June 01, 2020
By AMANDA O’ROURKE
Photography courtesy of Susquehanna students from Gordon Wenzel’s photography classes. From top to bottom, photos by Erin Oakes ’23, Maddie Schmouder ’21, Hayley Adam ’20, Jane Andres ’22 and Andrew Jones ’20. Cover photography by Kimberly Gust ’22.
On a warm march afternoon, mother nature began to peel back the cool ground cover. Flora started to emerge. While the campus was peaceful, the world was growing anxious.
Precaution against a proliferating virus had resulted in students getting an extra week of spring break. Faculty, working mostly from their homes, were busy preparing for their return. Only, they couldn’t return.
Public health experts called for measures to slow the disease’s imminent spread. Pennsylvania officials defined new meanings for the colors red, yellow and green and their significance for campus operations. Under what would later be labeled a red phase, Snyder County and the rest of the state were obliged to close all non-life-sustaining businesses and schools. And that included Susquehanna University.
What started as extended days of break turned into weeks of remote learning, teaching and teleworking. What remained on campus were signs of renewal: crocuses had awoken from their winter slumber, and green buds had started to fill in the outlines of trees. What lay ahead were stories of persistence and resilience despite a world — and a university — uprooted by a global health pandemic.
NEED TO ENGAGE SPARKS FIRESIDE CHATS
Unprecedented isolation and physical distancing called for nuanced ways of living. Determined to stay connected to students, faculty, staff and alumni, President Green quickly learned how to self record videos.
As the curtain raised on the spring semester’s second act set to be remote, Green launched a nine-week series of web-based fireside chats reminiscent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s radio addresses. Both Green and Roosevelt set out to assure their audiences in times of uncertainty. Green’s became regular Sunday afternoon touchpoints with the Susquehanna community from late March to mid-May. During his chats, Green took viewers on a tour across campus, imparted some SU history lessons, discussed self-care and gratitude, and played his piano to demonstrate different modes of learning.
“The campus is beautiful and very quiet,” Green said to students in his first fireside chat, recorded in front of a crackling fireplace at his Pine Lawn residence, “but it’s much more beautiful when you all are here, so we are very much looking forward to the time when we can be back together.”
Each week, he left viewers with a message of hope, persistence and unity.
“Be patient with those who are around you. Everyone is living with a little bit of elevated stress these days, and if we all can extend some grace and kindness to each other, we’ll all be the better for it,” he said.
The chats were extremely successful on social media, with more than 31,000 total engagements: 11,981 views on YouTube and 18,659 views on Instagram TV. They resonated with students and their parents, as well as alumni.
“Thank you so much President Green for your words of wisdom and encouragement,” wrote Elizabeth Herbert ’20. “I appreciate what you do for the community at SU and beyond.”
“Such a lovely, calming message,” commented alumna Suzanne Reed ’77 Miller.
Days prior to his fireside finale, Green used his newly developed video skills to offer graduating seniors an official conferral of their degrees. On May 13, the date originally set for commencement, he conferred degrees on 497 students at the close of Susquehanna’s 162nd academic year.
“The final weeks of your time as Susquehanna students have been filled with extraordinary challenges and diverted expectations. Yet you prevailed in the face of global disruption,” Green said in his message to the Class of 2020 and their families.
“Your determination to stay the course is a hallmark of your resilience, which will serve you well in your future endeavors.”
He was joined remotely by Kate Hastings, faculty marshal, as well as members of the faculty who recorded themselves congratulating the newly minted graduates. While May 17 marked the end of Green’s weekly fireside chats, he has committed to monthly video messages as part of Inside SU, the university’s biweekly e-newsletter.
NEW WAYS TO INSTRUCT, LEARN & TELEWORK
The mandated campus closure brought an abrupt end to in-person instruction; however, Susquehanna’s faculty found new ways to deliver instruction and provide real-world experiences in an unprecedented time.
Video Game Fosters Virtual Learning
When Carl Faust first introduced Minecraft to his physics class a few years ago, he had no way of knowing how fortuitous it would be for the unexpected transition to online learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Faust, assistant professor of physics, combines Minecraft with Twitch to create a virtual workspace for the students in his Digital and Analog Electronics course to practice circuit-building. Minecraft is a virtual 3D Lego-like computer building game where players are free to make anything they want, while Twitch is a live-streaming platform for video gamers.
