UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While many Penn State students are facing uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State offices continue diligently working so that students have the resources they need to succeed.
Anna Barone, director of the Student Care and Advocacy office within Student Affairs, said that the current situation presents a unique scenario due to its widespread economic effect. Still, her team is responding as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The Student Care and Advocacy office, which exists to help students overcome a variety of challenges that may occur during their college career, offers year-round services available to any Penn State student. The office has assisted students in the past who have encountered a long-term illness, food or housing insecurity, academic distress and other obstacles.
"Our office is a one-stop-shop when students experience something unexpected and need quick connection to resources," Barone said. "The Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund exists so students’ basic needs are met during unforeseen hardship, and COVID-19 is certainly that."
Through the Student Care and Advocacy office, students will find a central location composed of case managers that assist them when life happens and their ability to complete the semester is at risk. Case managers work with points-of-contact across the commonwealth to help students at any Penn State campus. While the office has limited funds, Barone said she and others have been trying to assist as many students as possible. So far, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has helped more than 600 students and received applications from all locations. The average award amount cannot exceed $1,000, and over $220,000 has been awarded already.
Impact: The voices of our community
For Daniel Vaindiner, a third-year student double-majoring in computer science and Russian at University Park, it was a matter of paying a hospital bill.
"They listened when I reached out," Vaindiner said. "Penn State made me realize my potential because they never gave up on me. Even during these difficult times, when we're all isolated, I feel the support of my blue-and-white family."
Via the assistance, Vaindiner can continue his undergraduate research in the field of artificial intelligence.
Juana Allebach, a second-year nursing student at the Altoona campus, works as an emergency medical services and CPR instructor, but her classes were canceled due to COVID-19. Allebach’s husband is still able to work as a paramedic, but the couple needed some additional support.
"I appreciate the help with my bills because I witness incredible nurses risking their lives to save others," Allebach said. "This assistance means that I can continue my program and help in the fight."
After her anticipated graduation in December 2020, Allebach hopes to find employment in Harrisburg or somewhere closer to her home, like Huntingdon or Lewistown, Pennsylvania.
Similarly, Vincent DeLeo, a second-year applied psychology major at Penn State Berks, asked for assistance to pay his rent.
"It was a blessing," DeLeo said. "Saundra Reichel and Dr. Catherine Mello from Penn State Berks have been supportive and helped guide me in the right direction during this difficult period. It made me realize that I'm not alone, and it makes me want to give back to the Penn State community."
After his graduation, DeLeo wants to be a clinical psychologist to make a difference for the "unnoticed people who need it most, especially veterans."
For the students
The Student Care and Advocacy office, guided by an ethic of care, focuses on empowering and encouraging students to maximize their educational experience. Student Care and Advocacy employees aim to act in the best interest of students by listening effectively, providing timely and accurate information, encouraging mutual respect and treating each student as an individual.
"Penn State does an excellent job of hiring people that are kind and collaborative; employees aren't focused on the bottom line," Barone said. "The employees of Penn State are focused on the holistic development of our students so that they can lead great lives. Our office works to make sure we are doing exactly that: taking care of our students and equipping them with what they need to continue taking good care of themselves."
At the current time, there are numerous initiatives taking place at the University to support students. In addition to assistance from the Student Care and Advocacy office, there are other resources available for students at the Lion's Pantry, Complete Penn State, the Coalition of Graduate Employees, Student Legal Services, University Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services, Career Services and Health Promotion and Wellness.
Under the present public health crisis, all new contributions to the Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund will be directed toward those who, as a byproduct of protective measures against COVID-19, are challenged to afford housing, transportation, basic needs and access to required resources for remote learning, or who are facing other unforeseen personal difficulties.
Gifts can be made at raise.psu.edu/emergencyaid, and students at every Commonwealth Campus will have access to the funds raised. For questions about how to support the Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund, call the Office of Annual Giving at 814-863-2052.
Students in need of emergency assistance are encouraged to review support resources available through the Student Care and Advocacy office within Student Affairs, which includes a link to the Student Emergency Fund Application. Students also are encouraged to contact the office by email at [email protected].
Information on the University's response to the global coronavirus outbreak is being regularly updated at psu.edu/virusinfo.
"When my children go to college, hopefully at Penn State, I can tell them my story," said Emily Lappas, also a student from Penn State Berks who majors in hospitality management and found help via the Student Emergency Fund after losing her job to COVID-19. “I appreciate this assistance more than I could ever put into words. Being an adult learner with children is hard, and not being an essential employee is even more difficult. Penn State was able to share my emotions and help me where it could."
Want more Penn State inspiration?
The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories.
Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by novel coronavirus. We are!