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Student Advocacy Center at Ohio State helps students navigate challenges

The Ohio State University

Clare Schlegel didn't know a lot about the Ohio State Student Advocacy Center until she needed their help.

"I had to use them in February when I was in the hospital for a week to let my teachers be aware of my situation," said Schlegel, who will be a Sophomore in the fall.

The Student Advocacy Center helps students with things as common as finding health care and appealing grades. But they also dole out emergency financial assistance for rent and other qualifying expenses.

Schlegel said prior to getting help from the center, she wondered if she would have to withdraw from OSU for a quarter.

"I was almost done with the semester. They were able to let me drop cam because of the issues with my professor. And so like she was able to work that for me, so it was nice. It made a lot easier path to get to where I am now," she said.

Kimberly Pachell has been with the Student Advocacy Center since the doors opened 27 years ago.

“We quickly became quite popular in working with students to help them not only navigate what can sometimes be bureaucratic at a large institution, sometimes we're the first office they call because they're not sure how to get started," said Pachell.

Pachell is an Ohio State graduate and remembers when the center was just her and a few volunteers running the entire program.

"It's everything from, 'I have a great grievance' to 'my financial aid is a mess and I can't afford my rent' to maybe they've had a personal crisis, a loss of a parent, or even sadly, student debt. Our office is responsible for those things too,“ said Pachell.

The financial aspect is a big part of what many students need. A million-dollar grant provides the program with $200,000 annually, but those funds are only available to students with certain hardships.

“The donor has very specifically guided what we can use the fund for, and it's things like rent, utilities, medical bills, or books, but we cannot pay university fees,“ she said.

Other monies they receive through grants and donations are more flexible, offering a safety net that some might not even know exists. The Margaret Herlan Busch emergency assistance fund has been in place for decades.

“Maybe it's 'I don't have gas to get to campus until I get paid next Friday.' We can give them $100 to get their gas tank filled up. Maybe it's 'I don't have food. Can you help me out?' We've paid electric bills to avoid shut-offs, we've paid rent to avoid eviction," said Pachell.

Pachell said the pandemic forced the center to re-think how they operated, communicating virtually while still helping students with a wide range of issues caused by the deadly disease.

She said during the early stages of the pandemic they had a huge surge of students in need. They gifted around half of a million dollars to about 500 students who had exhausted all other avenues.

"I think that we're very uniquely positioned because we are familiar not only with a lot of the academic processes and procedures, but also the financial processes and procedures, “ she said.

For Clare Schlegel, she said the help she received from the Student Advocacy Center was essential in getting her back on track academically.

“My person was really great, he would always be telling me what my options were at the moment and then they would contact me later to make sure everything was up to my standards,“ said Schlegel.

The Student Advocacy Center, like many organizations, also received $155,000 from the CARES act that was earmarked specifically for students dealing with mental health issues during the pandemic.

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.