Helping Out

Colleges send assistance -- in the form of boats, trucks, and people -- to New Orleans and other areas devastated by Katrina.
September 14, 2005

Colleges around the nation have welcomed in students and professors dropped on their doorsteps by Hurricane Katrina. As the recovery moves beyond evacuation, colleges are finding their own special ways to lend a hand.

Or, in the case of the State University of New York Maritime College, to lend a boat. The 564-foot Empire State VI, the college’s training vessel, shipped out on Saturday. In a little under six days, the ship, which can comfortably fit 700 people, will pull into port in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, about 10 miles southeast of New Orleans.

The ship, with several college employees aboard, will act as a “floating hotel,” according to SUNY-Maritime officials, for Conoco Phillips workers as they repair a major refinery. The idea came about when Ralph Rohena, a Maritime alumnus and director of global vetting and audits for Conoco Phillips Marine, called his alma mater for help. As long as it’s going, the Empire State VI is taking a boatload of supplies. Along with clothing and toys that have been collected on campus, the Jazz Foundation of America is sending instruments down. “I mean, God, Louisiana, it’s the heart of the jazz world,” said Diane L. Zapach, a spokeswoman for SUNY-Maritime.

The Maine Maritime Academy and the Texas Maritime Academy at Texas A&M University at Galveston are also sending their own, somewhat smaller ships.

John Wood Community College in Illinois is doing a little shipping of their own. “We don’t have a lot of money to donate or anything like that,” said Don Hess, director of transportation and public safety programs at John Wood. But they do have nine semis, and instructors to drive them. Hess said nearly 100 colleges in the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools, some of which have two trucks and some of which have 60, are awaiting a grocery list of needs before they start truckin’ to Louisiana. “It could be quite a convoy, if the need exists,” Hess added.

Anthony Kinslow, vice president for human resources at Case Western Reserve University, is hoping to ship some personpower to Louisiana. Kinslow has proposed that Case Western employees get 15 days of paid leave to volunteer with groups “where we can document that they’ve been working in affected areas,” Kinslow said. The idea has already been approved by Case Western’s chief finance and administrative officer, and is awaiting the president’s consent. Employees would have to be approved for leave before taking off, but would have a year to set up their two weeks of service. Kinslow has reached out to professional organizations, like the Society for Human Resource Management, to encourage other colleges to do the same.

Kinslow, who used to live in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, said he would take his two weeks if given the chance. “It’s my understanding that the house I owned is no longer there, and I have friends I haven’t heard from,” he said. “A number of people on campus have family and friends in those areas.”

The idea of paid leave has already gotten the green light elsewhere. Central Michigan University is giving faculty and staff a week of paid leave to help out. And, last week all Babson College employees received an e-mail telling them they would be eligible for two weeks paid leave in the next “weeks and months.”

Students at Babson College are pitching in too. They’re selling Beads for Bourbon Street. “Lance has his yellow band, breast cancer their pink ribbons. Let’s now all wear our Mardi Gras beads to show the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that we are with them,” reads a statement from the college. The suggested donation for a string of beads is $2, and all proceeds go to relief agencies.

Because New Orleans’ domestic animal population has also been evicted by Katrina, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has sent a group of six faculty and staff members and students, with four more on the way. They are helping care for the 1,100 dogs, cats, and a few birds, and the 1,000 larger animals, mostly cows and horses, that are being kept at a recreation center at Louisiana State University. Some of the animals are separated from their owners, and some owners just cannot deal with their animals right now. Some of the animals had been in contaminated water for days. “The biggest concerns right now are caring for these animals while owners are found, or they are fostered into new homes,” wrote Nishi Dhupa, the director of emergency and critical care at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, who is coordinating the effort. “They all need food, water, shelter and medical care.”

Other college efforts include the following:

  • The State University of New York at Buffalo has discontinued searches for some administrative jobs and reserved them, on a three to six month basis, for administrators displaced by Katrina.
  • University of Miami opthalmologists traveled to affected regions in a bus equipped with eye-exam rooms. They gave out thousands of bottles of eye medication, glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses.
  • Shep Zedaker, a forestry professor and forest fire expert at Virginia Tech, has been leading a 20-man crew in clearing fallen trees in Biloxi, Miss. "The homes were just saturated, and most of the residents had to leave but are gradually returning now that we are clearing the way,” Zedeker said.
  • Four Florida Institute of Technology students shelled out their own money to rent a U-Haul and headed for New Orleans. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave them 11,000 pounds of food, water, and clothing, along with an armed escort, to deliver in Louisiana. The students also bought a 16-foot flatboat in Mississippi, and left it with the New Orleans Fire Department for rooftop rescues.
  • Culinary students at the Denver campus of Johnson and Wales University made hundreds of home-cooked meals for hurricane refugees staying at a nearby facility. They washed the dishes too.
  • The College of Saint Rose, in New York, cancelled “Saint Rose Night,” an annual celebration for faculty and staff members to ring in the new academic year. The $10,000 it takes to throw the shindig will go straight to the Red Cross.
  • Gallaudet University is welcoming deaf and hard of hearing students who have been displaced, either as visiting or full-time students.



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