Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Off-campus housing fire disrupts weekend

I intended to write this blog about the wonderful Celebrity Artist Series performances on Saturday by Cirque Le Masque. My wife, Robbie, and I attended the evening performance along with a full house of more than 1,600 in Haas Center for the Arts, Mitrani Hall. The afternoon performance was also to a full house with many visitors here for Parents and Family Weekend. The cirque put on outstanding performances of beauty, comedy, grace, strength and gravity-defying acrobatics.

However, I need to use this blog instead to review the impact of the terrible fire that destroyed three buildings on West Main Street on Sunday morning. I received a call at about 6:45 a.m. informing me that several buildings that provide student housing were on fire. When I arrived at the scene about 7:30 a.m. the buildings were totally involved in the fire. I was relieved to learn from a firefighter that, to their knowledge, no students were injured and they were confident that everyone was out of the buildings.

After walking around the scene and talking with people, including two owners of the burning buildings, I learned that Professor George Agbango had been called by an international student displaced by the fire. He had already taken a group of displaced students to campus and they were being assisted by Linda Sowash and her Residence Life staff. I gathered up two other displaced international students and arranged for a student with a 3-month-old daughter to bring her family to campus. The residence life staff was doing an outstanding job of comforting the students, arranging for on-campus housing, meal cards, replacement student IDs, etc.

Later in the morning Professor Agbango and I took the group of students from campus to the American Red Cross office. They were ready for the group and promptly processed them while providing coffee and snacks. Other students and non-students also found their way there for assistance. When the students went back to campus, they were provided with emergency supply kits and, most important, debit cards to purchase some new clothing, coats and shoes. This was essential because the students had escaped the fire with only the clothes they had on, in most cases pajamas, sweatshirts and sandals. Many had grabbed their cell phones and almost nothing else.

By mid-afternoon most displaced students were settled into temporary campus housing. Dr. Agbango and Dr. Sharma, director of International Education, were ready to take the 10 or so international students to Wal-Mart to shop for clothes. Parents or friends of most of the Pennsylvania students had arrived to assist them. Some students chose to room with friends in town. A few who were away for the weekend had not yet returned, although it appeared that all had been informed of the disaster.

As the week begins, we have been assisting the displaced students -- our current count is 28 -- in regaining some normalcy in their lives. Academic and Student Affairs staff have contacted the students’ professors to inform them of the stressful situation and ask for reasonable accommodations. Replacement textbooks are available on loan and the Husky Emergency Fund is available to assist with other necessities, including school supplies. Dr. Sharma is in contact with the embassies of four countries and our State Department to expedite the replacement of passports, visas and other essential documents for the international students. Various campus and community organizations are arranging for donated clothing and other necessities. The county emergency management office will have a disaster assistance site in the courthouse on Wednesday to expedite replacement of driver’s licenses, birth certificates, etc.

I was impressed by the bravery and fortitude of our students and the non-students who thankfully escaped without injury, but lost almost everything in the fire. I was equally impressed by how the university and town communities came together promptly and effectively to assist all of the victims of the fire. Our shared response to this disaster is another example of how Bloomsburg is a great place to live, learn and work.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Campus welcomes parents, families

Another great weekend of celebration is ahead with the annual Parents and Family Weekend, which begins Friday with several fun activities in the evening from Latino bingo to a 3D laser robot show in Kehr Union. It’s a wonderful weekend to follow the fun-filled Homecoming weekend we just had, despite the wintry weather. Our campus will be brimming with people yet again.

I really enjoy this weekend, because I get to meet so many parents. It’s a great chance for them to put a face to the university by meeting me and an opportunity for me to gain a good perspective of what’s on their mind. A great time for me to do that is during our open forum, which will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. in the McCormick Center. It’s open to everyone, so I hope to see many new faces I didn’t get a chance to greet during freshman orientation. I’ll have more opportunities to meet parents during the many activities scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, which includes our second Celebrity Artist Series show featuring Cirque Le Masque. I’ll be sure to let you know how the exciting gravity-defying performance turns out next week.

