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Staying focused

When Carly Vande Weghe received an On Track Microbursary during a trying time last fall, it provided much more than financial assistance. It gave her the reassurance that she wasn’t on her journey alone. And that was all she needed to dig deep and forge ahead.

Hailing from Dresden, Ontario (a small town of 2,000 people), Vande Weghe had spent nearly eight years in Toronto before she decided to stop putting off the dream she’d had for years: to study law. “I worked as a law clerk, but I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to go to law school,” she says.

To get there, she’d first need to complete an undergraduate degree. A trip to Halifax to visit a friend last year affirmed it was time to act. “I fell in love with the city and the East Coast and could see myself living and studying here.” She began her studies in September and quickly fell for Dal the same way she did Halifax.

Yet despite all the positives, leaving a full-time job and adjusting to life as a student came with its challenges. “I was looking for a part-time job while trying to adapt to a lot of changes, including being away from my support system. Then unforeseen costs arose, and it suddenly felt like too much,” explains Vande Weghe. “I contemplated reducing the number of courses I was taking, and I also considered switching to classes that were less expensive rather than the ones that would be valuable for pursuing law.”

Meeting the need

Luckily, Vande Weghe had been meeting regularly with Terra Bruhm, a student success advisor in the Bissett Student Success Centre, who recognized that she was making decisions based on financial stress that could impact her academic goals. Bruhm encouraged her to submit an application for a bursary.

First-year student Carly Vande Weghe with Terra Bruhm, advisor in the Bissett Student Success Centre (Nick Pearce photo)

Last spring, the On Track Microbursary program was created for this exact reason: to ensure students have the support they need to be successful. It was a cause that resonated with many people—alumni, faculty, staff and existing Dal donors—who collectively gave $165,000 to launch the On Track Microbursary fund. It means that first- and second-year students in urgent financial need can receive up to $500 each term.

Part of the conversation

While Vande Weghe’s story is her own, it’s not unique. Each year hundreds of students find themselves in similar situations. In fact, as of December 2018, more than $85,000 was awarded to students, highlighting the immense need.

“The On Track Microbursary has opened our eyes to the financial issues our students face,” says Heather Doyle, senior advisor on retention and director student academic success. “Often times the focus is students’ academic and personal needs, which are extremely important, but advisors weren’t talking about finances. The financial aspect has become part of our conversation to ensure students have the proper resources in place to help them be successful academically.” And Doyle feels that above all the initiative offers a sense of institutional support to students, which as Vande Weghe can attest, is invaluable to their success.

“Receiving the bursary affirmed that I made the right choice in coming to Dalhousie. It made me feel like I’m not on my own and there is a whole community of people who want me to succeed, especially Terra and everyone who generously gave to the bursary fund.”

By the numbers

The On Track Mircrobursary fund provides up to $500 (per term) emergency funding to Dal students.
$85,650 Amount awarded in the fall term—58 per cent of the total raised
176 Number of students supported in the fall term
3 Top funding needs: living expenses, academic resources, health and wellness
To support the On Track Mircrobursary fund, visit: giving.dal.ca/otmb