The diversity and importance of Black-owned businesses in Salt Lake City

Story by KAYLA LIEN

It is 5:45 a.m. and Timothy Horton Jr. has just started his day. He wakes up his daughters, 2 and 4, and gets them ready for school. After dropping the 4-year-old off, he then heads back home, toddler in tow, and starts to create.

A Chicago native and University of Utah alumnus, this father of two is the CEO and founder of Koda’Fe, a luxury streetwear brand based in Salt Lake City. 

An assortment of new products from Koda’Fe. Photo courtesy of Timothy Horton Jr.

Horton came up with the name Koda’Fe back in 2009, but didn’t really start putting his ideas down on paper until 2016, when he legalized it as a limited liability company (LLC). Koda’Fe is actually an acronym for “Keeping Our Dreams Alive For Eternity,” and with “fe” being the Latin word for “faith.”  Horton notes that “a lot of positive energy went into creating this name.”

This idea of positivity and growth is the base of Koda’Fe. It’s all about “bringing everyone together,” Horton said over Zoom. “Koda’Fe is a brand for every culture. …  Koda’Fe will be focused on uniting everybody and ending racism in general. … I say it every time, Koda’Fe is bigger than a fashion brand and I stand on that.” 

Koda’Fe boasts a substantial Instagram following, with big names such as Rayjon Tucker of the Philadelphia 76ers and Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks being seen wearing the brand’s clothing. 

However, the support hasn’t always been there.  

Growing up, Horton said his mom “didn’t really understand.” Having been in and out of fashion since he was eighteen, Horton always knew what he wanted. His mom, however, was strict about having a stable job that paid well. He has since earned a degree in economics. While certainly useful in the long run, Horton repeatedly pushes the concept of listening to “nobody but yourself.”

Koda’Fe is part of a growing number of Black-owned businesses in Salt Lake City. Minorities make up 22.3% of Utah’s population, yet a little under 7% of Utah startups are minority-owned. While that statistic looks bleak, as of 2013, three areas in Utah (Ogden-Clearfield, Salt Lake City, and Provo-Orem) experienced a growth of at least 40% in minority-owned businesses.

Mikell (far right) and Stephanie Brown (left) and their kids wearing T-shirts from Edify Collective. Mikell is the vice chairman and events committee lead for the Utah Black Chamber. Photo courtesy of Tabarri Hamilton.

Across the city, Tariq Staton puts in a nine-hour work day before going into his garage to get started on orders. Staton, the founder and co-owner of Utah-based clothing brand Edify Collective, juggles a full-time job to support his family on top of running a company that isn’t yet profitable. 

“We haven’t taken any money out of the company. Everything that we make is either donated or put back into marketing or apparel or new designs and things like that,” Staton said in a Zoom interview. “Our goal is to just put out good product and put money back into the community and things we believe in.” 

Edify Collective donates 15% of its profits back to the community through providing youth therapy sessions and supporting nonviolent movements fighting social inequality. Incorporating this message of positivity and unity was something the brand had wanted to do from the beginning. 

Within the first trial week, the company raised $1,000 for the NAACP. Six months after that, Edify Collective donated over $2,000 to the Utah Black Chamber.  

Moving his toddler out of view of the screen, Staton said, “When I was a minority youth, it was hard for me to express anything I was going through at that time to either my family or my friends. … Just speaking for the Black community, I know that it’s taken as a sign of weakness if you talk about … struggling with depression or talking about suicide and things like that … they’re shown as weak. So a lot of people don’t talk about it, but we want to bring that forward and say that it is OK.”

Edify Collective got its start in June 2020 after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were thrust into the limelight, having been killed by police. Staton’s wife wanted to do a photoshoot wearing shirts that were meaningful, with graphics depicting themes of unity and togetherness. After that initial photoshoot, Staton said, “We got a lot of people asking, you know, like where do we get the shirts and where can they get them.”  So, the Statons turned it into a business. Since then, Edify Collective has put out numerous T-shirts and hoodies, as well as beanies, the latter with a little help from a company called Embrogo.

The Embrogo trailer camper at Ironsmith Coffee in Encinitas, California. Quinell Dixon (left) hands an item to a customer. Photo courtesy of Jenna McKay.

It’s a snowy evening in Salt Lake City and Quinnel Dixon has logged onto Zoom from his phone. “Can you hear me? My son busted my phone,” he says. Dixon sports a dark blue cap with the words “EMBROGO BRAND” stitched in bold lettering.

Quinell and Adrienne Dixon are the owners of Embrogo, a business founded in 2017 that curates  “personal embroidery on the go.” Embrogo boasts small batches of personalized baseball caps, beanies, tees, patches, and even shoe tongues. It was an idea for a “side hustle,” Quinell said, not intending to be much of anything. However, the Dixons realized there was a market for this type of embroidery, whether it be for a small business or an individual wanting items for themselves. 

Adrienne is the one sitting behind the embroidery machine, while Quinell is out in the community promoting the business. Their company saw a really positive impact once the Black Lives Matter movement took the spotlight, both in sales and customer support.

“People wanted to speak about what was going on, right, and they put it on their apparel,” Quinell says. “Another thing that happened, too, is people started to realize that, hey, we may not be able to do things right now when it comes to police brutality, when it comes to unfairness and injustice. But what we can do is support the people who are still around, who are people of color.”

The community has really embraced Embrogo, says Quinell, who adds, “We’re also glad that people are starting to really realize that small Black businesses is very far and few in between.”

Buying from small businesses has become a trend since the pandemic hit, one with gratifying results for many company owners.

Within the United States, there has been a tangible shift toward supporting local businesses, especially those owned by people of color and women. The U.S. Small Business Administration reports in 2020, the number of small businesses in the U.S. reached 31.7 million, which is 99.9% of all U.S. businesses. However minority-owned businesses make up only 18% of that, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.  

Supporting small businesses is essential, Quinell says. “You put the money back into your own economy and your ecosystem thrives. Not necessarily with revenue, but thrive in areas of being able to take care of their families. … Small business is bigger than just another ticket or another dollar or another revenue. [The owners] support their families on it.”

The rise of Utah’s standout e-commerce company during the pandemic

Story and photos by SKYLAR YENCHIK

The development of tech start-ups within Utah over the last decade has accelerated both innovation and the creation of high-paying technical jobs. The growth of the tech sector has been so impressive that the area, which houses a long stretch of companies ranging between Salt Lake City, and Provo, Utah, has been dubbed Silicon Slopes, with the epicenter being located in Lehi. 

The term “Silicon Slopes” was coined by Josh James of DOMO, who also founded a widely successful company called Omniture that was acquired by Adobe Systems in 2009 for $1.8 billion. James created this term as a reference to the original Silicon Valley located in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is legendary for its creation of some of the first high-tech companies dating back to the 1970s.

Silicon Slopes in Lehi, Utah.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have reached a point of stagnation in which they are no longer growing, largely due to a halt in economic expansion. E-commerce, however, has exploded and continues to build and innovate due to an influx of business as citizens have turned to online shopping. 

Route App Inc., the foremost e-commerce company in Utah, more than doubled in size in 2020. Starting with only eight employees upon opening in 2018, Route now has upward of 350 employees, and the mobile application is number 35 on the list of most downloaded apps in the App Store. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses to close their doors to the public, Route is helping customers stay connected and maintain a positive shopping experience. As the name suggests, Route allows users to accurately track all of their packages in a single application, as well as provides its customers shipping insurance to ensure the safe delivery of packages. Route not only enables single users to track their packages, but provides a format for businesses to provide streamlined tracking for customers with this platform.

Steph Black, head of talent and culture at Route, said in a Zoom interview that she was one of the first 50 employees at the company. Route has now outgrown several office spaces as the company continues to expand, currently occupying a very large office space at Innovation Pointe in Lehi. 

Innovation Pointe offices in Lehi, Utah.

Route plans to create more than 3,000 high-paying technical jobs in Utah in the next 10 years. This expansion will greatly stimulate the local economy, and is also an exciting opportunity for local graduating university students. 

This rapid expansion and success is in large part due to the unique customer experience that Route aims for, and there are no other competing e-commerce companies in Silicon Slopes. The other part, Black explained, is Route’s value of unique, creative, and innovative employees. “Culture at Route is incredibly organic,” Black said. “We focus on hiring the right people.” 

Black also stated, “E-commerce has been on a steady growth path for 10-plus years. What happened during the pandemic kind of catapulted e-commerce forward at least an additional five to eight years. Demand for individuals to purchase what they need online, and also for businesses to transform their offerings to this growing space. A lot of businesses had to pivot very quickly in order to offer and meet their e-commerce demands.”

Route is revolutionizing and changing how consumers view e-commerce. Route has recently released a unique feature, the Discover page, on the app. This feature allows brands to directly communicate with consumers using targeted advertising. 

University of Utah alumnus Nick Lloyd is one of five software engineering managers at Route. He said about the development of the Discovery feature, “Our latest large scale initiative was around a feature set that we call ‘Discover,’ allowing people to see new things in the app from different merchants.” 

After exploring the Discover product, a Route customer will find that Discover is helping unearth interesting brands some may not ordinarily purchase from. There is very engaging content to showcase the brands, and customers can even shop directly within the app.  

Over time, Lloyd said in a Zoom interview, the aim of the Discover product is to analyze the purchasing behaviors of customers and connect them with unique and relevant brands, both local and international. Both the shopping and purchasing will remain in Route’s app, essentially creating a new e-commerce marketplace.

It is this kind of innovation from this local e-commerce company that has led to Route’s rapid growth and exciting expansion. 

Lloyd said Route has created many student internships since expanding, and has interacted with the University of Utah to get students involved in the company. Though Lloyd was hired on directly as an engineer, he has participated in recruiting events targeted toward U students, specifically in the engineering field. Route is also very active in reaching out to students at the U through the Handshake portal.

Lloyd personally reflects on his University of Utah experience as having been full of passionate people like himself when he was in the Computer Science program. “One of the things I really felt like I got from the University of Utah was a strong sense of community,” Lloyd said. At Route, he feels that there is the same kind of important community. 

Since the U puts such huge emphasis on innovation and helping to build creative minds, employment at Route is a great opportunity to capitalize and build on that innovation and creativity.

“It’s really interesting to be a part of e-commerce in a time like this,” Black said. “So many companies closed their doors unfortunately during these times, and e-commerce has only opened theirs wider.”

Maintaining the connection and sustaining the spirit on University of Utah Greek row in the midst of a global pandemic 

Story by EMMA SELLERS

Dealing with COVID-19 has been no easy feat for institutions and organizations across the globe this past year, and each has experienced hectic changes, including college Greek life. University of Utah’s Greek life is doing its best to smoothly transition to the world of virtual living and social distancing. Though this “new normal” is not ideal, keeping the community alive and strong is a priority for all sororities and fraternities across campus. 

This year has been unlike any that the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life has encountered before, and many challenges have arisen. The greatest being that all events are required to be virtual, and a large aspect of Greek life is having a connected community. It is hard to create a close-knit community when people never get an opportunity to see one another face to face. 

