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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 12, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 2
Reaching out to Katrina's victims

Senior Sven Sommers leads a campus tour.

JHU admits displaced La. students; experts head to Gulf Coast

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

At the moment Samantha Shinsato stood outside Johns Hopkins' Admissions Office last week waiting for a campus tour to begin, she should have been some 1,100 miles away at another campus-one located 15 minutes from New Orleans' famed French Quarter. Now, like thousands of others in her predicament, the Tulane University sophomore's plans are put slightly on hold as the city where her college is located struggles to recover from one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

Shinsato is one of 29 Katrina-displaced undergraduate students who have been admitted to Johns Hopkins as visiting students for the fall semester. Twenty-seven are from Tulane and two from Xavier University. The students had until today to register, so it was not known as of press time how many have accepted the admission offer.

The Catonsville, Md., native said that the past week and a half has been a whirlwind, and it's still sinking in that she is now back home in Maryland.

"It definitely is surreal," said Shinsato, a psychology and political science major. "Especially watching the news, seeing sites you recognize under water and all those people in the Superdome. It's all unbelievable. It doesn't feel like it's happening at all."

Although grateful to have been evacuated safely and to have this chance to continue her academic career, Shinsato said that she has mixed feelings about her current situation.

"It is a generous and amazing thing that Hopkins and a lot of universities are doing, but everyone feels a loyalty to Tulane. So as much as we appreciate the offer, it's a tough thing to do still," she said. "My plan is to make the best of it, get some general courses out of the way and get ready to go back."

The displaced Katrina students and their families were invited to the Homewood campus on Sept. 7 for a tour, followed by an informal luncheon hosted by several high-ranking university administrators. The students then met with academic advisers and registered for fall courses, which began on Thursday.

Susan Boswell, dean of student life, welcomes families.

The university's admittance of displaced students is just one of several efforts Johns Hopkins has made to respond to the aftermath of Katrina. To date, more than 500 Johns Hopkins affiliates, with a wide range of specialties, have volunteered to help with Katrina relief efforts. Many have already flown south and are working on the ground. The Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, known as CEPAR, is coordinating Hopkins' response to the crisis.

The Johns Hopkins visiting students plan was a response to requests for assistance from New Orleans colleges and universities and from national higher education associations, such as the American Council on Education. In accordance with ACE guidelines, the students are admitted as one-semester visiting students and will return to their home institutions. If a visiting student has already paid tuition to the home institution, he or she will not be charged tuition by Johns Hopkins. If he or she has not yet paid, Johns Hopkins will collect the home institution's tuition and remit it to that institution. Visiting students who need financial aid will receive help filling out and filing their federal forms and finding other alternatives for financing the semester.

Besides the two Homewood schools-Arts and Sciences and Engineering-at least some of Johns Hopkins' six other academic divisions are expected to register visiting students from Katrina-closed universities this semester. As of Friday, Arts and Sciences had admitted four graduate students from Tulane.

John Bader, associate dean for academic programs and advising in the School of Arts and Sciences, said that the plan is to make the transition process as smooth as possible for the visiting students and to allow them the opportunity to not lose academic momentum.

"We will work with all these students on a case-by-case basis to answer any concerns and help meet their academic needs," said Bader, who attended the impromptu orientation for visiting students, which was held at Levering's Glass Pavilion. "We also know our colleagues at Tulane and other affected institutions will probably be very flexible in terms of accepting any course work they do here."

Bader said that it's his hope that everyone makes the best of a very difficult situation.

"I think our students are going to find this very exciting to get to know students at another university, and to learn on a more personal level about what they have been going through, and to support and welcome them," Bader said. "My main worry is how shell-shocked the [visiting students are]. They had academic plans, personal plans, and now they have all been washed away."

Tulane freshman Julia David, who lives in Baltimore.

Julia David certainly knows the feeling of delayed plans. David, who is the daughter of Johns Hopkins political science professor Steven David, had just begun her freshman semester at Tulane when the hurricane hit.

