Student Voice


November 29, 2023



Displaced student finds home at UW-RF

September 23, 2005

While attending college in New Orleans, Azriel "Ozzie" Echols, a new UW-River Falls freshman, woke up to the news flash on the television telling him he must evacuate the city at once. Echols was attending school at Dillard University for a criminal justice major with a forensic science emphasis before Katrina forced to move back to his hometown of St. Paul.

Having literally only the clothes on his back and living in New Orleans for only two weeks, Echols rode with nine other people in a 14-hour car ride to Oklahoma where he had to buy a $356 dollar plane ticket to get back to Minnesota, all on his birthday. Echols was now ready to try and find a new college to attend. With the help of his aunt, Echols was able to enroll at UW-RF and make it his home school for now.

"After a hectic experience, I feel like I have overcome so much and have the dedication," Echols said. "I was the last born in my family and first to go get a degree, so nothing is going to stop me."

Echols plans to finish the year at UWRF. It is nice to be closer to family and home, Echols said.

In most cases the colleges and all paper work is lost. "In a good faith inchoative the school acted very fast in processing the student and getting him enrolled in classes within a short period of time," said Carolyn Brady of Admissions and Multicultural Outreach. "It was a team effort and proud to see everyone on campus work together to help." UW-RF has already opened its doors for one displaced student that was attending college before the Katrina hit.

"Speechless with no complaints and no confusion," Echols said, referring to UWRF efforts to him into the college as quick and painless as possible.

A news release issued last Friday from the UW System states that displaced students from the Gulf Coast colleges attending any of the 26 campuses in Wisconsin will have their tuition waived for the Fall 2005 semester. "Hurricane Katrina disrupted the lives of thousands of Gulf Coast residents, and UW campuses want to help as best they can," said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly in the news release. If these students choose to stay at a UW campus and complete their degree programs they must compete for admission and be charged for all UW credits earned. It is likely most of these students will return back to their home colleges, where they have already paid tuition.

The President of the UW System sent an e-mail to all the campuses Sept.2, as well as UW-River Falls Chancellor Don Benz addressing the issue that the UW System and UW-RF will do its part to help in any way possible.

Staff and students alike had already begun efforts to help those affected by the natural disaster. "Caring individuals throughout campus wasted no time to help in any way possible," said dean of student development Blake Fry.

UW-RF has already raised roughly $5,000 at tables that were setup in the Hagestad Student Center, bookstore donations, collecting money throughout the community and a web site ( that helps direct people to charities to donate.

Fry said there are several ways to help that don't involve money, since most college students are strapped for money already. Ways in which students can help include a blood drive Oct. 3. Also, through the coordinated efforts of Susie Zimmer and the Art Department there will be a silent auction to raise money, it will be held on Oct. 27.

UW-RF plans to "adopt" a sister school in the affected region, allowing students the opportunity to go to the Gulf Coast for J-term or spring break while earning credit.

The opportunity would give students real-life experience to use what they learned in college. Students' talents and putting those talents to good use is just as valuable as money, Fry said.