This challenge has been especially hard on freshmen. Any previous year attending the University of Utah and going through the recruitment process guarantees meeting new people and making new friends. Whereas this year, when the opportunity to hang out with the people in your fraternity or sorority is limited, it is much more difficult to bond. 

Alpha Phi President Katya Benedict enjoys a socially distanced 
and masked bid day event in September 2020. Photo courtesy of Katya Benedict.

Alpha Phi President Katya Benedict said in a Zoom interview that the Panhellenic Council was “worried about the number of women who would attend recruitment this year.” They believed that it would be a very scarce group of women. Yet, this year went better than they could have expected, and more women signed up for recruitment than in any past year at 550 compared to the usual 400.  

Yet, many questioned if joining Greek life and paying the dues was worth it this year, when in-person events were very limited. Matt Economos, the freshman vice president of programming for Sigma Phi Epsilon, said his decision to rush this year was worth it because he now has “a solid group of mentors and a support system to rely on.” 

Recruitment was fully virtual for both fraternities and sororities, according to the University of Utah Greek life homepage. Only very small and limited groups of people can meet together, and events need to be approved by the Panhellenic & Interfraternity Council offices. Although the houses of each chapter are not owned by the university, the members are still required to follow the rules of all students as if they were living in university-owned housing.

Though most events are required to be virtual, certain smaller events are allowed to be in person with many safety guidelines being established. Economos conducts small and safe events, such as pairing together older members with new members in masks and socially distanced. He wants each event to present an environment all parties feel safe in. Also, outdoor activities such as snowboarding and hikes can allow for active members to still engage with one another and remain healthy. 

Matt Economos stands with other members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon executive board as they participate in a philanthropy event. Photo courtesy of Matt Economos.

A big part of Greek life is the concept of traditions. Traditions that have been passed down for decades through each chapter. Benedict, the Alpha Phi president, expressed the difficulty this year because “many of the events are ritual based, so when members cannot be personally involved it feels less special.” 

Despite this difficulty, the executive boards of each chapter are putting in their best effort to keep all members engaged and excited. Benedict believes that “individually the community has stayed strong within each chapter,” but as a greater Greek community she feels they have lost strength. This year everyone was more focused on themselves and figuring out their own plans, rather than supporting all chapters’ endeavors. She believes next year the community as a whole will regain the strength they once possessed. 

Tracey Mai, Panhellenic vice president of membership, says her main responsibility is to “foster and build relationships between chapters and a good environment all around.” She said it is easier to hold certain events virtually, such as the alumni panel, because more people can attend. Yet, the greater challenge is encouraging active members to attend events virtually. 

A main reason that virtual events this year had a low attendance was due to communication and marketing. Mai said in a Zoom interview that she is “learning how important marketing is and taking that into account next year.” Oftentimes members don’t know what is going on until it is too late. 

Benedict said if she could go back and change anything about the past few months, she would “open a greater stream of communication between active members and executive members.” She believes every participant of Greek life deserves to know all the information regarding COVID-19 and be a part of the process of safety measures at every step of the way. 

One of the many images that is posted to encourage Greek life members to practice healthy COVID-19 precautions and safety measures. Photo courtesy of UofUsororities Instagram.

The Instagram pages of the different sororities and fraternities are one of the main forms of marketing that each chapter uses. Not only do they post about upcoming virtual events, they also are very informative about COVID-19 procedures. They each encourage wearing masks and social distancing, and even have “challenges” different weeks where members show on their Instagram page how they are being proactive in staying healthy with COVID-19 precautions. This might entail wearing masks along with wearing chapter letters and taking a photograph. 

Just as this virus has been extremely unpredictable these past months, so has planning for next year. Greek life executive boards have no idea what next fall will hold yet, but they are hoping for the chance to have more in-person events. Regardless, they plan to follow all city and state guidelines. If in-person activities are not possible though, they feel more prepared to better function next semester after having experienced this previous year. 

Greek life has experienced a year like no other, but has pushed through better than anyone had expected. Mai said the main goal continues to be “keeping up morale and safety within the community.”

Utah hospital ensures stability for employees during COVID-19

St. Mark’s Hospital knows how to take care of its employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Story and photos by MIKEN MCGILL

Health care providers at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City are being supported in ways they couldn’t imagine during COVID-19. While other hospitals in the United States were laying off health care workers, this company was ensuring that each employee would be taken care of.

St. Mark’s Hospital, located on 1200 E. 3900 South, is owned by HCA Healthcare Co. out of Nashville, Tennessee. The mission statement of the company is, “Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.” This goes for not only the patients of the hospital, but also their own employees.

Visitors see this engraved wall when walking into the hospital.

There are many areas that St. Mark’s covers for their employees, including “emotional, mental, and spiritual support,” says Kelly Brimhall, vice president of human resources. “From our 24/7 hotline to our Employee Assistance program, St. Mark’s Hospital provides free mental health care. In addition, we also employ a full-time Spiritual Care department, who also provide constant support in all of those areas.”

He goes on to say, “Any employee can use the Employee Assistance Program if they are experiencing mental health issues, work-related exhaustion, or stress in their personal lives. The program offers a hotline and also availability to line up to a psychiatrist, social worker or other behavioral health care worker. They can also attend a virtually or in-person counseling if needed.”

Spiritual Care offers onsite support for health care providers who need a break from their job. It is provided Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. in the chapel. Spiritual Care colleagues offer a calm, safe place to talk or meditate. The team also traveled to each department to give out uplifting notes to let the employees know they are appreciated.

At the national level, HCA is committed to ensure no jobs were lost during the coronavirus pandemic from the start in March and going forth to today. “In fact, we paid our colleagues 70% of their wage to stay home when there were no patients to care for. Our top executives willingly took 30% pay cuts in order to ensure no colleagues were lost and all employees were able to continue to provide for their loved ones,” Brimhall says.

The hospital offered quarantine pay for all employees. “This pay was for colleagues that tested positive for COVID-19 and included full pay for the 14-day quarantine period for the days they were scheduled prior to contracting the virus,” says Trent Pulley, manager of PBX/Unified Police/Screeners.

“A new opportunity came through called ‘pandemic pay,’ which employees could take when hours were slim and offered to them that pay period in place of paid time off.” He excitedly says, “Having this offered aid all health care providers in knowing they will have income.”

St. Mark’s employees brought their concerns to upper management regarding accessibility to basic groceries during these challenging times. Employees were finding it hard to get to a grocery store that would be open after their shifts. Pamela Martinez, senior center office specialist, says, “Part of the cafeteria was turned into a makeshift store where employees could purchase items such as milk, bread, cheese, vegetables, toilet paper, etc.” It was very much appreciated by the employees through the whole hospital.

The hospital also saw a lot of outside support from the community. Martinez says restaurants provided about 300 meals a day, bakeries offered desserts, florists delivered flower arrangements for the hospital and for employees to take home, and more than 100 companies donated care packages.

“The Volunteer Department at St. Mark’s has a program through Intermountain Therapy Animals, in which animals visit patients,” Martinez says. “When COVID-19 struck, the animals were not allowed to come into the hospital, so ITA and the department collaborated to bring the animals together outside on the patio a few times during the pandemic for employees, patients, and their families to enjoy the animal presence.”

Hospital sign when turning into the main entrance.

Trent Pully, the manager of PBX/Unified Police/Screeners, says, “As far as physical health, St. Mark’s offers access to the hospital gym as well as incentives to participate in Spring into Fitness and Fall into Fitness. This is a program that allows employees semiannually to participate in a competition individually and as a team. Points are rewarded through the hospital’s point system and can be exchanged for gift cards, electronics, and other items.”

Many employees have said that the hospital has taken great care of them during hard times. Hernan Garcia Cervantes, radiology concierge, says, “If I had to compare it to other hospitals, I know St. Mark’s did more.” Cervantes adds, “From what I have seen on the news from other hospitals with healthcare workers asking for more PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), more staff, union protesting. I believe they did a lot for us.”

Kelly Brimhall, vice president of human resources, says, “For me personally, it’s not as much about me versus our colleagues and their challenges. My goal as an HR professional is to ensure all obstacles are removed from the path of my colleagues to ensure they can focus their efforts on caring for our patients. It was also a great blessing to be able to provide the vaccination to our colleagues. Hope has been restored.”

Youth sports and a global pandemic

Story by JACK DALTON

Sportsmanship, Perseverance, Optimism, Respect and Teamwork (S.P.O.R.T.) are the core values of the local Park City, Utah, nonprofit, Youth Sports Alliance (YSA).

Founded shortly after the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, YSA aims to get more kids in the Park City area involved in winter sports. YSA does this two ways, first by providing after-school programs to students in first through ninth grade in the Park City area. And secondly by providing direct scholarship funding through the YSA Stein Eriksen “Dare to Dream” Scholarship Fund to higher-level dedicated athletes (generally high school students), who simply cannot cover their own cost of tuition, training, or travel. 

Today, after-school programs remain at the core of what it does. Beginning in first grade, students can explore nearly 30 summer and winter sports on early release school days.

That program is YSA’s Get Out and Play program. According to the website, Get Out and Play introduces kids to as many sports and skills as possible. They can try everything from alpine skiing and snowboarding to speed skating or mountain biking and everything in between. They can also learn things such as basic camping skills. This program is offered up through fifth grade and is open to all elementary school students. 

Gracie Barre Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been added to the lineup of programs for April’s Get Out & Play and ACTiV8 Fridays. This six-week class is held at the studio. Photo courtesy of Heather Sims, YSA’s program director.

Once students hit middle school they can continue their Get Out and Play experience through ACTiV8. ACTiV8 was developed in direct collaboration with middle school students. According to the website, it provides unique experiences to develop eight of what YSA calls “lifestyle qualities”: Accountability, Confidence, Equality, Inspiration, Kindness, Leadership, Respect, and Versatility. ACTiV8 is available to students in sixth through ninth grade.  

The Stein Erikson “Dare to Dream” scholarship is the last big piece of YSA’s community involvement. According to the website, the fund is a need-based scholarship, provided to deserving athletes in any of YSA’s seven partner programs such as Park City Ski & Snowboard or Wasatch Freestyle. 

On an annual basis, YSA gives out thousands of scholarship dollars to hardworking young athletes in the community who would be unable to compete without funding support. Since 2014 this scholarship fund has brought in right around $2 million for athletes, according to YSA.

Just like every individual, every business, every corporation, COVID-19 hit nonprofits hard. YSA was no exception. The initial lockdown began in Utah on March 13, 2020. At that point, YSA was quickly forced to cancel and refund all of its after-school spring programs and it immediately started its COVID response planning, which YSA Executive Director Emily Fisher said “was just totally reactionary.” 

It also pretty quickly became apparent that most of the key annual events were not going to happen. Jans Winter Welcome, for example, YSA’s biggest annual fundraising event scheduled for fall 2020 was quickly canceled months in advance.

Of course, YSA was eventually able to get the Get Out and Play, and ACTiV8 programs going again sometime in mid-summer, with time and with new COVID safe protocols. And since then, Fisher said in a Zoom interview, those programs have been a massive success at getting kids back outside and active. Seeing their friends, getting in a healthy activity, and building a healthy lifestyle.

