Giving Tree tradition provides support for nontraditional students at UW-Superior

Giving Tree tradition provides support for nontraditional students at UW-Superior

With the joy and excitement of the holiday season, there can also be anxiety and stress. This is especially true for nontraditional students who are dealing with family responsibilities and academic calendars where fall semester final exams collide with the rush of the holidays. The combination can be enough to take much of the happiness away from what is meant to be a special time of year.

A nontraditional student is an individual who meets any one of the following characteristics, or a combination, of being 25 years or older, married with or without children, single with children, active-duty military, veteran, a spouse of a veteran or active-duty military or a dependent of a veteran. This can already be a mountain of responsibility on top of pursuing an education.

Fortunately for nontraditional students at UW-Superior, the Giving Tree tradition is alive, well and providing support at this important time of the year.

“When I became the director of student development in 1996, I was charged with improving and increasing programs for veterans and nontraditional students,” said Tammy Fanning, currently the associate dean of students at UW-Superior. “It took a couple years before me and the director of student activities at the time came up with ways to address the needs of nontraditional students.” 

What started a year later by offering an evening orientation session for new incoming nontraditional students, which was more condensed for individuals who had kids and may have been working full time, sprouted into the Giving Tree program in the early 2000s.

The Giving Tree Program supports a UW-Superior student parent’s family by supplying gifts for their children during the holiday season.

In 2015, the Veteran and Nontraditional Student Center (VNSC) at UW-Superior took over facilitating the Giving Tree from Student Involvement due to the department’s existing relationships with nontraditional students.

“With the switch to the VNSC, we were able to have a more intentional effort to promote the event to parents and their families to participate,” said Monte Stewart, TRIO McNair Scholars program director and previously VNSC director. “I know it really helped with participation and the number of students who were able to be served through the program.”

To participate in the Giving Tree program, nontraditional students in need provide a list of items to the VNSC. Items can vary from toys to necessities like diapers. A corresponding ornament is placed on a tree in the VNSC where individuals from the campus community can select. Purchased items from UW-Superior faculty, staff or students are brought back to the VNSC where they are recorded for the corresponding family. Yellowjacket student-athletes assist with gift wrapping during the Athletic Department’s Week of Giving event.

In 2023, 26 families and 71 children received gifts as part of the Giving Tree.

“We had a late application come in last week and we really wanted to make sure this family of six was helped,” said Stewart. “I sent a quick note to people around campus, and we had all six children accounted for in less than an hour. It was astounding.”

Since the VNSC began facilitating the program in 2015, 240 families and 635 children have received gifts as part of the Giving Tree.

“Campus support for the Giving Tree has been phenomenal,” said Stewart. “I really think faculty, staff and students’ participation as givers epitomizes who we are as a campus community. People are always so selfless and giving, wanting what’s best for our students and their families. I really believe that’s at the heart of why we all do what we do to serve our students on a daily basis. And this program really helps that shine through. I’m always amazed at people’s willingness to help others.”