Rowan Students to Volunteer in New Orleans During Spring Break


Forget bathing suits, beaches and basking in the sun in Cancun, Cabo or the Caribbean: about 35 Rowan University students and a half dozen professors are going to give up their spring break to volunte

Forget bathing suits, beaches and basking in the sun in Cancun, Cabo or the Caribbean: about 35 Rowan University students and a half dozen professors are going to give up their spring break to volunteer to help rebuild houses in the New Orleans region in March.

Students from the Colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts & Sciences, Communication, Education and Business will spend the week living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency tent city?Camp Premier? in St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans. They will work with Habitat for Humanity on houses destroyed last August when Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast.

A team of seven engineering students is planning the work as part of an Engineering Clinic under the guidance of several professors: Dr. John Schmalzel, chair of the Electrical & Computer Engineering Program; Dr. Jennifer Kadlowec, a mechanical engineering associate professor; Dr. Leigh Weiss, a computer science associate professor; and Dr. DeMond Miller, head of the Liberal Arts & Sciences Institute and a sociology associate professor. Schmalzel and Miller both have roots in the Gulf Coast area.

Schmalzel estimated it would cost about $500 a person to make the trip. The team is asking students to pay $200 toward their travel expenses, some of which the professors hope to be able to pay back with grant money, University contributions and fundraising efforts, which also are helping offset the rest of the cost.

Schmalzel said, ?During early planning sessions for the project, we hoped to field a modest team of 20 or so. It has been very inspirational to see how many students have stepped up to help out their fellow citizens. I?m looking forward to a week of hard work and great memories.?

In St. Bernard Parish, the students will work on gutting houses and possibly on reconstructing some of the close to 27,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. According to Habitat, out of 26,900 homes in the parish, virtually none was left habitable after Katrina hit. Habitat?s goal is to clean out 5,000 homes and prepare them for rehabilitation by June.

College of Engineering students and professors started volunteering along the Gulf Coast last semester, with 26 students and seven professors donating their time to the school district in Picayune, Miss., to help rebuild a variety of facilities. The team had hoped to initially volunteer in New Orleans, but because of the massive flooding and lack of housing, they opted to help out in an area hit less hard. The engineering team hopes to return there later in the spring to wrap up a final project there. ?It was a great thing, and we would still love to do some work in Picayune,? Schmalzel said.

The volunteers are excited about helping in the area that took the brunt of the hurricane. Their commitment is evident in their applications to participate in the volunteer effort.

Noted one student in applying to volunteer, ?If we have an opportunity to make a trip like this that will help individuals, why not? Katrina affected me a lot, just like every American. I feel this it?s a duty to go down to New Orleans and help those (who) need it the most.?

Kadlowec said, ?This is a good project for Rowan University students to be civically engaged through service to the Gulf region after Hurricane Katrina. Also, it provides for an exciting experience to be submersed in a multidisciplinary learning environment that involves repair and recovery, understanding of social policy, effect of disasters on the economy and much more.?

Miller, who said the Rowan team also will hold on-site seminars, using the trip as a teachable, real-life moment, noted, ?This trip is an integration of teaching, research and service that will meet an immediate social need. It's an extension of Rowan's mission."

The student Engineering Clinic planning team is:

Brett Riggio, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Landisville

Brittany Stanley, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Sicklerville

Daniel Miller, Mechanical Engineering, Cherry Hill

Eric Majusiak, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Laurel Springs

Ian Callahan, Mechanical Engineering, Alexandria Township

Jim DiMarco, Mechanical Engineering, Newton

Joe Lopez, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Washington Township

(NOTE: The majority of the team will leave for the Gulf Coast on Saturday, March 11 and return on Saturday, March 18.)