Julie Kientz and Shwetak Patel establish HCDE Student Emergency Support Fund

July 23, 2020

Julie Kientz, Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, and her husband Shwetak Patel, Professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, are establishing the Kientz & Patel HCDE Student Emergency Support Fund to aid HCDE students facing near-term financial hardship.

Julie and Shwetak
Professors Julie Kientz & Shwetak Patel

A new study of 38,000 college students in the United States by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, found that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly three in five students are experiencing basic needs insecurity, and at four-year institutions, 38% are affected by food insecurity and 15% are experiencing homelessness.

Professors Kientz and Patel are creating the new endowment fund to support HCDE students in financial distress. “I realize that unexpected things can happen in our students' lives and greatly interfere with the attention they are able to devote to school,” Kientz said. “If we can help students stay on top of relatively smaller financial burdens before they compound, I think we can make a big difference.”

When deciding to create this fund, Kientz reached out to her peers in the academic community to ask for examples of ways to support students during this time. “I saw numerous comments from people who have seen emergency funds like this make the difference between students staying afloat and having to drop out of school,” she said. “Students who cannot make a rent payment may struggle with housing security, or one unpaid bill can begin to collect fee upon fee, quickly making payment completely unattainable.”

The Kientz & Patel HCDE Student Emergency Support Fund will provide aid for situations including, but are not limited to, unexpected health care costs, car repairs, legal fees, travel for family emergencies, stolen goods, and housing insecurity.

“I did not have family support to pay for my own college education, so I worked a lot of part-time jobs through college to make rent payments and pay for tuition,” Kientz said. “I remember in graduate school being in tears at the dentist’s office when they told me I needed a root canal and how much it cost. I was lucky they were willing to work with me on a payment plan, but if another crisis situation had come up for me while I was in school, I’m not sure how I would have made it through. Now that I’m in a position to help, I am compelled to do what I can for others who may be in crisis situations.”

Julie Kientz and Shwetak Patel are also supporting Engineering innovation through the creation of a new Endowed Professorship in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. The Senosis – Paul G. Allen Endowed Professorship is made possible in part by Google’s acquisition of Patel’s mobile health startup, Senosis Health, complemented by funding from the Paul G. Allen Professorship Matching Program. 

While Kientz and Patel’s generous gift to HCDE will seed the emergency fund and ensure perpetual funding through an endowment, the Department is raising additional funds to meet the potential for outsized demand due to the deepening economic impacts of COVID-19.

“Shwetak and I hope that our establishment of the fund will inspire others who are in the position to make a donation to directly help students in need, especially now that COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities. A departmental survey we conducted in April indicated that 37% of HCDE students were 'often' or 'very often' worried about finances as a result of the pandemic. We also know that our Black, Indigenous, and students of color are disproportionately affected.”
—Julie Kientz, HCDE Professor & Chair

To make a contribution to the fund, you can contribute online or contact Zoe Bartholomew, assistant director of advancement, at

Aid for students from the Kientz & Patel HCDE Student Emergency Support Fund will be available by autumn quarter. The HCDE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee will review applications and allocate funds.