June 2009 Cover SCAN - St. Catherine University St. Catherine University
June 2009
 
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Mission Driven

Helping Hands

When a plea Went out for tuition assistance, alumnae responded — in droves.

BY ANDY STEINER
PHOTO BY TONY NEL SON

It was a terrible day. Sylvie Tamfu, a nursing major from the West African nation of Cameroon, was just one semester away from completing her degree at the College of St. Catherine. But now, due to the international economic crisis, she feared she would have to put her dreams on hold.

"I was trying to borrow money to pay my tuition," Tamfu recalls. "I'd done it in the past, but this time my bank would not give me a loan. I was so depressed. I wondered if I'd have to go back to Africa without finishing my degree."

Despite assurances from the College's financial aid office that efforts were being made on her behalf, she felt hopeless. Then Tamfu heard from a financial aid officer that she had been awarded a scholarship.

"It was like divine intervention," she says with a laugh. "At the end of that very hard day, I got a call telling me that my balance had been paid off. I couldn't believe it."

Tamfu was so stunned and grateful that she didn't even think to ask where the money came from. "All I knew was that I would finally be able to earn my degree," she explains.

HARD TIMES ALL AROUND

College officials had been monitoring the growing crisis for months, concerned about the impact that layoffs, credit insecurities and dwindling savings could have on students of all economic means. As the enrollment deadline for winter semester neared, the phone started ringing.

"The calls were from students and families who were worried about being able to make tuition," says Beth Stevens, associate dean of enrollment and director of financial aid. "When we took a closer look at registration for winter semester, we could see that it was lagging behind."

"It was like divine intervention. All I knew was that I would finally be able to earn my degree." SYLVIE TAMFU, NURSING MAJOR The possibility that worthy students might not be able to reach their educational goals was a huge concern. "One philosophy that has carried through from the Sisters of St. Joseph is that we will do everything in our power to meet the needs of a student who is academically qualified and who wants to attend this school," says Sarah Berger '00, director of the Annual Fund. "That is central to who we are as an institution."

St. Kate's students overall depend heavily on financial aid and scholarships for tuition — making them particularly vulnerable in troubled financial times. "Our students have the lowest average family income among the Minnesota private colleges," Berger explains.

Adds Brian Bruess, vice president for enrollment management and dean of student affairs: "Many of our students make a lot of sacrifices to attend this college. A crisis like this could end their college careers."

Adds Brian Bruess, vice president for enrollment management and dean of student affairs: "Many of our students make a lot of sacrifices to attend this college. A crisis like this could end their college careers."

Shortly before the Christmas break, President Andrea Lee, IHM, decided to turn to the school's extended family for help. She wrote a letter to all alumnae and other friends of the College outlining the impact of the financial crisis on students and asking for donations to the Annual Fund — funds that she would dedicate, in turn, to critical financial aid needs.

"Sister Andrea felt confident of the response that she would get from our community," Stevens says. "Our alumnae and donors and friends understand the mission of our College, and they realize better than anyone that our students are very committed to their higher education goals."

Hearing personally from students about their financial struggles inspired many faculty and staff members to respond, as well, to a special request for help with financial aid. They donated more than $22,000 in gifts and pledges. College officials were humbled by the immediate, strong show of support. "With this kind of economic environment, we didn't know if anyone would be able to help," Stevens says. "I was deeply touched when the donations started coming in. I'm very encouraged by the level of support for our students."

SUPPORTING OUR SISTERS

Like St. Catherine students, donors to the scholarship fund came from all walks of life.

Kate (Winkels) Loging '01, a business development and marketing aid at the CPA firm Eide Bailley in Mankato, Minnesota, doesn't have a lot of extra cash on hand. But when she read Sister Andrea's letter, she immediately reached for her checkbook.

"As a former student who received financial aid, I thought, 'What better time to give?'" Loging recalls. "Even though I gave only a small amount, I knew I had to be involved in this drive. I wouldn't have been able to afford to go to St. Kate's on my own without the support of other alumnae. It helped me feel like I did my part to help others."

Maggie Passmore, IT project manager for Capella University in Minneapolis, graduated from Weekend College in 2007 with a degree in management information systems. She never received financial aid, but Sister Andrea's letter reminded her why her St. Kate's education was so important.

"I am grateful that there is a women's university in St. Paul with a wonderful Weekend College program," Passmore says. "I want to do my part to make sure that the opportunity to attend the institution continues to exist for other women."

Mary Jo Eichler '52 and her husband, John, raised their children in St. Paul and now live in Rio Verde, Arizona. After receiving Sister Andrea's letter, the couple decided to give $10,000 to the scholarship fund.

"We understand the financial problems students are facing today," Mary Jo Eichler says. "My husband went to St. Thomas on the GI Bill. My folks could only afford to send me to St. Kate's for two years, but back then they had a two-year teaching degree. We both understand that college students today also have financial challenges. It made me feel very good to be able to help."

MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE

Thanks to the special scholarship fund, many students who otherwise could not have enrolled for winter semester were able to attend classes. In fact, Bruess reports that the college exceeded enrollment goals by 5 percent.

"That's amazing," he says. "It's a bright spot of hope that everyone needs to hear about."

As enrollment deadlines loomed, junior Heidi Kerestes realized that she didn't have enough money to pay for her tuition. "Unfortunately, I make too much money at my current job for my entire tuition to be covered by regular loans — but not enough for me to actually be able to pay the balance," says Kerestes, a marketing and management major from St. Paul.

As with Sylvie Tamfu of Cameroon, the answer came via a phone call from the financial aid office. "I was out of town for a couple weeks in January," she recalls, "and when I returned, I had a voicemail stating that they had funds available for me. I paid a little interest, and I was able to take classes again winter semester. It completely made my day to get that call."

Tamfu plans to specialize in women's and children's health when she returns to her native Cameroon. "I'm so emotional right now," she says. "The people who gave this money changed everything for me. Without this money I wouldn't be able to realize my dreams. Now I will."



ANDY STEINER is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to SCAN.

Contributions to the Annual Fund are dedicated to where the need is greatest in any given year. Call (651) 690-8840 or (800) 945-4599, ext. 6516, or visit stkate.edu/giving.


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Sylvie Tamfu (center), a nursing major at St. Catherine, is among many students who get personalized support from St. Kate's financial professionals, including Senior Financial Aid Counselor Patricia Pierce (left) and Beth Stevens (right), associate dean of enrollment and director of financial aid.