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It takes a village: Chinese artists fund Haitian student's earthquake research at Cornell

It takes a village: Chinese artists fund Haitian student's earthquake research at Cornell

Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, September 21, 2012

Marc-Evens Cadet's route to Cornell began on January 12, 2010. A senior at the University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince at the time, Cadet lost his best friend and three of his professors that afternoon when a devastating 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti and destroyed the building in which they were studying.

Many people died when the catastrophe happened," Cadet said. "And after, they didn't now know where to go, what to do, what materials to use to build, where to go to get them."

Cadet dreams of helping his countrymen answer these questions. And now -- thanks to a group of internationally prominent Chinese artists (including one known for gunpowder drawings), a Cornell alumna from New York City, a world expert in concrete, and some bricks and mortar in a Cornell lab -- his wish is becoming a reality.

"This is just the beginning of things I want to do," said Cadet, 25, who spent the summer at Cornell conducting undergraduate thesis research on the characterization of aggregates, materials used in building construction in Haiti.

He would not have been able to attend Cornell's Summer Session were it not for a group of well-known Chinese artists who wanted to help Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake, which killed more than 300,000 people, left more than a million homeless, and damaged or destroyed countless hospitals, schools, businesses, roads, communications systems, and other facilities.

These artists were led by Cai Guo-Qiang, an internationally recognized contemporary artist and Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Cai's work includes outdoor "explosion events" and enormous drawings created by igniting gunpowder that has been sprinkled on paper. Through an auction of their works, Cai and others raised more than $400,000.

Cai then contacted his friend Carol Rattray, a Cornell alumna who manages the Rattray Kimura Foundation in New York City. Rattray, an Asian Studies major, used part of these funds to establish the Mingtian Fund for Haiti's Tomorrow, which supports:

  • immediate relief efforts,
  • civic art, and
  • revitalization, recovery, and reconstruction in Haiti.

Rattray also gained financial support from Cornell trustee emeritus Martin Tang, who donated a matching grant of $66,000. Money in hand, Rattray worked with her alma mater to set up a scholarship to enable one or two students each year to conduct summer research at Cornell to aid in Haiti's recovery.

Rattray then partnered with HELP (Haitian Education and Leadership Program), whose mission is "to create, through merit and needs based scholarships, a community of young professionals and leaders who promote a more just society in Haiti."

HELP Founder and Executive Director Conor Bohan agreed that his organization would identify students eligible for the Mingtian scholarship, assist in the application and visa process, and provide round-trip airfare between Haiti and the Cornell campus in Ithaca.

This is where Cadet, who had been a HELP student since 2008, re-entered the picture. The earthquake had not only claimed the lives of Cadet's friends, it had robbed him of the opportunity to complete the thesis he needed to graduate. HELP proposed that Cadet apply for the scholarship, which he won.

So in June, Cadet arrived at Cornell and began his research under Dr. Kenneth C. Hover, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and a Weiss presidential fellow. Hover visited Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake to help evaluate Cornell's three medical clinics in that country and offer advice on future rehabilitation. He is one of the world's leading experts on concrete.

Under Hover's guidance, Cadet conducted research in Winter Laboratory in Thurston Hall on the characteristics of aggregates used in concrete and the relative strengths of mortars used to bind bricks.

"Since my first day it's been a very good experience here," Cadet says. "I want to use this experience to help my country and other people."

Upon returning to Haiti, Cadet continued working to complete the thesis needed to earn his bachelor of science degree in rural engineering. Eventually, he wants to earn a master's degree in city and regional planning or geotechnical engineering and expand his research into a database that will help guide others in using the safest materials when building. He also began a job search, but notes, "it is not easy to get a job in Haiti."

Along the way, he's grateful for the help he's received from around the world. "I want to give thanks for the Mingtian Fund," he says. "I can use it to help the millions of people who suffered after the earthquake. The foundation didn't help me -- it helped my country."

For more information about the Mingtian Fund, please contact Mary Adie, Director of Special Programs, Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, B20 Day Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853;cusp@cornell.edu.