Students Use Classroom Skills For Extreme Makeover

North Dakota State emergency management students study natural and man-made disasters and emergencies. It’s not often you get to hear one of them say, in the midst of coordinating a large scale operation, “There’s nothing but gold at the end of this rainbow, man. Everything is going to be good with this.”

Patrick Wilson, a senior in emergency management, then darted off in search of an orange hardhat. Instead of disaster and home loss, this time, the emergency management team was helping to build a home as part of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” the ABC television show that creates new houses in a week for chosen homeowners. In October, the show came to Moorhead, Minn., to build a home for the family of Bill and Adair Grommesh.

A team of 60 NDSU emergency management students worked in shifts to run the check-in station for the Oct. 3-11 house construction. Everyone who intended to go to the site had to go first through the check in process, where all volunteers, tradesmen and media signed waivers, were checked for proper attire, and got a hardhat.

Heritage Homes, the local building company involved in the show, is a client of Wilson’s father, who was asked to do volunteer management for the construction. Wilson brought the project to the emergency management program at NDSU.

“It wasn’t something I had to think about,” Wilson said. “With this we have all the activity of a disaster, all the pressure and logistics, but it’s in a situation where it’s nothing but pure goodness. Nobody is going to lose their house. In fact, when we’re done, there’s going to be a new house, and it’s going to go to a good family.”

Glenn Manning and James Menke, juniors in emergency management, were both at the check-in site Monday near the end of an 8-hour shift. The check-in area was largely empty Monday afternoon, but they expected things to pick up as the week progressed.

“This is like field experience,” Manning said.

“We’re the first line of defense,” Menke agreed.

The emergency management program is accustomed to such community tasks. For the past two years, the students have helped FirstLink organize thousands of volunteers to help fight the spring floods in Fargo. Carol Cwiak, assistant professor of emergency management, said volunteer management is one aspect of emergency management.

“Such skills quick decision making, the pitfalls of quick decisions and logistics are skills that are utilized here,” Cwiak said. “Working with the volunteer management piece of this project is great reinforcement of the skills students will use out in the field.

Cwiak said this was the second time the show has used emergency management personnel for the task, and the first time they used an emergency management higher education program.

“The thing about the emergency management program is that they never stop setting you up to operate under intense circumstances,” Wilson said. “I left San Diego to come to Fargo for the NDSU emergency management program. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”