COVID-19 Stories of Resilience: Curated by ENG 112

Student with a mask in the Liberal Arts Building
Students recount and reflect on interviews with people they know who were profoundly affected by the pandemic.

This semester, SUNY Brockport students in a college composition course taught by Professor of English Megan Norcia took on an unprecedented assignment: digging into the harsh realities people have faced in the wake of COVID-19.

The first-year students were asked to interview someone they know about their pandemic experience and weave takeaways into a short paper, demonstrating strategies they learned in class.

Interview subjects ranged from family members working in urgent care to friends coping with the upheaval of regular life.

“The students had profound learning experiences and shared stories that are meaningful from regular people all over New York,” said Norcia. “Sometimes it’s hard to ‘see’ students learning when it’s not in a lab or an art studio, but I’m seeing it right here in their thoughtful reflections.”

Kylie Vargas Kylie Vargas

Interviewed her mother who works in a nursing home

Course curriculum applied to her composition: planning strategies, organization, selection, and how to use quotes effectively

Key takeaway from the assignment: “Healthcare workers have to suffer in silence and put on a brave face for everyone else.”

Hopes for her college journey: becoming more involved on campus, joining clubs, holding leadership positions, and making an impact on the Brockport community

What she looks forward to post-pandemic: attending sporting events in person again and getting to know more professors and classmates

An excerpt from her piece:

“…Since last March, there have been 15 COVID-related deaths out of 30 positive cases in my mom’s building. Although they did everything they could do in the building such as a mask mandate, temperature checks, and weekly COVID testing, it wasn’t enough… . I asked her how the pandemic changed her outlook on her career in healthcare. She reiterated how the lack of support affected her in a way she’s never experienced. Her staff around her either quit or went on a temporary leave out of fear of COVID. She explained how she always had her bosses, her nurses, and other staff to help her, but by April, she was doing everyone’s job. One day she ‘would be in meetings all day’ and a few hours later she’d be ‘delivering medicine and performing COVID tests and screenings. The jobs of my nurses.’ My mom quickly went from the head of the memory care unit, to nursing director, to a nurse. Some days, she would go in for her 9-5 shift in the memory care unit, to work overnight passing medicine, and then be on call 24/7 if her building needed anything. One night, she ‘went nearly 48 hours without sleeping.’ I asked her if she regretted her career choice, and she was hesitant to answer. She thought for a few seconds and answered, ‘I love my job, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to quit.’…”

Kalli Donald Kalli Donald

Interviewed her sister-in-law about balancing kids, work, and school while her boyfriend is deployed in the National Guard

Course curriculum applied to her composition: Aristotilean elements and audience awareness techniques

Hopes for her college journey: finishing requirements for her majors in dance and psychology as well as minors in kinesiology and women’s studies, completing an Honors College thesis on a topic she is interested in, taking part in studies and research labs, performing and choreographing for future dance showcases, volunteering for Camp Abilities, and participating in community events and fundraisers — “oh, and grad school!”

An excerpt from her piece:

“…As we got further along in the interview, Angela talked about her responsibilities of school and working from home. She mentioned how her life schedule became even more congested while classes were in session and she was working full time from home. She emphasized her feelings of being overburdened and smothered with responsibility. I even threw in a question that wasn’t on my list originally; I asked, ‘Have you ever considered withdrawing from school so you could focus on yourself and your boys?’ She responded saying how she had thought about it, but school was something that kept her optimistic about the future. She didn’t want to be one of those single moms that sits home, feels sorry for herself, and has her dreams stuck on hold because she has children to tend to, so she was determined to make it work. This point ties me into the last question I asked her: What has been your biggest challenge amidst the coronavirus pandemic? ‘Managing my time,’ she responded. Paraphrasing Angela’s words, it was hard for her to manage a mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes with a demanding 1-year-old and a tantrum-throwing, non-verbal, and Autistic 2-year-old. She sacrificed spending time with friends and family (even if that was by means of social-distancing) and spending time on herself to ensure that her children were properly catered to and provided for while she also focused on producing her best work in class and putting her best foot forward at work…”

Michael Inglese Michael Inglese

Interviewed his father, a Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. employee, about challenges with the supply chain and remote work

Hopes for his college journey: earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration and work for Wegmans upon graduation

Challenge faced during the pandemic: “Three out of four members of my family, including me, contracted COVID-19 in December, which resulted in my mom being hospitalized for three weeks (she is fine and healthy now).”

