garry because they are theatre geeks like me. It’s been fun to watch the show evolve from just a few people singing to adding costumes, and coming all together for the performance.”