Raising scholarship dollars and hosting fundraising events proved to be a slightly bigger challenge, according to many within the organization.

This pandemic year has also resulted in more permanent changes for the organization. And while they were able to host their annual golf tournament over the summer, Jans Winter Welcome became a campaign of direct asks over nearly six months rather than a one-night gala. This campaign turned out to be highly successful for YSA as it raised more than $250,000 according to chief fundraising officer Jana Dalton.

So, what led to this successful campaign in an unpredictable, everchanging pandemic year? 

Unlike many other nonprofits or charities, YSA did not seemingly serve an immediate purpose in a pandemic year. It was seemingly, somewhat non-essential. There are plenty of nonprofits that helped with immediate relief, but YSA and organizations like it are the more unsung heroes of this past year. 

Thor Kallerud, a longtime donor/board member and new board president, said, “Most critically obviously is helping make sure people have food on the table and are healthy.” And in that sense, he said in a Zoom interview, “YSA is kind of the second tier behind essential nonprofits, serving a value to students in the community, by getting them outside, keeping them active, and helping them forget and hopefully improving mental health.” 

YSA has survived this pandemic year thanks in large part to the community around it. Thanks to loyal donors and generous sponsors YSA has a great reputation within Park City. And when it comes to the success of the organization, the proof is in the pudding. Over the last two decades, YSA has contributed heavily to the success of local winter sport/Olympic legends in the community such as Ted Ligety, Sage Kotsenburg, Billy Demong, and Steve Holcomb.

Local legend Ted Ligety with current PCSS athletes at Park City Mountain. And feel free to follow YSA on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Photo courtesy of Heather Sims, YSA’s program director.

As YSA continues to grow and continues to support the youth of Park City after fighting through the past pandemic year and as it continues to instill each of its core values in amateur skiers and future Olympians alike, longtime donor and new board member Tom Litle said, “With YSA, there is an opportunity to just do more of the good stuff.” 

 

Community during COVID: How University of Utah student groups are staying connected

Story by MIRANDA LAMB

Students at the University of Utah, much like the rest of the world, were sent home in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes and extracurriculars online. In the fall of 2020, students were partially brought back to campus with classes offered in a hybrid-style. This largely consisted of online teaching, and classes that were able to meet in person had spaced-out seating and mandated masks.

A return to in-person academics was made a priority, but the lack of in-person community was a persisting challenge. Campus organizations, which rely on student engagement, have worked hard to stay connected to undergraduates during the past year.

The Panhellenic community, made up of seven sororities, has found success in not only staying connected, but also in growing its community. The Panhellenic President Erin Doyle said in a Zoom interview that rather than decreasing their sisterhood events or weekly chapter meetings, sororities have worked hard to adapt these events to be online.

In August 2020, Panhellenic hosted its yearly recruitment completely virtually (although they were able to have a partially in-person bid day). Despite this unprecedented challenge, it had more women register than in 2019, and several houses saw the largest member classes that they had seen in years.

Part of Delta Gamma’s fall 2020 new member class at their bid day, wrapping up a fully-virtual recruitment. Photo courtesy of Anna Henderson.

In February 2021, several sororities participated in a successful spring recruitment. Notably, Doyle said Delta Gamma was able to welcome a spring member class of 15 women, the first spring member class that it’s had since 2015.

Members of the community miss being in person. However, Doyle said that through social media the “supportive aura of the community has been making everyone feeling more connected.” Doyle also praised the houses for their creativity. Rather than just meeting up in the park for a picnic, women have hosted virtual Jeopardy games and Zoom “speed dating” events for new members of the house to meet everyone.

The LGBT Resource Center is another resource that is “making sure there are still opportunities to be in community,” said Shelby Hearn, the coordinator of education and outreach, in a Zoom interview. Its members had to think more creatively. Similar to the Panhellenic community, one of its biggest challenges has been the loss of its in-person offices and its student lounge.

Hearn said that pre-pandemic, “my door was open and students could come through. I definitely saw a lot more casual conversations — they see a picture of a cat on my desk, and talk about that, then eventually are talking about a coming-out strategy.”

The center has responded to this challenge by offering drop-in hours, Zoom appointments, and a virtual student lounge hosted via Discord. Discord will likely continue as a resource post-pandemic, Hearn said. “It remains really relevant to our students. They can dip their toe into the community while still remaining anonymous.”

Discord also allows students to find a more a relevant community. “Students can sign up for more specific channels, i.e., queer students of color, or a channel just for grad students,” Hearn said.

Although the center has seen a decrease in participation in its one-time events like its movie screenings and panel events, it has still seen consistent participation in some of its other events like its “fab Friday” hangouts (now over Zoom). It has also seen an increase in its one-on-one scheduled meetings along with the successes from the Discord channel.

Another community that has seen successful connection despite the pandemic is the Bennion Center.  BobbiJo Kanter, the associate director of student programs, said in a Zoom interview that several of its programs have had more student involvement than they did pre-pandemic.

A wall in the student union building (where the Bennion Center is located) dedicated to the Public Service Professor Award given by the center. Photo by Miranda Lamb.

The service corner located in the new freshman residence hall, Kahlert Village, has been heavily used by students. She said in an email interview that “students (and anyone from the campus community) have the opportunity to participate in projects that do not require any previous training or a significant time commitment.”

Bryce Williams, the student programs manager at the Bennion Center, said in an email interview that students have taken advantage of “ʻgrab and go’ opportunities” while still being safe. He said that they will “participate in some of our projects while watching a movie in their residence hall rooms or while they’re in a virtual class to keep their hands busy.”

Kanter said in a Zoom interview the center has also involved more students with its Alternative Breaks programs. These used to be offered at various locations across the world. However, due to travel restrictions, it has shifted to “hyper-local breaks” taking place in Salt Lake City. These are offered at no cost, which has allowed them to be accessible to more students. Kanter said this option may remain post-pandemic.

Despite its current success, getting up and moving after the initial shutdown was a challenge for the Bennion Center. Kanter said at first, “everything stopped, there were groups of students who were ready to help, but didn’t know how to.”

The Bennion Center emphasizes serving its community partners, focusing on listening to and serving their needs. Kanter said for those partners, “their priority has to be their community and their staff, so those people take priority then volunteers come after that.” It took some adjustments on both the part of the Bennion Center and its partners to navigate how to allow volunteers to help in the way they want to, but also in a way that is safe for and serves those in need.

The center has had to shift the way that it hosts its larger service projects as well. For example, the Legacy of Lowell service project typically brings in 800 to 1,000 people. However, this year participation was capped closer to 200 people, with volunteers broken into groups of 10 at each site.

Kanter said because of the smaller sizes, “we don’t get that same sense of community. People were still interested, we reached capacity. There is a demand, but for safety, we have to keep things smaller.”

Beyond just pandemic-related changes, Kanter said that the murder of George Floyd and the surrounding protests in May 2020 “mobilized students to show up — whether physically or mentally and internally,” and brought attention to “some of our systemic issues.” She said “this year had brought people together around activism. I’m not really sure we saw that with our students before.”

To serve this increased interest in activism, Kanter said in interviews that every two weeks, the Bennion Center has been virtually hosting monthly “community conversations” with other on-campus partners, namely the American Indian Resource Center, the Black Cultural Center and the Peace and Conflict Studies program in the College of Humanities. They are focusing on dialogues about “about what is happening and what they can do to change it.” She said these talks have been received well by the campus community.

Dean McGovern, the executive director of the Bennion Center, said in an email interview that “the topics vary and sessions have attracted more than 825 faculty, students, staff, and community members over the course of the dialogue series.”

Despite the changes and challenges from the pandemic, these communities were able to stay connected. The creativity and resilience of their members even resulted in solutions that will continue to serve students when in-person life continues. As Kanter said, “This year gave us an opportunity.”

How COVID-19 has impacted Utah’s live music industry

Story by SKY NELSON

You’re in a crowded room, bopping your head to the beat of the music as you weave your way through other dancing, sweaty bodies. Maybe you have a drink in your hand, and you are on your way to your friend’s table. Everyone around you is laughing and talking over the music, but all you care about is one of your favorite songs blasting through the speakers, being played live right in front of you.

You’re at a concert and you feel amazing as the energy around you surges through your veins. You feel the drums in your feet and the bass in your chest. You finally see your group of friends and make your way over to them, smiling as you exclaim, “What a fun night!”

George Kelly, founder of Keys on Main, during a live performance. Photo by Rita Mangum.

Except, you probably haven’t been to a concert in months. You are more likely to be in your pajamas right now, reading this from the comfort of your couch.

Since March 2020, the live music industry in Utah, as well as across the globe, has been struggling. Unlike other industries that keep the economy going, the live music industry’s hardships are unique because the product it’s selling isn’t a tangible thing, but rather an experience.

“Live performance puts an emphasis on people coming together and enjoying something that is spontaneous and is an experience and an event,” said Jordan Saucier, a Utah musician. He was speaking by Skype while he was driving to Elko, Nevada, with a colleague to do a paying gig.

Saucier is the definition of a working musician, meaning all of his income comes from performing live with his array of different bands he participates in, working in studio recording sessions, and teaching private guitar lessons.

Despite having a bachelor’s degree in commercial music from Snow College and a master’s in music technology from Southern Utah University, Saucier said his income took a hit “big time” when everything shut down March 14, 2020.

In 2019, Saucier was playing three to seven gigs a week, every week, totaling 135 performances. One of his groups — No Limits, a party band — traveled all around the country for paying gigs. He said the money he made from those live performances accounted for about two-thirds of his income that year.

Now, Saucier only performs locally once or twice a week, which is much better than how he was doing last spring. Because of the pandemic, all his gigs scheduled throughout 2020 got cancelled, and he didn’t get booked anywhere for over 10 weeks. Teaching guitar lessons brought in some money for him, but a lot of his students quit lessons during the first stages of the lockdown.

In one month, he lost an estimated $5,000 and calculated a loss of about $30,000 for the remainder of 2020. Saucier said he realized he needed to “diversify” his income in order to stay on his feet as a working musician. He was able to start his own business called Casino Entertainment Group in which he produces, manages, and books bands for casinos.

Keys on Main, a dueling piano bar franchise founded by local musician George Kelly, has seen hardships as well. Kelly’s two locations in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, have been completely shut down for a year. The Keys on Main in California was forced out of business in the spring of 2020.

Thanks to government assistance and the fact that Utah has been “looser” regarding COVID-19, as Kelly said, Keys on Main in Salt Lake City, 242 S. Main St., was able to re-open in May 2020. Due to the new capacity restrictions, sales went down about 30 percent, and the company had to hire more staff because it had lost 23 employees while Keys on Main was closed.

The Salt Lake City Keys on Main has reopened to patrons for live performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Photo by Rita Mangum.

The local dueling piano bar managed to stay afloat throughout the summer and into fall, but on Nov. 9, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a mandate banning alcohol sales after 10 p.m. Keys on Main was able to get through those four weeks of the alcohol ban, but sales were down 50 percent, Kelly said.

