UIndy CAC helping train National Guard for COVID-19 response in nursing homes

Indiana National Guard training

Indiana National Guard training

When members of the Indiana National Guard take their places at the state’s more than 500 nursing homes this week and in the months to come, they will do so with training provided, in part, by the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community (CAC). Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced in late October that Indiana National Guard troops would be deployed to nursing homes to provide support to staff who have been on the front lines since the pandemic began last spring.

“Nearly 11,000 residents in Indiana nursing homes have contracted COVID-19 since March; more than 2,400 of those residents have died,” said Dr. Ellen W. Miller, executive director of CAC. “While only six percent of Indiana’s COVID cases have occurred in nursing homes, those cases account for more than 57% of the state’s COVID-related deaths.”

This disproportion contributed to the decision to call up the Indiana National Guard, Miller said. The National Guard is not being tasked with resident care responsibilities, but will help with additional administrative tasks that have emerged because of COVID-19.

“That will allow the nursing home staff to focus on caring for the residents,” Miller said. 

For the past eight years, CAC has worked with the Regenstrief Institute to embed nurses with specialized training in nursing homes to reduce avoidable hospitalizations. The effort, known as the OPTIMISTIC Project, was so successful that the leaders of the federally funded demonstration project teamed up with business development experts to found a medical startup company called Probari in order to bring similarly structured training to nursing homes around the country. 

Russell Evans from Probari, Inc. trains Indiana National Guard troops for their deployment to Indiana nursing homes.

Russell Evans from Probari, Inc. trains Indiana National Guard troops for their deployment to Indiana nursing homes.

So, when Holcomb called up the National Guard, Probari was tapped to provide training in long term care before the deployment. Miller, who was part of the leadership of OPTIMISTIC, worked with Probari’s Dr. Kathleen Unroe and Russell Evans, as well experts from the nursing home industry, Lori Davenport and Rebecca Bartle, to construct a half-day curriculum for the troops.

“In addition to training soldiers specifically how to perform their new roles, we designed the training to give them an appreciation of how tough things have been for nursing home residents and staff during pandemic-related lockdowns, an understanding of what to expect on a typical day in a nursing home, and how to protect residents and themselves from infection,” Miller said. 

According to Miller, the Guard will be helping with COVID screening at building entrances, data entry related to frequent testing, facilitating family visitations, and cleaning high touch surfaces in nursing home common areas. More than 1,400 National Guard personnel will be trained and deployed. The first of seven trainings took place on Friday, October 30 at Camp Atterbury in southern Indiana. The Guard is scheduled to be in place through December 31, 2020.

In addition to the OPTIMISTIC project, CAC has coordinated infection prevention training for nursing homes in Indiana for several years at the request of the Indiana Department of Health. CAC will also be a part of a new Indiana Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network as part of Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes). Led by the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University, this ECHO program is geared specifically for nursing home leadership to build capacity related to COVID-19 and protect residents and staff.

Cohabitation study spans decades, despite COVID-19 challenges

For more than 15 years, Amanda Miller, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, has been studying what happens after people decide to move in together. 

From 2003 to 2006, Miller’s research team conducted in-depth interviews with 61 couples (122 individuals), including 30 couples who were working in the service sector and 31 college-educated, middle-class couples. The findings are published in “Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class and the Remaking of Relationships,” a book co-authored by Miller, and have also been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, Psychology Today, and Journal of Family Issues.

Amanda Miller, Department of Sociology, conducts research via ZoomThis year, Miller and her research partner, Sharon Sassler from Cornell University, set out to conduct follow-up interviews with as many of the original participants as they could find. They wanted to learn about the most significant events in their lives since they had last connected. Some couples were still together; others were not. Each person had stories to tell. 

Although COVID-19 complicated their plans for this research project, Miller and Sassler have so far re-interviewed 66 of the 120 surviving members from the original sample. 

Find out more about Miller’s research experience: 

How far did you get into the interviews before COVID-19 hit? 

