Md. natives at La. colleges scramble to transfer

Students contact JHU, UM and others in area

Katrina's Wake

September 01, 2005|By Liz F. Kay and Sam Sessa | Liz F. Kay and Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

Eric White was supposed to start his first day of classes at Tulane University in New Orleans yesterday.

Instead, the 19-year-old from Phoenix, Md., is headed back to Maryland to enroll in Johns Hopkins University as a visiting student. His sophomore year at Tulane is on hold for a semester.

Others enrolled in colleges in the path of Hurricane Katrina - which hit the Gulf Coast just as classes were scheduled to resume - are following suit. Institutions around Maryland have fielded inquiries about transfers from families and students anxious not to let a natural disaster derail their college education.

"The situation they are facing is truly tragic and unsettling as they, as freshmen, are trying to get their college careers off the ground," said University of Maryland, College Park spokeswoman Cassandra Robinson. The school had received about 50 calls by yesterday afternoon from people considering transfers.

Convinced that Tulane will not open until next semester, White's mother, Carol White, called a couple of colleges in the region before deciding on Hopkins.

As of yesterday, Tulane University was without power and covered in debris, but university officials hope to repair the damage in a reasonable amount of time.

"It is difficult to describe what this situation feels like for those involved. It is surreal and unfathomable; yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our focus is on the light and not the darkness," Tulane University President Scott S. Cowen wrote Tuesday on the university's Web site.

Goucher College in Towson had received seven calls inquiring about transfers from Loyola University New Orleans and Tulane as of yesterday, said Director of Admissions Corky Surbeck. He said those students will be welcomed, though classes have begun.

"We realize they will get a late start to the semester, but we will make allowances where we can," Surbeck said. Displaced students lack transcripts, which complicates the transfer process. "They have no way to get any official college documentation to the next college," Surbeck said. But, "students are furnishing report cards, bringing any evidence they have of who they are as students."

Some students considering the University of Maryland had applied in the past and been accepted there, Robinson said. The university is working to see whether there is room to accommodate them in student housing and in classes. Upperclassmen are being directed to off-campus housing.

University leaders are encouraging staff "to make every accommodation they can to help students through this trauma," Robinson said.

However, some are huddled in shelters out of state. Classes at College Park started yesterday.

"We're working with students who are most able to come and make a commitment quickly," she said.

Johns Hopkins University has fielded about 20 inquiries, said spokesman Dennis O'Shea, including one from a Hopkins student from Louisiana who has requested to move onto campus early. Officials at Hopkins are considering admitting students who were displaced by the storm but come from the area and could commute to Hopkins, but no plans have been finalized, O'Shea said. Classes begin there next week.

Julia David of Pikesville was enrolled as a freshman at Tulane and was to start classes yesterday. Instead, she was on her way back home.

Her mother, Maureen David, said she might enroll Julia in off-site classes if Tulane's reopening was delayed too long. When the Davids arrived on campus for orientation Saturday, as the storm approached, school officials ordered them, as well as the approximately 400 other students and their families on campus, to leave by any means possible, Julia David said.

Though the student knew the hurricane was coming, she said she thought the campus was overreacting. "I live in Baltimore, and we always have those blizzard scares, so I just thought it was something like that," the 18-year-old said.

David's mother had reserved a return flight, but all the other flights out of New Orleans were booked. That night, David and her hall mate Josepha Hendler, a 19-year-old from Owings Mills, packed one bag each and boarded one of eight evacuation buses the school provided to Jackson State University in Mississippi. But Katrina hit Jackson on Monday, knocking out power for most of the city. David later stayed with friends in Jackson until she boarded a flight back to Baltimore last night.

Eric White, the Tulane student from Phoenix, left most of his belongings at his apartment before driving to Louisiana State University and then to Austin, Texas, to stay with friends. His mother said he initially thought the hurricane was little more than a false alarm.

"I think reality hit him today as he started driving home that he really has nothing that he's coming home with," Carol White said. "But, in light of what everybody else has lost, that's nothing in comparison."

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