Mom finishes degree during pandemic with help from donations to COVID-19 emergency fund

Melissa Varner
March 09, 2021
Tovia's family

Newlywed. Mother of three, soon-to-be four children. Working three jobs while pursuing her bachelor’s degree during a worldwide pandemic. How did Tovia Gilchrist do it all?

“Prayer,” she said. Gilchrist was also determined not to squander the investments made in her. “Plus, I know if I don't finish my bachelor’s I'll never get to where I'm trying to go without it.”

The online Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Studies program at the MUSC College of Health Professions was the perfect fit for Gilchrist. It gave her the freedom to keep working while earning her degree. For an in-state student like Gilchrist, each semester costs nearly $8,000.

Gilchrist and her husband took out student loans to help pay for her first two semesters. “I could bring something to the table,” she said. “But, at the time, I had three children and I had to be mindful that I still have household bills to pay.”

She was also awarded a scholarship for the spring 2020 semester. The Provost’s Office gave Gilchrist $4,275 for tuition through the Investment Fund Scholarship. It was a big deal, Gilchrist said, not to have to borrow as much money for school.

Then COVID hit.

Gilchrist had been driving three hours roundtrip to work as a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) in Columbia. But as the number of COVID-19 cases climbed the clinic was forced to stop taking patients. Even after reopening, there weren’t enough patients for Gilchrist to justify the long drive from her home in Greenwood.

Although she struggled to find another full-time position, Gilchrist did find a “COVID” job as a part-time temperature screener. She also worked part-time at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and as needed at a rehab hospital in Greenwood. But without steady full-time work, Gilchrist worried about how she would pay for her next two semesters.

Then came another blow: She had been denied a loan for the summer semester. Around the same time, she found out she was pregnant with her fourth child. Gilchrist was ready to give up when she got help from the College of Health Professions COVID-19Emergency Response Fund. In all, 10 students received a $500 stipend to put toward tuition or living expenses.

“In that moment, when I got that $500, it let me know everything was going to be OK,” Gilchrist said. “That was the turning point for me.”

While $500 would not cover her tuition, it was a start. More importantly, it gave Gilchrist hope and an incentive to find another way to pay for school. She was awarded a minority scholarship through MUSC for summer semester and received federal funding to help with fall semester. She and her husband made up the difference out of their paychecks.

Gilchrist graduated in December 2020.

She’s grateful to those who invested in her along the way. “Thank you for your generosity,” she said. “You don't know how much it helped.”

Tovia's baby

Not one to sit still for long, Gilchrist is enjoying her new baby girl and taking refresher classes to get her ready for the next step: pursuing her master’s in Physician Assistant Studies.

About the Author

Melissa Varner

Keywords: COVID-19, Thank You Notes, Health Professions