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Podcast: Pack Essentials With Mike Giancola

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On our Season 2 premiere, we’re joined by Mike Giancola, NC State’s assistant vice provost and student ombudsperson, to learn how the university is working to support students in need of food, housing, financial and educational security. Many donors may think that the only way they can assist NC State students is through a tuition-based scholarship, but the Pack Essentials program provides undergraduates and graduates with the staples they need to not only survive but also thrive while earning their degrees.

The airing of this episode is especially timely because it comes at the beginning of the fall 2022 semester. With 5,601 new students — the largest incoming class in NC State history — starting their collegiate journeys this week, the number in need has also risen. For more information on how you can help, please visit today.

Listen to “Pack Essentials With Mike Giancola“ here via Spotify, or visit the Apple podcast store, the Google podcast store, Stitcher or Podbean.

To listen to this and other episodes of the NC State Philanthropy Podcast, visit the Apple and Google podcast stores, Spotify and Stitcher. Be sure to subscribe in order to receive new episodes as soon as they’re released. You can visit our podcast webpage at Podbean, too, for direct downloads. However you listen, please leave a comment and rating to let us know how we’re doing!

Theme Music (00:01):

Please listen carefully.

Taylor Pardue (00:06):

Welcome to the NC State Philanthropy Podcast, telling the world how we Think and Do through the support of our friends, alumni and more. I’m your host, Taylor Pardue.

On our Season 2 premiere, we’re joined by Mike Giancola, NC State’s assistant vice provost and student ombudsperson, to learn how the university is working to support students in need of food, housing, financial and educational security.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Mike. To kick things off, just tell listeners a little bit about yourself, how you came to be part of NC State and what your current role is.

Mike Giancola (00:45):

Yeah, thanks for having me, Taylor. I appreciate the invitation. I came to NC State back in 1998, so starting up on my 25th year here at the university.

Taylor Pardue (1:01):


Mike Giancola (1:01):

Yeah. What a journey it’s been. NC State’s a special place, and I’ve been very fortunate over my career here at NC State to work in a variety of capacities. I came to the university working in University Housing and then have worked with just about every other unit within the Student Affairs and now Academic and Student Affairs unit over those 24-plus years. Currently, I serve as assistant vice provost and student ombuds, and so, I serve as a resource for students, really, any issue that students have — academic, personal, interpersonal, financial — and they don’t know where to go, then coming to me is a good, confidential place where we can discuss issues, help get them connected to resources on the campus or in the community, and really just make sure that they have a way to kind of navigate their NC State experience. So, it’s been a good culmination of my experience over the years in a variety of different ways that I’ve worked with students, both in and out of the classroom.

Taylor Pardue (01:57):

Well, prepping for this interview, I looked back at what an ombuds actually does, especially here at NC State, and I thought I understood, but you’re right. It’s so far-reaching, the different aspects that you touch on. It’s far more than just academics, obviously.

Mike Giancola (02:11):

Yeah. You know, ombuds are relatively new at universities. Larger corporations, the military, any larger bureaucratic institution likely has an ombud because, even in that institution’s best form or best day, there’s gonna be a level of bureaucracy or a level of just barriers that are unintended, and kudos to NC State for recognizing that student success is a value that the institution holds central.

And so, to be able to have someone who can help students navigate and work through those bureaucracies. And another aspect of my work, in addition to working with individual students, is providing feedback and advice to administrators, to the leaders on the campus, in those areas where I see that there are maybe roadblocks to student success or barriers. So, to kind of look at those systemic trends and try to address those to the benefit of the overall student experience. But yeah, so, ombuds are relatively new. We started our program in 2014, and then I, when the previous ombuds retired, was doing the role as an interim and didn’t expect to like it. I was pretty well engaged in the other work that I was doing as the associate vice provost for student leadership and engagement but ultimately came to really love the work and think it’s a good use of my strengths and my experiences over the years.

