Mercyhurst Magazine Spring 2021


Surviving COVID How Mercyhurst adapted as the pandemic evolved P.2 Inside this issue: Refections on the Victor presidency P. 10 Athletics capital campaign tops goal P. 20 Hurst joins quest to ‘Swipe Out Hunger’ P. 23

Looking forward … An update on the Presidential Search

As you know, Mercyhurst University is in the midst of a Presidential Search to determine its 13th president following the retirement of President Michael T. Victor.

Many of you responded to the committee’s

invitation to share your thoughts on the search. In all, we heard from more

The Board of Trustees has commissioned a search committee co-chaired by Stephen J. Fiedler ’85, treasurer of the board, and board member Atty. B. Scott Kern. The co-chairs are working in partnership with national search frm R.H. Perry & Associates and have appointed committee members to represent the university’s various constituencies. Your representatives include: b • Sister JoAnne K. Courneen, • Courtney Olevnik ’08 ’13M, A RSM ’64, vice chair, Mercyhurst president, Mercyhurst Staf w Board of Trustees Senate p • Yvonne J. Maher ’93, vice chair, • Emily Mosco Merski ‘04 ‘06M, P Mercyhurst Board of Trustees president, Mercyhurst Alumni Association • Rosemary D. Durkin ’77, A secretary, Mercyhurst Board of • Lucy Belleau, president, i Trustees Mercyhurst Student b Government c • John W. Saxon ’89, Trustee g • James Snyder, associate n • Christina M. Marsh ’88, Trustee professor of philosophy • Matthew W. Johnson ’99, • Jodi Staniunas Hopper, t Trustee associate professor of graphic o design h • Si As part of the process, we have created opportunities to engage the greater Mercyhurst community in this most important undertaking. We would like to take this opportunity to share our progress. S S Richard McCarty, president, Mercyhurst Faculty Senate

than 270 constituents who attended one of 10 forums. We want to thank everyone who took the time to provide insights into the qualities we should emphasize in our search, or to suggest potential candidates to ecome our next president. We are grateful for your help. s a result of your contributions and the hard work of our committee, e have prepared The Presidential Profle, a detailed job description rovided to potential candidates, which has been uploaded to our residential Search website at . Please take a minute to peruse its contents. t this writing, we are in full recruitment mode and later this month and nto April we will narrow the search to identify our fnalists. We hope to ring these fnalists to campus to engage in person with our college ommunity, but we will prepare for virtual meetings should COVID uidelines require them. If all goes according to plan, we hope to name a ew president in mid-May. We want to thank everyone who has contributed to the search process hus far, and appreciate your commitment to the continued excellence of ur university. We are confdent that when our search is complete, we will ave identifed an outstanding leader to take Mercyhurst forward. ncerely,

tephen J. Fiedler ’85 | B. Scott Kern, Esq. earch Committee Co-Chairs

ON THE COVER: Senior Intelligence Studies major Katie Johnston models a Mercyhurst-themed mask. Katie’s also vice president of the Mercyhurst Ambassadors and a manager with the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics. (Photo by Jeremy Hewitt ’07)

Mercyhurst Magazine is a publication of the Ofce of Marketing and Public Relations.

Magazine Editor Susan Hurley Corbran ’73 814-824-2090 Design Jeremy C. Hewitt ’07 814-824-3022 Contributing Writers Craig Butler Susan Hurley Corbran ’73 Deborah W. Morton

Photo: Penny Hanes

Inside this issue 6 ARTS THRIVE AT HURST

Contributing Photographers Leena Clint ’16 Penny Hanes Jeremy C. Hewitt ’07 Ed Mailliard Mark Santillano Director of Alumni Engagement Lindsay Cox Frank ’12 ’14M 814-824-2330 Annual Giving Coordinator Mitchell Marsh ‘20 814-824-3625

See how art, dance, music and theatre students continue to study, create and perform despite COVID restrictions.

14 VETS PREPARE FOR TEACHING CAREERS Mercyhurst hosts ‘Troops to Teachers’ program.

16 ALUMS SERVE IN PEACE CORPS Read profles of just a few of the nearly 50 Mercyhurst grads who’ve joined the Peace Corps.

Send changes of address to:

Alumni Relations Mercyhurst University 501 East 38th Street Erie, PA 16546

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’ If you haven t been receiving the bi- monthly Alumni Newsletter, Mercyhurst does not have an active email address for you. Visit to update your information and reconnect. We’d love to hear from you! Send your story ideas, suggestions and comments to .








Surviving COVID By Sue Corbran

When COVID-19 hit, Mercyhurst leaned in with resilience and resolve – the same way it’s faced other challenges over the past 95 years. The resilient and resolute pioneer Sisters of Mercy would have been proud. Said former President Michael T. Victor, “Our inventiveness and creativity in tackling challenges – and the caring, hospitable, merciful environment the Sisters started – were huge strengths as we coped with this unprecedented pandemic.” By the time students returned to campus to start spring semester on Jan. 25, Mercyhurst’s leaders had been dealing with the deadly pandemic for a full year. A Presidential Task Force started meeting in January 2020, when fewer than a half-dozen COVID cases had been detected in the U.S. Though it would be many weeks before the coronavirus reached Erie, the challenge it posed became clear at Mercyhurst in early March. That’s when administrators made the tough call to cancel a planned trip to the university’s Dungarvan campus by 15 students and three faculty members. Just weeks later, during a hectic few days in mid-March, Mercyhurst moved all operations online. As soon as virtual classes were up and running, the university’s COVID team immediately started devising plans to bring everyone back to campus safely in mid-August. The campus experience was diferent – like every other aspect of life in the age of COVID. The break between semesters was longer than usual, but Mercyhurst leaders used the time to fne-tune their fall protocols while developing a new testing strategy. Tests before and after arrival on campus allowed Mercyhurst to start classes knowing that the “campus bubble” was as healthy as possible.