This decline in sales isn’t just tough for the business, but for its musicians as well. One of Kelly’s friends, David Holloway, is in a popular Mardi Gras jazz band that played for high-paying, huge events before the pandemic. For Mardi Gras this year, the band performed in Salt Lake City’s Keys on Main for free because the musicians were itching to perform on stage and had no other gigs lined up, Kelly explained.

Of course, it’s not all about money. It’s about the music!

Excellence in The Community is a nonprofit organization that has been showcasing Utah musicians since 2005. “We’re trying to help Utah musicians, and we believe that by helping Utah musicians have better performance opportunities and more performance opportunities, and by having these concerts be offered to the public at no charge, we’re helping Utah communities,” said Jeff Whiteley, founder of Excellence in The Community and a musician himself. “The potential contribution of these fabulous musicians of all genres has generally been overlooked, so that’s where we come in.”

On a recent Friday night, Whiteley was at the Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, setting up for a livestream concert featuring the Xiné String Quartet. The performers and volunteering staff had their temperatures taken when they entered the building and then they filled out forms about COVID-19 symptoms. It showed the organization’s dedication to safety and health as it worked to put on a quality livestream performance.

A behind-the-scenes photo of Excellence in The Community producing a livestream featuring the Xiné String Quartet. Photo by Sky Nelson.

According to Whiteley, the organization has produced over 910 shows in total since it was founded in 2005. The Gallivan Center is the headquarters of Excellence in The Community and has hosted most of its concerts since 2006.

Before COVID-19, the nonprofit put on big band dance events every Tuesday night, where everyone could go to have a music and dance-filled night with their loved ones. Better yet, the local musicians got more exposure, a top-tier stage to perform on, and a regular paid gig to look forward to.

Excellence in The Community’s big band dance event. Photo by Lex Anderson, official photographer for Excellence in The Community.

Since March 2020, Excellence in The Community has had to adjust in order to continue helping local musicians. That support is needed even more now than it was before. Instead of cancelling concerts, Whiteley said the organization has doubled its shows and has put all efforts into producing livestream concerts.

The nonprofit produces a livestream concert every Wednesday and Saturday night, showcasing some of Utah’s best musicians in a variety of genres. Despite a huge loss of funding in spring 2020, the livestreams have proved to be a success. Since that March, the organization has reached over 7 million views in total, according to the website.

“Music is a spiritual experience. Music is a recharging experience,” Whiteley said. That’s why the volunteering staff with Excellence in The Community do what they do. Livestreams are a great way to keep local musicians in business during this pandemic, but they are not equal to live performances.

As musician Jordan Saucier said about live performances, “The musicians are reacting to each other, reacting to the audience, and the energy exchange between all these people is a unique thing at each event.”

COVID-19 boosted the earnings of a South Korean beauty company, while others faced bankruptcies

Story by YEH-RHYM CHEON

Masks have become essential to survive in this dark world.

It is now impossible to see the bright smiles of children or eat delicious food in crowded restaurants. We cannot even breathe in the fresh air of the coming warm spring at will.

After COVID-19 hit South Korea in 2020, life before the pandemic no longer exists.

Over the past year, the pandemic has changed many aspects of our daily lives. In particular, the high bankruptcy rate of small- and medium-sized enterprises harmed the economy in South Korea.

According to Gyeonggido Business & Science Accelerator, the business situation of companies in South Korea deteriorated in 2020. Particularly, hard-hit were small businesses, companies with less than $1billion in sales, and companies with fewer than 10 employees.    

Countless small- and medium- sized enterprises are suffering from extended social social distancing and lockdown due to the COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Francesco Ridolfi.

For small- and medium-sized enterprises that provide face-to-face service, the mandated social distancing and long-term shutdown systems make it difficult to operate and maintain the business.

Eun Kyoung Kwak, CEO of Norang EAT Academy (노랑EAT학원), has been running an education business located in Siheung, South Korea, for 14 years.

It was her pleasure to run supplementary classes such as art, mathematics, English, and Korean for elementary school students. However, her happiness will no longer exist.

“Because of the COVID-19, numbers of students have left our academy,” Kwak said in Korean over the phone.

To prevent the spread of the COVID-19, the South Korean government continues to extend the social distancing period, including the ban on gatherings of five or more people.

In order to retain students, Kwak has been offering online classes. Nevertheless, it was difficult to guarantee a high quality of teaching due to various limitations such as a lack of internet knowledge and difficulty controlling students online.

Kwak confronted financial difficulties as the number of students declined. There was no other option besides reducing the number of employees.

“I am now exhausted facing these situations caused by the pandemic. I should have dismissed them to maintain my business,” Kwak said. “I just feel sorry for the fired employees.”

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the unemployment rate in South Korea has surged as many small- and medium-sized enterprises have been going through hardship with the business operation.

Yuna Lee was one of the victims who lost her job due to the COVID-19.

Since 2019, Lee had worked part-time for six months at a mathematics academy located in Seohyeon, South Korea.

At the academy, she could take the first step towards her dream of becoming a teacher.

“Even though it was a part-time job, I worked hard because I love both children and teaching. Also, it was a great opportunity to build my career,” Lee said in Korean in a phone interview.

While she was working hard and doing well as the instructor, the COVID-19 hit South Korea, and the tragedy began.

Like other companies, her academy also suffered financial problems from the COVID-19, and Lee eventually got fired.

“After being fired, I had to find a new job to make a living,” Lee said. “But, the reality did not allow me to do it.”

She said that other companies are not hiring new employees but rather reducing the number of employees.

Lee could take this situation as she knew how COVID-19 affected society, but now she has to handle her financial challenges.

While many people are facing economic difficulties, there is a company that has benefited from the COVID-19.

OTK Corp. is one of the small beauty companies located in Asan, South Korea. Han-Jong Kim, CEO of OTK Corp., started his business in 2010 by selling facial sheet masks.

The facial sheet mask is a beauty product made of non-woven fabric containing essence, moisturizing the facial skin.

When COVID-19 just hit South Korea, there was a limit on the number of masks purchased due to a lack of mask supply.

While everyone lined up to buy the masks, Kim turned this situation into an opportunity.

Kim produced masks out of his company’s sheet mask material. Thanks to the COVID-19, he was able to increase sales. Photo illustration by Pauline Yeh-Hyun Cheon.

“I could manufacture tons of masks with a non-woven fabric, which is a material of our sheet mask,” Kim said in Korean in a phone interview.

As a result, his product diversification strategy, applying the mask supply shortage situation, played a crucial role in increasing sales and income by 70%.

However, Kim was also worried about the situation after the end of COVID-19. He foresees sales and income to decline as the supply of masks increases over time.

Kim said that new problems arise with new social situations all the time. He added, “It is one of my challenges to resolve as a leader in an organization.”

Although Kim could generate more sales from the pandemic, he hopes for an end to COVID-19.

As an entrepreneur, Kim knows how difficult this situation can be for other companies.

He also knows that not only many companies but employees and consumers are struggling with COVID-19.

He believes that the economy of South Korea will recover when the pandemic is over. Hence, everyone will be able to live a better life than we are now.

“Even if it is impossible to take off the mask right now,” Kim said, “we will be able to breathe in the hot summer air that is coming up.”

An inside look at the University of Utah’s baseball program

Story by DANNY BAEZA

Photos by BRAD LAPP

Everyone knows that being a student-athlete is extremely difficult. But, does anyone ever think to ask, “What goes into the day-to-day process of being a Division I baseball player?”

The University of Utah has an outstanding athletic department with nationally ranked teams such as football and gymnastics. However, other sports such as baseball seem to go unnoticed.

One such example is Utah baseball — another outstanding program belonging to the Pac-12 conference in the NCAA.

So, what does go into getting the ball moving on a day-to-day basis, and what does it take to be a baseball player?

“In the fall, it usually starts with a lift in the morning around 7 am. Then, I get some breakfast to refuel after the lift. Next up is class from 10 a.m. to1 pm. From class, I head over to practice which usually starts at 1:30 p.m. Once we finish up there at around 5 p.m., I head up to get some dinner, then head home to get done with all my homework and hopefully in bed by 11 p.m.,” says Justin Kelly, a redshirt junior on the pitching staff.

Justin Kelly gets set to deliver to home plate.

Kelly is the Friday night starter for the Utes, considered by many to be the leader of not only the pitching staff, but also the team itself.

When it comes to what it takes mentally, Christoper Rowan Jr., a redshirt junior on the team says, “It takes a mature mental approach because baseball is a game of failure and if you get down on yourself you can continue to spiral downward.”

Rowan enters his fourth year with the team listed as a catcher/utility player.

Concerning the academic aspect of being a student-athlete, Kelly notes, “If you can put forth the energy to be successful on the field, you’ve got to be putting that same energy in the classroom.”

First-year athletes are expected to complete two hours of study hall a week. Along with the study hall, players are given tutors when needed and are counseled by the athletic academic advisor.

Behind the scenes, Logan Nehls manages all the logistics of getting a Division I baseball program rolling. Recently, he was awarded the position of director of operations for the program after working as an equipment manager within the Utah Athletic Department.

“I’m responsible for a lot of the logistics of the program, whether it’s coordinating meals, buses, or travel accommodations,” Nehls says.

Nehls has had his hands full. As the season gets underway, he not only has to focus on how to travel, feed, and house 35 people, but also do it while juggling COVID-19 precautions.

Athletics come with a toll, especially in a sport as mechanical as baseball. Justin Kelly suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his freshman year, forcing him to sit out for 22 months. “I had never been through any sort of injury before, let alone something as serious as Tommy John Surgery. I leaned heavily on my teammates, friends, family, and training staff to keep my head in a good place while I was getting back to good health,” Kelly says. Tommy John Surgery being the process of repairing a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow.

Christopher Rowan Jr. throws down to second.

Rowan, on the other hand, has had to go under the knife twice to repair an injured shoulder. “The second surgery crushed my spirit,” Rowan says. “I lost my love for the game for a while and if it wasn’t for my little brother pushing me and being there for me when I needed him I would have given up.”

Baseball is a game of failure. A player with a .300 batting average fails 7 out of 10 times, yet he is still considered an all-star. Managing those seven failures thus additionally makes baseball a mental game.

Rowan admits, “It’s inspiring to see little kids who want to be just like you. Kids who look up to you because you have made it this far.” That is what motivates him to keep pushing forward.

For Justin Kelly, his family motivates him. “I want to get to the point where my family is financially taken care of and I can say I’ve gotten to the point where I belong where I should be.”

Remembering to focus on what motivates them is what helps these athletes continue on, and to push through the demanding lifestyle of a student-athlete.

Not only is college baseball a difficult business, but it is another social outlet for these young men.

“I’ve created relationships that will last the rest of my life here. Some I may even consider family, that’s how close we have become,” Rowan says.

When it comes to relationships with coaches, Justin Kelly says, “I consider them sort of father figures where if I’m having any life issues or problems, I know they will take the time to listen to me and help me out the best they can.”

Kelly has advise for the next generation of ballplayers. “Don’t be discouraged when things don’t go your way, just put your head down and get back to work.”