Taylor Pardue (03:33):

Well, I was gonna say, it’s not probably what you thought it was all leading to, but having worked in all those different roles, met all those different students, met all those different faculty members and staff, now it’s all culminating in this role where you’re really able to help across campus in many different ways.

Mike Giancola (03:50):

Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, as the ombuds, my job is to be impartial, and yet the relationships with students, with faculty, with staff, with alumni, administration are critical to getting things done and helping students navigate their time at the institution. So, yeah, I think it’s been a great, I don’t wanna say culmination of my career, but certainly use of my skills, my experiences over the years.

Taylor Pardue (04:16):

So, a large part of what you do is working with Pack Essentials and this initiative that we have here at NC State. Tell listeners just a little bit about what all is involved with that, how it came to be and what’s going on with it right now.

Mike Giancola (04:28):

Yeah. The Pack Essentials initiative is one that I think NC State should be very proud of. It basically, at its heart, really works to make sure that students have the basic needs, resources they need to be successful. When we recruit a student to NC State, we say, “Come to NC State; we have the resources here to help you be successful. We want you to thrive.” And, you know, that’s a commitment that we need to make sure we’re living up to. And one of the ways we do that is make sure that students have the resources — in this case, the basic needs, food and housing, financial resources, access to mental health and physical healthcare technology — all of those things that we know are critical to a student being able to not only survive but thrive. And I wanna be clear that’s the goal. And so, I think a lot of folks might think that COVID-19 created the problems that we’re working to address with Pack Essentials, but it’s important to note that we’ve had food and housing insecurity on this campus for a long time. And it’s not a uniquely NC State problem. This is something that we see in colleges, universities all over the country. I’m very proud of the way NC State has worked collaboratively to address the problem, which is also to say, though, that we have a lot of work to do. We first started digging into this issue in 2012, and at that time, we were seeing reports from students coming to the counseling center, and in addition to reports of academic stress or anxiety, students were increasingly reporting food insecurity.

So, a group of staff and faculty and students got together. I was fortunate to be a part of that group, and we envisioned what is now the Feed the Pack food pantry. So, again, that’s back in 2012. We opened. So, now we’re in our 10th year for the pantry, and that resource is thriving in terms of the way we support not only students, but members of the campus, community, staff and faculty as well.

Fast forward to 2017. We were looking at what other services did we need to help support students, and there was a really important study done by Dr. Mary Haskett in psychology and her colleagues to look at food and housing insecurity of our student body. Prior to that time, we’d been using national data, and that’s instructive, but it’s really important to know what is the experience of the NC State student.

From that survey, about 14 and a half percent of our students experienced some form of food insecurity within the previous 30 days, and about 10 percent had housing insecurity within the previous 12 months. And that can look a lot of different ways. You know, the food insecurity can be the student who can’t afford a meal plan, so they buy dining dollars, but they run out midway through the semester. It could be the student that can’t afford a meal plan at all and thinks that they’ll just have enough food to cook at home, but they’re not getting but one meal a day. You know, there are a variety of different experiences. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that not every student experiencing food or housing insecurity experiences it the same way, and that’s important because that means the resources we provide and the solutions that we have have to be diverse in terms of meeting the students in an equitable way to what those needs are.

So, fast forward to 2020. Of course, everybody knows about the pandemic, and Dr. Haskin, our colleagues again did the same survey and found at that point, unfortunately, the numbers were going in the wrong direction. And, you know, prior to the pandemic, we had made a lot of progress and we’re putting in place a lot of initiatives — the Student Emergency Fund and the meal plan scholarships and other things — to have the tools we needed to help students. But, of course, the pandemic proved to be a real challenge for a lot of college students around the country. In that study, the numbers went to about 23 percent of food insecurity and about 15 percent of housing insecurity. So, let’s break that down, because, I wanna be clear, one student is too many. One student not knowing where their next meal’s coming from or having to eat McDonald’s two or three times a day because that’s the cheapest food they’ve access to.

