Providing Relief When Students Need it Most

When pre-nursing student Merlin Lang graduated from high school, he started his first semester without a clue of what he wanted to do, so he followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and pursued an engineering degree. But as the semesters progressed, the “Fs” piled up and his confidence spiraled down.

“Each semester kept getting worse and worse and toward the end, I just wasn’t going to class at all,” Lang said. He was struggling with his mental health and when he pulled the plug on his degree, he’d destroyed his GPA and had racked up considerable student loan debt. He needed to reevaluate life, so he took a few years off to work in the service industry, traveled to Europe and became his grandmother’s caretaker.

It was during this time that he realized taking care of others was a strength, something he loved doing and could turn into a career.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping others and being of service to people — so I decided to see how this would go in the real world,” said Lang. Lang reinstated himself at UAA, buckling down to focus on his studies. “I started getting my act together and applied for pre-nursing and went from 10 Fs and 12 withdrawals to all As and one B for over a year now.”

For Lang, life was looking up, he was succeeding in school, waiting to be admitted to UAA’s nursing program and still working in the service industry making decent money. Then COVID-19 hit. He lost his job and money got tight.

Lang’s story reflects the almost immediate impact UAA students experienced when COVID-19 shut down Alaska’s economy seemingly overnight. Luckily for Lang, his professor had sent an email checking on how her students were coping and Lang responded that he was worried about money. She encouraged him to apply for UAA’s Student Support Fund, created nearly 20 years ago to provide relief to students experiencing an unexpected financial crisis.

Initially, Lang received $500 to cover his living expenses and was notified later that he would be receiving additional funds. This semester more than 400 UAA students received funding, totaling $13,000 to cover basic and unexpected expenses from phone and medical bills to rent and groceries.

“The fund exists because we know from time to time that students experience these crises or unanticipated emergencies,” said Bruce Schultz, UAA’s vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “Sometimes students find themselves in a position where they don’t have the resources to solve those issues on their own. This emergency fund is all about helping students persist and complete their education.”

For Lang and the more than 400 students who have benefited from the Student Support Fund — supported by gifts from generous donors — the financial relief allowed him and his peers to continue along their educational paths and move one step closer to graduation.

To help students like Merlin, consider making a donation to UAA’s Student Support Fund.