At America's B-Schools, a Search for Survivors

The World Trade Center tragedy has schools making every effort to contact alums and part-time MBA students

As rescue crews pour through the rubble of what once was New York's World Trade Center, business schools around the world are scrambling to make contact with their part-time MBA students and alumni. Schools and students are reaching out to each other to report on their health and well-being and to share their experiences after the terrorist attacks against the U.S.

Message boards have the most up-to-date information about MBA alumni. Stanford Graduate School of Business alum Rian Schmidt (class of 1996), created a database to keep track of news (status.finebrand.com). He says 15,000 alumni and their family members checked in on Wednesday from schools such as Columbia Business School, Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern, Harvard Business School, The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, and University of Virginia's Darden School.

So far, the news on Schmidt's board is mostly positive. Many simply write "is O.K." next to their names. Others are waiting to hear about friends who worked in the World Trade Center area. One couple announced they decided to postpone their wedding until next month in the wake of the tragedy. Both Kellogg and Wharton are monitoring the board and directing graduates to check in there, as well as with their own alumni centers.

"CHANGE IN TENOR."

  As time goes on, though, posters are expressing apprehension. "There was a definite change in the tenor of the postings toward the end of the day Wednesday," Schmidt says. "The inquiries section went up dramatically" to around 1,000 notes asking about missing friends and family members compared to just a handful on Wednesday morning.

Most schools also have their own searches under way. Columbia University, located on Manhattan's Upper West Side, sends numerous MBAs to Wall Street annually for internships and full-time jobs. By 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dean Meyer Feldberg had a printout of about 500 MBA alumni dating back to the 1960s who worked in the financial district, though not all in the World Trade Center.

"I've been going through the list and picking off names of people who work in the two towers at [companies such as] Oppenheimer Funds, Lehman Brothers, and other investment banks." Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business had a far shorter list of 43 graduates in the area, six of whom worked in the towers. The school had heard by Thursday that four of the six are O.K., and was waiting for further news.

COLLECTING FUNDS.

  Some schools already know that they've lost alumni. At Dartmouth's Tuck School, class of 1981 alum Brian Dale died on Flight 11. A Kellogg alum from 1993 perished on the same flight.

Faculty and students at schools in the New York area with strong part-time MBA programs are especially concerned. At Fordham University's Graduate School of Business, over 1,000 students study part-time -- and many of them work in the financial district. At New York University's Stern School of Business, close to 2,000 MBAs study part-time. A Stern spokeswoman says part-time students came to the West 4th Street campus on Wednesday to try to contact all of the members of the part-time class. On Sept. 13, at least 72% -- 1,400 students -- were accounted for.

Deans canceled classes at most B-schools on the day of the tragedy. Some students organized blood drives or collected money from classmates and professors for relief organizations. Notre Dame's MBAs have collected about $2,000 since Sept. 11. Others, struck with grief, stood in packs around TV sets, watching the events unfold in an area of New York that many MBAs aspire to work in.

BIG APPLE AVOIDANCE?

  In a letter to the Wharton community, Dean Patrick Harker said: "In the coming days and weeks, we will begin to learn just how many alumni, family members, colleagues, and associates have been personally touched -- and as a community, we mourn their loss." Wharton is tallying its numbers to assess how many of its MBAs worked in the affected areas and how many are unaccounted for. The school posted a notice on its Web site on Sept. 12 asking its graduates to check in and to explore other notice boards for word of friends and classmates.

Other deans raise the question of where future MBAs will choose to work. "Some MBAs aren't going to work in New York City," says Robert Swieringa, dean at Cornell's B-school. "Some international students will say they don't want to live in the U.S."

The question at schools now is what to do next. At Cornell, one core course focused on a single question on Sept. 11: How to lead in a crisis. Notre Dame's B-school Dean Caroline Woo says as she fields student concerns and follows the search for missing alums, she recalls what she thought would be her hardest task as dean -- not having enough cash to fund the B-school. "Now, that's trivial."

For more information about your classmates, or other MBAs, we encourage you to visit www.businessweek.com/bschools/00 to find each school's Web site and contact details. Or join BusinessWeek Online's B-school Forums to hear what others have to say about the events on Tuesday: forums.businessweek.com

By Mica Schneider in New York