UNI helps students in the wake of COVID-19

As the nation and Cedar Valley region continue to grapple with the devastating fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Northern Iowa is stepping up to help students. 

The UNI Foundation today launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the new UNItogether Scholarship Fund, which was created to provide tuition assistance to students facing financial hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UNI students are also encouraged to apply by this Friday, May 8 for a portion of the $3.8 million in federal CARES Act funds the university expects to distribute. Since the move to online learning, UNI's Student Emergency Fund, administered through the Dean of Students office, has awarded over $12,000 in emergency funding to students who had no one else to turn to. 

“UNI has always had a culture of caring. The #UNItogether scholarship is an extension of that,” said Sarah Parsons, UNI director of advancement communications. “We wanted to create a scholarship that would help fill in the gaps … maybe where a student is suddenly not able to pay tuition or cover the cost of their U-bill. This fund will help.” 

The fund will be supported with gifts made as a part of #GivingTuesdayNow, a national day of giving in response to COVID-19, that is underway today.

“This is an unprecedented time for all of us but … we want to come together to support our students to realize that goal of obtaining a UNI education,” said Parsons. “We want them to know that the Panther family is behind them and we’re willing to come together and support them. That is just as true today as it was a year ago.”

Additionally, UNI expects to receive $3.8 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) act funding. These funds are available for students who have a valid 2019-20 FAFSA at UNI and have expenses related to the disruption of campus operations because  of COVID-19. Students can apply for CARES act funds through UNI’s financial aid website.

“In signing the CARES act, the federal government is ... giving us the dollars to help students work through this current situation,” said Tim Bakula, UNI director of financial aid and scholarships. “What we want to do is see a student's true success … which, to me, one of the ultimate forms of success would be to graduate in a timely manner in a degree program that the student is seeking. As an aid office, we want them to understand financial opportunities that exist to help.”

For students who aren't eligible for CARES act funding, there are still other resources available, including the #UNItogether scholarship and the Student Emergency Fund. Dean of Students Allyson Rafanello said that her office is committed to helping connect students with whatever resources they can.

“We don’t see helping students as just utilizing the fund. We’re here to work with anyone and everyone across campus to help a student navigate an issue or concern that they’re experiencing,” said Rafanello. “Our work is really helping support our students.”

Support is available to students throughout campus. Em Harsch, coordinator for UNI’s gender and sexuality services office, has helped LGBTQ students connect with funding sources and navigate unique concerns regarding their applications.

“There’s always the big question of how to fill out a form if you go by a name that’s maybe different than your legal name,” said Harsch. “We’re quite lucky to have a really strong partnership with the dean of students office, so that we do get students connected to resources pretty quickly. We also have a diversity liaison within the financial aid office who’s been a phenomenal resource through this time period to help students figure out what are those untapped resources.”

According to Rafanello, support from the community is strong, too. She credits the UNI Foundation’s robust crowdfunding efforts with generating funds for these services.

“We wouldn't be able to help as many students during COVID-19 if it wasn't for the foundation's really hard work. We're very grateful for their partnership and their leadership in this process,” said Rafanello. “I think that speaks volumes to our campus community, that … people, for the most part, are really receptive to engaging and supporting students.”

Those interested in supporting the #UNITogether Scholarship Fund or other student support efforts can visit the fund's website. Students can apply for CARES act funds on the financial aid website or Student Emergency Fund assistance on the dean of students website (https://deanofstudents.uni.edu/emergencyfund).