“Using Minecraft, everyone can be in a virtual world together working on the same large circuit, everyone with their own individual pieces,” Faust says.
Faust usually introduces his Minecraft unit after spring break, once students have learned the basics of traditional circuit-building.
“If I hadn’t used Minecraft before, I don’t know what I would have done for this class,” Faust admits. “But I was at the point where I was going to switch from analog to digital, and happily, you can do all of that in Minecraft.”
Chemical physics major Thayne Hummel ’21 says the online transition was well timed. “Minecraft allows us to visually see exactly what components of our build are working and to see the theory behind building. Of course, physically building would be optimal, but using Minecraft makes it as real as possible,” Hummel says. “We can even work on it with other classmates and learn along with them.”
“Using Minecraft exclusively for the class has been quite a lot of fun,” says Brianna Watts ’23, a double major in biochemistry and physics. “I think Minecraft adds a level of nostalgia and fun to the assignments. Playing video games for class makes the assignments, which can be very time consuming, less tedious and more enjoyable.”
Anthropology Students Showcase Pandemic Sentiment Videos
In addition to courses going virtual, exhibits were premiered in a new format as well.
Anthropology students created an online exhibition, Together Apart, a collection of personal accounts regarding the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“Every time I run my Museums & Anthropology course, it culminates with a public exhibition of our work. This year we had to shift to an online exhibition,” says John Bodinger de Uriarte, associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology. “Each participant was invited to share thoughts about how adapting to a COVID-19 world has created positive or negative effects.”
The exhibition features approximately 80 30-second videos. The subjects, who hail from all over the United States and the world, vary from students, many of whom experienced an abrupt end to their college careers, to medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic.
“One of the videos that stood out to me was from a man working in the medical field saying that he hadn’t hugged his own children in a month,” says Carling Ramsdell ’20, a creative writing major from Burke, Virginia. “Since the time he sent that video to us, he likely hasn’t had physical contact with his family for two months now, which is heartbreaking.”
Visitors to the online exhibition can peruse videos in nine categories: Finding the Self; Kith and Kin; FOMO When the World Is Paused; The Shape of Time; An Altered Education; Labor; Health and Wellness; A PositiveOutlook; and Physically Distant, Socially Connected.
“The exhibit is called Together Apart because no one is alone in this crisis. I want people to come away with an understanding that everyone feels similar to how they themselves feel,” Ramsdell says.
“Empathy is important right now, and I think we’ve all grown a lot more understanding of one another [during this time].”
The exhibition can be found at wordpress.susqu.edu/togetherapart.
Students Mentor Teachers on Going Digital
Universities weren’t the only ones forced into remote instruction during the pandemic — K-12 schools also had to find their way in moving content to a digital format. Some received a helping hand from Susquehanna education students who used skills gained from their Technology in Education course, taught by Christine Tiday, adjunct education instructor.
SU students helped teachers in various grades and academic areas — many of whom were teaching remotely for the first time — convert their assignments to online work. They also ran tutoring sessions and organized story times and game nights. Katie Spracklin, a teacher intern, developed a series of lessons and readings about women in history for Selinsgrove Area second graders.
Brooke Leitzel ’23 of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, assisted Cheryl Heller, a sixth-grade math teacher at Jefferson Township Middle School, Oak Ridge, New Jersey.
“Brooke was extremely helpful,” Heller says. “She created several online assignments from worksheets for my classes and included the examples to help my students; I gave her the worksheets and she sent me the assignments the next day! With quickly moving to distance learning, this was a huge help and such a kind gesture.”
THINGS CONTINUED … BUT IN A VIRTUAL WAY
Although it wasn’t the same as attending events in person, Susquehanna’s students participated in events and activities when they couldn’t be on campus — thanks to the tireless efforts of faculty and staff who made them possible in a virtual way.
Women’s Leadership Symposium Delivered Online
The Signe Gates and Dawn Mueller Women’s Leadership Symposium provided networking and mentoring opportunities for female students despite the campus closure.
