SUNY students volunteering in Puerto Rico to receive credit

Volunteers  working on rebuilding and developing infrastructure damanged after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria (pictured above). New York Gov. Cuomo decided that students could receive credit for helping in Puerto Rico (Alexis Vélez/creative commons).

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s latest initiative to support reconstruction in Puerto Rico on Thursday April 19, pledging to send teams of volunteers in June 2018 to help rebuild houses. Approximately 500 SUNY and CUNY students willing to volunteer will receive college credit for their assistance, according to Cuomo’s April 19 announcement. 

Volunteers will work alongside contractors and other building trade professionals for periods of two or four weeks, according to Cuomo. 

“[Students] will receive credit for their time, their service in Puerto Rico,” Cuomo said in his announcement. “They will be in courses and training and education that is related to the reconstruction of housing and infrastructure and aided by the professionals.”

SUNY officials will meet in Puerto Rico on Sunday April 29 to finalize the logistics of this initiative and determine what kind of credit students will receive for their service.

“I think it’s got to be meaningful college credit,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stacey Robertson said. “There has to be a learning process, a reflection process. That can manifest in a variety of different areas. I hope the quality of the experience reflects a deep intellectual engagement.” 

Geneseo offers its students a variety of volunteering opportunities through programs like Livingston CARES and Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development program, according to Robertson. 

“Through Livingston CARES and some of our GOLD programs we are already committed to making the world a better place in any way we can, and we believe this kind of holistic learning is valuable to students,” Robertson said. “In some ways, I think … Cuomo is just catching up to us.”

 Livingston CARES provided students with volunteering opportunities in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston during spring break of 2018 and plans to continue its service trips in May, according to Associate Dean of Leadership and Service Thomas Matthews. 

“We’ve been doing this since [Hurricane] Katrina,” Matthews said. “[The students] work on a variety of different projects with houses and doing some things in the area where they are staying. It’s typical disaster relief work—construction, deconstruction, flood repairs. Students complete assignments given to them by our host organization, the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church will host additional groups of Geneseo student volunteers in Puerto Rico and Mississippi in May 2018. 

International relations major senior Michael Wall worked as a student volunteer in Puerto Rico during spring break of 2018. 

“There was a team of ten of us,” Wall said. “We poured concrete roofs, sealed them and dug a drainage canal around the local church. What was most important for us to remember is that Puerto Rico is going into another hurricane season and they haven’t recovered from the first. We tried to make repairs that could get people through the next season.”

Wall expressed his support for the governor’s initiative. 

“I think it’s an incredibly valuable experience and students should receive credit for it,” Wall said. “If I could participate in the governor’s new program I would in a heartbeat.”