Since the start of the pandemic a year ago, Illinois State University faculty, students, and staff have had to adapt to a “new normal.” Throughout this international health and economic crisis, one that has brought tragedy to so many people’s lives, Redbirds have kept teaching, learning, researching, or facilitating those activities while working remotely or under safety restrictions on campus.

Now Illinois State is preparing for a more traditional campus experience next fall based on the expectation that the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines will be widely available in the coming months. In other words, there is a light at the end of what has been a long and dark tunnel. So we’ve taken this opportunity to look back at some of the many examples of resilience and resourcefulness displayed by Redbirds during the pandemic.

Day in the life: Student Body President Lauren Harris continues to lead

Headshot of senior political science major Lauren Harris, the student body president.
Lauren Harris, Student Body president and senior political science major

Lauren Harris exemplifies the student who is highly involved across campus. During her time at Illinois State, she has pushed for progress through her many roles at the University.

The senior political science major and African-American studies minor has taken full advantage of the opportunities to gain political and leadership experience as a Redbird. She has been involved with the Student Government Association (SGA) for three years and was elected as the Student Body president last spring. She is also a member of the Black Student Union (BSU). In each of these roles, Harris has established herself as a campus champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion. On top of those roles, she has worked for Career Services as a career ambassador, where she helps students prepare for their job searches.

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Gamma Phi Circus prepares first-ever virtual performance

Gamma Phi Circus performers
Gamma Phi Circus performers

The decision to cancel the 2020 Gamma Phi Circus annual shows due to mass gathering restrictions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was devastating for everyone involved.

“We were in the middle of a historic year for us,” said Gamma Phi Circus Artistic Director Ivan Stoinev. “We had 130 students, we had done many exhibitions, and we had done the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was huge for us. We were preparing with full power, full energy, and then it hit us. It hit us pretty hard.”

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Marketing students apply course skills to assist small businesses in Normal

Kiara Rodriguez (left) and Cam Hinman outside of Uptown Gifts and Accessories, where they provided digital marketing assistance.
Illinois State College of Business students Kiara Rodriguez and Cam Hinman outside of Uptown Gifts and Accessories, where they provided digital marketing assistance.

Illinois State College of Business students have been helping small businesses in Normal that have been affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In December, 50 local businesses received grants from the Town of Normal’s Small Business Relief Program. Three of those businesses partnered with Illinois State’s American Marketing Association (AMA) chapter in order to receive digital marketing support from qualified students.

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Day in the life: Tashaunna Divers, nutrition major and dining employee, continues to thrive in class and at work

Tashaunna Divers sits at her desk at Marketplace at Linkins.
Tashaunna Divers is a manager at Marketplace at Linkins.

At Illinois State, student workers are an integral component of the University’s day-to-day operations. The relationship is mutually beneficial—students receive hands-on experience in their respective fields while departments receive valuable insights from their student workers.

“The importance of student employees is immeasurable for us,” said Erin Watts, assistant director of marketing, training, and hospitality for Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality. “We’re the largest department in the University; we have well over 1,000 employees, and a large part of that operation is student employees. They’re absolutely instrumental in our day-to-day operations.”

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Sure sign of spring: Lambs arriving at the farm, with the help of students

Julissa Navarette holds a newborn lamb at the University Farm.
Graduate student Julissa Navarette ’19 holds a newborn lamb at the University Farm. She’s been sleeping in a conference room there to be available for births, seeing 22 lambs born in 10 days.

On these sub-zero nights, Julissa Navarette ’19 has been sleeping in the conference room at the University Farm, on call for the lambing season. When it’s time, she heads out to the barn for the deliveries. Over 10 days, she’s seen 22 births, including twins and triplets. 

A good night’s sleep and a warm bed are only memories, but that’s OK with the graduate assistant who is researching how a ewe’s nutrition affects her offspring, from birth weight to quality of milk to immunities she might pass along.

