Students First: Pandemic grant ensured Kaitlyn Moonsammy ’22 could return to Elon

The special fundraising effort to increase scholarship support has helped nearly 100 students whose families were impacted by COVID-19.

Before moving to North Carolina to attend Elon University, Kaitlyn Moonsammy ’22 had never strayed too far from her parents’ home in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Elon’s study abroad program was a deciding factor in taking a leap into a different state and unfamiliar campus, where she didn’t know anyone.

“I was born in the same house, the same town and had the same friends. I have never been outside the country. I have never been anywhere, and I wanted to experience all that I could,” says Kaitlyn, who planned to take the Semester at Sea program as her study abroad experience this year. “I thought the Semester at Sea would get me out there.”

But the COVID-19 global pandemic altered those plans. More worrisome for Moonsammy, it also put her immediate college studies as an accounting major in jeopardy. As the nation shut down when the novel coronavirus gained purchase state by state, millions of Americans became either unemployed or underemployed. As unemployment reached a high of more than 14 percent in April, households reported major losses of income due to layoffs, furloughs, shorter hours or business closures.

The scores of those impacted included many returning Elon students like Moonsammy as well as incoming first-year Elon students.

“I was so scared I was going to have to drop out of college. I was scared the cost of just being here was too much,” she says.

Elon’s leadership was concerned about students who might be unable to return to campus or begin their first years due to COVID-19, too. In response to requests for financial assistance from Elon students and their families, the university initiated a special fundraising effort and called it Students First, says Patrick Murphy, senior associate dean and director of financial aid. Through the Office of University Advancement, donors were asked to contribute to a fund that would be specifically for students who needed grants to return to Elon or enroll as first years due to hardships created by COVID-19.

Murphy says when requests for more help began to arrive, the financial aid budget for the 2020-21 academic year was nearly depleted.

“We started getting letters in mid-April from families saying, ‘We can’t make this work.’ Then we got these grants and it really made a difference,” Murphy says.

Gifts to the Students First Fund will provide grants for the 2020-21 academic year. Murphy says to date, 94 students have been awarded grants, including Moonsammy, a first-generation college student with a sister also enrolled at a private college. Murphy anticipates the number rising above 100. In all, 300 donors contributed more than $360,000 to Students First.

“I am from an immigrant family. Neither my mother nor my father went to college,” Kaitlyn says. “They are working non-essential jobs. When the pandemic occurred, neither of my parents lost their jobs, but they lost hours when they could come into work and how many days they could work.”

Moonsammy is grateful for the financial support she received.

“It means I can stay in college. I can still graduate early. I won’t have to take a gap year,” she says. “It was such a relief for my parents. The cost of two private educations was adding up.”

This fall Moonsammy returned to an Elon campus that’s a bit different under the university’s Ready & Resilient COVID-19 guidelines. She is continuing to work toward early graduation and has already enrolled in Elon’s master’s program in accounting. She volunteers with several campus programs that involve mentoring, including Student Mentors Advising Rising Talent (SMART) and Elon Maintaining Pan-Asian Respect, Equity and Social Service (EMPARESS). She also serves as a resident assistant, is a teaching assistant in an Elon 101 class and works in an administrative office.

While the pandemic derailed her plans to study abroad for now, Moonsammy is looking forward to Elon’s master’s program in accounting, which features a Winter Term study session in London. She’s mainly happy to be back at Elon, something that didn’t appear likely without the Students First grant.

“I’m really grateful for everything and everyone who put the Students First grant together and those who gave and made it possible. Without it, I don’t know what I would do for education this year. My parents are also very grateful and everyone who received the grant is grateful,” she says. “I whole-heartedly appreciate everything they have done. I hope they can keep it going.”

The name of the fund embraces Elon’s long-standing tradition of keeping students at the center of everything the university does. All gifts to Students First count as part of the Elon LEADS Campaign, whose top priority is deepening scholarship funding.

About the Elon LEADS Campaign

With a $250 million goal, Elon LEADS is the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history and will support four main funding priorities: scholarships for graduates the world needs, increase access to engaged learning opportunities such as study abroad, research and service learning, support for faculty and staff mentors who matter and Elon’s iconic campus. To date, donors have contributed $195 million toward the goal.

Every gift to the university—including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts—for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit