Maurice Frediere ’19 has made the most of his Rice education, combining scholarly work in the classroom with community service and hands-on experience in Houston city government. What he couldn’t have planned for was an unconventional lesson in leadership when Rice responded to Houstonians in need after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas.
Maurice, a native of Fresno, California, says his story begins before he was enrolled at Rice, when he was looking for schools that would foster his interests in urban planning and education policy.
“Financial aid was one of the deciding factors for me,” says the political science and economics major and Duncan College resident. “Rice had the most generous financial aid package of the schools I considered.”
This support has been a springboard to an education in which Maurice could embrace his interests, both on campus and off. In addition to his coursework, which includes urban sociology and urban policy, Maurice has been a dedicated member of student government and an intern in the mayor’s office at the City of Houston. Last year, he spent five hours per week tutoring students preparing for the SAT at YES Prep in Houston’s Fifth Ward through the Community Bridges program and mentored an eighth-grader at the Lawson Academy middle school through the Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project of Texas.
“Students tend to view the long game,” Maurice says. “If I work hard in class now, I can make a difference tomorrow. I realized there’s a need right now in communities that are 15 minutes from Rice. That realization definitely pushed me to stay involved.”
But it was a natural disaster that presented the most immediate, and perhaps the most dramatic, learning opportunity for Maurice. Like many Rice students during Hurricane Harvey, he found himself watching from the safety of campus as the residents of Rice’s home city faced a challenge of historic proportions.
“I think Rice students felt largely insulated from the disaster,” he says. “But we saw the same pictures everyone else did. There were a ton of students ready to step up and do work.”
He and Sara Meadow ’19, a classmate and friend, quickly launched a clothing drive and put a call out for contributions and distribution in partnership with the residential colleges and the Graduate Student Association. The effort resulted in 10 carloads of clothing and supplies going to emergency shelters throughout the city during the first few days they were active.
When Student Association president Justin Onwenu ’18 asked Maurice to be a part of the university’s coordinated relief efforts, he joined the Rice Harvey Action Team (R-HAT) led by Tom Kolditz, director of the Doerr Institute for New Leaders, and Caroline Qeunemoen, the associate dean of undergraduates and director of inquiry based learning who oversees the Center for Civic Leadership. Right away he took part in planning meetings, where he had the chance to offer input and represent the student perspective. R-HAT focused on taking care of members of the Rice community, assisting those who remained on campus to keep things up and running during the storm, and helping those in the Houston metropolitan area who would need aid following the storm.
Maurice and other student representatives publicized the call for volunteers through email and social media, worked on a needs assessment survey to the Rice community and coordinated volunteers as they traveled by bus to and from emergency shelters and clean-up projects.
“It was very high intensity for the first few days,” he says. “There was a lot of logistical work to do, between emails, phone calls, volunteer check-ins and communicating with other nonprofit organizations. But everyone was ready to go. There were several mornings when I met teams of 30 students at 5 a.m. to start a shift, and they were ready to pack boxes for eight hours.”
Amidst all of the flurry, one particular moment stood out to Maurice. He was accompanying a group of students on a bus ride to NRG Stadium, where they would begin their shift at the emergency shelter.
“Up to that point,” he recalls, “I had only seen pictures of the flooding online and on television, but as we made a U-turn to pull into the volunteer area, we drove by people unloading their cars to stay at the stadium. People whose entire lives had been destroyed. As Rice students, we made it out of the storm okay, but many didn’t.”
Through each new challenge and emerging solution, Maurice’s proximity to experienced leaders and to fellow students serving in leadership roles gave him valuable insight.
“One of my main takeaways was that in a time of crisis it is important to be adaptable and flexible,” Maurice says. “There were times, for example, when Dr. Qeunemoen went down and checked in volunteers, things a student could have easily done. When your goal is to help, you are willing to do whatever needs to be done.”
After a whirlwind week of early mornings and late nights, and an education in leadership that few could have predicted, he could also reflect on this unconventional experience and what it means that he was able to choose Rice.
“Scholarship support speaks to Rice’s overarching values,” he says. “It shows that there is truly a place at Rice for people who are willing to do the work and who have the ability to take what we learn here and make a positive impact.”