“My colleague, Sharon Sassler, of Cornell University and I were in Columbus, Ohio in late February/early March conducting numerous interviews per day and anxiously watching the news at night. The demographers at Ohio State, which included sociologists, economists, and public health professors, among others, were kind enough to let us conduct our interviews from their offices. We had been hearing from them between appointments that COVID-19 was likely to be a serious problem. We both headed back home on the 10th day of interviews (March 8, 2020), discussing before we parted that it may be “a couple of weeks or a month or two when this passes” before we’d get to come back and finish our work. Little did I know that trip would include my last times eating in a restaurant, browsing leisurely in a store, or grabbing a coffee at the cafe for now. In that short period of time, we had completed around 45 interviews.”

How did the pandemic affect your research project? 

“Thankfully, we had asked for permission from the Institutional Review Board to also do interviews via Zoom, anticipating that folks may be scattered across the globe. We ended up finishing the remaining interviews from our houses over the next few months, often in different time zones. I finished one interview on a Saturday morning just after midnight. I went from walking participants down a long university hallway with a sterile desk and chair to welcoming them (virtually) to my spare bedroom or screened-in porch. A few times, when my quarantine puppy couldn’t stop fussing in the background, I conducted the interview from the passenger’s seat of my car in the garage. It was definitely an adjustment!”

Was it easier or harder to follow up with people than you expected?

“It was both easier and harder than I expected. Far more people are on social media than ever before, which makes finding everyone so much easier than it would have been 15 years ago. But, people are also more geographically mobile than ever, and this is a stage of life where some women, especially, change their last names. That made things a bit more complicated. We spent days upon days combing through public access information to find as many original participants as possible. Thankfully, the people we relocated were so fantastic and most were happy to chat with us again! A few even spontaneously reached out to a long-ago ex-boyfriend or -girlfriend to encourage them to connect with us.”

What initially stands out to you about the recent interviews you conducted? 

“One thing I was struck by methodologically was that so many of the individuals we interviewed did not initially remember being a part of the first round of the study. We have been working with the transcripts of our original conversations for most of our careers, so we know them incredibly well. But, we also needed to remember that for most of the young adults we interviewed, this was just a snapshot in time for them.  Many were quite interested in what their “past selves” had said and wanted to dig into the research after our second interview. 

Data-wise, the preliminary results have reinforced for me how very much social class can positively or negatively impact a person’s life. What we really learned about were early mid-life crises. Participants trusted us enough to tell us about heartbreaks, job losses, having academic ambitions thwarted, mental health and substance use challenges, infertility, the stress of modern childrearing, and the death of beloved partners and parents. For some, the power of a completed college education or being in the right place with the right skills at the right time helped them successfully navigate the frequently choppy waters of this life stage, while for others, one life crisis precipitated another with few social supports available to put on the brakes.

I am incredibly grateful that participants are so willing to give up hours of their time and to share their life stories with us. And, I am disheartened to hear how much some of these individuals have struggled and how little it might have taken from their communities to get them back on track. We as a society can do better.” 

Learn more about the University of Indianapolis Department of Sociology.

Related: Research by Amanda Miller examines romantic relationships, career ambitions

COVID-19 crisis presents opportunity to serve community for UIndy student

Amy Rohr '20 (public health) '21 (master of public health)

Amy Rohr ’20 (public health) ’21 (master of public health)

Many University of Indianapolis faculty and students are contributing their time and expertise in the fight to stop coronavirus (COVID-19). Amy Rohr, who graduates in May 2020 with a degree in public health, is also working towards her master of public health, which she will receive in 2021. Rohr has gained hands-on experience during the program through various internships, including the Indiana State Department of Health’s (ISDH) COVID-19 Call Center, where she answers questions from the general public as well as healthcare providers.

