An Eye on Haiti's Future

An Interview with Benoit Bernadel (MS22), MSIT-IS

Haiti scholarAfter Haiti's massive earthquake hit on January 12, 2010, all eyes turned to the small nation. From the Virginia Tech campus, Benoit Bernadel (MS22) watched the catastrophe in his home country unfold as news channels delivered panoramas of ruin, ranging from shopping districts to the presidential palace.

"Everything was at a distance," Bernadel recalled. But this feeling was deceptive. The event would indeed redirect the course of his life in the following months.

Bernadel grew up in Fond des Blancs, about 70 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. On a scholarship from Higher Education for Development, he along with a small group of students came to the United States through a program that supports information technology and computer science education. The students were on track to graduate from college and return to Haiti in May. In February, the program relayed a message for them to stay. In crisis mode, their home country had put their career placement on hold.

Kari Gazdich, Director of Admission at the INI, had made a fortuitous trip to Virginia in the fall to talk with prospective students about the INI graduate programs. Months later, after the INI's February admission deadline, she was contacted. "Benoit and several of his classmates were interested in applying, as they had nowhere else to go," she said. "They actually applied sometime in early March, so it was quite late in the process."

"With special consideration for the circumstance, the INI was able to admit Benoit and offer him a scholarship. He had a strong application, but importantly, it was a way the INI could help the Haitian community, even one student at a time," said Dena Haritos Tsamitis, INI Director. Bernadel had applied for the bicoastal Master of Science in Information Technology - Information Security, which would prepare him for a future position he plans to fulfill at a school in Haiti, Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti.

After his acceptance, Bernadel was swept up in a surge of effort to arrive at a new university, in a new place, in a short amount of time. His visa took much longer than expected to renew, so he missed orientation in August. He arrived in Pittsburgh just in time for the fall semester. Classes were immediately fast paced and intense. He lived in a relative's friend's basement for a month until he could find an apartment.

Bernadel shook his head in reflection of all he accomplished to get to Carnegie Mellon. "It's fine now, but it was baptism by fire. I knew what I wanted. I wouldn't give up," he said. He plans to return to Haiti after graduate school to be a part of the rebuilding process.

"There is going to be a need for my education. I want to work in data management and security, but I have to wait. The national records were in paper," said Bernadel. "When I return, I will educate others in the field. Everything that I have I got from my community. I have to give something back."

At the INI, Bernadel has enjoyed the academic demands of his program. Through all the changes, his focus has remained. He will be keeping his education relevant to the work he will accomplish when he returns home.