Student puts classroom lessons to use following deadly tornado


Each year, many University of Akron students take advantage of internships, co-ops and study trips that enhance what they're learning in the classroom. In the latest story in our continuing series featuring some of their unique opportunities for hands-on learning, we're focusing on Krystal Roethel, an emergency management major who spent nearly a month helping residents of Joplin, Mo., during her Red Cross internship.

WHEN TORNADOS HIT Missouri in 2011, most of us saw the aftermath on the news.

Not so for Krystal Roethel. The emergency management major had just started her summer internship with the Summit County Chapter of the American Red Cross when she was asked to deploy to Joplin, Mo., to aid the newly homeless.

"It was a shock," admits Roethel. "I had been at the Red Cross for two weeks. I was just getting the hang of it. But that is why I chose this major — I wanted to make a difference."

Becoming a first responder

So over a 21-day stay, Roethel was one of 400 Red Cross volunteers providing the assistance needed, from shelter and meals to transportation and logistical services.

"Five tornadoes had taken out a third of the city — there was rubble everywhere," says Roethel, who was assigned to be a caseworker in the Multiple Agency Resource Center. "The people had gone through such a trauma, losing everything. We were there to listen so they could get out their feelings and have them know someone was there for them."

As she listened, Roethel would help them determine their immediate and long-term needs. Then, she would direct them to the appropriate resources at the center — from Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) to the Salvation Army, Legal Aid, construction companies, health services or mental health services.

Making a difference

"By the end of the session, they could feel that they were moving forward and getting the help they needed," says Roethel. "They were leaving with a smile – that was really cool."

In addition to her work at the resource center, Roethel also did outreach, traveling to different counties to provide assistance.

Roethel says her work during the deployment was hard, and the days were long, but she felt prepared for the experience.

"It was interesting to see what I learned in class — 'preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery' — being put into action. And, I got to see how agencies work together," says Roethel, who participated in emergency drills, responded to house fires and taught fire safety in schools after returning to Akron to complete her internship. "This experience with the Red Cross also taught me leadership skills, which are so important in the emergency management field."

While her internship with the Summit County Red Cross has ended, Roethel has continued on as a volunteer.

"I'm interested in working for the Red Cross or FEMA after I graduate," says Roethel. "I'm still planning, as far as my career goals, but my heart is really in this and I know I am definitely in the right field."

Krystal Roethel, right, an emergency management major in UA's Summit College, gets a hug from one of the people she helped during her work with the American Red Cross following the tornadoes that hit Missouri in 2011.