The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply shaken the United States economy. At Princeton Theological Seminary, the hardship for students, particularly those who lost off-campus and summer jobs, is palpable. “It became pretty obvious to us very early in the pandemic that our students were going to have additional needs due to lost income and costs inherent with online learning,” says Mike Livio, director of student administrative services. “So right away, in March and April, there was a desire to reach out to Seminary donors to see if we could raise additional money to help students in their time of need.”
Donors and friends stepped up in a big way, raising about $500,000 in a matter of a few weeks. Thanks to their incredible generosity, students can apply to receive special funding if they’re suffering any sort of financial hardship related to the pandemic.
Peter Whitelock, DMin ’03, ThM ’89, a member of the Princeton Seminary Board of Trustees, says leadership at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church unanimously supported making a gift. “This is a difficult season for our students, with many lost opportunities to fund their educational pursuits. We pray these resources will help them stay the course in pursing God’s call to service in and beyond the church.”
Heather Sturt Haaga, a member of the Princeton Seminary Board of Trustees, and her husband Paul were also among the donors. “Summer internships are a time to learn but also a time to earn. It became quickly apparent that this COVID summer was going to prevent our students from earning their ‘summer money’ which would cause them hardship going forward. Paul and I so believe in internships. They let you learn what you like to do, what you are meant to do, or what you should avoid. So funding internships is at the top of our philanthropic list. Giving money this summer was even more critical and I am sure our students learned something despite lack of traditional placements.” Their donation contributed to the $100,000 of the fund designated for field education stipends, which allowed students to serve a combination of 45 congregations, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations.
Other challenges the fund helped to address include loss of income by a student or spouse; technology costs related to online learning like upgrading laptops, speakers, and microphones; and making up for additional living expenses, since the pandemic forced campus dorms to close this year. “As one of many students whose life was unexpectedly changed by the current pandemic, I am so grateful and proud of the Princeton Seminary community for continuing to adhere to student needs and doing all that they can to alleviate our financial burdens,” says one student recipient. “Because of the generous financial gift that I received, I am able to pay for my summer courses and my basic living expenses without worrying about additional loans or debt.”
So far, three rounds of grants (in July, September, and October) have aided more than 170 students. “The students have been very forthcoming with their situations, explaining why they need the money, in some cases in very great detail,” Livio says. “It hasn’t been difficult for the committee to read through the applications and understand exactly what our students are facing.”
By the time final awards are given in January, Livio estimates that around 200 students will have been helped. “That’s more than half of the student body,” he says. “This was done to help students at a very difficult time and it’s really come as a blessing.”