Jordan “Jo” Allen surveyed her Ames apartment wondering which items she could live without. Her furniture? Her running gear? Then she scanned her closet, picking out clothes to sell. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Allen (’21 journalism and mass communication) was on the brink of despair.
This was Allen’s reality just a few short months ago at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a student who is financing her own education and living expenses, Allen needed to find the funds to pay for rent, food, car repairs, gas, her remaining spring 2020 tuition as well as tuition for her upcoming summer classes.
"I was basically in a panic and a frenzy because I didn’t know how I was going to be able to get this amount of money together in such a short amount of time.”
Allen is also in remission from stage 4 Non-Hodgkin Burkitt lymphoma, and she needs medications to keep the cancer in check. She’s also paying off numerous past hospital bills. Working 15 hours a week as a nanny wasn’t enough to make ends meet, but seeking new employment with a compromised immune system during a rising pandemic seemed too risky.
“At that time, my emotions were very heightened just because we’ve got COVID-19 going on, but now I’ve got this stress of trying to figure out how am I going to come up with this money by the end of the semester?” Allen said. “I had to pay for everything before my summer classes. I was basically in a panic and a frenzy because I didn’t know how I was going to be able to get this amount of money together in such a short amount of time.”
An off-handed comment about her financial struggles to academic advisor Jessica Hansen-Moench helped put a plan in motion that allowed Allen to erase her financial burden for now. Hansen-Moench put her in touch with Mary Ullestad-Heneke, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences undergraduate scholarship coordinator, who informed Allen about the LAS Success Grant.
Paying it forward
The LAS Success Grant program was established in 2017 following a generous donation from an alumnus. Since then, additional alumni and friends of the college have contributed to the fund. In addition to providing students with much-needed emergency funds, the program provides personalized guidance, financial planning and resource referrals to help students get back on solid financial footing.
“To date, we have awarded over $145,000 in grants to nearly 150 students,” said Kent Kerby, assistant dean for student success and adjunct professor of genetics, development and cell biology, who, along with Ullestad-Heneke, also serves as a LAS Success Grant program administrator. “The number of students awarded increased from 56 students receiving $53,000 in the 2018-19 academic year, to 70 students receiving $81,000 in 2019-20.”
Ullestad-Heneke said there was an uptick in the number of student requests this spring as a result of COVID-19, primarily due to food insecurity.
“To date, we have awarded over $145,000 in grants to nearly 150 students."
“With the sudden loss of their part-time jobs, many students were struggling to make ends meet and buying groceries is often the first to be cut,” she said. “We were able to establish a HyVee gift card program with some of the LAS Success Grant funds to help students with this need.”
Allen was pleasantly surprised with the grant’s simple application process and LAS’ quick response. It took her minutes to apply for the grant online. Just a few days later, she received an email stating she had been awarded a $1,250 grant from the program, and that the money would be in her bank account within three to five business days.
“I would say thank you times a million to the donors because that grant took so many stressors away from me.”
To some, $1,250 may not seem like much. But to Allen, it meant she could continue her education at Iowa State.
“$1,250 may not sound like a lot, but that took care of me,” Allen said. “I was trying to figure out for months how to pay for that.”
A debt of gratitude
Allen is grateful to the alumni and friends who contribute to the LAS Success Grant program, giving her and other students suffering short-lived financial challenges an opportunity to survive and thrive.
“To have these donors making large contributions helps students like me that need help. I am really appreciative of it and it definitely took care of major situations for me,” Allen said. “I would say thank you times a million to the donors because that grant took so many stressors away from me.”
How you can help
Gifts to the LAS Success Grant program can be made securely online at www.foundation.iastate.edu/las. Checks can also be made out to the ISU Foundation (memo line LAS Success Grant) and mailed to:
2505 University Blvd.
Ames, IA 50010
For additional questions about how to support the LAS Success Grant program, please contact Kara Tenney at 515-294-3607.