COVID-19 - The University of Tulsa


Teaching & learning spotlight: Students cultivate resilience amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges for The University of Tulsa community. Lara Foley, director of the Office of Integrative and Experiential Learning, recognized both the difficulties facing her students and the opportunity for intellectual growth COVID-19 offered them.

During fall 2021, Foley therefore designed and led a 3000-level Emerging Issues course centered on COVID-19’s effects on various fields and disciplines. By harnessing and redirecting the trials of the pandemic in positive and refreshing ways, she helped her 13 students in this Honors program course engage with the pandemic with curiosity, creativity and resilience.

Creating from the heart

two photos of two young women with long hair and summer clothing outdoors
Neha Khalid and Kate Lundy

One of the students, Neha Khalid, a biochemistry major, wrote a children’s book called The Attack of the Virus. Inspired by her family’s transparency about important historical moments such as the Partition of India, Khalid wanted to share lessons from the pandemic with her future family.

Darian Martínez, a psychology and Spanish double major, wrote poetry to address the moments of darkness, hope and defiance she experienced during the pandemic. She referenced mental health struggles and focused on the social justice movements that occurred during the pandemic with an emphasis on George Floyd’s death. Reflecting on the experience, Martínez noted that she came to understand the importance of empathy in thinking about COVID-19 because it exposed her to components of the pandemic she had never previously thought about.

Purposeful podcasting

A highlight of the semester was a visit by Honors student Hannah Whorton, who shared with the students details about her COVID-19 podcast series Perusing the Pandemic. Moved by the passing of her grandmother from COVID-19 shortly after TU sent students home in March 2020, Whorton educated the class and her podcast listeners about the medical effects of the disease, its impact on communities and the importance of vaccinations. Whorton’s project brought her joy despite its grim subject matter because she knew sharing her grandmother’s story would impact her world for the best.

Meantime, Kate Lundy and Jin Jiaxu enjoyed creating documentaries as their film studies senior projects. They explored the impact of COVID-19 on a diverse group of students on TU’s campus and Chinese international students, respectively. Both Lundy and Jiaxu, whose advisor is Department of Film Studies Chairperson Jeff Van Hanken, said they gained inspiration from their own struggles during the pandemic and sought to learn how others dealt with COVID-19. These documentaries will be presented, along with an original short fiction film by graduating senior Sam Modde and an excerpt from Julia Grantham’s original screenplay, on May 6 at the TU Arts and Humanities Festival.

side by side photos of two young women with long hair wearing summer clothing outdoors
Darian Martínez and Hannah Whorton

Overall, students in this Emerging Issues course valued its interdisciplinary nature and opportunity to learn from various perspectives. “It challenged me,” said Martínez, “to question the way I think, what I’ve been taught and how I look at the world around me.”

The interdisciplinary nature of TU’s Honors program facilitates learning in a way that leads students to new discoveries, collaborative ways of thinking and new perspectives on the world. Discover more and get your journey started!

Strange walking: The COVID-hit streets of South Korea

By: Seungho Lee

a city street with tall buildings and a blue sky
Walking in Haemil Yedangro

It feels even stranger that walking the COVID-hit streets of South Korea doesn’t feel that strange. It looks normal, except for the masks on the faces. We come and go as strangers, yet without feeling strange. We are wary of possible contacts, but not that much. Many of us believe in wearing a mask, and we believe in the system. I even feel that the streets are more crowded than they were in the pre-COVID days. We now prefer staying outside, spending way more time in the open. We have become street-dwellers. Streets have become home for us, and walking, a form of dwelling. We’re chatting, sipping coffee, checking phones, and all the while we’re walking on the streets. Without any particular destination, we keep walking because we don’t like going inside, the closed indoors where the virus can stay. We believe in nature, in air and wind, as though they’d never fail to blow away all the germs and viruses, though they, too, are dwellers of this world. Then, suddenly, there appears a guy without a mask. This is the moment when the streetscape feels different, the open world feels like it is rapidly shrinking or suffocating. We avoid him, side-glance him, as if eye contact, like other contacts, is contagious. We look at him in the way that people in the past looked at a leper. We no longer linger. We change our gait, our pace, only to a slightly perceptible degree. We abandon the streets, our temporary dwelling place, and retreat back home, a permanent dwelling place that is contained and controlled. Yes, this is the way we walk in the COVID days. Masked, or unmasked.

three people crossing at a zebra crosswalk in a city where the sky is blue
Crossing over to the other side

man with black hair and a green jacket standing outdoors while wearing a white face maskSeungho Lee is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature. His dissertation, tentatively entitled “Lines of Walking: Reconnecting the Human and the Environment in Anglophone Modernist Writings,” explores the prominent role of walking in Anglophone modernists’ responses and resistance to modernization.

Advanced practice nursing alumna strives to eliminate health care disparities in rural Oklahoma

Molly Hannagan (BSN ’98, DNP ’19) was among the first cohort to graduate from The University of Tulsa’s doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program, which provides advanced practice nursing students with the opportunity to expand their education through extensive hands-on and clinical experiences. Completing the program’s family nurse practitioner (FNP) stream, Hannagan gained the knowledge and skills required to provide primary care to people of all ages in a wide array of settings.

blonde woman wearing a white face mask and a yellow protective hospital gown
First day of treating and testing for COVID-19 (March 20, 2020)

Shortly after graduation, Hannagan was hired by Morton Comprehensive Health Services in Tulsa. After working there for a few months, Morton relocated Hannagan to its clinic in Nowata, Oklahoma, where she now serves as that facility’s primary care nurse practitioner. The clinic delivers a variety of services, such as acute sickness visits, chronic health condition management, physical exams and women’s health care. Hannagan herself cares primarily for all ages birth to death; currently, her oldest patient is 98 years old.

“Molly has always been in the top of her class and has a desire to improve patient outcomes” said FNP Director Sheryl Stansifer. “She is knowledgeable, dependable and genuinely cares for her patients. She is a perfect fit for the Nowata clinic.”

Serving a rural community

Nowata is a rural community in the northeastern part of the state, with a population of approximately 3,000. A significant portion of Nowata’s residents lives below the poverty line, making it difficult for everyone to have equal access to health care. Hannagan’s clinic works to eliminate that disparity.

Morton Comprehensive Health Services is a Federal Qualified Health Center (FHQC). As an FHQC, its clinics provide patients with care no matter their financial situation. “We treat both patients who have insurance and those who do not, and we provide services that are income based on a sliding scale,” Hannagan explained. “Our clinic has lots of available resources and grants that ensure patients get the treatment, medication and services they need to get well and stay well.” Hannagan credits her time in TU’s DNP program with opening her eyes to health care policies and legislation and how they impact different communities.

Well-prepared to care

From a medical perspective, Hannagan also noted that TU’s FNP stream “directly prepared me to provide primary care at my clinic. I use my degree every day to diagnose and treat my patients.” Within the program, Hannagan gained experience in a variety of different medical fields, as well as pathophysiology, disease process and pharmacology. She recalls numerous hours spent learning how to perform thorough assessments and physical examinations in order to establish a diagnosis and treatment plan. Hannagan also benefited from access to state-of-the-art labs and clinical situations that gave her hands-on learning experiences.

two women wearing face masks, face shields and blue hospital gowns
Testing for COVID-19

“I was placed with great precetpors at each of my clinical sites,” Hannagan said. “It was at the Henryetta ER where I was first exposed to rural health. During my time there, I worked with Dr. Carl Glidden learning to suture, evaluate diagnostic imaging and perform minor procedures.”

She went on to gain experience in rural health at the Xavier clinic, which serves a largely non-insured Hispanic population. “I learned how to manage diabetes, and I even learned how to perform a head-to-toe assessment in Spanish there,” she recalled.

Hannagan also credits the DNP program with developing her skills beyond medicine. In particular, she notes that she was able to cultivate valuable leadership and communication skills. These skills allow her to work effectively with team members from multiple disciplines and backgrounds, both inside and outside the clinic.