“The general public is mostly calling in and requesting information or wondering if they can be tested. We also answer general public calls that are just needing assistance on resources, such as the Critical Industry Line, Unemployment, 2-1-1, and the OSHA Compliance Line. The healthcare providers call in for many different reasons such as guidance on protocols or authorization requests to give the COVID-19 test,” Rohr explained.

“It has been interesting to watch how the calls change each week. I have been working at the call center since the beginning of March and each day there is something new. We get updates nearly every day on protocols, testing, results and recommendations. It seems like a turbulent situation, but I knew what I was stepping into. The field of public health is always changing and that is what I love most about it,” she said.

One of the key components of the public health program at the University of Indianapolis is applied and experiential learning. Rohr’s work at the call center has sharpened her focus on the value of sharing accurate medical information with the public.

“My view on the importance of proper health communication has definitely heightened from this situation. I find it very interesting to see where the callers are getting their information. To me, the information has been pushed by the media, but unfortunately, that is not always appropriate or accurate. In order to be an effective health educator/communicator in the call center, I ensure that I am staying calm, giving evidence-based information, and listening to the individual’s concerns and questions,” she said.

For Rohr, it’s an opportunity to give back to the community and put the University motto, “Education for Service,” into action.

“I have genuinely loved helping the public during this time of crisis,” Rohr said. “Of course, I love all things public health, but helping others is very important to me. I always try to remember that these individuals are scared and worried during this time and some just need someone to talk to. If I can be that person for them, even for five minutes, I feel that I am doing my job.”

Rohr is grateful for the mentorship of faculty including Heidi Hancher-Rauch, director of the Public Health Program at the University of Indianapolis.

“Dr. Rauch has gone above and beyond as a mentor. She is a professional that I look up to as a role model. She has helped me develop my love for policy and advocacy, which is what I want to work in in the future,” Rohr said.

Rauch commended Rohr, who serves as president of the honorary society, Eta Sigma Gamma.

“Amy provides amazing leadership within the Public Health Program and for the ESG members, in particular. She consistently brings great ideas forward to share with others,” Rauch said.

Rohr has completed a number of volunteer internship experiences, including the Southside Quality of Life Initiative where she examined the eight SoIndy neighborhoods using GI mapping, using the information to create and analyze maps of recreational areas and how they relate to public health. She also interned with the Indiana Youth Services Association of Indiana in their Trafficked Victims Assistance Program where she created an onboarding tool for new volunteers, helped with advocacy and awareness events, and created documents used for administrative purposes.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Rohr was interning with the ISDH’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation department, where she compiled and analyzed data, helped with policy and advocacy efforts, organized datasheets, and created fact sheets. Rohr also serves as a Health and Wellness Educator for the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis and a Community Health Advocate for Community East Hospital.

After completing her MPH degree, Rohr plans to work in public health policy and advocacy, and hopes to pursue a law degree in the long-term.

I have nothing but great things to say about the Public Health program. Not only are we getting practical experience and quality instruction, but this program is also like another family to me,” Rohr said. “The hands-on experiences and courses are definitely prepared for the next steps in my career.”

Learn more about the Public Health Program at the University of Indianapolis.


School of Nursing adjusts to aid in COVID-19 support


The University of Indianapolis is finding innovative ways to ensure continuity for students as well as to support the local community during the COVID-19 crisis.

Since hospitals began admitting COVID-19 patients, School of Nursing students have been prevented from completing their required clinical hours in person. To remain in compliance with the accreditation requirements for the SON, students have been allowed to substitute clinical hours with virtual experiences. Normally, those hours would be a maximum of 25% of the total hours for each course in the undergraduate program as prescribed by the Indiana State Board of Nursing (ISBN). With the current COVID-19 crisis in effect, the ISBN is allowing schools to fall back on national guidelines which allow up to 50% of hours in simulation. With that change, the SON has contracted with Kaplan to provide virtual simulation for the remainder of the semester. These virtual experiences will be used in conjunction with guided case studies to meet the required hours.

