When Trustee Phyllis Breland ’80 was Hamilton’s Director of Opportunity Programs, one of her favorite meetings was for the Student Emergency Aid Society (SEAS), a campus committee that evaluates and supports emergency or exceptional one-time needs for students with extraordinary financial barriers.

Breland secured the original grant from the Hearst Foundation to create SEAS more than a decade ago. That funding served as a challenge grant that led to the establishment of an endowment for SEAS. Since 2011, SEAS has assisted hundreds of students by covering unexpected travel costs, medical expenses, winter or job interview clothing, required technology, and other costs that cannot be absorbed by financial aid.

“We believe that once a student is accepted and arrives on campus, the College has made a commitment to help them be successful,” Breland says. “SEAS is critical in ensuring students feel and understand that the institution is behind them.”

“We make sure they have what they need to be successful and learn important life skills through the process.”

If a student’s request is approved and the need cannot be met through financial aid or other means, a grant or loan from the SEAS fund is issued to cover the expense. The committee takes its efforts further by helping SEAS recipients maximize their funds. Committee members have shopped with students for interview outfits or winter clothing, while others, like Director of Enterprise Systems Marty Sweeney, have helped students purchase computers that will last.

“We believe in teaching them how to fish,” he explains. “We make sure they have what they need to be successful and learn important life skills through the process.”

Many colleges and universities don’t have something like SEAS. Breland and Sweeney agree that it’s a pride point for Hamilton, and the committee’s work is both eye-opening and rewarding.

“Being part of SEAS has helped me see students’ different backgrounds and starting points and hear the stories that help me understand what some students are up against,” Sweeney says. “We’re able to help a lot of students through SEAS. If this wasn’t being sustained, we couldn’t do any of it.”

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