Views from the frontline, the virtual classroom, and beyond

From reshaping the academic experience to supporting ill patients, here’s how the La Salle community has adapted and responded to the pandemic.

—By Patrick Berkery

COVID-19 has changed everything about the way we work, learn, socialize, and live. It all looks and feels so differently now than it did even just 12 months ago.

Navigating these changes has required tremendous resiliency and resourcefulness from the La Salle University community. No one exactly knew how a shift to online learning and operations might work. By association, La Salle faculty, students, staff, alumni, and families have persevered.

On campus and beyond, members of the La Salle community have responded and adapted to the new norms of their work, studies, and professions—a manifestation of the Lasallian tradition of service.

Here is a glimpse at some of the ways through which La Salle has responded to the pandemic—academically, personally, and professionally.

Covid cell

Returning to campus for the spring semester

Comprised of faculty and staff leaders from across campus, the University’s recovery and continuity team worked for months to develop a comprehensive return-to-campus plan that received approval from the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health. The plan, further buoyed by guidance and feedback from more than 1,000 students and nearly 800 employees, “was developed with adherence to Lasallian values and our University mission,” said University President Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D.

“We implemented a number of improvements to our health protocol, including a robust testing strategy and an expansion of our campus contact-tracing program as important measures to protect and preserve the health of our community,” President Hanycz said. “Our planning requires adherence to public health guidelines from everyone who maintains a campus presence, and we continue to accommodate the personal circumstances of our students and colleagues.”

Notably, La Salle’s return plan accounted for a multi-tiered testing strategy executed from an on-campus testing center at TreeTops Café on South Campus. The center’s staff conducted nearly 2,500 tests during its entry testing phase, observing a positivity rate of less than 0.5%. The strategy also included surveillance testing and asymptomatic testing, as added measures to ensure a healthy campus.

La Salle also expanded its contact tracing program through increased staffing and hours of operation and created a form through which students and employees can privately disclose whether they or someone they know has: tested positive for COVID-19, experienced COVID-19 symptoms, or come into close contact with someone who has tested positive.

The University’s plan, built with adaptability in mind, adheres to public health guidelines from Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“I am thankful for our collective cooperation. It is through adherence to the all-important public health tenets and a shared responsibility to maintain our personal wellness that we will navigate this semester successfully and in good health,” said President Hanycz.

My thanks belong with each of our students, faculty, staff, and Christian Brothers, as we keep our campus a safe and positive space in which to live, learn and work.”

Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D., La Salle University President

Art recreation, home-brewing, and other modified teaching strategies

If, for the moment, you can’t see works of art in person, why not recreate them with objects found around your house? That’s what Mey-Yen Moriuchi, Ph.D., suggested to her students when classes shifted primarily online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mey-Yen MoriuchiMoriuchi, an associate professor of art history, drew inspiration from the Getty Museum Challenge, which prompted social media followers of the famed Los Angeles museum to recreate famous works of art using household objects. Similarly, Moriuchi asked students to recreate works of art that are part of the La Salle University Art Museum’s collection, dubbing the extra-credit assignment the Art Recreation Challenge.

“I offered the Art Recreation Challenge as a way for students to engage with a creative art activity that was going viral on social media during the global pandemic,” said Moriuchi, who offered the assignment in her summer courses and extended the challenge into the fall. “I have been surprised at how students use the objects in their homes during quarantine with such ingenuity. Students have responded in extremely creative and fun ways.”

Moriuchi’s model is one example of the creative and innovative adjustments made by faculty to tailor the learning experience for La Salle’s students who, predominantly, completed their Fall 2020 courses from locations other than the University’s campus.

Brian Dehaven

On a September afternoon, Brian DeHaven’s kitchen became his classroom. His countertop acted as a makeshift lab table.

DeHaven, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biology, guided his students through a detailed step-by-step process that called for steeping, boiling, and ice-bathing various materials. His students monitored the color and consistency of their concoctions. They noted mixed results—One student had sediment firmly stuck to the bottom of her container. Another referred to the material as “slime-like.”

