August 04, 2006

SIUC hurricane refugee students head home to France

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- It has been a year since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. For two business students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the anniversary holds a special meaning.

Marion Duzac of Marseille, France and Aurelie Ghignone of Lyon, France came to SIUC in the aftermath of Katrina, thanks to an initiative by Chancellor Walter V. Wendler. He opened the University's doors to undergraduate and graduate students attending Gulf Coast universities disrupted by Hurricane Katrina. Duzac and Ghignone were among many students who enrolled at SIUC days after escaping the storm.

As a part of an exchange program through ESC Grenoble Ecole de Management in Grenoble, France, Duzac and Ghignone were graduate students in business at the University of New Orleans.

"We arrived there on August 18, 2005," said Duzac. "About 10 days after our arrival, Hurricane Katrina came. Fortunately, we evacuated the city two days before the hurricane struck New Orleans."

The Red Cross sent them to a shelter in Pine Bluff, Ark. and that is where Terry Clark, chair of the marketing department at SIUC's College of Business and Administration, tracked them down.

For many years, SIUC's College of Business has been participating in an exchange program with Grenoble. Every summer, MBA students from Grenoble come to SIUC to take courses and SIUC business students take part in a similar program at the Grenoble campus in France.

As soon as Wendler heard that Grenoble students were stranded in Arkansas, he asked Clark to visit the shelter.

"It sounded like a great adventure to me, so I agreed to drive down, find them, and bring them back," said Clark. "I had difficulty at first finding Aurelie and Marion. However, eventually, I was directed to a special room, where about 25 foreign students evacuees from all over the world had been housed.

"The Chancellor told me to ‘rent a van, rent a bus, bring as many as you can, we just want to help,'" he said.

Clark offered to take back other foreign students but the rest "were reluctant to make any commitment, or to move from where they were until they had spoke with advisors at their home universities," he said. "Just a few days later, many universities were in Pine Bluff competing to help the international students, but SIU was the first on the scene!"

When Clark and his guests arrived in Carbondale, University Housing had an apartment ready for the French students. In addition, the University expedited the admissions process — including waiving application and late registration fees — and charged the in-state tuition rate for students displaced by the hurricane.

Today, as they prepare to return to their homeland, Duzac and Ghignone reflect on the unexpected adventure.

"This year has been really amazing!" said Duzac. "We really appreciate the kindness of everybody especially when we arrived from New Orleans. Everybody has always been really nice to us and we are really glad that SIU accepted us as students. We did not want to go back to France after only 10 days in the U.S. and give up the idea of getting our MBA in the states. Without the help of all the SIU staff, that probably would have happened."

It is also an experience Clark will never forget. "Being involved in the rescue was pretty thrilling for me," he said. "I was immensely proud that my University was on the scene so early, extending its hand, opening its doors. I was very impressed with Chancellor Wendler's initiative and leadership in the effort."

Reaching out and shaping cooperative ventures are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

SIUC hurricane refugee students head home to France

Heading north­ – Marion Duzac
of Marseille, France, left,
and Aurelie Ghignone of Lyon,
France, right, meet with Terry
Clark, dean of the marketing
department in the College of
Business and Administration at
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale at a Red Cross
shelter in Arkansas after the
two students fled Hurricane
Katrina last year. The two
students are heading home to
France after completing their
studies at SIUC, which took
them in after the storm forced
them to leave the University
of New Orleans. Download
Photo Here