College of Arts & Sciences faculty and staff have played an integral role in Georgia State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which challenged us to reinvent how we teach, support our students, and conduct research.
It has taken the work of many people to move the college forward during these difficult times. The individuals featured here — our “pandemic response all-stars” — have gone the extra mile in rising to the challenges of the pandemic. These faculty and staff were nominated by their Arts & Sciences colleagues in recognition of their extraordinary efforts.
I wish to express my deepest gratitude to our pandemic response all-stars for all they have done to ensure the health and safety of the students, faculty and staff of the College of Arts & Sciences, as well as the broader public. Congratulations to the all-stars and to all who have made this past year a success.
Laura has provided incredible support to faculty who needed, in very short order, to take virtually all of our teaching online, and she has proven a compassionate administrator whose mind is always on the students whom she ultimately serves.
While the past year has been challenging for everyone, Laura was truly at the helm of the ship in helping others cope and pivot. Not only did she sprint to make sure technology resources would be available for students and professors, she put together online resources with remarkable speed to help minimize the potential detriment to learning that the pandemic brought. This included tutorials on iCollege and helping to develop the pedagogy course faculty took over the summer and fall.
In the Neuroscience Institute, she became the de-facto leader for how to manage online classes, helping student, and dealing with changing pedagogical explanations. Additionally, she was on the ground measuring classrooms and the distance between chairs, serving in workshops, and growing in her trauma-informed pedagogy.
When the pandemic hit, Professor Julia Hilliard and her laboratory, along with a handful of student volunteers from the Biology Department, immediately reconfigured her research laboratory to stand up what was then the only academic-based, certified SARSCoV-2 PCR testing facility in the State of Georgia. (There are now five.)
She and her team quickly re-positioned the laboratory to screen nasal swabs for the virus that causes COVID-19 infection, using robotics coupled with RT-PCR assay. This required many long hours throughout the week and weekends to provide quick and accurate diagnoses for several groups within the university and for the Atlanta community. Her lab continues to process tests for the university’s student athletes, allowing them to continue to compete.
Leveraging her years of infectious disease response experience, she also joined the Governor’s Emergency Task Force and helped to coordinate the Georgia response to the pandemic alongside the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Guard, Augusta University, Georgia Tech, Emory, and the Governor’s office.
Dr. Hilliard's selfless efforts over the last year, along with the work of her lab members, were crucial to the State's capacity to address the pandemic from the outset.
John Houghton has gone above and beyond in his work during the College’s pandemic response by spearheading many of the efforts the University has taken to not only serve the faculty, staff, and students of our school, but the greater state of Georgia as well. Joining the Governor’s Emergency Task Force, he put together a team of students and staff to assemble COVID test kits to make up for the shortage in supplies at the onset of the pandemic. Through this, his team has made over 180,000 tests to date that have been delivered and used by people all across the state. Additionally, leveraging his role as director of the CORE facilities, he coordinated efforts to set up a testing facility on site to run COVID test samples for the Department of Public Health, the National Guard, and the Georgia State University Athletics department, which is still ongoing. Working with Dr. Julia Hilliard, Dr. Houghton has devoted unselfishly many long hours during the week and weekends to assure the quick and accurate diagnosis of samples. More recently, he has also been heavily involved in preparations for vaccine distribution by Georgia State by coordinating campus vaccine storage plans.
During the early stages of the pandemic when we were completely shut down, Mary cheerfully volunteered to monitor our labs and all other Neuroscience Institute spaces and check our fridges and freezers every other day to ensure that we did not lose any precious samples or reagents. When we started to conduct research on a limited basis, she single-handedly assumed responsibility for the preparations for our return by, for instance, posting signage and distributing sanitizing products, which she still monitors. She has consistently offered to assume duties outside the realm of her responsibilities without complaint, such as ensuring that there is a consistent supply of paper for the copy machine and picking up and distributing mail. She completely cleaned out two laboratories to prepare for the arrival of our two new faculty, which is also not her responsibility, and these new faculty report how incredibly helpful she has been in helping them settle in under these challenging circumstances. Throughout the pandemic she has maintained a positive, can-do attitude. I’m not sure what we would have done without her.
Basirat Lawal has been working overtime for Communications, while continuing to support all staff and faculty in her home department of Geosciences. She is an MVP in a regular climate, and in this pandemic has continued her excellence by consistently going above and beyond to help with any business and/or budget issue. She has always responded with cheer.
Justin has been essential to the efforts of the Dean’s Office to support the College during the initial pivot to remote work and over the past year of pandemic operations. He has helped us stay on track with the ongoing administrative reorganization, which is an important initiative for Arts & Sciences, making sure that clear, timely messages are being shared with everyone involved. Justin is diplomatic, attentive to detail, and always looking for constructive ways to address the many issues that have cropped up in this challenging time.
Rene Mondy's work with the petitions committee has been exceptional. Due to the fact that nearly all courses are online and professors have students take exams online, there are more charges of academic honesty violations (many of which are purely policy related rather than substantive). While the number of faculty and students on the committee has increased to reduce the burden on each individual committee participant, Ms. Mondy attends every single session in addition to doing and/or supervising all the necessary work behind the scenes. She is always professional, always friendly, always concerned about the students' as well as the committee members' well-being. Despite the fact that her work load has increased to something I would consider impossible, she never lets that stand in the way of doing an exceptional job. Rene is a model of professionalism and grace, and has gone above and beyond in serving the College and our colleagues during the pandemic.
When the shutdown began last March and the switch to online instruction began, Matt took the lead in Biology to teach the rest of the faculty in the department how to use the online tools we needed for instruction. He quickly organized faculty meetings on using Webex, Zoom, iCollege tools, Kaltura, lockdown browsers, online assessment and many other topics. He built an online repository for recordings of these meetings so they could be used as resources for all. Matt patiently worked with any faculty member who contacted him to solve questions large and small. Matt has continued to work on behalf of improving online teaching quality by leading an online teaching committee in the department. He has also volunteered to teach extra seminars in the department when those classes were not staffed and he continues to host regular online teaching workshops with enthusiasm. All this while managing his own courses and young ones at home.
Howard has been absolutely invaluable during the college's pandemic response. He has always been very helpful, but over the past year has been a lifesaver for me and all of my coworkers. From coming into the office and configuring laptops, to doing remote tech support, we would not be able to function in this virtual environment without Howard. He always goes above and beyond with his work. He is the definition of an all-star.