COVID-19 and a cross-country challenge

The pandemic brought anxiety and unexpected expenses to hundreds of Waterloo students like Bryce Giesbrecht (OD '21). Then generous donors stepped in to help.

Bryce GiesbrechtIn early 2020, Bryce Giesbrecht (OD ’21) was looking forward to working with patients in eye clinics in Manitoba and Newfoundland as part of the externships for his optometry studies.

“Externships are so important because they get you out into the real world,” says Giesbrecht, who graduates this year. “They help you learn how to explain conditions and medications to patients and understand how they feel. Without that practical experience, I don’t think you’d do very well in your first few years of practice.”

Giesbrecht had bought a car back home in Regina and planned to ship it to Waterloo so he could drive to his externships. Then the pandemic hit and he found himself stranded, with no way to get to his first externship in Dauphin, Man. – 2,400 kilometers away.

The only solution was to fly back to Regina, get the car and then drive to Manitoba. But the cost of flying home was money he didn’t have.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end with Giesbrecht hitchhiking to Regina. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Waterloo donors, he was able to pay for his trip home and soon he was on the road to Dauphin. This spring, he completed his final externship in St. John’s, NL.

Donors provide more than $700K for emergency support

Giesbrecht is one of many Waterloo students who received financial assistance through the Student Emergency Support Fund. Donations to the fund created bursaries that allowed these students to meet unexpected pandemic-related expenses that could have jeopardized their studies.

After the initial program ended, the fund continued to help students with expenses related to virtual learning. In total, 1,661 students received an incredible $776,513 in support.

Waterloo student helps save a woman’s sight

Giesbrecht’s externships gave him invaluable experience, including helping to save the sight of a woman with a retinal detachment. He earned the clinical hours needed to complete his degree and prepare for his licensing exams. Best of all, he was offered a job at an optometry clinic in Regina.

Looking back, Giesbrecht has nothing but gratitude for the donors who helped make what could have been a stressful externship experience so much easier.

“Because of this funding, I was able to reduce my financial burden. I am truly grateful that there were generous people able to help students out.” 

While the Student Emergency Support Bursary was a limited-term fund for immediate support, you can still support students during COVID-19 by making a gift to the Student Wellness Fund.