Pandemic Funding Boosts Student Stability and Success

Pandemic Funding Boosts Student Stability and Success

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated worldwide social and economic upheaval. We see the impact globally on the nightly news and at a community level within our family, friends, colleagues and in the halls of Minneapolis College.

When Criminal Justice major Christina Vilayvanh moved to Minnesota from Kansas in September of 2013, the pandemic had yet to begin. She and her husband had lost their jobs in the aviation industry and needed a stable place to raise their six children. Her husband secured a job in Minnesota and they both found the state positive and welcoming.

“We second guessed our decision to move to Minnesota when the polar vortex hit,” said Vilayvanh, who noted they relied on friends to educate them about surviving winter in Minnesota, including pulling their car out of a snow bank. “We knew it could get cold, but 40 below was unheard of to us!”  

Ready to soar

Dropping out of school at age 15, Vilayvanh hadn’t done well in school until 2016 when she completed three years of high school in only seven months, achieving her adult diploma. She was ready to soar.

Vilayvanh began her academic journey at Minneapolis College in the winter of 2018 after learning about its range of programs, teaching styles and environment focused on eliminating barriers and building bridges from a county advocate. This was particularly important to her after being diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy in 2015 that can be debilitating.  

Higher education emergency relief funding provides financial bridge

Mid-way through her criminal justice program, Vilayvanh suffered a pulmonary embolism that sent her to the hospital forcing her to withdraw from her classes. Then the pandemic hit, her husband’s hours were decreased and their family was at risk of losing the new home they recently purchased.

During a visit to the on campus food pantry, where Vilayvanh was picking up a few essentials for her family, she learned of special pandemic funding. The Student Services employee had taken notice of Vilayvanh who was focused on her education, even bringing her children to school when necessary so she wouldn’t miss class.     

“The emergency funding is offered through Minneapolis College and is part of the Higher Education Emergency Relief III (HEERF III), authorized by the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jason Dorsett, senior accounting officer at Minneapolis College.  “The overall goal is helping students who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic to persist in college. We have provided more than one million dollars in emergency funding to students during Fall Semester 2021 and plan to support additional students with ARP emergency grants during spring 2022.”

Vilayvanh applied for and received an ARP grant that covered nearly two months of mortgage, easing some of the financial stress faced by her family. “I feel blessed in so many ways,” said Vilayvanh. “Going back to school has made such a huge impact on my life and all of the resources the College offers have made a difference for my family. I will be forever grateful.”

Moving forward

When Vilayvanh completes her associate’s degree in criminal justice, she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology followed by a law degree. “I’ve always wanted to be an immigration attorney,” said Vilayvanh, whose career focus strengthened in a sociology class where she completed an extensive research project on immigration law. “The assignment allowed me to not only learn more about immigration law but become closer to my own parents who were refugees from Vietnam.”

Anyone who questions Vilayvanh’s path and conviction can ask her husband whom she helped apply for citizenship. “On the day of his naturalization interview, I sat outside in the hallway, while in labor, waiting,” said Vilayvanh. “He passed the exam and our youngest child was born a few hours later. It was a day to remember.”

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