“Bee” the Silver Lining

In 39 years, SCAD has weathered a few storms. Snowpocalypse in Atlanta. The occasional typhoon warning in Hong Kong. And then there are the hurricanes. SCAD Savannah and hurricanes go way back, to 1979, when Hurricane David hit Savannah a few weeks before the arrival of our very first class of 71 students. And yet, in nearly four decades of operation, among all SCAD locations around the world, the university has only evacuated students twice: during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and Hurricane Irma earlier this month. A strong woman, Irma. (Oddly enough, two hurricane evacuations in 39 years is slightly less than average for this part of the U.S.)

Last year’s Hurricane Matthew evacuation of 1,300 students spawned several new terms in the SCAD lexicon, including evacuBee, a reference to our mascot, and campSCAD, a reference to the sudden proliferation of cots at 1600 Peachtree.

This year’s evacuation was much smaller (531 students), largely a result of the storm making U.S. landfall before most students had arrived for fall orientation. Many of these early SCAD arrivals were international students and student-artist-athletes (cross country and bowling) here for the start of their team practices.

With a Category 5 storm making a “Bee”-line directly for Savannah, we made the call for evacuation on Thursday, September 7, 2017. This smiling, eager group of students represented a small fraction of the nearly 10,000 students who study at the Savannah location, among more than 13,000 worldwide.

Every student I encountered during the evacuation was in the brightest spirits, grateful to be a part of the university family. Lucia Artigas, a film and television student from Guadalajara, Mexico, said the bus ride was actually fun. “I saw so many smiling faces. College is an adventure. You never know where you’ll go next!”

In many cases, first-year students ended up evacuating with their new suitemates, such as Anna Chippendale, a first-year fashion major from Manchester, England, and Paloma Llanes, a first-year fashion marketing and management major from Houston, Texas. “We don’t have hurricanes in the U.K.!” Anna said, laughing. “We have fog.”

As soon as the evacuation was announced, I collaborated with SCAD Atlanta faculty and staff to create a schedule of educational activities for the evacuBees — keeping in mind that every moment of the experience should be engaging and devoted to the education of students. SCAD Atlanta professors offered workshops in illustration, printmaking, travel journaling, stop-motion animation, figure painting, and more, and the university provided materials and sketchbooks for all activities.

Many of the Irma evacuBees were no strangers to travel, coming from India, South Korea, Mexico, Egypt, and across the world, such as student Meng Ying Cao, an illustration major from Wuhan, China, who was also present for the Hurricane Matthew evacuation. “CampSCAD was very fun last year!” she said, although she prefers a bed to a cot. (Who doesn’t? Apparently, some! Several Matthew veterans said they actually enjoyed sleeping in the library last year, with all their new friends.)

During the walking tour, I met SCAD first-year student Devin Johnston, whose parents Dan and Dani Johnston, evacuated with her to SCAD Atlanta, after first flying with her to Savannah from their home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. After seeing the care and concern SCAD provided to Devin, her parents knew their daughter would be fine, and the Johnstons left Atlanta a day early. “She’s in good hands. The best!” her mother Dani said.

Several new SCAD faculty members evacuated with the students, including visual effects legend Jeffrey Light, in the middle of the above photograph (on the back row, waving his right hand). Jeffrey, the new chair of SCAD visual effects, has worked on Jurassic Park, Hook, How to Train Your Dragon, and more, and the students were beside themselves to meet this brilliant man who’d helped create some of the iconic film moments of the last 30 years. “If this is what class is like,” Jeffrey said, “I’m going to love this job.”

During our trip to the zoo, I met Kat Pilkus, a first-year performing arts major from Virginia who had arrived a day early for orientation. “I wasn’t going back home!” she said. “I was ready for SCAD, even in a hurricane!” Juanita Londoño, a first-year M.F.A. student in graphic design from Bogota, Colombia, said she was surprised by SCAD’s diversity. “I knew the university was international, but wow, I did not know how international. I love it.”

While students relaxed and engaged in learning activities, SCAD leaders kept a close watch on the storm to ensure timely communication and policy decisions throughout the evacuation. Vice President for University Safety John Buckovich and a small team remained at SCAD Savannah to be our eyes and ears on the ground, while a large number of staff traveled to SCAD Atlanta to ensure the continuation of university operations.

One of the greatest silver linings of the storm — among many — was how the evacuation made for fast friendships. Many first-year students began the evacuation knowing almost nobody on campus. Not so, after a few hours on the bus. “I have best friends, even before class starts,” Maddie Masters, a film and television major from Rockaway, New Jersey, said. “Everybody’s so nice! I mean, really. It’s so Southern, in the best way.”

While Hurricane Irma weakened and made her way across the Southern U.S., SCAD students paid it no mind, safe and sound and focused on their educations — as they should be, turning storms into brainstorms.

Paula Wallace is the president and founder of SCAD, a private, nonprofit, accredited university offering 100+ degree programs across four locations on three continents. SCAD has garnered acclaim from respected organizations and publications, including 3D World, American Institute of Architects, Businessweek, DesignIntelligence, U.S. News & World Report, and the Los Angeles Times. Wallace is author of The Bee and the Acorn, a memoir, and SCAD: Architecture of a University, a photography book telling the story of SCAD’s award-winning built environment.

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Paula Wallace

Paula Wallace

Designer. Author. President and Founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) || http://scad.edu || http://instagram.com/paulaswallace