Student Resilience | Annual Report 2020

Annual Report 2020

Student Resilience

Lehigh students over the past year have been confronted with challenges unlike any that students here have ever encountered before. But many, like Viola Yu '21, were able to pursue enriching and engaging experiences that in some ways were only possible because of COVID-19.

Viola Yu

Viola Yu '21

B.S. Art, Architecture & Design

Can you tell us about the unique fellowship opportunity you had this summer?

[Fellow graduate student Sarrah Hussain and I] worked with a professor in neuroscience, Jennifer Swann, and one in the fine arts department, Deirdre Murphy, on creating medical illustrations for Professor Swann’s open-source textbook [about the human brain]. We also created fine art pieces for a virtual show. It was a real mix of both science and art because knowing the science you couldn't make the illustrations. Knowing only the arts, we couldn’t make any of the illustrations either. So we had to know both. And it was really interesting because one day, you might be doing something more artistic with Professor Murphy. And then the next day, you’re learning about the inner workings of the brain. And then you’ll get inspired to illustrate how to explain those mechanisms to other people who might not have that knowledge.

You have said that this opportunity may not have been possible if not for COVID, correct?

Before [COVID] you had a job, you had classes, you had other things going on—that’s all gone. So this internship, which we could do on Zoom, became almost our one thing this summer that we could do. And everyone felt they could put 110% into this internship. This has been everything to me. This gave me purpose—to have to wake up and do something with my day when you feel like so many terrible things are going on in the world. But this gave me a sense of, you know, I can feel productive. I am doing something.

This fellowship also allowed you to make some strong new connections, including with people outside the Lehigh community.

We basically get to connect with people we might not have ever met at Lehigh—I probably would never have met Professor Swann. And with all the visiting artists in Philadelphia [that we met with] I don't know if they could even have had the time if not for COVID to come all the way up here in person and meet us. So it's great that we could meet all these people and get all the critiques and insights that they have.

This also helped you kind of figure out what you want to do in the future, too.

This was kind of like a test run for if we want to become medical illustrators once we finish our bachelor's program. For the first time, I felt like a working artist. Like, ‘Hey, I have these assignments, I have a client, and they have to be satisfied with the work. You have to change it. They don't like it.’ And it was great because I felt like we had to self-regulate your time—time management was really big. Like if you wanted to go out with your family for a hike you had to make sure to come back and make sure you have these assignments done. Because it doesn't stop for you.

Do you have any advice for your peers as we continue to navigate this pandemic?

I would say: Be prepared. Be prepared for everything and anything. Obviously no one really saw COVID coming. But the ability to adapt—I think that's very, very, very important and to not be set on things that can change at any moment. But obviously, look for opportunities, like the little silver lining in the terrible time. It's always what keeps you going.

Student COVID Stories

Adrian Suarez

Adrian Suarez '22

Omogolo Pikinini

Omogolo “Bishop” Pikinini '23

The pandemic has placed enormous financial strains on nonprofits, artists and others throughout the Bethlehem community. Recognizing this, close friends Suarez and Pikinini helped lead the effort to organize “Lehigh Strong: A COVID Relief Variety Show,” which was broadcast in June and raised money for a number of organizations in the community. Said Suarez: “To me, the challenge is to use my energy, my resources, my charisma, whatever I have to...move the spotlight to the nonprofits, to the families, to the artists, to those that are struggling more than me.”

Susan Westman

Susan Westman '21

Westman, who is interested in a career in medicine, spent the early months of the pandemic working as an EMT in hard-hit Chicago, serving on the very front lines of the pandemic. “I believe there’s a lot to be said for being there for people,” she said.

Natalie Maroun at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy

Natalie Maroun at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy

Adapting in Study Abroad

Dear COVID-19

The 2020 Spring Semester began like any other for Lehigh students studying abroad—all were happily immersed in their new cities, classes and experiences, spread across six continents and 24 countries, from Argentina to Austria, Singapore to South Africa.

Then, COVID-19 began to spread-- rapidly.

At first, it was only students studying abroad in Italy who began returning home, and for those students, Lehigh created a new course focusing on the world's events and economic issues. A week later, as all 159 Lehigh students studying abroad were directed to immediately return home, the university refocused the content of its new course, called "Dear COVID-19," to help students process what happened. A total of 46 students enrolled in the class, which was taught by Karen Rodriguez, director of Global Citizenship and professor of practice in global citizenship.

Rodriguez's framework for the class was to have the students write two Dear COVID-19 letters, one dealing with their raw emotion and the other a philosophical approach to what they were learning about humanity. A final assignment was a personal project the students defined that connected them to a piece of their study abroad experience.

"It wasn't something Lehigh had to do, but the fact that they did it, they exceeded my expectations for what was going to happen when I came home," Natalie Maroun '21, who was studying in Florence, Italy, said. "All I thought that I was going to get was check-ins from the health center asking me how I was feeling and checking my temperature and all that stuff. To know that they put together something for us to make sure that we have the outlet, and the ability to cope with this, and deal with the situation was just something that they didn't have to do, but I'm so glad they did it."

Collage of 2020 Lehigh graduates

A Virtual Commencement

Rather than a traditional Commencement, the Lehigh Class of 2020 was honored for their achievements during a virtual celebration in May. Speaking to the 1,528 graduates, President John D. Simon '19P said: "Your time with us may have ended in the midst of disruption and uncertainty, but it was not defined by it. I have every confidence that you will go from Lehigh and make the world a better place."