Communication and Marketing

Alma College alumni help fight COVID-19

Scots are among the number of physicians, nurses, researchers and others across the country serving the public during the pandemic

By Tim Rath

Alma College alumni are on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, serving in emergency rooms and research laboratories across the country to help the sick and find a vaccine.

A core tenet of Alma’s mission is to “serve generously,” and these Scots are doing just that in this once-in-a-generation time of need. Using the skills that are deeply ingrained in the liberal arts tradition of an Alma education, they are problem-solving, communicating and caring for their fellow citizens.

Gabrielle Fazio ’16

Gabrielle Fazio didn’t become a registered nurse because she wanted an easy job. That would have been a waste of time, she says, even before COVID-19 hit.

Gabrielle Fazio ’16, a registered nurse at Beaumont Hospital, troy, is pictured. Fazio is a mem...Gabrielle Fazio ’16, a registered nurse at Beaumont Hospital, troy, is pictured. Fazio is a member of the inaugural class of Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates at Alma College.Instead, she wanted to help people at a time they needed it most — which has been difficult during the pandemic, in part because she has separated herself from her family, in order to avoid spreading coronavirus.

“Not knowing the exact modes of transmission, pathophysiology, or proper treatment has been a challenge, not only from a patient care standpoint, but from the standpoint of our own risk,” Fazio said. “Going into work every day wondering if I’ll leave having caught this unknown disease has been terrifying and has led to a variety of emotions ranging from absolute indifference to all-encompassing fear.”

Fazio, a member of the inaugural class of Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates at Alma College, currently works at Beaumont Hospital, Troy. She said despite the challenges, COVID-19 has strengthened her resolve to keep serving people, and she hopes the greater medical community feels the same way.

“Serving people through this tough time is what I was born to do, and many of my coworkers have agreed with me — we were meant for this. Even though we’ve been frightened at times and frustrated at others, we’ve pushed through, no matter what,” Fazio said. “I hope people outside of medicine will continue to see healthcare professionals as superheroes and not as punching bags.”

Fazio credits her time at Alma College with providing an “invaluable” work ethic to her as she pursues master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing.

“My time at Alma College taught me to strive to be better than I ever thought was possible,” Fazio said. “If I had to give the Alma College community any advice in this time, it would be to keep your heads high. We will prevail in this battle, and we will come out stronger and more united than ever.”

Emily Weston Parker ’01

As the first cases of COVID-19 were being reported in the United States, Emily Weston Parker, a member of the class of 2001 living in Atlanta, Georgia, was celebrating a milestone at home with her husband — the
birth of her child.

However, through her work as an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she couldn’t avoid the news that coronavirus was quickly spreading and, in many cases, proving fatal. Despite the enjoyment of time spent at home with her growing family, she felt an itch to return to work and, in early March, received a call from the CDC.

While Weston Parker normally focuses her efforts on sexually transmitted diseases, she was asked to participate in the CDC response in its Emergency Operations Center. An EOC brings together highly trained experts and state-of-the-art technology to coordinate resources, information, and crisis and emergency risk communication to strengthen the country’s ability to detect and respond to public health threats.

“Like other outbreak responses I have been part of, I knew to expect the unknown,” Weston Parker said. “I knew there were lots of moving parts and lots of questions to be answered. And I knew to remain patient and flexible, because there wasn’t such a thing as an 8-4:30 schedule, especially in this ever-evolving landscape.”

Weston Parker has since returned to her “day job,” although many of her colleagues throughout the world have been called into emergency operations in their own homelands. As a result, her work has slowed down a bit — a positive for her personally, she said, due to the backlog of work that piled up during her maternity leave.

However, she doesn’t expect the slowdown to remain for long.

“I know another deployment to the EOC is just around the corner so life will get much busier very soon,” Weston Parker said. “As time goes on, and like other outbreaks, CDC will primarily move from response and mitigation efforts to preparedness planning for the future.”

