Saint Mary Strong

A Snapshot of Spire Stories during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has strained nearly every aspect of life in recent months. But the Saint Mary spirit remains stronger than ever. Members of the USM community have stepped up in numerous ways during the global health crisis. Here are just a few of the many stories shared by faculty, staff, students, and alumni.


Many talented sewers have put their other creative projects on hold to construct face masks for family and friends. Among them is Mary Ann Presseller, C’74, Mesa, Ariz., who has made 150 cloth masks for people across the country, including classmates in Kansas, Washington, D.C., Florida, and Arkansas.


Most USM students returned to their hometowns following spring break to begin learning remotely. They made the transition with grace and understanding. However, they also faced new and unexpected challenges. Maridelle Cajucom shared that she is working as a nurse on the frontline of the pandemic in New Jersey. She cares for her husband and two children, takes classes online, and works long shifts at a small community hospital. Although her schedule is strenuous, Cajucom has stayed focused on her educational goals.

“These are extraordinary times, and we are deep in uncharted waters, but we remain hopeful and dedicated to our calling as nurses,” she said. “Knowing that we’re also getting all kinds of support from both our real and virtual communities is truly comforting and empowering.”


Many recent graduates faced new obstacles as they entered their chosen career fields this spring. Ramon Hernandez, a 2020 biology graduate, started working for Midwest Medical Transport in Riverside, Mo., only a week before COVID-19 was declared a national emergency.

“Since then, I have had the honor of working with some of the finest men and women in EMS,” he said. “Their dedication to the community has left me awe-inspired and highly motivated.”


Despite the transition to online learning, many USM students continued to sing, sketch, and express themselves creatively. On May 1, the Division of Liberal Arts and Humanities hosted a virtual student art exhibition, showcasing the work of 13 students. Spires produced works that responded to current events and instilled hope for the future. The pieces are still available to view at


The Bachelor of Science in Nursing has become one of the most popular degree programs at Saint Mary. USM nursing alumni can be found across the country working to help and heal those impacted by the virus. Liz Lee, U’18, a surgical oncology nurse in Salina, Kan., continues to bravely work in the field as fear and biases surround her. In May, she spoke with the New York Times about her experiences.

“One day, a patient noticed my ethnicity and said, ‘Thank you for the coronavirus.’ Usually, I try not to mind offensive comments from patients, but I was heartbroken that day,” Lee shared with the Times. “Coming from Korea and living here without my family, I was so scared of everything going on … When my mom called me that day, she asked me to come back home. I held my tears back and told her that this is my place now and that they need me here more than my home country does.”


Teaching remotely sparked creativity among faculty members across the university. It challenged instructors to connect with students in unique ways and explore new delivery methods. Professor of Mathematics Rick Silvey spoke with the Leaven, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, about his experiences.

“The change in delivery has really made me cognizant of ways that I can help the students achieve course outcomes [by] utilizing tools and procedures that I may not have thought about before,” he told the paper.

Staff Members

Kyle Dougherty, U’18, M’20, has kept busy as USM’s student engagement and leadership development coordinator. When students were unable to return to campus this spring, he and the student development team helped ship textbooks, computers, medicines, and other essential items to their owners. Dougherty also kept students engaged and connected through a variety of virtual events and social media challenges.

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