Belmont students, faculty and staff rose to the challenges presented by COVID-19, forging new connections and lifting one another’s spirits via remote outlets.
The first U.S. case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on the West Coast Jan. 22, nearly seven weeks before its arrival was confirmed in Nashville. The virus’s rapid rate of infection forced drastic and sudden changes to everyone’s lives, including the Belmont community. By March 20, students had moved home for the remainder of the semester, commencement was postponed, significant year-end events were canceled and most employees were working remotely. Campus life as we all know it came to a screeching halt.
And then, just as suddenly, new signs of innovation began to emerge. Classes moved online, and faculty remarked with both surprise and pride about student engagement. Virtual events celebrated scholarship and creativity. Nursing students exercised their skills on the disease’s front lines, and students from all majors discovered new ways to connect with their peers and their communities.
Belmont alumni, students and faculty also contributed by making cloth masks to donate to hospitals and nonprofits.
Belmont may be most well-known for its music and music business-related programs, but health care veterans recognize the University as a major source of exceptionally well-educated practitioners in a variety of fields, including nursing, which stands as Belmont’s second most popular major. In Middle Tennessee, Belmont nursing students aided on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.
Graduate nurse practitioner students helped staff drive-through testing at one of Nashville’s assessment centers. From collecting nasopharyngeal swab samples to specimen labeling, third year Doctor of Nursing Practice student Joanna Plumb appreciated the team mentality. “We are all working together to do our part during this pandemic.”
Meanwhile, senior nursing major Mariam Fakhar worked alongside her peers answering phones for hotlines established by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and the Metro Nashville Health Department. In an interview with a local publication Fakhar noted that a big takeaway for her was the focus on patient-centered care. “It’s not just giving meds, but also being culturally competent and centering the care around the patients. While I wasn’t able to look at the patient, I was able to ask them how they were dealing with it and hear their concerns.”
Dr. Bonnie Smith Whitehouse prepares for class at home with her pup.
While the pandemic provided hands-on experience to many nursing students, most members of the Belmont community had joined the unprecedented nationwide movement to virtual learning, reimagining classes and coursework online. But demonstrating Belmont’s well-known penchant for creativity, students still found ways to exercise their talents in an innovative fashion. For example, the production team for Best of the Best didn’t let the absence of an arena show slow them down, instead pulling together an online, socially-distanced performance for the entire Belmont community to enjoy.
Provost Dr. Thomas Burns congratulates scholars virtually during Scholarship and Awards Day.
Campus traditions also found new outlets, bolstering community and honoring achievements. The BOLD Campus-wide Leadership awards kicked off the season in late April with a full-day of social media posts and videos honoring student leaders, followed by virtual celebrations for Scholarship and Awards Day recipients and Athletics’ Bruin Choice Awards. New students were welcomed via a Virtual Be Belmont Day, and May 2020 graduates received their official conferral of degrees from Dr. Fisher via YouTube.
While none of these significant events occurred as originally planned, all found excited and thoroughly engaged audiences participating on a variety of social media channels. And there were plenty of simply fun moments of connection as well, like when the Student Life team posted a TikTok challenge for Belmont students on its Instagram account. Sophomore public health major Jaylen Palmer led a simple choreographed dance to the upbeat song “Sunday Best” by Surfaces and encouraged fellow students to post themselves performing the dance. The viral post found dozens of students emulating Palmer’s moves with flair, even teaching it to their parents or dressing up in costumes to make the dance their own.
With social media allowing the Belmont community to stay connected, junior creative and entertainment industries major Domenica Coka has been reminded of how blessed she is to go to a university like Belmont. “I definitely think this time has proven that even though class work can be stressful, we take for granted how truly blessed we are,” she said. “I am so appreciative of the Belmont faculty and staff who’ve made this transition the best possible. We are very fortunate.”
Jaylen Palmer teaches a dance for Student Life’s TikTok challenge.
Away from campus, Belmont seniors finish their college careers strong and prepare to ‘engage with and transform the world.’
Senior year, with its challenges and triumphs, is an exciting time in the life of college students. Despite the circumstances that cut this senior year short, many seniors are staying positive, reflecting on their college journeys and looking to the future with hope. With innovation and determination, our seniors finished the year strong and are now sharing their favorite college experiences, words of wisdom for younger students, and how they grew during this transition.
Christine Allen, an English major and education minor from Waukesha, Wisconsin, was incredibly involved in campus life, from Towering Traditions and Summer Staff orientation programming to Student Activities Planning Board to Club Tennis and the Black Student Association. Allen says each community and the people within them greatly impacted her Belmont journey. “I loved that at any point I could run into someone that I hadn’t seen in a while, chat for a bit and catch up and maybe schedule a coffee date. I definitely miss that proximity,” Allen says.