What he looks forward to post-pandemic: potentially playing club soccer and looking into other co-curricular activities on campus

An excerpt from his piece:

“…Armando stated, ‘Wegmans supply chain has steadily been increasing personnel due to ongoing increase volume around the pandemic surge buying from customers.’ After asking these questions I asked what was the deal with the toilet paper, and how was Wegmans able to accommodate to such high demand? Armando replied with, ‘March through July we were delivering full trucks loads of toilet paper only to all Wegmans stores within the chain; this product was being picked up from Nova Scotia, Canada, and delivering directly to all stores including our furthest store in North Carolina.’ Armando said they have never had to ship toilet paper from another country before. I also ask Armando about the transportation for goods and Armando stated, ‘truck cost rates and available trucks have significantly decreased’ due to high truck demand to transport goods…”

Maddy Fitzgerald Maddy Fitzgerald

Interviewed her resident assistant, Serenity Lovett (pictured in the cover photo), about balancing online learning with other responsibilities

Key takeaway from the assignment: the importance of learning to let go from factors beyond one’s control

What the pandemic taught her: how to learn independently, manage her time, and make friends wherever she can

What she looks forward to post-pandemic: “I look forward to Homecoming week the most, as I have heard from upperclassmen how fun the entire week is, and eating my meals in the dining hall.”

An excerpt from her piece:

“…One of the questions I asked Serenity in the interview is, ‘Was the transition from in person classes to online classes hard?’ In her answer to this question, Serenity brought it to point that although it was difficult for her to do school work, she was doing things that were typically ‘stretched out across months in a short period of time because she just sat home.’ She also mentioned that she would pull all-nighters and spent 24 hours on assignments because she had nothing else to do, as she was stuck at home with nowhere to go. I felt that this was important because she mentioned that because she had nothing else to do, although unmotivated, she was able to cram months’ worth of work into a small period of time. She shared that they also thought that when they first shut everything down, it was just going to be an elongated spring break … I thought it was interesting to hear a college student’s perspective on how the transition from an in-person platform changed to an online platform so quickly…”

Evlyn Manchester Evlyn Manchester

Interviewed her father who is an immunocompromised healthcare worker

Course curriculum applied to her composition: how to conduct an interview

Key takeaway from the assignment: “This interview taught me that even if you are personally at risk during this pandemic, there will always be a way you can help.”

Challenge faced during the pandemic: starting a new chapter of life in an unknown place, although she made great friends and has learned from her first-year experience

An excerpt from her piece:

“…Robert Manchester is a 64-year-old man with an auto-immune disease and severe asthma. He also suffers from severe depression. As you can imagine, with the combination of his age and pre-existing health conditions, contracting the COVID-19 virus would be nothing short of a death sentence. However, after living his whole life with these health conditions, at the age of 56 he decided he wanted to do more good in the world; he wanted to help people. So, he went back to school and became a nurse. He now works in the Health and Counseling Center at SUNY Geneseo. During the pandemic, he has put himself at risk every day to help keep the spread of COVID-19 under control on the college campus… . When asked what extra precautions he has taken as someone with pre-existing conditions, he said, ‘I’m religious about the protective equipment.’ He has been very rigorous about following every COVID-19 safety rule published by the Center for Disease Control… . The stress of this pandemic and the constant fear of death has taken a toll on his mental health. For one thing, the stress of working in a high-risk environment has pushed him to retire a year earlier than originally planned. He is no longer interested in working in health care if he is putting his life on the line every day just to swab a college student’s nose. Another way in which COVID-19 has affected his life is by restricting his social life. All social interactions he’s had sense the beginning of the pandemic have been outdoors and socially distanced. This made maintaining a social life very difficult during the cold winters of upstate NY. When asked how this has affected his mental health, he stated that, ‘I feel constrained and frustrated.’ It’s hard not being able to do the things that bring you joy…”

Talia North Talia North

Interviewed her mother about being a small business owner

Challenge faced during the pandemic: “I can’t say that I would have ever expected to be completing my second semester of my freshman year fully remote, but meeting so many other people going through the same thing as well as the understanding from many professors has made it so much easier.”

