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Surviving Hurricane Katrina Inspires ODU Student to Achieve

Four years ago, Derrick Francis wondered if he was even going to survive.

Trapped in a hospital in New Orleans by floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina, he remembers watching bodies float by in the black, sewage-filled water that surrounded the facility. He saw patients die in the overheated and overcrowded hospital, which had lost its electricity.

Francis will never forget his traumatic experience. He has written a book about it called "5 Days (How I Survived Hurricane Katrina)," which he is publishing through PublishAmerica.

"I want people to get a real sense of what happened," said Francis.

Shortly after the floodwaters receded, he moved to Norfolk to be with his mother, and enrolled at Old Dominion University. Four years later, Francis, a rising senior in business management, is spending the summer at Georgetown University, at the prestigious Englalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems. Through the program, called the Fund for American Studies, he is also working this summer in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in the Office of Capital Access.

"I wake up about 6 a.m. every day," he said. "I work 9 to 5 at the Small Business Administration, then have class two nights and Friday. Then I study from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day. It's hard, but I've been through worse."

In his job at the SBA, Francis has built computer databases, trained colleagues at the Office of Capital Access on database literacy, and attended briefings and meetings all over Washington with major players in the SBA and other government agencies.

At Georgetown, he's taking classes in comparative economic systems and transformations of American politics.

Francis applied for the summer program on the suggestion of Dionicia Mahler-Rogers, assistant director of student affairs at ODU. "I'm happy that she thought enough of me to inform me about it. (Assistant professor) Douglas Mills wrote a letter of recommendation for me as well. ODU really stepped up to bat for me."

Through his job, and in his rare downtime, Francis has spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. He has met with Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-La., whose office offered him the opportunity to meet many other people in Washington. Francis said he also has met many alumni of the Englalitcheff Institute program, who have offered advice on how he can get back to Capitol Hill full time after graduating.

Francis has his own ideas about that. He's hoping to go to law school after his ODU graduation, with an eye to eventually becoming a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"I'm still debating whether I want to run in Louisiana or Virginia. Maybe I'll just flip a coin at my graduation."

This article was posted on: July 30, 2009

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