Continuing to learn and grow

Working at the Nowata clinic affords this lifelong learner daily opportunities to increase her knowledge and skills. With the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, Hannagan has had to learn how to be adaptable to ever-changing workplace conditions. “My company has provided sound policies and procedures based on the current information, despite how often it changed,” she remarked. “I have access to all the personal protective equipment I need, as well as to all the testing supplies and medication my patients need. I am grateful for that support, as well as for the fact I have not contracted COVID-19.”

two women and one man wearing protective face masks
Hannagan with her oldest patient and another nurse

Hannagan advocates that BSN-prepared nurses with an interest in advancing their professional practice should consider TU’s FNP pathway: “It will be hard, but so worth it. Don’t let anything stop you. Being a family nurse practitioner in a rural setting and building relationships with my patients and improving their health care outcomes is proving to be the most rewarding experience of my life.”

TU’s doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program gives students the ability to make real and lasting change in their communities. Learn more about the DNP program’s four pathways and how they can empower you to deliver superior care for your patients.

Speech-language pathologists at the frontlines of COVID-19 patient care

“I am so grateful that I have gotten to put my professional knowledge to use in order to help people during these unprecedented pandemic times,” said Natalie Crise (BS ’17, MS ’19). A graduate of The University of Tulsa’s bachelor’s and master’s programs in speech-language pathology, Crise today works for Tulsa’s Saint Francis Health System.

woman in black top and pants standing in front of a sign that reads Saint Francis Health System
Natalie Crise

Many people likely have an idea that speech-language pathologists (SLPs) primarily work to help children overcome lisps and stutters or elderly people deal with cognitive deficits impacting their ability to communicate and complete daily tasks/activities. While many perform such roles, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a markedly different side of the profession, particularly for SLPs, such as Crise, who work in hospitals. Indeed, for the past 20 years, TU SLP alumna Teresa Bierig (BS ’92, MS ’94) has focused her career on the hospital setting, both in patient care and management roles. Today, she is deploying her specialized skills and knowledge to help COVID-19 patients at Tulsa’s Hillcrest Medical Center.

“SLPs working in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic have been on the frontlines of patient care,” Bierig noted. “We have all seen the devastation this virus can have on people, both patients and their loved ones.”


One of the main reason SLPs are an essential part of so many COVID-19 patients’ interdisciplinary care teams – including dietitians, respiratory therapists, nurses, physical and occupational therapists – is because of the swallowing deficits caused from being on a ventilator. These life-support machines mechanically pump oxygen into a critically ill person via a tube inserted down the throat and into the airway/lungs.

woman in hospital scrubs wearing a face mask respirator
Teresa Bierig

The throat, however, contains many important swallowing structures and it is easy to damage them when inserting and extracting a ventilator tube. As Bierig observed, “the breathing tube is a good thing in that it helps the patient to breathe; however, it is also a foreign object and can irritate the swallow mechanism’s tissues and muscles.” Added to such damage is the fact that a patient is physically unable to swallow while the ventilator tube is in place, thus progressively weakening the swallow mechanism and its associated muscles through inactivity.

Crise explained this complex situation and the dangers it poses: “The main structures and muscles work together to close of the airway and propel food and liquids down into the esophagus. But when the swallow structures are damaged or weakened, they can’t do their job to protect the airway. In that case, when a patient swallows, food and liquids travel down into the lungs. Over time, this can lead to aspiration pneumonia and worsen the respiratory issues that many COVID-19 patients are already facing.” Aspiration pneumonia also usually prolongs a person’s hospital stay.

Once a patient comes off a ventilator, the first thing a SLP does is assess any weakness or damage that may be present. The next step is to make recommendations to help the individual eat and drink safely, including modifying their diet, as well as teach them how to exercise and, thereby, strengthen their swallow mechanisms. For critically ill COVID-19 patients, noted Bierig, SLPs also focus on respiratory muscle strength-training. “This helps them to produce a cough that is sufficiently strong to cough out food, liquid and anything else that might have slipped into the airway.”


Known in health care as “dysphagia,” difficulties swallowing are only one of the ventilator-related ailments with which SLPs help COVID-19 patients. Ventilator tubes can also cause trauma to a person’s delicate vocal cords. When a person is already physically weakened and perhaps even temporarily cognitively diminished from battling the coronavirus, a damaged larynx makes speaking all the more difficult.

cartoon illustration of a man showing a cross-section of his mouth and throat with the insertion of a tracheostomy tubeIn addition, patients with severe cases of COVID-19 will often require insertion of a tracheostomy tube, which is inserted through a hole made in the front of the neck into the windpipe (trachea), in order to breathe. Patients commonly require tracheostomy tubes when they have been on a ventilator a long time and yet still cannot breathe on their own.

“When a patient has a tracheostomy tube in place,” explained Crise, “air from their lungs goes directly in and out from their neck, rather than passing through their vocal cords. Essentially, therefore, a person in that situation loses their voice.” Fortunately, there is a prosthetic device that can be fastened to the end of a tracheostomy tube that, by directing air back through the vocal cords, “gives them their voice back.”

Both Crise and Bierig have deployed these devices with numerous COVID-19 patients. One patient Crise recalled who found himself in this situation had contracted the virus in late December, was immediately placed on a ventilator and eventually switched to a tracheostomy tube. During all that time, he had been unable to utter a word to his loved ones. Crise saw him around the end of February, at which time she placed a speaking device on the end of his tube. “For the first time in two months he was able to talk,” Crise said. “We Facetimed all of his family members and they were so happy to finally hear his voice after such a long time. I went home after work that day feeling on top of the world.”

TU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders offers undergraduate and master’s level education for prospective speech-language pathologists. Learn more about how to gain the knowledge and skills required to enter this in-demand health care profession.

TU Law experts advocate for a right to counsel program for Tulsa’s eviction court

A report by the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic at The University of Tulsa College of Law highlights the benefits of a right to counsel program in promoting just outcomes in Tulsa’s eviction court and alleviating the public costs of Tulsa’s high eviction rates.

The authors of the report – Leveling the Playing Field: Legal, Economic and Policy Considerations in Establishing an Access to Counsel Program for Tulsa’s Eviction Docket – noted that roughly 90% of tenants in eviction proceedings are not represented. Without an attorney, tenants cannot exercise their rights to be heard and to a fair and impartial tribunal, which are integral elements of due process.

Woman with long hair smiling towards the camera
Roni Amit, Director of the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic

“Studies across the U.S. show that right to counsel programs in eviction court result in cost savings for cities,” said Roni Amit, director of the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic. “Without an attorney, individuals are unable to truly have their day in court before facing eviction. Society recognizes the harm to individuals of not having a lawyer in criminal court, but the effects of losing one’s home are also very dire and may be long-lasting.”

Leveling the Playing Field underscores the fact that a high eviction rate affects not only those who are displaced, but reverberates throughout the city’s neighborhoods, communities and schools. Evictions also impose costs on city resources linked to public health, social assistance and public safety. The report outlines the legal, social and financial benefits of developing a right to counsel program on Tulsa’s eviction docket.

“When individuals are evicted, they lose the stability of their neighborhoods and communities, which results in increased reliance on government resources. The displacement has lasting effects on the physical and mental health of individuals, including children who face lost education, lower earning potential and long-term mental health effects. These effects are going to be magnified during the current COVID-19 crisis,” Amit said.

a colorful evening scene of downtown Tulsa buildings

“Under the outstanding direction of Professor Roni Amit, the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic is making an important and powerful impact on justice and individuals’ ability to access justice in our community,” noted Lyn S. Entzeroth, dean of TU’s College of Law.

“This report could not be more timely, as Tulsa faces the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on renters, and the federal government has just made additional rental assistance available,” said Katie Dilks, executive director of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation. “In order to make sure renters are truly helped by that assistance, legal representation is crucial.”