Originally planned for Washington, D.C., the symposium held on Zoom included events with alumni from the National Institutes of Health, National Public Radio and The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law.
During the session with NIH, student participants — whose majors spanned from biology to biochemistry to psychology — asked their alumni panelists how to choose their own career path.
“I think the biggest thing is to try as many things as you can. It’s a matter of finding out what makes you want to put your feet on the ground in the morning and get up and work long, hard hours,” says Pamela Gehron ’74 Robey, senior investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Being in a lab is not everybody’s cup of tea, but there are many different things that you can do that would draw upon your science backgrounds.”
Other participants included Maribeth Guarino ’17, law student at The Catholic University of America; Lois Heckler ’94 Lander, inquiry services manager at the NIH’s Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center; Leslie Marshall ’02, preclinical product development scientist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease; and Ainsley Rossitto ’13, podcast audience strategist at NPR.
“By being able to hear how another woman has succeeded in my dream field, I know that I can make it too,” says psychology major Alaina King ’21. “I feel more prepared for the pace of schooling, the financial considerations and the importance of my undergraduate connections. Most importantly, I feel more motivated than ever to achieve my goals and provide this support for other women.”
The symposium is funded by the Signe Gates ’71 and Dawn Mueller ’68 Women’s Leadership Fund.
Dalton Scholars Present Research to Virtual Audience
In spring, the Blough-Weis Library’s Sandwiches & Scholarship event became BYOS — Bring Your Own Sandwich.
The gathering at the library, held once each semester as a lunchtime presentation of student research, shifted to a virtual setting in April and was attended by more than 25 members of the campus community via Zoom.
Three students were chosen to present their research:
- Tyler Brown ’21, music and public policy major, Debate Coverage and Voter Influence.
- Brian Herrmann ’20, German studies major, A Lost German Soldier’s Letter Home.
- Tolulope Ilori ’20, international studies major, The Perception of Race in International Institutions.
Librarian emerita Kathleen Dalton started Sandwiches & Scholarship approximately 15 years ago. Upon her retirement, the Friends of the Blough-Weis Library began awarding an honorarium and certificate of achievement to participating students, naming them Dalton Scholars. Their work is celebrated each semester.
WQSU Stays Live
Despite being away from campus, over 50 Susquehanna students — from Philadelphia to New York to Baltimore — were still hitting the airwaves live on WQSU-FM The Pulse. They broadcast from their bedrooms instead of the studio.
Mike McGimpsey ’20, a broadcasting major from Old Bridge, New Jersey, says he and his fellow radio hosts were more than ready to maintain live broadcasts.
“We totally had a job to do. We have a responsibility to our community and our listeners to disseminate information and also let them know that we’re still here and put a smile on their face,” McGimpsey says.
Carly Rogers ’20, a communication studies major from Muncy, Pennsylvania, hosted three shows a week. In addition to SU’s traditional mix of new and classic rock music, Rogers also offered words of advice in a time of uncertainty.
“I talked a lot during my show,” Rogers says. “I gave people advice and tips on what they could be doing in their houses when they might have been doing a whole lot of nothing.”
Student broadcast personalities were aided by Zetta, WQSU’s new automation system made possible by the radio station’s underwriters. The system features advanced voice tracking that allows students to schedule programming in advance and enables remote broadcast capabilities, which are especially critical now.
“We completed the Zetta implementation over Spring Break — right before the coronavirus really impacted our campus,” says Brady Gallese, director of technology support services in SU’s Office of Information Technology.
“We’re excited for a variety of reasons, including advanced voice tracking and features such as Zetta2go that allowed zero on-site touch and remote broadcast capabilities, which were especially critical in this situation.”
Additional tools provided by the Office of Information Technology further enhanced remote operations, says Kaila Snyder ’20, a creative writing and broadcasting double major from Northumberland, Pennsylvania.
“None of this would have been possible without them,” she says, referring to overall IT support to install the new automation system for WQSU.
News of WQSU’s efforts spread quickly, reported by The Daily Item, SECV8, The Standard Journal, WITF, WNEP, as well as industry outlets All Access and Radio Survivor.