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Students, faculty in cross-disciplinary group publish paper in prestigious physics journal

Associate Professor of Physics Dr. George Rutherford and Zach Mobille work with their electronic circuit.
Associate Professor of Physics Dr. George Rutherford (left) and Zach Mobille ’19 work with their electronic circuit.

Last November, a cross-disciplinary group of undergraduate students and faculty became the first Illinois State research team in 25 years to publish a paper in the American Journal of Physics (AJP). The journal is one of the most selective physics publications in the country, with an acceptance rate for reviewed articles hovering around 35 percent.

However, the group did not start off with their sights set on receiving recognition. The then-undergraduate physics student Zach Mobille ’19 conceived of the idea as he wrote a paper for his experimental physics course in fall 2018.

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Graduate student researches pro sports teams’ social media messaging during pandemic

Kelly Murphy works on her thesis at the Bone Student Center.
Kelly Murphy ’18 works on her thesis at the Bone Student Center. (Photograph by Sara Engstrom)

2020 was marked by a global pandemic, a massive movement for racial justice, and political unrest. Seeing this climate as a unique opportunity for research, Illinois State graduate student Kelly Murphy ’18 decided to study how professional sports teams have communicated with their fans on social media over the past 10 months.

When starting this project, Murphy discovered not much research had been conducted into professional sports teams’ corporate social responsibility (CSR), even though CSR has become commonplace for professional sports teams across the country.

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The pandemic can’t keep the Forensics Union quiet

Members from both the speech and debate teams gather for a group photo at a tournament last November.
Members from both the speech and debate teams gather for a group photo at a tournament last November.

Dating to 1857, the Forensics Union is Illinois State’s oldest registered student organization (RSO). And this school year, the public-speaking and debate group has continued to compete and further its legacy by adapting to the restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Since helping found the first library, we’ve always been helping the campus grow and evolve,” said Director of Forensics Megan Koch. “Now, we are receiving that support from the rest of the community.”

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Zooming in: What it’s like to student teach during a pandemic

Senior special education major Grace Brannen student teaches from her pingpong table at home.
Grace Brannen, a senior in special education, did her student teaching from a pingpong table.

Grace Brannen never thought she’d be student teaching from a pingpong table in her family’s basement, positioning herself against a wall so no one would walk behind her with a basket of laundry. She didn’t expect show-and-tell might include a student showing the inside of his fridge, or his mom sleeping after working all night. Young students had to be taught that if you whisper on Zoom, others can hear you.

The special education major taught K-8 remotely at Clara Barton Elementary in Chicago. Before school began, she traveled with other teachers to students’ homes to help set up Wi-Fi. While still working at 11 p.m., one student asked them if they were going to sleep there, and asked if she wanted to play the video game Fortnite.

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Dance students, faculty partner to support each other and make memories

Georgia Kaminski and Lauren Gadomski performing “Constitutionally Speaking.”
Georgia Kaminski and Lauren Gadomski performing “Constitutionally Speaking,” choreographed by Darby Wilde in collaboration with the dancers for the online performance.

Keeping dance students safe during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic begins from the floor up.

Physical distancing and wearing face coverings have been integral to staying healthy, of course, but another top priority for Illinois State University dance faculty during this challenging time has been the cleanliness of studio floors.

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Association of Latinx American Students offers welcoming community

Association of Latinx American Students (ALAS) members during a Zoom event.
Association of Latinx American Students (ALAS) members during a Zoom event.

When Ximena Sanchez-Ramirez arrived at Illinois State, she felt homesick until coming across the Association of Latinx American Students (ALAS). Just one year later, she is thriving as the secretary of the registered student organization.

“Joining ALAS really helped me develop a family away from home,” said Sanchez-Ramirez, a sophomore from Kankakee majoring in elementary education and minoring in Spanish. “As a freshman and a first-generation student, you’re scared because you’re on your own for the first time. Knowing that you have an organization that supports you and your culture just really makes you feel welcome and at home.”

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Illinois State game design course uses online tools to build community, awareness

Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies Dr. Sercan Sengun.
Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies Dr. Sercan Sengun.

