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Ashley Fornerette // senior, biology-education, Xavier University, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
Fornerette is back in class. The sidewalks near Xavier are piled high with debris from houses that have been cleared of their ruined contents. It's a daily reminder, she says, of how hard it was to see her childhood memories thrown onto the sidewalk in a mountain of unidentifiable junk. "Sure it's garbage now, but before Katrina it wasn't."
By September 16—fewer than 3 weeks after the storm—HHMI President Thomas R. Cech had sent a letter to HHMI investigators across the country, asking them to consider including Xavier science faculty on their research teams. Just as rapidly, HHMI's undergraduate grants staff—Director Stephen Barkanic and his colleagues, Program Officer Patricia Soochan and Program Assistant Mary Bonds—set up a structure for matching Xavier faculty with their scientific hosts. The Institute would fund the sabbaticals, for 9 months at $5,600 per month, of any Xavier science faculty who participated. It also extended offers to members of the staff and students who accompanied them, offering $3,600 and $2,000 per month, respectively, and would pay for expenses such as relocating computers or purchasing special supplies.
Within a week, 200 HHMI investigators had offered places for as many as 360 faculty and 80 students in their labs and institutions. Xavier administrators were scattered around the country—President Norman C. Francis set up an office in his sister's home in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, Vice President Barron was in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Jordan worked from HHMI headquarters in Maryland. Yet getting word to the now far-flung faculty, staff, and students was relatively easy because of an online faculty registry that Xavier already had in place for hurricane emergencies. HHMI posted investigators' offerings on the Xavier Web site, updating it as opportunities opened or closed. The first faculty member signed up on September 22, and by October 10, Jordan and the HHMI team had been in touch with 75 Xavier science faculty who asked for support. Ultimately, 62 faculty, one staff member, and two students were placed.
HHMI was flexible enough to say, "If you have someone in mind to work with, just send us your work plan."
HHMI also was flexible about placements—approving some, for example, outside the HHMI investigators' offerings. Such was the case for McKinney. When her former graduate school adviser Janet Yother, professor of microbiology at the University of Alabama, invited McKinney to work in her Birmingham lab, McKinney loved the idea. But sorting out the finances would take time. That's when she learned about the HHMI program. "Other people had offered me opportunities that weren't in my field, where I could make a contribution," says McKinney. "But HHMI was flexible enough to say, 'If you have someone in mind to work with, just send us your work plan.'"
Photo: Imke Lass