Rallying to Support Students

Rutgers–Camden strives to help students in need

With only a handful of laboratory, clinical, and studio art classes offered in person within social-distancing guidelines on the Rutgers University–Camden campus in fall 2020, the majority of students convened remotely. Faculty and students—including this course taught by Jinglin Fu, associate professor of chemistry—developed innovative methods for conducting research and collaborating online.

By Sam Starnes

The professor reached out to the Dean of Students office with a request for help: A student of his was struggling to write a 10-page paper on a smartphone because he didn’t have access to a computer. Courses in March had transitioned to remote learning and campus computer labs were closed due to efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Through an innovative program set up by the Dean of Students office and Rutgers–Camden Information Technology, the student was loaned a laptop from the university to use for the semester and complete his paper.

The program, which loaned more than 50 computers to students, is one of myriad ways Rutgers–Camden reacted rapidly to the pandemic. From emergency financial aid to additional academic support, the university rallied to support students. “If faculty saw students dropping off the radar, they referred them very quickly to the Dean of Students office so we were able to find them as many options to help them as possible, including helping them to keep their class,” said Mary Beth Daisey, vice chancellor of student affairs. “That family feeling that we are all here together and are here to support each other is one of the values that Rutgers–Camden holds dear.”

Daisey said many students lost part-time jobs, including several hundred who worked on campus, and often family hardships caused financial crises. A few students were discovered to be homeless, she said, noting that staff worked to find resources and support them, and many more dealt with other issues. The Rutgers University–Camden Chancellor’s Emergency Fund, which is funded by donations, helped many students with emergency grants. “We helped pay for books, and we helped with a cell phone payment here and there or a gift card for food for students that needed it and lived in off-campus apartments,” Daisey said. “We helped with all different kinds of emergencies, and provided funds that would help students get over the edge.”

Daisey said $16,000 was given out from the emergency fund, exhausting it for the 2019–2020 academic year. “We used every penny that we could for students,” she said. The emergency fund has since benefitted from increased donations, including a $50,000 gift from the Teagle Foundation and a $5,000 gift from the Rutgers University–Camden Alumni Association.

Craig Westman, vice chancellor of enrollment management who directs the offices of admissions, financial aid, and the registrar, said his staff developed numerous additional programs and procedures to serve students remotely in the new world of the pandemic. Westman said his staff has responded to many students who receive financial aid who experienced a change in family circumstance that enabled them to receive increased financial aid. Westman also said the university made the decision to redistribute funds it received from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which was part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to students. Students could apply to the university to receive between $500 to $1,500 depending on their financial situation. The university had options to use the funds for technology or in other ways, but Westman said, “We wanted to get the funds directly into the hands of students.”

While most fall classes were offered remotely, some met in person with social-distancing measures, including this Painting 1 class taught by Stanislav Shpanin, an assistant teaching professor.

Posted in: 2020 Fall, On Campus

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