Rowan says, “I would say that if you dream it you can achieve it. But, dreaming is only part of what needs to be done.”

Division I baseball is a difficult lifestyle, but when it comes down to it, it is nothing but young men playing a game they love.

How has remote education affected some University of Utah students?

Story by MATTHEW GRANT

Remote learning and Coronavirus. The two seem to go hand in hand, but what is the actual reality of remote learning and how has it affected some University of Utah students?

As the public works to combat and work around the current state of the world, students across all platforms have begun to adjust to remote learning. Meanwhile, professors have committed to transform their curriculum and course schedules to create a safe and educating way of learning without being physically present in the same classroom as their students. 

This has been made possible by virtual classrooms, and online participation groups or activities. 

Essentially the material would stay the same, but the process in which we learn it would be different in the way that it is virtual and from our own homes. 

Jack Geil, from Reno, Nevada, is currently a senior at the U studying finance. 

Geil studied in Sydney, Australia, in spring 2020 as part of the Eccles Global Learning Abroad program. [https://eccles.utah.edu/students/global/] Geil described his time in Australia as nothing short of exceptional.

Geil’s time abroad was cut short and forced him to travel home six weeks early because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Geil was required to finish the semester 100% online. 

“After leaving Australia I was already in quite the funk and disappointment, and on top of that we were required to learn and adapt to a completely new type of learning. It really took the fun out of it,” Geil said in a FaceTime interview. 

Geil, who typically takes five courses a semester, said he acknowledged his past struggles with remote learning and opted to take a lesser schedule during the fall of 2020. Geil noted that he almost deferred the semester as a whole, before recognizing that he was only a semester away from graduation and he thought it would be best to push through. 

Geil described his current semester as a time of growth. “I’ve learned to be comfortable from working in my own home. I have always needed the library, a classroom, or a place null of distractions to properly address my school work — not anymore,” Geil said in an email interview.

Among other things, Geil said it has allowed him more time to address other things in his life, such as the gym, golf, and friends, which he says is all necessary for himself to succeed in school. 

Another student was Sofie Arrivillaga. She graduated from Park City High School and is currently a communication major. 

Arrivillaga said in a FaceTime interview she has typically taken up to one online course a semester and enjoys them as “an escape from campus.” 

However, Arrivillaga explained how this semester was different from her online classes in the past. Citing her contemporary dislike of the current circumstances, she said it seems as if the classes she is now taking online were not designed to be taught that way. The transition has been less than easy, Arrivillaga said. 

She said she believes her focus has mostly remained the same, though admits she has at times floundered due to the lack of in person and scheduled engagement. Arrivillaga said specific classes in particular have caused this. She said “quantitative research and studio classes have been most difficult” for her this year. 

Arrivillaga compared the quality of her online education to in-person instruction. 

“I don’t think my education has reached the same level as previous semesters because I felt that a lot of my curriculum is all essentially busy work and not necessarily work that is expanding my knowledge,” Arrivillaga said. 

Arrivillaga said her online courses lack student responses and live debates, and instead focus primarily on lectures and note taking to prepare for a specific test rather than actually educating and understanding the curriculum.

Levi Pompoco is a senior studying business at the U and aviation at Cornerstone Aviation in Salt Lake City.

Pompoco, who is typically consumed between school, flying, and work, has said he has found peace and availability with remote learning. It offers him a more flexible and relaxed course schedule while being able to fly more than any past semesters. 

“Remote learning allows me to do everything from home and gives me more time to fly and work,” Pompoco said in a FaceTime interview. 

Jakob D. Jensen is the associate dean for research in the College of Humanities and a professor in the Department of Communication.

Due to his administrative role, Jensen typically only teaches one course a semester. Jensen, who has also never offered an online class before, said in an email he “decided to add COMM 3580 because I wanted to create a new, and fun, experience for students during the pandemic.” COMM 3580 during the fall of 2020 was an online based lecture class that showed how marketing campaigns differentiated during a pandemic.

Jensen said that the lack of live student response can cause teaching to feel very static. Noting that he typically reacts to students and enjoys being shaped by their thoughts, he wrote, “That is [harder] to simulate in online education.”

He added, “Staying focused while listening to lectures. Staying on track,” are some of the effects of online instruction.

Jensen said that though it is different, he believes it is best to keep moving forward.  He said he would continue going to school if he were in a similar position. “In the short run, I think online education can get the job done. In the long run, I don’t think it is the same experience. I really think smaller courses are hurt by it.”

“I think it is easier to replicate the experience of a large lecture class,” Jensen added. “I also think you have to adapt. I really felt like the fall semester started to click.”

How teachers are handling the Coronavirus pandemic

Story by DARIENNE DEBRULE

The emotional and physical health of students has been at the forefront of the discussion surrounding the reopening of Utah schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers across the state are also struggling to adapt to the changes caused by the pandemic. 

In the summer the Utah State Board of Education did not require school districts to create protocols for responding to the virus. Each district was expected to create its own plan, which resulted in Salt Lake City School District moving to online classes completely, 16 districts moving to a split schedule and 25 other districts allowing students to attend in-person as normal, according to AP News.

Corner Canyon High School with an empty parking lot as the school transitioned to online learning for multiple weeks in the semester. Photo by Darienne DeBrule.

The coronavirus pandemic and lack of instruction by the districts made it so individual schools were expected to provide training to teachers regarding online instruction. However, the amount of instruction actually given was dependent on school administration and teacher coaches, said Amber Rogers, Corner Canyon High School government and history teacher, who teaches both online and in-person sections.

Teachers had to change the way they prepared for the upcoming school year since many districts opted for hybrid learning. So they had to get ready for in-person classes and were also expected to become well-versed in online instruction seemingly overnight. 

“A lot of teachers were on the verge of a breakdown,” Rogers said during a Zoom interview.

Many teachers, including Karen Millenbach at Indian Hills Middle School, frantically tried to convert their lessons onto Canvas in the allotted time before the school year. 

The front of Indian Hills Middle School with signs posted to differentiate between student, teacher, and parent entrances. Photo by Darienne DeBrule.

“It’s exhausting, even for the most experienced tech people,” Millenbach said in an email interview. 

Teachers have also been limited in their interactions with students. This has led to many educators feeling disappointed because they are unable to give their students the same quality of instruction and support as before.

The quality of online instruction has been questioned as many believe it is subpar to in-person instruction and that there is no substitute for in-person learning, according to “Pros and Cons of Online Education” by Dhirenda Kumar.

Middle school student Trinity Trimiar does research for her upcoming math project that she will submit online. Photo by Darienne DeBrule.

Rogers said over Zoom that in-person learning allows for teachers to teach a lesson and have students ask clarifying questions throughout the lesson. However, if online instruction does not take place through that platform, teachers are expected to just upload online lectures. This does not allow for students to ask real-time questions.

“Every day I have office hours during my class time, but it’s optional and only a few kids come online for content,” Rogers said. “Learning is on them right now.”

Rogers said she believes the lack of engagement from her high school students is the hardest part about teaching in this new normal. She became a teacher to help kids connect the pieces together that make them excited and passionate. But she wants to keep them safe so she will do whatever needs to be done. 

Rogers was the Canyons School District’s Teacher of the Year recipient in 2018 and she is doing everything she can to help her students be successful in this unprecedented time. 

Teachers are finding different ways to keep themselves safe inside the classroom, but some of their precautions can be hard for them emotionally.

“Teaching from my desk can be a very sad and frustrating thing,” said Millenbach, the teacher at Indian Hills Middle School.

Due to the size of her classroom, students can only be placed 3 feet apart. After having a student test positive for COVID-19 and other students rotating in and out of quarantine, she decided to teach from her desk to avoid circulating around the classroom to prevent the possible spread of the virus. 

Karen Millenbach in front of her home with a sign acknowledging her teaching efforts during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Lauren Millenbach.

While online teachers are not faced with the same in-person pressures of avoiding a COVID-19 classroom outbreak, they are still struggling to create relationships with their students via online platforms. 

Natalie Culine, an online elementary student teacher, said in a Zoom interview, “It is hard to be so far from my students, know they are struggling and not be able to offer as much support as I would like.” 

In addition to the hardships online teaching has created, teachers have also been subject to the mental and emotional stress caused by the pandemic. 

Student teacher Natalie Culine poses in front of Liberty Elementary School pre-COVID, smiling about her classroom experience. Photo courtesy of Natalie Culine.

A few weeks after schools first closed, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence reported that many teachers were experiencing overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety, and confusion — the same feelings that many are currently having. 

“When our school days are over I feel emotionally exhausted and worn down,” Culine said in a FaceTime interview.

She misses the in-person interactions with colleagues and students, but said she would not feel safe if she was teaching in person. 

In-person teachers also have to deal with the emotional stress caused by being at a high risk for exposure to the virus. 

Rogers said she has not been able to visit her parents since the start of the pandemic because they have underlying health conditions and she is exposed in the classroom. 

Amber Rogers, far left, visiting her mom with her siblings before the start of the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Amber Rogers.

Political leaders and community members have debated whether it is the federal government’s, the state’s, the district’s, or individuals’ responsibility to keep teachers safe. 

Rogers, the social science teacher, drew on her knowledge of government to reflect on the debate and said, “It’s a constitutional gray area because there is no precedent for it.” 

Teachers across the state will continue to follow the guidelines set in place by the health department, school districts, and administration as the United States enters flu season. 

Project Homeless Connect: COVID-19 changed its plans, but not its commitment

Story and photos by JANE KREMER

Oct. 9: This would have been the day where service providers, volunteers, and the majority of those experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake County would meet at the Salt Palace for services to be rendered and received. But, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the plans.  

Project Homeless Connect, a nonprofit organization run by its committee and volunteers, holds a service event for those experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake County annually in the fall. 

According to the organization, among the most popular services provided by this event are medical, dental, vision, and haircuts. In 2019, 125 service providers and 900 volunteers aided over 1,000 people currently experiencing homelessness, with over 3,000 services provided. 

Project Homeless Connect’s fall 2019 service event at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City.

Mike Akerlow, executive director for Project Homeless Connect in Salt Lake City, started the organization here in 2017 after attending a panel discussing homelessness and PHC in other cities across the U.S. 

Akerlow, who worked for the mayor of Salt Lake City at the time, gained traction for PHC through resources and press coverage from the mayor and support from the community. 

The Salt Lake City Library and a Veterans Administration program, Project Stand Down, had held events similar to those previously conducted by PHC. As Akerlow assembled a team for PHC, he incorporated those programs into the event. 

After running the Salt Lake organization for three years, Akerlow said the organization has been able to improve each year by making its steering committee stronger and refining services provided to people experiencing homelessness. 

“Every year we look at how do we make this the best experience for everyone coming,” Akerlow said during a phone interview. “I think the point of it is to make sure people [experiencing homelessness] are getting connected to the right things.”

In 2020, however, Project Homeless Connect has had to change its events due to the health and safety restrictions of COVID-19. 

Originally, PHC planned to hold events every Friday in October at different homeless resource centers where service providers and volunteers would meet to aid the population. Then, with the surge in cases of COVID-19 in late September, the events fell through.

