Fund established by alumna and her husband helps students with unanticipated costs
As a student, M. Judith McNamara Bland ’62 experienced firsthand how far a little kindness can go—especially when you need it most.
When she had a financial crisis while at Wheaton, she sought help from then Dean of Students Leota Colpitts (1949–1968). Without hesitation, the dean opened her desk drawer, gave Bland $700 and simply said, “Pay me back sometime.”
The dean’s generosity helped Bland continue on and graduate; she was the first in her family to do so. Having never forgotten, the alumna (and her husband, Bob) paid forward the act of kindness, through establishing an emergency fund in 2015 for students facing unexpected expenses.
Sadly, she died Sept. 17, 2021. To celebrate her life, a decision was made to endow the original fund, and the Marjorie Judith McNamara Bland ’62 Emergency Discretionary Endowed Fund was established. The endowed fund was established by family friends of the Blands to honor Judith and her memory.
Administered by the Dean of Students Office, the newly endowed fund retains the alumna’s original wish to support all Wheaton students who have compelling financial needs. Because the fund is now endowed, it will continue in perpetuity in honor of her.
“Judy’s vision and compassion for the students of Wheaton College will live on through this generous gift,” said Darnell Parker, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “To ensure the office is capturing the diversity of our student population, the Dean of Students Office has joined with campus partners to assist in administering the funds. Building on the important work of the First-Generation and Low-Income Task Force, the endowed fund will help us provide a transformative liberal arts education for our students.
The fund acknowledges and helps address the unexpected expenses and costs associated with higher education, said Shaya Gregory Poku, associate vice president for the Office for Institutional Equity and Belonging.
Students facing challenges covering the costs of a variety of expenses, including medical bills, transportation, course-related books and materials, and/or graduate school application fees, are encouraged to apply for the funds.
The average award will be up to $1,000 in an academic year, although students can apply for more if needed. The funds are intended to cover temporary or unexpected costs. Just a few days after the fund was announced, more than 100 students had applied, Poku noted.
“One thousand dollars can be the difference between a student staying at Wheaton or succeeding at Wheaton, or even after,” Poku said. “It can mean a plane trip home to see families in the middle of a crisis, affording to take the MCATs, or being able to say yes to joining an honor society because you can afford the fees.”
“Students face so many challenges sometimes, thinking about how they will get $50 for an emergency,” she said. “All of this is about showing our students we care, we can relate to the challenges they face, and, more importantly, that we can do something as an institution to fill in the gap.”
Faculty, students and staff from several offices collaborated on this successful effort, including the Dean of Students Office, the Office for Institutional Equity and Belonging, the Office of the Provost, the Advancement Office and the First-Generation and Low-Income Task Force.
The student members of the First-Generation and Low-Income Task Force, Mae Flibotte ’22 and Ashley Valentine ’22, were especially helpful, Poku said. Flibotte and Valentine, who identify themselves as first-generation college students, provided insight into the types of expenses students need covered.
Flibotte, an anthropology and international relations double major and a lead resident advisor, is happy to have been a part of the planning process for the fund.
“I am so grateful every day that I was able to witness this fund being created. It is going to make such a big difference for current and future students at Wheaton and I could not be more happy and honored to have been a part of that,” Flibotte said. “The addition of this fund also speaks to the Wheaton that I fell in love with as a senior in high school and also shows Wheaton’s continuous dedication and commitment to the ideals of inclusivity, diversity and student success.”
At Wheaton, Bland majored in psychology. Afterward, she spent many years of her career helping students overcome challenges, including as a reading specialist for children with dyslexia and learning differences at Dedham Country Day School.
The Marjorie Judith McNamara Bland ’62 Emergency Discretionary Endowed Fund not only will support students, but also will be a testament to the fact that personal challenges can be overcome as well as an ongoing reminder of the ripple effect that the kindness of one person can have.