"I live in Baltimore, and all during my senior year [in high school] and into the summer all I was thinking about was kind of getting out. I was starting a whole new chapter, living in Louisiana. And now I'm back living at home with my parents. I feel like I'm too old for high school but not quite in college yet. My life has been delayed for a little bit," David said. "Seeing the news, of course, I feel so fortunate to get out. I was upset because I left some clothes there, but seeing people without food and water for days makes you think, Well, I was upset about missing some clothes and a semester of college, but I should be very grateful that I'm safe and home."

On the medical front of the hurricane response, Johns Hopkins has already sent two medical teams to Mississippi and Louisiana and has another team ready to deploy.

"As this is just the beginning of the trial for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, it is just the beginning of the Johns Hopkins response," President William R. Brody said in a letter sent last week to students, faculty and staff.

Two faculty members from SPSBE's Department of Counseling and Human Services, Eric Green and Alan Green, left last week for Louisiana to help with setting up a mental health crisis response team for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, especially children and families [see sidebar].

Johns Hopkins medical experts are also leading two American Red Cross medical needs assessment teams that left on Sept. 2 for the Gulf Coast area to determine the number of emergency medical facilities the Red Cross needs to establish there and what health care resources will be required to meet the crisis that continues to unfold.

Thomas Kirsch, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, director of emergency operations at the School of Medicine and deputy director of CEPAR, is heading one of the four-person Red Cross teams. W. Courtland Robinson, an assistant professor of international health at the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is leading the other.

Kirsch flew to Baton Rouge, La., where his team will assess the Red Cross' need for doctors, nurses, other medical personnel and additional Red Cross shelters. Kirsch is a former national physician adviser for the Red Cross' Disaster Health Services and a former disaster consultant for the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Visiting students learn the history of Gilman Hall.

Robinson will be based in Montgomery, Ala., but will be focusing his team's assessment on the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. He teaches at Hopkins' Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies and has worked with numerous refugee and charitable organizations.

Other Hopkins experts joining Kirsch and Robinson on the fact-finding mission for the Red Cross include Marguerite Littleton-Kearney, a public health nurse who teaches disaster management at the School of Nursing; disaster relief expert Alex Vu, an instructor in the School of Medicine's Department of Emergency Medicine, who also went to Aceh, Indonesia, following the tsunami last December; and Kellogg Schwab, an assistant professor and co-director of the Center for Water and Health at the School of Public Health, whose areas of expertise include water-borne illnesses and sanitation.

Additional Hopkins experts have gone or are expected to go to the Gulf Coast. Lee Jenkins, senior resident in emergency medicine, has already been deployed as part of a New Jersey Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Riccardo Collela, director of the emergency medical service at Howard County General Hospital, which is part of Johns Hopkins Medicine, is on standby to be deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A team of physicians from The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center-as well as nurses from the hospital, Bayview, Howard County General and Johns Hopkins Home Care Group-will relieve exhausted staff at West Jefferson Medical Center, a 462-bed community hospital in Marrero, La., near New Orleans. JHM deployed the team in response to a request for assistance from the Maryland Department of Health and Human Services, which was answering Louisiana's call for help.

In addition, Johns Hopkins Medicine was asked by NIH to build its own 100-person team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and others to respond rapidly if called upon to participate in the federal government's emergency medical relief plan. As of press time on Friday, this team was still standing by waiting for deployment.

Back at Homewood, the fall semester has kicked off, unexpected guests and all.

Barbara Berg, mother of visiting student Arielle Berg from Owings Mills, Md., said that it's been a tough week for her and her daughter, who is a junior at Tulane.

"She wants to be at Tulane with her friends," Berg said. "It's heartbreaking watching what is going on to this wonderful city and the people who live there. And it's heartbreaking for me to watch my own daughter go through it also, because even though she is safe and has something to go back to, it totally disrupts her life."

Berg said that she appreciates all that the university is doing.

"Hopkins has been incredible to us," she said. "JHU is the only university I called and that she considered. They have been so welcoming, calling on the weekends and accepting [her] sight unseen. We're very grateful."

For updates on information related to the Johns Hopkins-wide Hurricane Katrina Response, go to Johns Hopkins Medicine has also posted a Katrina page, at

Amy Cowles, David March, Tim Parsons, Glenn Small and Gary Stephenson contributed to this article.


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