Katrina student stays put at U

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After a whirlwind of unexpected change and confusion, Elizabeth DeSanto has decided to stay put. One year after Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands of students from Southern colleges and universities, DeSanto, like many, is just trying to keep things on the right track at the University.

DeSanto, a kinesiology junior, was one of 57 undergraduates admitted to the University after Katrina forced Louisiana and Mississippi institutions to close their doors.

DeSanto was enrolled at Loyola University in New Orleans and had been ready to begin her fourth semester at the school, when she was told to evacuate last September. She left the area for a short stay in Tennessee.

“I only packed a backpack,” DeSanto said. “I didn’t think the school would close and I really thought I’d be back by the end of the weekend.”

The devastation of the storm left DeSanto with no choice but to move back to Minneapolis to live with her family. A friend recommended she apply to the University, and within a week she found her seat in class.

DeSanto and other students in her situation were able to call the Twin Cities campus their own because of an emergency admissions policy that was put into action Sept. 1, 2005.

The policy was designed to allow qualified students from colleges and universities affected by the hurricane to continue their education immediately.

Paula Brugge, associate director of admissions, said the University wanted to be able to help them not lose fall semester because of circumstances beyond their control.

DeSanto said she was thankful the admissions process happened so quickly and said it was nice not to have to fill out an application.

In addition to the 57 undergraduates accepted at the University, 15 graduate and professional students and three international exchange students were welcomed.

Out of those students, 11 continued taking classes during the spring. This fall, five or six students remain on campus.

“It wasn’t necessarily meant to be permanent,” Brugge said. “This whole process was about helping students come here to continue their academic life without having to drop out for a semester.”

Selander said an outpouring of donations from faculty and staff included everything from clothes to books and supplies. Students were even given the opportunity to borrow books from the bookstore for free, simply with a promise to return them at the end of the semester.

“The whole process renewed my faith in humanity,” Selander said.

DeSanto said the University did a nice job of making sure everyone was taken care of, but said she would have liked more assistance.

“I wish there would have been more help or follow-through,” DeSanto said. “I needed to meet with someone to talk about basic things, like how to use WebCT and other online services.”

Coming from a smaller university in New Orleans, DeSanto said getting used to the University was stressful and often confusing.

“I didn’t know how big universities worked,” she said. “It’s not so much student-teacher orientated. It’s more student-on-your-own.”

She said she attended the shortened version of orientation that was provided for her and the other students affected by the hurricane, but said it was just a long lecture.

“I didn’t find any special services to help me,” DeSanto said. “I just learned through trial and error – and a lot of frustration.”

Jennifer Bosworth, a resident and student in New Orleans, also attended the University last fall, but has since gone back home.

Bosworth said she was happy the University let her enroll a week and a half into the semester, but said overall she was disappointed with her experience here.

“The ‘U’ didn’t help make anything easier for me,” Bosworth said. “I was never even given an orientation.”

Bosworth also said the University refused to accept her transfer credits, meaning she wouldn’t have been able to graduate until 2008.

Angered, she said she headed back south to finish her degree at the University of New Orleans, where she will graduate this spring.

Brugge said she is unsure about Bosworth’s particular situation, but said the transfer credits may not have been accepted due to the absence of an official transcript, which is part of the University’s official transfer credit policy.

“We don’t just make random choices about which credits transfer and which do not,” Brugge said.

In the end, DeSanto decided to stay at the University this year. She said she made the decision because Loyola didn’t offer a kinesiology degree and she wanted to stay close to her family.

“I’m looking forward to school this year – now that I have things figured out around (campus),” DeSanto said.