An Interview with Bloomsburg University President David Soltz

Many of us have the impression that given a week off from school due to a natural disaster, the typical college student would go home to see family or take a road trip to visit friends.  The scenario we envision would probably not include staying in a flood-ravaged town without running water and scooping sewage-laced river mud out of a home twelve blocks away from the student’s apartment.  However, in the aftermath of the 2011 flood, Bloomsburg University students gave tremendously to the relief effort. In addition, the entire university community — faculty, staff, students, and administrators — came together and assisted in nearly every aspect of the relief.

We wanted to find out the exact details of the university involvement, so we went straight to the top.  Dr. David Soltz, the President of Bloomsburg University, recently took time from his busy schedule to answer questions related to the university’s role in the flood relief for Bloomsburg.  He also provided us with a detailed list of the facts and numbers associated with the university’s assistance to the effort.

Not only did the university community stick around to help, but they did so in a way that demonstrates a great deal of concern for the town they all call home — whether for four years or a lifetime.

Was there any official call from groups like The Red Cross or AGAPE, or did the Bloomsburg University community just respond to the flood relief spontaneously?

Initially the university responded spontaneously. As an official call was made, we responded directly to those needs, such as providing gloves for cleaning, food to AGAPE and porta-potties. Our efforts were coordinated with AGAPE. We sent buses to AGAPE to transport volunteers to locations where assistance was needed.

Are there housing issues that have arisen because of students whose residences were affected by flooding?

Fortunately, we were able to identify the potential number of students impacted early on and provide alternative housing options on campus or locally. Our Community Government Association (CGA) reached out to students, notifying them of CGA’s ability to assist them with replacing personal items and property lost, as well.

On a personal note, the tremendous involvement by the university community must make you proud.  Do you have any comments related to that?

I am very proud of the BU community. Their efforts made a great difference and exemplified our core values of community, collaboration, respect and integrity. We proudly served our close-knit community as a resource and with action.

Town and Gown relations can be difficult for any community or university.  Do you think the significant involvement in flood relief efforts will create new or ongoing opportunities for town and gown engagement?

Yes. Our involvement with the town recovery efforts has favorably changed the perception of BU faculty, staff and students for many town residents. They see us as a resource and neighbor. We’d like to continue to build upon that sense of community.

There seemed to be a heavy involvement from sports teams.  Which teams participated and who organized their efforts?

All sports teams were involved. The effort was organized by the Athletic Director Mike McFarland.

Do you have stories of faculty, staff, and students who were personally affected by the flooding?

44 faculty and staff were impacted. 120 students resided in the affected areas and an estimated 13 experienced significant loss.

Are there ongoing or future plans for flood relief assistance that will involve the university?

We are working with Bloomsburg School District to provide alternative venues for their athletic activities.  Acacia (a student greek organization) volunteered to help restore the local ball fields at Town Park.  We continue to provide assistance through a coordinated effort between BU’s SOLVE office and AGAPE.  And we currently are in discussion with town officials regarding other needs we may be able to help meet.

How can we better share these positive stories of town and gown engagement?

Communicate the outstanding academic accomplishments, community initiatives and programs that are taking place on BU’s campus. Many of our programs are open to the public and serve BU’s surrounding community, including the Celebrity Artist Series, reading and math programs, athletic camps, the Hearing and Speech Clinic, teaching and tutoring partnerships with the local school districts, and events sponsored by our living and learning communities that integrate the academic curriculum, leadership opportunities and civic engagement. Additionally, we need to communicate the impact of our students and faculty in their respective academic disciplines and local communities.

Bloomsburg University’s Involvement in Flood Recovery:  The Facts and Numbers

Approximately how many students helped in the flood recovery effort in Bloomsburg?  How many Faculty/Staff?

  • More than 350 students volunteered.
  • About 100 Greek students assisted in local homes and organized various aid drives in their hometowns. 95 percent of all fraternities and sororities participated in the cleanup in some way. All have plans to continue with their service projects.
  • Bloomsburg University provided 168 hours of support to the county through clerical staffing of the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Phone Bank and other assistance to the Emergency Operations Center. 16 staff participated in this effort over the four-day period.
  • BU Athletic Department staff and athletic teams logged a total of 2,542 hours of volunteer time. Teams participating include: women’s basketball, wrestling, men’s soccer, cross country, men’s and women’s tennis, baseball, women’s soccer, men’s basketball, lacrosse, softball, football, field hockey and swimming.
  • University Police logged 83.25 hours in support of the town police.
  • Facilities Management logged 1,853 hours in support of the cleanup efforts in the town and the county.
What types of things did they work on?
  • BU buses and operators transported displaced residents to the Berwick emergency shelter.
  • 10 pieces of heavy equipment and operators assisted in cleanup efforts.
  • Student-athletes and other students assisted with cleanup efforts. For example:
– Kappa Sigma fraternity helped the cleanup in town.
– Nancy Gentile Ford, professor of history, volunteered with the local Red Cross from the first warning of the flood. Michelle Kurtz, a BU senior, was active with the Red Cross and posted many messages on Facebook leading others to the Red Cross.
– Chi Theta Pi sorority organized efforts to help clean local houses and worked at the shelter in Berwick.
– Delta Epsilon Beta sorority assisted with cleanup at the Barn at Boone’s Dam, helping owner and BU alumna Ruth Kranig ’94, who provided free meals for volunteers and those affected by flooding.
– BU student-athletes volunteered before and after their practices and competitions.
– BU field hockey and soccer teams ripped out a ruined floor on West Third Street.
– BU wrestling team demolished a ruined wall on West Third Street and emptied buckets of sludge from homes on Leonard Street.
  • Annie’s Place animal shelter on BU’s upper campus housed as many as 20 dogs and five cats.
  • We communicated all town information, including road closings and press releases, to the BU community (many of whom are town residents, PPL and United Water customers) via emails, texts, Web, radio and TV announcements.
  • Volunteers removed mud, dry wall and soiled belongings from homes.
  • Volunteers either helped homeowners clean and save them, or put them curbside for removal.
  • BU loaded a pickup truck with soft drink and Rita’s water ice and distributed the refreshments every afternoon to flood victims and their families for a break.
  • Volunteers washed loads of laundry.
  • BU purchased mops, buckets, latex gloves, work gloves, water, cleaning supplies, bleach, food and other supplies for donation.
  • Volunteers sorted and folded clothing at local churches for distribution and worked at the Wesley United Methodist Church/Caldwell Consistory serving food to flood victims.

What other types of flood assistance did the university provide to the town?

  • Supplied and placed 50 porta-potties in the Town of Bloomsburg
  • Bused student volunteers for house cleaning; provided transportation to and from the flood area for other volunteers
  • Collected and delivered cleaning supplies
  • Helped pump water out of homes with the fire department
  • Helped deliver drinking water, which was stored and distributed from BU’s upper campus
  • Provided large equipment, such as bulldozers to help with the cleanup
  • Housed the National Guard at Monty’s on BU’s upper campus

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2 thoughts on “An Interview with Bloomsburg University President David Soltz

  1. Professor Jennifer Oast spearheaded a drive at BU and Virginia Commonwealth University to gather books to help rebuild the home libraries of students at Bloomsburg Memorial Elementary who lost all their books in the flood. Thank you Jennifer!

  2. Thank you to all who helped! I remember doing the same type of thing during the cleanup after Agnes in 1972. It felt so good to help others and I know the students felt the same.

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