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Stony Brook Joins New York State Initiative to Aid Puerto Rico

Stony Brook Medicine team

Stony Brook occupational therapy graduate student Nicole Carrasquillo was busy trying to figure out ways to help hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico when a golden opportunity landed in her lap: Governor Andrew E. Cuomo’s NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative.

Puerto Rico group
Stony Brook students at the airport en route to Puerto Rico

Through the initiative, 250 students from 15 institutions throughout the State University of New York (SUNY) system and 250 students from the City University of New York system will travel to Puerto Rico this summer to assist in rebuilding efforts.

Carrasquillo will be one of them.

The SUNY students will travel to remote parts of the island and rough it, working alongside non-profit rebuilding organizers and skilled labor volunteers.

“I’m of Puerto Rican descent and I had been independently researching Puerto Rican rebuild trips when the SUNY trip presented itself,” she said. “I knew I would find satisfaction in helping local residents get back to their daily routines following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. I can’t imagine how difficult a challenge that would be when your physical surroundings are in chaos.”

Four other Stony Brook University students will accompany Carrasquillo — engineering major Zakhar Lyakhovych ’21, education major graduate student Alexander Douglas, accounting major graduate student Daniel Camaj and biochemistry major Yan Ming Lee ‘20 — along with two Stony Brook staff members, Pascale Jones and Jessica Zuniga, coordinators at International Programs.

The Stony brook contingent is traveling to the island nation on July 15  — roughly 10 months after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria, one of the costliest ($91.6 billion) Atlantic hurricanes ever, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Hurricane Center.

“The opportunity came to us from SUNY at a really good time,” Zuniga said. We have talked about how we can provide academic opportunities that allow students to get more involved in the community hosting them.”

Carrasquillo said that she will be removing debris from housing with chemicals and repairing tin roofs. But she said she is “looking forward to connecting with locals and developing a deeper understanding of their experience.”

Sixteen additional SBU students will deploy to Puerto Rico later in the summer. It is the second Stony Brook group effort to send aid to the stricken communities since the storm destroyed much of the island infrastructure a year ago.

The students will receive course credits and a $500 stipend during their two-week deployments.

Candidates for the mission were selected from a pool of 3,000 applicants. Criteria for consideration included factors such as GPA and essays explaining their motivation for wanting to participate.

The students are encouraged to maintain blogs and journals to document their experience.

In October 2017, a 23-person Stony Brook Medicine task force, which included doctors, nurses, a pharmacist, paramedics, nurse-practitioners and nursing assistants, represented regional hospitals to lend their expertise and care to the stricken island.

— Glenn Jochum

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