“Changes in how we deliver clinical education will allow students in the undergraduate nursing programs to satisfy more of their required clinical hours virtually rather than in person,” said Dr. Norma Hall, dean of the University of Indianapolis School of Nursing. “This is especially important for senior students who are set to graduate this May.”

Hall also noted that keeping students on schedule using virtual experiences will allow students to continue their training and enter the workforce this summer as registered nurses. As the cases of coronavirus continue to rise, there will likely be workforce shortages. 

“Our graduates will be entering the workforce at a critical time to alleviate staffing shortages that COVID-19 will cause within area hospitals,” said Hall. “The knowledge and skills our nursing graduates gained at UIndy will be taken into the workforce to care for the sickest of the sick at a time of great need. I couldn’t be more proud of our faculty and students for remaining flexible and resilient during these trying times.”

The School of Nursing has also been proactive in trying to aid local health organizations in their fight against COVID-19. The School of Nursing organized the donation of some materials on-hand to local hospital networks, including Community Health Network and Franciscan St. Francis. The donations included 8,500 pairs of gloves, 30 surgical gowns, 450 surgical masks, 150 thermometer probe covers, and 10 stethoscopes.

The School also made the decision to forgo their shipment of gloves for the month of April (and potentially beyond) so that they might be given to those who need them more.

Art & Design faculty adapt amidst COVID-19 challenges

Art and Design mini supply kit - COVID 19

You can do a lot with a little. That was the perspective Katherine Fries had as she migrated printmaking classes to an online format during the COVID-19 pandemic. The circumstances were less than ideal, but, she decided, it was a perfect opportunity to instill in her students adaptability, improvisation, problem-solving, and creativity – valuable skills that will translate beyond their education at the University of Indianapolis. Afterall, Fries pointed out, what student leaves their undergraduate career able to afford a fully stocked art studio? 

“Printmaking at its core is paper, pressure, and some kind of ink. We can create stencils and stamps from pretty much anything,” said Fries. 

Fries collaborated with colleagues from around the country to identify ways students could continue engaging the creative process using affordable supplies they’d likely have at home. The content of each class remains the same, but the projects were adapted for functionality. Plans for a complicated carving now involve scissors and foam material, for example. And instead of touring the National Library Bindery Company of Indiana, she’s created online tutorials for a bookbinding project using a needle and thread. 

Because many students left their personal supplies on campus during spring break, she also shipped about 25 miniature art kits to students for projects during the last four weeks of the semester. 

“This is not the ideal situation, but we’re doing our best to make these classes meaningful for students even though we can’t be together,” Fries said.

Related: School of Occupational Therapy employs creativity in time of pandemic

UIndy recognized by Wellness Council and ICC for 90% vaccination rate

The University of Indianapolis has been recognized as a gold COVID Stops Here workplace for achieving a 90-percent vaccination rate.

The COVID Stops Here campaign recognizes Indiana workplaces that have achieved widespread vaccination against COVID-19. Organizations that have achieved at least a 70% vaccination rate are eligible to receive a designation.

“Once again, Greyhounds have really come together to protect our pack by getting vaccinated,” said President Robert L. Manuel. “Vaccination is the best way to protect ourselves and our communities against COVID-19.”  The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Wellness Council of Indiana are promoting the COVID Stops Here campaign as a way to celebrate workplaces that are leading the fight to stop COVID-19—and to encourage more organizations to join their ranks.

UIndy Center for Aging & Community celebrates 20 years of impact

When the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community (CAC) was first launched as a university-based center of excellence 20 years ago in 2001, it did so with expectations that it would have a transformative effect on older adults in Indianapolis, the state, the region and beyond, as well as on the university. Twenty years later, those expectations have been fulfilled, and the Center is continuing to find new ways to positively impact lives. 

Impact on the university

“The idea was that the Centers (CAC & Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning) would provide a way for the university to reach outside of itself, not only in terms of being known and recognized, but also in terms of attracting grants and consulting projects to the university,” said Dr. Ellen W. Miller, CAC’s executive director, who has been a part of the Center since its inception.

