Unexpected medical bills. Family emergencies. Hunger. Housing issues.
For some students, the path to graduation may have unpleasant surprises along the way. Problems arise that have the potential to derail their plans, perhaps even forcing them to leave Central Michigan University before they earn their degree.
Thankfully, their fellow students are watching out for them.
More than 580 CMU graduating seniors made gifts this year to the Student Emergency Fund, a financial assistance program that provides one-time emergency financial support to students who might otherwise be forced to leave school.
Brionna Leach, Courtney Klouw and Mackenzie Flynn worked with seniors making gifts during the senior class gift campaign.
Putting a dream within reach
"If something happens midyear, you can't go in and adjust your financial aid package to borrow additional money," said Mackenzie Flynn, a senior history and political science major.
Flynn said many students who pay their own way through school have no one to ask for help when they run into financial emergencies.
She is working with fellow students Brionna Leach and Courtney Klouw in the CMU Phonathon office to make sure there's money available to help them. Leach and Klouw recently completed undergraduate degrees at CMU and have returned for graduate school in the speech-language pathology program.
"This campus is our home away from home. We talk about being one big family, and if someone in your family needs help, you find a way to reach out and help them," Leach said.
Senior Candy Boakyewaa knows firsthand what it's like to need help from the fund.
Boakyewaa, who is originally from Ghana, was looking at a huge tuition bill and had run out of financial aid to pay. She was in danger of being withdrawn from her classes in her senior year, which would have prevented her from graduating on time. With a little help from the Student Emergency Fund, she'll walk in commencement this weekend.
"I am thankful for this chance to attain my goals and bring to life the dreams of my grandparents, my parents and myself," she said.
Senior Candy Boakyewaa says support from the Student Emergency Fund kept her on the path to graduation.
Kirk Yats, director of scholarships and financial aid at CMU, said his office receives 80-100 applications for financial assistance each year, many from students who need additional funds to cover tuition and room and board. In the past academic year, the average amount awarded to students in need was $1,200.
"Thanks to the generosity of our donors, CMU now has funding to assist students who face real financial hardships and emergencies," he said.
Earlier this year, an anonymous donor pledged to match all gifts dollar for dollar up to $50,000. With the support of alumni, friends and the senior class gift, more than $107,000 has been raised in this year.
Creating new memories, leaving a legacy
"As students, we've all benefited from the generosity of donors in some way. This is our chance to give back to the students who follow after us," Flynn said.
The university recently announced a $100 million campaign, Fire Up for Excellence, focused on student success. Alumni, donors, friends and even current students have been encouraged to give back to the university.
Flynn chose to make her gift to the fund because she wanted her gift to make a difference for an individual student.
"We know our peers are working hard because we're working hard. I wanted to be able to make a difference for a fellow student," she said.
Seniors who contribute to the fund will receive a personalized brick in front of the seal on Warriner Mall. It's a way to leave a little piece of themselves at Central when they graduate, Klouw said.
"The brick is a little memory of your time on campus, but the gift also will allow someone else to make a memory here, too."