For more information and/or to schedule an interview:

Roni Amit
Director, Terry West Civil Legal Clinic
The University of Tulsa College of Law
646-957-2614 (cell) | 918-631-5860 (office)

COVID connections: Learning and public outreach flourish at TU during the pandemic

Remain six feet apart. Do not hug. Do not kiss. Wear a mask. Bump elbows if you must, but that’s not recommended either. Do not gather in groups larger than 10. Remain inside your small social bubble. Do not breathe on others. Do not be breathed upon.

During the nightmare that is 2020, humans have learned a new lexicon of rules and prohibitions that have upended the interpersonal conventions of daily life they largely took for granted during the times before COVID-19 raced like wildfire across the planet. Now, in this moment of uncertainty, worry, sickness and death, many people are yearning for connections to others.

At The University of Tulsa, the last several months have, despite the challenges, offered up a handful of inspiring examples of resilience that are focused on enabling connections, both in “the classroom” as well as between the university and the wider public.

The silver lining of online learning

The concept of the classroom has evolved between March and now. The system is not perfect; however, for some students, certain aspects can be seen as a positive change.

Thanks to online software, such as Collaborate, students can interact with their professors face to face at appointed times, but from the safety of their own homes. Zoom meetings, too, have become standard for enabling students to work together while staying safely apart. In some cases, asynchronous classes have allowed for more schedule flexibility for students.

Ryle Gwaltney, a nursing sophomore, remarked that she has come to favor remote learning for several reasons: “Before classes moved online, I had a problem with seeing the board, talking up in class and remembering what was previously taught. But everyone has their own learning style, and online classes have worked well for me. With the ability to pause, rewind and rewatch lectures, interact with the class via a chat box and actually being able to see and remember what was being taught, my classes have been going great.”

Nine English graduate students in a ZOOM screen capture
Graduate students from as far away as South Korea in an English course during fall 2020

TU’s faculty members, too, have adapted and, in many cases, thrived. Media Studies Chair Benjamin Peters believes the lessons learned as a result of the shift to online teaching might influence in-person instruction in years to come.

“There is no question that the pandemic has underscored how valuable in-person teaching is,” Peters said. “Still, going forward, professors will likely be more nimble and capable of using online teaching platforms, as well as accommodating learning needs online. There is no way to make a lab or an in-person activity go entirely online. But, under certain conditions, online discussion can draw out the otherwise introverted.” Another silver lining, Peters noted, might be that more instructors will incorporate online elements into their in-person teaching, such as tools that let students rank-order their questions during a lecture.

Digital technology is also proving useful for helping students outside the classroom. According to Sara Beam, an applied assistant professor of English, the University Writing Program, which she directs, is deploying digital technology for engaging students remotely in three main ways.

The first, she said, entails “remediating text, or asking students to adapt a text from one mode of communication into a different form, such as written text to spoken word.” The goal here is to increase students’ engagement with and awareness of how different forms work and relate. The University Writing Program has also been leveraging different options for discussion participation, including enabling students to post text, images, video and audio to discussion boards.

Finally, this semester Beam has recognized more opportunities for incorporating feedback mechanisms to see how the students feel about learning styles. Noted Beam, “we just passed the middle of the semester and many of us used survey tools to ask students for feedback so we can streamline and target instruction moving forward.”

Extended reach

The COVID-19 pandemic has also meant TU is hosting online panels, lectures and other events that would have previously been held on campus. While fewer people get to enjoy the beauty of TU’s 200 acres in person, the online experiences can be enjoyed by anybody, anywhere, thus helping expand the university’s cultural and academic resources into the community.

Screen shot of an academic article and a man wearing a blue shirt
Native American Law panel on the McGirt decision

For example, the most recent Presidential Lecture Series (PLS) presentation by Wes Moore, the chief executive officer of the Robin Hood Foundation, was the first PLS event ever held online. It drew in an audience of over 1,250 viewers from all across the nation.

Events delivered by TU’s Office of Diversity and Engagement have also experienced the expanded reach afforded by digital technology. Diversity Officer Amanda Chastang noted that a Native American Law panel she recently hosted along with other online discussions have been well-received by audiences both within the TU community and beyond.

Ease of access is a big plus when it comes to staging such events. “People only need the internet and a computer to tune in, even if they are not in the local area,” said Chastang. “We also can develop events pretty quickly as we don’t have to worry about providing food or room reservations and adhere to all of the procedural processes that go along with that. Additionally, it is really nice to have the option of recording events. If folks have conflicting schedules and are unable to attend ‘live events,’ there is the option of providing a recording, which has been really helpful.”

Participants in an Oklahoma Center for the Humanities seminar pictured in a ZOOM screen capture
Oklahoma Center for the Humanities seminar participants

For its part, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities (OCH) has made the best of the dire COVID-19 situation to broaden its talent pool and expand the reach of its programming. Tara C. Aveilhe, the OCH’s assistant director, observed, “via Zoom, we are now able to accept research fellows from anywhere in the U.S. and reach wider audiences for our events.” This year, for example, the OCH’s research fellows include Janine Utell of Widener University in Pennsylvania, which would not have been possible in years previous.

Sean Latham, the OCH’s director, added, “we recently had a terrific event that was digital attended by around 150 people. We were shocked to see that the audience was international and spread across several states. It’s the first time we’ve realized that OCH events might have a national audience for some of our events.” Looking toward life after the pandemic, the OCH plans to take what it has learned from this experience and continue offering digital events so that more people can get involved.

The sobering reality

Despite all these silver linings, at the end of the day, the entire TU community is deeply cognizant of the human tragedy at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every crisis, the phrase famously goes, is an opportunity,” Peters remarked. “But, also, let’s not miss the point here: the pandemic and our response to it have largely been a human disaster. In just the U.S. alone, thousands of lives have been lost and livelihoods have been destroyed. There is so much suffering that cannot and should not be forgotten.”

For more about how TU is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit ResilienTU.


My first semester: From terror to gratitude

By: Adrienne Sauer

I arrived at The University of Tulsa on August 26 — terrified.

After moving in all my stuff, rearranging my room and bidding my parents adieu, I sat in my dorm room. My head was full of questions: Will I make friends? Will my classes be hard? Will I be able to survive on my own? On top of everything, COVID-19 loomed. Would I be able to make friends with a mask on? Would my classes be hard online? Would I be able to survive on my own without getting sick?

Adrienne Sauer and her father and mother in her dorm room
With my parents after moving into my dorm room

The first few hours seemed to last for days, but the following weeks flew by. I attended orientation and made friends. I began classes and survived virtual learning. I ate actual meals, woke up before noon and did my laundry. My semester was going better than expected – it seemed almost too good to be true for college during a pandemic.

Then I got a call . . .

Then I got a call from the Alexander Health Center. More accurately, a text from a close friend and a call a couple of days later. I had been exposed to COVID-19. This was always a possibility in my head. There were constant reminders: wearing a mask, signs about capacity and traffic flow, limited business hours, single rooms. Although I was scared, I was prepared to quarantine; I had accepted the risk by being on campus. Quarantine came with unique challenges, but it helped me appreciate all TU has given me.

Three young women wearing face coverings
Spending time with my friends at Hurricane Plaza

After finding out about my exposure, I quickly signed up for a COVID-19 test for the following day. I woke up, rolled out of bed and walked in the near-freezing rain to the Lorton Performance Center (LPC). There, I received a test that I have become all too familiar with. Sitting on a bench against the large windows of the LPC, I leaned back my head and felt the swab find its way up my nose. The test did manage to draw a few tears from my eyes, but it was over before I knew it. I bundled up and trudged back through the rain to my dorm.

As I sat and did homework, my stomach growled. It was time for lunch, but how was I supposed to get food without entering public spaces like the Student Union? Luckily Food Services came to the rescue. With a quick call, I was able to set up food delivery for my two weeks in quarantine. They delivered two meals a day in the lobby of my dorm, which made for the most exciting part of my day.