UIndy Joy’s House

“When we started,” recalled Miller, “UIndy didn’t have the infrastructure for doing large-scale grant and contract work. There was no IRB (institutional review board), no grants office, no accounting experience or framework to manage this kind of work.”

Then-university President Jerry Israel said the Centers “were going to pull the university along” to move the institution to a place where receiving grant dollars and revenue from consulting contracts would be a normal part of university business.   

Read more: CELL-ebrating 20 years of excellence!

“CAC helped pull UIndy along,” Miller said. “Now we have many of the processes and policies in place, making it easier for everyone on campus to do the same kind of work. The university stepped up to make the necessary changes, with the Centers leading the way. That’s important because every grant or contract we bring in extends the university’s reputation and diversifies the university’s revenue streams.”

Impact on the community, state, and region

There have been plenty of contracts secured by CAC in the past 20 years, though that was not the initial focus of its work. When CAC was launched, an advisory group worked to narrow the Center’s focus to a few key issues, including meaningful work for older adults and aging in place. After several years of focusing on its own interest areas, CAC leadership realized that its strength came from the ability to partner with aging network organizations around their interest areas. What organizations needed was a University partner that could help accomplish real work as well as bring subject matter expertise. CAC flipped its business model to one that brought the expertise and capability of UIndy to organizations that work with or on behalf of older adults. The interprofessional team at CAC has become known for its ability to work collaboratively and is a sought after partner for solving real-world challenges faced by aging network organizations.  

CAC is a financially self-supporting unit, as well as generating revenue to support university functions.That revenue has come from contracts with state agencies such as the Indiana Department of Health, the Indiana Division of Aging, the Tennessee Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services – Aging & Adult Services Division. In addition, CAC has also partnered with funders, nursing home corporations, and health care organizations to conduct needs assessments, develop and deliver training, manage complex projects, and design and implement program evaluation. CAC also partners with other universities when the expertise and capabilities of both organizations are necessary to achieve project goals. When possible, CAC brings in the expertise of UIndy faculty to work on its contracts and projects and has provided applied experience in aging for many graduate students. 

Indiana National Guard training
The CAC assisted with training for the Indiana National Guard who were deployed to nursing homes to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of the work of our team is done with the intent of improving quality of life for all people as they age,” Miller said. “We’ve made an impact in the areas of better health for nursing home residents, more efficient and effective spending on aging services by government agencies, and education and training of people who work with older adults. We even helped train the National Guard troops deployed to Indiana nursing homes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

CAC has also been deliberate about being a good partner to the rest of the university, providing service to the campus through efforts such as Memory Cafes, the Caregiver Resource Group, and presentations like Dementia Friends and the Virtual Dementia Tour. 

“Aging is a common thread that ties us all together,” Miller said. “We try to help others make sure that thread is brightly colored and vibrant.”

Anniversary Show

In recognition of its 20th anniversary, the Center for Aging & Community has partnered with the UIndy Theatre Department and the Fonseca Theatre to reprise performances of “Forever Sung: A Celebration of Age in Song,” an original work created for the Center’s 10th anniversary. The performances will take place at the Fonseca Theatre on November 13 and 14 and at the UIndy black box theatre on November 20 and 21. More details and tickets will be available this fall.

How Pro Edge Helped Three UIndy Students Become 500 Festival Princesses

The Indianapolis 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world, but the festivities begin well before that special Sunday in May. This year, three University of Indianapolis students have been crowned as 500 Festival Princesses!  Each of these three outstanding young women have worked closely with the University of Indianapolis Professional Edge Center (Pro Edge).

500Fest-facebookThe road to becoming a 500 Festival Princess was long for some—Meridian Stowers ‘23 (Psychology and Pre-Occupational Therapy) applied to be a Princess last year but was not selected. This year, in part thanks to Pro Edge, was a different story. Stowers, who was named a Pro Edge “Rising Star” her freshman year, worked with Stephanie Kendall-Deitz of Pro Edge on her interviewing skills and was connected to a past UIndy 500 Festival Princess for informal mentoring. 