One student is too many; thousands of students is unacceptable. Do the math: 15 percent, uh, 23 percent of our student body, so we are talking about thousands of students that are being impacted by the food and housing insecurity. And then, you know, we’re starting to come out of COVID, and yet the needs still persist.

We have some other challenges that we’re dealing with. Obviously, the housing market in Raleigh becomes increasingly challenging, not only for purchasing house, but also for renting. And we’ve seen about a 20 percent increase in rent over the last year. That impacts students directly and immediately. And so, I think it’s important for our listeners to understand that food and housing insecurity wasn’t created by COVID; it was made much more challenging, and there are other challenges right around the corner.

And so, we’ve got to continue to work collaboratively to address these issues. Again, this is a issue that every college and university needs to look at. Some colleges and universities are unwilling to admit they have a problem; kudos to our senior leadership, the chancellor and others, for recognizing and being willing to talk about it and providing resources so we can address this need. NC State aims to be a national leader in a lot of areas; this is one of those areas.

We’d love to shut down the food pantry. I was one of the founders, and it would bring me great joy to shut that thing down, but the reality is, we’re nowhere close to that. Now, we have too many students and staff that are still struggling with food insecurity. So, it is a critical resource, as are the other tools that we have in the Pack Essentials toolbox.

Taylor Pardue (10:12):

So, tell a little bit about, not case examples with names or anything, but give some examples of, again, this looks different for different people. What are some of the success stories from Pack Essentials so far?

Mike Giancola (10:23):

Yeah, that’s a great question because, as you said, the experiences that student have are very, very diverse in this regard. I mean, I’ve worked with students that have experienced domestic violence, and so we use the fund to help support making sure they get into a stable and safe housing situation, make sure they have the resources to continue to focus on their studies. Along with the other resources on campus, we have students who their parents have lost jobs, and that has an immediate impact on their ability to purchase food or to access books or the technology they need to be a student here at NC State.

Our international students have really been hit hard, both prior to the pandemic but especially during the pandemic, when we had situations where we had to shut down operations. Most of our international students, because of the visa requirements, can’t work off campus, with a couple exceptions for professional training and things that have to get approved through their visa. So, their opportunities are limited to working on campus, and that’s why you see a lot of international students working in campus, Enterprise dining, the gym, other areas on campus. Well, those jobs largely weren’t there, so, at the same time these students were experiencing hardships back home in their countries, they were also seeing their ability to earn money depleted as well. So, a lot of our international students have really been hit hard during this time.

You know, so, again, the experience of our students is really diverse. We have students that are living in public buildings, that are sleeping in tents out in parks. I get calls from our campus police letting me know that they’ve identified a student who might have been trying to stay in the building, you know, when it closes in the evening on campus. You know, we don’t take a punitive approach; we take an educational approach, and we try to provide wrap-around services, both through Pack Essentials and through our case management, to make sure that those students have the resources they need.

But you asked about some success stories. You know, we’re looking primarily at making sure students have access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate food and have a safe, stable place to live. And the other metric we look at is, do students persist towards graduation?

I mean, that’s the business we’re in: making sure that students get a well-rounded education and ultimately get their degree from here at NC State. And so, we track to ensure that the students that we’re providing the support for ultimately graduate, and we’re able to really show numbers, a large number of those students do go on to graduate. You know, it’s interesting. Before I get into those specific success stories, I need to maybe dispel a myth here because some of our listeners might say, “Well, when I was in college, I worked for the summer, and I was able to make enough money to pay the next year’s tuition and fees.”

Taylor Pardue (13:13):

I’ve heard that before.

Mike Giancola (13:14):

Yeah. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. And higher education was subsidized differently at the state and federal levels back then. Cost of education was different. The cost of housing and food.