SU — A COMMUNITY OF CARING
When the global pandemic hit, Susquehannans responded in support of one another and others who were affected by its abrupt and brutal disruption.
SU Alumni and Friends Provide for Students in Need
Susquehanna’s community rallied to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic through the university’s Student Care Fund.
The fund, administered by the Office of Student Life, ensures the full Susquehanna experience is afforded to students by providing support beyond a student’s standard financial aid package.
It was invaluable as Susquehanna responded to the pandemic, helping students finish their academic semester, retain a semblance of normalcy, and most important, to be fed and cared for, according to Susan Lantz, vice president for student life.
The fund was used to help students acquire the materials and technology, such as laptops or personal hotspots, needed to transition to remote online learning. It also provided grocery gift cards to students who experience food insecurity at home, and helped to stock a campus food pantry with snacks and other items for students who have remained on campus to use outside of campus dining hours. If arrangements had to be made hastily, the Student Care Fund paid for gas cards for students who could not afford last-minute travel.
Alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends of the university answered a call in December, on Giving Tuesday, and together contributed $12,000 to the Student Care Fund. They responded again in March during Susquehanna’s annual Day of Giving, OneSU, and dozens of donors have made gifts since — helping grow the Student Care Fund to the largest it has ever been. In total, over 250 donors contributed more than $20,000 to the Student Care Fund since the drive launch in December.
Artist Changes Costumes for Masks
With the cancellation of Susquehanna’s spring 2020 theatre season, costumer Elizabeth Ennis put her sewing skills to utilitarian use.
Ennis used fabric scraps from past Susquehanna stage productions to sew protective masks for the university’s Student Health Center and others in need in defense against the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“If this weren’t happening right now, we’d be getting ready for our spring production of Seeds, which was supposed to be designed by the students in my costume design class,” Ennis says.
For her efforts, Ennis used costume leftovers from shows like Pippin, She Stoops to Conquer and Silent Sky, sewing hundreds of masks using her grandmother’s vintage 1948 Singer Featherweight sewing machine.
“I’m not alone in doing this,” she says. “Costume shops and fashion houses all over the country are stepping in.”
In fact, Ennis wasn’t alone in her efforts at Susquehanna.
Housekeeper Angela Gemberling also sewed masks for facilities staff out of old, branded SU T-shirts. SU staff donated fabric, and Samantha Proffitt, director of First-Year Experience, sewed face masks for the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way’s drive-thru mask distributions.
Chris Markle ’84, senior advancement officer, continued his long tradition of service with the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way by helping with community mask distributions. Markle joined the United Way board in 1997 and just completed a term as board chair.
Michaeline Shuman, director of the Career Development Center, volunteered with the Selinsgrove Athletic Council to deliver food to those in need.
“With generous support of many businesses and donors, we were able to provide chili, cornbread, cookies, Easter candy and drinks to more than 350 individuals,” Shuman says.
Meanwhile back on campus, various Susquehanna staff, including Chaplain Scott Kershner, took the time to water the plants and feed the small pets students were forced to leave behind when the spring semester took its unexpected turn.
The university also donated excess medical supplies — which had been ordered at the beginning of the spring semester, both for flu season and heeding the early warnings of corona-virus — and gloves from SU biology labs to local care facilities and first responders who were on the front lines of the pandemic.
The donations included:
- 14,000 gloves to Geisinger Medical Center.
- 3,000 gloves and 500 masks to Evangelical Community Hospital.
- 300 masks, 100 disposable gowns, and 24 pairs of goggles to the Selinsgrove Center.
- 1,000 gloves and 60 masks to the Selinsgrove Police Department.
- 60 masks to Selinsgrove’s DH&L Ambulance League.
“With the remainder of the semester moved to online, we wanted these supplies to go to those who need them most in our community,” says Chris Bailey, director of facilities management at Susquehanna. “This was one way we can help our local first responders and healthcare providers who continue to work diligently to keep our communities safe.”
SU’s Free Webinars Help K-12 Teachers
SU professors continued to find ways to assist K-12 teachers with their professional development even after they were forced from their traditional classrooms.
Susquehanna’s Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurial Education offered a free webinar, Teaching Business and Economics Through Music, Movies and TV.