In addition to refining their professional skills, two other UIndy students in the 500 Princess Program this year found ways to give back to Pro Edge. Alie Brown ‘21 (Marketing and Operations/Supply Chain Management) has been working closely with ProEdge since 2017, and it’s clear to see her energy, enthusiasm, and drive to succeed. Career coach Kirk Bryans discussed how she’s helped Pro Edge, “While working at the Professional Edge Center, she helped craft a social media strategy to engage our student population and then was asked to execute on that plan.  Her efforts helped increase student participation in our career fairs, on-campus events, and attendance for our guest speakers.”

Karlye Vonderwell ‘21 (Political Science and International Relations), has worked closely with the Professional Edge Center as an orientation leader and worked with Career Coach Tremayne Horne to secure an internship with the International Center. But work with Pro Edge isn’t the only thing that set these students on their way to becoming 500 Festival royalty. Minoring in Spanish and Franco-Germanic Studies, Vonderwell has spent time teaching English as a Second Language to immigrants in Indianapolis through an Adult Education program. Additionally, she is a supervisor for the Alumni Association, an Orientation Leader for UIndy, and a legislative intern for Hannah News, who is striving to go into Government Affairs. Adding to her impressive resumé Vonderwell was named a Shaheen Global Fellow for her studies and presentation of her study abroad to Scotland.

Dr. Laura Merrifield Wilson said, “[Karlye] is absolutely incredible and is pursuing the master’s program in IR (International Relations) while doing her bachelors and working in a high-powered lobbying internship in the statehouse and keeping a strong GPA. I have also spoken to her regularly about potentially pursuing a doctorate because she is remarkably bright and academically inclined.”

Alie Brown demonstrated her mind for business and used her personal network to organize a tour with Rolling Stone Magazine in New York City for last year’s Pro Edge career trek. The Professional Edge Center gave her some of the skills she needed to make this event happen. She is described as greeting everyone with a smile and immediately finding a connection with whoever she meets. Bryans added, “Alie has wanted to become a 500 princess her entire life. I am so proud of her!”

Meridian Stowers demonstrated her incredible work ethic when she returned home to Tipton, IN at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and worked full-time in a factory producing ventilators where she was promoted to shift supervisor at the same time as taking classes. 

Kendall-Deitz of Pro Edge said, “Despite being away from campus she is staying connected using Zoom and other online communication tools and she participated in-person in our Sophomore Edge Conference in January and is part of a virtual alumni mentoring pair. It is clear to see Meridian’s love of all things Indianapolis 500 and I can’t imagine a better ambassador for the 500 Festival program.”

About the 500 Festival Princess Program:

The 2021 500 Festival Princesses represent 16 Indiana colleges and universities and 21 cities and towns across the state. With a cumulative GPA of 3.74 this year’s 500 Festival Princesses were selected from hundreds of applicants based on communication skills, academic performance, community involvement, commitment to service, and leadership.



International students find network of support at UIndy

Hounds from around the worldInternational students at the University of Indianapolis faced significant hurdles when the COVID-19 pandemic halted global travel in 2020. As the world slowly adjusted to the new reality, students proved to be resilient and resourceful as they found ways to continue their education with help from faculty and staff.

Some 286 international students are enrolled at UIndy during the spring 2021 semester, with 201 on campus and 85 studying remotely. These students hail from a total of 64 countries, with China, Saudi Arabia, Canada and India as the most highly represented.

The Center for Global Engagement coordinates the University’s study abroad programs and connects international students with the resources they need to succeed. At the onset of the pandemic, staff at the Center for Global Engagement moved quickly to adapt their services to the online environment.  Mimi Chase offered a weekly online Open House, inviting international students to join in weekly to discuss concerns or just to stay connected with their fellow students.