Creating great video games requires close collaboration between people from seemingly disparate disciplines. How does a course teaching game design foster that kind of creative and collaborative environment during a pandemic? Dr. Sercan Sengun, assistant professor of creative technologies, tried to answer this question as he built his course work for the fall semester.

Sengun found the answer by blending external software and services with those already provided by Illinois State. He created a suite of videos in ReggieNet, Illinois State’s online learning platform, for students to watch and refer to later when working on their projects. He also maintains a forum within ReggieNet where he can answer questions for students or allow students to discuss the class among themselves.

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Dealing with a lost season

An empty Redbird Arena.
Redbird Arena, home to the Men’s Basketball team.

For a college basketball player, there’s no better month than March. It’s when all the hard work culminates, and tickets to the hallowed NCAA championships are punched.

Carrying a four-game win streak into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, including a victory against nationally ranked Missouri State on Feb. 27, the Illinois State women’s basketball team was riding high. The Redbirds felt they had just as good a chance as anyone to win the nine-team MVC tournament in the Quad Cities and earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAAs.

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What makes ticks tick: Dr. Städele studies their every move

Ticks in a petri dish in a lab.

Ticks love to bite her, and she’d like to find out why, or why they do anything, like attach to one host but ignore another.

Few researchers have studied how a tick’s brain works, but that’s what caught the attention of Dr. Carola Städele. As a post-doctoral researcher in the School of Biological Sciences, she studies a tick’s every move by recording them as they crawl around their Plexiglass home.   

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Lab classes in a pandemic: Arts and Sciences courses make most of situation

Audrey Eshun uses a micropipette to transfer a small amount of DNA containing solution into an Eppendorf tube.
Audrey Eshun uses a micropipette to transfer a small amount of DNA containing solution into an Eppendorf tube. During this lab students were ligating a small gene fragment into a plasmid vector as part of Martin Engelke’s Biotechnology class.

For the Departments of Biology, Physics, and Chemistry, class sizes were reduced by at least 50 percent, more lab sections were offered, and students wore masks and physically distanced during labs and classes on campus. Students were still able to continue their research, learn, grow, and collaborate on their projects.

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Day in the life: Senior balances academics, work during the pandemic

Chris Aaron centers clay on their wheel to begin another ceramics piece.
Chris Aaron centers clay on their wheel to begin another ceramics piece.

While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced most classes online this semester, ceramics and psychology double-major Chris Aaron continues to gain hands-on experiences on campus.

The senior from Watseka switched their major to ceramics after previously studying sculpture. After a day of learning both in person and online, Aaron works the closing shift at a local grocery store.

Earlier this month, University Marketing and Communications photographer Michelle Hassel followed Aaron through a typical day in their life as a Redbird.

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Newly minted professors adjust to pandemic-style instruction

New faculty members Jason Reblando, Samantha McDonald, and Nathan Stephens pose for a photo on the Illinois State University quad.
New faculty members Jason Reblando (left), Samantha McDonald, and Nathan Stephens are experiencing the start of their teaching careers in the midst of a pandemic.

Starting any new job can stir up nervous jitters. Starting one as a college professor during a pandemic that requires learning a whole new way of teaching can ratchet up the nerves beyond just anxious butterflies.

For three new faculty members, Dr. Samantha McDonald, assistant professor of exercise science in the School of Kinesiology and Recreation (KNR); Jason Reblando, assistant professor of photography in the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts; and Nathan Stephens, assistant professor in social work in the School of Social Work, it’s a shared reality.

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With safety measures taken, CAST stays teaching and learning

Jonathan Richardson and other students in L. C. Yang’s Water and Wastewater Control class lab measure portable water quality.
Jonathan Richardson, foreground, and other students in L. C. Yang’s Water and Wastewater Control class lab measure portable water quality including alkalinity, hardness, nitrate, fluoride, manganese, and pH value. On this day of class, three students were working in person at the lab, and several other students from the class were attending via Zoom.

