School of
Integrative Biology

IB Peer Leaders

IB Peer Leaders are IB upperclassmen who stand out in our field of study. We are here to help guide first year students through the transition from high school to college and create a social network of IB students. IB Peer Leaders do a few different things within the School of Integrative Biology:
  • We serve as a think tank and provide feedback to the School on various topics that concern IB students.
  • We provide Prospective and Admitted students our insight and experience on being a University of Illinois Biology student through Office of Admissions Events
  • We assist underclassmen in the transition to Illinois as a mentor to first year students.

We are outstanding students who know how to succeed and get involved on campus, so please reach out by emailing ibpeerleaders@sib.illinois.edu if you have questions for us, or be paired with an IB Peer Leader by filling out the Mentee Interest Form.

If peer leading sounds like something you would like to get involved with, please email Jessica Fink and apply using the IB Peer Leader Application.


Meet the IB Peer Leaders


Malika with glasses and orange t-shirt in the Quad

Malika Basu

Hello everyone! My name is Malika Basu and I am a current junior. I am double majoring in Integrative Biology Honors and Chemistry, and I am getting a minor in Informatics. I am an international student from Kolkata, India. After graduation, I plan to go to graduate school and ultimately pursue a career in research. I began getting involved with research in my freshman year when I volunteered in an Ecology lab and helped create a census of all the trees in a local forest. I changed labs in my sophomore year and started working in the Sokac lab, cell and developmental biology lab. I participated in a project where we tried to see if glyoxal fixation could be used as an alternative to formaldehyde fixation in Drosophila melanogaster embryos. On-campus, I work as a tutor in the Office of Minority Student Affairs, am involved with the GLOBE program as a blue member, am involved with Beta Psi Omega, a professional biology fraternity, and am a member of Phi Eta Sigma, an honors society. I use all my on-campus involvements as an opportunity to make new friends and learn things that can only be learned outside a classroom setting. In my free time, I enjoy reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching films. Please feel free to contact me about getting involved with undergraduate research, learning more about the Integrative Biology Honors program, adjusting to life at UIUC, life as an international student, getting involved on campus, and balancing your commitments in college. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hannah outside smiling

Hannah Caraway

Hello everyone! My name is Hannah Caraway and I am currently a junior majoring in Integrative Biology Honors and minoring in Chemistry. I have had an interest in Biology and Medicine ever since I was a young girl. As I have gotten older, my passion for medicine has grown and I am planning on attending medical school after I graduate from UIUC. I chose Integrative Biology Honors as my major because I loved how IB focuses on both the big and small aspects of our living world. I specifically chose the honors program because it allows me to constantly get hands-on experience and one-on-one instruction, which has forever shaped my educational experience. On-campus, I am involved in my sorority Alpha Omicron Pi and have served on our executive Leadership council, am a member of AMSA, and volunteer at the Carle Foundation Hospital in the pediatrics department. This summer I participated in the community-academic scholar program, which allowed me to work with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District to increase the forest preserve’s resource accessibility for underserved groups in the area. I am very passionate about the undergraduate research I am working on in Lau Lab in the UIUC Pathobiology department. I got involved with the lab through the recommendation of the IB honors director and fell in love with the bacterial and cell culturing studies the lab was working on! I am currently working on my undergraduate thesis and hope to finish it in the upcoming year. I would love to talk to anyone who is considering switching to IB from another major, who is passionate about balancing academic and social life on campus or is looking to get involved with undergraduate research!

Jessica in a black dress smiling for formal portrait

Jessica Cuthbert

Hi everyone! My name is Jessica Cuthbert, and I am a junior majoring in Integrative Biology. I have always wanted to go into medicine since I was a little girl, and this passion has stuck with me throughout all these years. I am a transfer student from Loyola University Chicago, where I studied abroad for a semester in Rome, Italy and I participated in a summer research program using Kalman Filters to track the movement of lung tumors. At UIUC, I am a learning leader for FSHN 120 where I assist in activities such as helping students answer questions, creating exam questions, and creating ADA compliant PowerPoints. I also work with the football team in athletic training, providing me with hands on experience when it comes to injured players where I always get to relate anatomy topics to. I am also part of a social sorority, where multiple members are also IB majors allowing me to have an extra group to study with and get support from. Outside of school, I love to travel, snowboard, golf, and try new restaurants! I brought my passion of snowboarding to UIUC and became the social chair for our ski and snowboard club! After I graduate, I plan to go on to medical school and eventually study medicine in radiation oncology, sports medicine, or emergency medicine. I love to be involved on campus and especially love helping others. College can seem like a lot, but sometimes all you need is to talk to students with similar goals as you. So, feel free to reach out to me with any questions and I’ll be here for you!

