Dept Banner
Dept Banner

Student Essay: A Call for Help is Answered

Rutgers Giving Day provides opportunity to support Dean's emergency fund

eric tortoriello student photo

The second annual Rutgers Giving Day took place Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. And one of the areas that participants supported was the School of Arts and Sciences Dean's Emergency Assistance Fund. This fund provides grants to eligible undergraduates who have exhausted all other avenues of support, including financial aid. The fund helps offset small, education-related expenses, such as term bill payments and books. About 150 students receive emergency grants between $300 and $500 every semester from the fund. 

Learn more about Rutgers Giving Day here, and read the story below for a first-person account of how the Dean's Emergency Assistance Fund can help students. 

Eric Tortoriello's story:

I really don’t know where to start, as it is times like these that I have to turn my head until my darkness goes. I’m not your average student, for my age dictates that I should have already come to fruition, in terms of my life and a long-lasting career. Yet one year shy of three decades on the earth and I am starting to find my footing in the world. I long to be an archeologist. I just love to dig in the dirt and discover things, and I am attempting to reach that path through cultural anthropology, the sort of doorway to the great wide beyond of ancient human discovery.

I transferred to Rutgers in the spring of 2010, with my sights set on accomplishing something that has yet to be seen in my family: that monumental objective of graduating with a college degree. For some it is just a piece of paper, but to me it is proof that I can succeed - a likelihood that’s been far from certain these past 10 years.

'I am starting to find my footing in the world. . . . I just  love to dig in the dirt and discover things, and I am attempting to reach that path through cultural anthropology.'  –   Eric Tortoriello

I am the oldest, and only son, of a family of six, consisting of my mother, father, and three younger female siblings. We have never lived lavishly. We live to get by. And even though my parents couldn't afford to dish out money for every little thing, they helped me out with what they could so I could start college. Nevertheless, they still had three younger sisters that they would also have to support when their time came.  I had to take up full-time employment to continue to pay for my education.  My job at a local liquor store greatly staggered my college career. Often I would have to skip a semester to work additional hours, so I would have the money to register for classes the following semester.

In 2008, with financial pressures mounting,  I enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. I believed this could be my salvation. I would give my time and service in exchange for the financing of a college education. But during the course of recruit training I became ill and was honorably discharged and sent home.  I returned to no job, no income, and the inevitable repossession of my car that I could not afford. The loan company would not honor my military service with a grace period in my payments, so in my absence I accrued late payments and late fees which I could not make.

Now I had no mode of transportation to take me back and forth to work on my own. I had to wait for my father to come home from work so he could drive me to my job at a bar and then to pick me up at closing, which was often 2 a.m.  For months I had to do this as I saved money for a new car, not for school.  Eventually I parted ways with that job and filed for any aid I could get to attend school.  I received federal and state awards, enough to cover my cost of tuition and the cost of living, which for the first year translated into gas money and car maintenance while I commuted over 90 minutes one way, three days a week from Barnegat to New Brunswick. This wasn’t working well for the wear and tear on my car or my grades, so I applied for housing for the spring semester of 2011, and was placed in a campus apartment.

I thought I would have enough funds to cover the addition of housing on my term bill, but I was mistaken, something went wrong.  The state of New Jersey reduced my TAG award, why I do not know, for I have no source of income.  This left me with balance due for both the past fall and current spring semesters that I could not afford to pay.  I was in danger of being deregistered from my classes.  I had no money to live on, to buy books with, or to eat.

Having exhausted all other avenues, I approached the dean’s office of the School of Arts and Sciences and presented my case before Dean Muffin Lord.  She was able to provide me with financial assistance through a monetary award from the Dean's Emergency Assistance Fund. Had it not been for this gracious gift, I don’t know where I would be today, probably staring down a dark road full of hindrances once again. But now hope lingers overhead as I look forward to my achieving the goals that I have set for myself and find my footing in the world.