Business students in Houston are dealing with the kind of disruption that is quite different from the kind they study in a classroom.
This weekend, disruption tore across the Texas Gulf in the form of Hurricane Harvey. It played out like a dystopian vision of dissolution. Beach towns were leveled by 130-mile-per-hour winds. Forty inches of rain turned roads into rivers. Helicopters whirred overhead as fatigued firemen and boaters snapped up the left-behinds. In Houston, people became like the water surrounding them: supplanted and stranded — many with nowhere to go.
GOOD FORTUNE IS HIT-OR-MISS IN HOUSTON
Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, considers himself one of the lucky ones. He wasn’t among those wading through waist-deep sludge, seeking shelter with his belongings slung over his shoulder. Unlike his neighbor, Rodriguez’s Inner Loop home was spared from flooding — for now, at least. Thanks to the storm hitting areas with differing intensities, Rodriguez tells Poets&Quants, the damage in Houston varies, with the southern part of the city suffering the worst.
“There are a lot of streets that are fine,” Roderiguez notes. “As long as you don’t go down the wrong street, you should be OK. But yesterday (August 27), it was virtually impossible to get around.”
Rodriguez knows, however, that many of his students didn’t enjoy his good fortune. As proactive as he is protective, Rodriguez has been at the helm of a vigorous emergency response at Rice MBA. With the hope of making sense out of chaos, Rice administrators have been working tirelessly to stay connected and identify those students who may need help, running a live action seminar on communication (with a strong dose of logistics).
IN CONSTANT CONTACT WITH STUDENTS
Before the storm arrived, Rice made a concerted effort to contact every student through calls, texts, and emails. The intent was to get everyone to check in, collecting vitals like locations and cell numbers on a shared Google document in the process. Select students, faculty and staff were also mobilized to stay connected with students. That way , they could identify potentially risky locales and match those students with community members who could offer them assistance. The website main page even included a splash to inform students about happenings at the school, such as class cancellations.
“On a day like today, class assignments and all that is mundane,” Rodriguez says. “We’re thinking about safety and addressing what needs to be done.” He adds that the students have been adapting well to the turmoil. “It is really a resilient and passionate community.”
Communication has only been part of Rodriguez’s efforts. He too was stunned by images of people swimming out of their homes. It hit home further when nearly a dozen students reported that their homes had been flooded. That inspired Rodriguez to become even more active on the ground.
FROM DEAN TO … CHAUFFEUR?
Guillermo Ibarguengoytia (’19) lives within a few miles of Dean Rodriguez, but they might as well be living in separate states. When Harvey hit, Ibarguengoytia’s first floor apartment became quickly engulfed. Luckily, a classmate, Andres Cuabrado (’18), lived a floor above him. Although they barely knew each other at Rice, Cuabrado opened up his home as the flooding began. While they had a few days worth of food and water, their apartment lacked power. They had little juice left in their phones too. Of course, they were surrounded by three feet of water on all sides.
After much of the water had drained away on Monday morning, the group reached out to Rice. They quickly received a message back from Rodriguez urging them to leave because they weren’t safe where they were. Knowing that Harvey was gathering strength for a second go-round — and how quickly things can go south when people lack power — Rodriguez rifled through his rolodex to get a place for them. Eventually, he found an apartment complex housing roughly 20 2nd year MBA candidates.
“Peter and his wife picked up Andres and his wife and I. They drove us to where the other students were living,” Ibarguengoytia shares. “It was incredible the way he responded. I don’t know if that happens at other business schools, but at least here at Rice, it speaks volumes about the community and the help each other type of vibe and culture we have. It’s one of the reasons I chose this business school.”