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An Opportunity to Inspire

September 18, 2017 -- For Hannah Carlson, a senior from Des Moines majoring in English Teaching, Houston, Texas wasn’t even on her radar when she first considered student UNI student teachers help out in Houstonteaching outside of Iowa.

It wasn’t until two recruiters shared information with her about the Houston Independent School District -- specifically, the large size and the inclusion of Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish immersion programs -- that Carlson began to consider Houston as a very real possibility.

[UNI student teachers volunteering at a donation center in Houston]

“I am so proud to be an Iowan and a UNI alum,” Menster said. “I never doubted that our student teachers would step up and help Houstonians get back on their feet."

Emily Mujica, a post-bachelor’s degree elementary education major from Mason City, was a different story. Having experienced schools in the state of Iowa, Mujica was keen on going elsewhere and viewed student teaching in Houston as a challenge to herself.

Both were among eight UNI student teachers placed in the Houston area when a Category 4 hurricane made landfall on Thursday, Aug. 24. Over a four-day period, Hurricane Harvey dropped more than 40 inches of rain over eastern Texas, leading to catastrophic flooding that affected hundreds of thousands of homes and left more than 30,000 people displaced.

“I have been incredibly blessed to be in an area where there was no flooding and very minimal damage,” said Carlson. “But that is not the case with so many people across the city.”

Carlson described the heartbreak of driving through the city and seeing the contents of someone’s scattered across their front yard, waiting to be picked up and taken to the dump.

“It was just so hard to believe that within only a few days the city was underwater and highways I drive on everyday were submerged under water,” said Mujica. “It was hard for me to prepare for a storm like this because I've never been through anything like this before.”

With the start of school delayed due to the flooding, Carlson, Mujica and other UNI student teachers turned to Lance Menster for direction on what to do in the meantime.

Menster, a UNI alum who graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, is the elementary curriculum and development officer for the Houston Independent School District. When the student teachers expressed for concern for their schools and the surrounding community, he shared with them a variety of volunteer opportunities.

The student teachers started by volunteering through the Houston-area nonprofit organization Books Between Kids, which saw them sorting through donated books that would be sent to schools in the surrounding area to help restock their libraries.

The student teachers also volunteered at a donation center organized by the Houston Independent School District. People brought in clothing, hygiene products, school supplies, blankets, towels and more, and the volunteers were responsible for sorting and organizing before they could be sent to shelters across the city.

Menster was impressed, but not surprised, by their willingness to lend a helping hand.

“I am so proud to be an Iowan and a UNI alum,” Menster said. “I never doubted that our student teachers would step up and help Houstonians get back on their feet. They were all-hands-on-deck and ready to get their hands dirty to volunteer and assist others.”

The devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey has been heartbreaking to say the least, but Carlson has been touched by the goodwill she has witnessed in the wake of the disaster.

“People from all over the country and even the world are sending supplies and food,” Carlson said. “The city has truly come together in a way that only can happen when tragedy strikes.”

For these student teachers, the aftermath of the storm will undoubtedly reverberate throughout the school year -- and perhaps the rest of their lives.

“I know it’s going to be a tough year because of Hurricane Harvey,” said Mujica. “But no matter what, I’m really thankful for this experience.”

In addition to Hannah Carlson and Emily Mujica, the other UNI student teachers placed in the Houston area are Sonya Curtis, Shelby Hanan, Emma Korson, Molly White, Karl Kramer and Nolan Burns.