Campus life photos courtesy of the Merciad and MAC/SAC

BACK IN PERSON While the spring pivot to remote learning was quick and largely successful, the consensus was clear: If there was a way to safely bring students back to campus, that’s what we would do. Dr. Laura Zirkle, who supervised the efort as Mercyhurst’s chief pandemic ofcer, noted, “It was important for Mercyhurst to be who we are. Such a big part of what Mercyhurst is comes from being together on campus.” Countless modifcations had to be made in pursuit of that goal. Special credit goes to the President and his Cabinet and members of the COVID Task Force chaired by Zirkle: Dr. Judy Smith, Sue Sweeney, Andy Simon-Wambach, Jamie Breneman, and Ryan Palm. But virtually every crafting a new academic calendar to limit student travel • analyzing every classroom on campus to set capacity limits and furniture layouts • devising new trafc patterns throughout campus to minimize physical contact • posting prominent signage everywhere to remind everyone how to “Curb COVID” • upgrading technology to facilitate remote study and work • establishing and communicating health and safety protocols • training our own team of contract tracers to monitor any COVID cases on campus • creating isolation and quarantine plans • converting dining service to increase to-go options • implementing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting strategies • and so much more! Mercyhurst employee was involved in some way. Consider just a few of the tasks they confronted: •

THE ONLINE PIVOT Within three days last spring, faculty members learned the fne points of Blackboard and Teams and converted more than 1,200 class sections into online courses. Virtual support services, from academic advising to tutoring, were ofered to students now scattered across the nation, and the world. The Ofce of Distance Learning, the Center for Teaching Excellence, and lots of faculty volunteers mobilized to ensure that faculty members – even those who’d seldom used online tools before – were ready. The IT staf jumped in to make sure both faculty and students had access to the technology they’d need to fnish out the semester, fnding solutions for students who lacked computers or reliable internet service. Provost Dr. Leanne Roberts said, “It was inspiring to watch our faculty and support services personnel turn toward one common goal. They simply

In the following pages, check out just a few examples of how Mercyhurst

turned toward each other and started moving.”

adapted during this crisis.


HEALTH AND WELLNESS Executive Director of Wellness Dr. Judy Smith and Sue Sweeney, associate athletic director for health and wellness, led the charge to create protocols that would keep returning students as safe as possible and prevent potential spread of coronavirus on campus. Symptom screening, mask-wearing, crowd limits and physical distancing, handwashing, and enhanced cleaning were all required. It was clear from the start that success hinged on getting students and staf to personally commit to safe behaviors. “It would only work if we could convince students and employees to make good choices and be willing to make sacrifces,” Zirkle said. A regular stream of letters, video messages, and social media posts focused on that shared responsibility. Students were required to monitor their own symptoms, including temperatures, before venturing out each day. They were encouraged to limit close physical contact as much as possible, to remain on campus, to avoid gathering in groups. That’s a tough sell with college students, but compliance was high. Mercyhurst assembled employees from several departments to create a Contact Response Team. Staf from Athletic Training and the Counseling Center completed training on contact tracing with Johns Hopkins University and were available around the clock to respond to potential new cases. Residence Life staf managed quarantine and isolation areas to house students who became infected or were exposed to COVID, with meals delivered, classes and activities available online, and support just a phone call away. A COVID hotline was created to feld questions about troublesome symptoms and everything else COVID-related. ACADEMICS In May, Mercyhurst announced its intention to ofer in-person classes in the fall, though it never stopped preparing to deal with any complication the pandemic might present. Provost Roberts and the Ofce for Academic Afairs prepared the faculty to ofer a full spectrum of class delivery options, from totally remote to totally in-person. The advantage, Zirkle explained, was that Mercyhurst was ready for anything. “At any moment we felt it wasn’t safe to have students in classrooms, we knew we could quickly adapt, and go 100 percent remote,” she explained. “Not only could we do what we had done in the spring, but we could do it much better.” In November, with COVID

