Building a safety net for students

Monday, May 18, 2020
Wildcat Statue wearing a mask

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many UNH students have been hit with unprecedented financial hardships. Jobs they worked to help pay for expenses were suspended as businesses shuttered. As campus shut down, some didn’t have money to get home. Others needed better technology to complete their now-online courses.

That’s where donors stepped in. Quickly and generously, nearly 500 alumni, faculty, staff, parents, friends and students gave to the Student Emergency Assistance Fund, designed to provide fast, temporary financial help to students in need. Longtime donors Morgan Rutman ’84 and his wife, Tara, made a $25,000 matching gift.

Additional programs that help UNH students include Swipe It Forward, which provides free meals in the dining halls. Inn Between pays for housing during Thanksgiving, spring break and the January term. Emergency support is also available. To date approximately 600 donors have given $184,000 to the programs. 

As the crisis set in, Ted Kirkpatrick, senior vice provost for student life and dean of students, who heads the program, heard from students daily. So far, approximately 500 students have received support. Awards typically range from $100 to $500. Tuition, room and board, health insurance and study abroad costs are not covered. 

“When this is all over, one of the things people will remember is: Who is really out there helping? These donors gave with a generous spirit; they are part of that group,” says Kirkpatrick.

Especially meaningful are the gifts from current students, the very group this fund was designed to help.

“I wanted to do something, albeit something small, to pay it forward and help our most vulnerable Wildcats in this most trying time,” says Liam Sullivan ’21. “I’ve had my fair share of annoyances and inconveniences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but I recognize that they pale in comparison to the problems of those who do not possess the means to weather a storm the likes of this one.”

The same paying-it-forward idea prompted Dan Kane ’97 to give. Now a paramedic and nurse based in Littleton, Massachusetts, Kane believes in giving back to students in this unprecedented time. “Many people helped me when I was a nursing student at UNH. Now as a nurse, paramedic and proud Wildcat, I have a chance to help current students manage this challenging semester,” he says.

Sue Doe '81G knows firsthand how the COVID-19 crisis has affected college students. As a professor and director of composition at Colorado State University, she sees many students who are struggling. Doe, who earned a master's degree in English at UNH, is a member of the UNH College of Liberal Arts advisory board. She met her husband, Bill, here and both have a strong affinity for their graduate alma mater. “We just have a love affair with the place,” Doe says.

Which made honoring UNH staff and faculty and helping UNH students an easy choice. 

"I’ve had my fair share of annoyances and inconveniences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but I recognize that they pale in comparison to the problems of those who do not possess the means to weather a storm the likes of this one.”

“I’ve seen what people are doing to try to make this work for students. I am witnessing the challenges and remarkable courage of students, staff and faculty across the country as so many deal innovatively, generously and daily to support the longevity of higher education, which is so necessary to future citizens of our states,” says Doe.

Brian Fanning ’14 ’15G,  an elementary school music teacher in Georgetown, Massachusetts, and a UNH Hamel Scholar, gave back in the early days of the crisis.

“I feel like I got everything, every little ounce I could out of UNH,” Fanning says. “I feel an obligation to try to give back while I still have full employment. The longer this goes on, students will get further behind and not be able to catch up.”

The emergency fund was the brainchild of the UNH Faculty Senate, UNH Student Life and other groups across campus who recognized the need, according to Erin Sharp, faculty senate chair and associate professor of human development and family studies in the College of Health and Human Services.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the level of attention and support this fund has gotten,” says Sharp, who has been at UNH since 2009. “We are all here for our students, and there is no better way to show that. All of us who work on this campus have that same mission.”

Eileen McKenna, a rising junior and Hamel Scholar majoring in equine science, has benefited from the emergency fund. She wants to go to veterinary school after UNH and had been working at Kittery Animal Hospital until the pandemic hit. She also had a summer job lined up to help pay for an apartment in the fall.. Her plans were set until COVID-19 changed them.

While she worked on filing for unemployment, she sought help from the Student Emergency Assistance Fund.

“A lot of people right now are in the same boat as I am,” she says. “I don’t like to take money from people… I had plans to be working and making my own way. But I really appreciate that there’s the opportunity to get help and am so thankful for the kind people who are giving to this fund.”

More information about contributing to or utilizing the fund can be found here.