Paul Burns ’81

Paul Burns ’81Paul Burns ’81As the pandemic coordinator for the multinational corporation Dow Chemical, Paul Burns has seen the response to COVID-19 evolve from its beginnings in Asia in January to a global pandemic.

Since the outbreak, Burns has regularly worked 12- to 16-hour days during the week, and eight hours on weekends, coordinating between Dow’s pandemic corporate crisis management team and regional crisis management teams, while also serving in the Dow Health Services clinic in Midland.

Burns is motivated to serve by his belief that people have a responsibility to help those around them.

“As a physician that is what I chose as my career,” Burns said. “I am motivated, even on those difficult days, that I believe what I am doing is making a difference for the people at Dow and their families, and by extension, the communities where Dow people and families live.”

Despite some of the terrible headlines that have resulted from the pandemic, Burns sees ample reason for hope. He pointed out that the virus and genome were only recently identified, yet several vaccine candidates are already in development. He is also heartened by stories of how strangers are connecting across communities to help each other.

“Despite lots of bad news, there are many, many good people doing things to help each other in a time of stress and upheaval,” Burns said.

Karl Kaufmann ’92

In the earliest stages of COVID-19’s arrival in the United States, the state of Washington was frequently cited by media as one of the hardest-hit areas of the country.

Karl Kaufmann, an emergency physician at Valley Medical Center in Fall City, Washington, and a member of the clinical faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine, experienced it all firsthand. The biggest challenge at that time, Kaufmann said, was dealing with a rapidly changing set of best practices guidelines from groups like the World Health Organization.

“At that time, for example, I was being told not to wear a mask for patients who didn’t meet the criteria. At this point, months later, we’re masking for every patient who comes in, because there are so many asymptomatic carriers,” Kaufmann said. “It’s really interesting.”

The health systems of Washington adapted quickly and prepared themselves well, Kaufmann believes, by transferring intensive-care unit (ICU) patients across the U-W system to keep the number of patients equitable between hospitals, and converting areas used for advanced procedures into ICU areas to increase capacity.

Kaufmann said the pandemic has made him appreciate his Alma College education even more than he did previously.

“The professors did a phenomenal job of making you a lifelong learner. That’s critically important, something that has helped me throughout my career,” Kaufmann said. “In this crisis, if you’re not willing and able to learn and re-learn information on an almost daily basis, you’re going to be behind. I haven’t been, thanks to Alma.”

Janet Miller Monfils ’00

Janet Miller Monfils ’00Janet Miller Monfils ’00Janet Miller Monfils knows that in comparison with many others fighting COVID-19, she is in a fortunate position.

As a professor of biochemistry at Western Governors University, an online-only school based in Utah, she works from her home in Big Rapids. Since the pandemic started, she said, she has been able to quarantine herself at home, leaving only rarely.

However, she still felt a desire to help out. That’s why Miller Monfils has made more than 2,500 cloth facemasks, to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“Even though I’m not a nurse or medical doctor, I can give my time. So, when it was reported there was a need for masks, I got on my sewing machine and started working,” Miller Monfils said. “I’m only doing what I can do. There are other people out there doing far more.”

Miller Monfils said she at first didn’t anticipate sewing as much as she has. But after a post on social media was widely shared, she began to receive requests from all over the United States — from entities as varied as dialysis clinics, churches and even a high school “graduation walk.”

“There’s a lot of multitasking in my life,” Miller Monfils said with a laugh. “I do production line sewing — so I’ll cut out hundreds of squares, sew the edges and then iron. Each mask takes about 15 minutes from start to finish. But by breaking it down, I can crank out a lot.”

Miller Monfils credits much of her giving spirit to growing up in Alma and graduating from Alma College.

“I look at all the times Alma gave us as students and how they encourage you to grow beyond your comfort zone — a lot of that is through philanthropic outreach,” she said. “Alma is a very giving community. It raises you to be thankful for everything you have been blessed with.”

Story published on September 11, 2020