Editor's note:
Coping With Disaster. Flooding at the University of New Orleans will keep test labs closed

Even as they still patch their wounds and round up students and staff, industry-related programs at long-closed New Orleans universities eagerly await the start of the spring semester next month. Hurricane Katrina has added a new dimension to lesson plans.

Katrina hit just as the fall semester began and it has been a tough few months for engineering and architecture programs at the University of New Orleans and Tulane University as they scramble to recover.

New Orleans’ still visible scars and huge rebuilding task offer new missions for faculty and students, many of whom never considered abandoning their schools or their city. "Tulane students will have an unprecedented opportunity to help the recovery," says Brooke Lovett, a sophomore civil engineering major who spent the fall at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. "The city needs its students now more than ever."

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  • Spring enrollment figures at both schools are still uncertain, but officials are optimistic. "So far, 85 to 90% of engineering students are preregistered, and not a single faculty member has quit," says Vijay Gopu, chairman of Tulane’s civil engineering department. Donald Barbé, Gopu’s peer at the University of New Orleans, cites similar numbers, particularly in upper levels. Most UNO students are local, with many suffering family and property losses.

    Tulane’s flooding was not widespread but winds damaged the architecture building’s roof and "ripped out the second floor," says school Dean Reed Kroloff. "But studios are in great shape."

    UNO, located closer to hardest-hit areas of the city, fared somewhat worse. First-floor engineering testing labs were flooded and will remain unusable for spring, says Barbé, who fears that extensive corrosion will force total replacement of equipment. Local engineering firms have volunteered their facilities. Barbé, a local native, lost his own home to storm surge flooding and "is living in a FEMA trailer in my driveway," he says. "We can’t convey enough to the rest of the country the extent of the damage."

    The hurricane’s impact has motivated changes in curricula. After Katrina hit, UNO offered classes on line and at unaffected local high schools, but only 50% of engineering students could take advantage of them, says Barbé. Course offerings will double next semester, including many from fall. New courses include ones in ocean engineering, alternate levee design and wood design–testing the strength of wood subject to long periods in standing water, he notes.

    Tulane President Cowen mulls disaster planning initiative.

    Tulane’s civil engineering program will do likewise, and will participate in the university’s bonus six-week "lagniappe" term, beginning in mid-May. It is free for students who already paid for fall and spring semester, says Gopu.

    Katrina accelerated the Tulane architecture school’s move to beef up its urban design program and "it will be fully engaged in the spring," says Kroloff. Students must fulfill a "public service" requirement in urban design or design-build related to New Orleans rebuilding.

    Tulane’s engineering department may also join in a planned "disaster management" initiative, created with Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y., to study the effect of disasters on urban infrastructure. It is expected to be approved by Tulane President Scott Cowen.

    (Photos by AP/wideworld)

    The following story was reported, written and closed three days before Tulane University President Scott Cowen announced on the school's website Dec. 8 that Tulane's civil-environmental engineering department, among other engineering departments at the university. would no longer accept new students and that all current students must be able to graduate by May 2007. The university says this is a budgetary move in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but it has outraged many students, faculty, industry members and parents. ENR will continue to cover this breaking story on line and in its print pages.