“Once cases started going up, some of our service providers also got a little bit nervous, so they decided to pull out,” Akerlow said. “And it made sense, we didn’t want to expose people who are experiencing homelessness.”

One of the biggest challenges for the committee this year was reducing the number of 900 committed volunteers down to 20 volunteers due to health and safety restrictions.

Volunteers, from left, Nate Kremer, Robyn Kremer, and Mandy Allen collect donations from community members at a donation drive in October 2020.

“People in our community want to help. I think there’s a lot of people out there who don’t have organizations that they already go to or belong to, and they’re looking for ways that are more meaningful than the traditional service opportunities,” Akerlow said. “And Project Homeless Connect provides that for a lot of people.”

Rethinking how PHC will continue to serve in 2020 and 2021 has been challenging with new information daily surrounding COVID-19. Committee member Natalie Clawson, one of the logistics coordinators for PHC, said the centers that the team planned to visit went the whole summer without a positive COVID-19 test result. 

But as the rise in numbers of COVID-19 in Salt Lake City became more prevalent, PHC had to postpone bringing the services to the centers. 

“The executive directors at all the centers totally understood why we needed to postpone the events,” Clawson said during a phone interview. 

Clawson, who’s been a part of PHC since the first year as a volunteer, said her job description this year is far different than a normal year. 

“At first it was very scary,” Clawson said. “But then as you dig into it, you’re like, you know what this is an opportunity to create and to get everything on its head and rethink what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.” 

Reinvention, as Nicole Handy, the other logistics coordinator for PHC, said, is what this year is all about. 

“As we know, nothing is easy about 2020,” Handy said in a phone interview.  

Handy said the committee knew it wanted to keep the same values and goals while delivering the services this population needs. 

“There is something really rewarding of going in and organizing this event that overall has a really positive outcome,” Handy said. “We are excited when we are able to get back into the centers to really bring some of those high priority [services] in.”

The Project Homeless Connect team held donation drives throughout October, accepting donations such as clothing, hygiene items, and pet care products. It also had a donation link on its website, and had an Amazon wish list that members of the community donated to. 

Bags of donations waiting to be distributed to homeless resource centers across Salt Lake County.

For spring of 2021, PHC plans to return to the original idea of visiting the homeless resource centers weekly to provide services, meals, and donations. Members of the community can learn more about volunteer opportunities for PHC in 2021 and sign up through the website.

The committee for Project Homeless Connect, according to its website, has committed to the idea that “COVID-19 has changed the plan but not our commitment to serving our homeless friends.” 

As Mike Akerlow, executive director for PHC in Salt Lake County, said about the first year, “We did it, somehow we did it.” Little did he know, the very same thing could be said about Project Homeless Connect in 2020 and 2021. 

Beehive Sport and Social Club coming up on 10-year anniversary

Story by DYLAN VALERIO

One night after a long day behind his desk working for the big tobacco company Marlboro, Dave Marquardt realized he wasn’t happy with the career path he had taken. He sat and thought about how his life was going.

He realized one of the only things that brought him joy was playing kickball with his friends after work at River City Sport and Social Club. It was a place where he could have fun, let loose, and relieve himself of stress. 

However, the people running the club weren’t friendly to their participants. Then the life-changing idea popped into Marquardt’s head: He recalled thinking he could do the same thing as these guys, but significantly better. The idea of Beehive Sport and Social Club was then born. 

Marquardt soon quit his job and moved back to Salt Lake City from Richmond, Virginia. He then called his old friend James Accettura to invite him into his idea. Accettura quickly agreed without hesitation. Marquardt credits him with helping the most along the way. 

Now, Beehive is approaching its 10-year anniversary as the only adult sports club in the Salt Lake City area where adults can have fun while also staying active.

Beehive’s website currently lists 11 different leagues. They consist of multiple sports ranging from cornhole and pickleball to the more traditional kickball and softball. All the leagues are co-ed. Players pay a fee to participate in each league with the price varying for different sports.

Beehive, founded in 2011, hasn’t always been what it is today. When the club first started, it didn’t offer 11 sports, but just one. It has taken dedicated hard work to build Beehive to its current position. Most of this didn’t happen in the beginning or all at once, but instead throughout the years.

Accettura said starting Beehive wasn’t difficult, but still required them to do new things such as building schedules, writing rules, and finding equipment. The pair had never done any of this before and it pulled them out of their comfort zone.

“Thankfully, me and Dave’s skills are complementary so we would both work on everything together and strengthen each other,” Accettura said in an email interview.

Marquardt and Accettura agreed they didn’t want to make the club about the sports, but instead about the people playing them. Marquardt said they wanted to serve not just ex-jocks looking to relive their glory days, but also people who just wanted to have fun too.

“The point has to be to introduce people to a fun environment where they can meet people and enjoy the games,” Accettura said. “Building personal relationships is the most important thing for us.”

Beehive is a place where people, especially those new to Salt Lake City, can find a social life and meet new friends. Marquardt said in a phone interview that in their 10 years, Beehive has been responsible for “65 marriages, 24 babies, and about 1,000 one-night stands.”

According to Ryan Chisolm, a current participant in one of Beehive’s leagues, this is exactly what Beehive has done. Chisolm, also known by his stage name Bangarang when he performs as a DJ, has been a participant in the club for about seven years.

“You meet some really cool people. Everyone here is dope,” Chisolm said in an email interview. He added that Beehive creates a fun and safe environment. “You can be yourself and no one cares.”

Chisolm is one of about 10,000 people who participate in Beehive each year, Marquardt said. In order to create a positive environment for so many people, the club has 80 part-time employees who have an extremely large role. These employees include referees and social-media specialists who “define the league,” Marquardt said. 

Marquardt, Accettura, and all of Beehive have continued to try to make the community and their participants the main focus of the club. This has been more difficult this year compared to any other due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. 

Beehive is sport-dependent and participants are always in close contact. This means coronavirus had a better chance to affect Beehive compared to other organizations. According to Marquardt, 70-80% of sport and social clubs across America have been forced to go out of business because of coronavirus.

The beginning of the pandemic was the most uncertain time for Beehive. According to Marquardt and Accettura, they had to shut down from March 12 to July 6, cancel one of their biggest events of the year, and push all their leagues to the next season.

During the shutdown, Beehive still continued to try to bring their participants together. “We organized movie nights, weekly Zoom Trivia, and Zoom Bingo,” Accettura said. Beehive is also planning a bingo night for the University of Utah.

Now, leagues are reopen, and Beehive is doing everything it can to make sure everyone is safe. For example, Beehive doesn’t play any sports indoors, it requires masks for all participants, has people use sanitizer, and cleans all equipment regularly. “The main thing we have done is try to create space within the games,” Accettura said.

Looking back on their 10 years, Marquardt and Accettura are proud of what they have been able to create and that it’s lasted so long. No matter what they have faced, they have tried to put their participants first in order to create a community where people are able to have fun and be themselves. 

Even as Marquardt looks back on the past success of the Beehive Sport and Social Club, he looks forward to its future. “When I die,” he said, “I want this to keep going without me.”

Grief work: the process of loss against a backdrop of chaos

Story and gallery by ALEXIS PERNO

When you walk into the small front lobby of the Serenicare Funeral Home, the first thing you notice is the pleasant yellow walls. 

The second would be the dark wooden desks opposite each other. 

The third is a small, yet striking detail; next to the ubiquitous tissue box is a new fixture — a bottle of hand sanitizer. 

Francis Mortensen, funeral director of seven years, sports a surgical mask as he stands alone in the Serenicare Funeral Home’s small viewing room.

Francis Mortensen, Serenicare’s funeral director of seven years, is wearing a blue surgical mask as he speaks to a client on the phone, mid-interview. I pause the recording as he talks. When he finishes, I smile, thinking back to his earlier comments about the upcoming weekend.

“You weren’t kidding when you said a funeral director’s job never ends.”

Mortensen laughs in agreement, and we speak for 20 more minutes. 

The pandemic hasn’t changed Serenicare’s process all that much: when a death occurs, the home, located at 2281 S. West Temple, is notified by a hospice nurse or social worker. Then, the home contacts the family to learn their desires and arrange pickup of their loved one. A time to meet with the family is set, and plans for a service are put into motion. 

However, this face-to-face collection of information between Mortensen and a grieving family has been replaced with online forms, emails and phone calls. Precautions are taken that weren’t before. Instead of simply straightening up the meeting table for his next client, Mortensen spends time sanitizing before returning the ever-present tissue box and hand sanitizer to their respective places. 

“We do have to have different precautions,” he said. “When we are going to a facility, I used to never ask, ‘Do they have an infectious disease?’”

Early in the pandemic, Mortensen and his team would suit up in complete protection gear to even step foot into a room with a deceased person, regardless of if the person had died from COVID-19. Now, greater precautions are only taken if the deceased was positive at the time of death. 

“That comes down to not only a time thing and a stress thing but also a financial thing because of purchasing all that protective equipment,” he said. “It’s just going to be thrown away.”

Although the death rate in Utah has remained low compared to hard-hit places —  773 deaths as of Nov. 20 compared to New York City’s 19,517 — changes still have made themselves known.

With the sudden lack of in-person, open-casket viewings, embalming is not taking place. To comply with social distancing guidelines and church closures, funeral services have been replaced by graveside services at the cemetery. More families have begun to choose cremation, causing changes in the revenue stream. 

But for Serenicare, Zoom funerals have worked well. During one service with over 100 attendees, Mortensen was completely alone in Serenicare  — save for the casket. 

“All of the speakers did their talk from a different location, so [Zoom] worked very well in that aspect. It was different not having anybody here,” Mortensen said. 

Preschool teacher Shanna Beesley lost her mother, JoAnn Peirce, on June 15, 2020. While her mother’s death was unrelated to COVID-19, the family decided to limit the number of people who could attend the service to just Beesley’s siblings, their children and Peirce’s siblings.

As Beesley and her family met at Larkin Sunset Gardens in Sandy, Utah, over 100 people attended virtually through a Zoom organized by the family.

“I think it’s been harder for sure to grieve but you know what, at least we have our family,” she said in a Zoom interview. “That’s No. 1. We had our family there, and so that was helpful.”

Despite some technical difficulties, Beesley said attendees were thankful to be present, albeit virtually. 

In Peirce’s obituary, it’s written that “family was her most priceless treasure.” When things become overwhelming for her daughter, family ensures perseverance as well. 

“I hold on to all the great things that [my mother] did for me and the impact she made here,” Beesley said. “The memories and love of family, supportive family, that’s what I hold on to.” 

These infographics were originally created Nov. 15. In the five days between creation and publication, case counts increased by 2,625.

The stark necessity of social distancing has made mourning into a greater challenge, according to Francis Mortensen. For some, it isn’t enough to be notified of a death. Seeing a loved one for the last time at a viewing can be a vital step for someone to work through their grieving process.  

“Death is the definite factor in all of our lives, and understanding that, some people try to deny it to the greatest extent,” Mortensen said. “Those tend to be those that have the greatest difficulty feeling [grief] in different aspects.”