cases spiking sharply in Erie and at Mercyhurst, the university returned to virtual class delivery for the fnal two weeks of classes. For most of the semester, though, Mercyhurst operated what was familiarly known as the A/B model. More formally, the centerpiece of the academic plan was dubbed the Socially Distant, Technology Enhanced, Hurst Hybrid Academic Model. Under COVID guidelines, fewer students than usual were permitted in any classroom. The A/B plan efectively doubled the capacity of each space to accommodate larger classes. Each class day, half the students enrolled in a class attended in person, while the rest logged in via Zoom, and the two groups swapped places for the next class session. Faculty members accepted the challenge of interacting with both groups simultaneously and worked hard to keep everyone involved. An added beneft: students who needed to isolate or quarantine could keep up with their classes virtually. While the A/B model handled most situations, some hands-on programs had to go to even greater lengths to keep their students engaged. See how Mercyhurst’s performing and visual arts programs kept creating and performing on page 6. ADMISSIONS For Admissions, the challenge was stark. How do you recruit and enroll new students when your biggest selling point – the beautiful campus – is closed to visitors? Vice President for Enrollment Joe Howard said his team had already brought in a larger-than-usual pool of applicants pre-COVID. When the pandemic struck, his staf quickly took its whole operation online. Within days after they were sent home to work remotely, the Admissions and Marketing teams had developed and launched more than 80 virtual sessions to connect with all those prospective students. More than 1,200 applicants attended one or more of those events, where they could interact with faculty, staf, and upperclassmen, ask questions, and learn more about everything from academic programs to campus life. Hundreds more signed up for virtual campus tours, complete with guides in their signature green Ambassador jackets. “What’s most important is that our representatives delivered these events with the same hospitality and care as they do in-person visits,” Howard stressed.


ORIENTATION In ordinary times, orientation for incoming freshmen involves a daylong campus visit. Since COVID restrictions prevented that, Sarah Allen, executive director of campus involvement, worked with departments across the university to orient new students virtually. “It was quintessential Mercyhurst,” said Chief Pandemic Ofcer Laura Zirkle. “We connected, we engaged, we came up with a million ways to stay in touch with students and parents.” The sometimes-overwhelming amount of information that’s usually presented at Orientation was broken down into chunks that incoming freshmen could absorb at their own pace over a two-month period. Some sessions were mandatory. In other areas, students could choose from a variety of options. Besides the student-focused presentations, weekly sessions were ofered where parents could explore topics ranging from Mercyhurst’s plans to deal with COVID to “letting go” of your college student. “This was one of our largest freshman classes, but we helped get students engaged and connected so they could come here and succeed,” Allen said. STUDENT LIFE Move-In Day took on a whole new look – not only an abundance of masks and hand sanitizer, but also limited windows for each new arrival to unload their belongings and start making their rooms feel like home. The process was so efcient that Residence Life is considering retaining some elements of it in the future. Once on campus, students stayed within small “pods” with their neighbors. They took part in all the usual Welcome Week events but had limited contacts outside their pods. A few large group events were held outdoors, where students could spread out across the athletic felds. There’s more to the college experience than studying, so the Campus Involvement Center was determined to get students engaged and active – with clearly defned guidelines outlined in its Event Phase Model. As students settled in, they were invited to explore a virtual Involvement Fair on Flipgrid. Most of Mercyhurst’s 80+ student organizations

remained active. Meetings and events, held virtually or under strict safety protocols, flled the weekly calendar. Student events were ofered regularly throughout the semester. “COVID forced us to think diferently, but my team has been really inventive with what we can do,” Allen said. Take Haunted Hurst. Groups of six students reserved personal tours and wore wrist bracelets that were attached 6 feet apart on a rope so they could walk safely around campus. Conferences and Events staf helped mount the event, enlisting theatre students to act out spooky Mercyhurst legends. That kind of collaboration was crucial, Allen said. Another example: Parkhurst Dining Services, which ofered virtual cooking demonstrations and assembled boxes of ingredients so students could cook along. Despite COVID limitations, Mercyhurst staf and students carried on popular traditions virtually, from the opening Mass of the Holy Spirit to the Distinguished Speaker Series sponsored by Mercyhurst Student Government. Allen said Mercyhurst’s students continue to impress her. “We talk about Carpe Diem; it’s part of our vocabulary. If you’re here, take every opportunity, hold on, jump in with two feet, try new things. If ever there was a year to try things, this is it,” she said. ATHLETICS When the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) announced in July that it was canceling all fall sports competitions, Mercyhurst’s Athletics Department stepped in to provide hundreds of Laker student- athletes with opportunities to condition and train within the COVID guidelines, and eventually to begin competing with other schools that were equally committed to those COVID safety guidelines. See page 21 for more. ALUMNI Unable to welcome guests to campus, the Ofce of Alumni Engagement also turned to virtual events to engage with alumni. Alumni ofce stafers hosted a “Haunted Hurst” campus tour for alumni who watched from across the country, while the 2020 Homecoming celebration morphed into Homecoming from Home. See photos on page 26.


COVID-19 couldn’t derail the arts at Mercyhurst Who better to ask to creatively problem-solve than arts faculty? That’s a rhetorical question from Dr Christina Riley-Brown, dean of the Hafenmaier College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, who watched proudly as the arts faculty adapted to teaching under COVID restrictions – and did it beautifully. “I have learned that the art faculty will always rise to the occasion,” she added. “We reminded each other frequently: This is not an ideal situation. But, there is NEVER an ideal situation – so we learned to be patient and forge ahead. Last semester, they accommodated students in every circumstance. We learned that we can still thrive.”



