Alfredo Villacis Espinoza took pride in the service he provided customers in his retail job at the Aventura Mall. The job he loved paid for his tuition and expenses at FIU Business, where he is a junior majoring in marketing and business analytics. He was excited about the prospect of an internship program with a major department store and a career in retail leadership following graduation.
But those dreams were dashed with the onset of COVID-19 in March and the closing of the mall. Villacis became one of 27 students in an FIU Business class of 45 to lose their employment in the first week of the COVID-19 crisis.
He continues to take Zoom classes, help others with team projects and acquire whatever tools he needs to get his foot in the door with an employer. With the near-term uncertainty of the retail industry, Villacis realizes he may have to review his options, maximize his skills and pivot if necessary.
“But first, I need the money to graduate,” he said. His parents, retired immigrants on a limited pension, cannot help him pay tuition.
“This is a new reality,” Villacis said.
Espinosa is one of hundreds of FIU students who have lost the jobs that sustained them in South Florida’s service economy. Each day, they turn to the college to request help, not only in paying tuition, but in meeting their needs for basic sustenance.
Another example is Diosky de la Cruz, a junior majoring in international business. She plans to graduate this coming December. The victim of years of instability and difficulty at home, she was forced to live in her car at her work site, losing her place to shower and study at FIU as campus facilities closed. Thanks to FIU’s Fostering Panther Pride, she was given a place to live on campus and help making ends meet. According to FIU Business faculty member Flavio Carrillo, “It’s our duty to care for our students.”
College of Business Dean Joanne Li noted that while the Federal government has approved funding for student relief through the CARES Act, which will help many students in need, “the hard truth is that the CARES Act will fall far short of what we need to help our students. Many will be forced to delay their graduation, or even drop out of school,” she said.
To help meet the needs of students in crisis, FIU Business has expanded the mission of the Dean’s Destination Fund. A gift to the Dean’s Destination Fund will allow the college to help students stay in school and complete their degrees in a timely fashion. FIU Business has redirected $25,000 from its general operating budget to support this effort. The dean has reached out to FIU Business alumni, college supporters and the wider business community to assist students in their hour of need.
“We are asking our community to show up for our students in this difficult economic time,” she said. “As we face down this crisis together, the help of our community is more important than ever. ”
Students seeking assistance through the Dean’s Completion Fund can apply through FIU’s Emergency Aid Request form.
To support the Dean’s Destination Fund, visit the website.