CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — The Odyssey Project was started in 2006 by the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) with the University of Illinois and it has helped people like Jessica Black.

The program helps low-income students take college courses that can help figure out what they do in life and give them a chance at higher education.

After high school graduation, one of the biggest students one can make is what to do next,

“I came from a socio-economically effected background,” Black said.

And like many students across the country, Jessica Black was not sure if college was in the cards.

“At 18 years old, I wouldn’t have had support from my parents,” Black said.

But, she still went from cleaning houses to becoming a full-time student getting her degree after seeing a flyer with the words “free college classes.”

“And I was like free, I have nothing to lose,” Black said.

That’s when she started the odyssey project.

The mission is to provide opportunities for students who have historically lacked access to higher education.

“We really want students to not have to worry about those things that often prevent them from completing their education,” Black said.

Alaina Pincus works for the Humanities Research Institute at the U of I.

“You don’t even have to have a high school diploma or GED to take an odyssey course,” Pincus said.

She says most of the students in the program end up applying for universities and get their degree just like Black.

“I’m about to graduate with my associates from parkland, and then I’ll be full time at the U of I in the Fall,” Black said.

Black says if she didn’t take a chance on herself, she would have never fallen in love with education again.

“I think learning that I was capable, and seeing the value of education, and the value in myself,” Black said.

The Odyssey program has two different courses that meet twice a week, and the Humanities Research Institute provides not only all the needed materials, but also dinner, childcare and transportation service.

Anyone who does not have a four-year degree or an associate’s can apply, and there are income eligibilities for anyone 18 and over.