Bobby out hiking wearing ball cap & hooded sweatshirt

Bobby Elliott

I initially became interested in biology at a young age when my mom bought my sister and me a microscope. I vividly remember looking through the eyepiece at the sample slides that came with the microscope and being blown away by the complexity of things smaller than what I could see with the naked eye. From that moment on, I looked at everything and anything I could fit on a slide and put it under my microscope and fell in love with biology. As I continued to take biology classes through high school, I only found a greater interest in the field, especially in genetics. I came to the University of Illinois as a general studies student; I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to pursue IB or MCB. What I loved about IB, and led me to choose the major, was all the different courses and paths I could take for my future career. One of the best courses I took was IB292 Career Success; the class helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my degree! While taking 292, one of the Alumni that came to speak to us is a current genetic counselor. Right away, I knew that genetic counseling would be something I would love to do. Outside of the classroom, I have always loved talking about biology, whether staying up to date with current day events or talking with my friends and using what I’ve learned and applied it to what’s happening in our everyday lives. During the school year, I always looked forward to my biology classes, whether ecology, genetics, evolution, or any other field of biology, but especially my genetics classes. I’ve never found biology boring, and I always like to consider that there is always room to learn more!

Julia wearing IB t-shirt in evergreen shade outside

Julia Gainski

Hi! My name is Julia Gainski and I am a senior majoring in Integrative Biology with a minor in German. Beyond the classroom, I am a writer and the Public Relations Chair for the student-run, university-published neuroscience journal, Brain Matters. I write neuroscience articles and report revisions to the editors and the Illinois University Library publishes our volumes. As the Public Relations Chair, I organize panels with professors and undergraduate research journals from various universities to discuss research and scientific journalism. In the past, I worked as a research assistant in the Carla Cáceres Lab where I was responsible for monitoring the prevalence and spread of infection in lakes through tracking movement of Daphnia. I am currently a research assistant at the Control & Network Connectivity Team (CONNECTlab) at the Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology where I am in the process of writing a senior thesis. I am also a member of the Illini Club Tennis team. On campus, I am the Vice President of the UIUC Pre-PA Club. After I graduate, I plan on taking a gap year to expand on my patient care skills and travel. I aspire to attend a physician assistant program after my gap year. Please reach out to me if you have any questions regarding IB classes, research at UIUC, the physician assistant profession, and college life.

Carol wearing graduation mortar board

Carol Heiberger

My interest in biology began with my dad. He has always encouraged me to be curious, and from a young age he exposed me to various science topics. From looking through his telescope to camping to going to nature reserves, I was interested in how life works and affects everything else. Once I began learning biology in the classroom in high school, I knew I wanted to further my knowledge in college and my career. I really enjoy how the IB program is extremely flexible and has a diverse range of upper-level classes to take. It allows for me to explore my interests while also helping me decide on what I want to do with biology after college. Outside of the classroom, I have enjoyed being able to read news relating to biology and being able to communicate it to my friends and family. For example, my background in biology has helped me understand how the mRNA technology with COVID vaccines works, and this has helped me educate my family about it. I have been a part of a restoration RSO, which is involved in restoring a plot of land to native Illinois prairie. I have also been involved in soybean research here at U of I. My advice for students is to not be afraid to reach out to people and to take risks. I was not sure exactly what I wanted to do with biology, and my experience has been valuable in deciding that. I have also gained essential skills in problem solving that cannot be built the same way in the classroom. With research, I reached out to a graduate student who was doing research on the productivity of soybeans. To become involved with research, I would say to students to keep an open mind with what you want to do, because you may not know whether you like or dislike something until you try it. Also, again don't be afraid to reach out to people or talk to professors.

Natalia sitting on rocky shoreline by pier

Natalia Kmiec

Hello first year students! My name is Natalia, and I am one of the IB peer leaders here at UIUC. I am a pre-dental junior that is working towards a degree in IB as well as minoring in chemistry and criminology. Once I graduate from UIUC, I plan on attending dental school to continue fulfilling my aspiration in life of becoming a dentist. Apart from my schoolwork, I am the vice president for a club named Pencils of Promise. This club fundraises money for children who need a better education and a cleaner community. I also enjoy participating in the R.E.A.C.T program each semester to get teens and young children excited about chemistry. Something else you should know about me is that over this past summer I spent most of my time working as a dental assistant. This opportunity was such an amazing learning experience because I got to learn what it is like to be in my future profession. Whether you’re pre-law, pre-health, etc., I highly encourage immersing yourself in your prospective field before you move on to higher education so that you can come in better prepared for what you will be learning about. If you have any questions about being pre-dental, finding internships/jobs, shadowing professionals, classes, being a James Scholar, or anything else please reach out to me! I will do my absolute best to help guide you!

