A helping hand: How a caring staff member changed one student's future

Nov. 20, 2019

By Peyton McCutchen

Ronda Bewley, left, and Aurora Ellis
Ronda Bewley, left, and Aurora Ellis

For most brand new UNT students, getting lost on campus is one of their biggest fears. For Cleburne freshman Aurora Ellis, however, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to her.

In August, just a few days into First Flight week, Ellis found herself turning in circles outside the Hurley Administration Building. Upset by news delivered to her from the financial aid office and unable to find her way back to Victory Hall, she continued to pace in the blistering heat.

Ronda Bewley, a senior administrative coordinator in the accreditation office, happened to be leaving work for the day when she came across the dazed student. As Bewley puts it, “anyone would have noticed” that she needed help.

Concerned for Ellis, Bewley introduced herself and offered to assist. Ellis says she was grateful for the offer and accepted a ride just far enough that she would be able to more easily find her dorm.

As Bewley drove her truck down Chestnut Street, she and Ellis made small talk. Ellis mentioned her double major in business and French, as well as her passion for music. What the student did not divulge was that, due to a residency misunderstanding involving her high school, the financial aid she thought she would be receiving suddenly did not exist and it was likely she would no longer be able to attend UNT at all. In fact, the situation was so desperate she was soon considering contacting UNT's homelessness liaison for resources.

Unaware that Ellis needed anything but help getting back to her residence hall, Bewley dropped her new friend off with her business card and a request that she reach out if she ever needed anything else.

This is a typical practice for Bewley, who has worked at UNT for 12 years. She says that she always tells students, “I may not have an answer, but I will usually know who to contact.”

In this instance, Bewley’s offer paid off. After spending a night in turmoil, unsure of how to continue, Ellis picked up the business card she had placed on her desk and wrote a detailed email.

“I understand that this probably isn’t your department of work and it’s okay if you can’t help me,” Ellis wrote that afternoon, “but I’m hoping there’s a chance that I ran into you for a reason.”

Within just a few hours, Bewley responded. She promised to reach out to the departments that might be able to help Ellis find the financial assistance she needed to stay enrolled. Bewley contacted Maureen McGuinness, the dean of students, who contacted the financial aid and registrar’s offices and the newly installed Start Green, Stay Green program for help.

A string of emails followed, and in a final message sent at 11:05 that same night, Lacey Thompson from the financial aid office wrote, “We were able to award Aurora up to her grant maximum today.”

Thanks to a caring group of staff members, Ellis is now nearing the end of her first semester at UNT and set to begin her second. She thinks she may change her major and is grateful to even have that option thanks to Bewley. She says the entire experience was a reminder that there are people at UNT who want to help, and she and Bewley remain friends and stay in touch.

Bewley, when asked why she takes the time to reach out to students, replies simply, “I want to see people succeed.” After a moment she adds, “I didn’t have that help when I was getting my education, so it’s important to me now, because people are special. It’s important for students to know that people care.”

Bewley’s advice for how faculty and staff can ensure all students experience that same compassion also is simple:

“Have your eyes open and look for those in need.”