Planning for the Worst: Could Anything Have Helped in Haiti?

by Dennis Walikainen, senior editor

Last week's destruction in Haiti resulted from a huge earthquake near a susceptible population. The increased number of residents living in hazardous places around the world is the motivation behind a unique graduate program at Michigan Tech.

"We try to reduce vulnerability," says Bill Rose, professor of petrology and director of Tech's Peace Corps Master's International Program (PCMI) in Natural Hazards Mitigation. "We can tell people what may happen, and we can help save lives; we increase awareness and the ability for people to save themselves."

The three-year master's degree program includes a two-year field experience abroad, where communication is key.

Rose stresses the importance of talking to people in local schools and government agencies before natural disasters occur. In addition to earthquakes, student volunteers in the program address volcanoes, floods, landslides and droughts.

They can help by aiding in "community-level natural hazard education," according to John Lyons, currently a PhD candidate who participated in the PCMI program in Guatemala.

Although better known for its volcanic hazards, Guatemala is home to numerous earthquakes, says Lyons.

"They had no education or planning," Lyons recalls. "So we went through the basics with the teachers first, teaching them how earthquakes occur and what to do in the event of an earthquake. Then we taught their students about earthquakes and ran the schools' first earthquake drills."

Residents may also need to be taught what might seem obvious, Rose says. They can be taught that a river valley can become dangerous, so they should get out of the valley and into the hills instead of moving downstream. Or the not-so-obvious: in the case of a tsunami, if a wave goes out and exposes bare ground, head for the hills, too.

One major problem is that there are so many more-pressing issues in most countries, Lyons says, and earthquake or volcano education can be pushed aside. That is especially true in Haiti, Rose adds, where the people clamor for clean water and sanitation, better housing and healthcare.

"Hunger takes precedence," Lyons says.

But volunteers can teach "simple things" that students can do on their own, Lyons adds, such as "getting under desks or in doorframes instead of running down the hallway or pushing toward exits."

Lyons believes that the Peace Corps volunteers could also learn first aid and be trained as first responders.

"We could go into the disaster scene and give advanced first aid," he says, "or help with triage, organize searches and potentially help people get out of collapsed buildings."

Volunteers could take on the role of disaster response workers, in addition to their normal Peace Corps assignments. Previous talk on training and certification of volunteers as first responders has been cut short because of lack of funding, Lyons says.

"As a volunteer, there is a difference between identifying a problem or hazard and being able to address it, because the scale is so huge," he adds. "That's why it's important for all volunteers, whether they are from forestry or business or humanities, to get involved in some sort of hazard awareness and disaster preparedness."

Lyons spoke from experience about one common obstacle. Smaller earthquakes can occur more often, and the locals can become desensitized to them, as was the case in Guatemala when he was there--until they were hit with a 6.1 quake, albeit far from the epicenter.

"We were heading for the doorframes," he says, "and we were wondering if it would get bad."

It's hard to imagine any good coming out of anything as bad as the earthquake in Haiti. But Rose hopes it might.

"The disaster might lead to more earthquake engineering," says Rose, "where structures can be rebuilt to withstand quakes for another 100 years or more, and even if they receive some damage, they won't collapse like they did."

Rose says it is especially necessary to build better hospitals, schools and other places where people congregate. "It might cost a bit more, but it will be worth it."

Rose knows his subject. He's been involved in hazard communications for many years in Guatemala and elsewhere. And, although Tech's Peace Corps program has focused on Latin America, he envisions it expanding to Indonesia, too.

And he sees another potential outcome.

"The increase in populations in hazardous areas has changed the habits of geologists," he says. "We used to go out in the woods alone and come back weeks or years later with a load of rocks and a map, then stay in town just long enough to find the next spot in the woods that needed attention. Now we have to communicate with people long enough to be sure they understand. We call it social geology. We are much more connected, and the world needs it. It feels good."

He says the world also needs better communication about other earth science issues, such as global climate change.

"We are the ones who really study how the earth works," he says. "But we have been keeping it a secret."

Now, that is changing, and this ongoing global public education speaks volumes about the Peace Corps and Michigan Tech, as students and faculty communicate to help save lives.

* * * *

Many individuals and groups on campus are making efforts to raise awareness or support for the people of Haiti. To coordinate these initiatives, International Programs and Services (IPS) has been designated as the central clearinghouse for information.

If your club or organization is sponsoring an event to help with relief efforts, please send us a link or detailed information, so that IPS can inform as many people as possible. Email to .

If you require assistance organizing an event or wish to help but need ideas and guidance, stop by the IPS office, Administration 200.

The Best of the Best: 15 Years of APOD

Physics professor Robert Nemiroff gave the crowd gathered in the Rozsa Center one big wow-inspiring moment after another last Thursday as he reeled off his top picks of NASA's Best Space Images as they appeared on the NASA website he helped create and edits, the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

His first picture series included five favorite APOD images created by NASA, including a shot of the first shuttle mission. Also on his NASA's-best list is the iconic Pillars of Creation image of stars forming in M16, the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. As with all of the images, he provided a brief educational primer. The dense gas in the pillars is condensing to form stars, he explains, but adds, "They look like monsters. I think that's why they're so popular."

To read the full story, check out Michigan Tech's news site.

Fulbright Scholar Studies Immigrant Finns

by John Gagnon, promotional writer

Ulla Aatsinki, a Fulbright scholar from Tampere, Finland, feels right at home at Tech these days as she studies Finnish immigrants to Upper Michigan. She has traveled far and found the familiar.