Kate smiling by campus redbud trees

Kate O'Brien

Hello! My name is Kate O’Brien and I am a current Junior double majoring in Integrative Biology Honors and Geology. I am an undergraduate researcher in a paleoclimatology lab under Dr. Jessica Conroy, where I am looking at anomalies in algal productivity in the paleoclimate record in the Northern Great Plains during the Holocene. At UIUC, I participate in community service RSOs as well as the university band. Away from school, I enjoy running, biking, and listening to podcasts. After graduation, I hope to pursue a graduate degree in earth sciences and work for a government agency. There are so many different ways you can go with biology, which sometimes makes it hard to navigate. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about classes, undergraduate research, or pretty much anything else!

Labake standing in Union basement with a balloon crown

Labake Oyetayo

Hi everyone! My name is Labake Oyetayo and I am a junior majoring in IB on the pre-med track. After graduation, I hope to go to medical school to become a neurosurgeon and help provide medical services in underdeveloped countries. Outside class, I work as an undergraduate research assistant in the Heath Lab for Coevolutionary Genomics, act as an active member of MEDLIFE as well as the Campus Honors Program, and volunteer for different on-campus organizations such as Jubilee Cafe and Books to Prisoners. A fun fact about me is that I was born in Nigeria and moved to the US when I was 8. In my free time, I love to eat out, sing, watch Netflix, workout, and facetime friends. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions concerning classes, study tips, research, the pre-med track, the campus honors program, or if you just need someone to talk to. I am always happy to help!

Jessica in a vest visiting an ancient coliseum

Jessica Padron

Hello! My name is Jessica Padron and I am a junior majoring in Integrative Biology. I am currently on the pre-health track to attend medical school after graduation and become a doctor. I have volunteered and began attending virtual shadowing classes. My interest in biology began in high school taking biology honors my freshman year. All the different elements and experiments we learned about and performed gave me so many great ideas about how I wanted to continue my education. While deciding what colleges to attend, learning what IB here at UIUC had to offer helped me make my decision. With the variety of courses offered, research opportunities, and groups to get involved in I knew it would be a great fit for me. The advisors were so helpful with the many questions I had and there were so many different resources available to me. Outside of school, I enjoy hanging out with friends and family, traveling to new places, and going on bike rides. I understand the stress college has on an individual and I’m here to answer any questions you might have regarding general college questions, the pre-health track, and ways to get involved on campus!

Ellen in a black dress smiling for formal portrait

Ellen Reinert

Hello everyone! My name is Ellen Reinert, and I am a senior majoring in Integrative Biology on the pre-med track. After graduation I plan to go to medical school and potentially go into emergency or rural medicine. I am a Learning Assistant for the PHYS 101/102 labs, where I assist the Lab TA in running the Lab by answering the students' questions and checking their work. I am active member of the pre-health fraternity AED. In my sophomore year, I was the treasurer of my residence hall's Hall Council, and an Orientation Leader for New Student programs. This past summer I got my CNA certification, and I plan to be working as a CNA in Champaign-Urbana during this school year. In my free time, I like to cook, watch Netflix/Hulu and play video games. I have an ever expanding (and dying) collection of indoor plants and, during the summer I keep a vegetable garden. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about study tips, the IB major, the pre-med track, or anything else you're curious about (even restaurant recommendations)!

Abigail in Lake Superior sweatshirt by Golden Gate Bridge

Abigail Rich

My interest in biology started early on, and throughout my education I always knew I wanted to have a career in science. Freshman year, I was a general biology major and chose IB after taking the two major introductory courses. I found IB’s introductory class to be very interesting and appreciated how all-encompassing it was-- it focused on aspects of biology that are often overlooked. Population genetics, evolutionary biology, and molecular biology are just some of my interests and are all addressed in IB courses. I also really admire how students in IB come from many different backgrounds and are looking to pursue very different career paths— it shows just how diverse this major is and how it can be tailored to anyone’s interests. I am looking to become a genetic counselor in the future. I love how the career combines my interests in genetics, public health, research, and education. I’ve made connections with some UIUC alumni and practicing genetic counselors, so if you are considering this career or curious to learn about it, please contact me! Last year, I joined UIUC’s professional biology fraternity, Beta Psi Omega and am a member of the Philippine Student Association. I am also working to form the first pre-genetic counseling club on campus. Being involved in different communities on campus has been an amazing way to make friends and learn more about myself. Through meeting new people and learning about their interests, I get to experience new things and learn more about where my interests and passions lie. I would definitely advise freshmen to explore as many RSO’s as they want their first semester here and then try to become really involved/gain leadership positions in a few. On campus, I work as an undergraduate researcher in the Kukekova Lab. In this lab, I am studying genes that may contribute to tame and aggressive behavior in silver foxes. Right now, I’m working on an independent project researching the maternally expressed gene 3 (MEG3) in silver fox populations. I am also part of the BCNN laboratory where I work as a laboratory technician. In this lab, I study the cognitive health of different age populations in the Champaign-Urbana area and how it relates to their physical activity and diet. This past summer, I conducted research on the effects of the iPALS Wellness camp on cognitive health in elementary school kids. I’ve grown a lot as a scientist and gathered valuable skills that can be applied to my future by working in two very different labs. UIUC is an amazing research school, so I strongly urge everyone to consider joining a lab. Think about anything you want to learn more about—odds are, there is a lab on campus that’s studying it!