Texts, calls and virtual movie nights have been go-to’s for Allen to stay connected with her Belmont community. Allen describes one of her favorite memories with her community being during the fall of 2018 freshman move-in day when it started raining as they were unloading some of the last cars coming in. It was pouring, but music was playing and the whole TT community was singing and dancing and running around in the rain. Allen says she loved how much everyone was embracing what could have been a miserable moment and instead made it a fun and memorable moment.
Allen is grateful for the lifelong impact from the numerous faculty members she was able to interact with through her major, the Honors program and many different on-campus communities. One faculty member that helped shape her while at Belmont was Dr. Sue Trout in the English Department. Allen valued how Dr. Trout balanced being a role model and giving advice to her students along with being real and admitting when and where she was struggling alongside them. Allen loved Dr. Trout’s tenacity and her influence helped Allen to see her major in a new light and appreciate all she could do with it.
After graduation, Allen will be pursuing an MS in Administrative Leadership (concentration in Higher Education Administration) at UW-Milwaukee. Along with this, she hopes to pursue writing for publication for her poetry and is seeking out magazines/literary journals to submit her work to. As difficult as this social-distancing period is, Allen says she has been able to appreciate her relationships more and been able to see some incredible ways that people step up to support one another. To the younger students at Belmont, she encourages them not to get too caught up in “Plan A.” Allen says, “When I started college, I was set on being a journalist, but through different classes I took and experiences I had, my passions shifted and I found new things that I loved and valued and wanted. Even now, considering the current situation of the world, I know that things will likely change and that I may have to alter the current plans that I have for my life. That said, I think it is very important to give yourself things to look forward to, so even if things might change, keep setting goals!”
Theatre Education major Tori Capps spent her time at Belmont involved in sharing about her college experience as a tour guide with Bruin Recruiters and was actively involved in Greek Life as a member of Phi Mu. Throughout online learning, Capps remained connected to Belmont friends, faculty and classes by many, many different events over Zoom. From workout classes led by friends and virtual birthday parties, to virtual semi formal and virtual student teacher graduation, staying connected has been a priority. What Capps misses most about campus is the opportunity to simply catch up and hang out with friends, whether that be between classes or meeting up for coffee across the street at Bongo.
Many people and moments shaped Capps’ time at Belmont, she said. One of her favorite experiences was studying abroad at Regents University for a semester in London, England. About her professors, she says, “Alicia Fuss and Dr. [Martha] Minardi are genuinely some of the most caring professors I have ever had. They always were there for me whether that be in the classroom or supporting me in whatever way they could.”
During the period of self-isolation, Capps has found the time to slow down and focus on self-care, while also realizing just how meaningful her friendships are to her. After graduation, she plans to have her own classroom in a school teaching kids all about theater and creative dramatics. To younger students, she says, “Good golly, don’t waste this time. The four years you have here are some of the best times. Also, always be willing to push yourself outside of your box; you never know what may be lying on the outside of it.”
Like so many others, honors student Mason Pohlman, an engineering physics major from Jacksonville, Illinois, misses his friends, but he has a lot to look forward to as he will begin a master’s program in mechanical engineering this fall, in part thanks to the input of physics professor Dr. Steve Robinson. “I loved going to the weekly Bible study he hosted… It really helped me to be able to learn and be challenged constantly by someone I could look up to, in both an academic and spiritual sense. Belmont would not have been the same without him.”
Mena Han-Lalime is a senior Public Relations major with a Music Business minor from Damariscotta, Maine. During the transition to online learning, Han-Lalime has grown to treasure video calls to stay connected with her community. She appreciates how something as simple as leaving a FaceTime call with a friend open while working almost recreates that in-person atmosphere and makes things feel a bit more normal. The biggest thing Han-Lalime misses about being on campus is the people. She has come to really appreciate being on campus for class, interreacting with classmates and running into people that she loves but only rarely sees.
Han-Lalime values the faculty who have impacted her time at Belmont. Her advisor Dr. Trowbridge became such an important figure in her college career. She describes how he has given her so much of his time to help me make the best decisions possible, and been there to guide her when she felt lost in search of a career path. He always makes students feel like their voice matters and encourages everyone to use their unique strengths to pursue what they are passionate about.
Han-Lalime’s favorite experience in her Belmont journey was her Maymester in Germany. She loves Belmont’s amazing study abroad program and encourages every student to take the opportunity to have such an influential experience and to get outside their comfort zone. To younger students at Belmont, she says, “Study abroad, use your elective credits wisely and take gen-ed classes that genuinely look interesting to you––especially if they have nothing to do with your major!”
Through online learning and work, Han-Lalime has learned about balancing work and personal life. She is thankful for a career path that she can describe as fun and for the time she has to spend being creative as well. At the beginning of the year, Han-Lalime began interning at Nashville-based influencer marketing startup Songfluencer. She recently accepted a full-time position with the company for post-grad as a Campaign Manager. This is Han-Lalime’s dream first job out of college and she could not be more excited for the opportunity.
