As the pandemic surpasses the one-year mark, keeping many people distanced from their families and friends, we take a look at hobbies new and returned to that have provided an outlet for exploration, creativity, nostalgia, and ultimately joy for faculty, staff, and students at Illinois State University.

Many of the hobbies have been possible due to individuals having extra time to themselves, but also as a need to escape the often stressful and anxiety ridden conditions the pandemic has created for many people.

In February, University Marketing and Communications put out a request on the University’s social media channels and via email to various organizations on campus to find faculty, staff, and students who’ve taken up new or new again hobbies during the pandemic.

Senior photographer Lyndsie Schlink interviewed and photographed the individuals in February and March who were willing to share about their hobbies in the company of the subject’s homes, on campus, and in the community. The photos that show the individuals unmasked were taken at locations with no close contact with any other individuals. The photographer remained masked and socially distanced for the entirety of the photos and interviews.

Let’s take a look at the hobbies some Illinois State students, faculty, and staff have taken up or returned to over the past year.We hope they inspire you to start a new or new again hobby of your own. This is part one of a two-part series.

Woman takes photo of bush on campus
Tamanna Tasmin photographs a witch-hazel plant in front of Fell Gates on the Quad.

Second-year communication graduate student Tamanna Tasmin is an international student from Bangladesh who has rediscovered her passion for photography during the pandemic.

“Back in Bangladesh, I needed money to apply for grad school in the USA and selling my camera was the best option in hand. I continued doing photography with my phone, but it was never the same so I stopped.”

Tasmin currently works as a graduate assistant for University Housing Services (UHS). “I almost forgot my basics of photography until we got a camera at work here at UHS. I took the camera out for testing and realized how much I have missed it. It felt like I was having the best time making photos.

“For me, photography is my ultimate source of relaxation. I love doing portrait and landscape photos, but nature photography is my favorite. I love taking photos of the different season on the Quad.” Tasmin often shares her work with her supervisor at UHS who has used a few or her image to promote their department. She also shares her photos on social media. “I feel like I have rediscovered my sense of beauty and appreciation for the nature. I can find a frame from a very ordinary place which only a photographer would be able to see.”

Man reading in the library
Sebastian Hidalgo reads one of the philosophy books given to him by his grandfather.

Sophomore international business major Sebastian Gonzalez Hidalgo, from Ecuador, started researching and reading about philosophy during the pandemic.

“Talking with my grandfather about reading got me interested in philosophy. I used to never read a single book but during quarantine my grandfather started giving me books, and since I visited often, he started quizzing me about them, so I had to read them. After two weeks I got the hang of it.”

Hidalgo likes to read on an open environment where there are almost no people and prefers to read at night. He often reads at the library or under a tree on the Quad. “Through reading about philosophy, I learn about how to face my problems while at the same time coping with them. Also, I learn how to resolve problems with a different perspective, and it has helped me be a more understandable individual.”

If it weren’t for the pandemic and his daily visits with his grandfather, Hidalgo doesn’t think he would’ve started reading and studying philosophy. “Through my studies I have learned that sometimes I tend to overthink stuff. I’ve learned that one tends to suffer more with its imagination than in reality. Sometimes it’s better to take a deep breath and just let things be. Be concerned about problems that are under your control.”

Woman quilts rug
Annie Weaver finishes off the seams of a rag quilt she made for her husband.

Educational Administration and Foundations Educational Doctorate candidate Annie Weaver is the assistant director for co-curricular programs in the Center for Civic Engagement and works with the Alternative Breaks program and one day service programs. Her new hobby is quilting.

“I feel like I’ve always been a creative person my whole life, taking dance class, and being involved in the theater, but I would never consider myself to be artistic. I’ve always wanted to learn to sew, and a few years ago some friends bought me a sewing machine.” Weaver has been teaching herself how to sew for the last couple of years and has increasingly tried more difficult projects.

“I’ve really struggled with the pandemic, working from home, and pursuing my Ed.D, and I needed to use my brain in a more creative way. Having something to do with my hands, using my brain in a different way was a really great outlet for me to keep my sanity, and have something to do that didn’t involve sitting in front of a computer.” Weaver had been collecting t-shirts from Alternative Breaks, which were piling up in her sewing room, so decided to learn how to quilt.

Over winter break, Weaver got together with Elizabeth (Keating) Isringhausen ’17, who showed her how to plot out her pattern, put on interfacing, and put the quilt together. So far, she’s created rag quilts out of printed fabrics, and two t-shirt quilts. “It is one of those things that I’ve always admired other people’s sewing projects. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to do it, and I’ve been really proud of the pieces I’ve been able to finish.” On average, Weaver spends an hour each night away from the computer working on her sewing projects.

Student works at a computer.
Joey Maas practices various maneuvers in the Redbird FX 1007 flight simulator at the Synergy Flight Center in Bloomington.

Freshman Joey Maas, a mechanical technology engineer major from Barrington, is studying to becoming a private pilot.

