Mini-mester course takes students to Tornado Alley

A group of Western Carolina University students had an opportunity to learn about leadership and management in times of disaster as they participated in a May mini-mester course that included a service-learning trip to Tornado Alley.

The nine students spent the week of May 17-23 in Oklahoma and helped out with recovery work in the cities of Oklahoma City, Moore and Newallah as part of the course organized through WCU’s Center for Service Learning and two academic programs – the leadership minor, and emergency and disaster management. The trip was one part of a three-week-long course that also included educational modules covering disaster management, volunteerism and the human psyche in disasters.

During the week in Oklahoma, the students participated in community engagement and recovery work with Habitat for Humanity and the United Methodist Church Disaster Response/Recovery Team, said Lane Perry, WCU’s director of service learning who led the trip and taught the course along with Tom Johnson, assistant professor in WCU’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and former chief of police at the university.

In addition to helping out with recovery and rebuilding in the area, which was devastated by tornadoes in 2013 and earlier this year, the students visited a local TV news headquarters, where they watched tornado warnings being broadcast live. They also visited the Oklahoma City Murrah Building Bombing Memorial and Museum and met with representatives of four disaster relief and management organization’s at Salvation Army headquarters.

WCU students installed metal roofing on a newly constructed barn during their service-learning trip to Oklahoma.

WCU students install metal roofing on a newly constructed barn during their service-learning trip to Oklahoma.

“It was great how everyone came together and seemed to be really motivated about what they were doing,” said participating student Paul Davis. Organizers of the course said the students came away from the trip eager to take part in other relief efforts. “The trip was amazing, and the volunteerism taught me a lot about myself and what it means to be human,” said another student participant, Justin Ness.

Perry said the students showed that they are “exceptional in their flexibility and commitment to engagement work. The primary focus of the course was to expose students to the stories, processes and theories around volunteer management, spontaneous volunteerism, and the role that leadership theories, techniques and approaches can have in managing through that process.”

Other students taking the course and participating in the service trip were Alex Bennet, Doug Brown, Jessie McCaffrey, Andrew Olson, Caleb McQueen, Lisa Patton and Sutton Atha. Matthew Chevalier served as an assistant on the trip.

For more information about the course and service-learning trip, contact Perry at 828-227-2643 or