Old Dominion University's Strome College of Business created a grant program this year to help students facing financial obstacles remain in school.
Dean Jeff Tanner said the SBC Perseverance Project was designed to help those who were laid off from their jobs - and possibly facing dropping out of school - when the pandemic hit in the spring.
"We didn't want them making a permanent decision for a temporary reason," he said. "The idea was to tide students over until they either became Pell eligible, graduated or got their feet back on the ground."
The project was funded by the "Stand 4 Strome" campaign, said Connie Merriman, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the College.
"Approximately $70,000 was raised through the initial outreach, and funds are still being raised to be awarded in future semesters," she said.
Students had to apply online and describe how the one-time grants would help them to "persevere" toward earning a degree. A total of $43,500 was awarded to 28 students for the fall semester.
"What was amazing was that in reviewing their stories, we were able to nominate some for additional aid," Tanner said.
Here are the stories of three students who benefited from the initial round of grants.
The 19-year-old sophomore, who is majoring in marketing with a focus on analytics and research, lost her full-time job and had difficulty finding another one before her unemployment aid ran out. Debt began to pile up.
"Along with the stress of finding a job was the stress of starting a new school year in an entirely different reality," the first-generation student said. "I was overwhelmed and broke and praying for a miracle so that I could focus on achieving the goals that I had set for myself before this nightmare of a year began."
Her Perseverance Project grant helped turn things around.
"I was able to essentially get my life back on track," she said. "Having the funds directly at my disposal bought me more time to look for a job without having the stress of knowing that soon my savings would be depleted. The lifted weight also made it easier to focus on my academic performance and maintain A's in all of my classes. I enjoyed the time that I spent doing schoolwork and fell in love with learning again."
She also started tutoring part-time, which eventually turned into a full-time gig.
"Seeing how one kind gesture helped to turn my year around made me want others to experience that same feeling of relief and comfort," she said. "While this year undoubtedly broke me in so many ways, it also gave me the chance to build myself back up even better than I was before. I am now able to focus on and do well in school, have control of my own time and schedule and have a job that I love and provides financial support. Without even realizing it, I stayed committed to and never lost sight of my goals, and despite losing so much, what I gained in the end proved to be so much more fulfilling."
The MBA student lost his job due to the pandemic, forcing him to tap into his savings. He said he wouldn't have been able to enroll for the fall semester with the Perseverance Project grant.
"Everything changed suddenly," he said. "I was so happy and couldn't contain my excitement."
Now he's aiming to finish his degree and become a success in the business world so he can give back to ODU and the Strome College of Business.
"The importance of giving back is enormous, especially during these extraordinary times when a lot of families are struggling to send their kids to school, and some students have to put on hold their education for the foreseeable future," he said. "The generosity of the donors to the Strome College of Business are helping keep dreams alive and create a bright future for the next generations of business and community leaders."
The Nepal native dreams of establishing a nonprofit dedicated to empowering vulnerable and disadvantaged women. She notes that Nepal is a patriarchal society.
"I know how important it is to economically empower women," she said. "Only an empowered society can build an empowered nation. A nation won't be developed if only a part of the society is empowered, and rest are not, especially women who come from a marginalized and disadvantaged community."
She has worked for a nonprofit for four years but enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program with a concentration on nonprofit management and governance "to understand more about the nitty-gritty of establishing a nonprofit organization."
But two semesters into the two-year program, she found herself with no income source to pay her tuition. "I thought, 'This is it,'" she said.
Her Perseverance Project grant allowed her to continue her education.
"I am so grateful to the committee members because not only did they give me extra time to manage my current financial situation without having to drop out of the University," she said, "but they also gave me an opportunity to pursue my dream to serve the poor and vulnerable women."
To apply for a Perseverance Project grant, go to odu.edu/business or contact Merriman at email@example.com.