group of 30 students with matching I-Leap t-shirts

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.



2020-2021 Student Award Recipients

How we do it

Bi-Weekly 1-on-1 counseling

Peer mentoring


Academic Skills Development

Leadership Training

Community Service

“I-LEAP has become my hub of opportunities. I have been able to get involved in so many activities on campus because of it. I have never had to worry about finding opportunities or new experiences because I-LEAP was sending the application forms right into my email.”

-Nicole Alberto

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 during the admissions process and need to accept their invitation to the program before arriving on campus.

“It is challenging being a freshman because you are starting over and there are so many unknowns. What makes it more difficult is that you are on campus without your family and friends. I-LEAP made this 40,000+ person campus feel a lot smaller and more personal. The guidance and support I received from I-LEAP has been unbelievable. I have found success, seen growth, and have made lifetime friendships.”

-Sydney Taylor

Elizabeth Mason, M. Ed.

Elizabeth Mason, M. Ed.


Elizabeth is from Lynwood, IL. She is a two-time alumna of the University of Illinois. Her B.A. is in International Studies and she has her 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. As the Academic Skills Specialist for I-LEAP, Elizabeth works to create an environment where students feel they can achieve their academic, personal, and professional goals.

Contact Information:

Joseph L. Cross, Ph.D.

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:

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

graph showing ethnic breakdown of ileap students 26% female, 26% malegraph showing ethnic breakdown of ileap students