As with many other colleges on campus, the College of Applied Science and Technology (CAST) transitioned to online learning whenever possible. Class sizes were reduced so students could safely learn 6 feet apart, and gloves and goggles were added to many classes in addition to the required masks. Various classes operated in a hybrid format where some weeks students were present via Zoom, and other weeks they were in-person for hands on learning in lab environments on campus, the Horticulture Center, and at the Illinois State University Farm in Lexington.

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MCN Simulation Lab proceeds with caution while following safety protocols

Nursing students Madison McCunn, Kenneth Wiltse, Gianna Raimondi, and Jessica Kroeger practice measuring liquid medications with syringes.
From left, Madison McCunn, Kenneth Wiltse, Gianna Raimondi, and Jessica Kroeger practice measuring liquid medications with syringes.

There have been quite a few changes this semester to policies and procedures at the Mennonite College of Nursing’s (MCN) Simulation Lab.

As soon as students enter the front door of the Sim Lab they come to a table in the entryway where they have to take their own temperature with a digital thermometer, then they sanitize the thermometer with a wipe, next they change from a personal mask to a supplied surgical mask, and then they sanitize their hands before entering the building.  They put on their goggles and gloves when they are within 6 feet of each other in labs and simulation.  They also complete an app where they verify that they don’t have a temperature over 100 degrees and are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 each time they enter the lab.  There are student workers who monitor the door during times when students are entering to ensure that these requirements for entering the building are being completed. 

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Finding the solution: Animal physiology lab makes most of hybrid format

Students working together on Zoom
Ramsey Mallory, left, and Hannah Kutchek, work with group mates on Zoom in a BSC 283: Animal Physiology lab.

In a lab designed to illustrate how living organisms operate, it only makes sense there’d be an entire week dedicated to respiration systems. In previous Biological Sciences (BSC) 283: Animal Physiology courses, students would breathe into devices themselves to measure lung capacity and simulate different chronic conditions such as asthma.

But as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has warned the public since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one of the fastest ways the novel virus travels is through the air. So, naturally, that type of assignment in a lab classroom was out of the question.

Graduate student succeeds in virtual classroom with new technology

Department of English graduate student Heather O’Leary at her desk in her home office, where she teaches.

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced professors to move classes online last spring, Heather O’Leary ’10 had a smoother transition than many educators.

O’Leary, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the Department of English, had already been using Microsoft Teams with her students long before the pandemic. Now, she is one of the many success stories behind campus efforts to embrace online teaching and learning tools.

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Campus media during a pandemic: For the TV-10 crew, perseverance and attitude deliver the news

Students with cameras.
TV-10 students, from right, Evan Craig, Anna Marie Schutt, Darnysha Mitchell, and Viktoria Figueroa practice shooting video and interviews outside of the Student Fitness Center. The students are learning under the direction of Laura Trendle Polus, director of TV-10, background right, and Bob Carrol, TV-10 production coordinator, background left.

One of the best ways to get through a hard time—even if it’s a global pandemic that interrupts your college years—is with an attitude of gratitude.

Laura Trendle Polus ’87, M.S. ’00 is news director at Illinois State University’s TV-10. She trains future broadcast journalists. Despite all the upheaval and change brought by COVID-19, she hasn’t had to look far to find the positive.

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Women’s History Club encourages education and inclusivity

The Women's History Club smiles got a screenshot photo during one of their Zoom meetings.
The Women’s History Club had its first virtual meeting in September, and will continue to meet via Zoom throughout the 2020-2021 academic year.

Associate Professor of History Dr. Kyle Ciani has been at Illinois State since 2001. However, before entering higher education, she worked at nonprofit organizations that dealt with domestic violence and child abuse. Then, Ciani, who had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, returned to school for her Ph.D. in the history of women and gender.

“I realized that there needed to be a better understanding of the long history of domestic violence, child abuse, and family histories, and that’s what really sent me to the classroom,” said Ciani.

