• Senior Lesley White of the University of New Orleans is one of ten undergraduates accepted as special visiting students from the Gulf Coast region because of damage from Hurricane Katrina.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Freshman Luke Harris, who was to have started at Tulane, has a room in Baker.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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Blown here by Katrina, students start anew

Freshman Luke Harris spent the first few hours of his college career trying to escape Hurricane Katrina.

The Chicago native had only just arrived at his new home -- Tulane University in New Orleans -- when he and his roommate were evacuated on Aug. 27. They spent the next few days with fellow students in Jackson, Miss., talking, playing cards and bonding as they wondered when they could get back on campus.

Soon it became obvious that he and his fellow students were not going to return this semester. The Category 4 hurricane devastated parts of the Gulf Coast and destroyed the city of New Orleans. "It was a pretty uncertain time," said Harris, who flew home to Chicago to explore his options.

As his friends scattered, enrolling as visiting students at various schools throughout the country, Harris decided to apply to MIT again. Originally his first choice, MIT denied Harris admission last year. But he was accepted as a special visiting student and arrived on campus Sept. 9.

Harris is not alone. MIT is hosting 10 undergraduates from affected areas, and has accepted 15 graduate students. Two of the undergraduates come from the University of New Orleans, one from Xavier University, one from Loyola and six, including Harris, are from Tulane.

For the fall term, MIT has waived tuition and fees for the visitors and is providing free housing in available rooms in undergraduate and graduate dorms, fraternities, sororities and independent living groups.

Senior Lesley White of the University of New Orleans sees her time at MIT as making the best of a difficult situation. "This seemed like a good opportunity," said White, who grew up in New Orleans.

Though it was difficult to leave her family behind, White said her parents encouraged her. "They told me I need some consistency," she said.

For White, coming to MIT made sense. A close high school friend is a senior at the Institute and White had visited her several times over the years.

White arrived on Sept. 11, moved into Bexley Hall and started her classes on Sept. 14. Since MIT classes started Sept. 7, White felt a little behind. "I think I am really going to enjoy my classes," she said. "But it has been a lot of work just learning the lay of the land."

Sophomore Shir Elany, a special visiting student from Tulane, arrived on Sept. 9. A mechanical engineering major from Lexington, Mass., Elany is familiar with Boston.

Still, the transition has not been easy. Missing the first couple of classes was stressful, he said. Initially he was behind. "Things have started to get better, though," Elany said after his first full week of classes.

Socially, the transition has been less jarring. Currently living in the Zeta Psi fraternity house, Elany has been impressed by the warmth of MIT students. "Everyone has been very welcoming," he said.

Though he expects to see a number of differences between Tulane and MIT -- "It will certainly be colder," he said with a laugh -- Elany said he expects to gain a lot from his brief time at the Institute. "This is a good opportunity for engineering," he said.

Harris' adjustment has been slower. "The classes are going to be pretty tough," he said.

Since he arrived weeks after orientation, meeting people has been challenging. "People have been friendly," he said. "But it is still a little rough."

Despite the challenges, Harris is relieved that he has been able to stay in school for the semester and is grateful to MIT. "MIT is a great school," said Harris. "I guess it had to take a hurricane for me to get in."

Did you know?

Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who is now heading up the federal disaster relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is an MIT graduate. Allen, who is chief of staff of the Coast Guard, received his M.S. from the Sloan School of Management in 1989.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 21, 2005 (download PDF).

Topics: Students


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