Florida SouthWestern State College restarted classes Wednesday, becoming the last state institution of higher education to resume its core mission since Hurricane Ian’s Category 4 wrath upended normal life from coast to coast.
The state Department of Education sent out a release Monday highlighting the milestone just two weeks after the storm’s landfall, “thanks to around-the-clock work,” it said.
All 40 public higher education institutions are back in operation because of the collaborative efforts that drew together not only the state colleges and universities, but also state agencies and local communities around the state working to help the hardest-hit areas, said state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr.
“Florida state colleges have stepped up to help their students, communities and neighboring institutions as our state recovers from Hurricane Ian,” Diaz said. He cited Florida Atlantic University’s softball team going from Palm Beach County to the Fort Myers area for cleanup duty.
The news release also detailed the human efforts to relieve individuals’ suffering and displacement resulting from the storm.
In the immediate wake of the storm, institutions responded.
Drones from Florida State University’s Center for Disaster Risk Policy helped with urban search and rescue in the rubble. Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service Team from the University of Florida went to Southwest Florida to help more than 300 animals in need of emergency care.
The institutions that Hurricane Ian didn’t touch organized supply drives to send to those campuses that were impacted, sending care packages, laptop computers and diapers, the news release said. At ground zero, Florida Gulf Coast University jump-started portals to help gravely affected students and staff get support.
“In the wake of Hurricane Ian’s impact on Florida, the State University System has worked closely together to provide support to our impacted campuses and surrounding communities during this difficult time,” said Marshall M. Criser III, Chancellor of the State University System of Florida.
“I am proud that before, during, and after the storm, our universities have leaned in to ensure that our students and employees received the necessary resources based on their individual and collective needs.”
There’s also been an effort to use the state universities’ and colleges’ facilities to help with recovery. Eight universities are serving as Business Recovery Centers in partnership with Florida Small Business Development Center, officials said. Florida State University is providing a staging area for first responders on their way to the affected areas. Daytona State College opened its computer labs for those students who need an internet connection.
The effort to return to completely normal life still has a ways to go in the areas that took the brunt of the storm, however.
Florida SouthWestern State College announced on its website that classes on its Lee County campus will be held online starting Wednesday, since that campus remains closed. Classes there resumed in remote format, according to an Oct. 5 release. But FSW campuses in Collier, Charlotte and Hendry/Glades counties would operate as usual, according to the college’s website.