“ Dr. Brett D. Johnson said canceling productions was never an option for the Mercyhurst Theatre Program. Our productions are in some ways the most important thing we do, he explained. They are our laboratory. It s where students put theory into practice. Everything they learn in Acting I and script analysis and theatre history gets put into practice through production work. Once he determined that in-person performances weren t feasible during fall term, he came up with a pair of alternatives that could be shared virtually. In the lead-up to Halloween, the Theatre Program presented The Canterville Ghost over Zoom. Frequent collaborator Mary Barile adapted the Oscar Wilde classic and Johnson and his team went to work. ” “ ’ ” ’

’ students had the experience of performing, even though they couldn t invite the public to watch them. - Early in the term, students began working on pieces that would ordinarily have been part of a gala, semester ending performance. For guest choreographers from across the country, that meant using Zoom to work with small groups of students. Meanwhile, upper-level students were creating their own works for the Choreography Showcase and casting their classmates to perform. Dressing rooms and lockers were of limits, so students carried large bags to stow their gear during class. Masks and regular temperature checks became a way of life. Trafc patterns were modifed. Studios were mopped and sanitized many times a day – often by faculty members who added these extra duties to their teaching loads while also supervising rehearsals that stretched long into the evening. Besides classes, faculty made sure their ’ “I m really proud of what we did. We continued to fulfll our educational goals – and we gave our students the opportunity to do something they love during a very challenging time, he added. Hundreds tuned in to watch the four productions of Ghost . ” Johnson even delivered tech gear, costumes and props to students studying remotely in Mentor, Ohio, and Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. Johnson said the tech aspects were challenging, but it was fun fguring out how to pass objects from one actor to another, or how to make the ghost appear and disappear. The Theatre Program experimented with a very diferent format for its holiday show – a radio play of A Dickens of a Carol . Barile had created the show for a traditional Mercyhurst production during Christmas season 2019, but

’ Partusch said the dancers are resilient. “I ve told them from the beginning that this has not been easy, but I am ever so thankful that you re not in your bedroom dancing; you are on a good, safe foor, taking classes. ’ ” For one weekend in October, the department converted a studio into a makeshift stage where all these dance numbers could be recorded. Vertical blinds and black curtains covered windows and mirrors, skylights were covered, and special lighting and three video cameras were installed. Each cast in turn performed in full costume, following strict COVID guidelines. The space had to be completely sanitized before another group could take its place. “ Anything that was visual now needed to be aural, Johnson pointed out. “In most theatrical productions, things that you see aid in the storytelling or convey information about the characters. Now the audience needs to hear those details, or have them narrated. You need a description to help you visualize the Ghost of Christmas Past that just appeared. ” ” “ Johnson played Charles Dickens, while alumna Bethany Sulecki directed the play. It was one of the largest casts ever for a Mercyhurst production, with more than 40 people recording their parts in their homes or residence halls. Our alums were also eager for creative projects, so besides current students, we featured alumni from as far away as Texas, the Carolinas, and even Ireland, he explained. A Dickens of a Carol was available on SoundCloud throughout the Christmas season. ” it needed some major modifcations to work in the audio drama format. Spring semester challenges include helping seniors complete their capstone projects, staging the Raw Edges choreography showcase, and advising graduating seniors as they plan for an uncertain future.

The eight cast members rehearsed and performed their roles without masks in

separate rooms behind closed doors, equipped with new solid black backdrops and webcams.

’ DANCE Mercyhurst s A/B system – with half the students attending class via Zoom to keep classroom density down – just wouldn t work for the Mercyhurst Dancers. ’ “ We had to be here in person every day, said Dance Department Chair C. Noelle Partusch. “It wasn t easy, but I have a really amazing faculty and staf who are incredibly creative. They found ways to make it happen. ” ’ ” ’ both adjoining studios, as teachers moved between them and shared demonstrations through computers. The stage of the Mary D Angelo Performing Arts Center – dark during the fall as live COVID restrictions limited the two danceSpace studios to just a dozen dancers each plus a faculty member. Each dancer was assigned spaces – a 6-foot section of the barre and a 12-foot square on the foor. Larger classes flled performances were canceled – was transformed into another large studio. The bare plywood stage was covered with the same surface used during dance concerts, and the space was outftted with pipe barres, standing mirrors, and a giant TV monitor.


’ ART Major changes were in store for the Art Department even before the pandemic erupted, pointed out Chair Jodi Staniunas Hopper. Professors Dan Burke and Tom Hubert both retired in 2020, so diferent instructors would be teaching in the studios they d overseen for decades. COVID meant the department also needed to develop new protocols to clean and sanitize artmaking spaces, to keep students safely distant, and to limit sharing of materials. The heavily worn drafting tables in the drawing lab were replaced, and side carts to hold supplies were installed so that students could easily sanitize their work areas. In the 3D studio, nearly century old tables topped with plywood were retired and new individual tables took their places, with separate buckets to store clay and tools. Layouts were reconfgured to allow appropriate distance between workstations, and - ’ demonstration cameras installed. In the past, students would huddle around an instructor and teachers could grab a student s hand to “ MUSIC It was clear early in the pandemic that singing and playing some musical instruments posed extra risk of transmitting the coronavirus. After a superspreader event infected dozens ” at a choir practice in Washington State, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder determined that the swift spread was due to microscopic airborne particles known as aerosols. - ’ So Dr. Nathan Hess, Mary A. Spadafor Endowed Chair of Music in the D Angelo Department of Music, knew it would take extra work to bring 60+ music majors back to campus safely in the fall. Six feet of social distance – the gold standard for most personal interactions – was nowhere near enough for some musicians. For the Concert Choir of more than 35 members, that meant splitting the group between two locations. Half could work with director C. Thomas Brooks in Walker Recital Hall, while a music education student rehearsed vocal parts with the other half in Taylor Little

