COVID-19: Human Ecology responds

As Dean Rachel Dunifon remarked in a note to the Human Ecology Community, the College has responded to the pandemic with a spirit of teamwork, working together for the best interest of all.

Faculty and staff worked hard on the transition to virtual instruction and adjusted to impacts on research and outreach activities. And being uniquely suited, in many ways, to finding solutions to the problems presented by COVID-19, faculty made tangible contributions to the broader community immediately.

In the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design, where professors Huiju Park, Juan Hinestroza and others work on the creation of better protective gear for first responders, HAZMAT suits were donated to a local medical facility. The College fabricated frames for face shields and joined the University’s mask sewing effort. Faculty experts were voices in major media on diverse issues associated with the pandemic – paid sick leave, public health, healthcare challenges and responsibilities, managing anxiety, setting up home workstations, inequitable access to resources, and so much more.

Staff adjusted to working from home, and many found some way to care for their local communities, families and friends, even as they respected social distancing and other critical precautions vital to public health. They shared notes and photos of their remote work and participated in virtual events like the College town hall and coffee hours. 

Human Ecology alumni stood out as health directors leading their states' COVID-19 responses, transforming their apparel companies to make personal protective gear, working with agricultural businesses to provide masks and guidance to farm workers, treating patients in hospital emergency rooms, leading diagnostic testing for the virus, and the list goes on and on.

Students adjusted to leaving campus and learning remotely, some helped to recruit the incoming class of Cornellians, found virtual internships and even organized a virtual hackathon to address campus reactivation. 

As the fog clears to some degree, there will be more stories to share.

Below are just some of the headlines that showcased Human Ecology's response.


Professor donating hazmat suits and staff working on masks and face shields

Huiju Park, associate professor in fiber science & apparel design, specializes in researching chemical and biohazard protective clothing. His lab donated 10 disposable biohazard ensembles – essentially head-to-toe coveralls – and three high-quality, reusable hazmat suits. Staff members, Deb Surine and Charles Beach, Jr., joined the surgical mask sewing effort and 3D face shield fabrication.

CHE alumna Libby Mattern making PPE gowns

Libby Mattern '11 runs a non-profit called Course of Trade, which offers free sewing instruction and job placement assistance in the garment industry. She brought together several companies to make tens of thousands of isolation gowns for frontline healthcare workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic.  

Alumna Choumika Simonis working as a front line physician

Choumika Simonis '11 and her mother were featured on a NPR, Brief But Spectacular, segment. She is currently a doctor on the front lines in New York City. Her mother, Clemene Vertus, lives in Queens, and has been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic as a certified nursing assistant at a VA nursing home.

Bartels Hall hosts surgical mask sewing effort

On Cornell’s Ithaca campus, in the midst of a spring semester suddenly interrupted by social distancing mandates, a basketball court in Bartels Hall stirred to life with a new, urgent mission and two dozen volunteers, including dedicated CHE staff and faculty.

Cross-campus effort rushes 3D-printed gear to Weill Cornell

Concerned about a lack of protective gear for medical workers, an associate professor of mathematics at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Department of Radiology thought about all the 3D printers on the Ithaca campus, sitting idle with students gone and nonessential research on pause. CHE rose to the occasion.

Lessons for surviving crises, from the wisest among us

The COVID-19 pandemic has us asking difficult questions: How will we survive this? What are we willing to sacrifice? What comes next? Karl Pillemer reveals how we can learn from the hard-won wisdom of a generation that weathered the most devastating events of the 20th century and lived to tell the tale.

Faculty and staff workshops, training continue online

The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced most Cornell faculty and staff to radically change where and how they work, but support from the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity continues via remote conferencing technology. Kelly Musick collaborated on a session offering guidance in remote mentoring of graduate students.

CPC and PAD tool for COVID-19 vulnerability assessment

Demographers at the Cornell Population Center (CPC) and Program in Applied Demographics (PAD) created a rapid report and data tool in order to understand underlying demographic and health conditions of communities that may exacerbate challenges associated with COVID-19. They envision that local planners, health departments, and community groups will find interest in the data for better preparation.

Snail mail to WiFi: Cornell's history of remote instruction

Generations before Cornell’s shift to online classes this semester due to the coronavirus pandemic, the university was making strides in remote instruction – including some of the earliest, and one of the largest, distance learning programs in the United States. Martha Van Rensselaer’s 1901 correspondence course led to an academic department, then a school, then a College.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott ’97 is leading Rhode Island’s fight against coronavirus

Those who best know Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state Department of Health director, say they are not surprised at her command, composure and leadership of a branch of government that has never been more important. At Cornell, she majored in Human Development and Family Studies.

How secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa is leading Cuomo’s coronavirus response

[DeRosa ’04, ‘09] strategizes with state departments, and analyzes hospitalization and ventilator numbers. She briefs Cuomo, who then presents the facts to the public in easily-digestible bulleted lists and charts that have become appointment viewing for residents across the state and beyond. Their strategy is simple: Be as transparent as possible, even when the news is bad.

Telling our Stories

Janice Whitlock, Research Scientist and Associate Director for Teaching and Training in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR), is the lead investigator on this study, an online journaling survey to document personal experiences of COVID-19 around the world, which grew out of an assignment she gave her students as part of the move from in-person to on-line learning in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Human Ecology researchers work to improve protective gear

Cornell researchers in fiber science & apparel design are putting their knowledge and energies into keeping health care personnel on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic from becoming patients themselves.

Mental health services adapt, predict possible post-coronavirus crisis

Public Opinion. Elaine Wethington, professor emeritus, human development

At 89, she fears dying alone more than the coronavirus itself

New York Times. Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor, human development, and professor, gerontology in medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine

The Coronavirus class divide: space and privacy

New York Times. Hope Harvey, postdoctoral associate, policy analysis and management

Combating the loneliness of social distancing

The Hill. Anthony Ong, professor, human development, and Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor, human development, and professor of gerontology in medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine

Work from home more comfortably – with tips from an ergonomist

Architectural Digest. Alan Hedge, professor emeritus, design + environmental analysis

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