1. Dubuisson, Wanda C.

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MUCH has been written about Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath. The time since Katrina has been truly unique for those of us in nursing education who live and work on the Gulf Coast. The way that students, faculty, staff, and the public in south Mississippi and Louisiana pulled together demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit. Many educational institutions were either severely damaged or completely destroyed by this act of nature. This is the story of one school of nursing.

Figure. Wanda C. Dub... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Wanda C. Dubuisson, PhD(c), RN


William Carey College (WCC), a private Christian college, is located in the Deep South. The college has a nursing school with two campuses in Mississippi and one in Louisiana. The main campus is located at Hattiesburg, Mississippi, about 70 miles inland from the Gulf Coast. The Coast campus is located across from the beaches of Gulfport, Mississippi. The third WCC site is located on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in east New Orleans, Louisiana.


In the fall of 2005, WCC was off to a record-setting enrollment. The college President, Larry Kennedy, had announced that the college was due to retire an enormous debt. Fall 2005 was the beginning of WCC's centennial celebration. The future looked bright, and it was shaping up to be a great year.


Two weeks into the term, everything changed. Monday, August 29, 2005, will be forever etched in the memories of those of us living in the path of Katrina.



Both the WCC baccalaureate and graduate programs in nursing are offered on the Mississippi Gulf Coast campus. Classes for the RN-BSN program and the graduate program for nurse educators had been held on Friday and Saturday next to a calm sea and under balmy skies. That Friday also saw the first meeting of the new admission class for the 2005-2006 MSN program. Students and faculty were excited and looking forward to what this new academic year would bring.


When I started class that Friday evening, I was under the impression that the hurricane out in the Gulf was projected to hit east of us. I was concerned for my neighbors to the east but not worried for myself. If the path held true, WCC would be located on the west side of the storm's eye, which usually has less destructive winds than the east side.


As I left class, several of the students reported that the projected path was tracking on a more westerly path. That wasn't good. I began to have some concern.


Our dean, Dr. Mary Stewart, was teaching a class that Saturday on the Coast campus. The administrative dean for the Coast came and announced that her class needed to be cut short, and evacuation began. Evacuation routes were overwhelmed, and travel times stretched from the normal 1 hour to well over 12 hours. The authorities eventually turned all four lanes northward on the interstate leaving New Orleans for Mississippi.


The Gulfport campus where I was teaching sits on a bluff approximately 20 feet above sea level overlooking the Mississippi Sound. Although one of the highest and most secure points along the Mississippi coastline, the campus was afforded little safety as Katrina roared ashore Monday morning. The historic administration building, Fairchild Hall, had just been renovated at a cost of $600,000. Katrina gutted Fairchild Hall, the computer lab, classrooms, and the nursing building. Essentially the Coast campus washed into the Mississippi Sound.


The campus in New Orleans fared better in some respects and worse in others. In early 2005, the nursing program had moved into a brand new building on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Although much of the seminary grounds was flooded, the water stopped just short of entering the new building. The National Guard set up headquarters on the grounds and prevented major looting by their presence.


After Katrina, there was no access to the School of Nursing building. Roads and bridges were out. There was no municipal infrastructure, no housing, and no students, faculty, or staff. Everyone had been evacuated to places throughout the United States.


Back at the main campus in Hattiesburg, there was wind and water damage across campus. Previously beautiful old oak trees became a liability during the sustained hurricane force winds of Katrina. Most of the trees were blown down, and the few remaining trees were removed.


At this point, we were overwhelmed. Everyone was without electricity, water, and landline phone service. Only a few individuals had sporadic cellular phone service. In my community, we were told the first week after Katrina that it would be Thanksgiving before all utilities were restored. It was discouraging. The temperature hovered around 99[degrees] to 100[degrees] Fahrenheit. We were hearing on the radio that there was a breakdown in law enforcement. It was a very troubling time.


Electrical and phone workers from around the nation poured into south Mississippi. The sight of an electrical truck and workers was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. The lack of utilities continued 3 weeks for me and much longer for many others.

Figure. Fairchild Ha... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Fairchild Hall, before Katrina. Courtesy of Jeanna Graves
Figure. Fairchild Ha... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Fairchild Hall, after Katrina. Courtesy of Jeanna Graves
Figure. National Gua... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. National Guard at New Orleans Campus. Courtesy of Bryon Skinner


As utilities were restored, Dr. Stewart, and her directors began trying to locate faculty and staff. Some had evacuated out of the state and had no homes to which they could return. As the faculty and staff situation became clearer, we began trying to contact students. The administration of the School of Nursing didn't know who or how many students could return. The only campus able to operate 3 weeks after the storm was the one at Hattiesburg.


