04:29 AM

Gator Emergency Fund Helping Students Complete Academic Journeys


By Mike Emery

Although the state is slowly reopening in the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), many Texans are still struggling to regain lost ground. Not only has the virus claimed lives, it’s also the cause of lost jobs and wages.

University of Houston-Downtown students are among those challenged by the economic downturn created by this virus, and many—including Karen Palma and Helen Ekoh Ibe—are finding assistance through the generosity of their community.

Houstonians continue to contribute to the Gator Emergency Fund, which is providing financial relief for students needing to pay bills, rent and other expenses incurred during the pandemic. Both Palma, an aspiring educator, and Ibe, a promising nurse, are among those who have benefitted from its assistance.

Palma, an Interdisciplinary Studies major in the College of Public Service, plans to become a teacher after graduating. While she has retained her current position as a teacher’s assistant, other members of her family have been affected by recent furloughs. Her job is helping support her parents, brother and sister at this time, but that income can only do so much. Fortunately, the Gator Emergency Fund provided much-needed assistance to Palma.

“I received funds that will be applied to my tuition balance,” Palma said. “This assistance not only helps me financially but is a reminder that UHD values its students.”

The Gator Emergency Fund provided Palma with the means to remain enrolled. She is currently ineligible for federal aid, so the assistance she received is very much appreciated.

Palma's journey to UHD began at another university, but she had to take time off. Her mother was ill, and Palma worked to help pay mounting medical bills. She returned to school at Houston Community College, then transferred to UHD. Despite the detour, she feels as if she found a home at UHD.

Since arriving at the University, she has become a member of Kappa Delta Phi Honor Society and previously served in the University's Be A Teacher Club. After graduating from UHD, she hopes to teach elementary school English.

"As a Hispanic American, I've seen the barriers that exist between parents and teachers," she said. "I want to be an advocate for students from all backgrounds and serve as an example to others in the Hispanic community, showing them they can be involved in their children's education."

Like Palma, Ibe hopes to apply what she's learning at UHD to helping others. She enrolled at UHD to fulfill her goal of enhancing her skills as a nurse through the RN to BSN program. She has taken time off from working to complete her degree, so the Gator Emergency Fund has come to her aid. Thanks to its financial assistance, she is set to graduate this spring.

“I believe it’s very important to have resources like this available to students,” she said. “Many students are single parents or going through one thing or another. They can’t really afford to pay for school or books. This really helps.”

Ibe's next step is a graduate degree, then a career in a hospital setting, preferably in the Texas Medical Center.

"Caring for others is an integral part of my Christian faith, so being a nurse for me is not just a job, but more of calling to cater to those who are sick or hurting," she said.

Palma and Ibe are just two examples of the Gator Emergency Fund in action, and it’s not too late for other students to apply for assistance. Likewise, there also is still time for Houstonians to contribute to the fund.

“I do recommend they apply,” Ibe said. “I didn’t know about this resource at first. I just happened to email my application, and funds were approved.”

“I am very blessed to be at UHD,” Palma added. “Professors and staff members are here for the students, and they really want us to succeed.”

UHD already has stepped up in many ways to support students during the pandemic, including providing computers for online courses and summer scholarships to cover up to two courses this summer. The Gator Emergency Fund is providing additional assistance at a time when students need it most.

“I want to personally thank UHD for taking a chance on me and helping me continue my studies through the Gator Emergency Fund,” Palma said. “The aid I received helps financially but it is very motivating to do well academically and to try to help others during this difficult time.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.

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