Princeton lecturer Alan Kaplan, left, and volunteer Doc Reynolds deliver a water-filtration unit to Fray Luis Francisco Gonzalez, right, at a monastery in Aguada, Puerto Rico.
Courtesy Alan Kaplan
University expands academic, service initiatives to provide aid to Puerto Rico

The University is expanding its ties with the people and academic institutions of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria last September.

This summer, computer science lecturer Alan Kaplan is in Puerto Rico to teach a six-week program, equivalent to Princeton’s course on “Computer Science: An Interdisciplinary Approach.” With him are four rising sophomores who excelled in the Princeton course to act as teaching assistants. The students also will volunteer on farms and beaches and in food kitchens. 

“The goal is to help students in Puerto Rico and to raise awareness for Princeton students, both by teaching and by doing community service,” said Kaplan, who has visited the island on vacations for about 15 years and volunteered there after Maria. 

Fernando Acosta-Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican native who is Princeton’s librarian for Latin American studies, has helped to salvage library materials and facilities damaged by the storm. Water, humidity, heat, and darkness created “the perfect storm” for mold to grow in library archives, he said. 

By freezing materials to prevent mold from growing, Acosta-Rodriguez said, librarians and archivists at the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao have been able to buy time as they decide what to do next. Acosta-Rodriguez and Brenna Campbell, Princeton’s preservation librarian, visited the Humacao campus to assess the situation and to recommend steps to restore the most severely damaged documents. 

The offices of the provost and the dean of the Graduate School plan to host six to eight students from Puerto Rico this summer, part of a growing program that encourages faculty research mentorships with students on the island. A student who took part in last year’s summer undergraduate research program in molecular biology, Paola Figueroa Delgado, was invited back to Princeton to continue research after the hurricane. 

Directly after Maria, students raised about $5,000 by soliciting donations in the Frist Campus Center — an effort led by San Juan native Diego Negrón-Reichard ’18. 

“How important it is in a moment of crisis to remember moments of artistic and cultural memories,” Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones, professor emeritus of Spanish, said during a Reunions panel titled “In the Nation’s Service — How Princetonians Are Strengthening Our Relationship to Puerto Rico.” He said the University’s efforts are important “new beginnings” in forming long-lasting collaborations and dialogues.