• Seven Leaders for Manufacturing graduate students visited New Orleans in January to help out at the Blood Center. Standing, from left: Aamir Sundrani, Casey Phoenix, Subhrangshu Datta, Phil Richards. Front row, from left: Julie Go; Sabrina Chang; Suzy Potter, community development manager at the Blood Center; and Wini Hebalkar.

    Photo / Casey Phoenix

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Grad students help with business of rebuilding Gulf Coast

Subhrangshu Datta watched in dismay as images from Hurricane Katrina unfolded on his TV screen last fall. He wanted to do more than just sign a relief check, so the MIT Sloan School of Management graduate student put his business skills to good use.

"We are here at MIT in this fantastic Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM) program with super-talented students. This opportunity is right up our alley," Datta said. LFM is offered jointly by MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT School of Engineering, and is hosted by the Engineering Systems Division.

Datta recruited fellow LFM students Sabrina Chang, Julie Go, Phil Richards, Casey Phoenix, Wini Hebalkar and Aamir Sundrani to assist the devastated city of New Orleans.

The group reached out to Louisiana-based MIT alumni, manufacturing organizations and others and offered to help. Eventually, they were introduced to Suzy Potter, community development manager at the Blood Center, a nonprofit community service organization in New Orleans that is the primary supplier of blood and blood components in South Louisiana and parts of South Mississippi.

Potter said the Blood Center had sustained $2 million in uninsured losses when 4 feet of rising water ruined all of its equipment and hurricane winds damaged its roof. The center, which served more than 50 area hospitals, employed more than 300 people before the storms hit; the staff was downsized by two-thirds in October, she said.

The MIT students flew to Louisiana at the end of January and toured the ravaged region with Potter. The group also volunteered for a day with Habitat for Humanity.

Datta and the others were stunned by the sights: "It looks like a war zone," Datta said.

"I couldn't believe that we were standing in the heart of a city five months after a disaster in one of the most resource-rich countries of the world," Hebalkar said. "I had seen the after-effects of disasters in other countries (including India), and New Orleans seemed like it was far from being rebuilt."

The students learned that the center's current priority is raising money through donations, so they are developing a financial and business plan that will ultimately enable the center to write grant applications and reach its goal of being fully operational again by mid-2006.

All donations will be dedicated to rebuilding and restoring the lab and relocating the storage and processing components farther inland, Potter said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 22, 2006 (download PDF).

Topics: Business and management, National relations and service, Students, Volunteering, outreach, public service


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