It was a huge challenge to find ways to meet the housing and personnel needs of faculty, staff, and students. Some faculty did not return. Others chose not to relocate and taught on the main campus, whereas still others commuted from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers. For several months, the Dean and faculty members in Hattiesburg and the Mississippi Gulf Coast opened their homes to displaced faculty and staff from the Coast and New Orleans campuses.


Three weeks after Katrina, WCC reopened for business. Returning nursing students were relocated to the Hattiesburg campus. Three senior nursing students from Louisiana moved a travel trailer to my church grounds and plugged into the utilities there. Others commuted long distances to continue some semblance of normalcy and to stay in school. Faculty rearranged class and clinical schedules to accommodate commuters.


Shortly after the storm, the administrative dean of the Coast campus, Jerry Bracey, happened to see a former student at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport. The former student, a pastor, offered his church facility for use by the college. Amazingly, a number of their Sunday school rooms, although small, had been configured for wireless Internet, so we were able to use the Internet and BlackBoard technologies. The graduate nursing program and limited undergraduate classes were held there. One of the graduate students was the skills lab instructor at a local community college. She arranged for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jefferson Davis Branch, to permit the use of their skills lab after hours for use by WCC nursing students. The ninth-grade campus of the Gulfport High School granted access after hours so that nursing and support classes could continue.


The Internet and online instruction were used to some extent. Early on, it was not very effective. It became evident how dependent I was as an educator on technology. Unfortunately, when one has no home or computer, and the public and school libraries that usually provide access are nonexistent, the Internet is just not accessible. As more services became available, Web-based instruction became more helpful. Basically, in a survival mode, we all did what was necessary to provide quality instruction under very difficult circumstances. Later, through the gifts of the Nursing 2005 Foundation, some of the students who had lost their computers were provided new ones.


Many of the graduate students lost not only their homes, but their jobs as well. Some of the MSN students had worked at Keesler Air Force Base Medical Center. They were either furloughed or let go. The base hospital is only now coming back to pre-Katrina levels. Some students scaled back their credit hour load, and a small minority dropped out. But the majority plunged ahead, saying it was important to continue school as tangible evidence of returning to a normal life.


I recall one first-level New Orleans student in particular who was displaced to Houston, Texas. Her husband and children remained in Texas while she stayed in Hattiesburg to complete her BSN degree. This sort of sacrifice was common among our students. She has since graduated and moved to Houston to be with her family and work as a nurse. One of my graduate students lived in a part of her home that had a roof while the remainder of the house was roofless and uninhabitable. She lost her job to the storm. Another student was given a FEMA trailer, but was not permitted to move in for months. Both students have since finished their degrees and are employed as nurse educators.

Figure. Hattiesburg ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Hattiesburg Campus after Katrina. Courtesy of Jeanna Graves
Figure. Librarian on... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Librarian on Gulfport Campus. Courtesy of Patricia Yuen
Figure. Students rec... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Students receiving supplies. Courtesy of Jeanna Graves

The Mississippi Coast Campus had no habitable buildings. Modular buildings were brought in, and 1 year later, classes resumed in Gulfport. The Board of Trustees recently announced the purchase of land north of the beach for rebuilding the campus in a new planned community known as Tradition.


The outpouring of generosity from Americans to those of us at WCC has been awe-inspiring. Corporations have helped; individuals have helped; publishers have helped; other schools have helped. The Asbury Foundation provided 1 million dollars to build an addition to the Hattiesburg campus and to expand the MSN program. The Nursing 2005 Foundation graciously provided gift cards, computers, and stethoscopes to some of our most severely affected students who lost so many of their personal belongings. Nursing students from other programs delivered supplies and equipment to the WCC nursing students.


One year after Katrina, WCC became William Carey University. The New Orleans and Gulf Coast Campuses admitted their first nursing classes after Katrina. Our beloved president, Dr. Larry Kennedy, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a mere month before Katrina, went home to be with the Lord in September 2006, after a long struggle during Katrina recovery.


I have since become the Director of the MSN program and have completed 1 year in that position. I've learned that the motto of William Carey University is true: "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." Although it has been a difficult 2 years, I have grown spiritually. It was evident that in circumstances such as these, the only one upon whom I depended was the Lord. He has sustained and provided for my every need.


The graduate nursing program on the Gulf Coast campus remains strong and at maximum enrollment. Enrollment is up on the Hattiesburg campus. Nursing students, faculty, and staff remain resilient. The future looks bright again as the words of Jeremiah 29:11 ring true:


For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.