“I had a lot of extra time on my hands and I’m not the kind of person to just sit idle. Flying is just something that I’ve always wanted to get off my bucket list that I think is exciting and cool.” With an airport located in town, Maas was able to find a flight instructor at the Synergy Flight Center in Bloomington. “It all started with a discover flight with my instructor. He let me take some of the controls our first time up, talking me through what each item does. From there we progressed to different maneuvers, from turning the plane to a 30-degree bank without looking at the dial on the digital screen, to stalling the airplane. It really gets the adrenaline going and you know, it’s better than sitting in my dorm room. Who doesn’t want to fly in an airplane and do all these kinds of cool maneuvers?”

For the more challenging maneuvers Maas would practice the skills in the Redbird FX 1007 flight simulator at Synergy.

Maas is currently working toward a certification to become a private pilot which requires 40-70 hours of flight time in the air during various times of the day. The certification will allow him to fly anywhere in the United States in a single engine plane, carry an average of four passengers, and fly as low as 1,000 feet from the highest points.

He is learning to fly a top-of-the-line single engine plane, a Cirrus SR20, which is a ‘a general aviation aircraft equipped with a parachute to lower the airplane safely to the ground after a loss of control, structural failure or mid-air collision.’

“We have instruments that I’ve trained with that the commercial pilots would be training with. I am looking forward to completing my instrument training after I get my pilot’s license where I’ll learn how to fly through all weather conditions.

“The pandemic was the perfect time for me to learn to fly. I’ve used learning to fly as a motivation to get my school work done because I know that once that stuff is finished, I can go flying. It is so great to get out of my residence hall and have a nice conversation with someone you enjoy talking to and get to learn from at the same time. Just last week my flight instructor, Sean Cox, and I flew to St. Louis to grab tacos for dinner.”

 Maas credits Cox with being a ‘great instructor who inspires him to learn’.

“A lot of students freak out and give up when they see the huge textbooks of content you have to learn in order to get your certification. But in reality, the more you do of the readings, the more you learn, and more doors open for you.”

Maas is looking forward to flying solo to Chicago to watch the sunrise over the city and eventually take his family to their cabin in Wisconsin for a vacation. “It’s just an amazing point of view to be able to see Chicago from the air. It’s awesome!”

Woman sitting down and typing at a computer
Julie Navickas is currently working on book two of her love story trilogy Trading Heartbeats.

Julie Navickas ’07, M.S. 10’, 18’ is the assistant director of academic advising in the School of Communication and has started doing creative writing.

“Last summer in the midst of lockdown, I was looking for something that was going to allow me to keep my sanity while working full-time and having three kids under the age of four at home. I ended up reconnecting with a friend who encouraged me to participate in a course with Burning Soul Press–a course for authors interested in writing a book. I did the class and I was absolutely hooked. And I just kept writing until my entire story pieced itself together.” 

Navickas’ novel is loosely based upon a script she created for an Advanced Writing for Mass Media class in graduate school at Illinois State over 10 years ago. “I pulled out that old script and I used that story as inspiration until it turned into a 60,000-word romance novel. Now I’m absolutely invested in this fun, new hobby and I’m so excited to get it published and out into the world for readers to enjoy.

“The book is a second chance love story about two high school sweethearts. Certain circumstances take them apart for 10 years, and then they find their way back to each other again–with no small amount of drama mixed in. And then there’s your happily ever after.

“If it weren’t for the pandemic, I don’t think I would’ve ever acted upon it. I teach writing as part of my work at Illinois State, but I’ve never been able to write in this kind of way. Needing that time for myself gave me an excuse to start acting on my passion.” 

Writing her first book has helped her expand her network internationally and begin new leadership opportunities. “I now work part-time with Burning Soul Press as their brand impact manager, am the executive director of an online writing community called The Writing Champions Project, and my editor lives in Whales. It’s been such a cool experience to get to know other people who share a similar passion.” 

Navickas has finished her first book and is in the process of writing the second with plans to create a trilogy. “It’s called the Trading Heartbeats Trilogy. The first book is titled I Loved You Yesterday, the second I Love You Today, and the third I’ll Love You Tomorrow.”

Navickas is ready to start looking for a literary agent. “I have a list of about 100 romance novel literary agents that I’m going to query in hopes that they have an interest in my manuscript. Then I wait to hear back from them, with my fingers and toes crossed. Once I have an agent, they’ll reach out to publishing houses on my behalf. It could be published this year or the following year. It just depends upon how large the publishing house is and what their schedule looks like.” 

Woman makes dish on stovetop in a griddle.
Divya Nikam prepares the Indian dish dosa for lunch.

Second-year information technology graduate student Divya Nikam is an international student from India who started cooking Indian food during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic Nikam use to eat most of her meals at the Watterson Dining Center, but when the pandemic began, she started to cook food for herself. “As I am a native of India, I love Indian food as it’s all about the spices and it’s an art to make Indian dishes.”

