Follow Cassandra's journey at NIU with updates posted here each month.
She may be from Waterloo, Iowa, but Cassandra Pilcher feels at home at NIU.
"I’m a strong believer in everyone having a college that is a right fit for them,” she says. “Luckily, NIU was that for me."
With no out-of-state tuition rates, NIU was also an affordable option. In her third year, 24-year-old Pilcher is double-majoring in psychology and sociology with a triple minor in deafness, LGBT studies, and women and gender studies. Through Huskie Link, she’s joined a slew of organizations on campus and encourages others to do the same.
"I have two years left at NIU, and I plan to make the most of them," she says. "What isn’t there to do here? We have over 300 clubs and organizations on campus for you to get involved with, and all of them put on events for people throughout the week."
Ask Cassandra Pilcher how many organizations she’s involved in at NIU, and she’ll reply, “Too many to count.”
Double majoring in psychology and sociology, Pilcher of Waterloo, Iowa, aims to graduate in 2020 and pursue a career in clinical mental health counseling. It’s a path she decided upon after switching her major numerous times.
“There’s a huge accessibility gap for the deaf and hard of hearing in mental health services. That’s a huge passion of mine and something I want to make sure I can help with,” the 24-year-old says.
While at NIU, she’s taken it upon herself to get involved — really involved. “I think it’s a good way to get to know people on campus,” she says. “It’s how you make friends and develop a support system. It’s really good to have those people here you can call if you’re having a bad day or if you just want to study and be around people.”
Among NIU’s many organizations, Pilcher is part of the Forensics Club, the Sociology Student Advisory Council, Deaf Pride, Delta Zeta sorority and Prism, along with numerous others. She’s also a teacher’s assistant for two Beginner ASL classes, and she just took a job at Kohl’s for some extra money.
How does she do it all? “Time management,” she says. “I’m pretty much glued to my planner at all times.”
Sometimes, one class with one professor can steer you in the right direction.
Cassandra Pilcher wasn’t sure what she’d study at NIU. The first in her family to go to college, she felt a bit overwhelmed when she arrived from her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa.
She took a sociology class with Associate Professor Diane Rodgers. And another. And then another.
“She just became sort of like a mentor to me,” says Pilcher, now double majoring in psychology and sociology — with a triple minor in deafness, LGBT Studies and Women and Gender Studies — and plans to graduate in 2020.
She’s become a teaching assistant for American Sign Language classes, having decided after enrolling in a sign language class at NIU that she wanted to work with the deaf community. Through her involvement in numerous organizations on campus, she’s mentored others.
“A general piece of advice I would give to someone just starting college would be to go to class, use your resources on campus and don’t be the person who sits in the back and never talks,” she says.
Cassandra Pilcher is slowly learning her limits, and that means fewer credit hours this spring semester.
While battling a stomach bug, 24-year-old Pilcher talked of the need to go from 19 credit hours this past fall to 16 hours this semester, with her sights still set on graduating in May, 2020 with degrees in psychology and sociology.
“We all have our limits,” she said the day after she’d gone home sick from her part-time job at Kohl’s. It was finals week. “We’re going to power through,” she said with a laugh.
Despite feeling the strains of juggling classes and her numerous activities, Pilcher doesn’t intend to slow down too much. And her goals haven’t changed.
“I always feel like I have the same new year goal, to be a better version of myself than I was the last year,” she said.
In that spirit, she’ll take part in a Huskie Alternative Break this March.
Her trip, co-hosted by NIU’s Center for Latin and Latino American Studies, will bring her to the nonprofit La Casa de Amistad in South Bend, Indiana, where she’ll help the immigrant community. She and her fellow volunteers will work with youth programs, help adults practice for naturalization interviews, complete home repairs or take part in neighborhood cleanup projects.
“I wanted to give back a little or do something more than sleep for spring break,” Pilcher said. “Immigration is a hot topic right now, and it’s really important to me so I want to educate myself more. I think this gives me the opportunity to do something other than just read about it online.”
Cassandra Pilcher often settles into the comfy couches at the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, where it’s quiet and she’s surrounded by the “amazing people” who work there.
“When I came to NIU, an important part for me was finding a safe space for myself and my identity,” she said.
Reaching out to others made the first-generation student from Waterloo, Iowa, feel like she’s meant to be here.
Around half of incoming Huskies are the first in their families to go to college, with a new series highlighting first-gen stories from NIU students, faculty and staff.
Pilcher first joined the campus LGBTQ+ group PRISM, before venturing out to immerse herself in even more activities. She’s recently become part of Delta Zeta sorority, drawn in by the friendly sorority sisters and the group’s speech and hearing philanthropic cause.
“From PRISM, I made a family of people who accepted me,” she said. “Joining more clubs was how I built my family more. My sorority sisters are amazing, and it’s like home when I’m with them.”