My life in quarantine

With my initial COVID-19 test complete and my food secured it was time to stay inside. I decided to stay in my dorm room to keep my suitemate company, and I did not want to risk exposing my family at home.

The first day of quarantine went by fairly fast; at least I had the excitement of my initial virus test! However, the following two weeks seemed endless. My daily routine consisted of doing asynchronous classwork (in my pajamas), getting my first meal from the lobby (in my pajamas), attending my synchronous classes virtually (in my pajamas), grabbing my second meal from the lobby (in my pajamas) and watching hours of television with my suitemate (in my pajamas). Each day concluded with changing into a different pair of pajamas and falling asleep.

As mundane as it felt, the only large difference in my quarantine routine from my regular one was the wardrobe. Within a couple of days, I mastered my routine. Online asynchronous classwork did take some adjusting to at the beginning of the semester, but by the time of my quarantine, I had a study plan that already worked for me. For my synchronous courses, I had no trouble switching to online-only delivery; all my courses were prepared for virtual students. School was manageable during quarantine, but I had an abundance of time to spare.

Taking stock

Two young women smiling towards the camera
My suitemate and me

It was a conflicting time. I missed socially distant picnics on the Old U and daily walks taking in the beautiful TU campus, but I somewhat enjoyed pausing life for a few weeks. After receiving the clearance call from the Alexander Health Center, I could not wait to enter the outside world.

However, I was going to miss playing Just Dance with my suitemate and dressing up in various costumes just to watch TV. We had found a way to enjoy our quarantine; leaving was bittersweet. I was thankful to have spent two weeks with a good friend, and even more thankful TU had introduced us.

Being stuck inside, I was able to reflect on my short time on campus. I made friends with masks on, I conquered my classes online and I was surviving on my own.

But had I survived without getting sick? Lucky for me, my initial COVID-19 test came back within 24 hours and was negative. The following week, I was selected for random testing and had another negative test result. At the conclusion of my quarantine, I had to get tested a final time, resulting in another negative COVID-19 test result.

I was ecstatic to find out I was in the clear, and even more excited to know I had not put anyone on campus at risk. I reentered campus with immense gratitude for what it had given me. I departed campus on Nov. 22 for the Thanksgiving break, no longer terrified of being here, but, rather, a little nervous to leave.

Adrienne Sauer at night wearing a white blouse and standing by waterAdrienne Sauer is a first-year student from Springfield, MO. She is majoring in arts, culture and entertainment management, with an emphasis on cultural and public administration. Adrienne enjoys thrift shopping, exploring museums and spending time with her friends.

In search of ancient hunters and gatherers

For the past 15 years, Department of Anthropology Assistant Professor Danielle Macdonald has spent her summers conducting archaeological excavations in Jordan. However, with travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19, summer 2020 involved staying put in Oklahoma and relying on a completely different approach to research.

Anthropology professor Danielle Macdonald smiling and wearing a green blouse
Professor Danielle Macdonald

Currently working on a National Science Foundation-funded project, Macdonald had planned to spend the summer in Jordan’s capital Amman. She was to have been joined by anthropology master’s student Audra Whitehurse, along with collaborators from the University of California, Berkeley, analyzing artifacts recovered during previous excavation seasons at the hunter-gatherer site Kharaneh IV.

“Our research at Kharaneh IV aims to understand changing social organization and human-environment interactions at the threshold to agriculture,” explained Macdonald. “We are focused on exploring hunter-gatherer behavior during a period of immense change 20,000 years ago.”

Archaeology in a time of plague

Audra Whitehurse sitting at a desk in front of a computer monitor while wearing a COVID-19 face mask
Audra Whitehurse

Unable to travel abroad, Macdonald’s plans had to be adapted. Thankfully, two project collaborators are Jordanian archaeologists, Abd al-Hebashan and Ahmad Thaher, and are not bound by the same travel restrictions. While the U.S. project members remained at home, al-Hebashan and Thaher were able to continue working.

Project Directors Macdonald and Lisa Maher (UC Berkeley) planned a schedule of analysis, identified which archaeological contexts needed to be analyzed first and al-Hebashan and Thaher set to work on the material. “Thanks to Facebook Messenger, I have been able to keep in touch and chat with our Jordanian colleagues regularly,” Macdonald said, “learning about what they are discovering during analysis, helping to identify mystery artifacts and answering questions as they go.”

Professor Danielle Macdonald and three other people in an archaeological pit in the Jordanian desert
Fieldwork in Jordan (summer 2019)

Meanwhile, back in Tulsa, Macdonald has also spent time writing up results and working with Whitehurse to develop her MA project related to the site. “Drawing on the rich trove of artifacts uncovered at Kharaneh IV, I am undertaking a careful evaluation of the role of shell beads in the lives of the area’s hunter-gatherer population,” Whitehurse explained.

A core part of Whitehurse’s research entails making experimental beads in the Lithic Technology and Microwear Laboratory: “One of the things I love about anthropology is the way this discipline encourages us to understand the past by making objects using what we believe to have been ancient practices.”

Does uncovering the secrets of ancient civilizations fascinate you? Then you ought to consider graduate studies with TU’s Department of Anthropology.

Health care leadership: Alumni perspectives on responding to the COVID-19 emergency

In this issue of the Kendall College of Arts & Sciences newsletter, we invited a few A&S alumni who are deeply involved in the COVID-19 pandemic to share a little about their roles, experiences and reflections in their own words. These are their fascinating, frequently inspiring, insights.

John B. Forrest, M.D., FACS

Dr. John B. Forrest (B.A. ’72) is a member of TU’s board of trustees and the Regional Chief Medical Officer of the Ascension St. John Health System in Oklahoma, where he oversees all six of that group’s hospitals.

Dr. John Forrest smiling and wearing glasses, a white shirt, dark tie and black blazer
Dr. John Forrest

The COVID-19 pandemic has been and continues to be a hugely significant public health issue. I have the vaguest memories as a young child of not going to public swimming pools because of my parents’ fear of us contracting polio. Without question, however, this has been the most challenging period in the health care industry in my lifetime.

Beginning in the first week of March, at Ascension St. John we rapidly shifted our focus to managing this pandemic within our system while still striving to deliver the highest quality care to the communities we serve. By the second week of March, we had shifted our operations to a Code Yellow, Level One Disaster management status. As such, we held twice daily disaster management committee meetings to manage all of the functions of a complex health care system from a centralized control center. This was undertaken in concert with the entire Ascension Health System and via a FEMA-outlined control system. The factors scrutinized twice daily included logistics, human resources, facilities, inventories, communications, pharmacy and finance. Subject matter experts also constantly reviewed and incorporated the latest science for patient care.

Within our hospitals, intensive care unit rooms had to be rapidly converted or created to manage the complex isolation techniques needed for the care of coronavirus-positive patients and patients under investigation for risk of developing COVID-19. Difficult decisions, such as curtailing elective surgeries, limiting visitation within the hospital and staffing allocations had to be made.

Over time, our treatment of COVID-positive patients evolved, with changing ventilator management; evolving drug therapy, particularly with Remdesivir; convalescent plasma; and corticosteroids. We also grew to understand that patients’ age and co-existing health problems increased their risk of mortality. At the same time, our caregivers were dealing with a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, sadness as well as resolve. Supporting one another was, therefore, essential.

Testing for COVID-19 was a challenge initially, but that improved in the early summer. Then, in July and August, testing again became more difficult as the surge progressed. I am pleased to report that those hurdles have largely now been cleared. Controversies, though, are still present regarding whom should be tested, when they should be tested and retesting.

