This is part two of a two-part series about faculty, staff, and students who’ve taken up new or new again hobbies during the pandemic.
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.
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.
Let’s take a look at more hobbies Illinois State students, faculty, and staff have taken up or returned to over the past year. We hope they encourage you to start a new or new again hobby of your own.
Third-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) painting major Shahrbanoo Hamzeh is an international student from Iran who started ice skating and stitching on plastic canvases during the pandemic.
“Learning to ice skate was my way to make peace with the cold weather here,” she said. “I thought if I learned something related to the cold that I enjoyed, I would remember the cold with a better feeling in the future. Coming from Iran, it is really cold for me here. Ice skating also adds excitement and liveliness to my schedule since many of my activities are online these days.”
Hamzeh says that ice skating helps her ‘make peace, emotionally, with being not in 100 percent control of the situation.’ “It makes me feel free and forget about my busy schedule during the last year of my MFA program for an hour of skating practice.”
When she’s not bundled up at the ice rink, Hamzeh can be found sitting in her office stitching. “To be honest it is sometimes hard for me to stay focused during online classes and keeping my hands busy was quite helpful.”
Hamzeh stitches using metal needles, a clear plastic canvas, and brightly colored yarns. “I enjoy the practice of putting different colors next to each other kind of randomly. I also do not follow any special pattern for my stiches and go with the feelings I have at the moment.
“I enjoy that free feeling and the uncertainty of this practice. It is also quite exciting to see the relations and conversations between forms and colors that happens randomly. It helps my mind to stay sane with the pressure of the last semester of graduate school.”
If it weren’t for the pandemic Hamzeh doesn’t think that she would’ve started ice skating or stitching. “I think pandemic was kind of helpful in encouraging me to start that the things I needed to at the time to help me make it through the challenging times.”
Alumna and Assistant Instructional Professor in the School of Communication Deb Lesser, who is also the media business director at WZND Radio and TV-10 News, got a new puppy during the pandemic. Her new hobby is walking and caring for the family’s new Australian Labradoodle, Sophie.
Early in 2020, Lesser’s family Lhasa Apso, Sammi, passed away at the age of 15. Sammi’s last years involved a lot of care and Lesser and her husband weren’t ready for another dog.
“Teaching synchronously on Zoom in my dining room last spring allowed me to see a neighbor routinely walking his brand new adorable fluffy, white, puppy every day past my home,” Lesser said. “As the pandemic got more serious, and it looked like we might be home for a while, I decided that I really wanted to get a puppy. My students were absolutely cheering me on.”
Lesser chose to get an Australian Labradoodle because her daughter, Maggie, also has this breed, and they know these dogs do not shed or cause allergy problems and have an amazing temperament.
“Sophie has brought a lot of joy to our house even as we work from home. She gives us a reason to get out, entertains us, and loves everyone she meets. She has visited the WZND and TV-10 studios and developed quite a following, and has even been is some Avanti’s social media posts. Also, my husband is crazy about this dog, they are quite a pair!” If it weren’t for the pandemic Lesser doesn’t think they would’ve gotten a puppy so soon. “We have a family wedding coming up and are doing some home remodeling projects. We initially thought we would wait until those things were done. Sophie is definitely our pandemic puppy.
First year M.B.A. graduate student Maina Ibn Mohammed is an international student from Nigeria who started a Tik Tok account during the pandemic and makes daily posts about ‘how men can improve themselves and be better’.
“I’ve always wanted to have a social media presence to help people better understand the world, and since social media sites are used by nearly half of the world’s population, they’re a natural place to reach new and highly targeted potential customers of any company I may start in the future.”
Mohammed started the account to ‘make a positive effect on a vast number of people.’
“It gives me the feeling that I have the ability to make a lot of people’s days better while also educating them. I’m going to add some content on men’s mental health stability in order to help them navigate the tough path of adulthood. I also have a YouTube channel where I talk about how I decided to come to America. Mohammed currently has 117,000 followers and 2.7 million likes on Tik Tok. “If it weren’t for the pandemic, I would have come up with excuses like ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘I’m not going to get many followers.’
Dr. Mark Hoelscher is a professor of entrepreneurship in the Department of Management and Quantitative Methods in the College of Business, and the director emeritus of the George R. and Martha Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
“The pandemic has been a huge blessing that’s allowed me to go on quite a journey that probably wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the pandemic forcing me to slow my life down and focus more on my personal health.” Since mid-July last year Hoelscher has lost over 90 pounds thanks to a low-carb diet and an active lifestyle.
