I-Leap 2022

Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP)

Helping students meet their academic and professional goals


I-LEAP provides support to undergraduates enrolled in the College of Applied Health Sciences who are first-generation students, students from underrepresented groups, student athletes, and those recognized by the President Awards Program (PAP) and Educational Opportunities Program (EOP). Through bi-weekly one-on-one counseling, mentorship, workshops, academic skills development, leadership training, and referrals to resources, I-LEAP aims to increase student success at the University of Illinois and within the campus community.



I-LEAP Student Portfolios

“Being a part of I-LEAP was one of the most influential aspects of my freshman year. Walking in with support right off the bat was an incredible feeling. I knew that I-LEAP faculty and other students in the program were always there for me as I adjusted to college. I-LEAP has already pushed me to be a better student and person by exposing me to new ideas, skills, people, and resources around campus. I look forward to continuing to make my mark around campus and in the world with the support of I-LEAP.”

— Ariana Sanchez

Program Benefits

  • With an average GPA of 3.13, I-LEAP students earn better grades than students outside of the program
  • Participants in the program receive extra guidance that makes the transition to college smooth and successful
  • The I-LEAP Academic Skills Specialist helps students maximize their coursework and achieve their career goals
  • Countless opportunities to develop the leadership skills necessary for a successful career
  • With more than 160 participants, I-LEAP provides students a campus community on their first day of class

Program Eligibility

Students who meet one of the following criteria are eligible to participate in I-LEAP

  • first-generation college student
  • from an underrepresented group (African American or Black, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander)
  • student-athletes
  • those recognized by the Educational Opportunities Program or President's Award Program

Students will be informed of their eligibility for the program after admission to the University. Students who wish to participate must accept their invitation to the program before arriving on campus. 

“I-LEAP has allowed myself and others to expand our perception of what we are able to contribute on campus and to society as a whole. By providing mentorship, a supportive environment, and numerous opportunities to grow, I-LEAP continues to help students cultivate adept learning habits, which we will carry on for the rest of our educational journeys. After joining I-LEAP, I am glad to say I have felt exponentially more confident in my abilities to succeed as a first-generation college student at U of I.”

— Rahil Saddrudin

Elizabeth Mason

Elizabeth Mason, M. Ed.


Elizabeth is from Lynwood, Ill. She is a two-time alumna of the University of Illinois. Her B.A. is in International Studies and she has her Ed.D and M.Ed. in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership. Elizabeth has always been dedicated to promoting academic success. She has been an elementary school teacher and was a graduate advisor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Access and Achievement Program for two years before joining I-LEAP and the College of Applied Health Sciences full time. Her dissertation focuses on the impact of academic policies on academic probation during COVID-19. As the Director for I-LEAP, Elizabeth works to create an environment where students have the resources they need to achieve their academic, personal, and professional goals.

Contact Information:

Joe Cross

Joseph Cross, Ph.D.

Academic Skills Specialist

Joseph L. Cross, Ph.D. Originally from Carbondale, Illinois Dr. Cross completed his B.S. in Sport Management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2001), where he was also a member of the men’s basketball team. Joe went back to his hometown of Carbondale to obtain his M.S. in Sport Management from Southern Illinois University (2003).  In 2017 Dr.  Cross completed his doctoral degree in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership (EPOL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His interests include leadership styles and program development among African American males at predominantly White institutions. As an academic skills specialist, he works to provide students the academic mentoring and scholarly skills training needed to be successful during their college experience.

Joe has worked at the University of Illinois since 2003. Prior to joining the I-LEAP team  Dr. Cross obtained a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Outreach at Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he provided leadership in engaging faculty and STEM industries in outreach initiatives with K-12 students, teachers and community programs. He also gained experience as an academic advisor in the College of Education and as a Research Specialist with CREA (Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment), where he collaborated with colleagues interested in the research of culturally responsive evaluation.

Contact Information:

Brittany Lopez

Brittany Lopez

Academic Skills Specialist

Brittany Lopez, originally from Phoenix, completed her B.S. in Sport Management with a minor in Business Management from Greenville University (2020), where she was also a member of the women’s basketball team. Brittany later obtained her MBA from Greenville in 2022.

Since 2020, Brittany has worked in the Student Success Office at Greenville. Most recently, she has been the Academic Program Manager which entailed assisting students in achieving their highest academic results and enriching the overall academic experience for Greenville University students. However, her favorite part of her role was supervising and operating the Academic Mentorship Program which focused on mentoring high-risk incoming freshmen. As a first-generation student, Brittany has experienced many different challenges and barriers to academic success and is looking forward to supporting and building relationships with those who have similar stories.


Ron Threadgill

Ron Threadgill

Academic Skills Specialist

Ron is a Ph.D. student in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research interest includes the history of educational inequity in the United States and school funding inequity in Illinois. Ron earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Illinois as well. He has advised and worked with students in various on-campus units, especially low-income, underrepresented and first-generation, such as the College of LAS Access and Achievement Program and the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA).

Contact Information:

headshot of Mannie Jackson

The Founder: Mannie Jackson

Class of 1960

The Illinois Academic Enrichment & Leadership Program (I-Leap) was founded by Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Mannie L. Jackson. Mannie is currently the President and Chairman of Boxcar Holdings, an author and the owner of the Harlem Globe Trotters. Mannie is an alumnus of the College of Applied Health Sciences and is a former star Fighting Illini Basketball Player (1957-60).

As featured in “The Ripple Effect” a documentary shown on the Big Ten Network, Fighting Illini legend Mannie Jackson and family donated $2 million to create the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP) in the College of Applied Health Sciences on the Urbana-Champaign campus. The I-LEAP Program has supported student scholars since 2007.

By the Numbers

2022 I-Leap numbers