The COVID-19 pandemic will only be truly controlled when an effective and safe vaccine is available. To see real mitigation and to stop the pandemic, approximately 60% to 70% of the population will need to have immunity. That being said, research has been moving forward at warp speed for vaccines, coating monoclonal antibody therapies and antiviral agents. It is my hope that this research will bear results later this year or in the first quarter of 2021. Beyond COVID-19, I believe that societal vigilance is needed to maintain the discipline required for stopping, mitigating or suppressing any future pandemics.


Robert D. Thomas and William F. Thomas

Robert (B.A. ’74) and William Thomas (B.A. ’74)  are twin brothers, TU alumni from the same graduating class and the founders of Senior Star senior living communities. Today, the Thomas brothers are co-principals of that firm, which operates in seven states. William is a past member of the TU board of trustees and both men currently serve as co-chairs of the university’s capital campaign.

Bill and Bob Thomas smiling and wearing glasses, ties, white shirts and dark blazers
William Thomas and Robert Thomas

Our roles, as well as those of all our corporate leadership team, have changed – profoundly – as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundamentally, we are all consumed with keeping everyone who works and resides in our communities safe and healthy. As much as we do every day, we know it isn’t enough. We continually ask ourselves, what else do we need to consider? What else must we do? Communication is paramount. Creating a frequent cadence of dialogue in various forms that families, residents and associates can rely on is critical.

When international news turned its sights on the novel coronavirus in January, we began daily discussions regarding our growing concerns. We then formed our own 24/7 COVID-19 task force. At that time, personal protective equipment and other supplies were difficult to source, so we put together a purchasing team to focus on the procurement of a minimum of 60-day supply. To assure associates were not working when ill, we also established a triage team to monitor and trace everyone in the company who reports symptoms.

Early on, we closed our buildings to the general public and we stopped accepting new residents because we realized the only way the virus could get into our communities was by walking in the front door. We also established a Difference Maker’s Pledge and asked all of our associates to follow our safety protocols at work and to live a safe lifestyle at home.

Most recently, we extended the timeframe of our COVID-19 sick pay. Our associates, full time and part time, may use this additional benefit to offset any loss of income due to illness for up to 14 days.

Despite and within this terrible crisis there has been somewhat of a silver lining. First, we have learned to use technology in a way that allows us to better connect and communicate with our associates, families and residents. As part of this innovation, our community leadership now conducts a weekly family Zoom call and we are consistently helping our residents connect with loved ones across the country using iPads. In addition, we have connected residents to physicians via telehealth visits and we have regularly sent out video messages from our CEO.

Second, our associates have been more creative than ever before in finding new ways of doing business. For example, we created a new memory care program called Purposeful Beginnings for new residents that pairs each one with a dedicated individual caregiver in their first week in their new home.

We have also learned so many lessons during the pandemic. One that stands out is that we can allow our associates to have flexible schedules, work remotely and continue to be very productive.

For our corporate office team, our thoughts regarding office space have changed. Before the pandemic, 100% remote working seemed out of reach. We realize now that we can knock down any barrier we face with a focused drive and a strong team. It’s a mentality that is here to stay.

Creating flexible work schedules for our community teams to allow associates to have greater work-life balance is crucial to their well-being. For example, our associates who are parents are navigating a delicate balance between work and remote learning for their children. We understand the need to be flexible and we envision these varying work schedules will continue beyond the pandemic.


Mechanical engineering research: The science of “smart pipes”

“Know what’s below. Call before you dig.” Most people in Oklahoma can rattle off this familiar refrain, which encourages everyone, before plunging a spade or a backhoe into the dirt, to contact OKIE811 to verify the location of the area’s utilities pipes.

These days, utilities pipes are commonly made of plastics, such as polyethylene, because they are easier to manufacture and install and resist corrosion. Finding them is done using ground-penetrating radar (GPR); however, unlike the case with traditional metal pipes, the signals emitted by plastic pipes can be faint and hard to distinguish.

In search of “smart functionality”

That’s where mechanical engineering doctoral candidate and instructor Laura Waldman enters the picture. A member of TU’s Advanced Composite Materials Lab, Waldman is researching and testing “smart functionality” in polyethylene pipes.

Mechanical engineering student Laura Waldman outdoors standing on a white pipe laid horizontally in a trench dug into the ground“‘Smart pipes’ could report information about location and possible damage to operators during surveys,” said Waldman. “This would reduce the risk of loss of service and, more importantly, accidents during work projects.”

To implement smart functionality in pipes, Waldman is installing antenna structures made from a conductive composite polyethylene. Multifunctional antenna structures created from this material resonate in response to the radar signals, allowing operators to determine the location of pipelines prior to excavation.

“As part of this project,” Waldman explained, “we collaborated with members of TU’s Department of Geosciences to test these antenna structures with commercial GPR equipment. We successfully increased the response signal of the pipes to radar and we are currently working on damage detection studies.”

Continuing to discover — despite the pandemic

This year, of course, COVID-19 has altered just about everyone’s plans, including Waldman’s. One of the major pitfalls has been the loss of access to the off-campus facility where she processes the composite polyethylene. In addition, whereas normally her cross-disciplinary work entails collaborating with faculty and students from other departments, including Chemistry and Biochemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Geosciences, necessary physical distancing measures have meant that many of her experimental projects have been put on hold.

Making the best of the situation, however, Waldman noted that “this summer I am focusing more on simulation and modeling work, which I can do remotely.”

Combine theory and practice while learning from professors who know your name: consider TU’s mechanical engineering graduate programs.

Media studies alumna lands dream job at major Tulsa news station

“I never thought I would land a dream job in a pandemic,” said Kristin Wells, a University of Tulsa alumna who is now a digital content producer at News on 6, a major news station in Tulsa. A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Wells graduated from TU in May 2020 with a double major in media studies and Spanish. “I never expected to work at a TV station and I do not have a strong background in TV production. But I have always loved storytelling; so, here I am, and I love it!”

Media studies alumna Kristin Wells wearing her commencement robe, cap and stoleThe first chapter of Wells’ media career has been eventful, to say the least. Her first day of work was also the first day many of her newsroom coworkers were allowed back into the newsroom because of COVID-19. A week later, she found herself helping to live stream in person the Trump Rally in Tulsa, a major national news event. Wells enjoyed being part of the news team that covered the rally with accuracy, some urgency and fully prepared should there have been an emergency. “There I was, on the second week of my job, covering a historical and surreal event and thrilled to be in the thick of it,” Wells remarked.

Working during the pandemic has not been without some challenges; for example, Wells still has not met her direct supervisor, who works out of Oklahoma City. Still, these hurdles have also created what she called “a sense of community in the newsroom. We are all in it together. The news, especially in times of pandemics, is essential: we see our value as a news team because of all of the uncertainty. The news must keep going.”

From the classroom to the newsroom

Wells credits her media studies education for giving her the training necessary to succeed in her current position. As a digital content producer, every day she translates, repackages, cuts video, writes scripts for, frames, posts and manages the news for a range of digital audiences on News on 6’s website, app and social media posts, which are updated every 20 minutes. This also means she deals with all forms of news content: breaking news, CBS affiliate news stories, crime stories, political coverage, sport stories, human interest stories and the weather.

Media studies alumna Kristin Wells standing in front of the Circle Cinema marquee with her arms raised in celebrationWells’ media studies training and involvement in TU’s Global Scholars program also developed her broad generalist understanding and fascination with all content across the news cycle. “My media studies courses prepared me to adapt and to be open to all these new things. Media studies offers such a wide range of courses and topics, such as food media, digital media, global media and journalism. As a student, I had to move from one class to another, flexing and bending to translate across diverse stories into final projects. I do similar things in the newsroom now, except I bring those stories, without clickbait, to many different digital audiences. Plus, I love my interactions with other TU media studies alumni who work in my company.”

Asked whether she has any advice for current and future media studies students, Wells emphasized the value of seeking out and developing many career interests. She continued: “It’s also exciting to get involved in TUTV Media Lab and The Collegian (TU’s student newspaper), and to enjoy your own exciting – and even uncertain – ride into the world of media.”


