During spring break, Montclair State students and faculty traveled to Puerto Rico to document aid and recovery efforts post Hurricane Maria.
“The idea originated with Krystal Acosta and Steve McCarthy,” said assistant professor in multiplatform journalism Tom Franklin, who attended the trip. “David Sanders and I got involved because we have experience working as a team traveling abroad. Everyone here at Montclair State felt Puerto Rico [in the wake of Hurricane Maria] was an important subject to explore. Not only as a means of good storytelling, but also has a way to connect to some of the students’ family roots in Puerto Rico.”
Franklin reverted to last summer’s trip to Greece, which was very successful. However, he stated that this trip was more complex and personal.
“It hit closer to home and [was] more of a newsworthy topic,” Franklin said. “Our students got great experience in crisis reporting, at the same time, received hand-on instruction from our faculty. Our team received invaluable assistance from a group of students in Puerto Rico who volunteered to help us and immediately bonded with our students. That was wonderful to see.”
The team from the School of Communication and Media stayed in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. Due to it being a tourist location, it remained mostly unaffected having access to electricity, food and water. In certain areas such as Vega Baja, Mayaguez, Ricon and Adjuntas, there are still people who do not have access to those necessities. Some traffic lights are unserviceable, roads remained closed due to mudslides, businesses left unopened and houses are still damaged.
Series producer of Carpe Diem and production coordinator of the broadcast and media operations Krystal Acosta had family connections on the island of Puerto Rico. The Montclair State alumna of 2009 graduated with a bachelor’s in broadcasting and has been one of professor David Sanders’ students.
For Acosta, Puerto Rico has been her second home and was proud of everyone’s contributions in bringing awareness to the states on the current conditions in Puerto Rico.
“On Sept. 20, 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit and destroyed Puerto Rico, I could not fathom the disconnection and the unknown that would come the weeks that followed,” Acosta said. “So much coverage at first about the destruction of the island. There were weeks of uncertainty about the conditions of loved ones and homes.”
Sophomore journalism major Genesis Obando thought the trip served as a learning experience in reporting and filming. Obando also felt the need to bring awareness to the states from the aftermath of the hurricane.
“My story is about a small restaurant in the mountainous region of Jayuya and how devastated the owners were after the hurricane,” Obando said. “After a slow recovery, they still have no electricity and barely any customers. I am sharing this realism many Puerto Ricans are experiencing but also showing how resilient and inspiring they have been.”
Each student had to produce their own story with the help of others. They have learned various skills within journalism, such as shooting footage with professional equipment, photography, interviewing and audio.
While their mission was to tell stories from the people of Puerto Rico that were impacted by the hurricane, the team of students and faculty journalists gained much more than what was expected. They had taken their experiences, part of the culture and stories with them. Although the people within the island are still living without power, their hope remains the driving force in overcoming the devastation Hurricane Maria left behind.
Their work will be displayed on Wednesday evening, April 25 at the Presentation Hall in a colloquium.
This article was updated on March 21, 2018.