Deborah Aranda" />
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Monday, September 25, 2023


Surviving the storm

As was the case with many others, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005 it marked a day that would change communication senior Ben Gegenheimer’s life forever. Nearly two years later, this Katrina evacuee has overcome adversity through his journey away from home and will receive his degree this fall.

Joining the UH community two weeks after evacuating Louisiana, UH proved to be a place of comfort for Gegenhiemer, who was still coping with the devastation of New Orleans – the place he called home his entire life.

"I needed something to pick me up and to help me cope with everything that was still going on and being away from New Orleans," he said.

Unable to return to the University of New Orleans, Gegenheimer decided to enroll at UH and discovered that the process of recovering educational records proved to be difficult.

"As far as getting transcripts and petitioning for classes, (that) would prove to be the most difficult process in enrolling at UH," he said. "I saw all those classes pushed to the side, and it was such a long road ahead of us."

Gegenheimer left UNO a senior and never expected to fall behind. Visiting the financial aid and registrars offices numerous times that first year at UH was difficult, he said, but the father of two persevered, hoping his classes could count toward his broadcast journalism degree.

Despite the long lines and petitions to transfer credit hours, Gegenheimer, who was among 850 students at UH initially displaced by the hurricane, believes the school made the transition for Katrina evacuees a comfortable one.

"Overall, the administration at UH was very accommodating; they really look out for the Katrina students who were coming over and got them moving in school," he said. "They gave us in-state tuition for the first year that we there, which makes a whole lot of a difference."

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Foss said UH went above and beyond the efforts of other universities during that difficult time period.

"I believe strongly that the faculty, staff and existing students went out their way to help those who came here from New Orleans, and that no other university was more welcoming," Foss said. "To take just one example, we started some courses over two weeks into the semester in order to accommodate the Katrina Cougars. I’m proud of what UH and the city of Houston did."

During his first two semesters, Gegenheimer was overwhelmed at times trying to balance his studies, work and family life. He juggled a course load of 15 hours, worked as a waiter at Brenner’s Steakhouse and through it all, found comfort with his two sons, Ben and Wil, and his wife Jenny. They were responsibilities he knew he had to face, and with the encouragement of UH faculty and staff he knew not to give up.

"They all just helped me understand that even with all that happened and all that I had going on with kids and a family and school, that I could still graduate and move on and achieve my goals."

Gegenheimer said being a part of school organizations such as The Daily Cougar and writing for the Sports section made student life a memorable experience for him.

"I was able to finally get back into a school where sports was a big deal – football games, basketball games… and that meant a lot to me," he said. "A rich basketball tradition like (UH) had, and to write for the Cougar and sit on the courtside of the basketball games, that was so exiting for me."

Attending UH has also given him the opportunity of interning at one of Houston’s most prominent broadcast stations, ABC Channel 13 KTRK, where he was able to gain experience in his chosen career field.

Norma Ferguson, KTRK 13 intern adviser, has seen him flourish from a person who was unsure of himself to someone who is now firmly standing in confidence, and said it is this same confidence that has allowed him be where he is now.

"From the beginning of the internship he developed so much and gained the confidence that he needed to gain, and when he started sending out his resume tapes he felt good about what he was sending out, which is why he was able to get a job right away," Ferguson said.

After dealing with so many hardships, Gegenheimer is now working as a weekend sports anchor and general assignments reporter for KZTV Action 10 News in Corpus Christi, and only hopes that the road he is on now can carry him to a successful future.

"I came to Houston, and UH is the reason I am now in a 129 (out of 205 in the country) market as an on-air reporter and anchor and on my way to better things," he said.

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