Carnegie Mellon Community Unites to Support Students

New Tartan Emergency Support Fund assists with financial challenges from COVID-19

By Joyce DeFrancesco

A graduate student who lost his off-campus employment and is now struggling to cover basic living expenses such as rent, utilities and food. Undergraduate and graduate students who unexpectedly needed to move home and are unable to afford travel and storage costs. A Tartan, whose financial aid package helped with room and board, is now living and learning from home, and her family is not in a position to support those additional expenses.

These students and many more like them found themselves grappling with acute financial needs following Carnegie Mellon’s transition to remote learning and research and campus closures in response to the pandemic. They were faced with travelling home, replacing wages from lost employment, and paying for food and housing. Some also lack resources to continue their educations remotely, such a laptop or internet access in their residences.

The CMU Alumni Association has partnered with the Office of the Dean of Students to establish the Tartan Emergency Support Fund to offer alternative financial assistance to students in acute need and help bridge the gap at this critical time.

“No matter how far we are from Pittsburgh, alumni stay deeply connected to CMU students, faculty and staff throughout their lifetimes,” said CMU Alumni Association President Alex DiClaudio (DC 2009, HNZ 2011). “In this time of worldwide crisis, the Alumni Association is proud to support this effort, and proud that so many of our alumni are contributing to help our students.”

Across the CMU community, more than 1,100 alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends have given more than $227,000 to support COVID-19 response, including gifts to the Tartan Emergency Support Fund, and CMU University Health Services. In addition, student leaders have reallocated about $95,000 from student government and organization budgets to funds providing support for students during this time.

“We continue to see increasing need from students facing new challenges, and gifts to the Tartan Emergency Support Fund are so critical to help us meet those needs.The support our CMU family has shown for the current generation of Tartans has been humbling and affirming.” Gina Casalegno, vice president for student affairs and dean of students

Contributions for COVID-19 efforts include a gift to the School of Computer Science from Alexander Waibel (E 1981, CS 1986), professor in CMU’s Language Technologies Institute, and his wife, Naomi Aoki Waibel (CS 1995, 1997).

Once an international student himself, Waibel was moved by the thought of students struggling with social isolation, worried about their families and their finances, and trying to continue their education while maintaining their mental and physical health.

“I wanted to be part of the CMU family and help absorb the shock, wherever it is needed,” Waibel explains. “We don’t want to miss being there when others need us most.”

Two CMU parents in China stand with pallets of PPE supplies

A Care Package for Pittsburgh

In late March, a group of Carnegie Mellon parents in China came together remotely to support their undergraduate children — many of whom are still on campus — as well as the CMU and Pittsburgh communities with a generous gift toward COVID-19 response efforts.

Coordinating via WeChat, 515 donors in China raised more than $68,000 in just four days. Having been the first country to grapple with COVID-19, these donors know firsthand how important personal protection equipment, such as N-95 masks, shoe covers, and gowns, are to controlling the spread of the new coronavirus.

Of their gift, $25,285 has been directed to CMU University Health Services to use as needed to help students on campus remain healthy. The remaining funds were used to provide vital personal protection equipment to Pittsburgh’s UPMC and Allegheny Health Network hospitals. UPMC and AHN provided lists of critically needed supplies to the parents, who didn’t just purchase the equipment, they located vendors, ensured product quality met U.S. standards, and handled customs and shipping issues.

“Pittsburgh and Wuhan are sister cities. We want to help,” the five leaders of the parent group said. “Although we may not have a significant effect, we can at least let doctors and nurses feel they are not fighting alone.”

Another group of Chinese parents, whose children are CMU graduate students, are currently fundraising as part of a second initiative to support the Tartan Emergency Support Fund and University Health Services.

A tree on CMU's campus with fabric hearts attached. Fence and students in the background.

A Community United

As Carnegie Mellon adjusts to remote learning and social distancing, additional student needs arise daily. And as summer months approach, the university is preparing to assist with a new wave of challenges for students. Continued contributions to the Tartan Emergency Support Fund will provide critical support to help CMU meet emerging needs while the university plans on how best to adjust for the long-term financial impact of the pandemic on students and the CMU community as a whole.

“We are so grateful for all in our CMU community who have stepped forward to assist our students whose lives have been upended by COVID-19,” said Jim Garrett, provost and chief academic officer. “The university community is working on all fronts to ensure that immediate student needs are met while looking ahead at how best we can help students who require increased student financial aid in the coming academic year and beyond.”

Read more about the university’s response to COVID-19 on the CMU Coronavirus Update website.

Give to the Tartan Emergency Support Fund

If you would like to make a gift that impacts Carnegie Mellon students dealing with urgent issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, please consider a contribution to the Tartan Emergency Support Fund. Your gift will provide CMU with the resources to help with individual undergraduate or graduate student needs during times of crisis.

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