Campus: CSU Long Beach -- September 14, 2005

Students Displaced by Hurricane Katrina Attending Classes at California State University, Long Beach

Since announcing the university would take on students displaced by Hurricane Katrina, California State University, Long Beach has admitted 35 Gulf Coast students with another 58 having expressed an interest in attending classes at the campus.

Each of the new students has his or her own story to tell -- from when they evacuated from the Gulf Coast area, to the losses they sustained in the devastation, to what it was that brought them to the Cal State Long Beach campus.

On Thursday (Sept. 8), CSULB President Robert C. Maxson invited a group of the newly enrolled displaced students to the first meeting of the campus' Academic Senate, asking each of the four who showed up to give their name, the name of the university they were coming from and their major.

Rhett O'Keefe was there. Born and raised in the New Orleans area, O'Keefe was a student at the University of New Orleans. In fact, he was just two classes away from graduating with a degree in business administration.

"It was difficult getting into a school outside of Louisiana. All of the schools were saying you had to transfer in and you have to get transcripts, but the school (University of New Orleans) is under water. There are no transcripts. There are no papers to send out," O'Keefe said. "Cal State Long Beach was actually the first school to say, 'We'll do with whatever. Just come here and we'll get you situated. We'll take you as a visiting student and we'll work things out.' So, it's pretty nice."

O'Keefe and his brother left New Orleans on Sunday morning and went to Ponchatoula, which is about an hour away. They were there for about a week…without electricity. The day they left was the day they finally got electricity back on at the house where they was staying. "We were without electricity for a whole week, and we were out of water for about three or four days," he recalled. "It was a little rough."

His mom's side of the family lives in Long Beach, and they were the ones who told O'Keefe that CSULB was taking displaced students. He is currently living with them, but it's still difficult for him to grasp all that has happened in the last couple of weeks.

"You go through these hurricanes every year," O'Keefe pointed out. "My brother and I packed only two sets of clothes because we thought we were going to be back in the city and back to a normal life (in a short amount of time). It's still not ground into me. I mean, I'm still thinking that I can go back (to New Orleans), but I turn on the TV, and (I know it's not possible)."

Anthony Nguyen, a sophomore business major also from the University of New Orleans, expressed similar feelings.

"It's very surreal right now. It feels like I am on vacation, that I'm not really here for six months or a year or two years, however long it is going to be," said Nguyen, who was born in Metairie, La., a neighboring city to New Orleans. "It is really tough watching TV and seeing all that has happened."

Although born in Louisiana, Nguyen lived in Southern California for about 10 years. He graduated from St. John Bosco in Bellflower in 1997 and still has a brother who lives in Bellflower. That is where he is currently living.

Nguyen noted that he doesn't watch much television, and he confessed that he didn't even know that the hurricane was coming. "My brother actually called me the day before the hurricane hit and told me there was a hurricane, but I told him I wasn't planning to leave."

His brother convinced him to leave, however, with an offer to pay for a plane ticket. So, Nguyen left New Orleans the day before the hurricane hit, driving to Dallas and taking a flight to California from there.

Just two weeks before the hurricane, Nguyen and a roommate had moved into the house they decided to rent, and they had just finished moving all of their belongings into it. Like most other people, all Nguyen took from the house was a small suitcase with clothing.

"I'm still debating whether or not to move back there and try to rebuild or if I should just relocate to here," Nguyen said. "I like New Orleans. I mean, aside from the weather, which is always hot and humid, the city has a distinct character. Once you settle into a place, it becomes your home. You start liking it, start loving it. You want to stay there, and then when things like this happen, it really shakes you up."

His transition to Cal State Long Beach has been "nice," Nguyen pointed out. "People have been very welcoming, and I've gotten all of the classes I wanted to get into."

During his remarks, Maxson extended a special thanks to the CSULB faculty, who have been very accommodating for these displaced students. "We have not had a single case of a student being denied a class, even when the classes are closed," he said. "It has been amazing."

CSULB is still taking inquiries from displaced students interested in attending classes at the university. Campus officials have said that any affected students who contact the campus before Sept. 19 to request admission will be admitted as expeditiously as possible. Those who contact the campus after Sept. 19 will be urged to attend a quarter-system campus or to delay their admission until the spring semester.

Students displaced by Hurricane Katrina who are interested in enrolling at CSULB should contact Tom Myers in the CSULB Enrollment Services Office at (562) 985-8410 or e-mail him at tmyers@csulb.edu. After admission, students will be referred to the Academic Advising Center, which will assist students in setting up a schedule of classes. Such students are urged to begin attending classes as soon as possible.


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