NIU Scholarships Inspired Rachel Pawlisz, '05, to Volunteer for Student Success
By Lia Kizilbash Gillet

Rachel Pawlisz, '05, participates in remote volunteer opportunities to support current NIU students.

As a recipient of two NIU scholarships that funded her undergraduate degree, Rachel Pawlisz, ‘05, was inspired to become an NIU alumni volunteer.

“I was incredibly fortunate to receive my scholarships, and I view volunteering as a way to give back,” she shared when asked about her motivation to volunteer with the NIU Honors program.

Pawlisz has volunteered her time to review honors program scholarship applications, participate in email conversations with students to help them practice their professional communications, and welcomed a student to virtually job shadow her.

“NIU makes it so easy!” she exclaimed. “Training is offered, employees are readily available for questions and the projects are not a heavy lift at all.”

Although much of her volunteer efforts have been virtual, Pawlisz says she is excited to be able to support students on campus due to a recent move closer to DeKalb. 

“There are so many opportunities, both large and small, and any assistance is worthwhile, especially to students,” she said. “I encourage other alumni to volunteer because no contribution of their time is too small.”

Pawlisz has spent her entire career working for Kaplan, popularly known as a test preparation company. Kaplan also offers educational programs for students at every stage of their schooling or careers and partners with universities.

“As manager of legal affairs, a lot of my work in regulatory compliance involves our higher education support services,” Pawlisz shared. “I see firsthand what impacts federal and state regulations and budgets have on a student’s ability to afford a degree. That's what especially draws me to assist with reviewing scholarships; to help students get any aid they may be eligible for. I've also volunteered for another non-profit organization providing informational sessions on financial aid and college affordability for high school students who may not otherwise have access to this information.”

In her role at Kaplan, Pawlisz also virtually hosted a student who shadowed her and her team's jobs.
“These days, remote work is so normal that even a virtual job shadow experience is relevant to what a student will experience in many careers,” Pawlisz highlighted. “The student made a strong connection with one of my teammates from this experience, and my teammate has been able to provide further mentoring. This kind of networking can be invaluable for a student's future career!”

She continued, “I would like to believe this impacts the university by helping with student engagement, persistence and completion.”

Pawlisz says sharing her knowledge is her way of paying it forward, hoping that students will have the same positive experiences, great education and exceptional opportunities she received at NIU.

Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities at NIU, or contact Liz McKee ‘14 M.S.Ed., senior director of alumni engagement, at or 815-753-7400.