Operation Student Success
Student Assistance Services provides a helping hand to Aggies who find themselves suddenly in need.
- By Dorian Martin ’06
- Illustration by Tom Froese
- Oct. 11, 20235 min read
While most Texas A&M University seniors focus on the future and finishing strong in their final semesters, Jacqueline Del Molino ’23 had a different experience. With her mind preoccupied by a toxic relationship, the Brownsville, Texas, native struggled with crippling anxiety, depression and insomnia that caused her to uncharacteristically miss classes and work. Together, her troubles quickly snowballed. Del Molino’s pay suddenly dropped, making it difficult to afford food, rent and car payments. And missing too many classes disqualified her from graduating on time.
The proudly independent first-generation college student felt like she was in quicksand. “I’ve been on my own since I was 18,” the geography major explained. “I couldn’t ask my mom for help because she didn’t have the financial resources, and I couldn’t ask my brother for help because he was trying to establish a life with his wife. So, who do I turn to now? Nobody—I just had myself.”
But Del Molino underestimated the power of the university’s support network. A session with Texas A&M’s Counseling and Psychological Services surfaced the senior’s increasingly dire plight. The Aggie was immediately connected to Student Life’s Student Assistance Services, which assigned a case manager with wide-ranging campus connections.
First on the list: food. The case manager quickly introduced Del Molino to Student Assistance Services’ campus pantry system and placed an H-E-B order for food staples that lasted three weeks. Next up: alerting Del Molino’s professors about her struggles and requesting leeway. Another phone call went to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs to tap short-term financial assistance that covered rent and car payments. Now with her degree in hand and a job at Spawglass Construction, Del Molino has a deeper appreciation for the university community. “My situation taught me how to ask for help,” she noted. “And I hope to return the favor soon.”
A Helping Hand
Sadly, Del Molino isn’t the only Aggie suddenly needing a helping hand. Student Assistance Services assists approximately 1,000 Aggies every semester, and that number—like the university’s enrollment—is growing. Most are like Del Molino and don’t know where to turn. “Since Texas A&M is so large, students and families often feel as if they aren’t being heard, or they don’t know who to talk to,” said Angela Winkler ’95 ’98, assistant director of Student Assistance Services. “In essence, we help make the university feel smaller. We work through each piece of a student’s situation and make them feel like a unique, important person rather than a number.”
“We work through each piece of a student’s situation and make them feel like a unique, important person rather than a number.”
The most frequent needs are financial. Increasingly, many Aggies—including pregnant students, students with young children and international students who can’t access funds from home because of their nation’s turmoil—need monetary support, such as help with food insecurity and paying for uninsured medical expenses or school supplies.
Yet Student Assistance Services also has a broader charge to support Aggies. The office serves as the university liaison for the Campus Ministry Association, a diverse group of community ministries, and is the point of contact for students with foster care experiences, helping them access state services. In addition, Student Assistance Services offers a supportive shoulder when a current student dies. As the university’s liaison, the department pays families’ hotel expenses to attend Silver Taps and works with Traditions Council to mail Aggies’ condolences to bereaved families after the ceremony.
Ultimately, much of Student Assistance Services’ work helps Aggies successfully navigate difficult issues and remain focused on their studies. However, this support isn’t cheap and isn’t covered by financial aid. For example, providing 95 one-time H-E-B orders for Aggies facing food insecurity cost $11,200 during the 2022-23 academic year, fully stocking campus pocket pantries cost $25,000, and providing hotel rooms for students displaced by fires, gas leaks and other issues totaled $15,000. With the help of endowments and pass-through donations, Student Assistance Services can continue to provide these services and more to students in need.
Having these financial resources readily available in times of crisis sets Student Assistance Services apart. “Their support was life-changing,” said Brooke White ’23. The past president of the 12th Can food pantry, White suddenly found the shoe on the other foot when she had only $50 in her bank account during the last week of classes. “One night, I’m drowning in stress about where my next meal will come from and how I’ll get through finals,” she recalled. “The next day, Student Assistance Services relieved all my immediate hardships.”