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Haitians Earn Degrees Through Internship
January 18, 2011

When his university collapsed in Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, James Paul found himself unable to finish his studies and receive his civil engineering degree. As a senior near his degree completion, Mr. Paul, along with many others, was unable to finish the required senior thesis needed to secure a college degree in Haiti. The earthquake destroyed higher education infrastructure and as many as 200 professors and 6,000 college students were killed.

Haitian Ambassador Louis Harold Joseph answers interns' questions during a visit to Washington, D.C.

However, Mr. Paul says he found himself at Virginia Tech during the 2010 fall semester as a part of the Virginia Tech-Haitian University Program along with seven other Haitian students. The internship allows Haitians to access faculty and resources to complete their senior theses and receive degrees from their home universities in Haiti. The first eight interns graduated in December, and 12 new interns are expected to be in the program next semester.

The interns pursued a variety of degrees, from civil engineering, electrical engineering, and watershed management, to forestry. In many instances, the interns were placed with faculty already involved in Haiti. Mr. Paul was able to base his thesis work off the Ti Peligre Project, a pre-existing Haitian bridge-building effort at Virginia Tech.

Another member of the team, Katie Masoero of Marlton, N.J., a senior majoring in civil engineering in the College of Engineering, said having a Haitian on board has given them a better expectation about available materials, workers, and practices in the country.

Chris Cooke of Hampton, Va., a senior majoring in civil engineering in the College of Engineering, said the Haitians are capable of overcoming challenges and accomplishing their goals so long as they have access to the necessary technology.

The interns here for the fall semester worked to graduate in December. In addition to completing their theses, they attended a University Honors Colloquium about Haiti, where undergraduate students and interns discussed Haitian politics, history, religion, and culture in overlapping conversations of Creole and English. The interns have became involved in the Blacksburg community, with churches, and other organizations making in-kind contributions of furniture, housing needs, and bus passes.

Mr. Paul said the most surprising thing about living in Blacksburg has been the involvement of the community in helping Haiti achieve sustainable infrastructure systems even before the earthquake.

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