Alumni and friends reach out during COVID-19 pandemic through Sooners Helping Sooners

Spring 2020

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Many OU students work off- and on-campus, including for OU Housing and Food Services. For some, the loss of work from COVID-19 has created a financial emergency threatening their education.

Many OU students work off- and on-campus, including for OU Housing and Food Services. For some, the loss of work from COVID-19 has created a financial emergency threatening their education.

When the COVID-19 crisis created financial chasms threatening the future of more than 1,000 University of Oklahoma students, alumni and supporters stepped into the breach.

Sooners Helping Sooners, an online giving platform, became the most direct route between donors and students facing emergencies from all three of OU’s campuses. To date, more than 200 people have generously made gifts totaling $66,000, addressing such needs as rent, childcare and food.
OU President’s Associates also did their part. Some $200,000 of the membership’s annual fund distribution – dedicated to presidential priorities – was made available to Sooners Helping Sooners.

In addition, an anonymous donor made a $100,000 gift to the OU Foundation for students on the OU-Tulsa campus, and longtime supporter and 1983 OU alumnus Kelly Mitchell of Dallas redirected a gift of $84,000 from an existing fund to benefit students assisted by Sooners Helping Sooners.

The majority of the 1,000 Sooners Helping Sooners applicants come from Oklahoma, and at least 65 international students stranded by the pandemic asked for help, said Mark Morvant, OU vice provost for instruction and student success.

Movant heads up a committee of OU staff reviewing each Sooners Helping Sooners appeal. Applicants are required to submit documentation and a budget before receiving a one-time cash grant averaging $674.

“Most were working in areas that were hit hard, such as restaurants,” he said. “We understand that many students live on the edge of financial flexibility and can’t withstand a major loss.

“But the thing that surprised us from reading the applications was the number of students who are going to school, working, and helping their families to make ends meet. It isn’t rare.” Morvant shared that some of these same students are now facing a parent’s job loss in addition to their own.

“Every time we receive a Sooners Helping Sooners request, we also look into the student’s financial plan to pay for college,” he said, explaining that the coronavirus emergency has exposed previously hidden pockets of need made critical by the sudden loss of work. “We are looking at the whole financial health of the student and making an intercession.”

To keep students who are balancing on a high wire from falling, Morvant and his fellow committee members have worked closely with the OU Student Financial Center, the OU Foundation and each of the university’s colleges and academic departments to use every penny in scholarship spending accounts.

“Once the annual, 4.5 percent distribution is made from a scholarship endowment’s principal, or corpus, it is common for small amounts to remain and accumulate in the spending account after academic-year awards are made,” said OU Foundation President and CEO Guy L. Patton.

“These accumulated amounts sometimes add up to the point that an additional award can be made. And discretionary funds have also played an important role in helping our students during this emergency.

“OU’s staff has done the hard work of identifying students who have proven needs and matching them to the criteria of dozens of scholarships,” Patton said. “We were able to assist numerous students without ever touching the principal or deviating from the purpose of endowed funds.”

“The impact donors make is significant,” Morvant added. “They are the difference between a student being able to progress to graduation – and even changing the trajectory of their entire family – or not being able to make it to the next semester, dropping out without finishing a degree.

“At the end of the day, these dollars are making the difference in so many lives.”

To learn more about how Sooners Helping Sooners is impacting students and medical staff on OU’s campuses, see the Focus section.