A Network of Support

As students scrambled to pack their belongings and leave campus, people stepped up to help underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income students

Jared Jaramillo, E21, works on a project for a Mechanical Engineering class

Jared Jaramillo, E21, a mechanical engineering major, focuses his work on consumer electronics, human factors design and experience, and rapid manufacturing methods. He is the co-founder of HardwareNxt, a mentorship and hardware development program for college students. 

For our retrospective on the Tufts community's early response to the pandemic, Jaramillo recalls his experience of the community response in the time immediately following the coronavirus outbreak last spring.  

I think shock and disbelief were the biggest feelings that everyone shared when we first got the email about the university closing down. There was a couple of hours of what I would call a standstill, in the sense of asking myself and others: “What is going on?”  

Jared Jaramillo, E21, works on a project. Photo: Alonso Nichols / Tufts UniversityJared Jaramillo, E21, works on a project. Photo: Alonso Nichols / Tufts University

Over the next few days, I remember a huge amount of chaos. We only had two or three days to leave. In my personal situation, I was fortunate. I was a junior and already lived off-campus, but there were plenty of first years or second years I knew through my work with the BEST program [Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts] and the Center for STEM Diversity who had no idea what they were going to do.  

Both programs are communities that provide support for a lot of underrepresented, minority, first-generation, or low-income students, and these students were worried: "How am I supposed to get back home? What do I do with all my stuff? I can't probably afford a storage locker.” Those were among the feelings that caused a lot of anxiety and stress.  

I think that BEST and the Center for STEM Diversity, and TCU [the Tufts Community Union]—by allocating the rest of their yearly budget for clubs to the FIRST Resource Center—were the most responsive to students facing hardships. My sense was that these umbrellas were the ones communicating how things would get done, and without a lot of guidance from Tufts. 

But because money was allocated, students were able to get a huge amount of support. From the FIRST Resource Center, we heard things like: “We’re buying boxes. Just pack all your stuff. We'll figure out where to put it.” Or: “We know a flight back home costs a lot of money—no problem. We will help pay for your ticket." That level of support ended up being very helpful. 

What I remember most clearly now is how, even in this chaotic time, everyone really helped out so that students could stay calm and get home. Our engineering professors understood what we were going through and were lenient about the assignments that had been expected from us. The students helped each other out; I would drive people to the airport and help those who were lucky enough to find a storage locker move their belongings. 

Five people were among the standouts, in my experience. Briana Bouchard [E14, EG18], a mechanical engineering lecturer [and student advisor], rented a U-Haul van, bought a bunch of boxes, and helped people move stuff. She also gave away boxes to people in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. She was phenomenal. Jared Smith and Margot Cardamone, both with the FIRST Resource Center, were incredible as well. Courtney Russo and Campbell Halligan from the Center for STEM Diversity rented Zipcars so students could pack up and drive all their stuff to a storage locker so they didn’t have to worry about it until they came back.    

As engineers, we often struggle through difficult patches with projects and assignments. COVID-19 took that struggle to a different level of reality. Now, it wasn’t just academics, but real life. To see how people—staff, professors, peers, and students—rose to meet that difficulty was extraordinary. We were fortunate to have people who understood that there are things more important right now than finishing a project or a homework assignment. It came down to “Let’s get you taken care of. Let's help take care of each other."  

as told to Laura Ferguson

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