News & Events

As One University Door Closes, Another Opens

By Tom Owen

Like many New Orleans residents, Wade Tornyos has seen enough heavy weather not to get too panicky about every hurricane warning.

On Aug. 28, Tornyos and his friend Veronica turned on the television, where they expected to hear about a storm that, as with others in recent years, would likely bring the city more sound than fury.

Instead, they saw New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin telling city residents they should flee. Nagin warned that if residents were going to stay in their homes, they should carry an ax to break out of their attics because rising floodwaters would leave them no choice.

"That certainly was something that gave me pause. I looked at Veronica and said, 'We're out of here,'" said Tornyos, newly enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Iowa.

Tornyos, 29, had planned to begin MBA classes at Tulane University on Aug. 29.

Instead, he and Veronica secured their homes, jumped into a vehicle and crawled 14 hours through traffic to Houston to stay with Tornyos' sister.

His family and friends escaped injury and other serious misfortune during the storm. But he soon realized Tulane would be closed for months, at least.

He looked into transferring to the UI after a Tulane MBA student from Des Moines said that was her plan. The UI's MBA program is especially highly ranked in finance, his field of interest.

UI officials quickly told Tornyos, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2000, that he could enroll.

So he drove to Iowa City. On Thursday, after four days of living in motels and on couches, he moved into university housing at Hawkeye Court.

As long as Tulane is closed, the UI will let Tornyos and his roommate stay there free.

The business school's faculty offered him clothes, furniture and household appliances. And UI officials also gave him a $700 gift certificate good at an array of stores in the area.

"The university has gone above and beyond anything I could have imagined," he said.

Tornyos, who wants to work in the finance department for an energy company, said he'll probably transfer back to Tulane next semester, if it has reopened. Otherwise, he might finish his degree at UI.

He said, too, he's happy to have a chance to think about his courses, rather than death and destruction.

Unlike those now criticizing the government for its slow response in the wake of the hurricane, he said the city's residents were slow to react, too.

"There was no model for this," he said. "It's never happened before."

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