“ make a correction. You can t do that now, Hopper said. “So you demonstrate under the camera. All the students can see what your hands are doing, how you re handling the brush or pencil or charcoal, the consistency of your paint mix. ’ ” ’ ” “ The new layouts have proved popular with students, Hopper said. All the cleaning and purging we did made the students feel ownership over their spaces, she said. “Every student had a spot and felt comfortable, which was our intention from the get go. ” - ” ’ Instead of buying art materials in bulk, the department purchased individual art bins for students to store materials, a practice Hopper said will continue going forward. “It s a great legacy item, something that will travel with them for their lifetime. Department faculty, including many adjunct instructors, came together over the summer to pack the bins with items for incoming students. Students also got large portfolios to store and protect their 2D projects. ” ’ Unable to allow community members to visit campus, Civic Orchestra Director Jonathan Moser utilized just the strings of the orchestra and focused on repertoire that didn t require woodwinds, brass or percussion. Individual lessons went on, with modifcations, of course. For instruments that produce no aerosols – like the piano – student and instructor could be 6 feet apart. Hess said even that distance was hard to achieve in his larger faculty studio that houses two Steinway grand pianos. But for voice and woodwind lessons, 15 feet and a plexiglass shield separated teachers Theatre. Halfway through, there would be a break to air out the rehearsal space, and the students would switch places. The Wind and Jazz Ensembles spread throughout Walker, including the stage, the wings, and every other row of the seating space. Dr. Scott Meier conducted from a spot to the right of the stage so everyone could see him.

While the Cummings Gallery was closed to the public in the fall, plans are underway to still hold the Patricia S. Yahn ’50 juried student show in the spring. Much will be presented virtually, but they hope to use the hallways of Zurn to share the winners for students to see regularly. The creative and performing arts departments at Mercyhurst adopted a theme for the fall term that Hopper proposed. DREAMS refected six elements that go into all artmaking: Discipline, Resilience, Empathy, Artistry, Making, and Showing. DREAMS also became the title for a collaborative project that brought together students from art education, art therapy, communication, dance, and graphic design. Their teachers challenged them to create

a dance for flm production that was only possible if they worked together.

Choreographers created dance pieces, while artists contributed everything from costumes and props to flm editing and special efects.

’ and students. Whatever the situation, everyone wore masks – including some specially designed to accommodate instruments. The ensembles weren t able to ofer public performances, but the popular Faculty Recital Series went on as scheduled using livestream technology. Only the performer and an accompanist were allowed on stage, and the only applause came from the tech crew members at the back of the auditorium. Despite the restrictions, Hess said students were delighted to be on campus, since many of their counterparts at other schools didn t get that opportunity. “I m just so grateful that our faculty and administration were on board to do this, following all the safety protocols. ’ ’ ” He added the music department still hopes to be able to share its performances with the public virtually during the spring term, adding “ that Louisa Jonason is preparing students for a special opera performance titled – appropriately – Magnifcent Masks. ”


When nothing but a hug will do

The common “hug” has become something of a lost expression of endearment, thanks to COVID-19. But it is among the top post-pandemic goals for Mercyhurst University senior Marina Boyle of Dublin, Ireland, who has had her fair share of brushes with the virus in the past year. “The Irish are very warm people,” she said. “When this is all over, I can't wait to give everyone I know a huge hug.” As an international student, Marina was required to quarantine for 14 days on the North East campus before starting classes last fall. That did little to vanquish her Irish charm and optimism. “Many schools were completely remote in the fall,” she said. “Knowing that Mercyhurst was making every efort to get us back on campus safely was the light at the end of the tunnel.” Like most Mercyhurst students, Marina adapted well to the new academic regimen, the masking, social distancing, and other limitations. And yet, for all the well-executed safety measures taken by the university, and her compliance with them, Marina got COVID-19. It was just before the end of fall semester and her return to Dublin for the holidays. As a resident assistant, Marina interacts with students daily, so when a colleague tested positive for the virus, Marina took the test and realized the same result. But she wasn’t scared. Her sister, 2013 Mercyhurst alumna Rhona Boyle, who studied pre-med here and is now a junior doctor in Aberdeen, Scotland, contracted the virus on the job last May, as did her husband, James Foxton.

“At the time, the virus was still quite new and, naturally, my family was worried,” Marina remembered. “But, thankfully, Rhona had a relatively mild case and recovered quickly.” Fortunately for Marina, her physical symptoms were likewise moderate. It was the mental and emotional consequences of dealing with the disease that challenged her most. Quarantining, which obviously constrained Marina’s interactions for those 14 days last fall, was nothing compared to the restrictions of isolating with the virus. She was relegated to the confnes of her townhouse, primarily to the 140 square feet that was her bedroom. But, again, her tolerance prevailed. “I tried to keep a positive attitude, no matter what happened, and to use my time wisely,” she said. “If I was quarantined or isolated, I saw it as a unique opportunity to slow down, take time to call friends and family, and focus on helpful tasks like improving a skill, applying for jobs, or networking.” Marina also said she found solidarity among the Mercyhurst community. “Many of us who experienced quarantine or were unfortunate enough to contract the virus supported one another,” she said. “During those times, the special community and mission we have here at Mercyhurst was more important than ever.” When all is said and done, Marina hopes to use her degree in business and competitive intelligence to pursue a career in a travel-related industry. She’s also eager to meet new people, but not before doling out lots of hugs to friends and family.