Taylor Pardue (13:25):


Mike Giancola (13:25):

That’s where a great amount of the increases come from. So, we need to make sure that our listeners understand that it’s not a matter of saying to a student, “Well just go out and get a job.” The vast majority of students that we support through Pack Essentials have not one but multiple jobs, two or three part-time jobs linked together trying to make ends meet. So, it’s important that folks understand that these are students that are working hard in the classroom and working hard in their jobs to be able to try to afford and get their degree. But we had a student last semester in one of our assessments, say, if it wasn’t for Pack Essentials, he’d still be living in his car …

Taylor Pardue (14:04):

Oh, wow.

Mike Giancola (14:04):

… and likely, probably wouldn’t have registered for classes. I’m pleased to say he graduated in May. That’s one example.

As I mentioned, domestic violence, we’ve worked with students to help them get into a safe place. And you know, the funds that we provide, the resources we provide, are critical. And I don’t want to minimize that if you’re hungry and you’re not eating, the grant, that provides you with the resources to get food, or the meal-plan scholarship to purchase a scholar, you know, meal plan for the semester. Those are critical resources. But, you know, what I hear from the students I talk with the most, they appreciate knowing that people care.

Taylor Pardue (14:41):

Oh, sure.

Mike Giancola (14:42):

They understand that donors, alumni, faculty, staff, other friends of the university provided financial resources, and they said, “It’s good to know that people care,” because when they’re at their most challenging point, to understand they’re not in it alone really goes a long way.

And so, just that kind of personal touch to give you an idea of how the process works when a student fills out a Pack Essentials application. Our goal is within 24 hours — in most cases, it’s within four or five hours, same day — we’re reaching out to that student, myself or one of my team members. We’re listening to them, understanding their experience, listening for what resources might be helpful and then connecting them. And we work closely with financial aid, the cashier’s office and other partners on campus. But I think it’s important for our listeners to know we’re not talking about a process that takes weeks. We’re able to connect with that student within hours, and that sends a strong message, too, especially when they’re in crisis.

Taylor Pardue (15:41):


Mike Giancola (15:41):

I reach out as a student for help and you get back to me in three days yeah, does that really show an understanding of the critical nature of the situation that I’m in? So, we’ve made sure that we’ve created the Pack Essentials with little to no bureaucracy. Kudos to a lot of the decision makers. We’re able to come together and create this process. That way, that’s very student-oriented, student-friendly. So, again, the students really respond knowing that the institution cares about them. You can’t put a price on that.

When we say to students, “Come to NC State; we’ve got the resources for you to be successful,” when our donors reach out and support these programs, that allows us to put action behind those words, because it’s one thing to say; it’s another thing to do. And the way we do in this case is by providing grants from the Student Emergency Fund, providing housing scholarships, providing meals where students can eat in the dining halls. Those are all action-based initiatives that allow us to put action to the words “We care about you. We want you to thrive.” And again, the goal is not to survive; it’s to thrive. We want all of our students to thrive.

Taylor Pardue (16:53):

This season, we’re introducing a new element to the NC State Philanthropy Podcast with “Philanthropy 101.” In these brief info blocks each episode, we’ll explain some of the basics surrounding private financial support of NC State and how you can help us Think and Do like never before.

Our first “Philanthropy 101” segment is probably the most important. Regardless of how, when or what areas of campus you want to support, you should always start your philanthropic journey by getting in touch with our team of development officers. These dedicated individuals are well versed in all of our university’s most pressing needs, as well as how you can maximize your tax benefits while backing the Pack. They can also help you take full advantage of any matching funds that are currently available, which will allow you to make an even larger impact on NC State even sooner than might otherwise be possible.

Best of all, our development officers act as your personal representatives from NC State, enabling us to personally thank you for helping our students, faculty and staff achieve even greater heights together on our hallowed, cutting-edge campuses. For more information on our extraordinary team of development officers, please visit There, you’ll find each of our officers listed by their respective areas of expertise, along with their direct contact info so you can start a conversation when you’re ready — no pressure, no headaches and no obligations.

