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Residence Life unveils new $1,000 general housing scholarship
by Catalina Myers |
It’s been two years since COVID-19 hit, forever changing the modern landscape of how people live, work and play. For UAA’s students living on campus, a regular spring break pivoted from relaxing to frantic when the University of Alaska System announced in March 2020 that it would be closing its campuses in Anchorage and across Southcentral — effectively shuttering the residential halls — during spring break.
Ryan J. Hill, director of UAA Residence Life, said it was a challenging couple of weeks in the wake of the early stages of the pandemic. He and his staff worked overtime coordinating with students to return their belongings and aiding them however they could by arranging travel by train, air and ferry to help them return home, whether in-state, the Lower 48 or across the globe.
“I remember reading stories in the news and then hearing about how things were going on other college campuses and just being so proud to work at UAA,” said Hill. “We set up a pretty elaborate process to effectively and efficiently pack up students’ items and ship them all over the state, country and world. UAA really put their money where their mouth was. We didn’t just talk about how we would support students through this challenging time but demonstrated it.”
Fast forward two years, and although the pandemic continues to evolve and affect daily life, some of the uncertainty from those early stages has waned across the state, country and world. As the university and many other public institutions are cautiously exploring what the “new normal” means with mask policies and a return to more in-person teaching and events, life in UAA’s residence halls is starting to feel more familiar. Hill said students have returned, although not in the numbers the university saw before the pandemic. He is optimistic a new housing scholarship will help draw students back. UAA will offer it to all students in campus housing during the fall 2022 and spring 2023 semesters.
The newly created general housing scholarship will deduct $1,000 in housing fees per semester. It will help ease the financial burden many students have faced and continue to deal with since the pandemic began.
“It became pretty apparent that the pandemic was having a real financial impact on a lot of students,” said Hill. “We already knew that students at UAA, at least through residents' assessment data, are pretty budget conscious and aware of their financial costs.”
As the pandemic wore on, it became clear to Residence Life staff and many other UAA departments working directly with students that COVID-19 was a monumental financial burden. Many were struggling across the university to stay afloat. The pandemic revealed to UAA administrators that students often make difficult decisions between choosing to pay for their education or the costs associated with daily life.
Hill said that Residence Life students may have higher associated costs added to their student accounts compared to their commuter counterparts. One of the challenges he and his staff face are students having to choose between paying for housing and school or pausing their degree program and in some cases, facing homelessness. He said the pandemic made navigating this difficult, which was why creating the general housing scholarship was crucial in alleviating student stress related to housing financial costs. Additionally, Hill said that during the pandemic, it became clear that for a significant group of students, the residence halls were their only safe housing option and the only reason they could attend college. The hope is that the new housing general scholarship will help make on-campus living more affordable and accessible to more students wanting to experience residential life at UAA.
“The residence halls are a place where you can come and live around people who care about you and are dedicated to your success,” said Hill. “I think being surrounded by that positive environment increases your chances of completing your degree.”
In addition to the community and camaraderie of living on campus, Residence Life offers students 24-hour support. Whether that means unlocking a door at 3 a.m. or helping deliver care packages from family members when students need to quarantine during a COVID-19 diagnosis, the Residence Life community offers students a consistent support network.
Hill said that two years into the pandemic and Residence Life had mastered its protocols for dealing with COVID-19 cases, which has become less frequent as students have become vaccinated. The vaccination policy and requirements to quarantine and isolate under certain conditions are still in place, but he said returning to a “new normal” is on the horizon, and he is hopeful for more positive changes. Although much has changed in the last two years, life in the university’s on-campus living community is becoming more familiar, more like pre-pandemic.
“I can see some of that energy coming back now,” said Hill. “I’m hoping that we’re regaining some ground. It’s been a wild journey, but there’s definitely been a shift.”