National Collegiate Honors Council


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© Copyright 2013 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


On Thursday, April 27, 2011, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Alabama struck in the form of ferocious tornadoes touching down in various parts of the state. The dollar amount of the property damage was in the billions. Lives were lost and thousands of survivors’ lives were seriously and in many cases forever disrupted. A few days later, the dean of my school, a school of business that is part of a larger university, dropped by my office unannounced to tell me that the university’s president had just called to tell him that unnamed donors had agreed to give money to the university so that the school of business could help the survivors. He said “we” had a meeting on the matter later that day with a senior university officer. The following is a summary of the program that developed as we strove to provide help to the survivors, along with some lessons learned that might be helpful to others considering a service learning experience for honors students. I believe that our program demonstrated that a somewhat impromptu response to a disaster can be an effective service learning experience in an honors program. The disaster that befell our community was extraordinary in its impact, with a disproportionate effect on low-to-moderate-income families and neighborhoods. The generosity of our donors was also unique as was their desire for students to have a finance-focused experience. However, the lessons learned from how we responded to our misfortune should apply to disasters of all sizes and types and to responses that neither involve distribution of donated funds nor are undertaken by a school of business.