As I said earlier in this post, Homecoming was a wonderful celebration. I took part in a variety events and met many great people. Among them were alumni from the Class of 1959, who were celebrating their 50th class reunion, and later Saturday evening I spoke at the nursing alumni celebration. I finished the weekend attending our annual scholarship luncheon, which gives student scholarship recipients a chance to meet their respective scholarship donors.

Homecoming was made even more special with the return of former BU President Jessica Kozloff, who we honored in a dedication ceremony for the new housing complex named after her on the upper campus.

Creating safer student housing was among her priorities during her tenure, and there was no tribute more fitting than to associate her name with a beautiful, high-quality, safe “home away from home” for BU students. Jessica Kozloff left a lasting legacy in making the campus and surrounding community safer and healthier for our students after dealing with two unfortunate tragedies relating to housing issues during her time here. It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of her tribute and to show her how BU has continued building on her initiatives to ensure our university is great, safe place to experience higher education.

Monday, October 12, 2009

BU family reunites

What a wonderful time it is to be on campus. Fall has arrived, the semester is in full swing and Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 17 to 18, is right around the corner. I really enjoy seeing our BU family come together, and of course, being a part of it myself. Homecoming is one of the few times of year when you can see all the pieces that make our university special together on campus – students, staff, faculty, alumni, supporters and our community neighbors.

This year is even more exciting for me as I’ll be able to take part in most of the activities and meet more people. Last year was my inauguration as president, which kept me on a tight schedule. I’m also looking forward to participating in the Homecoming Parade. I really enjoy how our university celebrates Homecoming with the Town and Bloomsburg High School. This weekend truly brings the Bloomsburg community together.

It’s wonderful to see a BU alum chosen to be Saturday’s parade marshal. State Rep. David Millard, who also graduated from Bloomsburg High School, represents the 109th Legislative District in Columbia County and serves as a director of the Bloomsburg Fair, along with being active in the fire department. Rep. Millard is about as locally-tied to Bloomsburg as someone can be. I’m looking forward to spending time with him this weekend. Be sure to join us at the parade, which begins at 11 a.m. in the Bloomsburg Hospital parking lot and later at the football game against Cheyney Univeristy, which begins at 3:30 p.m.

Another exciting part of this year’s Homecoming is the 50th reunion of the Class of 1959, who in turn added to their own celebration of their connection to BU by raising $23,000, including a matching gift of $10,000 from a fellow class member. The donation will be put into a BU Foundation endowed scholarship that will be awarded annually to a junior or senior. The motivation for the scholarship came from the class’s recognition their BU degree afforded them a great quality of life. They wanted to be sure future students with financial need can earn a degree and experience a rewarding career and life, as they have. What a great way to highlight a homecoming reunion.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall arrives with new TV show

It hasn’t taken long for the leaves to start changing here in Central Pennsylvania, signaling the start of a new season with a collage of yellow, orange and red colors dotting the mountain landscape overlooking our campus. At the same time, there are many new things happening on campus beginning with today’s exciting premiere of our new show, Husky Connections, at 1 p.m. on BUTV's Channel 8 on the local Service Electric Cable network. The first show, "Meet Your Leadership," will continue in rotation and be featured on BU's YouTube channel accessed from our Web site.

First, congratulations to Collette Keene, a junior computer forensics major from Danville, who came up with the winning entry in our contest to name the new show. We received more than 50 creative entries over our two-week campus contest, which made it a tough decision to pick one. Keene's suggestion hit the show’s theme right on the nose.

Husky Connections will showcase why BU is a special place to work, live and learn. Additionally, the program will feature topics such as living healthy and being environmentally friendly on campus. We're also planning episodes around Homecoming and the upcoming Parent and Family Weekend. There will be a lot of variety and many engaging topics will be covered in the coming months.

In each episode, our viewers will see a different side of BU. It's a very exciting new venture, and we're eager to see how it grows throughout the school year. Feel free to offer your suggestions of potential show topics below. The more input we receive, the better the show will be. Husky Connections is about our university community.