“The CEBEE sessions have been a tremendous resource, providing countless opportunities to me and my business education colleagues,” says Daniel Frake, business teacher at Selinsgrove Area High School. “I plan to use the websites to incorporate engaging media to assist with the introduction to and mastery of essential curriculum standards.”
Led by Matthew Rousu, dean of Susquehanna’s Sigmund Weis School of Business, the one-hour webinar showcased various clips teachers can use to demonstrate economics concepts to their students, as well as the resources where teachers can find clips to use for free.
Rousu’s webinar pointed to lessons from TV programs like Parks and Recreation, Breaking Bad, Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, and various Broadway musicals.
Susquehanna’s second free webinar, Tips and Tricks as You Move to Online Teaching, gave K-12 teachers new to online learning helpful tips as they transition to the virtual teaching environment. Presenting were Nick Clark, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science; Matthew Duperon, associate professor of religious studies; and Marie Hassinger, director of project management in the Office of Information Technology.
“The material was extremely helpful. I really found the variety of resources to be the most helpful, as well as the explanations that came with each,” says social studies teacher Chris Pavone, of Palmyra Area High School, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. “As we move to more online learning through the current crisis, I will look to use these materials to prompt discussion in some classes while also providing illustration and real-world application to some complex subjects within economics.”
ALUMNI ENGAGED IN RESPONSE TO PANDEMIC
Feeling called to serve, Susquehanna alumni worked on the front lines during the global pandemic. Here are some of their stories.
Austin Iovoli ’15, M.D.
Biology and philosophy; Resident Physician, University at Buffalo, New York
In his first year of residency, Austin Iovoli ’15 provided care for the first COVID-19 patient at the University at Buffalo hospital.
“It was inspiring to see after several weeks in the ICU and a difficult battle, he was able to be successfully extubated and later discharged home,” Iovoli says. “On the other hand, we have seen many patients go from breathing comfortably to needing supplemental oxygen, and eventually intubation, very rapidly.”
Iovoli was fortunate to have access to adequate personal protective equipment and to be able to return home at the end of every workday, changing out of his scrubs and showering before greeting his fiancé, Danielle Reber ’15, and dog Leo.
In addition to the professional challenges, Iovoli also faced a personal loss, experiencing the death of his grandfather and being unable to grieve normally with his family.
“It was frustrating holding a funeral where only a handful of family members could attend and stay six feet apart from each other,” he says. “This really put in perspective for me the hardships families are going through as their loved ones pass away during this pandemic.”
Iovoli, who began a four-year residency in radiation oncology this July, hopes to eventually treat cancer patients.
“In the future, I can see healthcare evolving toward measures that minimize unnecessary patient-to-provider contact to better protect ourselves from events like this happening again,” Iovoli says. “We have already seen a massive shift toward telemedicine that will likely persist well beyond our current situation.”
Emily Leboffe ’17
Biology; Medical Student, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, State College, Pennsylvania
In her third year of medical school, Emily Leboffe ’17 and other medical students nationwide were pulled from clinical settings to preserve personal protective equipment when the pandemic struck.
Leboffe was asked instead to serve on Penn State College of Medicine’s COVID-19 Student Initiative that supports community and front-line workers. She researched current policy changes, clinical recommendations and clinical studies, and then summarized information for a web page for front-line healthcare workers and decision makers at Penn State Health.
She experienced what many college students across the country also experienced — seeing her hands-on education abruptly transition to an online format.
“This is uncharted waters for my medical school, so they are doing the best that they can to make this a valuable learning experience for the next generation of doctors, but it is definitely sad to not be learning directly from patients at this point in my education,” she says. “Zoom exhaustion is real, and it is a huge challenge to stay focused in this form of learning.”
In addition to supporting the front-line staff at Penn State Health, Leboffe also tried to take care of her own mental health, a process that also helped her to reprioritize what’s important to her.
“Although I have a busy schedule in medical school, I know that moving forward I will prioritize staying connected with my loved ones more often because it is important to make time for those connections,” she says.
