Caved-in houses, business buildings reduced to rubble, piles of refuse lining the streets, and thousands upon thousands of tents where the dispossessed now live. That’s the reality two months after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. “It’s worse than what you see on the news,” said Cristine Mayer ’10 of the landscape of Port-au-Prince. “I went thinking that they showed the worst parts on the news and that it really wouldn’t be that bad. But everywhere we would go, everything we would see—everything was destroyed.”

Mayer traveled to Haiti in March with a church group during spring break, working with the organization Haiti Joy House. Their mission was breaking down and hauling away the rock walls of a church building in Gressier, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, leaving the congregation a new foundation to build on.

“The people that I talked to were so grateful. They were fearful and scared, but they were grateful that they had this opportunity to live and to have a second chance…They felt that it was by God’s grace that they were still alive.”
—Cristine Mayer ’10

A firm foundation

Armed with sledgehammers, shovels, and work gloves, the team broke down the collapsed walls and stacked the rubble for removal. “We demolished [the] church rock by rock…no bulldozers,” said Mayer. Each day began with prayer before sun-up, followed by backbreaking labor from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. On the last day, the final debris was swept from the concrete slab—a symbol of all that had been lost, as well as the hope of rebuilding.

Management major Cristine Mayer ’10 was recently recognized with a Buck Weirus Spirit Award from the Association of Former Students. This award honors students “who demonstrate high involvement, create positive experiences throughout the Aggie community, impact student life at Texas A&M and enhance the Aggie spirit.”

One person Mayer will never forget was Chezloh, a nine-year-old Haitian boy who lost his father in the earthquake. In open-toed sandals and wielding a shovel taller than himself, he worked alongside Mayer’s team every day.

The assembly line they formed to move much of the rock was a picture of true teamwork. If one person took a break, it hurt the whole team. Breaks were few. “I would get so tired…but I’d look around me and see that everyone else was picking up a rock, and so it was back to picking up rocks—all day,” she said.

Like Chezloh, many Haitians want to help with the recovery. Yet while they lack basic resources of food, water, and shelter, they cannot focus on reconstruction. With no money and no tools to rebuild, they are dependent on volunteers and donations. It is overwhelming, says Mayer.

“The children of Haiti are my heart”

Afternoon and evening hours were spent visiting with locals. Mayer was surrounded daily by children clamoring for her attention, holding her hands, hugging her legs, rubbing her arms and repeating the word “blanc” (white) as they marveled at her pale skin. “The children of Haiti are my heart,” she says. When she wasn’t moving rocks, “I was holding a child at all times.” Mayer was touched by their joy, playfulness, and willingness to love in the midst of their extreme hardship.

Many of the children were orphans, but many more were living in orphanages because their parents could not provide adequate food, shelter, and protection. “It was heartbreaking,” she said. It’s the children that are calling Mayer back to Haiti. She will be returning in June to work with Haiti Joy House to put on a Vacation Bible School program.*

Though the bulk of the volunteer effort has been focused on Port-au-Prince, the need is far greater. Gressier has seen few volunteers compared to the level of need. She encourages others to give to organizations that are providing food and services, such as Haiti Joy House. For those that are more adventurous: “I think the best way to help, if you can and have the ability, is to go. Just go. They can use anyone.”

Mayer’s parents were worried when she told them she was going to Haiti, where desperate people are abundant and rioting, theft, and kidnapping are a real threat. She admits being initially nervous, too, about the potential dangers. The team was mobbed shortly after their arrival; however, there was no malicious intent and no one was hurt. The locals were simply excited about people coming to help and bringing supplies. After that experience, Mayer never felt in danger.

Searching for purpose

When Mayer saw the hurt and devastation of the Haitians, she was plagued with one thought: Why? Why must these things happen in the world?

“Every person you talk to has lost someone,” she says. “It’s not just a friend of a friend of a sister. It’s my brother, or my husband, or my mom.”

Despite her personal struggle with grief over the enormity of the tragedy, she strove to be joyful every day for the sake of those she was serving. “We were there to give these people hope and to help them to realize that rebuilding and reconstructing is a possibility…and that people want to help.”

Mayer sat under a crude 4’x6′ structure with three walls and a palm branch roof, visiting with a woman who had lost everything. Her “home” was furnished with a stool and a cinder block. The woman insisted that Mayer sit on the stool and allow her to sit on the block, reflecting the Haitian cultural value of hospitality. “The people that I talked to were so grateful. They were fearful and scared, but they were grateful that they had this opportunity to live and to have a second chance…They felt that it was by God’s grace that they were still alive.”

Working among those with so little—and have even that destroyed—drastically changed Mayer’s perspective. As a senior, she has been preoccupied for months with landing a great job, dreaming of the exciting and lucrative opportunities that await her after graduation. Now that ambition has been replaced with a desire to have a job with a different meaning—a job where she is helping others reach for hope.

Mayer was recently recognized with a Buck Weirus Spirit Award from the Association of Former Students. This award honors students “who demonstrate high involvement, create positive experiences throughout the Aggie community, impact student life at Texas A&M and enhance the Aggie spirit.”

