Rutgers-Camden Prof from Puerto Rico Discusses Maria's Devastation, Future of Island

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It’s been over four months since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, creating devastation for many on the island.

One professor from Rutgers University—Camden went back to the island not once, but twice since the tragic storm.

Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, professor of Public Policy and Administration at the school, explaining the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, said that the "hurricane was a Category 5 that basically destroyed the island economically, politically and socially.” 

Her first trip back in November left her in shock.

Rutgers is supporting students that want to come here to continue their studies.

“Post-Maria, the infrastructure is destroyed," said Bonilla-Santiago, who is from Puerto Rico. "Meaning the underground infrastructure of buildings, the water system, the sewer system that broke and the contamination of rivers and waters.” 

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Her second trip took place this past week and this time it was about checking on students involved with the university’s program on the island.

“The sense of the students is [that] we can’t talk about school, we have to talk about survival. My parents don’t have a house, we’ve lost everything, we’re staying with family members,” said Bonilla-Santiago, who is also on the Board of Governors at the school.

And officials at Rutgers University—Camden are trying to help those students rise above the devastation.

“Rutgers is supporting students that want to come here to continue their studies," said Bonilla-Santiago. "Then we’re also partnering with the Center for Puerto Rico to run classes - hopefully next fall - to give people time to recuperate.” 

But the university’s involvement doesn’t stop there as she plans to hold a conference this spring with San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yuliz Cruz, while serving as the Keynote Speaker in hopes of starting a conversation.

“How do we support Puerto Rico long term, in terms of reinvesting into the economy, building a community and economic ventures to support Puerto Rico,” said Bonilla-Santiago, regarding topics that will be discussed at the conference.

She recognizes rebuilding Puerto Rico won’t happen overnight and that the island will need all the help they can get to get back up on their feet.

“Puerto Rico has a voice and a presence and we’re not going to forget Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico is not going to feel alone anymore,” said Bonilla-Santiago.

“A Call to Action: Future Challenges for a New Puerto Rico” will be held on Friday, March 30th at the Camden campus. 

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