“Remember, we want to be drinking this stuff next week, not chewing on it,” said DeHaven.

For 22 students in DeHaven’s upper-level microbiology course, this was not a standard laboratory experiment. It’s actually a semester-long, beer-brewing project that requires precision and attention to detail.

Zoom Meeting

Internships: From face-to-face to a virtual space

La Salle students, like their peers across the country, faced plenty of challenges when classes shifted primarily online due to the pandemic.

For those students in the middle of internships—or preparing to begin them—pivoting to virtual work presented even more challenges, like summoning the ability to successfully advance personally and professionally while working remotely.

Zeynep Tekin The pandemic’s impact on Zeynep Tekin’s internship with the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Revenue was exacerbated by the fact that she was 5,000 miles away when things began shutting down.

The native of Ankara, Turkey went home for a visit in February and couldn’t return to the United States until July because of travel restrictions. The time difference made it impossible for Tekin, MBA ’21, to work virtually from Turkey. Because her job required her to process physical applications from prospective business operators in person due to sensitive information, the internship Tekin began in June 2019 was paused.

With so many obstacles, Tekin said, she stressed the supportive nature of the city’s revenue department.

“The city helped me a lot,” said Tekin, who graduated in Fall 2020 with an MBA in business systems and analytics and finance. “My manager checked in on me often to see how my family was doing. He helped me with the paperwork to come back and restart the internship.”

Rebecca Piergallini Economics and business administration dual major Rebecca Piergallini, ’21, experienced a couple of firsts in her internship with Subaru’s sales department, which was delayed two months due to the pandemic.

Piergallini was among the first Subaru interns to be onboarded virtually. She was also the first intern ever in her department, which helped her feel like an integral part of the team.

“I basically forged my own path for what an intern means to this department,” said Piergallini. “All my experiences and opportunities came through collaborating with teammates and showing them how my skills can be applied.”

Whether studying or working remotely, in part or full time, La Salle’s focus has remained with meeting the needs of the community it serves.

“For nearly 160 years, La Salle University has remained consistent in its commitment to excellence in high-impact teaching and learning,” President Hanycz said. “We continue to meet the needs of our students, to advance an agenda of social justice and to serve the greater good. Having heard from so many of our most recent graduates, the Class of 2020, it was confirmed for me that our shared vocation as Lasallian educators is as critical today, in the midst of a global pandemic, as it was in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, when La Salle opened its doors.”

—Christopher A. Vito contributed to this story.

Covid-19 vaccine shot

Views from the frontline

As the novel coronavirus arrived in the Philadelphia area and community spread began, Tarik Khan, MSN ’11, felt a pull to be of service to those most vulnerable.

Tarik Khan

“That tradition of service of the Lasallian Brothers is ingrained in me,” said Khan, who earned a master’s degree in the nurse practitioner program from La Salle University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences. “We talk about doing things for the common good. That’s been a principle for me throughout my career.”

Khan is a nurse practitioner with the Family Practice and Counseling Network, where he has worked to provide COVID-19 testing in underserved neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. He has also volunteered with the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps, helping them administer drive-through coronavirus tests at Citizens Bank Park in March and April.

All told, Khan estimated he has performed more than 1,000 COVID-19 tests, mostly in the city’s healthcare deserts.

“You go where the need is,” said Khan, who was elected president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association last fall. “We’re going into the least-served communities to make sure they have testing— where the most poverty is, where there is lack of access to healthcare, and where, unfortunately systemic, institutional, and personal acts racism have led in some circumstances to suspicion of certain care being delivered by health professionals, including vaccines. There is a lot that needs to be done to break those barriers down.”

Shannon Hernandez Like Khan, Shannon Hernandez, MSN, ’20, went where there was a need as New Jersey became inundated with COVID-19 cases last spring.

A critical care nurse at Abington Hospital Jefferson Health in Abington, Pa., Hernandez took an eight-week position as a COVID-19 relief staff nurse at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J. Through April and May, she worked 36 hours during the week at JFK, in addition to her weekend position at Abington—an experience she described as “surreal.”