Eric Rivera is a Music Business major from Lockport, Illinois. During his time at Belmont, Rivera took advantage of every opportunity he could to be involved. During the first half of his college experience, he spent much of his time on the cheer team and as a member of Greek Life. He was also frequently volunteering with activities like the Showcase Series and Up Til Dawn. Soon he found a majority of his time involved with New Student Orientation as he served as a Towering Traditions leader, Summer Orientation Leader, and member of the 2019 Orientation Council. Rivera also taught a weekly class in the FitRec called Hump Day Hip Hop which was his, and many fellow students’, favorite part of the week.
Rivera has stayed connected with his Belmont friends and faculty through classes and frequent check-ins on Zoom. What he misses most about campus is the community aspect, the simple joy of walking through the Massey or JACC lobbies and running into friends. Rivera says he has been able to make some great friends throughout his four years at Belmont, and it feels great to continue to stay connected with them throughout online learning.
One of Rivera’s favorite experiences at Belmont was starting off his senior year with Welcome Week as a member of Orientation Council. This had been a moment that he and the other members of the 2019 Orientation Council had been preparing for about a year. Rivera says it was the most rewarding the process to meet families in the summer, welcome those new freshmen back in the fall and watch all of the Towering Traditions leaders take the steps to lead their students and transition them into their college journey at Belmont.
Belmont faculty have left a lasting impact on Rivera. One of his most caring and influential professors was Cristi Williams who taught Personal Growth and Fame. Most importantly, he says she taught him about how to care for himself and listen to others. Williams’ class was so impactful on Rivera he hopes to one day continue his education and possibly pursue a career as a life coach in the entertainment industry.
Although his post-graduation plans have been postponed, he still plans to move to Los Angeles soon to pursue a career in professional dancing. His internship with a talent agency in L.A. helped him see the value of pursuing his passion and how hard work can make dreams reality. While Rivera misses taking classes at the local dance studio and meeting up with friends on campus, he has taken this time to adjust and enjoy time with himself. He has found it is okay to slow down during this time and now has a new perspective on making the most of being home. To younger students at Belmont, he says, “Please try everything. You have the time and space to really try anything you want at Belmont even when you don’t think you do. Trust me. Make the most of your friendships, get involved on campus and learn to take time for yourself and enjoy college.”
From Orange County, California, Hamilton Sparks majored in corporate communications with a Theatre & Drama minor. While COVID-19 has distanced her from many of her favorite people, she has been staying connected through phone calls, text messages and emails. She is thankful for the technology that allows her to keep in touch with friends.
The biggest thing Sparks misses about being on campus is the time with her Theta sisters. As a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, she was soaking up the last semester with chapter meetings, social events and senior “lasts.” There are many memories from Belmont that she will carry with her post-grad, but her favorite is Greek Sing. Sparks had the opportunity to participate in Greek Sing as both a member and dancer with Kappa Alpha Theta, as well as from the directorial team with Panhellenic Council. This event is full of life and fun, but most importantly raises money for Belmont’s Greek-wide philanthropy, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She says to be a part of a giant dance party that makes a difference is unlike anything else!
Belmont’s faculty has been a huge part of Sparks’ college experience. She is thankful to have learned from so many wise and caring professors in her time at Belmont. One of her most impactful professors was Dr. Amy Schmisseur. Dr. S’s course on Emotions in the Workplace was the first course Sparks took in her major and the poise, expertise and gentleness of Dr. S truly inspired her. Dr. S helped Sparks fall in love with her study of communications, and she feels beyond blessed to have had her as a piece of her educational experience.
Post-graduation for seniors at this time can feel somewhat hazy with the Coronavirus and its effects. But Sparks is staying positive and soaking up the sunshine while at home in California as she searches for open opportunities. In the meantime, she is continuing her internship with Jackson National Life Insurance Co. on their Corporate Philanthropy team. She is also enthusiastically launching an Enneagram e-course with Communications professor Dr. Jeremy Fyke after graduation and hopes to see their hard work on the course take off in the corporate training world. She feels fully equipped by her experience at Belmont to jump into the “real world” and is ready to see what God has next for her.
During the new experience of social isolation, Sparks is thankful for the time she has at home with her family of five all together again. She has also dedicated time to power through her work, listen to inspiring podcasts, and read important books. She has made it a priority in this time to be grateful for the many blessings she does have and to give back in the ways she can. The practice of gratitude and self-reflection has allowed Sparks to manage this experience with what positivity she can find. Though everyone is experiencing different things and feeling differently during this time, it is Sparks’ hope that her fellow Belmont students are finding a little sunshine each day.
“Be brave,” Sparks says to the younger students of Belmont. “Take that one fun class, introduce yourself to that WELL Core speaker and throw yourself into any dance party you stumble upon. Getting involved in college was scary for me and I was slow to put myself out there. But now, the friends I have made have become my truest, dearest friendships that I will cherish forever. So be brave in each situation you find—great things will come of it.”