Two of three students stranded in Haiti to help with relief efforts

Three UC Berkeley graduate students who were stranded in Haiti after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake ravaged Port-au-Prince and its environs on Jan. 12 are safely back in the United States.

Jessica Vechakul

Jessica Vechakul

This past weekend, all three were able to fly from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, and from there to the United States. They are expected to start classes at UC Berkeley this week.

Two of those students — Jessica Vechakul, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, and Ryan Stanley, an MBA candidate at the Haas School of Business — had been working in Les Cayes, a seaport about 140 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, on a development project called Fuel from the Fields when the quake hit.

They decided to accept UC Berkeley Risk Management officials’ offer to help them evacuate. “We are relieved the students are safely home after being stranded in the wake of the Haiti earthquake,” said Harry Le Grande, vice chancellor of student affairs.

The third student, Glodine Jourdan, is a native of Haiti and an MBA student at the Haas School. She was in Cap Haitien last week working with a USAID Farmer to Farmer program. She then traveled to Jacmel to work with women farmers producing various agricultural products as part of Vital Voices Femmes in Democratie. This past weekend, her family was able to charter a plane so that she could fly to the Dominican Republic and on to New York.

Vechakul and Stanley arrived in Haiti on Jan. 3, UC Berkeley’s Risk Management office was able to track the students down because Vechakul had signed up for the campus’s travel insurance plan before she left for Haiti. UC’s travel coverage extends to all faculty, staff and students traveling on university-related projects or business and in need of emergency assistance.

A native New Yorker of Thai ancestry, Vechakul earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is in her second year of a doctoral mechanical engineering program at UC Berkeley. Last spring, she won the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Outstanding Preliminary Exams Award. She has traveled to many countries to develop sustainable technologies to improve the quality of life for the impoverished.

Glodine Jourdan and Ryan Stanley

Glodine Jourdan and Ryan Stanley

“She is always working for the poor people around the world,” Quan Vechakul, a relative of Jessica’s, said in a phone interview from his home in New York. The family is accustomed to her traveling to global hotspots, he said.

Among her projects is a process to transform carbonized agricultural waste into charcoal briquettes that can be used for cooking fuel. This kind of fuel would reduce deforestation in wood-fuel dependent areas such as Haiti, said Alice Agogino, a professor of mechanical engineering and faculty director of the Berkeley Energy and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) lab.

She has also helped design other technologies, such as the Zambulance, a bicycle ambulance for remote health care transport in Zambia, and the Lochlorine system, a low-cost chlorinator for treating drinking water.

Haiti disaster relief: How to contribute

Charities accepting donations
Links to more than 30 organizations accepting donations for Haitian earthquake relief, listed by the NY Times.

Online donations
A place to make direct contributions online to UNICEF, CARE and a dozen others: Google Crisis Response site

Tips on donating
, an organization that provides information on nonprofits, offers these recommendations on giving to emergency-relief efforts:
  • be pro-active, not re-active
  • determine what kind of relief you want to support
  • do a little research. “If you aren’t already familiar with a relief organization’s site, protect yourself by linking to it from a trusted site. Avoid new websites and links provided in e-mails.”
  • consider making a second gift in a few weeks or months

Ryan Stanley is similarly interested in sustainable technologies for the poor. His involvement with the Fuel from the Fields project began last spring when he and Vechakul collaborated in Haas School lecturer Flavio Feferman’s Business and Technology for Sustainable Development course to study a clean cooking fuel process. Subsequently, Stanley and Vechakul traveled to Rwanda to do a market feasibility study. They were working on a financial sustainability plan for the charcoal projects in Haiti when the earthquakes hit. In summer 2008, Stanley was part of the Haas School’s International Business Development course and worked on a fuel-efficient cook stove in Zambia for the campus’s Blum Center for Developing Economies.

“There is a lot of need right now both in Port-au-Prince, and other regions that are beginning to receive the injured and displaced,” Stanley wrote in an e-mail to the campus from Haiti on Jan. 14. “While organizations have begun rapid deployment of relief supplies and personnel, the need is simply staggering.”

Before enrolling in the UC Berkeley MBA Program, Stanley worked at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for seven years, most recently as a regulatory analyst. He is currently laying the groundwork and working on funding for improved business and distribution models for the stoves.

“Ryan exemplifies the commitment and social entrepreneurship that motivates so many Haas students,” said George Scharffenberger, special assistant for international development policy and practice at the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

According to the website for the campus’s Black Business Students Association, of which she is co-president, Glodine Jourdan was born in Port-au-Prince and moved to Boston when she was 8. She graduated from Wellesley College in 2001 with a double major in economics and French. Before attending UC Berkeley, she worked for JPMorgan Chase. Her MBA focus is marketing and global management.