Refections on the Victor presidency By Deborah W. Morton

Six years ago when Michael Victor took ofce as Mercyhurst University’s 12th president, an employee was overheard remarking: “This is like The Wizard of Oz transition from black and white to Technicolor – a brilliant moment in history.” The university came alive, many agree, as collaborative and innovative leadership at all levels created transformative change marked by enrollment growth, including record highs; streamlined administrative and academic operations; expansion of niche programs and development of innovative new programs like cybersecurity, cyber risk management, and integrative nursing leadership; new and enhanced campus facilities; and a growing national reputation for academic quality. Calling it the most gratifying experience of his professional career, Victor concluded his tenure last month, confdent that he left the university in a far better place than he found it in 2015.

“ Victor is the frst to say that he did not accomplish anything alone. He has repeatedly acknowledged the hard work of his Cabinet, chief administrators, and other key employees. In fact, his time at Mercyhurst only served to further validate his longstanding belief that a leader must pick good people and let them do their jobs. As a connected community of students, faculty, staf, alumni, ” “ ” parents, and Sisters, I believe we have made the right choices for this extraordinary institution and that our work during these past six years will stand as a legacy for years to come, he said. Just this past year, despite the challenges of COVID-19, Mercyhurst experienced a 14 percent gain in new freshman enrollment and a historic 50 percent increase in graduate enrollment. Among the more signifcant capital improvements of the Victor Administration are the new sophomore residence, Ryan Hall, named in honor of prolifc Mercyhurst donors David and Ellen Hammond Ryan ‘64; renovation of Grotto Commons dining hall; construction of the


’ Cyber Education Center; The Roost Irish pub; and a main-foor facelift of the university s library featuring built-in glass display cases containing historic artifacts from the Thomas J. and Michele Ridge Archival Collection. Victor also oversaw the university s frst ever capital campaign for athletics, which succeeded not only in meeting its goal of $9.5 million, but in exceeding it by $500,000, making possible signifcant renovations to nearly all of the university s athletic facilities. ’ - ’ ’ Mercyhurst witnessed gains in its reputational standing among higher education institutions, most recently being recognized in the top third (#38) of the 135 top-tier Regional Universities in the North by U.S. News & World Report . During the Victor administration, Mercyhurst was named a Purple Heart University for its commitment to veterans and their families, a likely contributor to the university s additional U.S. News ranking at #18 among “Best Schools for Veterans, and earned a #48 ranking in the category of “Best Value Schools. Victor s administration introduced the REACH Curriculum, a streamlined ” ” ’ and more fexible liberal arts core; replaced the term system with semesters; advanced the mission of the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture (MIAC) in ofering accessible and afordable entertainment to the Erie community; and introduced new traditions like Hurst Day and The 501, a unique fundraising arm of MIAC.

“ While Mercyhurst University has always been a place where close connections can be fostered, when chosen, it is easy to get lost in the day-to day busyness of academic life. Hurst Day impressed upon us the good of connecting together through recreation – not only as fellow faculty, staf, and administration, but also in our relationship with students, said Faculty Senate President Dr. Rich McCarty. “I am also especially appreciative of President Victor s support of MIAC. With his advocacy and participation on the advisory board, President Victor identifed the need to revolutionize this forward-facing institution. MIAC is now a crown jewel at Mercyhurst University and a regional asset of the performing arts. - ” ’ ” With the absence of any Sister of Mercy working full time at the university, Victor was committed to sustaining the Mercy legacy and supported the establishment of the Mercy Emissary Program toward that end. He also ushered in new initiatives designed to promote diversity and inclusion on campus. ’ During Victor s tenure, Mercyhurst made great strides in fundraising, including the largest alumni donation in history: $4 million from William and Betsy Hirt Vorsheck ‘77; Mrs. Vorsheck also contributed $1.25 million to establish the F.W. Hirt Erie Insurance Risk Management Program at Mercyhurst. Other memorable contributions include $1.5 million from philanthropist and historic preservationist Thomas B. Hagen, for whom the university named its history department; and $1.5 million from John


” “Simply put, President Victor revitalized our campus, said Staf Senate President Courtney Olevnik ’08 ’13M. “He brought a sense of controlled urgency to the many facets that needed his immediate attention, but was laser-focused on increasing the morale of the students, staf, and faculty. In many ways, his infuence extended well beyond the Mercyhurst gates. He encouraged service learning opportunities and partnerships that would enrich both Mercyhurst students and residents of the greater Erie community. Among them, for example, are those with local school districts, the most recent of which is a $5 million state grant to operate after-school enrichment programs for young children and their families. Long known for its Fourth of July celebrations on campus, which ” ” ultimately became too large to sustain safely, Mercyhurst partnered with the city of Erie to restore a major community freworks display, this time over the Erie Bayfront. Their joint efort became known as “Lights over Lake Erie. - Recognizing a need for health care programs both locally and nationally, Mercyhurst announced a multi-year plan designed to strengthen and expand its two- and four year health care degree programs. The plan involves a multi-million-dollar investment in facilities upgrades on the Erie campus, while relocating all academic programs from its North East campus to Erie by June 2021. Negotiations to sell the North East property continue at this writing. In looking toward the future, Victor said, Over the years, leaders will come and go; Mercyhurst University will endure. In today s competitive higher education environment, universities that are timid in the face of change will wither and die. Mercyhurst has changed in many ways since I took ofce in 2015, evolving and innovating to better meet the needs of our students, faculty, and staf. We know, now more than ever, what we must do to thrive. “ ’ ” “ Mercyhurst Board of Trustees Chair Joseph G. NeCastro ’78 echoed similar sentiments: As we begin this transition in the university s leadership, it is important to remember Mercyhurst is stronger today than at any time in our 94-year history. We owe a debt of gratitude to President Victor for his years of dedicated service to the university and the transformative results of his leadership. ’ ”