Now, back to the show.

Talk a little bit about, you used the word “grant.” I think it’s important people remember that this is a grant, it’s a gift. It’s not a loan. It’s not anything that they have to pay back, correct?

Mike Giancola (18:25):

In most cases, yes. We have a series of tools, some of which are loans. The university offers a short-term loan for students who are needing a bridge loan, maybe until they get their next paycheck, and that’s a no-interest loan. So, we do have some loan options, but most of the programs we have are the grants, because we’re working with some of our students who are most vulnerable, most in need, and so, even the ability to pay back a loan could be challenging for them. You know, with the rising price of gas, students who were commuting to campus ,who didn’t have that in their budget at the beginning of the semester, now they’re, some of our students might be commuting 45 minutes or an hour one way. So, to be able to provide a grant they didn’t have to worry about paying back, that helped cover the gas because, what faculty were reporting to us is that they saw a reduction in student attendance in class.

Taylor Pardue (19:14):


Mike Giancola (19:14):

Nobody wins in that situation. So, we wanna make sure the students have the resources and have it immediately. So, that again, we don’t want their education to be disrupted. I say to students all the time, “I want college to be a challenge. I want you to struggle with the class.” I mean, you’re an alum; you understand this.

Taylor Pardue (19:33):


Mike Giancola (19:34):

You had a class; it was challenging. You worked through it, and you understood how to come through that, but there’s no value in struggling to know where your next meal’s coming from, and anybody that suggests there is hasn’t been hungry before.

Taylor Pardue (19:45):


Mike Giancola (19:46):

And so, that’s the focus that we have. We wanna make sure students know that the resources are there. People care about them. They don’t have to pay it back. And students who ask me all the time, “How do I pay this back?” And I feel so fortunate as the student ombud to be able to respond to them, “You know, this gift was given to you by an alum, a faculty member, a staff member, a friend of the university because they want to invest in your education. The way you pay them back is, go to class. Do well. Get in your lab; do the research. Do all the things outside of the classroom that we want students to be able to take advantage of. That’s how you pay them back.”

And sometimes students will persist: “But, yeah, but I wanna get to a point where I can pay them back.” I said, “Get your degree, and then at that point, when you’re in a position where you can give back, we’ll gladly accept that gift to the next round of students that need that support, because this isn’t something that’s going away. And so, again, as the ombuds, I’m extremely grateful to our donors, to our faculty, staff, alumni, friends of the university, because they allow my job, which is very challenging, but it allows me to be able to have the resources to help students when they’re in critical need.

And so, to any donors that might be listening, I just wanna thank you, and know that your gift makes a difference, and it makes a difference now. Those are funds that we put to use immediately to assist students, to make sure they have the resources to be successful.

Taylor Pardue (21:14):

Absolutely. I think that’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of, working here and being an alum of NC State, is, as a land-grant university, we really do try to make a difference in the local level in people’s lives. You know? Show the state of North Carolina the value of what we’re doing here, and it’s not just so much giving someone or letting someone earn a degree as part of our university. But we really do try to pave the way that these obstacles that, like you said, there’s no, there’s no benefit in someone going hungry or having to sleep in their car. We really do try to work to remove as many of those as possible and pave the way that they can be successful here. And like you said, if they feel, you know, compelled to give back, we’re paying it forward. We’re trying to help someone else, even in that.

Mike Giancola (21:57):

So, yeah, the NC State spirit is alive and well in this. And, you know, there are a couple issues here. One, the Pack Essentials initiative is critical and we’ll continue to be a critical resource for students, but we also, if we’re gonna do the work, we’ve gotta do the work at the systemic level. We’ve got to remove the barriers and the systems that perpetuate hunger, perpetuate students not being able to afford rent. So, again, I don’t wanna speak against the Pack Essentials initiative; that’ll always be there when students have emergencies or unexpected financial challenges. But we’ve got a lot of work to do at the systemic level to address these issues. We have too many people that are working extremely hard, and the narrative at times is that if people are poor it’s because they’re lazy.