Mamitiana "Jenny" Rakotoarisoa

Mamitiana “Jenny” Rakotoarisoa

Mamitiana “Jenny” Rakotoarisoa, a community and non-profit leadership major from Madagascar, explained how Kathy Hancher, the academic advisor for Adult Learning Programs, was of great support.

“When ICE announced that ‘international students who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses,’ [Hancher] immediately reached out to me to help me arrange my class schedule so that I would have no problem staying in the U.S. She also encouraged me to go back home this summer and worked with me to ensure that my schedule allows me to do so without delaying my graduation. She really made me feel like I was not alone and that someone at UIndy cared about my situation,” Rakotaorisoa said.

Adam Fernandes ’22, a visual communication design major and a math and computer science minor, faced a similar situation in Fall 2020. He needed to enroll in an in-person class in order to comply with the now rescinded ICE policy.

“Rhonda Wolverton from the UIndy Art & Design Department was one professor who really

Adam Fernandes

Adam Fernandes

put in the effort to change her class from an online-only to a hybrid class so that I would be able to stay in the country. I am ever grateful to her,” Fernandes said.

Samreen Khondker, a Canadian doctoral student in clinical psychology, appreciates the support she received from her advisor.

“I have always been immensely supported by my graduate advisor, Dr. [Michael] Poulakis, and I continued to be supported by him during the pandemic. Anything from discussing living arrangements to program requirements, to just discussing my mental health in response to all the changes, he was there to talk it through,” Khondker said.

Samreen Khondker

Samreen Khondker

She also acknowledged the work of the Center for Global Engagement, which stayed “on top of getting international students like me all the information we needed, which was very helpful. Lastly, I had several friends and my clinical supervisors who provided support during the pandemic as well.”

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, students found many silver linings.

“After over a year here, I learned something very important about U.S. culture: one can always reach out and ask for help when faced with difficulties. I always keep that in mind,” said Rakotoarisoa.

While international students faced additional challenges during the pandemic, they also found ways to cope. John Phan, a computer science major and mathematics minor, kept in regular contact with his mother in Vietnam.

John Phan, second from right, with his family in Vietnam.

John Phan, second from right, with his family in Vietnam.

“When the pandemic hit and the lockdown was in effect, the only thing that worried me was my family and friends’ health. I was pretty worried at first, but Vietnam was one of the countries that had the least number of deaths caused by COVID, so I was relieved. Furthermore, I chatted with my mom every day so I would know something is wrong immediately if there is one day’s gone by without talking to her,” Phan said.

Rakotaorisoa stayed connected to family through social media and instant messenger.

“I always make sure to communicate with them once a day, even just for a few minutes,” she said. “The truth is, with or without this pandemic, being far away from my family is very difficult. But fortunately, with advanced technologies, we can find ways to stay close and stay involved in each other’s lives on a daily basis.” 

Students said it was challenging to make new connections because of pandemic restrictions on socializing. However, as the world emerges from the pandemic, they noted how they’ve changed for the better and are setting their sights on the future.

“After the lockdown was lifted, I talked to a lot more people and became more open to everyone I know. Before, there was no way I would start a conversation with anyone unless they started one first. Now, I will always be the first one to initiate,” Phan reflected.

“Now that I am a junior in my second semester, my focus has been shifting towards gaining an internship, graduation and plans after graduation. Knowing that I am sent all the way here to university in the U.S. to get my degree is what keeps me going. I am grateful for the opportunity,” Fernandes said.

International students infographic

Nursing alum completes White House internship

Jacob Whatley White House internshipJacob Whatley ’19 is one of the first University of Indianapolis graduates to intern at the White House. His career as a nurse was just beginning at Franciscan Health in Indianapolis when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His experience treating patients in intensive care helped Whatley stand out as an applicant for the sought-after internship position in the Office of the Vice President. 

Whatley grew up in a small town surrounded by cornfields and says he “certainly didn’t have connections to any Washington elites.” Even though it seemed like a longshot, he submitted an application in 2020 after being encouraged by Michael Poulakis, assistant professor in the School of Psychological Sciences.

