Waves of support

Sep 15th, 2020

Lisa Pendergast and Heidi Wicks

Sultan Sadik
Waves of support

When graduate student Sultan Sadik’s studies screeched to a halt in March, his first thought was not about himself, but his parents back home in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

On top of his concern for his family, he became ill himself, and then worried about contracting COVID-19.

Mr. Sadik, who is enrolled in the master of science (management) program at the Faculty of Business Administration, is just one of many students who found their world turned upside down this winter.

Residences vacated

On March 17 all in-person classes were suspended at Memorial in response to COVID-19 restrictions, with Memorial quickly shifting to remote and online learning.

Student residences were also required to vacate that same week, a change accompanied by travel bans that prevented many out of province students from returning home. Many students had nowhere to turn for help.

While trying to process the upheaval, Mr. Sadik was laid off from his job at Walmart.

“I needed those two-week paycheques to be able to pay my rent and bills,” he said. “I was also running low on groceries and didn’t want to go into debt to fulfill my basic needs.”

Enduring so many changes in such a short time created a real hardship for Mr. Sadik, as it did for many students. 

Memorial community steps up

Luckily, the Memorial University community – faculty, staff, alumni, donors and friends – joined forces to help.

This support came in the form of the Student Emergency Funds for undergraduate and graduate students.

Priorities for support included student parents who were unable to support their families, students with extenuating medical conditions and those facing housing and food insecurity.

Dr. Aimée Surprenant, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, put this wave of support in motion with her own contribution and a challenge to her colleagues to do the same. She was soon joined by Dr. Donna Hardy Cox, associate vice-president (academic) students.

“Many students have carefully budgeted for their education, leaving little margin for error along the way,” said Dr. Surprenant.

“These funds have helped students, in some small way, during a critical time and to help ease the immediate financial worries arising from events outside of their control.”

Heartwarming effort

To date, more than $252,000 has been raised thanks to generous contributions from a range of individual and corporate donors, which includes alumni and Memorial’s faculty, staff and students.

Mr. Sadik, who received $500 from the Graduate Student Emergency Fund, says that support in a financial and/or emotional format had a tremendous impact, no matter the size of the donation.

He says he was able to afford groceries and pay a portion of his bills for the next month, so he was able to take care of himself and focus on his studies.

“The School of Graduate Studies has been of tremendous help during that time and since then,” Mr. Sadik said, making special mention of Andrew Kim, director of graduate enrolment services in the School of Graduate Studies.

“Andrew called me the very day I applied for the fund, and even brought me groceries. He has been in contact with me ever since, guiding me to explore all of my options. Knowing that support like this is available for students who are thousands of miles away from home takes a giant load of the burden off our shoulders so that we can focus on our studies, and create a path for a better future.”

Memorial unions ride the waves

Following Dr. Surprenant’s challenge, the wave gained momentum with significant donations from Memorial’s Student Support Office, the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students Union’s executive committee, the Graduate Student Union and the Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association.

The student emergency funds have also benefitted from generous corporate and community support.

Memorial sends a special thank you to Fortis Inc. and VeraCares, the charitable team run by Verafin employees, for their donations.

In addition to donations to the emergency fund, many faculty, administrative staff, students and members of the public have given additional funds from grants, other funding awards and in-kind (delivery of food, clothing, household items, etc.) donations.

To date, 680 undergraduate and graduate students received assistance from these funds. However, as the COVID-19 crisis continues, so does the need for student support. Those interested in supporting the funds may do so here.