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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Minnesota State pitches in for New Orleans student

Stunned by support

A displaced Dillard University student from New Orleans is studying at Minnesota State, thanks to extraordinary efforts by the Department of Speech Communications and Institutional Diversity.

By Robb Murray [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 9/7/2005]

Mankato —  When Katrina was swirling toward New Orleans, Fay Yusuf got out of town and waited for the storm to pass. She figured she'd be back in New Orleans — and back on her college campus — by Tuesday.

But while watching the horrifying aftermath, she knew there was no way of returning to her hometown anytime soon. And her college semester was lost, unless something extraordinary happened.

Then she got an idea. Her long-range plans had her attending Minnesota State University in January. Given the tragedy, she wondered, is it possible they'd let her come a semester early?

Yusuf, who had only just recently received her letter from MSU stating they'd received her application for admission to the graduate program, called Minnesota State University on Wednesday. Two hours later the beginnings of an outpouring of support began coming her way, and they haven't stopped.

"I can't even put it into words," she said of her reaction to all that has been done for her. "And I'm a speech communications student, so that should give you some idea.

"That first call went to Daniel Cronn-Mills, chairman of the speech communications department. She told Cronn-Mills her plight, and Cronn-Mills went right to work.

He contacted the graduate studies office and urged them to review Yusuf's application immediately. They did so. Yusuf, who had been recruited by Michael Fagin, MSU's dean for Institutional Diversity, was admitted.

From there the task was getting Yusuf, who had $45 in her pocket, to Minnesota. When she evacuated to Houston she'd had a few spare outfits and an overnight bag of toiletries. That it's. Fagin and Cronn-Mills began raising money.

They received donations from every faculty member in the speech communications department and its secretaries. President Richard Davenport contributed. So did various vice presidents and assistant vice presidents.

They sent her gas money so she could drive from Houston. Fagin, who owns several rental properties in town, gave her one of his vacant apartments and found furnishings for it. Her class schedule was filled out for her.

When she arrived, Minnesota Nice immediately kicked in.

"Everywhere I go, my Louisiana plates are on my car and people everywhere are asking, 'Do you need anything?'" she said. "People at the grocery store are saying, 'Do you want anything out of our basket?'"

She'll be a research graduate assistant this semester and will be paid out of the Institutional Diversity budget. Next semester, she'll be a teaching graduate assistant and will be paid out of the speech communications budget.

Yusuf chose MSU because of Fagin's recruitment and because of other Dillard College students who said MSU was a good place to come.

"Every reason I'm here is because of the other students from Dillard who are here and have amazing things to say about this place," she said. "Everyone here is so helpful.

"She comes to Minnesota having never been here before, having never lived in a non-metro area before, having never been, she said, north of the Mason-Dixon Line. She also comes to Minnesota with a surprisingly upbeat attitude.

She's lost a lot of stuff. Her family hopes to get to their suburban New Orleans home this week and check out the damage. Whatever they uncover, she says, it could have been worse.

"There's a saying we have down South — 'Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying,'" she said. "I'm not living in the Astrodome. I've been so blessed by Minnesota State. I don't have any children, and there's so many other people that have so many things to deal with. The help Minnesota State has given me is going to give me the help I need to go back and help the people of New Orleans."

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