From left, Karen Sicinski, Monica Carson and Jordan Strause

From left, Karen Sicinski, Monica Carson and Jordan Strause

Essential Workers Provide Support, Keep Lehigh Safe

While the COVID-19 pandemic sent almost all of Lehigh’s faculty, students and staff home in early March, a small number of Lehigh’s essential workers remained on campus to provide support for students, manage university operations and keep campus safe. Here, we share some of their stories.

Photography by

Christa Neu

Essentially Lehigh: Health and Wellness

Karen Sicinski

Karen Sicinski

In her nearly 30 years as a nurse and nutritionist in Lehigh’s Health and Wellness Center, Karen Sicinski has never been bored.

“When I came here, I had been working in intensive care nursing for 10 years,” she said. “I wondered how it was going to compare. But there’s such a diversity of work here, and my patients talk to me, which was different.”

Caring for patients at a distance since March has been an adjustment.

“I’m used to seeing my patients and being able to be more hands-on,” she said. “But during the first two to three weeks of the pandemic, we were helping our students return from study abroad and assessing their health on the phone. I found that I was listening so intently, perhaps even more tuned in. And some of the stories they shared of their pandemic experiences abroad were just amazing.” 

Essentially Lehigh: Residential Life

Monica Carson

Monica Carson

Monica Carson chose a career in higher education because she felt it was where she belonged.

“The undergraduate environment was the time in my life that I was most inspired to keep thriving and succeeding,” she said.

As an assistant director of Residential Life, Carson lives on campus, managing 600 first-year students in Upper and Lower Centennial (Cents).

“For the first 18 years of our lives, we are raised by our parents and the beliefs we hold true come from them. But college challenges all of that,” she said.

Though separated by the pandemic, Carson and her colleagues still consider their students under their care. “It’s not as personal as we would like, but we tried to find a new normal to support them as they finished classes and dealt with other stressors at home.” 

Essentially Lehigh: Facilities

Jordan Strauss

Jordan Strauss

Jordan Strause, a maintenance technician and safety trainer in the facilities department, practically grew up on Lehigh’s campus as the son of a long-time employee. After working in construction and maintenance elsewhere, a position opened at Lehigh.

“I always wanted to work here, so I jumped right on it,” he said.

With very few students on campus this spring, Strause and his co-workers have focused on maintenance tasks that would have usually waited for summer.

“The toughest part of this experience is not interacting with the students,” Strause said. “A lot of times when I come into their room to fix something, like a window that fell off its track, they’ll ask me how it works. I love being able to teach them and leave them with a skill they didn’t have.”

Story by Hillary Kwiatek

Photography by

Christa Neu

Related Stories

Campus doors with Keep Lehigh safe signs

Hire-a-Grad Initiative Helps Grad Students Land Jobs, Experience

Lehigh develops creative approach to COVID-19-related problem.

people standing in line to get into a pharmacy

Lehigh Team to Study COVID-19 Health Toll

A multidisciplinary research project led by College of Health faculty member Fathima Wakeel seeks to determine the physical and mental health impacts of the pandemic.

Lehigh campus

A Campus Community Responds to Crisis

The strength, ingenuity and resilience of the Lehigh community have been tested—and will continue to be tested—like never before.