Making it Work: Creativity perseveres in a pandemic

Student and faculty achievements impressive against tough odds in wide range of disciplines and activities

September 24, 2020
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

sun dialWe invited the community to share inspiring and interesting initiatives this semester in the “new normal” to make learning and campus life work well in spite of the considerable challenges that a pandemic presents. It was great hearing back from a variety of people on what’s going on. Here’s a snapshot-sampler — from student achievements to community service projects and artistic enterprises:

Senior rises admirably to needs in work-study, activism, family

Josh Kessler, director of athletic communications, had an appreciative shout-out for a student he admires with interesting personal experiences in his recent life: “Senior Justin Gaudreault, from New Hampshire, a political science and history double-major, has been an Athletic Communications student employee throughout his time at Saint Michael’s, and with the recent pivot to needing some of our more reliable and standout student employees staffing the building this semester instead of working games or holding office hours, Justin has come through for Director of Athletic Internal Operations Kara Lowe and myself as a very trustworthy person.Josh and Justin

Justin has been very involved with Professor Trish Siplon and the Global AIDS Campaign during his time here, including going to Washington, D.C. to advocate on the issue. He’s hoping to stay involved in such worthwhile causes even though he is taking a demanding senior seminar in each semester this year. Justin has interned for politicians back home in New Hampshire during college, and is currently working remotely as a campaign staffer for a politician back home this semester. Last semester, he studied away in Washington, D.C., with the experience cut short due to the pandemic sometime in March, but he still had some incredible experiences while interning in the political realm down there. He had a Senate key card, which sounds like it was a highlight for him! While Justin has aspirations to remain involved in politics, he has told me over the years about the assisted-living facility his family had run back home, and let me know this week that they closed. Apparently many members of his family are nurses and medical professionals in a caring small-town community. He said that they found beds for all of the residents at other local facilities once they knew they were closing, and actually were able to sell to someone else recently. The Union Leader has a story on this.” The file photo shows Justin at right while helping Josh Kessler next to him in covering a game.

Student in-lab research back in full-swing

Dave Heroux of the chemistry faculty said that for him and his science colleagues, “one super bright spot is that student research goes on with the start of the semester.” He noted earlier summer research success stories that were, however, mostly online/computational and able to be done remotely – “but now our students are back in the lab. All the chemists have research students now, and Andrew Korich ‘03 is doing a great job with his research program and how he is mentoring students in the lab. With all the masks and goggles and other PPE it makes for quite a sight, but good work is getting done.”

lab group

From left, Andrew Korich ’03, Alexia Amaio ’22 and Richard Siracusa ’22.

The Korich Research group is a “make and measure” laboratory where undergraduate researchers develop skills in organic synthesis, polymer chemistry, and modern analytical techniques. Students will gain first-hand experience in the logical experimental design needed to plan, prepare, and execute complicated air-free reactions and gain valuable hands-on experiences using Saint Michael’s new suite of spectroscopic instruments. One ongoing project, conducted by Alexia Amaio ’22, uses a specific boron-based reagent to break carbon-nitrogen bonds while simultaneously creating new carbon-bromine bonds.  This work has implications both in the pharmaceutical and material science fields. Richard Siracusa ’22 is currently working on a separate project that utilizes blue LED lights to link small molecule chromophores to polymer backbones. This approach will improve the bond formation efficiency of this type of chemical linkage and has implication in the biomedical image field.  Professor Korich and Richard are funded through two Vermont Biomedical Research Network (VBRN) grants, and Alexia is funded through Vermont Space Grant Consortium (VTSGC).

Student wins environmental essay contest

Trevien Stanger of the Environmental Studies and Sciences faculty was excited that one of his students, Anna Beach ’22, won an essay contest this summer.

Anna Beach

Anna Beach

According to the newsletter of the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition, sponsor of the essay contest, “Anna Beach is from the quarry-studded landscape of Barre, Vermont. She is currently an Environmental Studies and Political Science double major at Saint Michael’s College, and her interest in sustainability includes the promising and empowering fields of permaculture design and ecological restoration.” Here’s an excerpt from Anna’s essay: “It seems that more and more people are realizing that we are in relationship with the people of our watershed, with the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the materials we harvest for use. Our wellbeing, then, is tied up with everyone else’s – especially with those in our local communities.” Anna is co-president of the St. Mike’s campus Green Up student club. Kristin Achilich, director of the Center for the Environment/instructor of environmental studies & sciences, adds, “What’s more, Anna is the inaugural intern for the Continuous Energy Improvement internship the Center was able to develop this past spring. This paid, four-credit internship is a huge project across four major sectors of our college – academics, student life, residential life and facilities. She has collaborated with our community partners – Efficiency Vermont and Temperature Control Systems — to  advance SMC’s energy initiatives and worked with GreenUp and ResLife to build campus community engagement plan. She released the first of three newsletters back in late July/early August and the second is coming out next week.  Look for an energy monitoring system in our first year dorms, an energy competition, and energy tips soon!”

The art of rhetoric: Bringing beauty to campus

Professor Maura D’Amore of the English faculty shares how she sent “mail art” out to her Junior Seminar students before the semester started for a course called “Rhetorics of Craft,” and they sent mail art back to her. The image here shows the packet that Maura sent to students.

mail art

Contents of a “mail art” package from Maura D’Amore.

“We have made origami cranes over zoom and left them around campus, the students made pandemic zines last week and they will be leaving some around campus this week, and beginning on Tuesday we will be experimenting with embroidery work together over zoom (I left embroidery kits in my alcove and they picked them up to use in class) as we discuss course readings on samplers and women’s textile work.” Valerie Bang-Jensen of the Education faculty also had this news connected to Maura and Jonathan D’Amore, who is chief of staff for President Lorraine Sterritt: “Oh my gosh—Maura and Jonathan D’Amore’s two boys wrote and illustrated an incredible story for the Teaching Gardens story walk! It was to be installed Wednesday night this week. If you want to chuckle and admire, be sure to check it out. It’s amazing!”

Education partnerships continue, virtually and in area schools

Education Professor Valerie Bang-Jensen, mentioned above, also reports that her Content-Area Literacy course is teaching third graders virtually—“we’re all learning a lot as we prepare!” Beyond that, she says that Jenny Stearns, also of the Education faculty, is the student teaching seminar leader this semester—“she has five student teachers all in different placements. It’s wild,” Val says.

Math teacher grad stays on track personally, professionally

Professor George Ashline of the mathematics/statistics faculty shares: “I have recently been in touch with one of our outstanding class of 2020 graduates, Kayla Carew. She did wonderful work at Saint Michael’s as a secondary education and math double major and business minor. This year, she achieved an awesome initial high school teaching assignment at Essex High School and shared with me recently how she is navigating their hybrid educational circumstances. Furthermore, her wedding is scheduled for next month and they are now planning a small ceremony this year due to the pandemic with a larger celebration hopefully next year. To me it was a feel-good story of alumni perseverance during the pandemic”

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