When Ryan Lawless applied to College of DuPage, he was unsure of what path to take.
“My father had unexpectedly passed away and I was helping care for my mother with my older brother,” he said. “As a low-income, first-generation student, the process of going through college was stressful. But COD’s affordable price and accessibility offered me a smooth transition to higher learning.”
Although initially feeling lost, Lawless considered pursuing mathematics. Then he found several clubs on campus—including the Entrepreneurship Club—that opened up the world of business, and he realized that many of his skills and hobbies aligned with marketing.
“Marketing allows me to combine the analytics of mathematics and other business-related careers while letting me express myself through avenues like digital design. It also helps me understand the strategies behind what makes for a successful business campaign,” he said. “I began exploring my interest in marketing after I launched an international organization’s video game tournament for a game that I had been playing for a few years with some friends. It was rewarding to immerse myself in more than one aspect of the community, and I was able to learn marketing tactics that helped generate interest in the organization. I began to see things I learned from the classroom turn into real-life experiences, which only fueled my interest further.”
While at COD, Lawless was part of the Honors Program, through which he pushed himself in classes and improved the quality of his work.
“The experiences I gained from the Honors Program led me to apply topics and ideas that I had learned from one class to another and view things, such as the business process, through a more sociological lens,” he said. “I have connected with many professors who have encouraged me to explore my academic interests regardless of what they might be, which helped me shed my shy nature and feel more comfortable expressing my thoughts with my peers.”
This included writing a research paper on the invalidity and social effects of race realism that he presented at both the 2021 Honors Council of the Illinois Region Symposium and a competitive international symposium hosted by Johns Hopkins University, where he is submitting his paper into the peer-reviewed Macksey Journal in its upcoming edition.
The confidence he gained in the Honors Program extended to his extracurricular involvement, including serving as president of the Entrepreneurship Club, being a peer mentor for the Inclusive Excellence Peer Mentorship program, joining a professional mentorship that allowed him to participate in job shadowing for Caterpillar Inc., playing for the College of DuPage tennis team, and working a part-time job.
Having graduated with high honors with his Associate in Arts degree, Lawless is transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a James Scholar to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. His goal is to focus on digital marketing and continue researching race realism, using tools at UIUC to analyze the issue through the viewpoint of small-business owners of varying demographics within the area.
Lawless recommends that students look at COD as an opportunity for a fresh start, both socially and academically.
“High school can be hectic and confusing, but the curriculum COD provides helps students gain an idea of what they might like to study in the future or do for work, all at an affordable price. Office hours, clubs and the general environment of Honors classes are conducive to creating meaningful connections and lasting relationships.”