“There were patients lining the hallways who were sick with the coronavirus,” said Hernandez, who completed La Salle’s graduate nurse practitioner program. “We would have as many as 10 intubated patients in one section at a time.”

Sara Boyer Another graduate of La Salle’s nurse practitioner program, Sara Boyer, MSN, ’19, helped to fight the disease on several fronts as a clinical nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

In the pandemic’s earliest days, she worked at a mobile testing site in West Philadelphia. When the hospital opened a makeshift intensive care unit dedicated to COVID-19 cases, Boyer served as a nurse to patients and a trained observer whose responsibilities included making sure all nurses going in and out of the unit were handling their personal protective equipment safely.

Boyer said her training in the La Salle nursing program enabled her to adapt to the rapidly evolving demands of fighting COVID-19 on the frontline.

La Salle prepares you to treat the patient in front of you with the knowledge and tools you have available and adapt and change where necessary.”

Sara Boyer, MSN, ’19

Boyer said, “We spent the early days of the pandemic doing whatever we could to treat our patients while keeping staff safety a priority. As weeks and months went by, we changed our practices to align with new information as it became available.”

Emmannuella Theophile Graduates of La Salle’s social work program shared their experiences from the frontline, where they have been asked to do whatever it takes to help fight COVID-19.

“There have been times when we’ve been so short-staffed due to people being out sick or quarantining that I’ve jumped into the front desk role to check patients in and out,” said Emmanuella Theophile, ’13, outpatient pediatric social worker at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.

Mary Oleksiak “I have been part of a proactive support team for staff. More than anyone, this has impacted the nurses because they’re the ones who have the most direct contact with patients,” said Mary Oleksiak, ’81, outpatient oncology social worker at Abington-Jefferson Cancer Center in Willow Grove, Pa. “For example, we discuss how to talk to their kids about what they’ve been dealing with, because kids have so many questions.”

Faculty speak to media about COVID-19

Positioned as thought leaders in their respective areas of expertise, La Salle University faculty have appeared in the media on a number of topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Nina Mendez, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology, discussed the potential downsides of working from home on a permanent basis. “Work-life balance is incredibly important. It’s understanding the balance between your work life and your homelife and making sure you segregate those two. How do you separate those two worlds when they’re happening under the same roof?” Mendez said in an interview with KYW Newsradio.


Christen RexingIn the days leading up to the election, Christen Rexing, Ph.D., an assistant professor of public health, co-authored a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed on “the (public health) disparities exposed by the pandemic” and how election results could bring about transformational change for city residents. She wrote, “Philadelphia has long illustrated how one’s zip code may be a better predictor of life expectancy than one’s genetic code.”


Jason DiazThe term ‘herd immunity’ confused Americans. Jason Diaz, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrated science, business, and technology, explained to KYW Newsradio how it can be achieved. It’s “a little tricky,” he said, and “it depends on how robust the immune response is, how contagious the pathogen is.”


For now, the pandemic has halted handshakes and hugs. Will these customs continue in a post-pandemic world? “It’s like a lot of things with the coronavirus. It’s like, ‘Wait, this is changing, but is it necessary to go back?’” Katie Dunleavy, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and expert on inter-personal communication, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Kathleen BogleRelationships—both starting and engaging in them—are another social wrinkle brought on by the pandemic. The Philadelphia Inquirer spoke with Kathleen A. Bogle, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology. “People are asking themselves, ‘Who am I taking a risk for? Do I trust what this person is saying about how many other people they’ve seen? How locked down is their quarantine — are they breaking it just to meet up with me, or have they been seeing a bunch of people and are therefore higher risk?’” Bogle said.


Megan SpokasMashable turned to a pair of anxiety experts at La Salle—Megan Spokas, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology, and Hilary Kratz, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology—for insights on a gift guide for those dealing with anxiety brought on by the pandemic.

—Christopher A. Vito


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