Brendan O'Shaughnessy | July 31, 2019
As Eric Kim started his junior year at Notre Dame, he didn’t know how he could accomplish what most students take for granted — welcoming his parents to Junior Parents Weekend (JPW) in February.
Flying from California to South Bend was not a cost his family could absorb. The absence would sting because Kim was leading the committee hosting the weekend’s events and would therefore be a featured speaker at one of the dinners.
Kim’s father sells T-shirts at outdoor markets and his mother translates documents for the county government. Neither had studied in the U.S., so they couldn’t guide him in the complicated process of applying for financial aid and college. Still, Kim received nearly full support to attend Notre Dame, and a scholarship from the Orange County alumni club covered much of the rest.
“My parents to this day don’t know what Notre Dame is,” Kim said in October. “My mom nearly crashed the car because I screamed when I got accepted. Then she asked me where it was. She wanted me to see what USC said before I responded.”
Arriving at Notre Dame was a shock for Kim. His college classmates had plenty of money to buy clothes or go out for dinner. They talked about places they’d been or plans to study abroad.
Realizing he couldn’t afford these things, Kim chose to focus on campus leadership positions that aligned with his goal of working in the hospitality industry. He wanted his mother to come to JPW, see his success and understand what made Notre Dame special.
Kim’s quandary was solved through the Fighting Irish Initiative, which paid for tickets for his mother and a family friend to attend JPW. The program, run by the Office of Student Enrichment (OSE), created in 2016, aims to ensure every student receives the full Notre Dame experience. Started with a gift of $20 million from Sean and Sue Cullinan, the office helps first-generation and low-income students adjust to the college environment and covers the costs for related expenses, such as winter clothing, a laptop computer, or tickets for football games.
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