“COVID-19 really turned my world upside-down.”

- Sarah Tarnopolsky

UVic graduate student James McGran says the COVID-19 Support Bursary provided for him and his family when his hours were cut due to the pandemic.

How donors made a difference to students through the COVID-19 support bursary

In March 2020, when the university transitioned from face-to-face to alternative modes of instruction in the wake of a quickly advancing COVID-19 pandemic, international students were given the option to travel home early. First-year student Nahomi Lopez, who is from Mexico, watched as many of her friends hopped on flights. Despite losing her job at the Cridge Centre after-school program, she elected to stay in Victoria.

“I talked it over with my mom and we decided it was better for me to stay,” said Lopez. There were so many unknowns—how the virus would affect Mexico, when and for how long borders would close, when and if she could resume work—her best option was to remain at her homestay near UVic.

Lopez, 19, says she felt adrift without work or school, friends or family. “It was hard to navigate online classes at first,” she said. “There were times when it felt like the end of the world.” She was grateful for the company of her homestay family, who allowed her to continue living there. She received the COVID-19 Support Bursary to help pay those living costs.

Nahomi Lopez
Nahomi Lopez, first-year student and COVID-19 Support Bursary recipient

Close to 2,000 students received the COVID-19 Support Bursary between March and June, 2020. The university initially committed $200,000 to meet the immediate challenges students were facing as a result of the pandemic, from lost jobs, to technology issues, to urgent housing needs. Within weeks, hundreds of alumni, community members, staff and faculty contributed to the bursary to help the university meet the overwhelming demand for support.

Global Community Advisor, Sara Mosher-Mandel, was one of 153 staff and faculty members who donated. Sara’s own academic experience and current work with international students at UVic prompted her to make a gift. “As someone who was an international student many times throughout my academic career, I know that every little bit helps,” she says. “Especially in this time of global crisis, I wanted to contribute and support all of the people who enrich our campus community.”

That level of commitment towards fellow community members resonated with students and their families. Graduate student James McGran applied for assistance when he learned his hours at work were being cut. He explains that the support not only fulfilled a financial need, but offered social-emotional support for him and his family.

Just knowing that the university community was not going to allow for anyone to sink during this awkward time was an important aspect of the support we needed. Receiving the bursary made my wife feel less stressed during the late stage of her pregnancy.
James McGran, UVic graduate student and COVID-19 Support Bursary recipient

McGran's wife gave birth to their third child a few weeks ago, and both mother and baby are doing well.

Jane Potentier, Associate Vice-President, Alumni and Development, says donors were quick to reach out. “Right away we had emails from alumni and other community members to ask if there was anything they could do to help students,” she says. “Their response was practical, immediate and meaningful. Through their gifts, donors showed UVic students we are a community that cares.”

In all, donors contributed $241,000 to the bursary, including donations from the UVic Alumni Association, the UVSS and UVic Speakers Bureau and over $3,000 raised through a live stream of alumnus Charles Ross’ popular One Man Star Wars show. With additional funding from government sources and university budgets, the COVID-19 Support Bursary ultimately disbursed over $1.4 million to students. 

People’s lives continue to be disrupted by the pandemic, and student needs are still emerging. As the initial emergency bursary is phased out, a new COVID-19 Student Support Fund will bolster a number of student financial assistance streams to respond to the increased number of students requesting support. Donations to that fund will help students focus on their studies, well-being and academic performance throughout the next year, through support for housing, food, mental health services, child care, mentoring and online learning.

Maya Seymour
Maya Seymour, third-year student and COVID-19 Support Bursary recipient

Maya Seymour, a third-year student in Health and Community Services, said COVID-19 really turned her world upside-down. She usually takes five courses a semester, works 30 hours a week and volunteers to further her experience in the health field. When she lost her job, she didn’t think she would be able to continue school, but the bursary allowed her to complete her summer semester and be one step closer to graduating. 

This pandemic has reinforced my desire to pursue a Master of Public Health and make an impact in the global health community. Thank you for supporting my education!
Maya Seymour, third-year student and COVID-19 Support Bursary recipient


In this story

Keywords: philanthropy, COVID, student life

People: Nahomi Lopez, Maya Seymour, James McGran, Sara Mosher-Mandel

Publication: The Ring

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