SMU student Joie Lew may have lost any sense of stability when shelter-in-place orders began, but her persistent pursuit of education has drawn an outpouring of community support.
Lew, 19, said campus closures during her freshman year forced her to move into a motel with her divorced parents. Her mother is a hairstylist, and her father is an Uber driver, so the pandemic greatly impacted their ability to work.
“Our motel wasn’t big enough for the three of us, so then we had to move to a different motel, and then my parents couldn’t afford to pay rent, so then I had to start paying rent,” Lew said.
She was able to keep her job working remotely for SMU’s college access programs, which assists first-generation and low-income students. Lew is a first-generation college student herself.
“There was just a lot of struggle between work, balancing school, balancing my mental health,” she said. “Trying to cover rent, trying to support my family was super hard, and just really pushing through it was a challenge in itself, but we’ve gotten through a lot of things, and this was just another thing that we had to take on.”
Lew said paying for her education wasn’t easy before the pandemic.
“There were financial troubles basically since the first day that I stepped on campus, and my parents and I knew that was something we were signing up for,” she said.
Despite that, Lew knew she wanted to attend SMU.
“I decided to go to SMU because it’s a fantastic university, and there are so many opportunities that are afforded to the students who attend there,” she said. “I know that the stigma around SMU was really big and when I was younger, I do have to admit I kind of bought into it, but then I went on a lot of college tours, my parents kind of pushed me to look into and really just make my own opinion of the school.”
Lew’s mother, Sandy Chan, was determined her daughter continue her education.
“No matter what, she’s not going to stop. She has to go to college,” Chan said. “I never had the thought that, you know, she needed to stop going to college next year. I’m just like, ‘I’ve got to find a way, I’ve got to find a way.’”
Things have improved for the family. Lew received a job offer as an assistant at a Dallas law group from an SMU alumnus who heard about her. Another alumnus set up a GoFundMe page that raised $28,150.
Lew hopes to work in politics.
“I’m super passionate about creating change and making this country better for its people,” she said. “With everything that’s been happening lately, I’ve had a lot of new connections that have been really helpful to helping me move toward my goals, and SMU’s genuinely been the best place for me to really start making these connections that are so important.”