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MQM professor teaches fellow teachers multiple ways to assess online learning

Dr. Tera Galloway
Dr. Tera Galloway shared a Power Point presentation with faculty colleagues designed to help assess student learning in an online environment.

One of the challenges of online teaching is finding an effective method for assessing student learning beyond multiple choice tests. Dr. Tera Galloway, associate professor of management and quantitative methods in the College of Business, has given the topic a lot of thought.

During the summer she put together a 40-minute Power Point presentation in which she shared her ideas with fellow faculty members during two Zoom sessions sponsored by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT).

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Campus media during a pandemic: WZND stays on the air through technology, tenacity

Junior media management, promotion, and sales major Sydnie Walsh works a Monday morning shift at WZND.
Junior media management, promotion, and sales major Sydnie Walsh works a Monday morning shift at WZND.

The best way to train future broadcast media professionals is to immerse them in the real world of running a 24-hour radio station. Deb Lesser ’83, M.S. ’84, media business director for the School of Communication, knows that better than just about anyone.

“My goal is to make this as close to a professional experience as possible,” Lesser said.

When the deadly pandemic hit in the spring, that challenge became even greater. But with history unfolding, it was important for the station to be on air during a 100-year event. They were determined to deliver such news this fall.

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Photo gallery: Art and music classes get creative during fall semester

Student plays the guitar.
Miguel Lumbao’s Beginning Guitar students meet in the Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall to take advantage of the extra space and pleasant acoustics.

Faculty and students across Illinois State University’s campus continue to engage safely in teaching and learning during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Within the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts this fall semester, musicians are wearing masks with mouthpiece openings to continue playing their instruments, painters are taping off individual studio workstations that abide by physical-distancing guidelines, and ceramic artists are expanding their classrooms to the great outdoors.

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ISU biology students continue prairie research for international study

Dr. Diane Byers, Jackson Edwards, and Justin Howard at the Horticulture Center
Dr. Diane Byers, Jackson Edwards, and Justin Howard at the Horticulture Center

The ability to adapt to change is integral to success in turbulent times. After years of working in the advertising industry in Las Vegas, Jackson Edwards has returned home to start a new career. The Bloomington native now studies conservation biology at Illinois State and researches soil and plant diversity under Dr. Diane Byers, associate professor of Evolutionary Ecology.

“This project here is all about the soil microbial community and how that impacts plant diversity across the prairies,” said Edwards. “We look at the feedback from the plants themselves and how they interact with the soil and microbial community in a positive or negative way.”

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Dr. Abigail Stone creates new course analyzing pandemics

Dr. Abigail Stone and her students during a Zoom session for course Plagues, Pandemics, and People.
Dr. Abigail Stone and her students during a Zoom session for course Plagues, Pandemics, and People.

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dr. Abigail Stone was prepared to teach her typical lab course—where students study the archaeology of animal bones—until the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted her curriculum.

“The lab class was Zooarchaeology, and we would look at archaeological remains from a site here in McLean County,” said Stone. “That requires hands-on experience; you can’t identify bones over Zoom.”

The lab where Stone and her students would typically work was deemed too small to support physically distanced learning. Once summer arrived, Stone realized she would need to replace that course with one that could be taught online.

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Campus media during a pandemic: The Vidette adapts to bring readers the news

Editor in Chief Elizabeth Seils proofreads a page from the next edition of The Vidette.
Editor in Chief Elizabeth Seils proofreads a page from the next edition of The Vidette.

Elizabeth Seils is something of a newspaper veteran, given the fact that she’s been on staff at The Vidette for two years. She made the progression from reporter to news editor, and now to the top slot as editor in chief. The senior from Chicago couldn’t have predicted her tenure would be dominated by a global pandemic, but it’s an experience that only adds to her veteran status. These days, much of the newspaper’s work is getting done from afar.

“Most of us work remotely, but I do think it’s important that we come together once a week to put the paper together,” Seils said.