Hoelscher, who has Type-2 diabetes, had a mirror of sorts held up to him when he ran into another man on a camping trip who also had Type-2 diabetes and was experiencing similar, but more extensive health related challenges. “It made me see what my doctor was trying to warn me about and why I should take him seriously. I saw my potential future in front of me, and I didn’t like it.”
From there, Hoelscher began to research his condition. All the literature said that a proper diet, losing weight, and getting exercise were the best things that he could do to help himself.
“I wanted to win this battle with diabetes and avoid having to go on insulin. I got serious mid-July and began charting food, moved to calorie and carb restrictions, and then added daily exercise. I have always been quite the cook, and I found it easy and enjoyable to modify existing recipes to be low calorie and low carb.”
Hoelscher and his wife Sharon have an entire room in their basement full of cataloged cookbooks and recipe cards, so he has no shortage of inspirational when it comes to coming up with new ideas for cooking.
Hoelscher began by riding his bike eight miles each morning on Constitution Trail. When the cold weather hit, he got resourceful and repurposed his cold weather gear for fishing at Lake Erie, bundled up, and started walking three miles per day. “I found out that I really enjoyed walking. and I’ve only missed a few days ever since. I got a Fitbit in September and began counting steps to get 10,000 each day.”
Prior to eating healthy and losing weight, Hoelscher’s favorite hobby was fishing for most of the summer at Lake Erie.
“Medical complications of diabetes, passing out due to blood sugar levels, losing a leg, sight, or having to go on dialysis, would prevent me from enjoying my fishing. If I am to continue fishing, which requires a certain amount of dexterity and fitness, I need to care for my health in an extreme way if need be.”
As a result of losing weight .Mark has slept better at night, can ride his bike easier, his clothing is more comfortable and fun to wear, and his blood sugars test in normal range. “I am much more spry, capable, can get around better, and enjoy fishing even more now that I can jump on and off of a boat with ease.”
The biggest challenge for any person is not losing the weight but keeping it off long term through lifestyle changes that are fun and manageable.
“I intend to have tons of fun fishing, bike riding, and perhaps even hiking some of the National Parks. These are all things that I couldn’t have considered doing before losing the weight during the pandemic.”
Second-year information technology graduate student Sai Tejasri Lakkineni is an international student from India who started cooking cultural food and studying photography during the pandemic.
“During the pandemic we couldn’t eat out a restaurant, so I decided to cook food at home,” she said. “I used to cook some food at home before the pandemic, but I really started exploring new cuisines and ideas for dishes online and then tried making them.
“Cooking helps reduce my stress and relax. It’s health and safe to cook your own food, and you can be as creative as you want when you’re making it for yourself. I watch a lot of YouTube videos to get ideas.”
Tejasri often cooks for her roommates and sometimes invites her friends over to her apartment to have a get together. For the photo shoot she made kadai paneer, a popular curry made in the subcontinent in India, made of panner, tomatoes, onions, peppers, bay leaves, star anise, turmeric, chili powder, and dried fenugreek leaves. Paneer is an Indian style of cheese, made by curdling milk with vinegar or lemon juice. This is Tejasri’s favorite vegetarian dish that can be served with roti, naan, or rice.
Tejasri has always been interested in photography but never took the time to dedicate herself to the art. “When the pandemic started last year around spring break, I suddenly had the time to stop and take some photos. I currently click pictures with my phone and enjoy taking photos when the sky changes colors.”
Tejasri enjoys taking photos around campus, during trips to Kentucky, nature, and of her friends. She edits her photos in Adobe Lightroom and then uploads her images to her Instagram account.
“My photography has improved a lot during the pandemic since I have more time to devote to it. It has also introduced me to a lot of new people online through photography groups.”
Third year English Ph.D. student Maryna Teplova is an international student from Ukraine who started quilting and decoupaging glass and plastic containers with paper napkins during the pandemic. Prior to and throughout the pandemic, Teplova has continued her longtime hobbies of cooking and playing the piano.
In spring 2020, right after the pandemic began, Teplova realized that masks were going to become a common thing that we would need every day, so she got a sewing machine in April and started researching patterns online. “I had sewn several masks for me and my husband, a case for my sewing machine from old shopping bags, and a case for the iron from some scraps of flannel that I had left from making masks.”
Looking back, Teplova thinks that these small projects prepared her for the challenge of creating something big, meaningful, memorable, and quilting seemed a perfect match for such ambition.
