When Christopher Burgos (20C) arrived at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Nov. 1, 2017, he was unsure of what the future would hold. Forced to leave his home in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Burgos hoped to transfer to Emory University. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the University would provide him full tuition for the Spring 2018 semester.

The University announced Nov. 17 that it would welcome up to 32 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricanes Maria and Irma with all tuition, fees and room and board waived for one semester. The Emory Office of Undergraduate Admission received 27 inquiries about the program and received six applications for consideration, according to Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Enrollment and Dean of Admission John Latting. Three students were admitted, including Burgos.

Ater Hurricane Maria, my home institution [Inter American University of Puerto Rico], which is a seven-floor building, was all destroyed,” Burgos said. “The opportunities I’ve had since I’ve arrived in Atlanta have been more than double what I had back in Puerto Rico after and before the hurricane.”

University Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Dwight McBride pushed for the plan to come to fruition, according to Latting.

The Office of Undergraduate Admission did not take an “active recruiting” approach in reaching out to eligible students, Latting said, but it responded to all inquiries about the program.  

“We decided it was not appropriate to take an active recruiting approach in contacting students and nudging them into the applicant pool,” Latting said. “We were not trying to recruit students away from their home institution — we were just trying to help. We were impressed that Emory wanted to be responsive … and step in and take the right approach.”

For Burgos, the scholarship did not impact his decision to apply to Emory. He arrived in Atlanta to stay with an uncle after the hurricane forced him to leave his home. He immediately met with admissions officers, whom he described as “understanding and flexible” throughout the admissions process. After he submitted his transfer application in November, Emory encouraged him to withdraw it and apply for admission under the fund for displaced Puerto Rican students.

Puerto Rican Student Association (PRSA) President Josue Rodriguez (20C) said he is pleased with the University’s implementation of the fund and assisting students in their transition.

“Emory had to learn on the move. … It was something complicated to do, finding housing for 32 students and funds is not easy,” Rodriguez said. “Publicizing things in Puerto Rico is more challenging than you would think because of the lack of power and resources. Emory overall did a great job.”

PRSA partnered the new transfer students with a fellow Puerto Rican student “buddy” to aid them in joining the campus community.

“By now, we know [the new students] pretty well — they’ve really adapted really well and are opening and welcoming,” Rodriguez said. “It was a pretty smooth transition.”

Burgos also believes that the University exceeded his expectations in accommodating his arrival, letting him live with his best friend, who was also accepted through the scholarship fund.

“The attention of the staff at the University since the first day has been outstanding,” Burgos said. “They are constantly in communication with us asking us how the transition is going, how we feel about the classes and professors. So far, it has been more than great.”

Although the scholarship only lasts a semester, Burgos intends to stay at Emory for an additional two years. He plans to change his major from political science to international studies, which will allow him to transfer 40 additional credits from his home university. After he graduates from Emory, he intends to return to the Inter American University of Puerto Rico for three months to complete a bachelor’s degree in political science. Burgos added that it was difficult for many Puerto Rican students who have been forced to depart the island amid not only the physical destruction but also financial difficulties.

“The conditions that we came [to the mainland] are as refugees,” Burgos said. “It is even more frustrating when you are in this position and don’t get the full support of your institution back home because they think you’ve betrayed them for a better university at one of the most difficult times in the island’s history.”

Other universities nationwide initiated similar programs for displaced Puerto Rican students. Cornell University (N.Y.) and New York University both enrolled about 50 students each from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, while Tulane University (La.) took 16 students, according to ABC News.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm Sept. 20, 2017, and knocked out the power for 75 percent of the island’s 3.4 million residents, according to The New York Times. Nearly five months after the storm, power has still not been restored for 28 percent of residents, according to The New York Times.

Michelle Lou contributed reporting.