The novel coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the globe, damaging people’s health and livelihoods. At the University of Virginia, a generous band of donors are funding a new, one-time scholarship for students whose financial situations have been affected by COVID-19.
Over the course of the last several months, alumni, parents and friends of the University have provided funds to underwrite a wide range of needs, from short-term support of students, faculty, staff and contract employees to expanding UVA’s testing capacity, COVID-19 research and the creation of personal protective equipment.
As the pandemic spread, it also became clear to University officials that additional support would be needed for students whose parents or caregivers – or the students themselves – were impacted by pay cuts, furloughs or even job loss.
University officials began looking for ways to support these students soon after the country entered quarantine in March, spreading the word to long-term, committed donors that a new and urgent need had emerged. Their response was eager, instantaneous and generous, with nearly $2 million committed to distribute this year in one-year grants through the newly established 2020 UVA Bridge Scholarship Program.
“When [UVA] President [Jim] Ryan outlined his plan to help our students through the UVA Bridge Scholarship Fund, my first reaction was ‘How can I help?’” said one of the donors. “I was inspired by the president’s interest and compassion to provide immediate assistance to our families financially impacted by the pandemic.”
Students who qualify will receive an average of $7,500 for one year, to create a “bridge” to help them in the short term while their families work to improve their financial situations.
“Following President Ryan’s charge to ‘Build Bridges,’ this is another way to build bridges to our students who have been impacted by this tragedy,” Mark Luellen, UVA’s vice president for advancement, said.
“UVA is a family and, like any family, we help each other in times of need,” Ryan said. “I have been heartened, and not at all surprised, by the incredible support we’ve seen for this scholarship fund. For some of our students, it could mean the difference between continuing to study at UVA and being forced to change plans. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who has stepped in to help.”
Vice President for Finance Melody Bianchetto is overseeing the distribution of the funds to up to 300 qualifying students, whom she hopes to notify in the next few weeks, before the start of the fall term.
Students originally had until March 1 to apply for financial aid. Bianchetto’s team has extended the fall 2020 appeals process to make sure they reach any students whose financial situations have changed since the pandemic hit in order to be considered for the new Bridge Scholarship or other need-based financial aid. (Students can reach out to Student Financial Services at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about the appeals process.)
Luellen said while a number of colleges and universities are focusing on increased philanthropy for financial aid and emergency funding, he believes UVA’s new Bridge Scholarship is unique.
“The speed at which our donors made decisions to contribute to support our students with scholarship support was staggering,” he said. “People just said, ‘I need to help, and I want to help.”