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Videoconference tackles social ills

Technology unites thinkers at nine schools

Roscoe Giles, deputy director of BU’s Center for Computational Science: “The issues of Katrina transcend the New Orleans area.” Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

A year after Hurricane Katrina, rebuilding efforts are moving forward along the Gulf Coast. Another constructive mission is also under way: a three-day summit with nine participating colleges and universities — including BU — to discuss critical social issues exposed by the hurricane.

Through advanced multicast audio and video technology, Katrina After the Storm unites the experience and expertise of artists, writers, scientists, teachers, health-care professionals, entrepreneurs, professors, and students to inspire innovative approaches and solutions to the problems that Katrina revealed. Since the hurricane, there has been a storm of outrage over most flood victims’ deep poverty and economic insecurity — especially among the uninsured — along with criticism of the country’s ability to adequately respond to the disaster.

BU is participating in the summit using Internet videoconferencing software at its Access Grid Conference Facility in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at 111 Cummington St., Room B17, and at the Howard Thurman Center in the George Sherman Union. The free event, which began Thursday, September 28, and runs through Saturday, September 30, is open to the public.

“We all need to better understand what happened after Katrina, both in terms of its immediate impact and the long-term consequences,” says Jennifer Teig von Hoffman, OIT assistant director of scientific computing and visualization, one of the organizers of the BU portion of the summit. “This is a matter of social and economic justice.”

The event, presented by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), includes such interactive panel discussions as Using Computers to Understand and Predict Dangerous Weather, The Role of Entrepreneurship in Community Building/Rebuilding, and Race and Class in the ‘New’ New Orleans Schools. Teig von Hoffman expects that Saturday’s 3 to 4:30 p.m.
“town hall” meeting, New Orleans Rising, will draw the most BU participation.

The town hall forum was engineered to share ideas for preparing communities in the Gulf Coast and across the country to effectively manage future disasters, according to Roscoe Giles, a College of Engineering professor of electrical engineering and deputy director of BU’s Center for Computational Science. “The issues of Katrina transcend the New Orleans area, engaging a national interdisciplinary community,” he says. “Boston University’s ability to locally host this effort is the fruit of our labor to build a computer-mediated infrastructure for national collaboration, in partnership with the University of Illinois and many others.”

Also taking part in the summit will be Bethune Cookman College, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Florida International University, Jackson State University, Louisiana State University, and the University of North Carolina.

“There are certain events that one can’t afford to miss, and Katrina After the Storm is one of them,” says Billy Andre (ENG’08), president of BU’s Minority Engineers’ Society. “Important social issues like this are rarely promoted, but with the collaboration of high-end technological advances, I hope the summit will serve as an example of how our technology can be used to spread social awareness.”

Allison Clark, chair of the summit and associate director of the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Creativity at UIUC, says that the interest in Katrina After the Storm proves that caring communities “are stronger than Katrina or injustices that threaten community well-being. We’re very pleased and excited that Boston University is participating and has taken such an enthusiastic interest in this. Boston University is bringing in a diverse set of interests, and that’s what this event is all about — the gumbo of the different disciplines coming together to do civic engagement.”