Cornell Financial Engineering Manhattan Meets Sandy
"ORIE staff have been working extraordinarily hard, in very difficult conditions, to coordinate as quick a return to normalcy as we can manage at Cornell Financial Engineering Manhattan (CFEM)," according to ORIE Director Adrian Lewis. Master of Engineering students spend their third program semester at CFEM, taking classes and working as teams on major projects.
After hurricane Sandy, CFEM Director Victoria Averbukh, Office Manager Judy Francis, and ORIE Director of Adminstration Jessica Best undertook to relocate both classes and students from impacted facilities. Best "was critical in finding and arranging both the teaching and living space, both very quickly," Lewis said.
More than a week after the storm, many businesses and other organizations were still scrambling for space, according to National Public Radio.
"At first it appeared that things would return to normal quickly on their own," said Averbukh, "but we soon realized that many of our students will be without housing for at least a month. We had to quickly regroup to find new housing and hold classes. The immediate issues have been resolved."
Close to 50 financial engineering Master of Engineering students who are taking classes doing projects at CFEM were scattered around Manhattan, the other boroughs, and New Jersey by the storm. "Thankfully, all of our students are accounted for, along with our staff," Lewis said, but they face "ongoing challenges with communication, transportation and accommodation."
One downtown apartment building where twenty financial engineering students lived is in Zone A, which New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered evacuated. "We were subject to a mandatory evacuation on the day before the storm arrived," said one financial engineering student, Jessy Pan, a graduate of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and resident of the building.
The students and residents were ordered to move from the building by 6 PM, one hour before public transportation shut down throughout the entire city. The building suffered such severe water damage that it has closed until the end of November at the earliest.
One of the students living there, William Frick, went to stay with a Columbia graduate student on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. "I imagined that everything would be fine and that I would be able to return to my building the day after the storm," the financial engineering student said. But by Tuesday "it was clear that everything was not all right - especially in Lower Manhattan," he continued. Almost everything below 34th Street was out of service, and both his apartment and CFEM are "a long way from 34th Street."
When Frick finally got to his apartment building, the front door was sealed and "the front looked like a disaster zone. Sand and random debris were all over the sidewalk, and large machines were draining the more than 7 feet of water from the basement," he reports.
Pan and her roommate went to a relative's house on Long Island, but had to return to the city after classes resumed. "We were concerned that we would have no shelter in the city for a long period until we got an email from Victoria telling us that they had found a relocation solution for us. I'm now in the very cozy new apartment in Brooklyn that CFEM found for us," she said.
Relocation to temporary housing
All impacted students were relocated to temporary housing, most through the efforts of ORIE staff. ORIE Adminstrator Best said "I called the few places that I knew about which led to a referral for the Long Island University (LIU) residences. Once I connected with Jordan Ross, LIU's Associate Director of Residence Life & Housing, the students were settling in to their temporary housing within two days."
In Ithaca, which completely escaped the storm, Janna Lamey, Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life, has also been "eager to help us out in any way possible," said Best.
CFEM classes disrupted
55 Broad Street, where CFEM is housed a block from the New York Stock Exchange, were "out of play since the storm," said Lewis, and were expected to remain so so for at least until the week of November 12. CFEM offices are on the third floor and were not damaged, but the building was closed.
As a result of the building closure, classes at CFEM were cancelled for the week of the storm, but they resumed on November 5 in temporary space on East 34th Street borrowed from Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School (ILR). ILR's New York City operation had also beenclosed by the storm, but since it is out of the flood zone it soon reopened. Fortunately the space made available to CFEM has power, internet access, and ample classroom facilities.
"I worked with Joe Grasso from ILR, who said, without hesitation, yes they could help with space so we could resume classes," Best said. On the day ILR reopened in New York City, Ed Acevado met with Averbukh to determine what would be needed and when CFEM could move in.
CFEM returned to 55 Broad Street on November 9, ahead of schedule.
Back in business
"Everyone is safe and working hard, and I am very relieved" said Averbukh. "I applaud our students' resilience and eagerness to return to the classroom and work on their projects. Job hunting also resumed; our students are actively interviewing, working on their projects, and communicating with Ithaca advisors and project sponsors," she said.
Frick said his Master of Engineering project has not suffered at all. "Fortunately the group that I've been working with has done an excellent job staying on track so we've been up-to-speed, even following the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy," Frick said.
"The events of the past two weeks clearly demonstrated that Cornell is an NYC school and we are not strangers to finding our way around the city," said Averbukh. She is looking forward to "the best graduation ceremony on December 13."
"I appreciate the great and immediate efforts CFEM made to help us through this difficult time," said Pan, whose sentiments and gratitude were echoed by Frick and by financial engineering student Hasan Yoruk, a graduate of Sabanci University in Turkey.