In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the daily lives of UNLV students. Living in one of the hardest economically hit states in the country, many students in Nevada were left without a steady income, and subsequently, the funds to continue their studies as planned.
In response, an anonymous donor gifted $12,500 to support engineering and computer science students enrolled in summer courses, putting the importance of philanthropy into sharp relief.
“COVID-19 came unexpectedly and caused me to temporarily lose my job. Taking a summer course allowed me to switch from pre-engineering to mechanical engineering and stay on track for graduation,” said Jacob Nakasone, a mechanical engineering student and scholarship recipient.
Anonymous donor steps up
In April, UNLV received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, enabling the university to provide previously identified in-need students with additional financial assistance. The funding was limited and did not reach everyone.
The additional anonymous donation helped 25 engineering students cover the costs of summer courses. To apply, engineering students with a minimum 2.0 GPA wrote a short essay explaining why the scholarship would help their degree progression and the challenges the pandemic had on their jobs, internships, or family.
“It was a lot of work in a quick timeframe, but I’m glad we were able to offer additional funding to the students in time for their summer courses,” said Chris Parker, director of advising and scholarship coordinator for the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering.
Scholarship donations from private sources made up approximately 20 percent of total money given to engineering students over the past year, which totals $2.24 million. Still, as students continue to feel the economic realities of a COVID-19 world, many are faced with the possibility of delaying or putting a pause to their studies.
The lasting impact of philanthropy
For mechanical engineering professor Robert F. Boehm and his wife, Marcia, giving to scholarships isn’t a reaction to a crisis, but has been a long-time family affair. After her father’s passing, Marcia’s mother set up a scholarship in his honor at Washington State University, where he was vice president of business. Throughout the years, her family received stories and updates about the students who benefited from the scholarship.
A few years ago, as they were writing their will, the Boehms expressed their wish to set up endowments at three different schools: Washington State University; University of California, Berkeley; and of course, UNLV.
Having served as director of UNLV’s Center for Energy Research, Boehm and his wife wished to fuel ongoing research, particularly in solar and renewable energy. The goal was to begin giving now, so they can see the positive effects of their giving.
“In my 30 years at UNLV, I’ve had the privilege of working with many undergraduate students who are participating in important research. The bulk of this funding goes to graduate students, so we wanted to support students who participate in academia, but have less opportunity to be compensated for it,” Boehm said. “It is reassuring to know the endowment can potentially reconcile some of the financial stress that will continue to be felt in the years to come.”
“Many of our donors continue to help students by supporting scholarships, research studies, and UNLV’s emergency relief funds,” said Rama Venkat, dean of the College of Engineering. “As UNLV gets a clearer picture of the financial impact of the pandemic, the college will continue to work to ensure students receive financial aid during these difficult times.”
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