Rowan students, profs return to Gulf during spring break for Katrina effort


There's commitment and then there's commitment.

There's commitment and then there's commitment.

For the third year in a row, students and professors from Rowan University will demonstrate the true meaning of that word when they head to the Gulf Coast during their spring break to volunteer their services in the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.

This year, the team of close to three dozen students from virtually every college at Rowan will work with professors Dr. DeMond Miller (sociology), Dr. Jennifer Kadlowec (mechanical engineering) and Dr. Eric Constans (mechanical engineering) to help rebuild residences in highly impacted regions of New Orleans. Professor Leigh Weiss (computer science) is helping the team prepare for the trip.

Financing a good portion of the trip themselves, the students will spend March 15 to 21 on the effort, living at Xavier University in a dorm they will share with volunteers from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Student leadership team members, all heading the project as part of a Rowan College of Engineering engineering clinic, are:

  • Kevin Bancroft, 21, a junior civil engineering major from Hamilton Township
  • Kelly Vliet, 20, a junior chemical engineering major from Califon
  • Janna Shelton, 22, a junior mechanical engineering major from Cape May
  • Fred Rohs, 22, a senior mechanical engineering major from Vineland
  • Matt Fiorentino, 20, a junior civil engineering major from Holmdel

The Rowan group expects to work in the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East. "Our two main projects are going to be drywalling in homes that have already been gutted and had the debris removed," said Rohs, the team leader who also volunteered in New Orleans last spring break. The Rowan team may also gut some homes in conjunction with the Association for Community Relief Now.

The students and professors believe it's important to return to the Gulf Coast. "If you go down there and see what it's like, it's really not getting relief," Rohs said. "There's so much destruction there. It seems like a lot of people think it's finished, but it's not. It's still destroyed, and they still need help."

"I'm very excited to go," said Vliet. "I want to see what needs to be done, what I can do. I'm very excited to help."

The student leaders, who have been planning the trip since the fall, see a lot of secondary benefits in helping in New Orleans.

Fiorentino, who spent last spring break working for a North Jersey engineering firm, said that the Katrina work will provide visible results for the volunteers. "With this, your results are more direct. You can see them more clearly," he said.

Shelton added, "The overall goal is to assist people in need. For me, my goal is to become a better leader. I've never had the opportunity to help on such a large scale."

Bancroft said the project has helped him build his project management and communication skills. "We just can't go down there and expect to start working without planning," he said.

Kadlowec sees a side benefit in the work as well: it's an opportunity to help build stronger engineers. "This is a classroom away from a classroom," said Kadlowec, who noted the overall team will include students from many different disciplines with varying perspectives. "A lot of people think engineering is just technical. I like to think engineers see some social impact in what they do. Engineers help improve the quality of life."

Miller sees secondary benefits as well. "I believe this trip will allow students to expand their critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills, and it will allow them to see different cultures and work within a different cultural context."

During spring break 2007, students and professors stayed at Xavier and volunteered for various projects. During spring break 2006, a team from across campus joined a few professors volunteering for Habitat for Humanity outside of New Orleans, living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency tent city-Camp Premier-in St. Bernard Parish and working on houses destroyed by Katrina.

Rowan's support of the Gulf region started shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005. Engineering students volunteered in Picayune, Miss., throughout that fall semester to help rebuild school facilities in the town.

Said Weiss, who has been active with Rowan's Katrina efforts from the start, "Every time something happens like this, six months later people say ‘Katrina who?' We said we would be in it for the long haul,"


Rowan students working on the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort in New Orleans are:

Atlantic County

  • Roger Castillo, 18, a psychology and sociology major from Woodbine
  • Wilmer A. Castro, 19, a human resources/management major from Atlantic City
  • Giovanni Huaccamayta, 19, a psychology major from Atlantic City
  • Aida Soto, 18, undeclared, from Atlantic City

Bergen County

  • Megan Berlamino, 19, an elementary education and English major from Paramus
  • David Monk, 21, a communication/radio/TV/film major from Oakland
  • Daniella Rivera, 19, a sociology major from Bergenfield
  • David Stahl, 21, a health and exercise science major from Oakland
  • Nina Stubblebine, 21, a collaborative education and American/international studies major from Oradell

Burlington County

  • Jeremy Anderson, 19, a law and justice major from Willingboro
  • Bobbi Lee Hitchon, 21, a journalism major from Mount Laurel

Camden County

  • Robert Crowthers, 20, a communication/radio/TV/film major from Laurel Springs
  • William Moen Jr., 21, a political science major from Runnemede

Cape May County

  • Janna Shelton, 22, a mechanical engineering major from Cape May

Cumberland County

  • Tom Ayars, 22, an electrical and computer engineering major from Millville
  • Fred Rohs, 22, a mechanical engineering major from Vineland

Essex County

  • Robert Dozier, 20, a sociology major from Irvington

Gloucester County

  • Lou DiBacco, 21, an accounting major from Williamstown
  • Kara Rex, 21, an elementary education and English major from Washington Township

Hunterdon County

  • Jessica Bogart, 18, a chemical engineering major from Asbury
  • Kelly Vliet, 20, a chemical engineering major from Califon

Mercer County

  • Kevin Bancroft, 21, a civil engineering major from Hamilton
  • Melvin Jumper, 23, a law and justice major from Hamilton
  • Leah Walker, 20, a collaborative education and American/international studies major from Ewing

Monmouth County

  • Matt Fiorentino, 20, a civil engineering major from Holmdel

Ocean County

  • Kathy DeMartino, 33, an accounting major from Little Egg Harbor

Passaic County

  • Kelsey Hegel, 19, an elementary education and English major from Wanaque
  • Veronica McCallum, 18, an elementary education major from Pompton Lakes

Somerset County

  • Michelle Morris, 18, a science/math and elementary education major from Millstone

Union County

  • Genny Schwarzberg, 21, a collaborative education major from Springfield

Outside New Jersey

  • Jungin Lee, 22, an economics major from South Korea
  • Joanna Wentland, 18, undeclared, from North Kingstown, R.I.
  • Gihyun Yun, 21, an elementary education and English exchange student

This Rowan University project was supported in part by the IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Society.