(COLLEGE STATION) – When asked where he is from, Niels Olson simply replies, “All over the place.” He attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland and was stationed in San Diego with the Navy for several years before settling in New Orleans with his wife and children. Olson started medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine on August 9, just 20 days before Hurricane Katrina would devastate the central Gulf Coast. Luckily for Olson and his family, his parents had moved into their new home in College Station just three days before New Orleans was evacuated on Saturday, August 27.
As the storm approached, Olson and his wife Brooke had two choices when deciding where to evacuate their family: her aunt and uncle in Tennessee or his parents in Texas. As fate would have it, evacuees could only go south from their section of the city. That sent them packing for College Station, where there just happened to be a medical school in the form of The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center College of Medicine.
“I had a big test coming up that next Monday (August 29), so I decided to go study over at the Medical Sciences Library on campus,” Olson remembers. “Then on Monday, the levees broke and I thought, “There goes my school.” Bad news does not age well, so I started talking to Casey Huckaby in the Student Affairs office to start coming up with a plan.
Olson spent the week studying in the library until administrators at the college were able to get him set up for classes. His first day as an Aggie medical student also happened to fall on the first day of the head and neck block of gross anatomy. Olson fell in with the College of Medicine’s first-year class, also taking biochemistry and Becoming a Clinician courses.
In all, Olson spent a month at the College of Medicine while Tulane officials planned their next move. After deciding to resume classes in late September on the Baylor College of Medicine campus in Houston, Tulane students and leaders experienced another setback with the arrival of Hurricane Rita. Eventually, Tulane students were able to have orientation Saturday, October 1, and they started classes yesterday.
Olson looks forward to returning to his studies with his Tulane classmates, but is grateful for the help he received at the A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “They just asked me what I needed and helped me work out a plan,” Olson says. “Everyone was unbelievably supportive and helpful. Other people in the community have also been great, as they helped my wife get a job and my daughter into school. Everybody really thought outside the box in helping us get our feet back on the ground. After being here a month, I think I know more A&M students than Tulane students.”
Olson’s home in Jefferson Parish was relatively untouched by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with the exception of minor wind damage, but he doesn’t plan to move his family back until the school reopens in New Orleans. “Right now my mom is taking care of my kids, my wife has a job and I’m living with two other students in Houston while I take classes, so we’re set,” Olson says. “There couldn’t have been a better place to evacuate than College Station, because the people at the College of Medicine really made everything possible. Dr. (Christopher) Colenda and Dr. (Gary) McCord really did so much, and I owe them gargantuan thanks.”

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