Do you have a story to share about your experiences after graduation? If so, reach out to Media Studies Chair Benjamin Peters at



Don’t pump up the volume: TU audiology expert offers insight on healthy hearing during the pandemic and beyond

The COVID-19 crisis has spawned new health-focused behaviors across the country: repeated hand-washing, standing 6 feet apart at the post office, waving at grandmothers from outside their retirement residences, keeping a cloth mask in the glove compartment in readiness for grocery expeditions. These sanitary practices are all meant to curtail the spread of a potentially deadly virus. But what about other aspects of our health during this pandemic era?

Professor Julie Hyland smiling and wearing a purple cardiganJulie Hyland, AuD, is a clinical associate professor in The University of Tulsa’s Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders and an audiologist with the Mary K. Chapman Speech & Hearing Clinic. One of Hyland’s concerns during the pandemic is that many people are unaware of the risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

“The only 100% preventable cause of permanent, sensorineural hearing loss is NIHL,” Hyland explained. During the current health crisis, she noted, many people are spending more hours than usual using portable media devices with headphones and earbuds for remote work and schooling purposes. That is on top of using them for entertainment.

Two "rules of thumb" to help protect your hearingAccording to Hyland, this new normal presents some serious risks: “In a family comprising, for example, parents working from home and children learning at home, there’s going to be a lot of noise. The natural tendency in such a situation would be for everyone to pump up the volume on their individual devices in order to hear over all the background noise. But that increased duration of exposure to higher volumes amplifies the risk of acquiring NIHL.”

Noise intensity + duration of exposure

This pandemic-intensified risk is set within the already high rates of NIHL in the United States, Hyland pointed out. A 2011-12 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 10 million adults in the United States under age 70 (6% of the population), and perhaps as many as 40 million (24%), indicated in their hearing tests the possibility of hearing loss in one or both ears from exposure to loud noise. Researchers have also estimated that as many as 17% of teens are similarly affected.

The two primary factors to consider when it comes to hearing conservation and prevention of NIHL are the intensity of noise – measured in decibels (dB) – and the duration of exposure to it.

Graphic illustrating various sounds and their decibel readingsThe average conversational speech is around 60 to 70 dB. Noise levels of 85 dB or higher – such as from a leaf blower, chainsaw, gunshot, ambulance siren – have the potential to damage one’s auditory system if the duration of exposure is sufficient. Even a hair dryer has the potential to hurt one’s hearing. A typical hair dryer runs at about 91 dB, which does not become a problem if exposure is under two hours. “You are unlikely to run your hair dryer for two hours at home,” noted Hyland. “But a stylist working in a salon might be exposed to hair dryers for much longer than that over the course of a typical shift.”

Protect your hearing

For her patients and everyone else, Hyland offers the following advice to guard against hearing loss:

  1. Keep the volume of your devices – and your children’s – set no higher than about 60% of the maximum.
  2. Take breaks. For example, it’s okay to listen to music while working at your computer, but don’t do so for longer than about 30 minutes. Then, turn the music off and get up to stretch for 10 minutes.
  3. Use hearing protection, such as earplugs and earmuffs, when engaging in loud activities, such as mowing the lawn, attending concerts and woodworking.
  4. See an audiologist for a full hearing evaluation if you experience signs of NIHL. Such signs include increased difficulty understanding speech in noisy listening conditions or tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing or roaring sound in the ears or head.

For parents, Hyland has some additional specific counsel: “You might think that if you can hear the sound coming from your child’s earbuds, then the volume is set too high. But that’s actually more indicative of how well the device is sealing off the ear canal. A really tight seal might mean you can’t hear anything, but the intensity levels might well be damaging your child’s hearing.”

Audiology is an important element in training to be a speech-language pathologist at TU. Graduate students in TU’s speech-language pathology program learn best practices for screening their clients’ hearing. Undergraduate students in Hyland’s audiology courses learn methods of evaluating and treating hearing loss as well as how hearing loss impacts communication and quality of life. Consider joining this dynamic and growing field by applying today.


COVID-19 Special Report Two: Media with Benjamin Peters


In the second remotely-recorded special report from the University of Tulsa, Benjamin Peters joins the TUniverse podcast team to share his thoughts on the pandemic’s relation to the media, including ideas for thinking about how the two relate and what it means for us.


Research reveals improved air ventilation fights COVID-19

Cities and states across the nation are lifting safer-at-home orders, and businesses are taking extra precautions to prepare for the return of customers but cleaning high-contact surfaces and maintaining safe social distance is only the start. Findings by Richard Shaughnessy, director of The University of Tulsa’s Indoor Air Program, show that improving air quality through enhanced ventilation and filtration can decrease the advancement of harmful bacteria and viruses, like COVID-19. “We’re trying to get simple, useful, practical information to the public that they can use now,” he said. 

Richard Shaughnessy

Clean air is key

According to Shaughnessy, the virus can be transmitted through both human contact and aerosol transmission. “This virus can survive on smaller aerosols (less than 5 microns in size) in the air for three to four hours, and on surfaces, depending upon the surface, for two to three days,” Shaughnessy explained. If ever there was a time in history for improved indoor air quality, it would be now,” Shaughnessy stated. 

After being confined at home for weeks, residents are ready to shop, visit salons, see movies and eat at local restaurants. “There is an immediate need to identify what businesses can do to supplement social distancing measures, such as improving indoor air quality,” Shaughnessy explained. “These practices go hand-in-hand with other effective approaches such as the cleaning/disinfecting of high-contact surfaces.” 

When fighting viruses and bacteria, few businesses consider cleaning the air in their buildingsadding supplemental filtration or upgrading the filtration system they already have establishedAll air cleaning requires is making sure that your filters are in place,” Shaughnessy said. “If you have a heating or cooling system, make sure your filters are adequate. Use the highest efficiency filters you can, but remember you only have fresh air filtering through the mechanical system when the system is running.” 

For more than 25 years, Shaughnessy’s research has focused on indoor environmental concerns. In the past decade, he has specifically investigated whether illnesses are more easily transmitted because of inadequate ventilation or air filtration. Shaughnessy and his team have conducted testing in commercial businesses, homes and densely occupied environments such as schools and hospitals. 


Constant ventilation to remove human aerosols

If you’re relying on your heating and cooling systemyou turn it on, and it moderates as a function of temperature. You want to put that fan on, so it runs 24/7. Otherwise, the system may run only 18% of the day and you’re getting little filtration during that time,” he said. 

The virus also can be harbored on particles that fall out of the air onto floor surfaces, and Shaughnessy explained that if someone is shedding the virus, tens of thousands of particles from skin can dissipate to the floor. As people step across the floor, the particles are resuspended back into the air where they may be breathed in. 

“People do not have to buy gallons of bleach to chlorinate everywhere, which can be extremely hazardous to their health,” Shaughnessy said. “The thing to remember when cleaning surfaces is the virus is very susceptible to common disinfectants, soap and water. This thing isn’t that hard to inactivate and to kill.” 

Facts based on science and research

Shaughnessy has shared his expertise across the country and internationally on studies related to COVID-19. More recently, he has provided webinars for more than 2400 researchers and practitioners from state and federal agencies in 40 different countries. He has spoken with media about mitigation and best practices in order to lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“Now is not the time to let down our guard. There is no overnight cure or fix for this virus, just common sense,” Shaughnessy said. “These issues I am bringing up are based on science and research we’ve been doing for years. Let’s accept the virus for what it is and let’s take steps to make it safer — not only to protect workers but also to protect customers.”

Entrepreneurs in Crisis: COVID-19 and Beyond

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Start Us Up found in recent polling data that the majority of entrepreneurs are disillusioned with policy makers.

The survey examines the opinions of current entrepreneurs, wantrapreneurs, and general election voters.

