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The novel coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented global health—and societal—crisis. SDSU faculty, staff, alumni and friends rallied together to rise to the new challenges. Here’s how they…

June 15, 2020


Transitioned everyone to virtual learning—fast.

In early March, James Frazee (’97, ’04) was tasked with leading the university’s shift from classroom learning to virtual instruction. SDSU’s Chief Academic Technology Officer drew upon his first-responder training as a former professional lifeguard and dove straight into the challenge.

“It was just full battle stations,” says Frazee, who is also associate vice president of Instructional Technology Services (ITS). “I was in back-to-back Zoom meetings with President de la Torre, Provost Ochoa, the deans and my ITS colleagues.”

The university has a lot of moving parts, he says, and everybody was pulling their weight, communicating with the University Senate and colleagues in the Imperial Valley and tracking developments—pretty much nonstop.

ITS consists of 22 staff members and three administrators. The team needed to enable thousands of faculty members—the majority of whom had no previous online teaching experience—to deliver virtual instruction to students as quickly as possible to complete the semester.

The first thing they did was launch a virtual instruction website for faculty complete with a “Virtual Instruction Primer” (VIP) video and a VIP workshops page. “It’s all brand new,” Frazee says. “We created it from scratch and it is all constantly evolving.”

ITS hours were extended and online instruction veteran faculty members from each college were enlisted to assist any colleagues who needed help. Graduate assistants were recruited and individual college virtual support teams collaborated with ITS to help smooth the transition.

“Honestly, I’m building the plane while I’m flying it,” Frazee says. “The current situation is unlike anything we have ever dealt with in our lifetime, so we are all working hard to adapt to serve the educational needs of our faculty and students.”

—Tobin Vaughn


Donated medical supplies to health care workers.

With frontline medical workers facing shortages of the personal protective equipment (PPE), members of the SDSU community started gathering up any supplies on campus that might help.

Faculty and staff in the School of Art and Design collected about 100 N95 particulate respirator masks, 50 general purpose masks and 500 pairs of nitrile gloves from associate professor Sondra Sherman's jewelry and metalsmithing studio and donated them to Scripps Health, where ceramics lecturer Ashley Kim is a nurse.

“Having taken care of a sick 35-year-old COVID patient last night, the donations of these critical supplies, such as gloves, masks and gowns, really touch my heart,” Kim says.

Several student organizations also rounded up essential supplies. Dani Phan, president of the Aztec Racing Team, gathered the PPE she had ordered earlier in the year for her team, which would no longer need it given the pandemic. And she reached out to other student organ-iztions to join the effort.

Together, they have donated 300 N95 particulate respirator masks, 200 P100 respirator filters, 2,000 gloves, 120 safety glasses and many other crucial pieces of PPE such as Tyvek coverall suits to a Sharp HealthCare donation center.

The Anthropology department even offered up a portable X-ray machine to San Diego County and the School of Nursing chipped in with a ventilator. Both devices will remain on campus until the county needs them.

—Lisa Haney


Answered the call for critical research.

When the U.S Department of Defense announced a design challenge in March in response to COVID-19 for easy-to-make, low-cost ventilators, Kevin Wood was one of many researchers who responded.

The assistant professor of mechanical engineering rallied two of his master’s students, Jack Lucas and Tyler Lestak, and got to work. Their goal: Assess what was already out on the market, and design a device that would be affordable but would not require manufacturing of new parts.

What they came up with is a low-cost mechanical assisted breathing device that can be easily assembled using readily available, off-the-shelf parts and common medical supplies. Total cost: $300.

From design to working prototype, the device was invented on an accelerated time frame, and made possible thanks to collaborations, both on and off campus, representing SDSU’s thriving collaborative research environment. The researchers completed initial testing and are working on additional testing with colleagues.

“SDSU researchers have stepped up at a critical time,” says Nick Macchione, San Diego County Director of Health and Human Services Agency. “Professor Wood and his students have put in yeoman efforts and the county appreciates how resourceful and supportive the San Diego research community has been. This type of applied research will help us identify life-saving solutions for the future."

Lucas and Lestak, who were working toward graduating in May, actually put aside their own thesis work to focus on this project. 
Wood says, “Their efforts are nothing short of heroic.”

—Padma Nagappan


Raised money for students in need.

As the pandemic struck, members of the University Relations and Development and SDSU Alumni teams immediately started thinking about how they could raise money to directly help the students who would be impacted financially.

They launched the Text “SDSU” to 20222 to Donate $15 and micro-giving campaigns.

By mid-May, alumni and friends donated nearly $80,000.

The funds, which went to SDSU’s Economic Crisis Response Team (ECRT), were much needed. During the fall 2019 semester, approximately 230 students requested assistance. This March alone, it was more than 450 students. Many, particularly service workers, lost their jobs when businesses were ordered to close indefinitely to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Students ask about food resources or getting support for paying their rent with the lack of income that they’re now dealing with,” says Chelsea Payne (’13, ’14), ECRT coordinator. “I try to respond as quickly as I can because I want them to know there is someone here to support them.”

In January, ECRT helped Robert Stoebe, a communication major from the Palmdale-Lancaster area who intends to graduate next fall, get temporary housing after he lost his house and most of his belongings in a fire. He was able to keep his studies on track while he found another house to share with three roommates and worked nights full-time as a bar manager.

Then COVID-19 delivered another blow when the bar where he worked was shut down and he lost his paycheck. So, for the second time, he connected with Payne. “Without hesitation, she met me the same day with a $100 gift card to Trader Joe’s and I went there and made it stretch as far as I possibly could to fill up my shelves,” he says.

“I don’t like to ask for help from people,” Stoebe says. “But it’s a scary world we live in right now and I feel like with what’s going on I’m just doing my best to get by.”

Stoebe has filed for unemployment and hopes to return to his job when the coronavirus threat subsides. For now, he stays home and studies, determined to stay on track for graduation. He is grateful to SDSU and the ECRT for helping him shoulder the load. He says, “This school is amazing and I can’t thank everybody enough for what they have done for me.”

—Tobin Vaughn