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"Degrees & Programs"

Wildfires, hurricanes can’t slow down UOPX students

By University of Phoenix
October 21, 2020 • 3 minute read

Patsy Dominguez knew evacuation was imminent as the raging wildfire advanced within a block of her Yucaipa, Calif., home in September.As Dominguez, her husband, 5-year-old child and two dogs made their way to safety, she realized that in the chaos, she left her computer behind—and with it all the work for her final course in her Master’s Degree in Psychology program at University of Phoenix.

As soon as she was able, Dominguez contacted her instructor and academic counselor to seek guidance on next steps. Despite the turmoil, she was able to establish a plan for completion of her course, while focusing on the wellbeing and safety of her family.

Dominguez and many other University of Phoenix students have been threatened with putting their education on hold as wildfires displace families on the West Coast and hurricanes plummeted residents in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. But, like many of her peers, meeting her academic goals was unquestioned, even while facing uncertainty and instability.

“It was a scary situation, not knowing what would happen,” Dominguez said, who works as a social worker serving individuals with disabilities. “I didn’t know if I was going to lose my belongings and my home. I didn’t know if I was grabbing all the items that I may need.”

Raghu Krishnaiah, University of Phoenix chief operating officer, said determination, grit and perseverance are key traits of the University’s working student population. Many juggle multiple responsibilities, like family, work and life obligations, while going to school. When obstacles threaten to derail their goals, they face them head-on.

While students focus on their education, we understand that sometimes the unexpected happens. The University works with students and offers resources to support them during challenging times, he said.

Krishnaiah said University of Phoenix students don’t give up, and the University won’t give up on them.

“I admire the strength of the students who are enduring these disruptive events and have pressed forward with their education in spite of the challenges,” he said. “It is in times like these the resilience of University of Phoenix students is most apparent.”

While Dominguez persevered through wildfires in California, across the country, Allen Marcotte dealt with heavy rain and gale-force winds as multiple hurricanes bore down on Louisiana.

Marcotte and his family were evacuated from their Sulphur, La., home twice in three months – first in August due to Category 4 Hurricane Laura and again in October when Category 2 Hurricane Delta made landfall.

The first time, Marcotte evacuated ahead of the storm with his wife, son, stepson, his stepson’s wife and the family’s 13-year-old dog to his dad’s home further away from the coast.

At his dad’s home, Marcotte panicked, knowing that his courses were wrapping up at the end of November. He briefly considered a leave of absence from school, but quickly decided against it. Utilizing the limited resources available, his cell phone became a hotspot to work on assignments.

“I was too close to graduation to quit,” said Marcotte, who is in his final coursework in the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology program with an Advanced Networking Certificate. “My teachers were beyond understanding.”

When the storm subsided, Marcotte returned home to his job at a gasket and hose company that supports the local refinery plants. His family went to stay with relatives, and Marcotte set up a work area in his living room with only a small generator to keep his laptop, refrigerator and AC unit running.

During this time, he kept in close contact with his instructors, keeping them apprised of his circumstances and working with them on accommodations for assignments, staying on track as much as possible.

When the Internet connection and power returned, his family returned home—until Mother Nature struck again. This time they evacuated to a hotel in Biloxi, Miss., 272 miles away.

They returned two days later to more devastation—their deadbolted doors were blown open, the carpet was drenched, there was structural damage and the streets were full of debris. As Marcotte waited for insurance adjusters and structural engineers, he continued to complete his assignments, working to maintain his grades.

Throughout it all, Marcotte said he felt supported by his adviser and instructors and empowered to press forward, even as he dealt with the extreme stress of his family’s situation.

“We are all in a period of unknown,” Marcotte said. “The hurricanes left many areas of my life unsettled. Staying on track with my degree program brought a welcome sense of relief and control.”