The weekend of September 1 – 3 should’ve been a chance for Rice engineering students to push themselves and their creativity. That’s when the INNOVATE Design-A-Thon was scheduled, where teams of students would design, prototype and present their best devices to solve real-world problems.
And then Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston, bringing with it flooded streets and homes, power outages and business closures. Rice University’s crisis management team made the decision to close the university early on Friday, August 25; by the 29th, the university extended the closure until after Labor Day, and the Design-A-Thon was cancelled.
Seeing the devastation wrought by Harvey, the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) staff and faculty decided to host an impromptu donation drive for Harvey victims. On August 29th Amy Kavalewitz, executive director of the OEDK, sent an email to everyone in the School of Engineering announcing that they’d be collecting items for shelters, and donating food that had been slated for the design challenge. The message was also posted on the Kitchen’s Facebook page. Anyone who could safely get to campus was encouraged to drop off donations. Kavalewitz mentioned in her email blast that the OEDK had only one truck for deliveries and asked anyone who might have one and could donate some time to contact her directly.
Twenty-four hours later, they’d amassed six truckloads of diapers, bedding, formula, sweatshirts, bottled water and a host of other items. Shampoo, duffle bags, sheets and pillows, baby formula and snacks all poured into the OEDK, to be sorted and bagged and readied for transport.
“We got all the supplies we asked for,” said Kavalewitz. “Three truckloads were split between [the shelters at] Lakewood Church and and BBVA Compass Stadium.” She said the team is currently looking for a shelter in need of the items in the other trucks, filled mostly with clothes.
“It reminded me what special people we have at Rice,” said Rob Griffin, professor and chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering, who, along with his wife, Ann McAdam Griffin, assistant director for employer relations and alumni engagement for the Center for Career Development, participated in the donation drive. “It was the first opportunity many people had to do something to help after the storm, and the people there dove in unselfishly and immediately. I am inspired by my colleagues and our students.”
While the donation drive was being organized, Houston was confronting an almost ever-changing landscape. New shelters were opening, people who were finally able to leave their homes after days of rain were heading to super markets and drug stores, many of them collecting supplies not only for themselves but for others. Maria Oden, teaching professor of bioengineering and director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, said the OEDK’s donation drive had a “pop-up” feel to it, as well as being something that showed the resiliency and generosity of the Rice community.
“It was the first day it felt like we could do anything,” she said. “And everyone wanted to do something. We have a can-do attitude at Rice and our staff and student workers know how to get things done effectively and efficiently.”
One of those students was Andrew Gatherer, a senior mechanical engineer. He helped receive donations and drove them in his truck to the BBVA Compass Stadium shelter. Another was Mikaela Juzswik, also a senior mechanical engineer.
“I wanted to help people,” she said. “I grew up here, and while we've been through a lot of storms, none of them hit quite like this. For the first few days after the storm, it felt like we were far away and unable to do much, so being able to start helping meant a lot to me.”
She would go on to volunteer with RHAT, the Rice Houston Action Team of volunteers, who fanned across the city to aid those in need. Juzswik ripped out drywall from homes and helped people sort through flooded possessions.
“It was heartwarming to see all the people who went out of their way to participate and were flexible,” said Oden. “I could not be more proud of our students, faculty and staff. It is a pleasure to be part of this group.”
Participants in the OEDK Donation Drive included:
Senior mechanical engineers Will Bower, Cole Crawford, Andrew Gatherer, Mikaela Juzswik, Jeremy Palmer and Clark Zha; Zack Kortum, senior civil engineer; Allison Salter, senior bioengineer; and Tiffani Tjandra, junior mechanical engineer. Also Rob and Ann McAdam Griffin, department chair, civil and environmental engineering and assistant director for employer relations, Center for Career Development, respectively; Amy Kavalewitz, executive director, OEDK; Maria Oden, teaching professor of bioengineering and director of the OEDK, and her children; and Matthew Wettergreen, lecturer in the OEDK, and his wife, Claudia Solis.