Students displaced by Katrina are welcomed by Virginia Tech
Numerous Virginia Tech administrators, faculty and staff worked through the Labor Day weekend to help more than 30 students displaced by hurricane Katrina enroll at the university for the rest of the fall semester.
Twenty three undergraduate students and about 10 graduate students, most of them from Tulane University in New Orleans, had enrolled at Virginia Tech by Wednesday. The colleges of agriculture and life sciences, architecture, business, engineering, liberal arts and human sciences and science have all accepted displaced students.
Virginia Tech will cover tuition and fees through scholarships for the undergraduate students, who range from freshmen to seniors.
“This was a cross-departmental and community effort, and many folks interrupted their time off, abandoned houseguests and worked through the weekend to help these students get admitted, enrolled and settled in,” said Norrine Spencer, associate provost and director of undergraduate admissions for Virginia Tech.
Spencer and Jerry Via, assistant dean for the College of Science, spent the weekend with several admissions staff handling enrollments over the phone and through the online admissions site.
University Registrar Wanda Dean and her staff worked with admissions to ensure that displaced students could find space in the classes they need. Undergraduate advisors from all eight of Virginia Tech’s colleges and the University Studies Program also were on hand through the weekend to help students choose appropriate courses.
“Deciding on a college is a big decision and many of these students, after making that tough choice, were faced with being uprooted and trying to find a new school during the aftermath of Katrina,” said Amy Widner, public relations coordinator for the admissions office. “Many left New Orleans and arrived in Blacksburg with only a backpack on their shoulders.”
Administrators and staff in the Office of Student Programs also worked the weekend shift to place students in housing. About 15 of the undergraduates are being housed in dormitories on campus, said Emily Moore, interim assignments coordinator for housing. “We also have a long list of volunteer host families from Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg community,” Moore said.
Edward Spencer, associate vice president for student affairs, and student programs staff are working with the undergraduates individually regarding housing costs and hope to find scholarships and other funds to cover the costs.
Foxridge Apartment Homes in Blacksburg agreed to offer month-to-month leases to displaced students and also kept their office staffed during the holiday weekend to take calls, Widner said.
About 10 displaced graduate students are enrolled for the semester at Virginia Tech, said Karen DePauw, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School, who worked through the weekend with her assistant, Nancy Feuerbach, to admit the students. Two are displaced Tulane employees who are taking MBA courses at Virginia Tech’s center in Richmond, and the rest are on the Blacksburg campus.
The graduate school waived application fees for the displaced students and a number of Blacksburg-area graduate students and faculty have opened their homes to the visitors, DePauw said. There is no deadline yet for the enrollment of the graduate students and applications are being considered on an individual basis, she said.
Tom Brown, director of the Student Life Office, spent the weekend contacting many of the 57 already-enrolled Virginia Tech undergraduates whose homes are in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. “None of them I spoke with wanted to return home,” said Brown, who offered counseling to the students whose families and homes were affected by Katrina.
Brown and his staff organized an orientation program and dinner on Wednesday evening to welcome the displaced undergraduates. “Speakers from the various university offices that students need to contact will be there to help them — like ‘one-stop shopping’ so the new students won’t have to go from office to office,” Brown said.
The Student Life Office also will help the displaced students with emergency funds, Brown said. He encourages students interested in counseling or a support group to contact the university’s Cook Counseling Center at 231-6557.
Virginia Tech is also one of several universities in the South planning to offer online courses for displaced undergraduate and graduate students through a program funded by the Sloan Consortium, an association of colleges and universities supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The “Sloan semester” will be offered from early October through Jan. 6, 2006, said Jenise Jacques, at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning. The Sloan Consortium will assist the university with costs of delivering instruction. There will be no course fees for displaced students. In addition to existing online courses, Virginia Tech may offer courses of particular need to those students.
Virginia Tech’s University Bookstore will help displaced students get textbooks and supplies as quickly as possible — overnight, if necessary — and will loan books on a case-by-case basis to help defer the costs.
The Virginia Tech Student Government Association is providing the new students with Orange Effect tee shirts “so they will have some Hokie gear,” Widner said.
Meanwhile, some of university’s faculty are assisting with disaster-relief efforts in the Gulf region. Two are in the College of Natural Resources. Forestry professor Shep Zedaker, a national expert on forest fires, is heading up a 20-man crew from Virginia’s Department of Forestry to help clear fallen trees near Biloxi, Mississippi. Geography professor Bill Carstensen is developing maps and a Geographical Information System (GIS) database to help the American Association for State and Local History identify significant Gulf-area historical sites and collections.
Jennifer Brown, clinical assistant professor in Equine Surgery and Emergency Care at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, has been deployed to the Gulf Coast as a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Veterinary Medical Assistance Team 2. The VMAT teams are working closely with other emergency services personnel to assess and deal with the animal and public health issues associated with the catastrophe.
Virginia Tech also has taken in a displaced professor — one with a family tie. Gretchen Clum, a clinical psychologist who left Johns Hopkins University to join the faculty of Tulane on Sept. 1, now has a visiting faculty appointment at Virginia Tech.
Clum, works with HIV patients and is affiliated with Tulane’s School of Public Health, is the daughter of Virginia Tech psychology professor George Clum. Her husband, who was about to begin graduate school at Tulane, is now taking some courses at Virginia Tech.
Updates on the university’s Katrina-relief activities, as well as information about other ways the university community can contribute to relief efforts, can be found at http://www.unirel.vt.edu/news/katrina.html.