Add Career Services to Cassandra Pilcher’s list of involvement at NIU.
Leaving a job at Kohl’s, Pilcher recently took a position helping fellow students connect their majors to careers that interest them.
The job switch isn’t the only change in Pilcher’s routine. Once working toward a triple minor, she’s dropped one of her minors in hopes of graduating early, aiming for
December 2019. Like many of our students who’ve switched majors, the 24-year-old now has a double major of psychology and sociology with minors in LGBT studies and women and gender studies.
She also hopes to join the Student Association, the voice of NIU’s student body. She’d like to play an active role in efforts to help decrease mental health stigma and increase accessibility for mental health services on campus.
Once full of fear coming to NIU from Waterloo, Iowa, as one of our many first-generation students, Pilcher thinks college should be an option for everyone.
“I’d say that if you want to go to college, even if it’s just a very small part of you that does, you are college material,” she said. “If you have the desire inside of you, you’ll find the place for you and the major for you. There will be opportunities to learn, to get involved in things you care about, to make memories and lifelong friends.”
As Cassandra Pilcher found her community at NIU, others have found her devotion to helping others inspiring.
Our Waterloo, Iowa Huskie is a second-term president of the Sociology Club, a hand-picked ambassador representing the department at admission’s events throughout the year, and the voice of sociology students at monthly faculty meetings.
“Her dedication to the department and her desire to enrich student engagement is apparent in so many ways,” Crane said. “Her commitment to the sociology department is even more special given she continues to excel academically and has proven to be a role model to other students in need of advice, academic support and guidance.”
Pilcher feels thankful for the honor, but says she often feels like she doesn’t do enough.
Having struggled like many students to pick a major, she credits Crane with helping her sort out her double major of sociology and psychology, with a triple minor in deafness, LGBT studies and Women and Gender Studies. She’s fallen in love with both majors.
“[Crane] helped me the first time we met to see that I could fit both in my schedule and that I didn’t have to pick just one,” she said. “She’s amazing.”
Accolades keep coming for Cassandra Pilcher, and they’re paying off. Pilcher has taken advantage of NIU’s many financial aid programs, earning grants and most recently a scholarship.
Pilcher won the Joseph Harry Endowed Scholarship offered through the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center to undergraduate students who’ve participated in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-spectrum organizations or activities.
Presented at our Pride Awards, the one-year scholarship based on financial need, scholarly performance and academic standing provides our hard-working double major $6,000.
Having worked in the Orientation office and now in Career Services, Pilcher sees the need for more students to seek out resources through our Financial Aid and Scholarship Office.
“I think it’s something easily forgotten until you get into your sophomore or junior year and go, ‘Oh, there are opportunities here for me,’” Pilcher said. “I think it’s something a lot of people don’t realize.”
With one semester left, Cassandra Pilcher feels like she’s headed into the home stretch. Building her résumé for a career in clinical mental health counseling, she’s also considering graduate school.
Pilcher will stay in DeKalb this summer to work at Career Services instead of heading home to Waterloo, Iowa. She’ll advise students on résumés and help provide other career preparation services during summer drop-in hours.
She snagged her Career Services job through Huskies Get Hired, a free service provided to our students to help them find both jobs and internships. Students are assigned an account they can use permanently, even after graduation. Along with finding jobs, they can:
Also working at the DeKalb Public Library over the summer and as part of The Commencement Group — traveling to various graduation ceremonies throughout the area through June to sell teddy bears and flowers — Pilcher’s résumé is growing. Still, that isn’t her motivation.
“Yeah, stuff looks good on my résumé, but the memories and the people I’ve met are the reasons I continue to be active,” she says. “I’ve just met so many cool people.”
We’re all about helping you feel at home here, but we know college can seem intimidating. For Cassandra Pilcher, trying to figure out a daily routine that first week posed a challenge.
“It’s an exciting time, but also slightly terrifying,” said our Waterloo, Iowa, Huskie, who expects to graduate in December of 2019 with degrees in psychology and sociology.
Here’s her advice to future students:
It’s been a summer of big decisions for Cassandra Pilcher. Instead of pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling like she’d planned, she’s now aiming for law school.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” she said. “Being a first-gen and constantly having imposter syndrome, I never thought it was something obtainable for me. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s not impossible.”
A meeting with her undergraduate advisor Kristie Crane in the Department of Sociology helped convince her to go for it.
Between jobs at Career Services and the DeKalb Public Library, she’s spent the summer studying for the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT. She aims to take the test in October, apply to law school and start in fall of 2020.
Balancing it all has required her to learn her limits.
“Never take on more than you can handle,” she said. “For a long time, I couldn’t say no, and I still have an issue with saying no. I’ve gotten better with that. I’ve had to prioritize what’s important, what’s necessary.
“You have to remember your priorities and why you’re here.”