Arts & Sciences alumni Cecilia and Jim Edwards.
Alumni Cecilia and Jim Edwards Establish Emergency Relief for Students
Funds 'Move the Needle' by Making an Immediate Impact.
9.9.2020 | Stacy Stockard and Britton Drown
It doesn't take much for Jim (Class of '93) and Cecilia ('94) Edwards to recall the story of one of their most recent investments. The story begins in what was an otherwise ordinary winter day in 2019. Yet, as many times these things happen, almost everything changed in a single moment for one Texas Tech University student. That day, she was driving to a final exam, and then it happened.
It started with a vehicle crash. The loss of the vehicle was, at first, an inconvenience. But things changed when bills became due. Suddenly, this student—whose name has been concealed for privacy reasons—owed more than $900 for rent and classes. She began working 40-hour weeks in addition to being a full-time student.
Living several miles from campus and her workplace without a reliable vehicle, many people would begin to question how to finish the semester.
But this student chose to persevere. She refused to be deterred and chose to ride a pay-by-the-minute electric scooter roughly 10 miles to reach class and work each day, rain or shine, because the $900 in bills was beyond her financial means at the time. Soon, the cost of the scooter became too much, and she began walking—one hour in each direction, including at 2 a.m. when her shifts at work ended.
Arts & Sciences alumni Cecilia Edwards, left, and Jim, second right, pose with their children at a Texas Tech football game.
After hearing this story, Jim and Cecilia, both Texas Tech alumni, knew they could make a difference. That difference came in the form of the Jim and Cecilia Edwards Student Emergency Support Fund, of which this student officially became the first beneficiary.
"She didn't quit," Cecilia said, recalling a thank-you letter from the student. "There were no excuses."
For Jim and Cecilia, effort and determination have been common threads throughout their lives. The couple, who now reside in the Houston area, first met in Holden Hall when they took a course together on governments of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Two years later, Jim proposed to Cecilia in front of the steps of the Physics building during Carol of Lights.
As an undergraduate in the College of Arts & Sciences pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in Latin America studies, Cecilia spent her last two years working full time on campus. She arrived on campus five days a week at 8 a.m. to work as a student assistant for the Department of Electrical Engineering. She worked until 5 p.m. with classes dispersed throughout the day. Once the office closed, she made her way to Alpha Chi Omega activities, would call prospective donors as a Student Alumni Board member, or meet with the Latin American Student Association.
School holidays and summers were spent working up to three jobs and living with family friends for free; she needed to save every cent for tuition and could not afford summer rent.
"It was a struggle," Cecilia said.
Cecilia's stepfather was an officer in the United States Air Force. Early during her senior year of high school in Austin, he received word he would be stationed next in Panama. The family would leave the United States shortly after her graduation. Making a college decision became a tug of war at home.
Cecilia's parents wanted her to join the family and attend a satellite branch of Florida State University in Panama, which was not the college experience she envisioned. Meanwhile, her best friend chose to attend Texas Tech. With her family moving to a new country thousands of miles away, Cecilia chose to follow her friend to Lubbock, Texas—sight unseen.
Cecilia and her family agreed her parents would pay for room and board, and she would pay for books, tuition and other expenses. She spent her senior year of high school and the summer that followed working two jobs to fund her first year at Texas Tech. But on her first trip to visit her family in Panama over the winter break, the gravity of the cost of education became real.
"Here comes the tuition bill, and I had spent all the money I had saved," Cecilia lamented. The holiday was accompanied by regret and disappointment in asking for help from her parents to pay for half of her spring tuition bill.
After living in the Wall/Gates residence hall complex for a year, Cecilia moved to Knapp the next two years because of its then lack of air conditioning made it a more affordable option. Income from summer jobs, a Pell Grant and a small Air Force scholarship funded her sophomore year. By the time Cecilia reached her junior year, she had trouble paying bills.