And anybody that thinks that, I’d love to take them on an internship. Come with me. I’ll help them see what I see on a daily basis. These students are extremely hard work and extremely industrious, very creative, working very hard to make things work. Multiple jobs, taking a full-time load, supporting family, maybe ailing parents, a whole variety of things. Maybe some of our students are parents themselves. And so, we need to work with the narrative and the systems that perpetuate that, because nobody should be working as hard as they are and still struggling to make ends meet. And that’s the value of having an NC State degree, for one. But again, that work needs to be done to really address these issues upstream, if you will, before a student would find themselves struggling. But as you said, I won’t say which institution one of my alma maters, during COVID, released something that said that they had about 2,000 students on a waiting list because they didn’t have enough resources to support them through their emergency fund.

And I’m proud to say the Wolfpack’s community, and any of our listeners are not surprised by this, have stepped up in big ways. We don’t have a 2,000-person waiting list, and again, it’s a tribute to our donors and our supporters who recognize that one, we take this issue seriously. We need to be engaged as a community. And then we work hard to steward those resources and make sure that we put that right back into students. So, a lot of institutions are, I think, envious of what we’re doing here through this Pack Essentials program. And I wanna be clear, I want our Pack Essentials initiative to be the best in the country, but I want every other school to be just as good, because I don’t see any value in anybody struggling.

We can beat another school on the football field or on the wrestling mat — that’s my sport of choice, so go support the wrestling team — but there’s no value in having students struggle at any institution when it comes to food and housing. So, we’ve gotta work collaboratively to address that. And again, NC State, we’ve been able to consult with other institutions to help them get their programs up and running so that no college student anywhere struggles with food or housing insecurity.

Taylor Pardue (24:50):

Talk a little bit about, from the philanthropy side of things, how have donors responded? I’m sure COVID-19, it didn’t create these problems, but it definitely shined a spotlight on them. And how have they responded over the last few years in general? I know Day of Giving is a big thing to, again, shining that spotlight.

Mike Giancola (25:09):

Yeah, you’re exactly right. I mean, our donors had been very supportive prior to COVID-19, and I think it’s important that we recognize that, but certainly since COVID that the needs become more central, and I think we’ve done a better job of telling those stories so that our donors can fully understand what our students are experiencing and what, as an institution, we’re doing to address those issues and where they can support and where that help is critical. So, we’ve seen dramatic support; over $2 million has been donated …

Taylor Pardue (25:39):


Mike Giancola (25:39):

… since the pandemic has started, and those monies, like I said, turned right back around into grants or to meal plan scholarships, housing scholarships, mental health grants for students to access mental health care, those types of things. But as I said, the needs are not specifically tied to COVID.

As we see the inflation, we see the rising cost of rent, we have situations now where students are contemplating whether they can come to NC State because they may not be able to find an affordable place to stay.

Taylor Pardue (26:11):

Ah, sure.

Mike Giancola (26:11):

You know, if you, I don’t mean to pick on our corporate partners, but if you’re working for one of those high-tech companies, you’re likely making a salary that can more than cover the cost of your rent, but college students who oftentimes are on fixed budgets or have limited support from families, that 20 percent increase is real, and they feel it this month. And so, we do have to address that issue. We’ll have 4,000 new students coming over the next four or five years, so we’ve got big challenges. The good news is, NC State is, I always say, if we can put an alum on the International Space Station, we can address any challenge that’s here on earth.

Taylor Pardue (26:50):


Mike Giancola (26:50):

And I really believe that, and the Wolfpack spirit really works in our favor in that regard, because we do travel as a Pack. We work together and address issues, but we do have a big challenge ahead of us. And so, there’s a lot of work to do. Even though we’ve done a lot, there’s still a whole lot to do to ensure that every single student that comes to NC State has the basic resources they need to thrive.