This blog is a project of the NOVA Fellowship at TU.  


The NOVA Fellowship at The University of Tulsa (TU) has a mission to build and support the culture of innovation on campus and in our communities. We do this by providing small grants to help innovative student projects, faculty involved in innovative programs, and curating content related to current trends and recent developments in technology and innovation. This content includes topics relevant to the entire campus, including health sciences, economics, arts management, biology, computer science, finance, artificial intelligence (AI), communication, engineering, and global issues. Because NOVA students are studying in a variety of TU majors, our interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving is one of our great strengths.

NOVA also helps provide training to students and faculty in creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We offer training on the TU campus in meetings and workshops, and through an exciting partnership with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Every year since 2015, NOVA has sent several TU students and faculty to Stanford for 4-5 days of training with experts and interaction with fellow scholars from around the world. The student program is University Innovation Fellows ( and the program for faculty is the Teaching and Learning Studio Faculty Workshop (

In these ways, NOVA exposes TU faculty, staff, and students to many processes and tools used in modern companies related to creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. One of these is “design thinking.” It is one of the most well-known problem-solving approaches used around the world today, used to develop concepts for new products, education, buildings, machines, toys, healthcare services, social enterprises, and more. According to the people who developed this tool, Dave Kelley and Tim Brown of the design firm, IDEO:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success…. Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which IDEO calls design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.” (

As the innovation field develops, new perspectives are emerging. One promising approach we are beginning to bring into NOVA meetings and workshops is called “systems thinking,” which builds upon the emergent field of complexity research. Systems thinking recognizes the inherent interactivity of the dynamic processes in our world and focuses on problem-solving with that complexity in mind. This approach isn’t completely new, but recent work has made systems thinking more accessible to people interested in solving problems of most any type. For example, Derek Cabrera, Ph.D. (Cornell University) has proposed a useful taxonomy designed to improve systems thinking called DSRP (Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives). He defines it as: “The recursive distinguishing of things and their interrelationships and part-whole organization from various perspectives” ( Elsewhere, DSRP has been described as a particular way to think about problems, and that the use of these four patterns notably improves people’s problem-solving abilities – demonstrated in sessions with Kindergartners all the way to CEOs. The complex, adaptive mental models that are formed during systems thinking attempt to identify the most approachable and simplest explanations for phenomena. In his book with Laura Cabrera, Systems Thinking Made Simple, examples of the simplicity that drives complexity include: the interaction of CMYK colors in our world, the amazing biodiversity derived from combinations of DNA’s core nucleotides ATCG, the fundamentals of martial arts which practitioners use together to improvise during sparring matches, the almost infinite variety of models that can be built with modular Lego blocks, and the billions of possible moves in a chess match with just 6 unique pieces.

We invite you to join us and collaborate as we learn more about effective ways to solve problems that you and others care about in the community, in corporations, and on campus! Please visit or email Dr. Charles M. Wood, Professor of Marketing at TU:


TU nursing students address community health in the midst of the pandemic

With COVID-19 raging and all in-person learning replaced with virtual instruction, faculty in The University of Tulsa’s undergraduate nursing program had to quickly figure out a way to replace clinical rotations while still ensuring their students received a high-quality, relevant education. The ingenious result was to devise a four-week model for juniors in the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program examining client education in the context of a pandemic.

Quarantine poster made by BSN juniors

“This solution made additional sense,” noted Chapman Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing Angela Martindale, “given that this is the semester when those students focus on community health.” Martindale taught the course alongside her colleagues Lee Anne Nichols and Cassandra Barrow, both of whom also had a hand in shaping the new direction.

“From social distancing to sickness, COVID-19 has created a spark and lit sequential fires of change within me,” said Adonijah Young, one of the students in the course. “Being given the opportunity to create educational tools to instill knowledge in the community was an amazing experience.”

Young’s sentiments are echoed by fellow student Emily Thomas, who said the community rotation enabled her “to put my feet in other people’s shoes and think critically about what they are feeling and thinking during this time of uncertainty. I am confident the work I did and the skills I developed will benefit me in my future career as a nurse.”

COVID-19 and social distancing

The first week introduced students to the origin and context of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Students reviewed a simulation PowerPoint deck and completed a World Health Organization module on the topic. “Our students wrapped up this first stage by taking a short quiz and earning a certificate of completion,” explained Nichols.

Healthy lifestyle during quarantine posterWeek 2 involved four simulations covering the COVID-19 pandemic and explored the impact of social distancing at local, state, national and global levels. The epidemiological curve was examined at each of those levels, as well as the pandemic risk mitigation plan for both Oklahoma and the United States to flatten the curve. “A main element of our exercises this week was to explore the nursing perspective at each level,” said Barrow. “In support of that goal, our students’ clinical activity was to identify between 5 and 10 ineffective and between 5 and 10 adaptive responses to social distancing right here in Tulsa.” The students then worked in small groups to create PPT decks that shared their findings and presented a nursing diagnosis.

Nursing, pandemic ethics and public education

“During Week 3, students worked in pairs or groups of three to develop a white paper, suitable for the public, on nursing and pandemic ethics,” Martindale noted. These drew on assigned readings and discussions dealing with topics such as the role of nurses who lack personal protective equipment when taking care of patients who have COVID-19. The course wrapped up with a case study/simulation exercise. For this, students wrote individual care plans dealing with an aggregate of patients battling COVID-19. “Having community health online was a very good learning experience for me because I was able to research topics concerning our community on my own and find information on how we can help,” said student Averee Dubach.

Coronavirus educational posterOther assignments included developing educational tools for homeless people, families with children at home, the elderly and patients in clinics. “By the time the rotation was over,” remarked Nichols, “we had over 84 brochures developed to teach aggregates of clients affected by the pandemic.” Many of these brochures will be shared with community partners as our society continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Impacts: From the personal to the global

The final assignment involved having each student write a reflective paper discussing how the pandemic had affected health at the local, state, national and global levels. They were also tasked with writing about how social distancing had impacted them personally. As Carol Coffman put it, “Although finishing my junior year of nursing school away from people was not ideal, it was necessary and allowed me to reflect on my role and take responsibility as a future nurse.”

Student Emma Rutter summed up the profound impact of the reimagined clinical rotation on her development as a caring, effective health care professional: “As nurses, we must remember that health is not singular. If our patients are ailing, our community is ailing. We learned how to advocate for an entire aggregate and plan how to take steps to affect the masses. The lesson I am most thankful for in this community rotation is: Your community needs you, and you most definitely need your community. There is always hope when there are those who continue to try.”

Students Emma Rutter, Trenton Hazelton and Carol Coffman wearing blue scrubs
BSN juniors Emma Rutter, Trenton Hazelton and Carol Coffman in the days before the COVID-19 pandemic

If you would like to inquire about using some of the BSN students’ educational resources at your organization, please contact Wendy Palmer at the TU School of Nursing (


COVID-19 as a college freshman

By: Luke Bertaux

This is definitely not the way I expected my freshman year of college to end. I was at McFarlin Library on March 10 with my Global Scholars group writing up a big case analysis we had due the next day when we all suddenly got an email that courses were immediately moving online. At the time, TU was one of the first schools in the area to make this decision, so the news genuinely seemed too bizarre to be real.

Luke Bertaux and his Little Brother Angel leaping in the air
My little brother, Angel, and me

Little did I know, I would be packing up my belongings three days later and driving myself home to Texas, not to return for the rest of the semester and hoping that my 2008 Toyota Prius would survive the journey home.

The abrupt end to my freshman year on campus was difficult to accept, as I had just started to get involved with more activities around Tulsa. Shortly before the pandemic started, I was paired with my little brother, Angel, through a youth mentoring program called Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma. Since moving back to Texas, I have enjoyed being able to use technology to continue talking to Angel and trying to navigate through our new temporary normal.

