An NJIT alumna of Haitian ancestry, who returns summers to teach in NJIT’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), has just returned from a 10-day visit to Haiti. Mechanical engineer Darlene Clovis, who works at Picatinny Arsenal, flew to Haiti with Engineers Without Borders to evaluate the safety of buildings. Clovis, of East Orange, received both her bachelor's (2004) and master's (2006) degrees from NJIT.
Her team consisted of structural engineers and seismic experts. They worked in the northern Haitian town called Cap-Haitien, as well as in Port-au-Prince. Many buildings are still standing, but some are seriously damaged, she said.
(ATTENTION EDITORS: Contact Sheryl Weinstein, 973-596-3436 to arrange interviews. This would make a great finale to your Black History Month coverage.)
“It was our job to rate the buildings’ structural soundness,” Clovis said. “If we gave the owner a green card that meant his house was fine. A yellow card meant the building had some problems and a red card meant the building was a danger zone. Most of the houses were in good shape, but some got yellow and red cards. I'm a biomedical engineer who works now as a mechanical engineer, so I enjoyed doing a different kind of engineering. Engineers need to be versatile, and this work taught me something new.”
Clovis said that her group taught the Haitians basic building techniques to repair houses. “They were very happy and grateful for that. They are thankful to be alive,” she said.
Her observations included the following:
- It made me very happy to help. My parents came to America a year before I was born and I spoke Creole as a girl. I also have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins still living in Haiti. I met with only a few of them when I was there, because I was working. But I love the Haitian people. They are very brave and happy and thankful for anything you do for them. I loved helping them with their houses. My relatives are OK, but we did lose a little cousin. I don't know how exactly he died; I didn't have the heart to ask.
- You often see Haitians crying and screaming on the news. No one was like that. They were happy and grateful for our help. They are also skeptical of America, because in the past U.S. governments have supported Haitian dictators. They want to know that America plans to help them, not hurt them. They trusted me when I was there. I told them that they could trust us, that we were there to help them. That put them at ease.
- I was very happy at NJIT. I was in EOP and the Albert Dorman Honors College. EOP was a huge help when I was a student, especially director Tony Howell, who I consider a second father. Most EOP students feel the same way about him. The staff at the Honors College was also so supportive. And the Honors College gave me a generous scholarship. I graduated debt-free. I worked as a teacher's assistant during the EOP summer boot camp. That’s why I teach math during the summer to EOP students.