Jessica Koth, the director of public relations for the National Funeral Directors Association, agrees that grief is a powerful force. 

“We often think that we can move on from a death and find closure, implying there is some endpoint where grief ends,” Koth said in an email interview. “However, as anyone who has lost someone they are close to, you never quite get over their death and your life is changed because they are no longer there.” 

While the Wisconsin-headquartered NFDA has worked with the federal government to plan for mass-fatality circumstances for over a decade, the pandemic has been the biggest challenge to date. Calls increased as the organization worked with federal agencies to provide personal protection equipment and information to funeral homes across the nation. 

Koth said she couldn’t imagine what the experience had been like, especially considering that the majority of funeral homes in the United States are small and family-operated. 

“Day in and day out, funeral directors everywhere continued to serve families with the same level of care and compassion they always exhibit; they never missed a step,” she said. “I have never been prouder to work at NFDA than I have these last few months.”

Funeral and memorial gatherings are often crucial parts of both the mourning and healing process. Grief becomes even more complicated now as individuals also experience non-death losses. 

Within Serenicare Funeral Home, a bottle of Germ-X hand
sanitizer sits next to a tissue box in an effort to slow the spread of
the coronavirus.

“Some may be concrete and easy to identify, such as financial or employment insecurity and lack of social interaction,” Koth said. “Other losses might be harder to recognize, like no longer having the comfort of our normal routines or freedom of movement in public spaces.”

As grief evolves with the times, one constant remains: the image of the hand sanitizer next to the tissue box. But no matter the environment, the process toward healing can — must — begin somewhere.

The University of Utah and COVID-19

Story by CHANDLER HOLT 

The University of Utah had to change many things about the 2020-21 school year to account for the COVID-19 pandemic just like thousands of other colleges around the United States. Whether it was cancelling the majority of in-person classes or changing hours for many spots on campus where students can shop or eat, the student experience had to be altered coming into the school year to make sure that all students could attend college without contracting the virus and putting others at risk. 

COVID-19 made itself prevalent at the beginning of 2020 and has turned into a worldwide pandemic with over 225,000 fatalities in the United States alone. Some colleges such as University of Colorado Boulder and the University of North Carolina did not put enough restrictions in effect and had to add additional more-intense precautions after the schools had large COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The University of Utah emailed all students in September 2020 letting them know that the college had only a 0.5% positivity rate through the first month on campus. This translates to only 16 positive cases with over 3,000 people living on campus for the year. This number was one of the lowest in the U.S. among other Division 1 colleges. Despite a spike of positive COVID-19 cases in the Salt Lake Valley in November, the U has altered procedures as necessary and kept cases on campus as low as possible. 

Craig Caldwell, a professor in the Department of Film and Media Arts, said he had never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic in his 40 years of teaching. He said in a Zoom interview that many smaller disasters had occurred but nothing to the level where “students can’t interact.” Caldwell said he felt the U had done a tremendous job handling COVID-19 and he would give them a grade of “one thousand percent.”  

Cameron Vakilian, an academic advisor in the Department of Communication, shared a similar answer to Caldwell and agreed that he had never seen a calamity on this level where drastic changes had to be made to ensure the safety of every student on campus. Vakilian added in a Zoom interview that the only disaster in recent memory that brought a similar amount of distress was the murder of Lauren McCluskey that occurred on campus. McCluskey was a student athlete who was majoring in communication, which adds to the devastation that Vakilian as well as so many others felt after her death. 

Vakilian said the U has done a tremendous job handling the COVID-19 pandemic and said the university has taken the situation very seriously. He added that it is very hard to lock down a campus and a lot goes into it, but the U did it for the safety of everyone on campus. The U also has an effect on the rest of the Salt Lake Valley based on its response to COVID-19 just due its proximity. With this being said, it can be inferred that all the surrounding cities benefitted from the U handling COVID-19 so well. 

Hayley Kievman, a graduate student who also teaches an anthropology course, compared the distress from COVID-19 to the distress a hurricane would bring to a small island. Despite it being her first year teaching a course, Kievman said in a Zoom interview that she definitely noticed a difference in how professors/teachers can interact with students. She described continuous virtual meetings and classes as “awkward.” She has experience teaching younger students so that is what she based this observation on. Kievman was also quick to point out that she has seen a large dip in student participation and student focus as well. 

All three individuals said the biggest change to their work life brought on by COVID-19 was the majority of work being moved online. They also agreed it was more convenient to talk with students, but it wasn’t as personable and maybe not as effective in terms of building, or establishing, rapport.  

Caldwell brought up that body language is a very key part of communication and it’s very hard to read body language over the internet or through a webcam. Caldwell, an all-online professor even before the COVID-19 pandemic, explained that he saw way more changes in his job than he expected despite being strictly online. 

In conclusion, the U rose above the criticism and put in a large variety of rules to combat COVID-19. These rules promote social distancing and being educated on how to avoid contracting the virus. The U should be admired and studied by other colleges in the U.S. on how to deal with the pandemic. All rules that were changed in response to COVID-19 will be re-evaluated at the end of the semester to see if any changes can be moved back or slightly altered for the students’ sake. 

A glimpse into online college learning at the University of Utah

Story and photos by REEDE NASSER

Instead of facing hundreds of students or a few professors, students and staff at the University of Utah have been experiencing our new normal this 2020-21 school year due to the pandemic and limiting university events to 20 people. The majority of classes at the U have gone virtual, whether through Canvas Instructure or virtual lectures through Zoom. Education has never been so different. 

The University of Utah’s coronavirus testing center, easily accessible to all students. 

Though online learning is nothing new in this day and age, the ability to sufficiently learn through a screen has become a major point of strife for the U’s students. Students have noted a few issues when it comes to solely Canvas-based classes.

“It feels even harder now, there’s no professor or teaching assistant that can reiterate the information or answer questions quickly. It takes me hours to fully understand the information presented,” said junior Shyann Brown in a Zoom interview. She is currently majoring in accounting.

Another student indicated the lack of seeing their professor in a classroom or joining class virtually takes away from the structure they are used to. Freshman Noah Martin, who is studying engineering, said without a set time to learn and see a professor, classes don’t feel as important. 

Freshman Noah Martin following residence halls guidelines and keeping his mask on while studying.

“The classes where we have to virtually come in, I’m more likely to focus on because there’s more accountability, the professor knows we’re there but when it’s a lesson I lead myself, I will push it off to the last second,” Martin said.  

On the other hand, when students are learning, some worry that they aren’t retaining any information, simply just memorizing. 

“I don’t know anyone in my classes, I have no one to talk to about what I’ve been learning,” said Matt Idlestrom, who is majoring in business. “When I was in a classroom, a lot of information I understood much more after having a conversation with my peers. It was nice to be able to review while we were learning. By the time the exam comes I don’t remember half of the unit because after the lesson I don’t have to focus on it as much.” 

Sophomore Matt Idlestrom adhering to school guidelines by studying in a room alone and keeping his mask on. 

However, the students aren’t the only people struggling with this new form of education. Educators at the U said they too are struggling to navigate this new internet-based way of learning. They have had to restructure lessons, grading policies, learn how to use Zoom and Canvas sufficiently to instruct a class solely on those platforms, and find new ways to keep students accountable and engaged. 

Professors have mentioned multiple frustrations when it comes to this new teaching. They have observed their students keep their cameras off during class, submit assignments late, or be confused about prompts or assignment details that had not been an issue in the past. However, it seems that most instructors are frustrated when it comes to cameras being turned off. 

“[I]t’s hard to see students, it’s hard to read body language, and you know students don’t turn on their camera a lot which I find really frustrating and kind of weird,” said assistant professor, Michael Dichio in a Zoom interview. 

Instructors said they are worried that students are simply just not engaged with at-home learning. Are they really paying attention? Would they reach out if they had a question? Are they comfortable enough on a lesson before their class moves on? To answer their own questions, instructors have been creating and providing more resources than before for their students. Discussion boards, longer office hours, or midterm check-ins. Many of which their students are not utilizing to the best of their ability. 

Once filled with excited students on game day, the university’s stadium is now home to the COVID-19 virus testing center. 

Based on the interviews, there seems to be a major disconnect when it comes to the U’s students and teachers. Both groups are frustrated and confused, just trying to navigate our new normal. Students need to start looking into more active participation when it comes to their classes; participating in class or using the other resources given, turning on their camera, and proactive learning. Instructors could look at starting a weekly discussion where students can interact with each other and their teachers. 

However, the positivity of the situation should be noted as well. Educators and students alike are thankful to be able to learn in times like these. “Logging on to Zoom or Canvas adds a sense of routine and normalcy to my day, something I was struggling to get before classes had started,” said senior Kate Culkin, who is majoring in political science. 

The Mbaki brothers: Studying abroad in Utah

From left: Lawrence, 25, and Kevin, 23, at their home in southern Utah.

Story and photos by TAYLOR THORNTON

The idea of leaving home always intrigued Lawrence Mbaki. The world and all of its corners seemed to call him for exploration. 

It was a long flight from Cape Town, South Africa, to Salt Lake City. One deep breath reminded him that his life would be forever different.

The hot desert air was unlike what Mbaki was used to from the Mediterranean climate back home. Stepping off the plane reaffirmed that his dream to travel the world had just become a reality. 

It was a giant leap. He had never left his home country alone. It was an opportunity that he, an adventurer at heart, had to take as it came to him. However, he didn’t expect that something would threaten the progress of his international journey later on.

“I always wanted to study abroad,” Mbaki said. “The United States seemed like a very nice country where the program I wanted to study was better than elsewhere.” 

Early years in Cape Town

Mbaki had always had a passion for the performing arts. From playing pretend with his two younger siblings to participating in extracurricular activities in school, he has presented himself as a performer and a creative.

Mbaki decided to participate in evangelical work in Johannesburg a few years after graduating from high school. Bubbly and always joyful, it was not hard for him to make friends while there. Among those were several friends from the United States who later helped him find university study opportunities. 

The day finally came in early August 2019. Mbaki packed his bags and made the courageous leap for a new beginning. 

Mbaki began his educational pursuits at Southern Utah University the fall semester of his arrival. He soon reunited with his brother, Kevin, who also moved to southern Utah for school opportunities in early December 2019. 

Lawrence (pictured on the left) and Kevin Mbaki at their home in Cedar City, Utah. In the images below: Lawrence is an ambassador who helps other international students at Southern Utah University; SUU is home to international students from across the world.

“I’m only here because of Lawrence,” Kevin said in a phone interview. “I don’t really have a motive behind being here, besides the fact that Lawrence is here.”

While Lawrence has been pursuing his passion for the arts, Kevin has found a new love for computer science and security while studying abroad.

Things seemed to be going well for the brothers as the spring semester kicked into gear. Suddenly, with the coronavirus pandemic’s appearance in March 2020, a fear of returning home early from their studies abroad hung over their heads.

A contributing factor to an international student’s ability to study in the United States is the number of face-to-face credits they take per semester. The ratio of online to in-person classes can vary due to an institution’s policy. An international student, however, must be registered as a full-time student.

