Before the pandemic, UAB graduate student Aubrey Mallory was in Orlando, Florida, for a semester interning at Walt Disney World. She was supposed to stay through May. But by mid-March, the job was cut short because of the pandemic, and Mallory was back in Birmingham with no source of income.
“I didn’t know how I was going to stay on top of my bills,” said Mallory, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in communication management. “I was afraid I was going to get so far behind that I wasn’t going to be able to catch up.”
Mallory, who is from Birmingham, heard about UAB’s Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund. It was created to provide emergency aid to students facing lost wages, a decrease of financial support from parents, relocation expenses and more, led by the UAB undergraduate and graduate student governments and UAB Student Affairs, and bolstered by efforts from UAB community members and donors. Mallory applied for assistance and was approved to receive enough emergency aid to help cover her bills. She is one of more than 1,000 students who have been helped by the fund, said Jonathan Adams, director of Student Conduct and Outreach for Student Affairs.
But the fund has been exhausted, Adams said, so UAB Student Affairs has suspended the application process. If more funds become available, UAB Student Affairs will communicate information regarding aid options.
“We’re getting more applications than we have the dollars to cover,” Adams said. “The need is still there. For many people, their situations are continuing. For others, it’s getting worse.”
The need continues
More than 1,700 students have applied for assistance from the UAB Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund, and 1,010 students have been granted assistance to date – receiving an average amount of $250. More students have been recommended for approval to receive assistance but have not been granted money because the funds are unavailable, Adams said.
Students must meet criteria, including demonstrating a need directly related to the COVID-19 outbreak, being enrolled in the term in which they are applying and providing supporting documentation. Though the initial surge of applications has passed, requests are still coming in at a steady pace, Adams said.
“I don’t think the need will go away any time soon,” he said. “In fact, this isn’t going to end once we come back to campus. There are long-term implications for our students.”
While students have run into a number of unexpected expenses because of COVID-19, including emergency transportation and costs related to remote online learning, most are problems are related to living and food expenses and financial loss associated with the crisis, Adams said.
“We’re seeing that students were laid off from their jobs. A lot were in retail and restaurant positions,” he said. “We’ve also heard from students who used to receive financial support from their families, but their parents were laid off from their jobs or had their hours cut. Income opportunities have decreased, and it is impacting our students.”
Receiving support can be a game-changer for students, Adams said. When basic needs are not being met, students lose their sense of security – and that affects their overall success. As the crisis continues, Adams foresees some students having to make hard decisions about their future at UAB. If receiving financial assistance from the university can help retain students during the pandemic, then it is important to sustain the fund, he said.
“As members of the UAB community, it is our obligation and responsibility to support fellow members of our community,” Adams said. “This is a way we can have a direct impact on our students – to help them feel they belong, to help them meet their personal and academic goals, to help them graduate and, ultimately, to help them benefit society as a whole.”
Part of Adams’ job is notifying students when they have been awarded grant money. And the responses he has received have been humbling, he said – from tears of gratitude to elated thanks. When reviewing applications, the goal of Student Affairs had been to meet individual student needs while having an impact on the greatest number of people possible.
Student story: Sydney Madrigal
As UAB shifted to remote learning and limited operations, and as businesses throughout Birmingham temporarily closed, student Sydney Madrigal needed to get home to Miami, Florida. Madrigal, who is completing UAB’s dual O.D./MPH program in the School of Optometry and School of Public Health, applied for help and received emergency aid to cover the plane ticket.
“It really made a difference for me,” said Madrigal, who earned her O.D. in May and will finish her MPH in December. “And it’s made me realize the importance of having a fund like this for students in an emergency. One day, when I have a job and start practicing, I want to give back and support other students in need.” Read more.
Student story: Dara Russell
Dara Russell has a part-time job, but her hours were drastically cut when the COVID-19 outbreak reached Birmingham. The support she received from the fund helped her bridge the gap – and reinforced what Russell has felt about UAB since she transferred to the university in 2019: She is part of a community.
“If I hadn’t gotten that grant, there’s no telling what kind of position I would be in,” Russell said. “The idea that somebody would want to help me that much – it’s so incredible. Ever since I started at UAB, I have received nothing but support. I feel I am in a place where people care about me and my well-being. It gave me the ability to focus on other important things, like school. It was such a blessing, and I don’t want anyone to underestimate how much it meant.” Read more.