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Putting the aid in financial aid

Challenges were nothing new for Lauren Tripp. She’d overcome plenty just to make it to Washington State University, and even before she got to campus, she was determined to earn her degree no matter what obstacles stood in her way.

But near the end of her freshman year, Tripp was facing a financial hurdle that threatened to derail her dream.

“During my second semester, I had more costs than I could cover with my financial aid due to my dorm expenses, and I didn’t know,” Tripp says. “I didn’t see the notifications and I didn’t really understand what to do. I finally realized I might not be able to come back to WSU because I owed about $4,600 and there’s no way I could pay that.”

Tripp began thinking she might have to return to her hometown of Gig Harbor and find a job. And she thought her dream of working in the field of landscape architecture might have to take a backseat to paying bills, and figuring out another path.

“I thought I was going to have to come home from school, which is something I didn’t want to do,” Tripp says. “I didn’t want to let my mom down, and I didn’t want to let myself down.”

Sophomore Lauren Tripp, left, found herself in a financial struggle during her freshman year, but Kara Kimball, right, and other staff members helped her connect to the right resources and overcome her challenges.
Sophomore Lauren Tripp, left, found herself in a financial struggle during her freshman year, but Kara Kimball, right, and other staff members helped her connect to the right resources and overcome her challenges.

But with persistence, resilience and the helping hand of dedicated WSU staff, Tripp is back at WSU, thriving as a sophomore.

Kara Kimball, WSU Receivables Office collections supervisor, encouraged Tripp to explore her options. Tripp’s mother had applied for the Parent Plus loan believing it would be denied. Their plan was to receive the denial so Tripp could be eligible for an additional unsubsidized Stafford loan, but Tripp’s mother was approved.

Paying off the loan would have been a huge obstacle for Tripp’s single mother, who makes minimum wage. Instead, Kimball recommended that Tripp apply for Special Circumstances Request with Student Financial Services. With the help of the team at Student Financial Services, the request was approved and gave Tripp an additional $4,000 in funding. Tripp worked over the summer to pay off the rest of her bill, and she feels like she’s much better prepared for her sophomore year.

“Figuring out all possible avenues for assistance can be very complex,” Kimball says of the university system. “It’s difficult to expect an 18 or 19-year-old to understand how to navigate it all, but University Receivables and Student Financial Services work together to try to educate them on how to be their own best advocate. We want them to know that we’re here and they can trust us.

“The 12 staff members in University Receivables have a total of about 95 years of experience working in this WSU office. We’re here because we enjoy working with the students. If they can tell us what’s going on, we have a better understanding of how to help them get through the tough times and stay enrolled. There are campus and community resources available if they know where to look.”

Tripp learned valuable lessons through her freshman ordeal. When she realized she had unpaid bills mounting, it took humility and courage to seek help.

“You need to take the initiative and it is scary, but asking for help is not something to be looked down upon, or be anxious about,” Tripp says. “It’s kind of a wakeup call. When you get to college, you’re an adult and if you’re not going to stand up for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. For me, it was basically deciding whether I was going to push for my education, or not.”

Kimball encourages students to advocate for themselves, and utilize WSU staff and resources that are here to help. Tripp says she did her part by staying in touch with Kimball and others in the Student Financial Services office.

“It was definitely a really long process, but the best thing I did was try to communicate well with the staff here, and without the people working here I wouldn’t have known what to do,” Tripp says. “I’m really thankful.”

Shedding light on mental health

Shedding light on mental health

Morgan Slack _4134
Morgan Slack is one of many students at WSU working to remove the stigma around mental health issues.

The conversations are difficult. The subject matter is often taboo.

But there are a growing number of WSU students determined to bring mental health issues into the light.

“Anxiety and depression are growing problems and we can’t get rid of them,” says Morgan Slack, a WSU senior. “We’ve had a 30 percent increase in freshmen students coming in with mental health issues and sometimes they’re embarrassed to go see someone for help. We want to help mediate a bridge between WSU staff, school and students.”