Luke Bertaux and a friend wearing face masks outside a Walmart store
A Walmart run during the pandemic

Through the transition to online classes, seeing my classmates in tiny boxes on my computer screen was strange at first, but I am glad that technology is allowing us to stay connected with professors and classmates. Still, virtual technology, no matter how smooth and high resolution, cannot replace the on-campus living experience, the conversations on the way in and out of classrooms, the weekends exploring Tulsa and the personal relationships with professors.

Luke Bertaux jumping in a wooded area
Social distancing in the woods

Life is different because of COVID-19. My easy 90-second walk from my dorm room to the Chick-fil-A in the Student Union has transformed into suiting up in a required mask and gloves to head into Walmart to get groceries. The usual welcome diversions of friends stopping by my dorm room while studying have turned into walking my dogs in between virtual classes. I will no longer get to go to Panama in May with my Global Scholars cohort, and I won’t have the opportunity to compete as a TU finalist for the Worlds Challenge Challenge in Canada.

But that’s ok. I know that as soon as I am able to return to TU’s campus, I will be able to be a part of so many more opportunities. I eagerly await the day I get to go back. Everybody is making sacrifices to adapt to the pandemic lifestyle and so many workers are putting in tons of effort to keep essential services running. I think of the beautiful campus and phenomenal students and professors that I get to return to in order to help me stay motivated during these difficult, but tolerable, times.

Luke Bertaux and two friends jumping up in the University of Tulsa football stadium
Pre-pandemic Chapman Stadium photoshoot

University of Tulsa freshman Luke BertauxLuke Bertaux is a freshman at The University of Tulsa pursuing a dual degree with majors in International Business and Spanish. He is from Keller, Texas, and in his free time he enjoys running and performing music.

TU’s speech-language pathology program delivers therapy at a distance

Teletherapy – or telemedicine – has been around for some time. But the recent arrival of COVID-19 has led to a surge of activity for health care professionals from many disciplines. Faculty and students in The University of Tulsa’s Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders are among those who have embraced teletherapy in order to serve patients during this crisis.

Communication Sciences and Disorders has the largest number of patients in Oklahoma who attend an on-campus clinic. Indeed, the department has more patients than most graduate program clinics anywhere in the state.

Speech-language pathology master's student Gabrielle Cozart sitting at a table with a laptop computer
Gabrielle Cozart, speech-language pathology master’s student

“Over the past few years, our faculty have seen a few patients via teletherapy,” said Suzanne Stanton, the coordinator of TU’s Mary K. Chapman Speech and Hearing Clinic and the Chapman Clinical Assistant Professor of Speech-Language Pathology. “One such individual was a young adult who lived in rural Oklahoma and needed therapy to use her eye-gaze communication system. There was no one in her area with that specific expertise, so teletherapy sessions with one of our faculty members was the solution.”

In 2019, Professor Kris Foyil initiated a contract with Connects Academy to allow the department’s graduate students to work with practicing teletherapists in the community. Since then, each semester two students have been able to work with an experienced licensed teletherapist in her practice.

Rising to the challenge

With the COVD-19 crisis, Communication Sciences & Disorders students were forced to abruptly discontinue their externships and onsite clinical experiences. The Council on Academic Accreditation, however, sent out a notice to accredited programs stating that the standards for certification and completion of clinical hours would not change. As a result, the department had to find new ways for their students to satisfy those requirements in order to graduate on time in May.

Speech-language pathology master's student Marisa Nelson at a table with a laptop computer and paper documents
Marisa Nelson, speech-language pathology master’s student

“We are meeting the needs of our students in several ways,” Stanton noted. “And teletherapy has been a major asset to accomplish that goal.”

During the week of March 23-25, faculty began teletherapy evaluations to assist graduate students who had been pulled from hospital experiences. This included having members of TU’s Tulsa Aphasia Group participate in online aphasia evaluations with students using Zoom technology and following both state and federal guidelines for teletherapy. Stanton coordinated these evaluations, which allowed patients to get the services they needed and the department’s students to continue interacting with individuals.

“It was a quick turnaround to organize,” remarked Stanton, “but rewarding in so many ways. For instance, the patients we helped were isolated, and this taught them how to use new technology to foster social interactions in other situations and settings. One gentleman, for example, was able to use Zoom to talk with his grandson and son in Colorado.”


Simulations are the second way Communication Sciences & Disorders is meeting its students’ needs through digital technology. The benefit of such simulation is it allows no-risk practice in aspects of care that previously could only be experienced with patients in person.

Sarah Launchbaugh, a clinical assistant professor of speech-language pathology, has worked with other clinical faculty to organize simulated clinical experiences through Simucase. “By using Simucase’s digital learning platform,” Stanton observed, “our students are able to continue their clinical practica, even during the pandemic in a time of uncertainty in the world around us. It also gives them exposure to patient populations that are at times unavailable in our speech clinic due to low incidence of the disorders.”

Future plans

Spurred on by the COVID-19 emergency, Communication Sciences & Disorders faculty are working with students to offer all clinic services via teletherapy soon. According to Stanton, “we are currently providing online resources for patients and their families, and we are reaching out to determine which patients have the ability to participate in teletherapy.”

Are you interested in a career as a speech-language pathologist? TU’s Communications Sciences & Disorders department has the pathways for you!

Students and faculty conduct COVID-19 research during pandemic 

Students and faculty in The University of Tulsa’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences are doing their part to combat COVID-19 by calling upon the skills and innovative ideas they practice in daily life. The world is struggling to control the pandemic, but the TU community’s resilience shines through when members band together to support health care workers. 

COVID-19 Research

Chapman Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Robert Sheaff and Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Syed Hussaini are working on two COVID-19 projects.  

  1. Development of a novel test for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 virus. This project will provide a faster and more economical method for the detection of the virus. It is based on a standard biological readout system, which will be modified chemically to provide an assay in which light emission will be used to detect the presence of the virus.
  2. Evaluation of chloroquine’s biological effects on human cells. The second project will evaluate the effect of chloroquine and its synthetic analogs on human cells. The aim is to contribute to the biochemical understanding of how chloroquine works as a treatment for COVID-19 and to find chemical analogs of chloroquine with increased efficacy and reduced side effects. 

Surgical mask straps 

covid-19 researchMechanical engineering student Tom Rendon has been printing surgical mask straps to give to people who wear the masks for lengthy periods of time, as well as hospital workers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The straps keep the elastic off the ears and allow the user to adjust the tension of the elastic. He added a little local branding to them as a way of encouraging and supporting local communities. 

Currently, Rendon has printed around 200 of the straps and hopes to give away more in the future. Each strap takes around 30-40 minutes to print. 

PPE Donations

covid-19 researchThe Department of Chemistry gathered the following personal protective equipment (PPE) items to donate to Ascension St. John Medical Center in March: 

  • 8 50-packs of surgical face masks  
  • 54 cases of Fisher Scientific nitrile exam gloves  
  • 5 boxes of safety goggles (36 count in each box)  

The TU Hurricane Health Clinic gave 23 boxes of nitrile gloves, disposable gowns, hand sanitizer and face masks to Saint Francis Health System; and TU’s School of Nursing in the Oxley College of Health Sciences delivered the following PPE to Hillcrest Medical Center: 

  • 70 disposable isolation gowns  
  • 4 full boxes and 2 partial boxes of surgical masks  
  • 9 N-95 masks  
  • 15 face shield masks  
  • 1,150 pairs of nitrile exam gloves  
  • 500 pairs of stretch vinyl gloves  

The Russell School of Chemical Engineering and TU’s athletic training program also donated gloves to Saint Francis. 

Face shields

COVID-19 researchMechanical engineering senior Jacob Martinez partnered with Tulsa’s medical community to help make face shields for local hospital workers. Using a laser cutter in Stephenson Hall’s Projects Lab, he cut the plastic pieces that attach to the clear shield, which were then packed in kits and sent to hospitals. The latest batch was sent to Saint Francis Health System.