“Throughout my application, I talked a lot about being an ICU nurse on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic and also addressed what I thought were flaws in our country’s healthcare system,” he said. “I figured this opportunity would give me the chance to observe policy development at the federal level and also witness how the executive branch of government responds to a global crisis.”

Whatley internshipWhen Whatley found out he had been accepted into the program, he was “so excited that I couldn’t even eat for the rest of the day. I felt like Charlie Bucket when he found Wonka’s last golden ticket.”

The four-month position began in September 2020, at the same time the COVID-19 death toll was nearing 200,000 in the United States. (Source: The Covid Tracking Project

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for a break from the ICU. It was a very difficult place to work, especially for a new graduate,” said Whatley. “I can’t say thank you enough to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, maintenance workers, and everyone else who have kept hospitals operational during this pandemic. You are not alone. You are appreciated.”

Most of Whatley’s time in DC was spent on the White House Complex, about 18 acres of land that includes the East Wing, the Presidential Residence, the West Wing, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. 

“I got goosebumps every single day when I walked through the White House gates. It was something that I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to do,” he said. 

Whatley at the White House, 2020

Whatley interacted with several members of the Coronavirus Task Force, including Dr. Deborah Birx, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. He prepared materials that were used in the Situation Room during the Coronavirus Task Force meetings and also assisted the Vice President’s policy team by drafting memorandums on topics such as healthcare, vaccines, vaccine hesitancy, cycle thresholds, and previous pandemics. 

“My background as an ICU nurse served as a differentiator at the White House and I believe I brought a unique perspective to the internship program,” he said. “I was able to share insights from my time on the frontlines with Dr. Birx and offer insight into what ICU nurses were facing.”

Whatley said he has always been interested in politics and policy, but hadn’t considered it as a potential career until recently. 

“The COVID pandemic increased my interest in policy, mostly because of the frequent policy changes that I was witnessing at the hospital,” he said. “As an intern at the White House, I found myself at the intersection of healthcare, policy, and government. I enjoy helping people and I want God to put me where I can do the most good, whether that’s at the bedside or working in policy. It’s something I think about and pray about every day.”

The internship was also designed to be a learning opportunity. For example, during the height of the pandemic, Whatley learned about viral mitigation from members of the White House Medical Unit who provide care for the President and the Vice President. 

Whatley in Washington DC

“No day at the White House was the same,” said Whatley. “It is a place where history continually unfolds and I was fortunate enough to be there during a very historic time. The signing of the Abraham Accords, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the appointment and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, and a highly contentious presidential election to name a few.” 

Whatley, who delivered the undergraduate student commencement address in May 2019, said the UIndy School of Nursing prepared him for this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

“UIndy provided me with the tools that I needed to be successful,” he said. “I leveraged many of my UIndy connections to make this opportunity possible and I am so grateful for those who helped out. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve the American people in this capacity.”

In November 2020, Briyana Morrell, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, and her family came to visit Whatley in Washington, DC. 

Nursing visit to DC

“She wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I applied for the program, and she and her daughter, Ali, put together a bake sale fundraiser to help me pay for some of my DC living expenses. I was blown away by their generosity!” said Whatley. 

Whatley returned to Indiana at the end of 2020 with a new passion and deeper appreciation for public health. He took a contract assignment to administer COVID vaccines and is exploring opportunities to get a master’s degree. 

“And after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll run for office someday,” he said. “My internship experience at the White House opened my eyes to many opportunities that I never would have considered before making the trek to Washington.”

Jacob Whatley, DC

“Reflect on UIndy’s motto, ‘Education for Service’, and recognize that we are now equipped to make a difference in our communities. In the last four years, our toolbox has been filling with all sorts of tools and a broken world awaits us.  How can we drive a positive change in this world in the next four years?” – Jacob Whatley ‘19 (nursing) 

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