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Confidence lost in wake of Minard Hall collapse

Kelly Sassi, North Dakota State University assistant professor of English, is preparing for the return of students while her class materials remain in her damaged office, at top right, in Minard Hall. (David Samson /The Forum)1 / 2
"Without my materials, I have to readjust my expectations for what the class can be," Kelly Sassi says of her damaged office. (David Samson/The Forum)2 / 2

FARGO -- Kelly Sassi is teaching a new class today, but her original research and materials are in a Minard Hall office inaccessible to her.

The assistant professor of English at North Dakota State University tears up when she looks at her office, one of those with a gaping hole in it following the Dec. 27 collapse of the northwest wall.

In addition to feeling unprepared as students return this week, Sassi fears she may lose irreplaceable sentimental items.

Among them is an orange and brown tapestry that belonged to her deceased mother that's barely clinging to the side of the building.

Evening classes at NDSU start today, and the first full day of the semester is Tuesday.

But faculty with offices affected by the collapse haven't been able to retrieve their belongings yet.

First crews need to stabilize the roof and jack up the floors before contractors can go into what's been dubbed the "red zone" and recover those items.

NDSU hasn't been able to protect the exposed offices from the weather because putting up a tarp could create stability problems when it's windy.

President Dick Hanson said during an open forum last week that the greatest challenges of the Minard collapse are the effects on faculty, staff and students. NDSU has made counseling services available to those affected.

"In some ways the building part is the easy part," Hanson said. "Patching careers is another question. It's a much more difficult question."

Sassi, in her second year at NDSU, planned to use the weeks leading up to the semester to prepare for a graduate course on composition research she's teaching for the first time.

She's replaced the textbooks that are in her office, but she's without her original data, research files and handwritten notes.

"I would like to teach an excellent course and have a strong evaluation for my tenure file," Sassi said. "Without my materials, I have to readjust my expectations for what the class can be."

Sassi's colleague Verena Theile is in a similar situation. She teaches literature, but is unable to access her books with extensive annotations.

It's unknown what condition the items in the offices are in. In Sassi's office, a heavy bookcase fell last Wednesday, landing on her computer.

Faculty in other departments face obstacles as well.

Linda Langley, assistant professor of psychology, can't access her office or her research lab, and she doesn't know what condition they're in.

One item she hopes to retrieve is a Wii console that is being used in a video game training study with older adults.

The highest-priority item she'd like retrieved is a computer that contains names of more than 500 older adults who are interested in participating in Langley's studies.

Psychology professor Mark Nawrot didn't lose his office, but he hasn't been able to access his lab with expensive eye-tracking equipment he uses for alcohol research.

A lot of the research involves programs that have been developed over the years.

"It's difficult to imagine starting over," Nawrot said.