Hopes for her college journey: major in psychology while minoring in pre-professional health (and hopefully continue in Brockport’s psychology master’s program)

What she looks forward to post-pandemic: fall festivals, sporting events, and meeting new people

An excerpt from her piece:

“…Jennifer North is the original owner of K9 Playtime, a crate-free dog daycare, grooming, and boarding facility, and has been operating since October 2010. Since the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, her business has been cut in nearly more than half, and business immediately went down in sales and customer visits due to people working from home. I asked a series of questions about her stance on both work and home life, trying to grasp a sense of how this pandemic has affected both her and her business. During questioning, there was one answer that stuck out to me. When asked ‘Is there anything the pandemic taught you about operating a business?’ Her reply was ‘that no business is safe from a downfall. New York State makes it very hard to own and operate a small business, and you need a whole lot of patience, luck, and support from the community to run a business that focuses mainly on customer service.’ …”

Paul Schmidt Paul Schmidt

Interviewed creative writing professor Sarah Cedeño

Key takeaway from the assignment: that the year-long health crisis is likely to have inspired non-fiction writing and art that will be appreciated in the future

Hopes for his college journey: “As a journalism and broadcasting major, I hope that the experience I gain here will give me the opportunity to sign up with a major news outlet. Better yet, I would love to set up my own broadcasting show and share my voice with the world.”

What he looks forward to post-pandemic: participating in more fun activities around campus to balance academic and personal growth

An excerpt from his piece:

“…Before the quarantine, Sarah would attend writer’s association meetings and teach at a writing community for non-traditional students. With everything shut down, Sarah’s creative energy depleted, saying that she ‘has a lack of drive to write.’ Sarah felt that she slowly lost her expertise the longer the quarantine lasted. Luckily for Sarah, her family was by her side. Even though the start of quarantine affected everyone and they all had their arguments, as the weeks moved along Sarah and her family began to see more eye to eye and decided to make the most of the situation. ‘We learned to slow down,’ she said. Sarah talked about how she made line drawings with her children which reinvigorated parts of her creativity. Sarah says she thoroughly enjoyed the amount of time she was able to spend with her family since work life was not a concern. She was even able to simply sit down and read, for once having the time to partake in the medium she contributes so much to. Sarah told me she instinctually wanted to ‘return to the shell she came from’ and how she wouldn’t have been able to muster up the drive if her family wasn’t there to support her…”

Madilyn Rodas Madilyn Rodas

Interviewed grandmother who is a nurse specializing in end-of-life care

Course curriculum applied to her composition: how to structure a paper properly

Key takeaway from the assignment: “Many Brockport nursing students are taken under [my grandmother’s] wing during clinical, and I happen to know a few. They all can relate when it comes to saying my grandmother is very dedicated to her work. I hope I can be at least half the nurse that she is.”

What she looks forward to post-pandemic: cheering on her friends at sporting events, meeting more people, and making new memories at in-person events

An excerpt from her piece:

“…During the pandemic, visitors were not allowed in the hospital to try and keep COVID contained. As an end-of-life care nurse, this was very difficult for Mrs. Rodas. Eventually, some visitors were allowed. However, she had to choose which family member was able to go see their loved one because no more than one person was allowed to visit. “It was very difficult having to tell members of a patient’s family that they were not going to be able to see them one last time, and it was very heartbreaking having an entire family and only allowing one person to go visit their loved one.” (Marla Rodas). Mrs. Rodas also stated that some of her patients’ families became aggressive with her to the point where she was worried about the safety of herself and her staff. Mrs. Rodas said that at one point there was a threat of a family member bringing a gun into the hospital. She knew that the families were angry for the right reasons and she tried her best to help them as much as she possibly could. Mrs. Rodas risked her job letting families up to see her patients because it was the right thing to do. “I chose to risk my job for my patients and to allow their family members to say their piece before their loved one passed, and I don’t regret that.” (Marla Rodas). Mrs. Rodas has always been an advocate for her patients’ needs and was now an advocate for their family’s needs as well…”

Back to Brockport Today

Author: Anna Loria

Posted: May 06, 2021