“Yet, there is a deeper layer explaining my interest in quilts. It goes back to 2003, Yalta, Ukraine, where I was a participant of the Summer School for English Language teachers, organized by the U.S. Embassy. One of the seminars presented by an American professor was beyond fascinating: she told us a story of the Underground Railroad that started before the Civil War and the role quilting played in helping the slaves who escaped their masters find the way North. I still remember the handouts she gave us: they showed pics of various quilting patterns with hidden meanings used by the quilt-makers to help Black fugitives from the South find their freedom. Thus, the concept of quilting has always been a magnet to me since a quilt is not only an object made of fabric, but it is also a piece made in love and with a special meaning.”
Teplova made her first quilt and sent it to her granddaughter in Ukraine, and is currently working on one for her mother. Now that she’s in the U.S., quilting is also a way for her to reconnect with her mom back in Ukraine who is also great at sewing.
“Sewing is an excellent channel for creativity as it allows me to be flexible, diverse, spontaneous, and it encourages me to improvise and use a variety of bright colors, which I absolutely love. It is an expression of who I am and how I feel at this particular moment in my life, helps me reduce stress, and recharge my creative potential for succeeding in other areas of my life.”
Unable to travel to see her family in Ukraine last summer and winter due to the pandemic, Teplova discovered that ‘sewing and quilting have become a way to feel closer to the people I love.’
Around Orthodox Easter last April, when she was engrossed in the mood of decorating eggs and baking paska, Teplova stumbled upon YouTube videos on Pinterest of people decorating eggs with napkins and egg whites.
“For some reason, I got very enthusiastic about trying this out, so I bought some napkins, found some napkins that I already had with nice designs, and got down to work.” The process proved a bit messy and dense so she started researching other options.
“After making the Easter eggs, I kept exploring other techniques and found a lot of tutorials where people applied napkins to decorate various surfaces like plastic, glass, wood, etc., with the help of Mod Podge. My creations are both pleasant to look at and useful as house décor. For instance, I have a couple of vases that I use for flowers in my kitchen and living-room.”
Teplova also loves the challenge of the Mod Podging process because “it takes many stages, creativity in designing the pattern, patience in waiting till the object dries completely before I can apply the next layer, and finally when the project is finished, there are so many ways to enjoy the results.”
She has made several projects with jars for her family here in America and plans to mail or personally deliver new creations to her family in Ukraine if she’s able to travel this summer. “Decoupage makes me feel that I’m a painter in a way since I can create a ‘picture’ on any object by blending various designs on the napkins. I am so glad the pandemic pushed me to find new outlets for creativity.”
Second-year M.B.A. student Jacques Biko Louis in an international student from Haiti who started listening to motivational speeches and meditating during the pandemic.
“I wanted to hear uplifting speeches in relation to all the distressing and overwhelming news that was being spread all over the media and on social networks during the pandemic. Listening to speeches will help you to accept reality and allow you to look beyond it in a positive way, and it allows you to put life into perspective and know that everything is seasonal. Also, it helps me have a big vision in everything I do, and I can visualize success.”
Biko says that he feels ‘great, in the best shape of his life, and his mind is clearer than ever’ when he has the opportunity to listen to speeches.
Some of his favorite speeches include “Cultivating the Attitudes That Affect Human Action” by Myles Munroe, “It Is Not Over Until You Win” by Les Brown, and “Pain Is Temporary, Quitting Lasts Forever” by Eric Thomas.
“I think the pandemic has allowed me to discover more of certain types of motivational speakers, and it has allowed me to be more attentive to their message. In terms of emotional intelligence, I have learned and gained experience during this period of pandemic.”
The scene is set for Biko to meditate. The flicker of a candle can be seen on the desk, sand pouring slowly through the hourglass, and bamboo water fountain music is playing.
Biko decided to start meditating during the pandemic ‘in order to know myself better and to be in search of my purpose on this earth. I started to follow techniques on meditation on the Internet and hear music pronouncing tranquility, relaxation, and peace of mind.’
“The are many personal benefits of meditation, you have a very healthy mental life as it is the mind that is in control of everything in life, you are at peace with your mind and it allows you to be more attentive to those around you and inspire others, and you attract positivity.”
Biko likes to meditate in his room and amongst nature when the weather is nice. He uses some apps, such as Headspace & Insight Timer, to help him practice meditation.
“I must thank this precious time that I had with myself during the pandemic which allowed me to discover meditation.”