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QUAKE IN HAITI: Grad student safe, Humphrey fellow goes back

By Dave Jones on January 15, 2010 in University News

Doctoral student Starry Sprenkle, her husband, Dr. Erlantz Hyppolite, and their 20-month-old daughter, Jasmine (Courtesy photo)

A UC Davis graduate student and her family are safe and sound in Haiti, while a Haitian scholar who has been studying here is making his way back to the earthquake-shattered nation.

Doctoral student Starry Sprenkle, her husband, Dr. Erlantz Hyppolite, and their 20-month-old daughter, Jasmine, survived the quake unharmed, Sprenkle's parents learned early today.

Meanwhile, Jean-Marc Francois-Pierre, a scholar in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program on campus, is en route to Haiti to check on his new wife.

“I’m so relieved to hear that Starry and her family are safe," said UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. "I’m hoping that our international scholar, Jean-Marc, will find his family safe as well when he returns to Haiti.

"We’ll continue to hold them, and all the people of Haiti, in our thoughts and prayers as they deal with the devastating losses caused by the earthquake. Times like this remind us how fragile the world is and how important our connections to one another are.”

Sprenkle has been doing field research in ecology in Haiti for about six years and a UC Davis student for two years. She and her family live in Deschappelle, about 2 1/2 hours from the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Sprenkle sent a text message to her father at 1:53 p.m. Pacific Standard Time Jan. 12, the same time the earthquake struck. In the text, she wrote that she was planning to drive from Deschappelle to Port-au-Prince. The message did not mention the quake.

Sprenkle's parents didn't hear from their daughter again until 3:30 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 14), when she reached her mother by phone to report that she, her husband and their daughter were all right.

"We are incredibly relieved and hopeful," said her father, Stephen Sprenkle, of Salinas, Calif. "They survived the earthquake and now, if they can survive the aftermath, then we're all good. What's going on in Port-au-Prince is just unimaginable."

Sprenkle said his daughter was heading to Port-au-Prince to join her husband, who is a physician at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer of Deschapelles. His son-in-law's mother had just died, Sprenkle said.

"I know she wanted to be there for him." Sprenkle said.

Starry Sprenkle’s faculty mentor, Kevin Rice, a professor in ecology and plant sciences, said she is in Haiti to work on a community-based project involving orchard rebuilding and soil replenishing. Haiti suffers from severe erosion.

Rice said he expects Sprenkle to return to UC Davis in the next few months to continue work on her degree.

Sprinkle earned undergraduate degrees in environmental studies and plant sciences from UC Santa Cruz in 2004, graduating with highest honors. She also played on the UCSC women's basketball team.

Francois-Pierre left Davis Wednesday evening for Haiti. Francois-Pierre was recently married there, according to Paul Marcotte, associate director for international programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. His new wife remained in Haiti while he returned to UC Davis to complete his studies.

Marcotte said Francois-Pierre booked a flight to the neighboring Dominican Republic and planned to cross the border to Port-au-Prince by taxi and motorcycle. He was due to arrive in the Dominican Republic today. The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince is expecting him and will offer assistance, Marcotte said.

Francois-Pierre was studying development agriculture through the Humphrey program, which brings scholars and mid-career professionals from around the world to study at UC. His place in the program will remain open until he can return to his studies, Marcotte said.


International House in Davis invites the community to a Jan. 16 potluck fundraiser for the Haitian victims.

U.S. Department of State, to text a donation or access relief organizations

InterAction, which lists agencies that are responding to the crisis and accepting donations

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,