Dillon Warr ’17
Biology; Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple University, Philadelphia
Like Leboffe, Dillon Warr ’17, a rising fourth-year medical student, felt pushed to the sidelines when the pandemic struck — a difficult place for someone on the cusp of beginning his career in health care.
“I wanted to be useful. I know that this sentiment was shared by people across the country, notably health professions students, who watched their mentors and future colleagues brave the storm and uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis,” Warr says.
To pitch in, Warr volunteered for the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer organization run by the Philadelphia Department of Health. At a drive-thru testing center at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, he was part of the team in the “clinical” tent, where he assisted higher-level providers in conducting and organizing nasopharyngeal swab testing.
His role there lasted about three weeks before he was invited to assist in the setup of the COVID Surge Facility at the Liacouras Center, a sports and concert arena in Philadelphia, to serve as a step-down unit to care for recovering COVID-positive patients. Warr led a group of 25 medical students in converting the arena in just two weeks.
“I will be forever grateful to this group of my peers for allowing me to lead them despite having no greater qualification,” Warr says. “Working in this environment and being part of this extraordinary team of students, clinical staff and administrative officials will be a defining experience of my medical career.”
Jennifer Sykora ’05
Biology; Microbiologist Reviewer, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland
Like many women working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jennifer Sykora ’05 wore many different hats — mother, teacher, wife and microbiologist with the FDA.
“Quarantine has been the second most challenging time because I also had a baby right around the same time the pandemic started hitting the United States. This is also on top of trying to help my 8-year-old daughter adjust to online learning,” Sykora says. “Luckily, everyone here has been pretty resilient.”
In addition to a shift in her personal life, Sykora saw her professional work shift to focus exclusively on COVID-related drugs. She reviewed investigational new drug applications (IND, drugs to be tested in clinical trials), new drug applications (NDA, drugs to be manufactured for the first time and put on the market) and abbreviated new drug applications (ANDA, generic drugs). She examined the chemistry, manufacturing and controls proposed to ensure the drug products stay sterile throughout the manufacturing process and throughout their shelf life.
Because the FDA was receiving more applications to start clinical trials to test new drugs to treat COVID, deadlines became tighter and reviews became more flexible.
“This requires more meetings and communications between internal staff, as well as more flexibility with the research groups preparing to conduct the clinical trials,” she adds.
Samantha Loh ’17
Biology; Volunteer, Fort Collins, Colorado
The silver lining for Samantha Loh ’17 is a confirmation that she’s chosen the right career path.
Loh earned her master’s degree in public health from the Colorado State University in May and began volunteering with the Larimer County Department of Health and the Environment and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
On the Monitoring Task Force, Loh monitored exposed individuals through daily calls to track symptom development and provide guidance. She then moved to the Epidemiology/Investigations Task Force where she helped develop, update and troubleshoot forms and spreadsheets that collect case and contact information. Most recently, she was on the Case Contact and Monitoring Task Force, where she conducted case investigations and contact tracing, and provided disease guidance on topics such as isolation and quarantine guidelines and general information about COVID-19.
Prior to the pandemic, Loh was a full-time graduate student who also worked as a research assistant and math tutor. Though she recently was contacted about a paid position with the county, she says she was happy to put her skills to work against the pandemic without the benefit of a paycheck.
“I do feel a sense of responsibility for my community, my family, my friends. I felt that I needed to help in any way possible, which is why I work as a volunteer,” Loh says. “I am not doing this for money. I am doing this because it is my responsibility as a future public health practitioner/epidemiologist to improve the health of my community.”
Alysha Melnyk ’14 (biology)
Ethan Kupp ’17 (business administration)
Joe Muir ’80 (marketing/finance)
Matt Buckey ’17 (biology)
ECRI Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Four SU alumni working for the medical nonprofit organization ECRI, which focuses on protecting patients from unsafe and ineffective medical technologies and practices, saw their work change amidst the global pandemic.
Alysha Melnyk ’14, who had been with the organization for six years, became focused on training clients on ECRI’s resources dedicated to COVID-19, answering questions surrounding the virus and bringing new virus-related topics to her colleagues for clinical assessment. Melnyk also assisted with sharing information on ECRI’s Instagram page, as the organization’s Resource Center is free to the general public.
