COCHISE COUNTY — Cochise College will extend and expand financial, mental health and career support services for students with the third installment of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III, a $39.6 billion component of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Dr. Wendy Davis, vice president for administration, said Cochise College has received $9.57 million in total for HEERF III with $4.98 million devoted toward the student aid grants as a requirement.

“Students use them how they need to offset their costs,” said Davis. “The few students that I’ve heard from, certainly (have) been very appreciative to have the extra cash to pay their bills, buy books and those types of things.”

She added that the college has been distributing these student grants since April 2020; students are provided these funds via a check from the college.

Davis said that on the week of Aug. 3, the student aid grants were sent to students enrolled in the 2021 summer session. On the week of Aug. 30, grants were sent to students in the fall 16-week and first eight-week sessions. Students enrolled in the second eight-week courses will have their grants sent during the week of Nov. 1.

Cochise College Media & Communications Coordinator Sharrina Cook-General said the amount each student will receive will be between $250-$1,100 based on enrollment level and expected family contribution level.

In addition to extending financial support to Cochise College students, the college also has used some of the HEERF III money to expand support for students’ mental health and career development.

“Our philosophy is a philosophy of service,” said Abraham “Abe” Villarreal, dean of Student Success. “Most students that suffer academically do so not because of their comprehension levels, but because of the influence that they have outside of the classroom.”

To help students get experience for their resumes and apply for internships, Villarreal said the college added a Career Services department led by Coordinator Ryan Sermon.

“We decided that part of our mission at the institution is to ensure that students enter into their careers,” said Villarreal. “That role is to help them with resumes, apply for internships.”

He said often students graduate college without professional experience in their field. This program is to help facilitate those opportunities while students are attending Cochise College.

“We want to help fill the gap so they have an easier time transitioning,” said Villarreal.

The college also is planning on expanding its technology support services to students by providing more wireless hotspots for students to rent out of the college libraries along with their laptop rental program.

“There has been an increase in demand,” said Villarreal. “Prior to the pandemic, we had laptop rentals. During the pandemic, we increased our equipment in both areas, (but) we specifically wanted to increase our hotspots because students were learning outside and living in rural parts of the county.

“We have a waiting list on hotspots. We ordered 39 more hotspots through HERFF funding. Our goal is to have 100 hotspots ... We have 150 laptops checked out to students (and) 61 hotspots (districtwide).”

Villarreal also referenced the importance of helping students attain their basic needs within the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

This concept, developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s, uses a pyramid graphic that depicts a range of needs, with the basic needs of water, food and rest are at the bottom of the pyramid, whereas emotional and creative needs sit at middle and top of the pyramid according to Psychology Today.

To help students gain these needs, Villarreal said the college has expanded its communal food bank, Cochise Cupboard, that provides students with food and other basic necessities.

“We’ve had hundreds of food items donated,” said Villarreal. “We also were awarded over $11,000 from the Community Food Bank of Arizona, and that’s why we were able to move into a physical building ...

“Many times people going to food banks (feel that it) is embarrassing. There should never be any shame. But we try to minimize that with a real office and a work study ... We want to legitimize people getting food.”

To address mental health, Villarreal said that the HEERF III funding is being used to address some new ways of offering mental health support to students.

“Addressing mental health is complex, because it’s one of those challenges that manifests in different ways,” said Villarreal. “We’re researching different initiatives to booster and address student mental health issues to provide telehealth with licensed mental health counselors.”

One method that’s being brainstormed is a mental health app, but Villarreal said that the concept is still in the works and has yet to be finalized or approved.

Another method the college is employing is getting more motivational speakers to talk with students about mental health to break down the stigma around the topic.

Villarreal said that with the HEERF funds, the college was able to schedule Lizzie Velasquez, anti-bullying advocate, author, motivational speaker and YouTube content creator, to speak at the Douglas campus on Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. in the student union.

“The HERFF funding has allowed us to expand and provide some more engagement events on some important themes,” said Villarreal.

He attributes the heightened focus on mental health to the effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on the community.

“We’ve always done our best to direct students to mental health agencies in our community,” Villarreal. “ I think that mental health has been rising to the forefront more and more on college campuses, especially with how the pandemic affected our communities ...

“We look at students comprehensively. If the student doesn’t leave the bottom of the pyramid (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), we want to be able to step in. But if we can move up that pyramid, they have a much higher outcome when it comes to academic success.”