After Devastating Hurricane Maria, Pomona Admits Two Visiting Puerto Rican Students For Free Semester

Hurricane Maria caused massive damage to buildings, nature, and infrastructure in Puerto Rico. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In light of the destruction from Hurricane Maria, Pomona College admitted two students from Puerto Rico in a visiting semester program for the 2018 spring semester, waiving their tuition as well as room and board fees and providing a $1,500 stipend.

Wesley Sánchez, a senior at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, is one of the participants in the program.

“When my mother and I walked back to our house, and there had been landslides and fallen trees, we were in shock,” Sánchez said. “At one point, there were 18 people crowded into one house.”

Sánchez said his family rarely had internet, so accessing the application during the hurricane was the most difficult part of applying to Pomona. He said technical issues, along with transferring schools so abruptly, have been his biggest difficulties so far.

However, Sánchez said that Pomona students have been very friendly and that faculty correspond with him constantly, checking on his situation.

Wesley Sánchez (Luke Meares • The Student Life)

The other participant in the program, Yarelis Marcial, is also from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, where she’s a junior. Like Sánchez, she experienced many struggles during Hurricane Maria.

“I lived near a water reserve, so they would have to bring in trucks of water and cut off the surrounding area,” Marcial said.

She said she is grateful for Pomona’s support and financial aid, as well as the warm welcome from administrators and fellow students.

Yarelis Marcial (Luke Meares • The Student Life)

Adam Sapp, Pomona’s director of admissions, wrote in an email to TSL that the application process for the visiting semester program, which opened in November, was specifically designed to be accessible to undergraduates during the natural disaster.

“The admissions office created a special application process for students applying from Puerto Rico,” he wrote. “We wanted to make sure we balanced our obligation to obtain appropriate academic and supplemental materials with the realities on the ground — access to power and internet for these students was very limited. In the end I feel we created a process that was accessible, flexible, and student-centered.”

The program could have accepted up to ten students, according to a press release published by Pomona in December, but spokesperson Marylou Ferry said the administration “was pleased with the number of students who applied and the number who accepted our offer of admission.”

Sapp said he was not aware of any plans to extend the program beyond the end of this semester, which could potentially be a problem for Sánchez and Marcial if recovery efforts in Puerto Rico are not completed by then.

Although Sánchez expects to graduate this semester, he did lament that he cannot take advantage of Pomona’s internship resources.

“I wish I could apply to the interesting internships they have over the summer,” Sánchez said. “But since I graduate in May, and I don’t technically go here, it’s unlikely that I will be able to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Other Pomona students not part of the program were also affected by the hurricane. Jaime Gonzalez PO ’21 is from Dorado, Puerto Rico, and his family also had to ride out the hurricane.

Gonzalez said he received a lot of empathy and compassion from fellow students and faculty, but felt regret at how helpless he was to assist them. “I wish I had taken more initiative,” he said.

Sapp hopes the program will have benefits not just for Sánchez and Marcial, but for the broader Pomona community as well.

“I am thrilled that the Pomona community will have the opportunity to engage and learn from our incredible students visiting from Puerto Rico,” he wrote. “I am also confident that these students will find their Pomona experience a valuable one and that they will thrive here — not just in the classroom, but outside of it as well.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. TSL regrets this error.