The following is a transcript provided by Delgado Charity School of Nursing Senior Jessica Pulkowski from her address to the U.S. Department of Education delegation at their meeting in Baton Rouge with the state’s higher education leadership on January 18, 2006. Students from all hurricane affected institutions were invited to participate in sharing their Hurricane Katrina experience to this influential group, and we are especially proud of Jessica’s contribution. Jessica was invited to present based upon her submission for “The Katrina Issues” paper, which was class requirement for the graduating class of Charity students and mirrors many students’ stories. Her report “Hurricane Katrina: A New Beginning” is also included at the end of her January 18, 2006 speech transcript. Both are reprinted and provided for this site with her permission.
My name is Jessica Pulkowski and I was born and raised here in New Orleans. When I decided to pursue my career in nursing, I chose Delgado Community College for their excellent Nursing program at Charity School of Nursing. So here I was in my last semester as a senior nursing student. Everything was working out as planned, and then a disaster came our way. We had a full week of classes before Katrina interrupted our schedule. I was actually here for the storm. My fiancé and I have a house in mid-city that we boarded up. We’ve been fixing up that house for over a year and everything was ready to sell. But we did leave and go to my Dad’s house in Metairie for the storm. We were all set with food, water, and supplies for a week. I faced Katrina head on. When the winds died down, we checked out the neighborhood to find lots of trees and poles all over the ground. Now this we could clean up. Roofs needed repairs, but we seemed to fair out ok. But, then we got news that the city was flooding and filling up like a gumbo bowl. Days went by and all we heard on the radio was for people to leave and not come back for at least a month. It really hit me hard because now I knew school was out until further notice.
By day 7, I started to hear announcements on the radio for students to call a school hotline. This was a great strategy to use in emergency situations. It gave you something to go by when you are looking for answers.--One of the biggest challenges was communication. I had a radio and a phone. But, until day 10, I could only get incoming calls. I tried endlessly to get in touch with my mother who was in Baton Rouge. Maybe she could help find some answers. To my advantage, a neighbor let us use his generator and I powered up the computer. I was able to find a Delgado message posting site where faculty and students could communicate. I now saw a light ahead. I knew something would get moving.
So I checked the messages everyday with hopes of returning to school. Some of my classmates were invited to finish their semester at other schools. But, I have my heart with Charity. I have worked hard for everything so far, and I was not going to give up now.
I soon learned that many of our school campuses were severely damaged. Records were lost and offices were destroyed. Our Charity campus had 6 feet of water surrounding the building. No one could retrieve records on the 6th floor since armed guards kept everyone from entering the city as if we were at war. Yet, I still had hope.
One day, to my surprise, our Delgado webpage was working. Well, it redirected you to another site that schools were using to post messages. This helped students that were dispersed across the US to make their plans for school. For me, this was another sign of relief. Day by day, things were getting better. The postings gave us some direction, but we were still told to hold tight while they worked things out. The next big moment was a phone number that was posted on the website that allowed me to talk to the Charity faculty directly. I spent two hours pressing redial in order to get through. The senior class faculty had a cubicle, a phone, and one person to take the calls. They were pulling together to get our class going again. What a relief to get my name and new info to them. I had a huge fear of being left behind here with limited access to news and updates. So, now when I woke up, I had more to worry about than just what MRE I’ll eat, or which yard I’ll clean today. I had a goal to find out more on school.
2 weeks later, when I least expected, I heard my instructors voice on the phone. She was informing me that classes were starting up on October 10th, just a month and a half post Katrina. Wow, I knew we could get going somehow. So we held classes in the auditoriums of local hospitals, then at the west bank campus, and finally at the Charity campus downtown. The students buckled down and we did whatever it took to get through it. It was worth the effort. Not only were we back and being able to continue our education, but we would get through lectures and clinicals by Dec. 15th (on time) and then finish our final exam in January. Many students lost everything and had many burdens on them through this journey. However, there are also many faculty members that lost everything and have still sacrificed their time and effort to help us. We all worked hard and helped each other out like a family.
I was even in a group that went to clinicals on an overnight shift simply because that was our only chance.
So for our fall class, now we face the end. We are finishing our tests this week. I have done my part day by day. We all have to cooperate and face the facts that times have changed and we now have a new beginning.
All students and faculty of Delgado have faced a major challenge. I hope our continuing students will have adequate resources they need to meet their academic goals. A caring and understanding attitude may be the best welcome for all returning students. We should respect each individual and their losses. There are many questions we have, but answers are sometimes hard to find. Yet, the biggest help for students is guidance. We have many things to balance between school, family, work, and rebuilding. Students need to be encouraged to work hard and they need reassurance when they are on the right track.
So, I am proud to be back at Charity. With our class about to graduate, they are already in full swing with the returning students. I would like you to know, that the faculty made this possible. They inspire all the students to work hard and keep moving forward. They have done an incredible job instructing the students amongst these difficult circumstances. We thank our instructors for everything we have learned from them and for giving us the opportunity to continue despite Katrina’s outcome
Click here to read Jessica’s paper, “Hurricane Katrina: A New Beginning”.