A few weeks after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, the admissions office at IUPUI received a phone call from a woman in Carmel who had a niece on the island. The young student's first semester at the University of Puerto Rico had been compromised by the storm, and she needed to explore other options for her education.
Coming to IUPUI would be an excellent solution, especially with a relative nearby. Applying, however, was no easy task. Obtaining official transcripts from the university and her high school, both ravaged by Hurricane Maria, was impossible. All she could provide were unofficial, supplemental documents.
As it turned out, officers from the IUPUI admissions office were able to accept the documentation. The student will begin classes in the spring.
Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary solutions, and IUPUI is using them as it keeps open what has long been a productive student pipeline with Puerto Rico.
This week, admissions official Mark Belloni and School of Engineering and Technology Director for Student Services and Recruitment Marilyn Mangin are on the island for "Puerto Rico App Strong" week, during which some U.S. universities are offering hurricane relief while also making it easier for students to apply for school.
"We felt, as a campus with a conscience, that the right thing to do was to go down and offer support to these students," said Matthew Moody, associate director for strategic operations in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Belloni had worked with several students individually, and the admissions office put IUPUI's name on a list of schools that would be flexible with deadlines and working with students under extenuating circumstances. That led to taking this trip, which is far different from the average college recruiting fair.
Most fairs are about banners, brochures and swag. This week, college representatives are handing out relief supplies instead of pens and koozies, and they're getting down to business right away.
Many will offer on-the-spot admission, hooking up laptops for students to apply who might have been unable to do so over the last couple of months due to spotty power and internet service. Representatives will make decisions based on documents the students can provide, realizing the usual paperwork might not be available. IUPUI will also offer financial assistance.
"We're hoping students and families see IUPUI as an institution that wants to work with them and sees them as adding to our student body," Moody said. "By us offering assistance, they can recognize that we're a college that stepped forward in a time of need."
IUPUI is no stranger to Puerto Rico. Around 10 Puerto Ricans arrive as freshmen each year, with half of those coming specifically for the School of Engineering and Technology.
The school has made Puerto Rico a regular stop for recruiting for many years and has long offered special scholarships to students.
"They have been some of our best students -- they have been leaders in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, have had strong GPAs and have gone on to very good jobs," Mangin said. "We've been doing this a while."
The work continues this week, just in a different way than anyone would have imagined.