” Saxon ‘89 and his wife Patty Kaliszak Saxon ‘91, after whom the university christened “Saxon Stadium. The university also obtained the Kern House, a presidential residence at 3906 State Street in Erie, through a gift from local philanthropists Bruce and Nancy Kern. A former business student of Victor s and successful entrepreneur Brian DeFrancesco ’06, now a Trustee, traveled from his home in Orange County, California, one day to have lunch with the president. It was that reunion that resulted in DeFrancesco donating the funds necessary to complete renovations to the university s library. ’ ’ ” “Seeing him devote his time to higher education and to lead and inspire students when he could have easily retired after his successful business career was a great example of how not to defne success from what you achieve in business alone, but by how you give back and inspire others, DeFrancesco said at the time. Signifcant contributions also came from Big Four accounting frm PricewaterhouseCoopers in support of a revolutionary Cyber Autism Pilot Program intended to prepare students of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst for careers in the burgeoning cybersecurity industry. While Victor s commitment to the university went deep, it was also spectacular on its surface. The concept of deferred maintenance was unacceptable; he insisted on beauty at every turn. In fact, he truly believed, When parents see how well we nurture our fowers, then they will know how dedicated we are to caring for their children. He also brought back the long-retired carillon as a staple of campus charm, installed a 30-foot artifcial Christmas tree in the Mary Garden to heighten holiday spirit, and introduced Hurst Day as an annual tradition devoted to collegial camaraderie. - ’ “ ” ’ Victor is all about traditions and the relationships they engender. It s the stuf of memories, agreed Mercyhurst Student Government President Lucienne Belleau, who said, The relationship President Victor has fostered between himself and the students of Mercyhurst is truly remarkable. His presence is felt throughout all areas of our campus and he has had an immense impact on our campus culture and Mercyhurst traditions that we students are unlikely to forget. “ ” ’ Indeed, Victor s leadership observed the holistic integration of physical, mental, and spiritual components, creating an environment that would not only engage the mind but nurture the spirit.


’ A native of Chardon, Ohio, he graduated from Mercyhurst in 2006 with a bachelor s degree in business fnance and a minor in computer systems. While attending Mercyhurst, he was an Ambassador and president of Delta Mu Delta business honor society. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children and reside in Orange County, California. Dario Cipriani was a longtime partner at the Historic Square Insurance Agency in Erie and still works part time as a producer for the frm. He is a longstanding member of the Mercyhurst President s Associates and has regularly served on board committees. ’ DeFrancesco led two companies from inception to successful exit acquisitions totaling nearly $100 million in value. DeFrancesco currently serves as the President of SMET Ventures, a business investment and technology consulting frm, and oversees a charitable foundation he founded to empower people to enhance their well-being and overcome hardship. Cipriano ‘74, Ryan Gibson ‘05, and Marc McAndrew ‘88 were elected in February 2020. Brian DeFrancesco is a successful entrepreneur and business executive with a passion for technology and innovation. As CEO, Four elected to Board of Trustees Four Mercyhurst alumni have been elected to the university’s Board of Trustees. Brian DeFrancesco ‘06 was named in October 2019, while Dario One of the frst student-athletes recruited to play a varsity sport after Mercyhurst went coed, he was part of the original golf team and served as sports editor for the Merciad . He was inducted into the Mercyhurst Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001 and has served on the Hall of Fame Committee for many years. He continues to be an avid fan of Laker athletics. He earned a degree in Management in 1974. He and his wife, Donna, live in Erie. They are the parents of a grown daughter and have two grandchildren.





Ryan Gibson co-founded and serves as Chief Investment Ofcer for Spartan Investment Group, LLC, a real estate investment company that specializes in fnding self-storage and residential development investments. He previously worked as an airline pilot while Management, Marketing, and Advertising in 2005. During his student years, he competed with the varsity rowing team and served as an Ambassador. His wife, Jackie Kerper Gibson ‘05, is Director of Operations for Spartan Investment Group. The Gibsons live in Seattle with their two children. Marc McAndrew is the Executive Vice President for Real Estate for PNC Bank. He travels extensively in this role, overseeing capital raising and lending operations nationwide. growing his investment business. He earned his Mercyhurst degree in

’ He has served as a President s Associate for more than a decade and was previously a member of the Advisory Board for the Walker School of Business. He is a 1988 Mercyhurst graduate with a degree in Management. He and his wife, Michelle, live in the Pittsburgh area. They are the parents of two grown children. He has honored his father, longtime English faculty member and sports announcer P. Barry McAndrew, by helping to endow the P. Barry McAndrew Essay in Literature Award, presented annually by the English Department, and by contributing to the Laker for Life Capital Campaign to rename the press box at Saxon Stadium in his honor.


