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Students from southern schools adjust to University, College life

Steve Kerins | Wednesday, November 9, 2005

It has been two and a half months since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and surrounding Gulf Coast communities, displacing thousands of students attending colleges and universities in the area.

Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s are among hundreds of schools nationwide to allow students from the affected region to take classes on a temporary basis until Gulf Coast universities reopen their doors for the spring semester.

“The decision to help students displaced by Hurricane Katrina grew out of a desire to assist those less fortunate who were impacted by the devastation of this natural disaster,” said Daniel Meyer, vice president for enrollment management at Saint Mary’s. “As a Catholic institution, we felt compelled to assist those in need, just as we would hope other[s] would reach out to this community if the circumstances were reversed.”

Meyer described the many steps involved in admitting displaced students into Saint Mary’s and helping them to adjust upon arrival.

“We checked with the housing staff to determine where underutilized space existed,” he said. “We worked with faculty to determine appropriate courses and avoided those that the time delay since the start of the semester would present insurmountable challenges. We worked closely with the staff from the First Year Studies Office to assist students in proper selection of course work.”

Meyer also noted the twofold responsibility that colleges face when accepting displaced students.

He said Saint Mary’s would forward fees collected for the semester to the students’ home universities. Saint Mary’s will also award transfer credit on many courses a student has already taken.

“This allows displaced students to avoid interruptions in the pursuit of their educational objectives,” he said.

Julie Prior, a first-year student at Tulane University in New Orleans who is attending Saint Mary’s for the fall semester, reflected on her experiences thus far.

“Things at Saint Mary’s and in South Bend have been great,” Prior said. “The girls here are really sweet, and I was already familiar with South Bend before I decided to go to Saint Mary’s.

“I am from Chicago originally, so South Bend isn’t too far from home.”

Prior also discussed her academic schedule, noting her professors at Saint Mary’s helped her to adjust after beginning classes two weeks later than her classmates. She also said her coursework at Saint Mary’s is structured so she’ll be able to resume a normal schedule upon her return to New Orleans in January.

“I was scheduled to take the same basic classes at Tulane, so it fits perfectly with my curriculum from Tulane,” she said.

Notre Dame’s administration has not released many details regarding its arrangements to accept displaced students for the fall semester, emphasizing the need to allow these students to feel like a part of the community.

“Everyone has been incredibly generous and responsive [to displaced students at Notre Dame],” Vice President and Associate Provost Jean Ann Linney said. “We have tried to provide as ‘normal’ an experience as possible, trying to give a visiting student the opportunity to have the same degree of privacy and anonymity that degree-seeking students at Notre Dame enjoy.”