President’s Emergency Fund Assists Students Impacted by COVID-19

With generous support from the Saint Mary’s community, the College is helping students continue their education during this time of uncertainty.

By Kay Carney / Photography by Deanne Fitzmaurice

In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which ultimately upended higher education throughout the nation, Saint Mary’s has taken decisive measures to ensure the academic continuity of learning and instruction for students and faculty. In mid-March, the College suspended in-classroom instruction through the end of the academic school year and implemented online distance learning for all students. 

With heightened expediency, the College’s leadership team and Board of Trustees put measures in place to address the aforementioned challenges, which included implementing the President’s Emergency Fund to provide assistance to students facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

“This has been a difficult time for all of us but especially for our students. It has been disruptive to suddenly shift from face-to-face classes with friends, classmates, and professors, to online learning, as well as adapt to the other changes that were implemented in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of California,” said President James Donahue. “The faculty and staff at Saint Mary’s have been putting forth a remarkable effort to support our students and their education.”

In 2008, the President’s Emergency Fund (PEF) was created by former President Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC, ’69 in response to the financial crisis occurring at that time to provide support to students facing the impact of the crisis. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the PEF is available to students in need. The PEF is a giving opportunity campaign that grows through donations, expanding the opportunity to provide support for more students in need. “This giving opportunity was shared with the SMC alumni community, seeded with gifts from members of the Board of Trustees, and with full support of the President’s Cabinet. To date, we’ve raised more than $85,000, and new gifts continue to be received daily,” said Carolyn Otis Catanzaro, interim vice president for Advancement.

“We don’t want any student to have their educational aspirations and goals interrupted due to financial challenges brought on as a result of COVID-19,” said Margaret Kasimatis, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “We are committed to supporting our students and providing continuity in the delivery of our transformative education, and living our Lasallian, Catholic mission.”

Gustavo DePaiva ’22, a student in the 3+2 Engineering program, knows firsthand how financial support can make a critical difference in a student’s educational pursuits. “Receiving financial support from SMC has made it possible for me to not only attend but to remain in college without having crippling debt. It’s the only reason I’ve been able to attend Saint Mary’s at all, and it’s been life changing.” The PEF is a safety net for students like DePaiva who otherwise would have to leave the College due to unforeseen financial challenges resulting from emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


"The President’s Emergency Fund is possible because of the heartfelt love and care that our alumni, parents, friends, staff, and faculty have for our students.” —President James Donahue

Saint Mary’s is extremely fortunate that there has been only one confirmed case of COVID-19 (at time of publication) among our campus community; however, the social, emotional, and financial impacts of the pandemic to the community still remain. For students experiencing financial challenges, the PEF is an opportunity to provide a buffer to ease the financial burden so they can continue their educational pathway at Saint Mary’s.

Since March, the PEF has helped several students and will continue to be a resource throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Students qualify for the financial support by meeting the following eligibility criteria:

  • Students must be currently enrolled as a degree-seeking, full-time or part-time undergraduate or graduate student at SMC.
  • Students must be experiencing unexpected financial hardship resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The PEF supports a variety of needs, including but not limited to:

  • Emergency medical expenses
  • Technology/equipment needed to ensure continuity of online learning
  • Travel expenses
  • Storage and relocation expenses
  • Housing and living expenses
  • Child-care expenses
  • Health insurance
  • Tuition and fees related to the fulfillment of payment plans for the spring 2020 semester
  • Other financial needs arising from individual and/or special circumstances to be determined on a case-by-case basis

“The President’s Emergency Fund is possible because of the heartfelt love and care that our alumni, parents, friends, staff, and faculty have for our students,” said Donahue. “We unite as one Gael community at times such as this, which is why the President’s Emergency Fund is so essential.”

In addition to the PEF, the College is responding in other ways to assist with challenges that have developed as a result of COVID-19. Several residence halls were being prepared to be offered to support first responders in need of accommodations, especially since most are unable to return to their homes while responding to the pandemic. 

This is not the first time SMC has provided campus resources during times of crisis. During World War II, the Navy established four preflight academies in the United States and chose Saint Mary’s as one of the locations because the College had the space and the necessary resources to run such an operation. Within six months, the population at Saint Mary’s exponentially increased, and the campus was a fully functioning military training site.

In keeping with SMC’s commitment to its Lasallian core principles, the College continues to take measures to support all students. “Even though our campus is quiet now, all of our offices, including student support staff, are available by phone, email, and virtual meetings,” said Donahue. “I have faith that we will get through this together as a school and as a community.”

Contributions to the President’s Emergency Fund campaign are welcome anytime. Direct, matching, and challenge gifts are options for giving. Please call (925) 631-4509 for more information.­