After the Storm: A Semester at Smith for Students from Puerto Rico

University of Puerto Rico student Alanis Rodriguez.

Eighteen-year-old Alanis Rodriguez had hardly begun her college education at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria plunged the island into darkness last September. For months Puerto Rico struggled to restore power, and for UPR’s 58,000 students on 11 campuses, getting a degree became significantly more complicated.

“I canceled my fall semester after the hurricane,” Rodriguez said. “I knew that without power I couldn’t give my all.”

Rodriguez responded to Smith’s offer of a semester’s free tuition and room and board and is one of three UPR students who enrolled for the spring semester. They arrived in January for orientation—just in time for a fresh coat of snow.

“Finally I can leave Hurricane Maria in 2017 and begin a new chapter in my life, my college education,” said Rodriguez, who is taking science courses.

For 20-year-old Alondra Villa Gonzàlez, a junior at UPR’s Carolina campus, coming to Smith means a chance to focus on her studies. Her family had fared relatively well, she said, although they lost both power and water for about six weeks.

“How can one study and concentrate and try to get a paper done without any electricity—some getting very little sleep because of everything that was happening—and still be expected to turn in an assignment and do well in class?” she asks. “What about the ones who lost their house, their cars, their clothes? How can they concentrate when they have so much more than education to worry about?”

Gonzàlez, who plans to become a lawyer, is majoring in criminal justice. At Smith, she is taking psychology and sociology classes.

“It will be a challenge, English not being my first language, but I’m eager to learn and will give it my all,” she said. “I look forward to all the experiences to be lived at Smith.”