Nikam hadn’t done much traditional cooking before so she reached out to her mom back in India for recipes. “First, I tried some basic Indian dishes then as I my interest grew, I started to cook some amazing dishes from different regions of India.”

For the photo session, Nikam made dosa, a south Indian dish made of rice and lentil batter that is served with potato, dry gravy, and sambar.

“There are many benefits of cooking for yourself like it saves lots of money. I believe that homemade food is more fulfilling as compared to the processed food which we find in restaurants. Moreover, we can control the number of calories in our food which helps us to be healthy.”

Nikam enjoys cooking for herself, her roommates, and friends. “Whenever I try a new dish, I invite my friends for tasting, and based on their feedback, I improve my cooking and learn more. I really enjoy cooking now.”

Man removes bread from an oven
Tyler Mardis removes loaves of freshly baked challah bread from the oven.

Tyler Mardis is a customer service representative with Facilities Management and a junior in the School of Communication who started baking bread during the pandemic. 

“I wanted to spend more time with my mom in the kitchen. I’d already gotten into cooking and grilling, and my mom has always been one of the best bakers of cookies, brownies, and it just evolved into more intricate things like making challah bread. There have been some stressful times for me during the pandemic, and I work full time, my wife and I have two kids, and I am going to school part time at Illinois State so baking breads has been therapeutic for me, I find it relaxing.” 

Mardis, who has family of Jewish heritage, had seen his cousins who live New York City making challah bread and had also seen an extravagant challah at a wedding he attended, and thought it looked like a lot of fun to make. He first tried baking a sweet challah bread but has since adapted the recipe to have less sugar but still ‘taste great like a good brioche bread’. “It’s just a fun bread to make and eat.”

“I love taking pictures, but there’s not a lot of opportunities to take photos in the winter so this is a new creative outlet for me. I find it very rewarding to make, give to people, and see them enjoy it. It’s a family bread that’s meant to be shared at a table. You can easily pull it apart and share with others because of the braids.

“Making bread is way easier than you’d imagine. It just takes a lot of patience with all the steps and giving it the time, it needs to rise. It’s also cheaper than buying it from a bakery and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you made it. My wife Jasmin also makes a cinnamon honey butter that pairs well with the bread. 

“Baking bread is something I’ve always been interested in doing. Once you get going though it gets kind of addicting. Now I’m starting to think about making my own pizza dough.”

Woman sits on the ground reading in with a stack of books next to her
Madison Nottke reads the next book in the Harry Potter series in Spanish at Milner Library.

Admissions tour guide Madison Nottke, a sophomore math education major and Spanish minor, has stated reading her favorite book series in Spanish.

After studying Spanish for six years, Nottke decided to start reading her favorite book series, Harry Potter, in Spanish during the pandemic. “I realized that if you really want to get good at a language you need to do something extra and push yourself. The Harry Potter series was my childhood obsession. I was feeling nostalgic over quarantine, as a lot of people were, and decided that I wanted to read this series again. It felt unproductive to read a fifth-grade level book series as a sophomore in college so I decided to start reading them in Spanish.

“The first book took me a long time to get through because I was doing what a lot of new language learners do and tried to translate every sentence into English. Over time I realized it was taking me less and less time to get through the books because I didn’t need to know every word and used context clues, not to mention, I already know the storyline.

“It feels like I’m reading the books for the first time and it’s a lot of fun. I’m seeing things that I hadn’t remembered, in part because it’s been nine years since I read them the first time. The pandemic has afforded me the extra time by myself to dedicate to reading. Now it’s like a ritual, I come to Milner Library every morning to do my schoolwork, I start with one chapter of my book, and then I can move on with my day.

“I feel good about myself when I’m reading in Spanish, I feel productive, because it’s not just reading for fun, I’m also gaining skills from reading. Choosing to read the Harry Potter series has really got me interested in reading again, regardless of the language. I think when I do finish this series, I’m going to start reading the Twilight series in Spanish. It’ll be another fun thing to reread.”

Woman ice skating
Elizabeth Ababio ice skates during open skate at the Joe Olson Ice Rink at Grossinger Motors Arena in downtown Bloomington.

Second-year economics and project management double major graduate student Elizabeth Adutwumwaa Ababio is an international student from Ghana who started ice skating at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington.

Ababio used to play soccer at the Student Fitness Center, but it got canceled due to the pandemic. “This place (Grossinger Motors Arena) is like a safe haven for me. There is a lot of thing going on back home, and I lost someone dear to me earlier this year. I need a place to breathe sometimes and this is where I can quiet the noise and forget about what is happening around me for a second.”

During open skating the lights are at a minimum and there’s little to no sounds to be heard beyond the slicing of the skates across the ice.

On the day Ababio was photographed there were only a few people on the ice during open skating and she ended up having the ice to herself for the final half hour of the session. “I come here to have time to myself so I don’t mind that there aren’t a lot of people. I just wish I would’ve known about this place sooner as it’s been such a great outlet for me. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I don’t think this is something I would’ve discovered for myself, but I’m glad that I did.”