During a normal school year, financial aid advisor and outreach coordinator Rylan Wall spends a lot of time at events, helping students navigate the complex process of paying for college. From recruitment to matriculation, Wall helps demystify the world of financial aid for students and their parents, making the process a little less scary, and connecting them to the resources they’ll need to succeed at Oregon State.

Usually, at this time of year, he’s swamped with START orientation programming and meeting a new cohort of excited freshmen. But this summer, his work has suddenly become a series of phone calls and online presentations, shifting from face-to-face to virtual engagement. A graduate of OSU’s College Student Services Administration graduate program, Wall deeply empathizes with the stresses and difficulties of navigating the system during a pandemic, and also has recognized that while imperfect, losing the opportunity to sit in the same room as a student doesn’t mean they can’t still provide a lot of help and support.

“Most of it has been just trial-and-error to see what has worked well and what has not and making adjustments as necessary,” Wall said. “However, the positive side of that has been forcing various projects that have traditionally been on the back-burner up to the front to get ready for a virtual START. Our best example of this was doing some informational videos for incoming students and families about financial aid, which are located on our YouTube channel.” 

Wall, who previously worked at the OSU Pride Center and with the campus Rainbow Continuum (a student organization which provides a place for LGBTQQIA and allied students to meet and socialize), is especially aware of the impact that the pandemic is having on underrepresented students on campus.

“Different systems can have disproportionate impacts on students from particular backgrounds or that hold particular identities. Just from a financial perspective, marginalized student populations are less likely to have the resources to be able to adapt quickly to these changes, whether that be purchasing needed supplies, taking care of a tuition bill when they just lost their income, having access to a good place to study, and many more.”

Wall also volunteers with the COVID Response Collective. The collective is a Pacific Northwest community action group that helps in many ways, from building handwashing stations to connecting people with resources.

“Within my capacity, I’ve been helping students with financial aid related topics, referring people to community resources, and donating funds where I can to those affected,” he said. “It was definitely important to me to feel like I was doing something to help when so many in our communities have been impacted in various capacities. I think these sorts of mutual aid groups can be a great way to do that.”

He also finds ways to step back from the stress and find calm ways to connect.

“Patience, empathy, and compassion can really go a long way for our students and our colleagues. I catch myself losing these qualities at times, particularly during times of stress, so I need to remind myself to stop, examine things from another perspective, and take time away if needed.”

~ Theresa Hogue

Have an OSU Unsung Hero suggestion? We are looking for submissions that highlight OSU employees and students who are not typically in the spotlight but are going above and beyond during this pandemic. Send your suggestions to [email protected] and our staff may contact them to conduct remote interviews that we would feature in OSU Today and elsewhere.