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Yao Yu Yeo ’21 video conferences with his brother and sister. They have written a paper on their computational model of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Students face pandemic disruption with resilience

Della Uran ’22 is nervous about taking classes online. Max Kelly ’20 struggles with loneliness.

Lassan Bagayoko ’22 worries that some classmates no longer have access to on-campus resources like regular meals and safe housing. And Tina Ting ’20 mourns the loss of experiences she would have had during her senior spring.

Lasssan Babayoko ’22, pictured here March 3 during the unveiling of a poster installed in the math, engineering and physical sciences libraries, has been assisting students during the academic hiatus in his role as secretary of Black Students United. 

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged these Cornell students, as they’ve waited for online instruction to begin April 6. But they, and many others, are responding with resilience by taking care of others, and themselves.

During the hiatus from classes, Lucy Lee ’20 and a team of bilingual and multilingual students remotely provided translations in 10 languages for the website user guide of D.C.-based support company DisasterTech to make the content accessible for people who are homebound due to COVID-19. The students normally translate in person for local community agencies through the Translator Interpreter Program, a student-run Cornell Public Service Center program.

Now they’re preparing to do more translations remotely, said Lee, the program’s president.

“When this pandemic is over,” she said, “our volunteers will be able to use what we have learned to respond to times of crisis in the future.”

Liel Sterling ’21, a student advocate in the Student Assembly’s Office of the Student Advocate, has been making OSA Instagram posts to inform students about COVID-19. And as a lead organizer for the Ithaca Tenants Union, she’s been campaigning for an Ithaca rent freeze for those with financial difficulties due to COVID-19.

“I am trying to stay busy by putting my efforts into supporting my friends and community members,” said Sterling. “When you give support, I find that it always comes back.”

Many students have continued with academics despite the hiatus. Hailey Shapiro ’22 had been in Kotagari, India, researching health care options when the pandemic halted the project. Now she’s writing a paper on a related topic from her home in Davis, California. “I am disappointed that the program ended early,” she said, “but I am so thankful for the time that I was able to spend in India.”

Yao Yu Yeo ’21 and two siblings, both doctoral candidates at other universities, have researched and written a paper on their computational model for estimating the progression of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Yeo, a biological sciences major, started the research in early February, encouraged by Bruce Ganem, the Franz and Elisabeth Roessler Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Ganem and Jack Muckstadt, the Acheson/Laibe Professor of Engineering in the College of Engineering, acted as advisers. The siblings have submitted the paper for publication.

“My biggest takeaway during the process is gaining a newfound level of appreciation for mathematical modeling,” Yeo said. “It is such a challenging yet necessary task.”

At right, Della Uran ’22 models an example of the type of applique beadwork she has been creating during the academic hiatus. Her six-year old niece wears a jacket upcycled by Uran.

Kelly, a pre-med student, has spent the past several weeks writing essays for medical school applications. A former nursing assistant at Cayuga Medical Center, he has signed up to be a reserve nurse’s aide in the New York/New Jersey metro area. “I’m really actively looking for ways that I can help,” he said.

Ting is president of Alternative Breaks, which organizes social justice projects during spring break for Cornell students. She says this year’s trips – which would have taken place this week – have been canceled. So the board has regrouped and is prepping for next year via Zoom meetings.

“When changes like this happen,” Ting said, “rather than being frustrated, we should look at it as an opportunity for growth in a new way.”

Uran, an environment and sustainability major with minors in American Indian and indigenous studies and in fashion studies, has been practicing archery in her backyard and doing applique beadwork. A member of the Bear Clan, White Earth Anishinaabe and Meskwaki, she’s worked on four upcycled jean jackets since classes were suspended.

“It really helps me to have something I can happily give all of my focus to,” she said. “One is for one of my aunties in Minnesota, so of course it was made with lots of love.”

Bagayoko, secretary of Black Students United, and the rest of BSU's executive board recently authorized a $5,000 BSU donation to the Access Fund, which helps students purchase things like bus tickets to travel home. Now he’s studying for a prelim exam and working with BSU to help students prepare for virtual instruction.

“I’m telling everybody, ‘Yo, get ready for school. Stay sharp,’” Bagayoko said. “The world is on pause, but it isn’t going to be on pause forever.”

Media Contact

Abby Butler