“Some hospitals I speak to are well equipped with staff and equipment they need. Others are panicking, exhausted and don’t know where to turn,” she says. “I am glad that ECRI can offer free resources to help individuals worldwide during this time and can at least give them a place to start with reliable information.”
Ethan Kupp ’17, a medical supply specialist at ECRI, focused on finding functional equivalent/alternative items for clients due to shortages from COVID-19 and beyond.
“I do feel a sense of responsibility — seeing everything on the news about shortages really puts things into perspective and makes the bigger picture a little bit clearer for me,” Kupp says. “I’m essentially getting a full story on what these clients need and why they need these items.”
Joe Muir ’80 celebrated 40 years with ECRI this year. His former duties included providing analytics, data and advice to medical device manufacturers on their business and the competitive market. That work slowed as manufacturers started “working day and night to ensure product supply (ventilators, gloves, masks, etc.) are available to the supply chain,” Muir says.
“I’m very proud of the work we do at ECRI in supporting the healthcare industry and providing advice during this time of crisis,” he adds.
Matt Buckey’17 worked with hospitals across the U.S., helping to take stock of personal protective equipment and COVID supplies, including managing their cost and preparing for possible shortages. He also worked with the World Bank on a procurement effort to help hospitals across the globe that are short on supplies.
“My focus has shifted to more of a reactive standpoint,” Buckey says. “Now I am working to help prevent the price gouging for certain manufactures and prevent supply shortages. I am helping to procure supplies that will potentially save the lives of patients and doctors who are on the front lines.”
Though Buckey, Melnyk, Kupp and Muir all had different roles to play during this time, they seem to agree on one thing.
“This pandemic/quarantine will change the way I look at connections in general,” Melnyk says. “I’ll never take for granted what we do and why we do it every day, because I know it is truly making an impact.”
Courtney Lewis ’02 Dostal
Biology; Pulmonary Critical Care Physician, St. Luke’s University Hospital, Allentown, Pennsylvania
Upon returning home from work, Courtney Lewis ’02 Dostal would strip out of her scrubs and shower before greeting her husband and four young children — all in an effort to prevent any transfer of COVID-19 among her family.
Dostal had been on the ground level of COVID treatment since the pandemic struck Pennsylvania, helping her health system develop an aggressive protocol for its patients.
“I have had weeks where I feel very encouraged, weeks where I see patients responding to our treatment choices and very slowly improving,” she says. “I have had other weeks where I have seen more people who won’t survive than I’ve seen people who will. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to talk to families over the phone about the dire situation their loved one is in and the reality that survival is unlikely.”
Behind the scenes at her hospital, Dostal says, everything changed, yet everything remained the same. Clinicians, as always, are rising to the challenge of treating a novel contagious disease while embracing new ways to treat other patients via telemedicine. What the pandemic has revealed to Dostal, perhaps more than anything else, are the inadequacies of the U.S. healthcare system.
“This has given me a good sense of how fragile we are as a society. It also shows how our healthcare system remains completely inadequate,” Dostal says. “There’s no safety net for most of our poor and middle-class families.”
Geena Ragozine ’18
Biology; Registered Nurse, Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack, New Jersey
Geena Ragozine ’18 no sooner graduated from Rutgers’ Accelerated Nursing Program and passed her boards when she found herself in the thick of the pandemic treating COVID-positive patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
“The hospital is located in Bergen County, the county with the highest number of people infected with the virus in New Jersey,” Ragozine explains. “My start date was April 6, right at the peak of the virus.”
Ragozine believes that jumping into her career during the pandemic has been beneficial for her. Instead of being eased onto a patient floor, she says she was treating patients almost immediately.
“I kept an open mind and was flexible because just about anything was thrown in my direction and you need to just adjust, especially in life-or-death situations,” she says. “At the back of my mind I kept thinking to myself, whenever I would feel doubt or stress, that I am truly changing someone’s life today.”
Ragozine says the pandemic has demonstrated to this novice nurse just how important her role is.
“I think this pandemic has taught me how strong of a person you have to be if you are in the healthcare field,” she says. “It also has showed me how important our jobs actually are to society. Without us, there would not be anyone to take care of people who are sick and dying.”