ONE VCU: RESPONSIBLE TOGETHER - Guidelines for the VCU community during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alum couple creates fund for student emergency relief

In May 2019, Dabney (B.S. '75/H&S) and Joe Cortina (B.F.A. ‘76/A) founded the College of Humanities and Sciences Student Emergency Fund, aimed at resolving small financial hurdles for students within a semester of graduation.
Dabney and Joe Cortina

By spring semester 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened a growing number of students with financial insecurity, the fund’s purpose became the epicenter of relief efforts to help students advance toward graduation. Joe and Dabney knew their support could make a big impact.

“We have 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.”

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.

“Not surprisingly, students in financial crisis have increased exponentially during the pandemic. Our concern is that VCU’s emergency funds will have enough money to help students stay on the degree track.”

As persistent hardships associated with the pandemic threatened near-graduates of the College, many alums and friends joined the Cortinas with contributions to the fund. “First of all, 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 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 benefitting students of the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and School of the Arts. Over the last few years, they have enjoyed having a chance to meet 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. We always come away having learned something from them. They make us feel that the future is in good hands.”

For more information on how to make a gift, contact Mary Riddick at or call (757) 876-5075.

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