This requirement posed a massive problem for international students as universities and educational institutions began to close their doors and move to a fully online class schedule. 

“I was very fearful,” Kevin said. “I didn’t want to go back to South Africa.”

Fearful as they were, they took to action to maintain their education.

Lawrence has been an international student ambassador at Southern Utah University from his first semester of attendance. He and his fellow ambassadors met with the department heads to decide which course of action to take. 

Would it be best to send the students home to their mother country? Would the current and rapidly changing travel restrictions allow for such a move?

Jamie Orton is a director with the International Scholar and Student Services Office at Southern Utah University. That office has the primary purpose of advising, supporting, and providing aid to international visitors attending SUU. These services include providing students with proper travel advising, employment opportunities, immigration maintenance, and so on.

She worked directly with Lawrence and other ambassadors during this time. 

“[We] held an emergency meeting for all international students in March, right before the drastic adjustments were made due to the pandemic,” Orton said in an email interview. “We encouraged students to consult with their parents and families to make the best decision regarding staying in Cedar City or traveling back to their home country.”

It was a time of thoughtful consulting and rapid decision making for students and university leaders. After speaking with their families, half of the international student population decided to return home due to the coronavirus’s fearful circumstances.

Lawrence and Kevin were not among this group of fleeing students.

A view of SUU’s campus from on top of the student center.

As the situation continued to change, Lawrence said he and his fellow ambassadors worked with the school, in conjunction with the government, to adjust the regulations that are tied to international student visa requirements

The conditions for study set in the visa documentation, as mentioned above, stated that to stay in the country, a student must have an equivalent of nine in-person credits or more and a maximum of three online credits. 

With in-person lectures no longer available to students, the school worked to override the requirement so international students could maintain their visas.

The university succeeded in waiving these conditions after a time of uncertainty. Lawrence and Kevin said they were excited to remain at Southern Utah University.

With eased restrictions, they have both attended hybrid courses that allow them to continue their education and extracurricular activities safely.

Lawrence said he hopes to take his knowledge and experience from studying abroad and open a school for performing arts in his home town Cape Town.

Kevin is enjoying his time in the United States. He said he plans to increase his knowledge of computer science and cybersecurity and someday work in U.S. national security.

The experience of the coronavirus through three immunocompromised young adults

Story by MIABELLA BRICKEY

Stickers on the grocery store floor asking us to remember to social distance, hand-sanitation stations placed directly in front of every public door, and shortened business hours are lingering reminders of the already 223,000 people who have died in the United States due to the arrival of the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 in March 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that wearing a mask in public may slow the spread of the virus.

Life looks differently during a pandemic, and most have come to be well versed in the new changes happening nationwide in response to the coronavirus. The precautionary changes and procedures put into action in response to it are affecting most Americans’ lifestyles and day-to-day routines.

But for three immunocompromised people, their new normal looks very different than the new normal of those with healthy immune systems.

Sophie Dubois smiles for the camera over Zoom. Screenshot by MIABELLA BRICKEY

Sophie Dubois, who works for an in-home cleaning company, struggles with setting and communicating boundaries for her health-safety. She said it has been “hard to navigate.” However, in a Zoom interview she said her biggest concern is, “What if I get COVID from being at work, and then I can’t work?” Ultimately, she’s left stuck between the need for income and the need to protect her health.  

Athena Schwartz holds her coffee mug and smiles over Zoom. Screenshot by MIABELLA BRICKEY

For Athena Schwartz, who uses they/them pronouns, managing their small embroidery business and working at a separate online day job are distractions from the politically charged social media posts.

Most often, the constant stream of online posts feature Schwartz’s community, and even close friends, out and about — and more often than not — without a mask on. The notifications remind Schwartz that most people aren’t in fact practicing social distancing. This leaves them with few options other than to “avoid social media because it just makes [them] angry.”

“When you post on social media, we immunocompromised people see that, and we know that we aren’t in your thoughts,” Schwartz said in a Zoom interview.

“When people with autoimmune disorders or immunocompromised people get sick, it’s a lot scarier. Not only are we more likely to get sick in general, but we’re more likely to become fatally sick from COVID,” Schwartz said. “I once had a near-death experience because I had a UTI (urinary tract infection).”

Being a young adult holds many a responsibility, but it also comes with the excitement of reaching and celebrating significant milestones.

Gaeble Jones sitting in her new studio in Salt Lake City where she creates homemade rugs. Screenshot by MIABELLA BRICKEY

Gaeble Jones said her 20s are looking differently than she planned. During a Zoom interview she sighed and said, “I was expecting to graduate with money in the bank. I was expecting to have the college experience that my dad talked about and going out with friends and partying.”

Being immunocompromised has left Jones with less than her ideal college experience. Still, she’s adamant that she continues trying to live her life to the fullest potential. “I don’t want it to take any more of a toll on my mental health than it already has,” Jones said.

Friends of all three of these individuals are throwing parties, despite the already established dangers with such an activity. “Every single weekend, every single Friday, I’m here in my apartment, and they’re out there,” Jones said.

A masked young woman gazes outside from the safety of her home.

As the world tries to return to some sense of normalcy, the pursuit of one’s career is back in action for most people.

However, for any immunocompromised young adult today, their dreams and actions towards securing future opportunities are still being put on pause. Their health-safety must take priority.

“Every future change for me will be influenced by COVID. I feel so grateful that my job is all online, but that could change at any time,” Schwartz said.

The rest of the world doesn’t seem to be keen on supporting its immunocompromised population. “It just feels like everyone’s against you,” Dubois said. “It feels like nobody understands, and nobody is willing to help or make any accommodations for you.”

Schwartz described one particularly frustrating experience. “It took three months and three doctors notes showing proof of my blood tests so I could get my in-person class moved online.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the pandemic began young adults have reported having experienced “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.”

Research on reported mental health rates for immunocompromised individuals is limited. According to Schwartz, Jones, and Dubois, the ability to manage their mental health becomes more challenging with each passing day. This continual theme of poor mental health contributes to a growing concern for immunocompromised young adults nationwide.

“I think it’s just a lot more real, a lot scarier, and impacts my life more than others because I have more to lose and more to worry about,” Jones said.

Schwartz added, “I think my anxiety and paranoia have gotten worse because I have to be more cautious, and I have to be more aware of everything going on around me more than I already was before.”

All three of these individuals said they felt as if they’ve been assigned the role of mom in their friend group. They are always the safe ones in social situations. “I feel like it gets annoying, and it feels annoying to ask because it once again makes me feel like I’m the bad guy,” Dubois said.

The CDC counts persons with weak immune systems as “those with HIV/AIDS; cancer and transplant patients who are taking certain immunosuppressive drugs; and those with inherited diseases that affect the immune system.”

A total number of 39,718 transplants were performed in 2019. An estimated 1.8 billion Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and approximately 1.2 million people in the United States live with HIV/AIDS today. To put this in perspective, nearly a quarter of the world’s population lives with the daily fears and struggles that come with being an immunocompromised person.

As Schwartz bluntly put it, “Everyone knows somebody who’s immunocompromised, you may not know it, but every single time you go out, you’re probably interacting with someone who’s immunocompromised.”

They added, “Just because you don’t have to experience feeling afraid every time you go outside doesn’t mean you can’t have compassion and be consciously aware of everything that immunocompromised people are going through right now.”

A volunteer holds a swab at a local COVID-19 testing drive-through.

COVID-19 and its mental effects

Story by MAKAYLA HARRIS 

Within a matter of weeks in March 2020, schools closed, businesses shut down, flights were banned, and hospitals were working around the clock to treat thousands of patients infected with what would soon turn into a 21st-century pandemic leading virus. Regulations have ensured that everyone young, old, healthy, or ill has ample opportunity to maintain and improve their physical health.

It is clear that when it comes to physical health, nations are doing the best they can to maintain healthy individuals. But how have regulations, quarantine, and new social norms affected individuals mentally?

Three individuals discuss their experiences this year with COVID-19. Gideon Harris, a therapist and counselor in San Antonio, Texas, said, “One of the biggest things that I am seeing is the recognition of codependence on people and unhealthy coping skills.” 

Gideon Harris is a father of four boys and is aspiring to open his own therapeutic practice. Photo courtesy of Harris.

People are now realizing that they base much of their happiness, success, and value on their peers and colleagues, Harris said in a Zoom interview. When someone is used to being complimented, recognized, and praised through social and workplace interaction, there is little reason for people to discover their own self-worth. 

Harris said the best way to begin to start finding self-fulfillment and happiness within yourself — that isn’t dependent on others — is to increase self-awareness and identify the areas that are causing you pain and why they are causing pain.

Harris reflected for a moment on the strategies he uses to help his clients discover their self-worth. A key tool is the cognitive-behavioral triangle, which illustrates a way to change thoughts (cognition) and actions (behaviors) in order to control how we feel.

“Measure your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors throughout the day,” Harris said. Next, he prompts clients to see how they can schedule their day to have more positive outcomes in their CBT triangle.

He also recommends displaying quotations around the house or in the car to help improve areas in the CBT triangle with the goal of enhancing an individual’s overall view of self-worth and fulfillment. 

Sierra Freeman, a University of Utah student, said she has struggled with feelings of fulfillment and self-worth since the outbreak.

Sierra Freeman is a junior at the University of Utah who is majoring is sociology and criminology. Photo courtesy of Freeman.

“In my case, staying at home with not a lot to do leaves me overthinking about the things I don’t like about myself — especially with the mirrors around the house, it’s easy to fixate on the parts of myself that I don’t like,” Freeman said, fidgeting with her pencil. “I also find myself having a lot more social anxiety and not being able to openly meet new people, and that really affects my self-worth.”  

However, she finds a lot of comfort in her roommates.  

Freeman took a deep breath to speak, but stopped short before answering. “I think for me, the way I deal with that is having roommates because they give me a form of companionship. I can talk to them about if I’m sad and they validate my feelings and talk through them with me. I feel a sense of community and that I’m not alone,” Freeman said in a Zoom interview.

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, she said she has experienced tremendous growth in multiple aspects of her life. 

“COVID has forced me to have alone time and be comfortable with it. It has forced me to think about who I am and what I want to be. And I know if it wasn’t for COVID I would have never given myself this alone time,” Freeman said.

Mark Raleigh is a father who spent a lot of time hiking during the summer of 2020 to remain physically active. Photo courtesy of Raleigh.

Mark Raleigh also has discovered new opportunities for growth in the pandemic.

Raleigh, a business owner in Salt Lake City, said he has hiked and climbed more this summer than during any other year in his life as he tries to find activities to do while social distancing. For example, he summited Mount Olympus, a 9,000-foot-tall peak on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley.

Being physically active and walking, working out and hiking has helped Raleigh, 58, successfully cope with the current situation. 

He said he has struggled with depression since his early 20s. “I try not to sit around,” Raleigh said in a phone interview, adding that his mom used to say that idleness “is the devil’s playground, and that is so true.”

For Raleigh, the best way of getting through hardships like COVID-19 is to “believe in yourself against all adversity and let the power of your spirit overcome mortality.”