For many students, the first semester of a new degree program is challenging. For Ivan Cardona, it was nearly impossible.
Cardona, a Puerto Rican native, came to the Fox School for his first residency of the Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) program on September 15—about one week after Hurricane Irma rocked the island territory.
Immediately after the weekend residency, he faced down Hurricane Maria, which directly hit the island with 175 mph winds and more than three feet of rain. Cardona barely arrived home in time to take shelter with his two young daughters.
“My home rumbled and shattered for over 24 hours,” Cardona remembered. At 5 a.m., he watched as water began creeping into his home. After the storm, with his family safe, his house compromised and his business flattened, Cardona reflected on his situation. “Puerto Rico was simply gone, and whoever took it away left a broken, wrecked, and shattered skeleton of an island.”
Nearly the entire island lost electricity and almost half lacked access to clean drinking water. As Cardona was left to rebuild his community, his dreams of a doctorate degree could not have felt further from his grasp.
“Weeks went by before I got to communicate with Temple.” Without internet, Cardona traveled to the nearby medical center for his evening WebEx classes, “hiding from the mandatory curfew on the island,” he conceded.
Yet despite these seemingly insurmountable odds, Cardona persevered.
In mid-October, he traveled back to Philadelphia to, in his words, graciously bow out of the program. Instead, Cardona received overwhelming support from colleagues and professors. “I felt a real sense of empathy, commitment and concern that I never expected,” he said of his experience. With new books to replace his waterlogged ones, Cardona finished his second residency with a renewed spirit.
Now, four months after Hurricane Maria hit, nearly one-third of Puerto Rican residents are still living without power. Although Cardona’s struggles are far from over—long lines at the ATM, grocery stores, and gas stations constantly overwhelm him—he has led efforts to clean up and rebuild his community. In November, he organized a Thanksgiving dinner for over 2,000 people, and in December, he coordinated a toy drive that benefited nearly 3,000 children.
As he starts the second semester of his three-year executive doctoral program, Cardona reflected on the challenges of last few months. Thanks to the support from his colleagues, he was able to keep up with his studies while helping the island recover. “I realize we were more than just a cohort,” he said. “I’m part of the Temple family and we take care of one another. It is something that truly makes me Temple proud.”