Published February 3, 2021
By Deborah Yaffe
A Scarlet Promise Grant is helping Crismeldy Jimenez find success amid uncertainty.
Last fall, when Crismeldy Jimenez, a sophomore at Rutgers University–Newark, moved into a suite in Woodward Hall, she wondered if she would be able to stay there her entire freshman year.
Although financial aid covered her tuition, on-campus living—and the independence, convenience, and fun it represented—seemed out of reach. “I did not know where I was going to come up with this money,” says Jimenez, 19, whose family lives in central Newark, a 30-minute walk from campus. “School already started, and I still didn’t have enough money to pay for it.”
Her Scarlet Promise Grant arrived unexpectedly, the most welcome of windfalls. The grants, awarded last year to more than 10,000 students with family incomes below $60,000, help bridge the gap between students’ financial needs and aid available from federal and state sources.
In the dorm, Jimenez bonded with her suitemates, establishing a support network that helped her weather first-year stress and manage the hefty workload. Living on campus also gave her easy access to her work-study job at the Paul Robeson Campus Center. And being away from home gave her a respite from sometimes challenging circumstances: one of the two brothers she lives with has autism, and her single mother, a Dominican immigrant who speaks no English, needs frequent help with appointments and paperwork.
The COVID-19 crisis sent Jimenez back home, and the transition hasn’t always been easy. “Home is stressful, kind of chaotic,” she says. She works in her bedroom, but distractions and interruptions abound, whether from family members, a new puppy, or glitchy technology. “I would be in the middle of class and my internet would go off and I would miss a big section of what they were saying and that would just throw me back,” Jimenez says. “I feel like I’m just missing that ability to talk to my professor after class. And participation as well, because it’s so much harder to participate with Zoom.”
Although Jimenez’s parents did not attend college—her father is a truck driver and her mother is a babysitter—they always expected more for their children, Jimenez says. “I knew I kind of had to go,” she says. “I just knew I had to be an example for my siblings.”
Jimenez, an English major, plans to teach middle school English, partly inspired by a fifth-grade teacher whose one-on-one encouragement helped her get through a difficult time. “She really pushed me to be my best,” Jimenez says. “She put in the extra effort to make sure that I was doing well.”
The pandemic and its economic fallout have meant new challenges for Jimenez’s family: her mother’s babysitting work dried up, and the whole family caught the virus in March, although none had to be hospitalized. Still, Jimenez pushed through, earning good grades and fulfilling her parents’ hopes.
“They’re just really proud of me for getting this far and not giving up, even with everything that’s been happening,” Jimenez says. “They’re just glad I have abilities to do more than they could.”