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April 2020

Reporting to Supporters by Zoom On a Summer Unlike Any Other


“Welcome to our first community hour,” Executive Director Kate Fenneman Stokes said into the Zoom meeting one afternoon in late April, “this is an update on what we’ve been doing and how our students are.” Then she and Senior Director Anna Antoniak went on to bring viewers, many of them longtime supporters of Scholarship Plus, up to date.

Since the first reports of impending school shutdowns came from students at Columbia, Kate said, Scholarship Plus has moved quickly. As schools closed classrooms and dormitories, the challenges included everything from places to shelter and crucial internet access to storage issues for students whose families might share a single room. Scholars with no homes to return to were given help drafting letters advocating for themselves with their schools. Students with places to go, but whose families – including those on the front lines in hospitals and nursing homes – had been affected by the situation have been given help in reaching out to city resources.

Additional financial help, Kate said, has been made possible by donations to the Scholar Emergency Fund, primarily from individuals but also from two foundations to which the program reached out. Anna mentioned that several times when she had contacted scholars with offers of additional financial help, she had received the same answer: “Thank you so much. But please give it to someone who needs it more.”

Contributions to the emergency fund can be made either through the Scholarship Plus website, Kate said, or through the organization’s various social media presences. She added that, with the usual summer program and other internships being affected by the Covid situation, any leads to internships that could be done remotely would be especially welcome. Many of our scholars, she pointed out are ace researchers – skills that could be applicable in this situation. 

Weekly Zoom meetups with students have been taking place, typically attended by about 15 scholars, exchanging information and encouraging a sense of community. One memorable anecdote came from a scholar who graduated from medical school on Friday and went to work in a Covid-19 unit the next day. Other scholars have shared news of graduate school decisions, or that a promised job in banking had been confirmed, complete with a signing bonus.

The move to virtual gatherings, Kate said, will include to the annual welcoming ceremony for new scholars, which will take place on June 8. Ways are being worked out to continue the feeling of this signature event in its online version. 

Anna said that the traditional summer internships at New York Public Radio had to be suspended this year, but that they would be resumed next year. One internship program that has continued remotely – and even expanded – is sponsored by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Three of our scholars will be participating this year. One of them is the granddaughter of practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine who is now in a pre-med program, and has a dream of combining insights from traditional Chinese practices with those of Western medicine. She will be working this summer with an MSK researcher on a study of acupuncture and cancer. And all of our students will be able to participate in MSK web seminars.  One of them, on preparing effective scientific presentations, is entitled, “Talk Nerdy to Me.”

Next: Scholarship Plus has a new class- thanks to Zoom!