Military pilot soars toward career in teaching via Mercyhurst

began the program in Fall 2020 and several more started during the spring semester when the university enacted a special tuition rate for all TTT participants. They are charged $515 per credit, rather than the standard $830 per credit, a savings of 38 percent, reported Travis Lindahl, director of Graduate and Professional Admissions at Mercyhurst. The Mercyhurst program, he continued, is a one-year Master of Science in Secondary Education degree leading to Pennsylvania Department of Education certifcation in either math, physics, general science, earth science, biology, chemistry, English, or social studies. The Mercyhurst program is fully online, and the university considers an applicant’s entire career in ofering life experience credit, which reduces the timeline to program completion and afords a higher degree of fexibility to balance work and family life. And that’s what piqued the interest of Whiteford, an Allentown resident who is juggling many responsibilities, including a commercial aviation career, his obligation as a pilot with the military reserves, and his family, including his wife and three children, ages 2, 4, and 6. For Whiteford, a career in education is a long time coming. Since his youth, he considered teaching a natural calling, following in the footsteps of his father, who taught high school for 40 years.

As a fight instructor, U.S. Marine Corps pilot with two tours in Afghanistan, and frst ofcer for American Airlines, Michael Whiteford doesn’t stray far from the cockpit these days. But that could change once he earns his master’s degree in Secondary Education from Mercyhurst University, where he is the frst student to participate in the Troops to Teachers (TTT) program at the university. Mercyhurst is one of only three universities in Pennsylvania approved as host schools for Troops to Teachers, which was established in 1993 to assist transitioning service members and veterans in beginning new careers as K-12 teachers in public, charter, and Bureau of Indian Afairs schools. Mercyhurst is also designated as a Purple Heart University, one of only two in Pennsylvania, for its level of services for veterans. “These men and women put their lives at risk on our behalf while serving our country, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude,” said former Mercyhurst President Michael T. Victor. “Mercyhurst is eager to do its part in ensuring their successful integration into life beyond the military.” “With a nationwide teacher shortage looming and thousands of veterans looking for job opportunities, this initiative could not have come at a better time,” said Mercyhurst TTT Coordinator and Chair of Graduate Secondary Education Dr. Amy Burniston, who reported that six students

Michael Whiteford (L) & Connor Baughman (R)

But then, 9/11 happened. It was his junior year in college. He was pursuing a degree in social studies education and had already done his student teaching. But, after 9/11, he chose to serve, and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He had only planned to serve a brief time, but 13 years quickly came and went. It was then that his career as a pilot began and, once retired from active duty, it seemed a natural path to resume, so he pursued commercial aviation. Still, he had that hankering to teach and, upon discovering Troops for Teachers, knew that it was an opportunity he had to seize. Erie native Connor Baughman, who is presently holding a full-time substitute position at Meadville Area Senior High School, began his master’s degree in Secondary Education at Mercyhurst in 2017, but was commissioned by the Marine Corps before fnishing. After two-and-a- half years of active duty and currently a reservist, Baughman said the transition from military life back to his educational path has been “seamless.” He said the TTT program afords him not only the fexibility to balance his many duties – teaching, serving in the reserves, and taking classes – but it provides a high level of support.

For more information, contact Amy Burniston at or .


Thanks to strategic partners like PricewaterhouseCoopers, AIM students beneft from an assortment of vocational experiences.

New Cyber-Autism initiative combines elements of two successful programs 85% – The unemployment rate for individuals on the autism spectrum 3.5 million – The number of unflled cybersecurity jobs (per Cybersecurity Ventures)

There’s much research about the capacity of people with high-functioning autism to satisfy the demands of many careers in the cybersecurity industry. Their strengths include cognitive pattern recognition, attention to detail, logical and methodical thinking, focus, and integrity. Despite this documented correlation, few, if any, have capitalized on this opportunity – until now. Mercyhurst University, in collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), is on the cusp of launching a frst-of-its-kind Cyber-Autism Pilot Program to capitalize on the skills of students on the spectrum and prepare them for jobs in the cybersecurity realm, thereby helping to satisfy a pressing, global need. The Cyber-Autism Pilot Program blends the strengths of the award-winning Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) and the

university’s fourishing cybersecurity program. PwC is providing seed funding for the initiative and internship opportunities for students in the cohort. Mercyhurst developed the new program based on the success of similar international models. Faced with daunting shortages of trained cybersecurity professionals, countries around the world – including England, Australia, and Israel – have begun to tap nontraditional pools of talent to fll these vital jobs. As a model and a resource for universities across the country, AIM has also been selected by the White House to provide support in developing neurodiversity in the cybersecurity feld for federal agencies. University ofcials believe this new program will shift the paradigm in how corporate America thinks about hiring and employing individuals on the autism spectrum.

AIM Director Brad McGarry was equally enthused. “I am very excited that our longstanding partnership with PwC has

evolved to bring this fantastic collaboration to light,” McGarry said. “Since 2015, AIM students have participated in vocational exposure experiences at PwC in New York City and Tysons Corner, Virginia, and this new venture will better prepare and position our AIM students for sustainable and meaningful employment, especially in the cybersecurity feld.” Mercyhurst’s cybersecurity initiative, meanwhile, hosts a four-year undergraduate major and graduate program within the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences. The Ridge College is the oldest and largest school of intelligence studies in the United States.


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