A tragedy across the ocean touches and inspires the Pacific community.Wanda Laukkanen
It was a disaster half a world away, an earthquake that hit with a cruel magnitude of 9.0 that shook a whole country, unleashing a massive tsunami on the northern coast of Japan. The number of people killed or missing is pegged at more than 24,000—larger than Pacific University’s hometown of Forest Grove.
And even though this event occurred at such a great distance, it had an immediate effect on the foreign student population at Pacific, as well as faculty and staff who work with international students.
When word reached them early on the morning of March 11, staff at the University’s Office of International Programs immediately began tracking students. Annie Wilson, administrative assistant, began emailing offices connected with the graduate and professional programs to see if they had students who might be affected, while International Student Advisor Megan Serenco and English Language Institute Program Coordinator Scot Dobberfuhl began contacting Japanese students attending Pacific’s different campuses and programs.
Only one student at Pacific, out of the 11 from Japan, actually had family impacted by the disaster, noted Monique Grindell, academic coordinator for the English Language Institute. That student “was quite worried at first since communication was difficult,” Grindell said. “She spent time in my office sharing her fears, and we made sure she had access to anything the University could offer such as phones and counseling.”
As it turns out, this student’s mother was safe and the student went back to Japan over the summer to help her mom put her damaged apartment back together.
Leilani Powers ’13, a Japanese-American student at Pacific, couldn’t reach her mother in Tokyo for hours after the quake, but she, too, finally reached her mom and found her safe. KATU covered her story.
One of the positive effects of the disaster was to bring Pacific’s international students from many different countries together to find ways to help the Japanese.
“It was interesting to see all the students come together,” said Serenco. She noted that many international students from a variety of countries worked to raise funds for disaster relief, as did a network of people who had connections with Japan.
Student efforts were instrumental in putting together a delegation of students, faculty and staff to attend an auction and dinner fundraiser organized by the Japan-America Society in Oregon. Proceeds went to MercyCorps’ Oregon Japan Relief Fund.
Representing Pacific University at the dinner were Eva Krebs, vice president of student affairs and dean of students; Mike Mallery, vice president of finance and administration; Steve Prag, director of international programs; Kazuko Ikeda, associate professor of Japanese and World Languages Department chair; and Jeff Grundon, senior associate director of undergraduate admissions. Also on hand were students Nicole Nowlin ’11, Anna Endo ’14, Sydney Knox ’11, Rachel Priest ’13 and Truc Tran Pharm.D ’10.
The College of Arts & Sciences Student Senate and the University administration contributed $1,500 to sponsor an attendance table.
In addition, there were donations by ARAMARK/Boxer Dining, the Office of Student Life and individual gifts from students and faculty. Funds also came from the Japan Club and the International Club at Pacific University.