Asking her parents for more help made her feel like a failure. Now, faced with possibly transitioning to a part-time student and living rent-free with family friends in Austin, Cecilia instead chose to take out student loans to complete her degree at Texas Tech.
In hindsight, she said she believes she would have not returned to Lubbock to finish her degree had she chosen to move back to Austin.
Cecilia and Jim Edwards.
Jim originally enrolled at Texas Tech as a member of the Red Raider football team. Yet, early in his freshman season, he suffered what would be a career-ending injury, rupturing his Achilles tendon. After working through six months of recovery, it became clear it was time to move on from his athletic career. He hung up his cleats and decided to join the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, more commonly known as FIJI.
One semester, FIJI threw a Valentine's Day-themed date party, which became the couple's first date.
The political science major planned on attending law school. However, a Wall Street investment firm showed interest in hiring Jim. Reluctantly, he decided to try the position for a year following graduation to see if he enjoyed the work. Jim found his calling and is now managing director and senior vice president of investments with Raymond James & Associates in Houston.
Jim and Cecilia remain longtime donors to the Red Raider Club to support the athletic programs that brought Jim to Texas Tech, and to Arts & Sciences scholarship endowments.
But one night in March 2019 brought to light a different issue on campus.
In conjunction with the nearby Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Arts & Sciences hosted a small dinner with the dean and a group of the college's alumni from the Houston area. Cecilia, a corporate event planner for the company that owned the restaurant, designed the evening. The dean navigated the conversation to first-generation students and the issues many face, specifically the notion that one temporary setback could threaten to derail their degree plan.
The conversation struck a chord with the couple. It especially resonated with Cecilia, a first-generation student herself and naturalized citizen.
"If I didn't get grants or loans, I would have been discouraged," she said. "I might have given up and moved home."
The couple approached the dean that night with a proposal: Create a fund for students in Arts & Sciences facing crises—a fund that would help students who face unanticipated situations and have difficulty obtaining that last $1,000 to finish their degree or $500 to buy their books that semester. They would commit $10,000 annually for five years to create the fund.
Deemed "micro-grants," the awarded funds reach a maximum amount of $1,000 per applicant. Students currently enrolled in Arts & Sciences can apply for the funds to help with essential needs during a time of temporary—but significant—hardship, which can include emergency medical care, theft of essential personal belongings, a death in the family, or events of a similar nature.
The college's Office of Student Success, or OSS, manages the application and selection process and advertises the fund to students.
An additional option includes Emergency Retention Grants awarded by the college's associate dean for recruitment and retention to assist students facing similar setbacks that threaten to halt the college career of the student.
By April 2019, the Jim and Cecilia Edwards Student Emergency Support Fund became a reality.
That September, just five months after the creation of the fund, the OSS developed an application and began talking to students about the fund. Later that month, the fund had its first applicants. By June 2020, a total of 10 Arts & Sciences undergraduate students received much-needed support from the fund.
"We wanted to do something that could move the needle in a more direct way," Jim shared. "This is an immediate impact and is on a more personal level."
Jim, valued for his skill at managing clients' investments, hopes the fund continues to grow and inspires others to do the same for their colleges and institutions. He regularly talks to friends and colleagues about the fund and encourages them to start similar funds at schools across the country.
"I manage money for a living," Jim said. "When I talk to my clients, they like to make an impact when they donate. And this is a very good way to make an immediate impact and see immediate rewards."
He said the emergency fund is "something truly unique and different. ... On a personal level, the emergency fund has had the most impact for us and has been the most rewarding with its direct impact to recipients."
Cecilia vividly remembers the people they met at Texas Tech and Arts & Sciences who were important to their lives, especially those who provided help and guidance.
"If you have the opportunity to change someone's life and make any kind of impact," she said, "why would you not? That should be the number one priority."
To contribute to the Jim and Cecilia Edwards Student Emergency Support Fund, click here. Thinking of starting your own emergency fund for students? Contact the Office of Advancement at (806) 742-2211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.