August 12, 2019

Bridging the gap

Emergency fund helped Melanie Smith get through a difficult time and continue her education

The life of a college student can be stressful enough. The demands of classes, assignments and responsibilities often mean too much to do with not enough time. When financial matters are added, the prospect of pursuing an education can seem daunting.

For Melanie Smith, a nontraditional student from Solon Springs, Wis., and single mother, the exceptionally cold and snowy winter took a toll on her budget and seriously affected her ability to continue with her education.

“I was in a nasty car accident last winter,” said Melanie, a junior majoring in elementary education with a minor in special education. “My vehicle was totaled. I had to pay a $300 towing fee and get a rental car since I commute. For me, that’s like half a rent check. When I had to put down the fee for towing that was a big chunk out of my budget.”

Emergency fund to the rescue

Fortunately for Melanie, UW-Superior’s Veteran and Nontraditional Student Center offers a way to assist students in exactly her situation.

“An alumnus reached out to me to talk about making a donation,” said Monte Stewart, Veteran and Nontraditional Student Center coordinator. “Brad Hammond was a frequent visitor of the VNSC – always utilized our space and services. He wanted to give back and be able to help students with funding that he could provide, and he wanted to do it on an annual basis. Brad’s generosity allowed us to create the VNSC Emergency Fund.”

The Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to currently enrolled undergraduate or graduate students at UW-Superior involved in a catastrophic or emergency situation involving circumstances which are sudden, unexpected, or affect a student’s ability to be academically successful. Examples include, but are not limited to, an accident, illness, travel for a funeral, fire damage, or need for temporary housing. Grants are awarded up to a maximum of $250.

Melanie learned about the fund through Dr. Amanda Zbacnik, assistant professor of special education, and then worked with Jennifer Bird, director of student development and Tammy Fanning, associate dean of students, to access the fund.

A supportive community

“I got some good advice from another non-traditional student,” said Melanie. “She told me to make sure my professors know who I am – make sure they know your name and you know theirs. I did that and I’ve gotten very close to all my professors. They know what’s going on in my life and have been very supportive.”

The VNSC Emergency Fund has increased over the years through generous support from donors and with the help of a special event on campus.

“I want to continue to grow this fund and be able to give out more money in future years,” said Stewart. “The proceeds from this fall’s Running for Our Heroes 5K Run/Walk will go toward the fund. It fits what the Douglas County Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund also does.”

Typical expenses that may be covered include books and other class-related expenses that cannot be paid for due to an emergency situation, travel costs related to a sudden death or illness in the immediate family, medications, prescriptions or costs related to medical care, safety related needs, or replacement of personal belongings due to fire, natural disaster or theft. Applicants must have a temporary financial hardship resulting from a sudden emergency, accident, or event and must be able to provide sufficient documentation. All other possible resources must have been considered and deemed insufficient, exhausted, or not available in a timely manner.

“It’s a great way to really help out our students in need,” said Stewart. “Certain circumstances happen – you get injured, you’re out of work for a little bit, you’re not able to afford tuition or books because of an emergency. I think this is a really helpful way to provide for these students.”

Melanie said she’s grateful for the fund that helped her bridge expenses, but not completely surprised by the act of kindness she’s come to know at UW-Superior.

“We are a community,” she said. “Even if you are a stranger, we are here to take care of each other. I give back in other ways, and I think it’s OK when other people step forward and take care of me because I think that’s what we should all be doing. At the end of the day, we’re all just humans.”

Many students like Melanie find the VNSC to be an invaluable resource. It provides programs, events, and services that enhance the student experience for nontraditional students and veterans. The VNSC Emergency Fund Application form is available in the VNSC Office located in Old Main Room 118. For additional information about the VNSC Emergency Fund, call (715) 394-8406 or email vnsc@uwsuper.edu.

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