When you enter the Stanford First-Gen and/or Low-income (FLI) Office, you get a strong sense of community and connection. Friends catch up on the couches. Sometimes there are snacks. Hugs aren’t uncommon. This is a community bound together by a mutual understanding of the challenges FLI students can face at Stanford.
For undergraduate students experiencing a temporary financial challenge, there’s the Opportunity Fund—a resource made possible by donor support through the FLI Office. Students can request financial assistance when a hardship arises, or when an opportunity presents itself that they otherwise couldn’t afford.
For instance: An emergency plane ticket to visit a sick family member. Registration fees for a professional conference. Help with rent to make an unpaid summer internship possible. These are just a few of the ways FLI students have received assistance through the Opportunity Fund over the past three years.
Jennifer Rolen, assistant dean & associate director of the Stanford FLI Office, understands the inequities that work against FLI students. The quality of their Stanford experience can often boil down to tough decisions, ones their peers might not have to think about, like passing on an art class because of the extra fees involved, or trying to come up with the money for a replacement laptop. After working with FLI students for a few years, Rolen thinks the need for the type of support the Opportunity Fund offers is abundantly clear.
“Stanford has a great financial aid package, but students repeatedly affirm how access to these additional opportunity funds can transform their entire Stanford experience,” said Rolen.
I have a passion for music and have always wanted to take singing lessons. Attending Stanford, there are many opportunities to do so—at a cost. It was always an internal battle at the beginning of each quarter: ‘Should I sign up? Or would I be better off saving the money?’ The latter often won. After learning about the Opportunity Fund, applying, and being approved for a grant to take voice lessons—I am able to take these classes without the stress of the class fee. I am continuing with voice and looking to audition for the next class in the series.
Anonymous, Class of ’19
Thanks in part to support from Stanford Fund donors, today the Opportunity Fund can cover many of the curveballs that challenge FLI students throughout their Stanford journey.
If it wasn’t for the Opportunity Fund, I would have had to take breaks from school due to varying financial burdens. I am absolutely grateful for the generosity of donors giving to the fund. I have been able to follow my passion for international policy over the summers instead of merely settling on something that pays. For this, I am so thankful, and I hope to one day become a contributor to the fund as well.
Anonymous, Class of ’19
Now, Rolen has been able to shift her focus to a long-term vision for the FLI Office. She hopes to be able to provide more work experiences and internships for FLI students, as well as to adopt and spread best practices at universities across the nation.
The Opportunity Fund enables FLI students to access a better, fuller Stanford experience. For some, that means being able to create the perfect capstone project; for others, it means taking an art class they didn’t think they could afford, or a suit for a Marshall Scholar interview, as was the case for one student.
As Rolen recalls, “It’s not that the suit got him the job, but the suit gave him the confidence to kill the interview.”