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Lisa Dragna and California wildfire

Fighting fire with ‘Fire Up’

CMU community helps online student rescue graduation from California blazes

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

Soon after Central Michigan University senior Lisa Dragna’s family home in Santa Rosa, California, burned to the ground amid October’s devastating fires, her thoughts turned to another concern: her pending December graduation.

With all of her textbooks in ashes, how would she ever be able to finish her work on time? She would just push through.

“This fire took everything else I had,” Dragna said. “I wasn’t going to let it take this away from me.” And neither was her CMU family.

“Her main concerns were her grade and her graduation. I was totally impressed that’s what she would even think about.” — Sara Wilson

Dragna called Communication and Dramatic Arts faculty member Sara Wilson, her instructor for Oral Communication in the Online Environment, to tell her she might be late turning in assignments.

“Her main concerns were her grade and her graduation,” said Wilson. “I was totally impressed that’s what she would even think about.”

Wilson was determined to work with Dragna to help her reach her goal.

Wilson started spreading the word about the fire and Dragna’s urgent need for books, beginning with Kerri Raymond, e-learning coordinator of e-learning delivery and support in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Raymond reached out to Dan Maloney, U.S. West Operations manager in Enrollment and Student Services.

He informed Dragna the department would replace all of her CMU textbooks, and he put her in touch with Vicki Schuman, assistant director for enrollment for CMU in California, who offered to help her with computer access or anything else. Dragna had already found a computer and access from a friend’s house.

“I was tickled that they were able to do that. It made me proud,” said Wilson.

Dragna also was moved. CMU sending all her books for free “was so awesome,” she said. “I am so thankful for that. You don’t feel so alone in it all” having those connections at CMU.

With the help she’s received from CMU and her friends, she expects to take her place virtually among the more than 1,800 prospective graduates who will hear keynote speeches during one of the three Fall 2017 commencement ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 16. She will receive a bachelor of science degree in community development with a focus in health science.

She wants to help others. Her degree and focus stem from medical mission trips she took to Haiti in 2014 and 2015.

“That’s where my love for community development and public health come from,” she said. “I want to get back to helping people.”

She hopes to do that someday by teaching clinical health education at her current employer, Kaiser Permanente.

In the meantime, she’s drawing on the strength and encouragement she’s received from family at home and at CMU “to keep pushing through.”


Lisa Dragna, second from left, and her family are recovering from the California wildfire that burned their home to the ground in October. 

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