Ask Misty Smith how much time she has left in school, and she’ll give you the exact countdown, right down to the second.

“I actually keep a timer on my phone. ... I have (one year), 52 days, 5 hours, 18 minutes and 9 seconds,” Smith told the Daily News on March 9.

After almost eight years of classes, the Longview resident is eager to earn her doctorate in pharmacy from Pacific University in Hillsboro, Ore., a career journey that started in 2012 at Lower Columbia College.

Smith’s Pharm.D. is a much-awaited milestone that was almost delayed by a financial hiccup early on in her educational career.

“I had paid for LCC out of pocket for two and a half years … and one semester when I was almost ready to graduate — I think I was two quarters out — I suddenly got denied for student aid. I kind of panicked,” Smith said. “I was halfway through the organic chemistry block, which is sequential. So you can’t stop and then start again as soon as you have money.”

Dropping the class would have set Smith, 36, back by a year or more, she said. But thanks to the LCC Student Success Fund, she finished her associate’s degree on time and debt-free. It made her journey toward the doctorate smooth and affordable, she said.

The Daily News runs an annual Students in Need fundraiser to benefit the fund. Our fourth annual Students in Need drive starts today and runs until April 28.

LCC’s Student Success Fund was started in 2012 to help students pay for short-term financial emergencies that might otherwise cause them to drop out of college. Most commonly, students spend the money on tuition, rent, tools, gas, car repairs or testing fees, according to college officials. Smith’s 2015 grant paid for her tuition at LCC that semester.

“Obtaining a college degree or credential can make a significant difference in the life of a student through increased opportunity, better work skills and better earnings potential,” said Chris Bailey, LCC president. “But life happens, and sometimes students need just a small amount — often only a few hundred dollars — to be able to complete their coursework and get that degree.”

Since its establishment, the Student Success Fund has benefited more than 580 students. The grants average less than $600, but even a small boost can remove financial barriers for students like Smith, she said.

“I think we all need a little help every once in awhile, even if we are not necessarily needy or we don’t want to ask for it. … Even a relatively small amount can make or break a community member finishing their degree,” Smith said.

The success fund money comes directly from private donations, including the money raised by TDN’s annual fundraising effort.

This is the fourth year of the newspaper’s Students in Need Drive, which has raised more than $125,000 for the Student Success Fund since 2016. TDN’s goal this year is to raise $50,000. That’s enough to provide about a year’s worth of grants.

“Students in Need is a tangible way for our readers to help LCC students obtain their degrees and improve their lives and our community. It helps address a problem documented over and over again in Cowlitz County: The need for a more educated workforce,” said TDN Publisher David Thornberry. “But a college education does more than enrich a person’s pocketbook. It enriches them personally by giving them new perspectives, challenging their own ideas and giving them a broader view of the world.”

“And at times when some people’s luck may be down, a college education can give them hope for a better future.”

For Smith, the future holds a full-time job in pharmacy — a goal she’s put in hours of studying to achieve. Once she’s settled into her career, she said she plans to donate to the Student Success Fund.

“It’s meaningful to know (LCC) saw my drive, that I was going to carry on. I wasn’t going to stop when I had an ultimate goal, and they felt it was worthwhile to provide me a semester’s worth of tuition,” she said.

“Longview is kind of a depressed area, so giving anyone a leg up, especially when they are so close to being finished, is a big deal.”

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