Valerie out hiking in running shoes and windbreaker

Valerie Shamshyna

My name is Valerie Shamshyna, and I am a senior in Integrative Biology Honors. When I was little, I loved to watch nature documentaries. From them, I learned about zoologists and wildlife biologists and the work they do, and decided I wanted to become one too. However, by the time I was applying to college, I wasn’t sure anymore which biology fields interested me most. I started out as a transfer student in MCB, but in my second semester applied to the IB Honors program and was accepted. I chose IB because I knew it would allow me to learn about biology on all levels from molecular and cellular to organismal and ecological. Being an IB student has allowed me to learn about numerous biology fields and applications, and the Honors program specifically taught me invaluable research skills. Last year I started doing undergraduate research at the Fuller lab which studies ecology and evolution of fishes like killifish and darters. I also work at a new plant research lab on campus. My advice to students considering becoming involved in research is reaching out to as many professors whose research you think is interesting as you can. A lot of the replies will be “no”, but don’t get discouraged and keep looking, if you really want to do research you will eventually find the opportunities. It is also useful to take classes that have elements of research within them or teach skills that could be useful for the type of research you want to do. Outside of IB, I am a member of Alpha Omega Epsilon sorority for women in engineering and STEM, and this fall semester I will be a volunteer for the Food Assistance and Wellbeing Program at UIUC. I also do horseback riding, pole dancing, and bouldering in my free time. My advice to new students would be to reserve time for hobbies and activities not related to studying. It can be easy to put studies first and forget about your own mental and physical health but taking time for yourself will help you do better in college in the long run.

James with photo camera and synth keyboard at home

James Shim

Hello! My name is James Shim, and I am a junior majoring in Integrative Biology. I am on the pre-med track and hope to become a pediatrician. I am currently the fundraising chair for the UIUC chapter of the Foundation of International Relief for Children (FIMRC UIUC), volunteer at Carle Hospital, intern at a Dental and have participated in many other clubs and organizations regarding health. Biology has always been my passion as a child, and as the years have gone by the passion has only erupted. The IB program at UIUC helped not only cultivate my passion for biology, but also has helped me finetune and discover new passions in biology. With vast research opportunities, clubs, and resources, I’m thriving at UIUC right now. While I believe working hard on academics is important, I am a stern believer in spending time on other hobbies. Outside of school, some sports I actively participate in are rock climbing, boxing, and playing volleyball. I am, also, a huge lover of the arts. I love painting with friends, listening to music of the Korean, English, and Spanish genres, and dabbling in the drums, piano, ukulele, guitar, and violin, and plan on picking up the saxophone and cello soon. College is a big step for everyone, and I found out that others can really help with the stresses of life. I have found myself reaching out for help for academic, personal, and social problems, and am grateful for the help I received, and want to help others as I have been helped, so please reach out for any questions regarding clubs, ways to get involved in campus, the pre-med track, college in general, and more!

Audrey out hiking with a rocky valley behind her

Audrey Wong

Hello! My name is Audrey Wong and I am a junior who is majoring in IB (taking IB 203/204 right now), minoring in secondary education. I chose IB because I have always been curious in plants, animals, and microscopic organisms. The diversity of life on Earth and the processes that happen in living things is amazing to me. I love learning how living things function and interact with each other and the environment. My favorite IB class so far is IB 202 Physiology, taught by Adam Dolezal who was clear, concise, and enthusiastic. As a person who is planning to become a high school biology teacher after graduating college, I definitely hope to be a teacher like him. I am planning to be a high school biology teacher because I would love to teach students and share my passion about biology. My biggest tip for other students is to manage your time well and try not to procrastinate; I have multiple methods to keep me on track including an electronic calendar and a to-do list. I look forward to being a IB Peer Leader and helping my fellow IB peers!