Slack gained insights on the subject, and the stigma surrounding it, over the summer. She interned for Washington state representative Tina Orwall, and helped set up the implementation of House Bill 1138, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law earlier this year. The bill calls for the creation of a task force on mental health and suicide prevention in higher education, and the development of further resources for suicide prevention.

One of the most important messages students can hear is: there are people who care.

“There are a lot of people feeling helpless and hopeless and they may not know that resources are available,” Slack says. “WSU is a great place, and I want to help people here any way I can.”

She’s not the only one. James Whitbread is another WSU student turning his experience into action. When his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year, Whitbread struggled with depression and anxiety. He has since set out to help others, and start conversations about mental illness on campus.

Whitbread led the first meeting of the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Campus at WSU last month and encourages students to join the group and make a difference.

“One in four students will deal with depression at some point, so this is in no way a small group of people,” Whitbread says. “It’s OK to talk about depression, it helps. Even if you’re not the one suffering, it will only benefit you by being more aware of those around you.”

James Whitbread, center, founded the NAMI Group on Campus at WSU earlier this year. The group is working to raise awareness of mental health issues, remove the stigma around mental illness and prevent suicide and self-harm.
James Whitbread, center, founded the NAMI Group on Campus at WSU earlier this year. The group is working to raise awareness of mental health issues, remove the stigma around mental illness and prevent suicide and self-harm.

The WSU campus offers numerous resources for students, and those concerned for their peers. The Office of Counseling and Psychological Services offers Individual and group counseling, psychological testing, drug and alcohol services, self-help, and 24/7 crisis counseling. Students have many options to get help, or help others.

Victoria Braun joined the WSU Health and Wellness Services team earlier this year as the Emotional Health Coordinator. She is the advisor for the NAMI student group, leads mental health first-aid courses, and works to raise awareness of mental health issues, and the resources available on campus.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is ‘myth-busting,’” Braun says. “We want this to be a safe place for those impacted by mental illness—a place we can have open conversations about it.”

Looking at the statistics on mental health can be overwhelming. But Braun says we are making progress as a society, and as a University. There are many reasons to be optimistic.

“The biggest reason to be hopeful is there are so many people out there who care,” Braun says. “I think we are experiencing a culture change. People are talking about mental health, and they’re able to identify symptoms, even in themselves, and there are communities of support.”

Manage Stress for Success

Manage Stress for Success

Student schedules are hectic. With tests this week, a group project due the next, all while juggling five papers, community service and social activities, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Luckily at WSU, there are many resources to help students stay on track and reach their academic goals.

Stress is unavoidable in college. However, it is manageable. When students are stressed, performance drops, creativity crumbles and regular day to day tasks can become daunting. » More …

Summer Advantage shows students the Cougar way

Summer Advantage shows students the Cougar way

 

If there is an advantage to be found, Jessica Fernandez is likely to jump on it.

So when the ambitious sophomore from Vancouver saw a brochure for Summer Advantage during orientation last year, it was a no-brainer.

Fernandez now works for Summer Advantage, the program that played a major role in transforming her from nervous high school grad to confident, college freshman. » More …

Frost warms up to WSU

Frost warms up to WSU

 

As Jordan Frost drove through the rolling wheat fields outside of Pullman, five hours from the familiar suburban sprawl of King County, the questions began running through his head:

“Where am I?” JordanFrostBlogPic

“Are we sure there’s a college out here?”

“Will I make any friends?”

“How am I going to fit in?”

Like most first-year college students, Frost encountered doubt. He was overwhelmed by the unknown and lacked the confidence he carried throughout high school.

“I was freaking out,” he says.

Two years later, Frost is a leader on campus and a high-achieving student. He’s spending a big chunk of his summer in Pullman, helping other students get acquainted with the campus that he now considers his second home. The transition from freaked-out freshman to sterling sophomore wasn’t without its hurdles. But by utilizing the many resources on campus and learning from his mistakes, Frost found his place. » More …