Hurricane Katrina transfer makes it home for the holidays

Courtney Morse, a 29-year-old student from Arizona, decided to transfer from Tulane University to Portland State after hearing the devastating effects Hurricane Katrina had on her college and home in New Orleans.

Now, after a term in Portland, Morse is returning home.

A few days prior to Katrina, Morse was participating in the "Hood to Coast" relay race in Portland while visiting her best friend. After hearing news of the hurricane, Morse says PSU seemed like the only option.

Morse is getting a dual masters degree in social work and public health. During her time here, she worked on her thesis as well as interning at OHSU. She has only one term left before completing a degree and wishes she could stay to finish at Portland State.

"It’s not ideal that I’m going back to Tulane. It’s sort of a political thing – Tulane really needs its students to come back to stay afloat," she said.

Morse ended up getting free admission to Portland State fall term because Tulane held on to all student tuition monies.

Morse originally opted to stay PSU, but said that Portland State officials told her they are not in the business of stealing students from other universities.

Fortunately, Morse found out that PSU did not offer the specific track she is focusing on for her degree – maternal and child healthcare.

"This made it easier for me to realize it would be better to return to Tulane," she said.

Morse said she is extremely grateful for everything Portland State has done for her this term, saying that PSU "went above and beyond."

With no records to work with, Morse said, "PSU advisers went into high gear. On my honor, they took me in."

While classes have been more challenging for Morse this term than most due to extraneous circumstances, the people she’s met here have made her experience easier to deal with.

"I don’t even know how I’m ever going to thank everyone here for all they’ve done," she said.

While writing the acknowledgements for the thesis she has been working on this term, Morse said she began to cry.

"It’s a little cheesy, but it’s kind of the pay it forward concept. I hope I can do something for the people who have been there for me one day," she said.

Morse plans to drive to Arizona to spend time with her family for the holidays. Her father will be meeting her in Portland and they will be driving there together.

"In some ways it’s extra relaxing getting to go home this year," she said.

After the holidays, Morse will be returning to Tulane to finish her last term of college.

Morse says she is almost sure she will have a home when she arrives in New Orleans. She said the first-story apartment below hers was gutted after receiving about five feet of floodwater due to Hurricane Katrina. While her apartment on the second floor seems to be in tact, she said she will be in touch with her landlady in January to confirm that there are no mold problems or structural damages to the building.

If all else fails, Morse will have the option of living on a cruise ship, as Tulane University has contracted with Carnival Cruise Lines to make two cruise ships available for student and faculty housing.

Post-graduation, Morse expressed potential plans of returning to Oregon.

"I really hope to come back to Portland," she said.

She hopes to continue doing work through OHSU, ideally combining clinical and therapeutic social work with young children and their families. Morse also hopes to do something for the larger population.

"Hopefully, I will do some research and programming to set up better resources and support systems for children and families here in Oregon," she said.