Junior studying abroad is alive and helping in aftermath of Chilean earthquake

Maggie Daubenmire ’10’s initial reaction to the news of the massive 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile was typical.

“Obviously this was upsetting news considering the recent devastation in Haiti so when I first heard about the earthquake I wanted to find out about the damage and effects,” says Daubenmire (Thornville, Ohio).

Soon after that her thoughts turned to the well being of classmate Joe Williams ’11 (Akron, Ohio), who is studying abroad at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso in Chile. Daubenmire has had intermittent communication with Williams and was ecstatic to hear he is doing as well as could be expected.

“I was nervous when he first told me about his house being destroyed and his (host) family was displaced,” she says. “I became very sympathetic but as we continued to relay messages I became calm as I realized he was in control of his situation.”

At the time of the earthquake, Williams was on a weekend trip in the capital city of Santiago. With seven other students, Williams was at a dance club when the earthquake hit.

“The quake struck at 3:34 a.m. Local phones were down for days, but some land lines could be accessed. I opted to search for (a) wireless connection and that was the ticket. I was able to use this one connection to connect a conference Skype call to my mother, father, sister and brother, all at the same time,” Williams says. “It was quite a blessing to be able to share with them that I was OK and that I would see them again. By 9:30 I had communicated with at least 10 people in the United States, and by the end of the day I had contacted in some way (with) more people than I could (have) imagined.”

Williams led a group out of a building. They eventually stopped in an open park where they stayed for 2 ½ hours.

One of Williams’ professors, Dr. Dave McShaffrey has been following his student’s progress through Facebook updates. “I checked Facebook to see if there was any news from him Saturday morning. A few hours later he posted ‘I’m alive!’ from his iPhone, so I knew he was all right.”

McShaffrey says Williams is adaptable and surprised he hasn’t fled the study abroad program to help those in need. “I get the sense from very limited correspondence that he is chafing to get involved.”

Following graduation in 2011, Williams, who is majoring in Spanish and Health Science, hopes to attend medical school. He plans to begin working at a local hospital in Chile soon. McShaffrey is pleased by that news.

“I hope he will be able to take part in recovery efforts. Joe is pre-med and was planning on working in a hospital while he was in Chile; I hope he will get that opportunity soon,” McShaffrey says. “I worry sometimes that in our desire to keep students safe we overprotect them. The students who stayed on campus during the flood in 2004 did a lot of growing in a week. I think this could be a similar opportunity for Joe.”

McShaffrey also says learning that Williams is playing a leadership role comes as no surprise. “Joe quickly becomes the center of a group of people; he draws them in with humor and a very extroverted personality. Normally this just serves as entertainment for the group, but in a more serious situation I could see Joe organizing a group toward a single purpose.”

Williams, who is a big hockey fan, planned his study abroad experience around a Philadelphia Flyers game. He also plays linebacker for Marietta’s football team. This past season he was among the team leaders 53 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Marietta football coach Jeff Filkovski is relieved to hear his standout player is doing well amid all the chaos. “Joe is an outspoken and outgoing person who I am confident will be a major asset to the recovery efforts in Chile. I am extremely proud of this young man.”

Daubenmire is equally proud, but she can’t wait to see her friend back on campus again to hear first person about his experience.

“Given the circumstances it seems he is handling the situation the best he can,” she says. “His messages have been short and direct so it seems as though he is still a bit shaken up and really doesn’t have time for talking. Joey is a natural leader and is someone whom people gravitate toward for guidance. I’m sure he is making us all proud.”