Toreros Together Emergency Fund Supports Students in Need

Toreros Together Emergency Fund for StudentsMira Wiley, far left, received critical support from USD's emergency fund to help her return home recently to Denver. Wiley is a senior mechanical engineering student.

March 2020 was a month Mira Wiley certainly won’t forget any time soon.

The senior mechanical engineering student at the University of San Diego spent the first week of it — USD's Spring Break — in Israel with her engineering classmates to study firsthand the world's top ranking country for water re-use, studying its water conservation practices. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Wiley, who made her first international trip thanks to a travel scholarship and other donations.

Then came the rest of a really long month. The COVID-19 pandemic — which has caused upheaval, sickness and death across the globe — has upended the healthcare industry, education, public gatherings and daily life. Students at USD and across the nation have shifted to remote learning and have either returned home or to local, off-campus housing.

For Wiley, a resident assistant (RA), her experience in Israel quickly moved to the background; her prime task became helping other students vacate campus. She also had to decide if she would stay local or return to her hometown of Denver, Colorado. USD announced the cancellation of on-campus classes for March 16-20 with the intent of giving students the ability to move out by March 22. California expedited its plans to the current shelter-into-place situation and USD moved its deadline up by several days.

Wiley, a member of the engineering school's Baja SAE project team, suddenly had a very short window to decide on whether she's make the 20-hour drive home in her 2008 Toyota Camry.

"I was upset for a few days," she said. "It was hectic to get everything in order. And then I remembered what a mechanic told me when I took my car in last time. 'You're going to need four new tires if you plan to go on a long-distance trip.' I wasn't going to have my federal work-study job and I knew I'd have some big expenses with no money coming in. It was a really stressful situation."

As she spoke of her plight to a colleague in Residential Life, he suggested Wiley contact the office of Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Cynthia Avery, EdD, for assistance.

The university has an emergency fund, the Toreros Together Emergency Fund for Students, set aside for a variety of student hardships. Upon appealing to Avery, the university gave Wiley funds to purchase four new tires — Colorado is prone to sudden springtime snowstorms — pay her mileage costs and provide money for one night's lodging. Separately, she gained access to a laptop from USD's Information Technology Services to help her with online classes.

"It was more than I could have ever expected," Wiley said. "The emergency fund was crucial to my mental well-being in the midst of chaos. I was able to take the most comfortable option."

The emergency fund has been heavily tapped due to a spring semester that has turned the lives of many in the USD community upside down. The fund has been a difference-maker.

First-year student Gabriel Lewandowski, who is studying computer science, needed travel bags. Thanks to the emergency fund, USD purchased the bags and covered his airfare.

"Within hours of me contacting the university, Cynthia reached out to me and got me all the materials I needed to move out safely and efficiently,” Lewandowski said. “I was really impressed with the way student services took care of me at such a chaotic time."

Francesca Spruiell, a senior living locally, obtained an external hard drive, enabling her to download class materials for online instruction.

“I reached out to Student Affairs to see if there were any technology resources available for students in my position. I was happy to hear back and that they could support me,” she said. “They immediately mailed me an external hard drive, allowing me to download the program I needed to continue my class. I was relieved and felt that USD made a real effort to give me the tools I needed to navigate the transition from on-campus classes to remote teaching.”

Senior Shiri Stover, a biology and interdisciplinary humanities major, secured funds for storage, a flight home to Georgia and shipping costs for a box that was shipped home.

“COVID-19’s impact on college students around the globe has brought to the forefront a new context in which to talk about the reliability and accessibility of resources to help students and their families in times of crisis," Stover said. "I believe the support that USD has openly and non-discriminately offered its students is quite inspiring given the unforeseen developments in the university community’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic."

These are just a few of the students whose needs were met by the fund, which brings in contributions from donors, individual USD schools and others. The USD Associated Student Government voted last month to provide a major allocation of its remaining academic year funding toward helping students.

The fund relies on donations to create support. Based on latest developments with COVID-19 — California extended its shelter-in-place order through the month of April and USD President James T. Harris announced USD's May Commencement will not take place, instead celebrating the class of 2020 at the Oct. 16-18 Homecoming and Family Weekend — the fund's existence and ability to help students itself needs assistance.

"As COVID-19 continues to span the globe, our most vulnerable students are most likely to be exceptionally affected by the pandemic's economic impact," Avery said. "Many students have lost their jobs over the past few weeks, and so have their parents. The appeals for funding of food and shelter are the most profound. Fulfilling these basic needs is essential to ensuring students can continue their academic pursuits. I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of the Associated Student Government and our Torero Family for supporting our students most in need." — Ryan T. Blystone

To donate — any amount helps — please visit the Toreros Together Emergency Fund for Students.

Have a story to share about Toreros responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? We'd love to hear from you!

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