Thanks to you, La Trobe student Shannon will get through the COVID-19 crisis

With a blended family of nine and her husband’s work disappearing, La Trobe business student Shannon Smith was about to give up her university degree. Now, generous donors have given her the chance to realise her dream.

Remember when milk purchases were restricted to two litres? When you couldn't buy more than two kilograms of mince at a time? And toilet paper? Forget it!

As restrictions are now slowly being lifted and the ‘new normal’ creeps in, the food shortages that hit Australia in March 2020 might seem like a lifetime ago. But for La Trobe business student Shannon and her family, these restrictions were simply the first curve ball they had to face in the COVID-19 disaster.

"Two litres of milk and a packet of mince would barely cover one meal for our family," she says.

Shannon, her husband and their seven children live 40 mins from Bendigo in regional Victoria. Food shortages meant Shannon had to make the return trip to Bendigo twice each day, visiting multiple supermarkets to try to get around produce limits. The COVID-19 lockdown quickly became a logistical nightmare.

“I felt like I needed a sign on my trolley that said, ‘I’m not a hoarder, I just have a big family!',” Shannon says.

Shannon’s family of nine were hit hard by COVID-19. Her husband’s carpentry business saw an immediate drop off in work. Shannon started applying for jobs and had even emailed the course coordinator at La Trobe, having resigned herself to the fact that she’d have to withdraw from study. She was devastated – she loved her course and had received top marks in a marketing subject – but to feed her family she’d have to pull out.

“My course coordinator, Kate, told me about La Trobe’s COVID-19 Financial Assistance Program, funded by donors through the Student Crisis Appeal. She said, ‘Have you looked at this as well?’. I checked it out and applied straight away.”

Shannon’s successful application resulted in a $3,000 bursary to support her family and, most importantly, continue her studies.

“I’m really loving my course,” she says. “When I’m studying, I’m not just ‘Mum’. This business degree is for me – it’s my passion and my hobby, and it’s a huge deal to not have to give it up,” she says.

The bursary, made possible through the kindness of alumni, staff and supporters in the La Trobe community, was one of more than 1,200 bursaries awarded to students facing one of the toughest periods of their lives. For Shannon, the bursary gave her the security to stick at the degree she was halfway through.

“When I got the call I was crying. It’s literally changed my life. I now have food supplies in the cupboard to feed our children, I’ve been able to put extra on bills for power, phone and internet, and when bills come in it isn’t as stressful. Now, I don’t have to worry too much if our family business has less work for the week, because I can cover the day-to-day essentials and expenses. It’s given us a financial buffer,” she says.

“But this bursary is worth so much more than a dollar figure. La Trobe’s donors have kept my dream going. They are the reason I’m still here, and there’s not words to describe what it means.”

When she graduates, Shannon dreams of exploring a career in international business. She’s keen to apply her marketing and management expertise to overseas markets and cultures.

“I’ve really loved the core marketing and management subjects at La Trobe. In the future, I’d love to do something with an international flair, find a role that offers the challenge of cultural differences.”

For now, Shannon faces the next challenge of the COVID-19 disruption: home-schooling seven children across three different schools! She’ll be using her time management and organisational skills to get through.

“My motto is: one step at a time. Break it into chunks, have little goals and take small steps. Get through today’s quiz. Get through this week’s classes. And enjoy the accomplishments, give yourself a pat on the back.”

With a positive attitude and skills like that, she’ll be at the top of the business world in no time.

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