Emergency fund, break enhancements help Oles
A broken pair of eyeglasses before a large lecture class, or appendicitis and a first encounter with a high-deductible health plan, can change the course of a semester for a student. Or a lack of opportunities over break may make campus feel more like an empty school, and less like home.
Yet through gifts donors have made as part of the college’s For the Hill and Beyond comprehensive campaign, St. Olaf College has made several changes to provide programming and resources during academic breaks and help students with unexpected hardships.
“It’s never just one thing,” says St. Olaf Dean of Students Roz Eaton ’87. “Challenges they face differ from student to student. Being able to meet students where they are in terms of need has made a great impact.”
Last spring, the St. Olaf Student Emergency Fund, initiated with a gift from Mary Ostenson Broude ’68, began providing need-based grants to Oles experiencing a financial hardship due to an unanticipated event or emergency. Other donors have added to the fund since. The college expects to award $20,000 in aid with the funds provided before this school year ends.
I was really drawn to the idea of impacting students immediately in the here and now … It’s been absolutely thrilling to know the difference it’s making and see others making contributions to the fund.Mary Ostenson Broude ’68
More than half of awards made are medical and health related — followed by help for living expenses, visa fees, and travel for family emergencies. This support complements the Robert Cabillot Opportunity Fund that provides TRIO/SSS students support for emergency expenses. In each instance, the funding offered means exponentially more to students facing individual or family emergencies.
Broude was inspired to start the fund after a conversation with staff opened up awareness about challenges students face across categories college wide. Grants from the fund have gone to assist with emergency prescription costs, help an Ole whose parent was ill travel home to care for their siblings, provide lodging during an unexpected layover abroad due to airport strikes, and other issues.
“I was really drawn to the idea of impacting students immediately in the here and now,” says Broude. “There are students who don’t have a home to go to, and there are some whose home is half a world away. This was a small way I can help address that. It’s been absolutely thrilling to know the difference it’s making and see others making contributions to the fund.”
In addition, the college has started covering the cost of two meals daily during breaks. A scholarship fund from Barnes & Noble, which operates the St. Olaf Bookstore, helps Oles with book purchases. Next spring, St. Olaf will pilot a transition fund and thrift store so students underprepared for campus residential life and Minnesota winters will be able to get what they need to succeed on the Hill.
These programs are St. Olaf’s response to issues colleges are working with across the country. Disparity in family income has increased. So too has food insecurity. Health care is more expensive, compounded by insurance coverage. And as St. Olaf has become a more national and international school, the distance that students travel to study on campus is far greater on average than it has been before.
For those who can’t drive or fly home over breaks, it can be very isolating when campus feels shut down, especially for first years. We want all students, regardless of their own resources, to have access to the same enjoyable experience.Jennifer Kroner
“It isn’t feasible, or possible, for many students to go home,” says Eaton. “Around 250 to 1,000 Oles remain here during academic breaks. Yet it’s important that breaks are breaks for students — the more we can do to support their down time, the better outcomes they’ll have during the academic year.”
Support from Ken and Jennifer Kroner has helped St. Olaf add ways for Oles to relax together during breaks, including snack and game nights, local trips and transportation, movies, special holiday meals, and outings to the Twin Cities. This spring break, St. Olaf screened a different feature movie twice each evening in its Viking Theater with popcorn and candy. It also provided busses to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
“For those who can’t drive or fly home over breaks, it can be very isolating when campus feels shut down, especially for first-years,” says Jennifer Kroner. “We want all students, regardless of their own resources, to have access to the same enjoyable experience.”
“For some students, St. Olaf is their only home,” says Eaton. “We are grateful for those who have made these changes possible — it makes a tremendous difference.”