Campus Life

Qatar Harvey Fund Scholarship Helps Students Affected By Hurricane

$140,000 in aid designated for Texas A&M University's flagship campus was awarded to 102 students.
By Caitlin Clark, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications March 30, 2020

Watching as Hurricane Harvey slammed her hometown of Houston from her apartment in College Station, Texas A&M University student Gabrielah Womack Mabbun couldn’t sleep.

Her mother, who is deaf, called every 30 minutes, afraid to go to bed and not be able to hear if the house was flooding with Womack’s infant sister inside. Eventually, neighbors alerted her mother that they needed to evacuate the Bear Creek-area house.

“I was just stressing out about whether or not she was going to be OK,” Womack remembers of the night in 2017. “And then finally she texted me around 3:30 a.m. and said, ‘We’re leaving now. I can’t get any stuff because the water was starting to get in.'”

A box of birth certificates and passports is all that Womack’s mother was able to save from the house. The rest was gone.

It’s a position hundreds of Texas A&M University System students found themselves in after Hurricane Harvey swamped the Texas coast in 2017. More than 500 students enrolled at five system campuses withdrew from school and did not return.

The State of Qatar stepped in to help through $1 million in grant funding it offered through the Qatar Harvey Fund. Scholarships awarded through the fund have helped students like Womack take some steps toward normalcy by covering the costs of tuition, books and living expenses after their lives at home were upended by the hurricane.

For Womack, an agricultural economics junior, the scholarship provided some peace of mind as she continued with her studies. Money at home had been already tight, she said, between a new baby at home and her mother’s unemployment at the time. This was compounded by the fact that her mother’s home and car were flooded.

Womack said the $3,000 in scholarship money she received has given her peace of mind, financial independence and some cushion to fall back on in case of emergencies, like medical bills she was able to cover after a recent car crash.

“I was afraid the hurricane would affect my long-term goal of going to grad school,” she said. “I thankfully have the scholarship to help me do my undergraduate degree, and I’m hoping not to take out any loans until I start my master’s.”

She’s among the 102 students from the flagship campus affected by the hurricane who were awarded scholarship money through the Qatar Harvey Fund. The $140,000 designated for the flagship was awarded to the students based on need.

Financial Aid Advisor Deanna Holder said all students who had a financial aid application on file and were from an affected county were invited to apply for the scholarship. Aid was awarded based on a number of factors, including whether they had to withdraw from school and how severely their family was impacted.

“Some of them had single parents trying to provide for their children and send them to school while having to repair their entire house from the flood,” Holder said. “That was a big impact because there was less income. Then on the reverse side, there were families that normally would not need help with paying for college, but had a huge impact [to their homes] and now paying for college is a struggle.”

For economics sophomore Anthony Ruiz, Hurricane Harvey left him questioning his future.

A senior in high school at the time, he returned from evacuation to find his neighborhood in Cypress under water. Lacking flood insurance, his parents took out a loan to build a house and had some assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it wasn’t enough. They asked Ruiz if they could use money from his college fund to pay for repairs.

He said yes, determined to work through the summer and save up. But Ruiz said it was still a tough decision, and one that left him considering joining the military or taking a year off to work.

“The scholarship’s been very helpful,” Ruiz said. “It helped replenish what I didn’t have, and it kind of came through and saved me, honestly.”

Ruiz was also among 10 students from the system campuses who were selected to travel to Doha, Qatar in December to attend the 19th Annual Doha Forum, an international conference for dialogue on critical challenges facing the world.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Ruiz said. “It boosted my ambition to keep going to school so I can take trips like that and keep learning.”

The funding was granted through a partnership between the Qatar Harvey Fund and the Rebuild Texas Fund, a collaborative project of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the OneStar Foundation that was created to support rebuilding Texas communities hit hard by Hurricane Harvey.

The Qatar Harvey Fund Scholarship Program was also established at Houston Community College, the University of Houston System and Lamar University.

Media contact: Caitlin Clark, caitlinclark@tamu.edu.

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