Blown Away

Blown Away

Erin Moore graduated from the University of Tennessee last spring with an A+ in perseverance.

Two years ago, in August 2005, Moore was starting her sophomore year at the University of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina aimed for the Gulf Coast. The university shut down, and Moore fled the Crescent City with a backpack containing two bottles of water, some saltine crackers, and two changes of clothing.

“Hurricane Katrina hit a week after my mother dropped me off at UNO,” says Moore, who’s from Cookeville, Tennessee. “I was among about forty stranded students who boarded two buses that made a grueling twelve-hour journey to Baton Rouge, where I slept on the floor of a church shelter with many other students for three days. On the evening of my fourth day, my aunt drove from Dallas to pick me up, and I flew from Texas back to Tennessee.

“I didn’t want to lose momentum in my studies,” Moore says. So the next day, she and her mom drove to Knoxville because they heard UT was accepting displaced students. (In all, 85 undergraduates, 14 graduate students, and 14 law students would transfer to UT’s Knoxville campus for the fall 2005 semester. Of those, 20 undergrads, five graduate students, and two law students would remain for at least another spring semester.)

About 3 months after the storm, Moore’s mother went to New Orleans to see what–if anything–she could salvage from her daughter’s apartment. To her surprise, almost everything had survived. “My mom packed her car full of my clothing, books, kitchen stuff, and a few other possessions,” Moore says. “Although my life had been severely disrupted, all of my personal belongings were fine–I had not lost the material remnants of my past.”

For a while, Moore wasn’t sure whether she’d return to New Orleans or stay at UT. She had received a full scholarship to UNO. Furthermore, she says, “the campus was small and attractive, and I had been fascinated by the city of New Orleans since I read Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour.” But Moore quickly made good friends at UT and found she was excelling in her classes. “Since I was already halfway done with school, I decided to finish up at UT,” she says. University officials helped her work out the details.

“I had made plans my second semester at UNO to graduate in three years and had my whole college schedule planned out. When I transferred to UT, I worried that my plans would be upset, but almost all of my UNO credit hours transferred.”

Despite the turmoil caused by the storm, Moore stayed on track to graduate in 3 years. “I always took nineteen or twenty-one hours a semester. It was stressful but very much worth it to be finished. All it took was motivation and determination, which are two characteristics I have plenty of.” Moore graduated with a degree in psychology and top honors from the College of Arts and Sciences.

As for her career plans, Moore is looking at healthcare–but she’s keeping her options open. “My father, Terry Moore, owns a psychiatry practice in Cookeville, and my mother, Janet Moore, has a doctorate in clinical psychology and runs the office. I have worked part time in their office since I was in high school,” she says. “I love both research and clinical work, but I am putting graduate school on hold for right now to explore my career options.”

She’s looking for a job as a youth counselor.