MPA Students in DC Sept. 11 Tell Their Story

“My heart just stopped. Fear sort of took over at that point.”

MPA student Caroline Alder walked out of a lecture to get a drink of water. While in the hallway, she overheard a television broadcast from the floor below. Alder couldn’t believe what she heard?A plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

She ran back into class as Steve Ott, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science, explained what had happened. Students were asking him questions he did not have answers for, so they gathered around the television.

Down in the lobby of the Brookings Institution, the students learned another plane hit the center?s second tower and?less than one-mile away from them?the Pentagon had been hit.

Alder was in Washington, D.C., with a group of 17 University of Utah Master’s of Public Administration candidates. Ott, former chair of the MPA program, organized the field trip to help these candidates better understand their role. At the Brookings Institution, the group planned to meet with senators, representatives and other officials. It was their fourth day in Washington, D.C., and that day changed their lives forever.

Alder works in the community relations and volunteer office for The Road Home?Salt Lake City’s homeless shelter. In 1999, she started the MPA program at the U to “broaden her sphere of influence,” and to help victims of poverty.

After returning to the classroom, Ott dismissed the group. He decided it would be best for everyone to return to the hotel.

The streets were packed, as Alder and her classmates made their way back to the hotel two blocks away. Some of the students went in search for food as most of the restaurants were closing, and there was no telling how long it would be until they opened again, Alder said. At the bakery she bought enough food for now, and a little for latter?just in case.

“At that time, there were rumors of car bombs, we did not know where to go or what to do, so we just sat around,” said Blake Waters, another student from the group.

Waters, a husband and father of four, worried that his family would be concerned about him. He tried to call home, but it was four hours before a phone call went through.

Waters’ wife had tried to call him on his cell phone. “She was frantic. She was thinking, if my cell phone was down, that something had happened to me,” Waters said. “It was nice to hear her voice and hear the sigh of relief she had when she knew that I was all right. It was a day of a million emotions.”

Waters works for Salt Lake Valley Health Department, in the division of environmental health, overseeing air pollution control programs.

?Steve tried to keep us focused on what we were there to do,? Waters said. ?But that was hard to do.?

There were military police on every corner and armed men in hummers around, Waters said. ?It felt like it wasn?t our country. These things happen in other countries, but they don?t happen here. The whole experience gave me a different appreciation of the freedoms we have,? he said.

The group had been in Washington for a week and had planned on staying there until the following Saturday. The politicians scheduled to meet with the group canceled, while other officials kept their appointments, Ott said. Some guest speakers said they decided to come because they needed to keep their lives as normal as possible.

?Steve tried to keep us focused on why we were there, but it was tough,? Waters said.

A group of students took the Metro as far as it would take them and then walked to the Pentagon on Sept. 13.

?We really wanted to see what had happened so close to us,? Alder said.

On Sept. 16, once they checked their luggage and sat at the terminal, their flight was canceled. Many of the students were home by Sept. 17, but a few could not get a ticket until Sept. 18, Ott said.

Being in Washington, D.C., then was the best situation possible. The students saw public administrators making critical decisions and organizing massive programs, Ott said. He asked the students to reflect on the experience and write a paper about the thing they learned that are applicable to what they study.

“The topic of my paper changed drastically. My paper followed the events, flowingly until Tuesday? Waters said.

?Now, as I read what I have written, I look at it differently. Police, military and fire department agencies did what they were supposed to do without a lot of oversight from the government. This is what we went there to learn,? he said.

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