Chris Snyder, CCAS ’17, is what some call a non-traditional student who thought attending the George Washington University was just a pipe dream. While humble and unassuming, Chris is not one to be underestimated: the junior, who earned his pilot’s license at the age of 15, sports a 3.7 GPA as a math and physics scholar in GW’s Columbian College of Arts & Sciences. But his plans of completing his degree came to a halt during finals last winter—while riding his bicycle on the way to class, Chris was struck by a car, and the driver took off without stopping.
Born in Death Valley—and very aware of the irony—Chris’s journey to GW was a winding one. He postponed his college plans to care for his ailing grandfather, worked as a lumberjack and a ranch hand, built homes across the Midwest, then came to the D.C. area when his mother fell ill. He enrolled in a local community college, where he met Professor Tyler White, MA ’10, PhD ’12, who noticed Chris’s sharp intellect and natural aptitude for logic. With Professor White’s mentorship and support, soon Chris was tutoring other students in the math lab, enrolling in graduate-level courses, and matriculating into his dream university, GW.
As a GW student, Chris became a member of the math club, the society of physics students, and Tau Sigma Honor Society. He has also served as a teaching assistant in the math department and was awarded a prestigious internship with the National Institutes of Health to forecast epidemiology the way others predict weather. He also made sure to stay in touch with Professor White, who Chris credits with getting him in the door at GW.
“This was my first time with the big shots,” Chris says of his arrival at GW’s Department of Mathematics. “I didn’t think I’d get to a place like this. I was afraid I’d make Dr. White look bad!”
Far from the case, Chris excelled, but what he didn’t expect was to be the victim of a hit-and-run during fall semester finals, leaving him unable to teach, work, or attend class.
Then he learned about the Ronald W. Howard Student Assistance Fund, named in honor of GW staff member Ron Howard who was known to help students in exceptional situations with his personal resources. Established in 1999 by GW alumni, the fund continues this remarkable legacy by providing non-tuition support for students with extraordinary or emergency need.
“When I first applied for support, I was unable to pay rent. I had bill collectors calling me at all times of the day,” he remembers. “But because of the award I received, I could focus on my recuperation and figuring out my course plan instead of worrying how I was going to afford food.”
For Chris, the support he received was more than just financial. He also found counsel and guidance from the Division of Student Affairs (DSA), especially Student Success Officer Tracy Arwari, EdD ’14.
“Having her there as an advocate, really the totality of the support mechanism, was way more than I expected,” he says. “Before this experience, I didn’t really feel like I was part of the student body, but Tracy and the DSA fought for me. Now, I’ve never felt more at home.”
With some of his burdens lifted, Chris can now look forward to resuming classes—as well as tutoring, something he’s found he loves thanks to Professor White’s encouragement, and his teaching assistantship—this fall.
“Many people think that math is hard, but you do it every day!” he says. “I love helping people break down the logic and get that sort of understanding. It feels really good to be able to help change the foundation of my students’ world views.”
Chris is quick to add that he’s also looking forward to giving back to the fund as soon as he’s able.
“That’s really important to me,” he explains, “especially because it helps those of us who really need it and don’t have anywhere else to turn. GW had my back.”