Two Puerto Rican college students will attend the University of Vermont for the spring semester at no cost while their home colleges, devastated by Hurricane Maria in late September, rebuild.

Jonathan Lopez, a junior chemical engineering major, was attending the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayaguez campus. Leishla Perez, a junior biology major, was a student at Metropolitan University in San Juan.

UVM will waive the students’ tuition, fees and room and board for the semester.

UVM came to know of the students through contacts made by Jim Vigoreaux, associate provost for faculty affairs and former chair of the Biology Department, who had learned of other colleges who were helping displaced Puerto Rican college students and was eager for UVM to play a role. After getting a green light from UVM president Tom Sullivan, Vigoreaux reached out to the Puerto Rican students who had participated in a summer research program at UVM funded by the National Science Foundation designed to engage Puerto Rican high school students in the sciences.

Lopez and Perez responded, and their academic credentials qualified them to attend UVM.

Perez has worked in the lab of Biology professor Bryan Ballif for the past three summers. Lopez worked in Vigoreaux’s lab in the summer of 2014. 

"Among Hurricane Maria’s many victims are the Puerto Rican college students whose education was abruptly interrupted by the devastation,” said Sullivan. “Our hope is to help these students use their semester at UVM to keep on track, so they can stay on schedule in obtaining their degrees." 

Vigoreaux, who is Puerto Rican, is glad the university is able to help. 

“This touched close to my heart,” he said. “We would have done this no matter where the student were from, but when it’s your home, you feel especially obligated to help.”

UVM is providing additional financial aid to four Puerto Rican students already enrolled at the university. 


Jeffrey R. Wakefield