Image: Natalie Louise Matthews, Adam Carey Pope, and Amanda Kay Spilling
Natalie Louise Matthews, Adam Carey Pope, and Amanda Kay Spilling have found an academic home away from home at Western Carolina University.

CULLOWHEE – Three Louisiana college students who had their studies interrupted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina have found an academic home away from home at Western Carolina University.

Natalie Louise Matthews is a nursing major who had been enrolled in the nursing school of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. Matthews said the apartment where she lived in uptown New Orleans made it through the hurricane undamaged, but the operations of the Health Sciences Center were disrupted.

“Classes were supposed to start on Sept. 26, but I have heard nothing else from my school,” Matthews said.

Matthews, a sophomore, said she enrolled at Western to be close to other family members.

“My grandmother lives in Highlands, my uncle lives in Saluda, my older sister is enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and my little sister is going to school in Norfolk, Va.,” she said.

Matthews began her classes at Western on Sept. 13, and said she likes being at Western. “Everyone is very kind,” she said.

Adam Carey Pope, a sophomore majoring in Spanish, was enrolled for the fall semester at the University of New Orleans before Katrina caused the semester to be canceled. Pope said his family's home in Slidell, La., sustained some water damage during the storm.

Pope and his family are living with his grandparents in Maggie Valley. He started classes at Western on Sept. 9.

“Western has been pretty good to me so far,” he said. “All my professors are doing all they can to help me get caught up – not letting me fall behind further than I already have.”

Another Slidell resident who had planned on attending the University of New Orleans this fall, Amanda Kay Spilling, began her classes at Western on Sept. 2.

Spilling and her family evacuated first to Memphis, Tenn. Then she, along with her mother and grandmother, traveled to the family's cabin near Cashiers. “We were heading to Cashiers and passed by Western's campus, and I thought, maybe I can enroll there,” she said.

A junior secondary education major, Spilling said she has been impressed by Western's small class sizes.

Spilling said she plans to return to the New Orleans area for a visit during fall break. Her parents' home in Slidell sustained wind and flood damage and might take a year to repair, but her grandmother's home in Slidell was undamaged by the hurricane.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors in early September adopted a resolution waiving tuition and fees for the fall semester for students displaced from their colleges because of Hurricane Katrina. To receive the waiver, the students' home institutions must be closed for the entire fall semester.

“We are sorry for the terrible circumstances that brought these students to Western, but we are delighted that we were able to open our university doors for them,” said Fred Hinson, senior associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We were prepared to do the same for students after Hurricane Rita, but it proved not to be necessary.”

Meanwhile, the campus continues to be involved in hurricane relief activities, collecting money and supplies to be sent to the Gulf Coast region. Also, Western's A.K. Hinds University Center and service learning office will be supervising student organizations in coordinating a spring break project to assist with hurricane recovery efforts.

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Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Western Carolina University