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Day in the life: Marketing student involved across campus

Adrian Micor enjoys the fall weather by relaxing in the grass on the Quad.

Adrian Micor has long considered himself to be among the most involved students on campus. He wears many hats at Illinois State—a result of him always being open to new opportunities. When the pandemic abruptly changed his plans, he did not abandon his open-minded approach to life.

“My way of life has taken a shift,” said Micor, a senior marketing major from Morton Grove. “I went from being one of the most active students on campus who saw everyone every day, to being one of the most active students in a different way.”

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Black Excellence RSO fosters positive community for students

Jaden Echols
Jaden Echols helped form Black Excellence to create a safe and welcoming environment for students to socialize.

For many new students, finding a group of friends can be one of the most overwhelming parts of arriving on campus. Jaden Echols realized this firsthand, and was one of the catalysts who sparked the formation of the Black Excellence registered student organization (RSO).

“We just want people to come together,” said Echols, a junior finance major from Chicago. “When a lot of underclassmen come here, they don’t really know anyone. We founded Black Excellence so people can get to know each other, hang out, and make friends based on common interests.”

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#RedbirdScholar students use grants to spend summer researching

Ashley Tauber feeding a baby wren
Ashley Tauber studies the effect of antioxidants on wrens’ nestling growth rate for her research funded by an Undergraduate Research Support Program grant.

Research rarely rests. All year long, Illinois State University student and faculty researchers alike delve into their research with passion. Despite many Redbirds being away from campus over the summer, research at Illinois State continues to thrive—even during the pandemic.

This summer, 27 students received the new Undergraduate Research Support Program grant provided by the Office of Student Research. “Essentially, this is a grant program that encourages undergraduate student researchers to propose a research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor,” said Dr. Gina Hunter, director of the Office of Student Research. “It allows students to use the grant to fund their hourly wage, for research supplies or research incentives, and for travel to do research.”

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Game development students find unique way to reach people with epilepsy

May 2020 grad Michael Reyes, School of IT Staff Member Tal Parmenter, Epilepsy Program Coordinator Stephanie Harcharik and Executive Director John Mallaney of Streator Unlimited, and Illinois State senior Chance Cook on a Zoom call.
From top left clockwise: May 2020 grad Michael Reyes; School of IT Staff Member Tal Parmenter; Epilepsy Program Coordinator Stephanie Harcharik and Executive Director John Mallaney of Streator Unlimited; and Illinois State senior Chance Cook all Zoom to collaborate on the project to create a video game for people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy and video games would seem to go as well together as a broken air conditioner and 100-degree heat. The stimulation and rapid motion on the screen can trigger seizures. Perhaps that’s why John Mallaney hadn’t the foggiest of ideas of how to pair the two unlikely sources together.

The executive director of Streator Unlimited, a nonprofit organization serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in nearby Streator, was in a focus group centered on developing basic life skills in clients with epilepsy. He noticed a young man with epilepsy who was particularly disappointed that he couldn’t play most video games due to his condition. Mallaney wondered if there was a way to incorporate life skills into an epilepsy-friendly video game format.

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Essential employees continue to serve Illinois State community during pandemic

Woman waxing floor
Building Service Worker Sue Perry waxes the floor in a suite at Watterson Towers.

While Illinois State University faculty and most staff members continue to work from home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, essential employees from areas throughout the University such as Grounds; University Police; University Farm; University Housing Services; and Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality continue to work on campus while practicing safe social distancing. Here is a second photo essay to salute to our essential employees who are working to keep operations moving forward for the future.

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Essential employees working to keep operations on campus moving forward

Woman tends plants
Grounds worker Heather Vozzella plants flowers at a greenhouse.

While Illinois State University students, faculty, and most staff members are forced off campus as a result of the statewide stay at home directive for coronavirus (COVID-19), essential employees from places such as Grounds, University Police, University Heating Plant, and Mail Services are still working to keep operations moving forward for the future. Here is a snapshot of some of the essential workers who are still on campus working and maintaining the social distancing guidelines.

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