New $420,000 Grant is Helping Students in Need Stay Enrolled

Carolyn Nelson

Carolyn Nelson has always seen the value of working hard to accomplish her goals. She grew up in a small community on a multi-generational farm, and excelled in her high school work. Carolyn then chose Minnesota State University, Mankato to further her education because she received the prestigious Presidential Scholarship. After graduating and working as a paralegal for a few years, the opportunity opened up for her to return to Minnesota State Mankato as an admissions officer. She had a great experience at her alma mater and was passionate about giving back to the school that challenged her and provided her with continued growth as a person and a student.

As 10 years passed, Carolyn navigated through many positions in the department of Undergraduate Admissions, ultimately landing in the role of Assistant Director and Scholarship Coordinator. Carolyn’s work as Scholarship Coordinator would soon start to expand. Her new title as Director of Scholarships refines her focus on funding long-term grants to serve more students in need.

In the spring of 2017, Minnesota State Mankato received $420,000 in emergency grant funding from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. The grant application had University-wide input and was led by Dr. Matt Sewell, chair of the Reimagining the First Year- Micro Grants committee. The emergency grant funding will be used to help low-income students navigate the unexpected financial hardships that college students often encounter; for these students, an unexpected car repair or medical bill can spell the end of their college career.

Carolyn explains these very situations with which she has experienced working with students in need. “Sometimes the emergency is very apparent. I just received an email over the weekend from a student whose car died in the Twin Cities and now they have to get back here. That’s an obvious need. But what we’re finding through this process is that students’ financial needs tend to be a little more nuanced. Often times it’s not something that is happening immediately right now. It is something that happened a couple months ago and the student is really having a hard time recovering from that medical bill or something that they’re really trying to work towards, but they just haven’t quite gotten there. That’s where maybe that emergency grant can help out too.”

When students are looking for an emergency grant, they are often coming from faculty and staff, referrals, or the emergency grant website. No matter where they come from, they are ultimately looking for financial assistance due to an emergency happening in their lives.

The University already has more than 40 faculty and staff from around campus dedicated to being grant advisors. “That’s one of the most exciting things about this program. That not only is it going to help students, but I think that outreach and outpouring of support and interest in being involved in the grant advising process shows that faculty at the University also are really committed to student success”, Carolyn says. A student can select from a list of grant advisors and meet with them immediately due to the emergency of their situation. The advisors listen and take the time to understand each student’s story and need.

The emergency grant is only available for the 2017-2019 school years. The next step for Carolyn is to identify sources for long-term funding, whether that’s individual donations or one large endowment. She hopes to have fundraising for the grant as part of the Advancement team’s annual fundraising activities, as well as student scholarships. Carolyn is hopeful to have funding in place before the grant expires, but notes “there is a lot of work to be done to get to the point where we’re able to continue to award about $200,000 annually in emergency grants, which is what we are hoping to do here this year”. The continuation of an emergency grant fund would assist a variety of student at Minnesota State to stay enrolled and continue their education for years to come.

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