Booth Student Support Fund to the Rescue

Trying to make it on a $1,200 monthly student stipend is challenging in the best of times. But for Ernest Kabuye, a Chicago Booth weekend student, the task was made even more difficult during the pandemic. Kabuye, who is simultaneously pursing an MBA from Booth and a PhD in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), was at a conference in Boston when he received notice that the CMU campus where he studied and lived was being closed. Kabuye knew he could bunk with his brother in Boston, but he had no computer or work space in his brother’s small, one-bedroom apartment where they have both lived since March 15.

“I wanted to maintain my level of productivity, so I was watching my online Booth classes on my phone, trying to download documents, and continue my CMU research, but it was difficult,” he said. “The alternative was to take the spring and summer quarters off—but money is tight and I’m anxious to finish my education.”

Instead, Kabuye went online and bought a used computer, monitor, desk, and chair to set up a work station. Although modest, the purchases used a large chunk of his savings. But then Kabuye received an email about the Booth Student Support Fund and soon was reimbursed.  

The fund has been used to help students in need of financial assistance related to travel expenses, technology investments, and career search disruption brought on by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I read the email and thought, ‘well, I have a roof over my head, and there may be other people with a more extreme need,” said Kabuye, who emigrated from Uganda in 2007. “I was very thankful to receive the money, my budget is very limited.”

Nicholas W. Alexos, ’88, was among the more than 100 donors who contributed to the fund.

“COVID has impacted every facet of our communities and certainly resources supporting students have been limited,” Alexos said. “Aside from the obvious funding requirements, I wanted Chicago Booth students to know the alumni are there to support them.”

When Amy Xiao, ’20, arrived in Istanbul on March 1, she had planned to stay for two weeks. But when COVID-19 began its march around the world, forcing her to remain in Turkey for more than three months, the Booth Student Support Fund came to her rescue. 

Xiao was studying abroad in Singapore when she first learned of the coronavirus. She was planning to travel to Israel for spring break, but flights from Asia to Israel were banned. Since she was booked on Turkish Airlines, she decided to fly to Istanbul, stay for 14 days, and then go on to Israel. But during that time, airports closed throughout the world. Wanting to leave a major metropolitan city fearing a potential COVID-19 outbreak, Xiao took a bus to Kas, a small Mediterranean fishing village in southern Turkey, a four-hour drive from any major cities. There, she lived alone in an area where very little English was spoken and the internet was spotty. Still, she was able to take her final semester of Chicago Booth classes online, although one took place at 3 a.m. local time. At last, Xiao was able to fly home on June 19.

 “I was staying in an Airbnb in Turkey, but still had to pay my Chicago rent, increased living expenses, and a more expensive flight home,” Xiao said. “The fund helped me both financially and mentally. I was alone for three months in Turkey, and the security of that fund made all the difference.”

Angeliki Varela, ’20, was in a London study abroad program when she received word to return to the states. She knew that if she did not make urgent travel arrangements back to Chicago, she would be stuck in Europe. Varela spent $600 on her return flight, which was reimbursed through the student support fund.

“Naturally, such travel arrangements burdened my spring quarter budget,” Varela said. “In normal times I would have made up the shortfall by engaging in part-time work on campus. Given the situation—and that opportunities are typically very limited for international students—that was no longer possible. The aid I received allowed me to meaningfully balance my spring quarter expenses without sacrificing my participation in student life opportunities. When you have a strict budget, sometimes a $20 wine night can seem expensive.”

A need for continued COVID-related funds is anticipated throughout 2020 due to restrictions on travel, disrupted careers, health expenses, and technology needs for remote learning. Donations to the Booth Student Support Fund can be made here. Help Chicago Booth students navigate through this unforeseen situation and receive the assistance they need in real time.