Tufts Helps Alumni Working in Public Service Repay Education Loans

Novel Program Helps Almost 300 in First Year
June 23, 2009

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MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Tufts University has awarded aid to 288 alumni working in the non-profit and public-service sectors to help them repay their student loans through whatis believed to be the country's first university-wide loan repayment assistance program (LRAP).   

The Tufts graduates, who range in age from 22 to 37, work in fields such as health care, social services, education, government, law, animal welfare and the arts. They received awards of $500 to $5000 through the program, which is open to anyone who has earned a degree from the university, is paying off educational loans incurred in order to attend Tufts and is employed by a non-profit organization or public-sector agency.  Alumni may reapply annually.

In its first year of operation, Tufts' LRAP has already had an impact on the lives of recipients, many of whom are pleased that Tufts is actively backing up its stated commitment to active citizenship.

·         Helping Troubled Youth - "It's nice to see that our school is acknowledging us," says Jolanda Porter, 25, a program coordinator for exalt, a New York-based organization that introduces youth who are in and outside of the criminal justice system to the world of work. "We’re trying to yank them out of the system and put them in the real world where they can thrive," says Porter. She graduated from Tufts' School of Arts & Sciences with an education debt of about $19,000, although she notes the university "gave me a big helping hand" in terms of financial aid. An aspiring singer-songwriter, she wants to start a mentoring program for young people of color that incorporates music. Porter says she hopes the LRAP will encourage alumni who might have gone into other fields to try public service. "We need a lot more people of color doing this," she says. "As a black woman, I think what I do can have a greater impact because I look like the kids I serve, and I show them a college education is relevant."

·         Providing Dental Care to Veterans - Michelle Hamilton, who graduated from Tufts School of Dental Medicine in 2005, also hopes the aid will encourage others to go into public service. She and her colleagues at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Augusta, Maine, treat the disabled, from recently returned Iraqi veterans to those who served in Vietnam and World War II. "Oral health care for veterans is unfortunately in great demand, and many don’t have the funds to be able to seek out private dentists. The money from LRAP was a huge boost for me," she says. "We know that in community service we'll be paid less than if we went into private practice, but we do it because we love it."

·         Improving Humanitarian Aid - Andrew Yang left a position with a Washington think tank to attend Tufts' Fletcher School. He now works as a project associate at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, a Cambridge, Mass., non-profit that aims to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. "We look at the impact of humanitarian and development assistance on poor societies," he says, "especially ones experiencing conflict." His work has taken him to Kosovo and East Timor. Yang still owes $30,000 for his Fletcher education and is grateful for Tufts' LRAP. He shares an apartment with three roommates to save money and says the award from Tufts "was a lot of money to me."

·         Increasing Access to Health Care - Courtney Boen is a policy analyst for the Boston Public Health Commission's Center for Healthy Equity and Social Justice, which works throughout New England to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities. She earned her undergraduate degree in community health and sociology at Tufts' School of Arts & Sciences and a master's in public health from the School of Medicine in 2007   Boen had been offered a higher paying job but decided to follow her passion for public service. Faced with $47,000 in education loans, Boen was "thrilled" to get LRAP funding. It's a "huge help," she says. "When you're in school, it's easy to be committed to service. This program helps you carry that spirit of social justice and service beyond school."

·         Fighting Hunger - Catherine Hsu owes $60,000 in loans from her master's degree studies at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where housing is expensive. After earning her graduate degree in 2007, she took a job with California Food Policy Advocates, an organization that facilitates access to food stamps and free lunch programs. Hsu says she looked at jobs in the private sector before taking her current position, and notes that LRAP allows her to keep non-profit service as an option. "I like my work," she says. "It's nice to think that people are a little less hungry because of me."

·         Advancing Volunteerism - Fred Jones, a political science major who graduated in 2007, now works in Washington, D.C., for the committee on education and labor in the U.S. House of Representatives, helping to advance initiatives supporting volunteerism. Jones believes the LRAP "will help to give low-income students in particular more options."

·         Enforcing Humane Animal Care - A 2003 graduate of  Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the mother of four young daughters, Kate Ziegerer says when she took out her school loans she didn’t realize the impact it would have on the family budget. Ziegerer started her veterinary career in a private practice but soon realized she wanted to help on a broader scale. She became a veterinary medical officer with Animal Care, a division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service  of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working in Missouri and Kansas. Her agency enforces the Animal Welfare Act, which established standards for the humane care and treatment of animals.   Ziegerer says, "There are other career opportunities in the veterinary profession where I could make a lot more money, but I love the mission of our agency, and I love the work I do. And the money from LRAP definitely makes it easier to continue in this career path." 

Tufts' LRAP is believed to be the first such program to cover graduates of all schools across an entire university. Funding is provided by income from the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund, which was established in 2005 with a $100 million gift from Tufts graduates Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, and his wife, Pamela, and from a donation from the estate of George B. and Helen J. Hargens. Applications for next year's awards are due Sept. 1. 

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.