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College Embraces Puerto Rican Student

College Embraces Student from Hurricane-Ravaged Puerto Rico

November 13, 2017

By Jacqueline Palochko

(This article first appeared in The Morning Call on October 30, 2017.)

Christian Flores Ortiz had been taking college classes for only a month in Puerto Rico when he and his family left the hurricane-damaged island for Bethlehem.

On the plane ride over, he hoped that he would be able to enroll at a college in the Lehigh Valley so he could reach his dream of becoming a graphic artist. But he worried it could take some time to find a school to attend and one he could afford.

“I tried staying positive,” Ortiz said. “But I had some doubts.”

A month after living in the Lehigh Valley, Ortiz, 18, is now enrolled at Moravian College as a freshman. The Bethlehem college provided Ortiz with an iPad, computer and books. Moravian gave Ortiz an institutional scholarship that covered his tuition, similar to the two scholarships Moravian provides for Freedom and Liberty high school students.

Moravian was looking to help college students who had been displaced because of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, similar to how some colleges enrolled students from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, President Bryon Grigsby said.

Through community groups, the college found Ortiz and helped enroll him in four classes this semester. Ortiz started classes through Moravian’s eight-week accelerated program. Rather than starting halfway through a semester, Ortiz began when the program started last week.

”I was a little overwhelmed but I’m so grateful,” Ortiz said. “I love it here.”

Ortiz is the first student from Puerto Rico who enrolled at Moravian after Hurricane Maria hit the island. But Grigsby said the college is interested in finding and helping others.

“This is what our mission is,” Grigsby said. “We have members of our community who are calling Bethlehem home and need help.”

Lehigh University has not yet accommodated any students from Puerto Rico, but the Bethlehem university did post a message on its website to prospective students who are not only from Puerto Rico but also Texas and Florida, where hurricanes also recently hit.

Colleges throughout the country are discussing ways to help students from the U.S. territory. Florida International University, for example, has announced it will give students from Puerto Rico in-state tuition.

Ortiz, his mother, step-father and two younger brothers — who are now enrolled in the Bethlehem Area School District — came to Bethlehem from Rio Piedra because his stepfather had previously lived here for a job. Ortiz had never been to Pennsylvania before.

During the hurricane, Oritz and his family huddled in their bathroom, listening to the windows and trees rattle and shake. After the storm, his mother couldn’t go back to work as an accountant because her office was destroyed and his brothers’ school was closed.

“Things were going to get worse,” Ortiz said.

His stepfather’s boss bought plane tickets for his family. Ortiz brought little with him from Puerto Rico; his backpack was full of some comic books, mementos from home, transcripts from his college in Puerto Rico and notebooks full of his drawings.

Ortiz started drawing when he was in middle school after an assignment required him to trace a drawing. He looked at it and decided he didn’t need to trace it because he could draw it himself.

Ever since, he’s carried around notebooks so he can jot down drawings of whatever he sees, from landscapes to portraits. Now he wants to learn how to draw using computers.

Ortiz is in luck. While his university in Carolina, Puerto Rico, didn’t have a graphic design program, Moravian does. Next semester, he plans to start taking art classes and will be one step closer to reaching his goal.

“I really want a job in graphic design,” Ortiz said. “Art literally as my job would be a dream.”

To view the Morning Call's video interview with Ortiz, click here.