ONE VCU: RESPONSIBLE TOGETHER - Get guidelines and information for fostering a safe campus during COVID-19 at together.vcu.edu.

In a Pinch: The College of Humanities and Sciences Student Emergency Fund

When Dabney (BS ’75/H&S) and Joe Cortina (BFA ’76/A) founded the College of Humanities and Sciences Student Emergency Fund in May of 2019, they had no way of knowing what was just around the corner.

dabney and joe cortina

The fund, aimed at resolving small financial hurdles for students within a semester of graduation, took on new meaning when COVID-19 hit and the pandemic threatened a growing number of students with financial insecurity. It soon became the epicenter of relief efforts to help students advance toward graduation.

“Students in financial crisis have increased exponentially throughout the pandemic,” said the Cortinas. “For students to have worked so hard to get to this point and then to be so close, yet so far away from graduating, is concerning. Chances are they’ve run up college debt, too, and now they can’t get their degree because of a financial crisis of which they have no control. We felt like that was a fixable problem.”

“We want everyone to know how easy it is to help students that are struggling financially and that even small contributions to VCU’s Student Emergency Fund will make a big difference in someone’s future.”

It was this desire to help that drove the Cortinas to create the Student Emergency Fund, an idea that they had thought about over the years. “We read a number of articles over the last few years that reported on students who were unable to register for their last semester or receive their hard- earned degree because they owed money—often a relatively small, but insurmountable, amount. For these students, life circumstances got in the way of their degree: they, or their parents, lost jobs; they had to quit their jobs because a family member became ill and needed care; their car died and in order to get to work and school, they had to buy another. We felt that there had to be a way for these relatively small debts to be paid so the students would be able to move forward,” they said.

The fund, the first of its kind at VCU, has inspired more than 140 donors to make gifts totaling over $55,000. The Cortinas have been vocal champions of this critical resource for students who would otherwise pause their progress. “It is so wonderful and generous that others recognize this financial need as well. We want everyone to know how easy it is to help students that are struggling financially and that even small contributions to VCU’s Student Emergency Fund will make a big difference in someone’s future.”

The Cortinas' generosity extends beyond their support of the College of Humanities and Sciences Student Emergency Fund. They also endowed a named scholarship benefiting students of the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and the School of the Arts. Over the last few years, they have enjoyed meeting their scholarship recipients to hear about their student experience, ambitions and plans beyond VCU. “We are rarely surprised, but always impressed! Our recipients are so dedicated to their studies and so thoughtful about what life after college will bring and how they can make a difference.”

For more information on how to contribute to the College of Humanities and Sciences Student Emergency Fund, contact Mary Riddick, director of development, at riddickm2@vcu.edu or (804) 828-4543.

All annual report topics