She says these newcomers brought with them a frame of mind that they shared with their forbears in the homeland: sisu, a Finnish word for which there is no literal translation.

The general idea, Aatsinki says, is: "The work which is started will be finished, always." As well, she adds, sisu describes an able-bodied person: "Work hard, solve your problems alone, and donít ask for help."

Finnish emigrants carried this indomitable spirit around the world, including the Copper Country. Between 1880 and 1920, then, 87,000 Finns came to Michigan, most to the Upper Peninsula, where they sought more opportunity and left a decided cultural impression: saunas, Finnish street names, and restaurant fare like nisu and pannukakku.

This Finnish presence in Upper Michigan, concentrated on the iron range and the copper range, attracted Aatsinki to Michigan Tech. Working in the social sciences department, she is studying how Finnish immigrants fared here. To do so, she is poring over newspapers and documents at the Michigan Tech Archives and the oral histories at the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University.

Originally from Finland's Lapland region, Aatsinki studied history at the University of Oulu and the University of Tampere. Her PhD focused on political radicalism in northern Finland, where the people were poor and restive.

She is here to study Finnish immigration from the 1900s to the 1920s. She is especially interested in how Finnish American children integrated into American society and in "the values and attitudes that ordinary people had."

In the Old Country, many Finns were active in temperance and labor movements. "They continued that activity here," Aatsinki says. "They were active in cooperatives and strikes and other popular movements."

But not uniformly so, for there were what she describes as "Church Finns" and "Red Finns"--one conservative, one radical. In both Finland and America, she says, the leftist Finns encountered resistance, and many were "blacklisted as troublemakers."

Besides transplanting political proclivities to America, immigrant Finns welcomed their adopted land and especially valued what they didn't have at home: a livelihood for themselves and schooling for their children.

These opportunities shaped their new lives, where work, family, and ethnic ties were equally compelling. Aatsinki says, "It'll be interesting to find out what kind of life they found, how they were treated in a new country, and how they were integrated into a new society."

Aatsinki says her inquiry will amount to "a description of the social and cultural heritage of two countries." She adds, "I would like to compare the differences and similarities."

Another common thread: Finns in America had a reputation for working hard (newspaper ads specifically sought Finns for hire). And they were known for making do. Thus, one oral history at Finlandia describes how the poor old immigrant women brushed out the flower barrel with a bird's wing.

"They came here because they were poor," Aatsinki says of these resilient masses. "Emigration was a common solution for Finnish people to get a better life."

Gates Tennis Center Spring Tennis Program

The spring tennis program at the Gates Tennis Center will begin Monday, Jan. 25, and will include both youth and adult lessons.

* Youth Lessons--January 25 through March 14

Ages 5-6: 4 to 4:45 p.m., Sundays, cost $45

Ages 7-8: 5 to 6 p.m., Sundays, cost $50

Ages 9-10: 4 to 5 p.m., Sundays, cost $50

Ages 11-13: 5 to 6 p.m., Sundays, cost $50

High School Instructional: 6 to 7 p.m., Tuesdays, cost $55

High School Competitive: 7:30 to 9 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays, cost $95

*Adult Lessons: 7 to 8 p.m., Tuesdays, cost is $45 for members and $60 for non-members

For more information or to sign up, contact Kevin Kalinec at .

Reminder: Preregister for Bigfoot Snowshoe Event

submitted by Counseling and Wellness Services

Preregistration for the Bigfoot Snowshoe Event ends Friday, Jan. 22.

This annual event will be from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Tech Trails. A raffle will follow.

This is a great opportunity to get outdoors, get active and enjoy the winter weather with friends and family.

Sponsors are HOWL (Healthy Options for a Wellness Lifestyle), a unit of Counseling and Wellness Services, and the Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP).

This is not a race. There will be two-, four-, and six-kilometer trails for you to enjoy at your own pace.

Preregistration prices are $10 for students and children and $12 for faculty, staff and community members. Registration after the deadline is $12 for students and children and $15 for everyone else. The cost covers a free long-sleeved T-shirt, a loaner pair of snowshoes, refreshments and the raffle.

Pick up a registration form from Counseling and Wellness Services or OAP, or download one at . Return completed forms to Counseling and Wellness Services at the Hamar House.

For questions, contact Counseling and Wellness Services at 487-2538 or email .

Reminder: DiversiTea Begins Jan. 20

The first DiversiTea of 2010 will be held from 4 to 5 p.m., today, in the Memorial Union Alumni Lounge.

The session is titled "Class and Privilege Among Students." Bill Kennedy, director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development, will discuss how class and privilege impact the policies, practices and relationships that shape our lives.

DiversiTeas were instituted in the fall of 2008 after a campus survey indicated such opportunity for social dialogue would be welcome. They blend the interchange of ideas and the enjoyment of refreshments and teas from around the world. The monthly event will continue until April and is open to the public.

Diversity is one of Michigan Tech's strategic goals--that is, a community of scholars whose intellectual, social and professional development is enriched by the diversity of our students, faculty and staff.

Biomedical Engineering Seminar

Kyung A. Kang, professor and graduate program director, from the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Louisville, will present a seminar, "When Nano Meets Bio!" at 3 p.m., Monday, Jan. 25, in EERC 218.

Kang earned a BS in Food Engineering from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea; an MS in Biomedical Engineering from Louisiana Tech University; an ME in Mechanical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University; a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Davis; and she was a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kang's research interests are affinity purification of anticoagulants; real-time biosensors for disease diagnoses; optical mammography; nanoparticle contrast agents for molecular imaging; and nanoparticle mediated cancer hyperthermia.