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MIT meets hurricane crisis with care, can-do spirit

Fifteen undergraduate students from the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast arrived on campus this week as MIT continued its efforts to help out in the wake of the devastating storm. Eleven additional applications from graduate students are currently under review.

Since Hurricane Katrina struck, the MIT community has worked to collect both immediate relief--money--as well as make long-range relief plans that might include sending MIT students to the Gulf Coast in 2006.

"It is neat how widespread a community effort it is," said Sally Susnowitz, director of the Public Service Center (PSC), who has been coordinating much of the effort.

The PSC began collecting funds on Sept. 6, just one week after the Category 4 hurricane devastated parts of the Gulf Coast and destroyed the city of New Orleans.

In the first day of fund-raising, the PSC collected $2,000 from many small donations, and one check for $1,000, at its Lobby 10 collection booth, staffed by volunteer students, staff and faculty.

The cash donations will go to three different organizations--the Red Cross, local Gulf Coast organizations and a PSC fellowship fund. The fellowships aim to send students with relevant skills in urban planning, architecture or civil engineering to the affected areas next year during January's Independent Activities Period, spring break and the summer. Donors may specify the fund to which they want to donate.

Money from Chancellor Phillip Clay's office has been designated to support relief efforts by students and other members of the MIT community. "We want to support community efforts to respond to the awful events that we see in the aftermath of Katrina," said Clay. "MIT supports community efforts to help those who are affected."

Students are also raising money independently, said Susnowitz. Students collected donations during a campus movie night over Labor Day weekend. And on Saturday, Sept. 17, students are organizing a fund-raising dinner at 6 p.m. in La Sala de Puerto Rico in the Stratton Student Center. A minimum $15 donation is requested to attend the dinner, which will feature "region appropriate" dishes. Reservations may be purchased in Lobby 10.

There will also be a Hurricane Katrina Benefit Concert in Lobdell at 9 p.m. on Sept. 24. The PSC has been hard at work to coordinate the various efforts. The offers of support have been overwhelming, said Susnowitz. "All this goodwill comes out in times like this," she said.

President Susan Hockfield galvanized the MIT community with a letter she sent to everyone on Sept 2. "It is clear that the assistance and expertise of everyone will be needed to help our fellow citizens to recover from this disaster," she wrote. "The vast majority of those in need are in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, but some are in our own community--MIT students and alumni from those areas, and our faculty and staff with loved ones there."

Admissions for displaced students

The Admissions Office worked quickly last week to admit the 15 undergraduates to MIT and get them to MIT by Sept. 12. For the fall term, MIT has waived tuition and fees for visiting students displaced by the hurricane and is providing free housing in available rooms in fraternities, sororities and independent living groups.

The visiting student application required candidates to list courses they have taken but did not require an essay or transcripts.

Financial services for affected students

The office of Student Financial Services (SFS) is granting interest-free financing or financial aid, as appropriate, to students affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The SFS web site points students to the proper financial aid counselor. Several calls have come in, so "the word is getting out," said Elizabeth Hicks, executive director of SFS.

Alumni in affected areas who need counseling regarding payments they cannot make to outside creditors or payments they cannot make to MIT may also call, said Hicks.

MIT students who need more financial aid as a result of the hurricane are invited to apply.

Support services

Immediately following the hurricane on Aug. 29, Julie Norman, associate dean of academic resources and programming, contacted each of the 11 freshmen who come from the Gulf Coast region.

"None were directly impacted," said Norman, although their families had experienced power outages and bands of rain and wind, she said.

MIT has a total of 79 students from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. All told, Norman's office contacted 44 students--both graduate and undergraduate--who live in the affected region. Housemasters contacted the students who live on campus and an e-mail was sent to those students residing off campus.

None of the three MIT students from New Orleans was directly affected by the hurricane, said Norman, who plans to check up on the students over the coming weeks. "Many of the students feel at a loss, almost helpless," she said.

Though students are being asked not to go down to the Gulf Coast immediately, Norman has encouraged interested students to look into opportunities to donate time in the coming months.

Alumni activities

The Alumni Association is using the web to help alumni contribute funds as well as personal thoughts.

More than 75 alumni from various decades have posted their ideas and visions for the devastated region's recovery on a special message board created after the hurricane.

Interested alumni can donate to hurricane relief through the alumni web site. The September issue of the alumni newsletter will also offer information for alumni wishing to donate funds. Sent the third week of every month, the newsletter reaches thousands of MIT alumni.

"This is sort of a work in progress," said Margaret Bruzelius, communications director for the Alumni Association. "As projects develop, we will put the word out."

Katrina web site

MIT's home page team launched a web site on Sept. 2 to create a central location for resources, information and news about MIT's response to Hurricane Katrina.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 14, 2005 (download PDF).

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