Displaced students settle in

Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina forced the closing of several universities in and around the city of New Orleans, displaced students from those institutions have resumed their studies elsewhere, including here at Carnegie Mellon.
Prashant Sastry was an incoming freshman when he arrived on the campus of Tulane University; now he is one of 26 students from the affected area whom CMU is hosting. ?As an incoming freshman, you?re looking forward to coming to New Orleans for the two months beforehand,? he said. ?Then all of a sudden, after being there for a matter of hours, we had to evacuate.?
Tulane freshman Kate Frankola, whose parents had already left New Orleans when Katrina struck, spent four days in a gymnasium in Jackson, Miss., with other stranded students before flying back to her native western Pennsylvania and enrolling at CMU.
?I never thought I?d be taking classes at CMU, but now I?m here,? she said.
CMU has opened its doors to students who hail from outside the Pennsylvania region as well.
?You guys are one of the few schools who would actually accept students who weren?t originally from around your area,? remarked Sastry, a Louisiana native. ?The administration has been so helpful and really accommodating, though I don?t really know where anyplace is yet.?
Most of the visiting students didn?t arrive at CMU until September 6 and 7, midway through the second week of classes.
?It was a bit rough starting later than everyone else. Starting after Orientation definitely made it harder to make friends,? Frankola said.
The adjustment period has been full of mixed emotions, with some students finding the transition easier than others.
?Pittsburgh is amazing; the architecture is amazing,? said Justin Frieg, a Tulane junior and mechanical engineering major. ?I am from Florida, so it?s really nice to see something other than flat, swampy land. I love it; my adjustment period was basically when I got off the plane and got my bags.?
?I think it?s awesome. The faculty is definitely world-class. The professors seem to be very in touch with the students and actually care about them. Everyone has been going out of their way to make our stay comfortable,? he added.
First-year art major Arthur Leslie shared Frieg?s opinion. ?I really like the professors a lot, and I think my favorite part of CMU is walking by CFA and hearing people practice. It calms me and I love it,? he said.
Laurie Podskalny was one of the first of the visiting students to arrive on campus. ?I was a little scared that no one would talk to me once I got on campus, that I would be ostracized in some sense,? she said. ?But people have been really nice, and the professors have been amazing at being so accommodating. The people on my floor have been the best.?
Though many students mentioned a feeling of gratitude toward CMU, some are still anxious to return south.
?I would definitely consider [staying at CMU], but I almost feel like I should go back. I feel like I owe Tulane a chance,? Sastry remarked.
?I was early action to Tulane, so you can imagine that I am completely determined to go back there,? Podskalny said. ?My heart is there; Tulane is where I belong.?
John Papinchak, CMU?s director of Enrollment Services, said that all 26 students ? 22 from Tulane, three from the University of New Orleans, and one from Loyola University ? have been admitted for the semester as visiting students, the same status given to exchange students.
In order to continue their studies at CMU, ?they will have to apply through the
undergraduate admissions process just like any other transfer student,? he said.
Meanwhile, an online statement posted Wednesday evening by Tulane president Scott Cowen stated that repair efforts at the New Orleans campus were progressing faster than anticipated.
?Based on everything I know today, Tulane University will be open this spring for our faculty, staff, and students,? Cowen said. ?With things progressing so quickly, starting classes in January is realistic.?
But he also cautioned that classes would not resume until the safety of the area was assured, adding: ?I do want to reiterate that no matter the progress we are making to restore the university?s facilities, we will not start classes until it is absolutely safe to do so.?
Even with a future that remains uncertain, the character and determination of the students is ever present. ?It?s nothing that I can?t handle,? Sastry said.
?These three months will be a test,? remarked Frankola, ?but we?re slowly counting down the days.?