Together during COVID: SCPS Community Rises to the Challenge

Together during COVID: SCPS Community Rises to the Challenge

The coronavirus pandemic has created a world with unprecedented worry, uncertainty, anxiety and fear.  All of us find ourselves thinking about our personal, financial, emotional, social and professional wellbeing. Some of us are struggling to get through each passing day and adjust (though it has been a few months) to this new normal.

But amidst the stress, we find ourselves uplifted by stories of help, compassion, love, community and togetherness; that continue to give us a glimmer of hope and help us adjust a little bit better.

The community of faculty, students and staff at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) has seen many such examples emerge. Everyday heroes that have gone above and beyond the roles of their regular lives; to partner, collaborate, create and help spread the love where needed. 

Here are some of their stories:

Katelyn Klein (BA in Applied Psychology, ’20) wanted to achieve something unique and helpful as part of her Capstone class. Initially, she planned on helping her local community of mothers and families by sourcing and centralizing essential and anonymous donations for those in need.

But while her Capstone plans were formulating, the country was rocked with the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent shutdowns of local businesses and social areas.  Personally, the first few weeks of the lockdown were very hard, as Klein struggled with anxiety about her family’s safety and the unknown future. But as she began to get used to the new normal, her deeply entrenched value of Cura Peronalis made her think about the most vulnerable and isolated members of our society: our elders.  Her heart broke when she imagined their vulnerability, loneliness and lack of access to the outside world.

Her project immediately had a new goal. She knew she had to help the retirement and assisted living community by bringing them joy and compassion during these troubling times.  Klein decided to make uplifting art, starting with the artist at hand – her one-year-old daughter! Says Klein “It became almost therapeutic to let her draw and make a mess when at other times would make me apprehensive and immediately clean up, because it was for a cause greater than my own.”

She also asked for participation from friends and family – and the response was staggering! Within a couple of days she had collected over 58 pieces of art from kids, with adult help and supervision. 

Klein reached out to Wellshire Senior Living in Lincolnshire, to see if she could display the art for those residents. Wellshire was very eager about the prospect and invited Klein over to tape the artwork on the windows of the senior residents to view and enjoy. They even requested extra drawings to be left behind, that could be taped on the interior walls.

The residents looked so sad and nervous about what was going on while they were locked inside, in their own rooms.  As I taped art to their windows, I saw smiles grow on their faces, eyes light up and some gave small waves.”. Here is a video that captures the artwork.

Her initiative not only uplifted the inhabitants of this facility, but also allowed her community to bond with their families while creating the drawings. She knows now, with small gestures like hers around the world – everything is ultimately going to be okay.

For as long as she can recall, and going back well before she was born, music has been part of Elise McLearen’s (BA in Management, ’20) life. Her great grandmother played professional piano for silent films. Her grandmother sang and danced while playing the organ. Her parents played all sorts of music in the house while she and her sisters did their chores. School occupied her days, but musical theatre and choir were her lifelines in the early mornings and evenings. She also managed a karaoke bar where she was a favorite because she empowered patrons to be themselves-- and sing.

So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, McLearen turned to the one thing that always provided her comfort – her music. When she stumbled upon the Facebook group, Quarantine Karaoke, and Smule (a social-media singing and collaborating app), she knew this was her opportunity to follow her passion and spread joy with her incredible gift. With her husband as her guitar partner, McLearen formed The Pandynamic Duo, and began posting her compositions on Smule and Facebook.

Says McLearen, “I created a playlist of all the songs I thought might be hopeful, uplifting, or even related to the pandemic. Songs like “A Change is Gonna Come” not only resonated for coronavirus, but was also befitting in the wake of George Floyd and the immense impact it had on our society

Her music and lively energy has reached the hearts and minds of people having a particularly hard time during the lockdown. She has received praise from parents, frontline workers and music-enthusiasts alike. McLearen finds a sense of fulfillment in knowing that her talent brought hope, laughter, light and inspiration to someone’s life.

With a recent degree from Loyola, and a stellar career at the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis, McLearen plans to continue spending her spare time in perfecting her craft and partnering with her husband to create original melodies and lyrics. The Pandynamic Duo is just what the world needs – during COVID-19 and always!

SCPS has always fostered a collaborative and peer-to-peer learning work culture, where service to the university and partnership is deeply ingrained in their personal and professional goals. Take Udayan Das, Director of Technology Programs and Dr. Devon Price, Clinical Assistant Professor for instance. Since the shelter-in-place order was put into effect in March, Das and Price have held a series of online workshops for educators who are having to rapidly move their courses and programming online. Topics included discussing practices in online education, maintaining social presence in an online class, selecting from and utilizing online learning tools, streamlining the move to online in a pinch, and a few other topics. These workshops were available on a national scale, and have had attendees including members of local Chicago after-school programs, K-12 educators at residential schools on the east coast, college professors, and people who typically lead in-person workshops for adults. Attendees can find all of the information, request future sessions and access an instant messaging channel via a website Das created to crowdsource and host content.

Price, along with Dr. Eva Mika, Clinical Assistant Professor has also mentored faculty in Loyola’s Psychology department and the Arrupe College; to help them develop online courses, adopt open educational resources, and modify their course activities and assessments to suit a digital format.

Instructional Designer Kelly Barry worked with the John Felice Rome Center faculty in spring to help transition three on-campus Rome courses to emergency remote teaching. In July, Barry was an adjunct instructor for a section of Loyola's Online Teaching Course: Facilitate (OTCF), which assists LUC faculty from a variety of academic units across the university prepare their courses for online delivery.

Barry, along with Das and Communications Manager Palak Shukla have been part of various university working groups, committees and emergency response operations since the onset of the lockdown. All of the long hours, hard-work and strategic input on these committees has been an integral part of the University’s planning and execution of spring and fall transitions, as well as large-scale academic decisions. Das and Shukla, as part of the Constituent Engagement Working Group for Graduate and Adult students have also played a key role in launching a two-way peer to peer engagement platform via Microsoft Teams.