Taylor Pardue (27:12):

Talk a little bit about how they can get involved. I know there are different funds in Pack Essentials. There’s obviously the Student Emergency Fund by itself, and then there’s actually contributing directly to the Feed the Pack food pantry with donations and canned goods and things like that. Talk a little bit about just, if someone listening, they’ve heard the need, they realize the need, what do they do next?

Mike Giancola (27:36):

Yeah, it’s a great question, Taylor. So, we’ve built Pack Essentials, again, to be responsive to the variety of different experiences that students would have. So, we have a multitude of tools in our toolbox to help address that. The Student Emergency Fund, I like to think of as our utility tool. It helps us in just about every situation because it can provide a grant for food, for housing, to help with rent both on or off campus, helps the student who’s maybe got car repairs and can’t get to class because of those repairs, mental health, physical health. There’s really not a whole lot of limits to how we can use that fund. So, that’s our all-purpose tool.

So, a gift to the Student Emergency Fund is oftentimes the best way that donors can support. Some folks, though, are just more passionate about food, and so we created a meal-plan scholarship. That’s an opportunity to cover the cost of a meal plan for the semester for a student who’s had some critical life situation or just can’t afford that meal plan for that semester. Again, I want students to struggle with organic chemistry, Spanish, if you will, but I don’t want them struggling, trying to figure out if they have enough money to make it through the semester to eat. So, that meal-plan scholarship, and we can provide that at the beginning of the semester, that takes that worry off the table for that student. Now, they focus on organic chemistry. We have housing scholarships program, again, where students, can get grants for both on- or off-campus rent. And so, the housing scholarship fund is another opportunity for folks to donate to.

We have a meal-share program, which allows us to provide meals. Maybe it’s transitional. We don’t necessarily have a student that needs a whole semester meal plan but runs out the last three weeks of the semester. And so, we can provide some meals to put on their card to allow them to eat in the dining hall. And again, when they reach out, they’re eating in the dining hall within the hour; that’s how responsive our partners in dining have been. So, those are our three major vehicles, but as you mentioned, the Feed the Pack food pantry is another critical resource. Folks can donate food and go on to the Feed the Pack website to find out what foods are most in need.

Again, we try to specialize in healthy food. We’re, I think, really quite advanced compared to some other food pantries around the country, not only one of the first food pantries on a college campus, not the first but one of, but we’ve also moved into a healthy direction. We’re doing fresh fruits and vegetables. We’re purchasing that each week. And so, the donors’ support allows us to provide fresh and healthy food; produce rather than just canned foods. We have a refrigerator/freezer section, so it allows us to distribute proteins and other healthy sources of food. So, a gift, both a monetary gift or a donation of food. And the other thing that people don’t think about is, health and hygiene. Think about toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo — those types of items that are quite costly, that we can distribute through the pantry as a way to make sure students have those basic essentials met.

So, all of those are ways donors can support us. Certainly, we’ve had another set of donors that have been very engaged and help us think through the resource allocation/distribution. We welcome that as well. This is a community effort. We say we run as a Pack. This is not Mike, the ombuds; this is a group of folks, of campus donors, but also faculty, staff, students working together to make this thing work.

Taylor Pardue (31:01):

You’ve mentioned it several times. I wanna really highlight the food and housing, obviously, front and center. These are things that people think of when it comes to needs on campus, probably. But you mentioned mental health, and talk a little bit about, obviously, the importance of it and just dig a little into how Pack Essentials works with that aspect of a student’s health.

