Back to School: Hurricane Katrina Ten Years Later


As students head back to class for the fall quarter, we asked several faculty members to offer a sneak peek into their courses*. Below, New Orleans native Ruth Gannon-Cook, associate professor in the School for New Learning (SNL), discusses how the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina informs her upcoming course, “Evaluating Organizational Needs and Developing Service Strategies with a ‘Lessons-Learned’ Model from Katrina.”

Ruth Gannon-Cook

Ruth Gannon-Cook

This is the first in a three-part series. Check back next week to learn about modern dance, creativity and adversity, and visit in two weeks to hear details about a science course on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. Follow the DePaul Magazine blog (see sign-up at top right) to receive notifications of these posts and others in your inbox.

How did you come up with the idea of conducting an entire course on Hurricane Katrina?
I’m teaching the course with SNL faculty member Janine Komornick (LAS ’02, MS ’08), who volunteered in New Orleans after the hurricane with the Rebuild Center at St. Joseph’s Church as part of an independent study project at DePaul. Because I am a fourth-generation New Orleanian, she hoped I could bring my knowledge of the city’s history and background on service organizations to the course. I was excited about co-creating the course because I see some parallels between New Orleans and Chicago, and I hope that a service course on preparing for and surviving disasters like Hurricane Katrina can educate and better prepare students for readiness in avoiding or dealing with future disasters.

What specifically will students study/research during the course?
This course will look at the history of New Orleans and the work of service organizations, and will examine how lessons learned from the Katrina disaster could be applied to Chicago. We will explore the range of nonprofit service organizations in Chicago dedicated to providing disaster relief, and students will volunteer at some of these nonprofits to experience emergency preparedness measures firsthand. Their volunteer work will hopefully enrich classroom discussions on the ability of communities to provide disaster assistance through individual action or service agencies.

We will also consider the vulnerability of economically disadvantaged areas during disaster situations, asking how cities can be proactive in not only anticipating problems that might be more extreme in those areas, but also enact preventive interventions whenever possible.

Why is this topic still relevant today, 10 years after the hurricane?
Disasters will always occur, and though future disasters might or might not be as severe as Hurricane Katrina, it’s imperative to prepare for them—at least, as much as one can. We hope that students will take the lessons of Katrina to heart. Ultimately, the course might compel some students to make emergency plans and preparations for themselves and their families, or it might open students’ eyes to a potential career path in disaster management.

What do you want students to get out of this course?
Our hope is that students gain a better understanding of service work, emergency relief and the steps that go into disaster preparedness. This course will help students evaluate organizational needs and develop appropriate training and service strategies, assess the social and personal value of civic engagement for achieving change, and use critical thinking and reflection skills. Finally, we hope that students enjoy volunteering with their service organizations and that they walk away with a better sense of their own capabilities to assist in disaster situations.

*Course offerings are contingent on enrollment numbers.

Read a related article about a student’s recent internship at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. >>

What was your favorite course at DePaul? Share your thoughts in the comment box below!

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