Ken Muneoka, Ph.D. ’83 never dreamed he’d be working in a UCI biology lab this fall – along with five of his students and a postdoctoral researcher from Tulane University. He didn’t expect to be living with his former professor, Susan Bryant, dean of biological sciences, and her husband, research biologist David Gardiner. But that was before Hurricane Katrina uprooted Muneoka and his family from their New Orleans home, setting him on an unexpected course back to UCI.
As a visiting professor of cell and molecular biology, Muneoka is trying to continue his research on limb regeneration – while regenerating his own life.
“It will cost months if not years to recoup the momentum in his research. Presumably his animals (special strains of lab mice) are lost,” says Bryant, who considers Muneoka a colleague and friend. “He could be worrying about how everything will turn out, but he’s not. He’s a well-balanced person.”
Muneoka was heading to a conference in Australia when he heard about Katrina and hurried home. His wife and two children had safely evacuated to Georgia, but his home was severely damaged.
After Tulane closed, Bryant and Gardiner offered Muneoka their lab and office space as well as their Newport Beach home. Muneoka and his family plan to stay at least until the end of the quarter. His students moved into on-campus housing.
“People have donated bedding, clothing, TVs and furniture to my six people,” Muneoka says. “They’re helping in any way they can to bring our lives back to normal.”
Ken and the Tulane contingent aren’t the only ones who have found a temporary home at UCI. Pamela Waldron-Moore, chair of political science at Xavier University, will spend fall quarter as a visiting associate professor of political science in UCI’s School of Social Sciences.
About 12 graduate students and 14 undergraduates have come from New Orleans schools, including Tulane, Xavier, Loyola University and the University of New Orleans. Students’ numbers have fluctuated as they decide to stay or head elsewhere. They’re here as visiting scholars, so UCI can waive tuition and sort through details of their financial aid on a case-by-case basis.
Zack St. Onge, a senior computer science major at Loyola, came with just the few clothes he’d packed before fleeing Katrina. He was told not to worry about tuition and other costs while the university processes his paperwork, and he was provided with a furnished student apartment, bedding and necessities.
St. Onge has seen satellite photos of his family’s home in Orleans Parish that showed it virtually underwater.
“You don’t think about things you lost, and then …” he says, his voice trailing off. “It’s hard to realize some of this stuff is gone.”
But thanks to the UCI community, for St. Onge, Muneoka and the others affected by Katrina, all is not lost.
“UCI has been very good to me,” Muneoka says. “Everyone has been incredibly generous. It’s not like we’re alone in this thing.”