Mike Giancola (31:26):

Yeah. This is a critical issue that’s facing our society, right. Not just college students, but certainly it is prevalent on college campuses and has been for a long time. And again, I think it’s important for our listeners to understand that, but COVID has absolutely made this more challenging, both, you know, for the financial stressors, the health stressors, the worry about catching COVID, all of those things have really, you know, being sent home maybe to environments that aren’t as safe or conducive for the student to thrive. All of those things have increased challenges that students have faced in mental health. Our partners in the counseling center do a really good job to address many of those needs right here on campus through the counseling center, but there are some students who, both because of their situation or the demand in the counseling center, require more sustained mental health support from off campus.

It’s in those cases, then, we would work collaboratively with the counseling center to see whether a grant to help pay for mental health support off campus would be helpful. And so, those are the ways we’ve collaborated with the counseling center to make sure that students have access to good quality health care, whether it be, in this case, mental health, but also physical health. Increasingly we’re seeing a number of students who have had physical health bills. The cost of those bills can be debilitating, you know? And most of our listeners probably have some example in their family. They understand that, but they hopefully have a payment plan or they have the resources to pay it. But for our students on a fixed income, the choice really becomes, do I drop out of school so that I can start paying back this $3,000 emergency room bill? And our goal is to say, “No, we don’t want you to drop out of school.”

Here’s the other way for our listeners to think about this: If you’re a student in your junior or senior year, so you’ve been on campus three or four years, three, three and a half, and your family has invested in your education. Maybe the student themself has worked and helped to pay for some of that. The state of North Carolina subsidizes students education. There are federal programs. So, a lot of investment that goes into that student. If they drop out their first semester of their senior year because they’ve gotta pay a medical bill, research says they’re less likely to come back once they drop out. That return on investment, forget just the human — I mean, there’s the human side of this, right? — but if you wanna look at it from a return on investment, all that investment has gone in and that student doesn’t finish their degree. So, I’m not suggesting everybody has to have a college degree, but folks that have invested so much time, energy and money, we wanna make sure that they have the resources to get to the point where they have that degree. And increasingly, you know, the employers that are coming to North Carolina, they need and want an educated workforce. They need those engineers, those communicators and teachers. And so, this is one small way that we help ensure that all of our students have the resources, again, to get to that point. That’s the business we’re in. Anything short of that, I think, is not doing everything we can do to help support students.

I wanna thank our listeners. If they’re interested in learning more about Pack Essentials, I’d encourage them to go to the NC State homepage and type in “Pack Essentials” to learn more about what we’re doing, how we support students in ways that they may want to be involved to help support us. I wanna give a special thanks to all of our donors. I know donors probably hear that time and time again, but I can tell you full hand that the gift that a donor gives to Pack Essentials goes to a student immediately and makes an impact immediately. As the student ombud, I’ve talked with more than 4,000 students just since COVID has started one by one. Those are the calls that I make to students, and so, I hear firsthand from those students how much they appreciate, I hear the tears of joy or just the tears of release because they’ve been holding something pretty heavy, and now they know that the NC State community is there behind them to help support them. So, I can’t thank our donors enough.

And while other schools have had some success, I can just tell you that the Wolfpack is doing it right, and our donors have made a critical difference and will continue to make a critical difference. And as I said, we’re creating another generation of alumni who will give back to this program, and it will support future students. So, that again, when we make that promise to students — “Come to NC State. We’re a community. We care about you, and we want you to have the resources to thrive.” — we can deliver on that promise.

Taylor Pardue (35:51):

Thank you so much, Mike, for coming on today and telling listeners about this important work, but also just the work itself that you’re doing through your job, just, it’s really important, and it’s very appreciated.

Mike Giancola (36:02):

Thank you, Taylor, and again, thanks to all our listeners. Go Pack.

Taylor Pardue (36:10):

To learn more about how you can provide Pack members with the resources they need to live as well as learn, please visit If you’d like to hear even more stories of Wolfpack success, please subscribe to the NC State Philanthropy Podcast today in the Apple or Google podcast stores, on Spotify or through Stitcher. Be sure to leave a comment and rating as well to let us know how we’re doing. Thanks for listening, and as always, go Pack.

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