Scholarships aid students working in essential jobs during pandemic

Chandler Guptill of Kennebunk is one of  50 USM students – who are also essential workers – who got a bit of a financial hand from the university that will help him complete his studies. Courtesy Photo

KENNEBUNK – A scholarship awarded to 50 University of Southern Maine students who are also essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic is helping a Kennebunk student complete his degree. 

Chandler Guptill, who hopes to graduate in May from the linguistics program at the Portland campus where he is studying American Sign Language and English interpreting, said the $1,000 scholarship will play a role in his ability to graduate sooner than originally expected. 

“I had not planned to graduate this semester,” said Guptill by phone in a recent interview. “I had planned another year.” But Guptill has already earned a prior degree, and so his federal financial aid has run out. “I realized I have to finish now, and I’ve been paying out-of-pocket, and the scholarship reduces the amount I have to pay. I am not sure I would have been able to do it, otherwise.” 

Guptill, 30, graduated from Kennebunk High School and then went on to study anthropology, earning a bachelor’s degree. But he never worked in the field, and began studies at USM about 2 1/2 years ago. 

At the same time, he works full-time as a direct support professional with deaf adults who are developmentally disabled, and also has a part-time job in a children’s program, pulling shifts during school vacations and at other times. 

As a direct support professional, Guptill assists his adult clients with cooking meals, cleaning, personal hygiene and more. “We’re really trying to focus on making folks as independent as possible,” he said. 

All of his work is done with safety in mind for all concerned, with mask wearing, sanitizing, hand washing and temperature checks.  

Staffers also undergo regular COVID-19 testing – on the day of the interview he’d had a test, Guptill said. 

Does he worry? 

“Of course, I think everybody does,” he said, noting he has concerns about possibly bringing COVID-19 home to his family members. “But I am less worried than many of my friends and acquaintances who work in restaurants” and in other jobs. 

He said he plans to be vaccinated when it is available to him. 

University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings said the university has awarded each of the 50 students  a $1,000 scholarship as an expression of gratitude, with the intent of helping ease financial burdens on those who have continued working in essential jobs during their studies. He described the students who received the scholarship as “outstanding.” 

He said the students working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic include health care professionals, firefighters, police officers, paramedics, retail and grocery employees, child care providers, delivery services workers, transportation providers and others. 

“During this period of unprecedented challenges, we have come to understand just how essential these people are to keeping us going — as individuals and as a society,” said Cummings. “It’s only fitting that we recognize the importance of the work they are doing and the risks they are taking by helping to make their college education more affordable.” 

Along with Guptill, York County scholarship recipients include Sarah Thomas and Megan Galley, Biddeford; Katelyn McKenzie, Danny McLeer, Deanna Curit, Natalie Ben-Ami and Shania Rodrigues, all of Saco; Jasmine Berube and Maddy Johnson, Hollis Center; Khaalid Kakande, Sanford; Lexus Freeman, Lebanon and Alyssa Blais, Lyman. 

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