Mayer is currently collecting supplies to distribute when she returns to Haiti in June. To donate items or money for her trip, contact her at

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

The oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig continues to grow to unimaginable dimensions in the Gulf of Mexico, as the giant multinational BP desperately tries to drill a relief well and install giant metal boxes to divert and control the oil flow. It seems almost unfair, as the Wall Street Journal noted Monday, in light of CEO Tony Hayward’s yeoman efforts to change the BP culture after the Texas City refinery explosion. In a way, the situation is a metaphor for the many and varied ethical situations that people and companies encounter.

It remains to be seen whether there is anything involved in Deepwater Horizon beyond the technical failure of equipment. But regardless of how blame is eventually apportioned, BP wants only one thing at this point, literally and figuratively. Whether it is in a valve that is a mile below the surface of the Gulf or in the media and courts, the company is desperately seeking closure.

We have seen this cyclically this spring. Last week it was Goldman Sachs testifying before Congress. It would be hard to say that they were actually testifying to Congress, because neither group seemed to actually connect with what the other one was saying. But it was clear, as it is in virtually all Congressional testimony of this nature, that the only thing Goldman Sachs wanted was to get out of there. Even though it is quite likely that they would win a civil case, and there seems little chance, barring significant revelations, that they would lose a criminal case, I would not be surprised to see a significant financial settlement to provide closure.

Tiger Woods has appeared to put things behind him faster than most, almost through sheer force of personality. But you can be confident that there are personal matters regarding his family for which he is still seeking closure. I am sure he is disappointed to lose the endorsements he has, but there is relief in having sponsors choose one way or another. At least it provides closure.

Of course, closure is not always what it is cracked up to be. Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, and Bernie Ebbers all got closure, and sentences exceeding 20 years for their parts in Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom, respectively. Skilling is desperately seeking to undo closure in his case, and the Supreme Court has agreed to review his case on several points, including the failure to be given a change of venue.

For me, May is always a time of closure. There are two groups of students who are important to me, one of which I will never teach again, the other of which I may never see again. It is time to say goodbye, and thanks for changing me. They turn away, tack the sail into the breeze, and go away on adventures far and wide. My moment of influence is done.

I once left a school too early, something I quickly realized after arriving at my new university. It was a place where I taught students as many as six different courses, a place where, at graduation, I handed each one a letter telling them how I had seen them change during my years around them. A plaque still sits on my desk today from the juniors at that school thanking me for touching their lives. A year later I drove back 600 miles to their graduation, seeking closure that remains elusive even today.

And this year my daughter, Katie, leaves home for college. There is so much to say in these last few weeks, so much to appreciate, and remember, and embrace. It is time to come to grips with the fact that my job is largely complete. I want a checklist—did I cover everything? Is she ready? I want closure.

All our kids and grandkids will come home for her graduation, and we will spend five days at the beach in Galveston and celebrate a wonderful young woman, and the joy of being a family that is geographically spread, but with hearts knit together by love.

As I sit and look out at the Gulf and reflect on the blessing it has been to be her father, I will have something in common with BP. Good luck to them. I know a little bit of what it is to need closure.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics

The advertising cloud is so dense that marketers are constantly seeking that one commercial you don’t fast-forward through during your prerecorded TiVo shows. In that environment, creativity is crucial.

Students in a “Products of Marketing” class, taught by Mays Professor of Marketing Paul Busch, were given the opportunity to enhance and demonstrate their cloud-bursting talents in an advertising contest hosted by Hewlett Packard (HP) in the fall 2009 semester. The top five submissions were rewarded with new HP Mini 1101 computers, which retail at $339.

The contest involved creating advertising videos for two different HP business services: “Cloud,” which helps companies understand and control cloud computing; and “Information Explosion,” which helps companies deal with overwhelming amounts of information.

Videos gone viral on YouTube seem fun yet the students discovered the challenges of bringing ideas to life. Elizabeth Arthur ’10 knows how to tell a good cinematic story from prior editing experience. The biggest challenge was keeping the video short. “We came up with a great story line… [t]he only problem was that it ended up being a ten-minute story. We had to find a way to condense our message while keeping it meaningful,” Arthur says.

What was that story line? Sorry, that’s confidential information. Students had to sign away rights to the ideas in case HP decides to use them.

Even more basic than brevity, according to Jared Thompson ’10, was the actual production. “When you are brainstorming everything sounds good. However, once you pick an actual topic, the true test begins. You then have to imagine what it would look like, how it should be shot, what people should wear, what the timing will be and so much more. It is a challenge to do all of those things and still remain true to the creative inspiration.”

Arthur and Thompson loved the experience. The opportunity to work for executives from HP was a reward in itself for these students. “It was really impressive to me, to have HP think that our opinions as students were important enough to send an executive,” Arthur said. “It was very flattering for them to give us their attention and to take the time to seek us out. I would love to be able to work for a company that would allow me to spend time working creatively to produce [advertisements].”

A project that was considered to be worthy of a first place prize had to be able to communicate its message effectively, cater to the specifically corporate audience, and employ an exceptionally creative delivery method. The members of the winning team were:

  • Elizabeth Arthur ’10
  • Belinda Flores ’10
  • Kevin Miller ’10
  • Jared Thompson ’10
  • Lindsey Useda ’10

Categories: Students