Brenau Cares

Alumni, faculty and students on the front lines of pandemic

By Michael Lowe and Kathryne Davis

Brenau University alumni, faculty and students have been hard at work on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 since its rapid spread began in March.

At Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Georgia, just a few short blocks from his alma mater, Martis Ferguson, BU ’19, works as an ICU nurse and has spent much of the past six months caring for COVID patients. Ferguson credits Brenau for giving him and other graduates the tools and training to succeed in what has become a trial by fire for health care workers around the world.

The Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing “prepared us to go into the field and provide the best care for our patients,” Ferguson says. “I’ve definitely become more confident and have gained a lot of skills treating critical care patients.”

Ferguson, a recipient of the Kay and Douglas Ivester Scholarship awarded annually to deserving health science majors, says while he sees less COVID patients now than he did during the initial surge, he and his fellow health care workers are not letting their guards down.

“It’s still very serious, and we still have the potential for a bad respiratory season this fall and winter,” Ferguson says, stressing the importance of continued social distancing and mask-wearing. “There’s still work to do.”

Read on to learn about more of the many Brenau alumni, faculty and students supporting their campus and community in the fight against COVID. For more stories, visit giving.brenau.edu/stories.

Brittany White

‘Gold Refined by Fire’

As a medical social worker at Emory University, Brittany White, WC ’12, BU ’13, educates and assists patients and their families with care coordination, care progression and discharge planning.

White, who earned her B.S. in Health Science in 2012 and M.S. in Applied Gerontology in 2013 from Brenau, said COVID-19 has pushed health care workers to be more creative in their daily practices. She also credits her Brenau education for preparing her for the complex challenges brought on by COVID-19.

“I work with a hospital system and team that are taking extraordinary measures that are innovative,” White says. “I get to be a part of that. But if I know anything, as a Brenau graduate, I am like ‘gold refined by fire.’ Each day, I am working through this crisis, sifting, sorting and continuously refining. I love being a social worker, and I love that Brenau molded and refined me into the strong, resilient and leading woman that I am today.”

Melanie Covert

In This Together

Dr. Melanie Covert, BU ’11, is an adjunct professor in Brenau’s Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Science at Kennesaw State University. She also has a private practice in Cartersville, Georgia.

Over the summer, Covert volunteered as a mental health professional staffing the 24/7 free Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line.

“It was obvious to me from the start that many people were struggling with the loss of loved ones, the loss of normalcy, the fear of the unknown and
social isolation,” Covert says. “When I heard about the line, I was excited to use my training to impact people most in need.”

Covert, who earned her master’s in clinical counseling psychology from Brenau, worked the line four or five shifts a week including late nights.

“I am really grateful to be able to serve others in some small way and to do my part in helping our community get through this together,” she says.

Sophia Casey

A Community of Caring

In late spring, after seeing news reports of COVID’s impact on higher education, senior biology major Sophia Casey began thinking of ways to help her classmates.

“I wanted to do something to help Brenau, and I knew that COVID would give some of our students issues financially,” Casey says.

Casey decided on a T-shirt to raise money for Brenau’s Emergency Student Assistance Fund. The shirt, which was available in a variety of colors, features the Brenau University name on the front and her original drawing of Pearce Auditorium with “Love deeply, fear nothing, hate never” from the Brenau Ideal on the back.

With a goal of selling 100 shirts, Casey eventually sold nearly 350 shirts and raised more than $4,500 for the emergency fund, which provides financial assistance to students facing unexpected challenges in continuing their studies due to COVID-19.

“I was really shocked by how many people purchased shirts,” Casey says. “I think it just really shows how much the community cares about their students.”

Jordyn De La Rosa

Up to the Challenge

Even as Brenau was making the transition to remote learning in the spring, senior fashion design major Jordyn De La Rosa joined the Million Mask Challenge, a grassroots effort aimed at addressing a critical shortage of personal protective equipment for frontline workers.

“I’m not a frontliner, a nurse or a doctor,” she says. “I can’t help sick people.” But she can sew. In between her studies, De La Rosa made hundreds of face masks to donate to where they are needed most. Like many others, she felt compelled to use her talents to help out in any way she could.

“This is just a small part that I can do to help people feel more protected and safer in this very uncertain time in our lives,” De La Rosa says.

Carysa Mattlin

‘We Have to Care for Them’

Carysa Mattlin, assistant professor in Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing, is a labor and delivery nurse at an Atlanta area hospital. She never knows
what she’s going to walk into when she goes to work.

“These women may have COVID-19 and be asymptomatic, as may their spouses. We cannot maintain a 6-foot distance from them. In fact, it is our job to come into direct physical contact with these women multiple times throughout our shift. We assess their progress, coach them through delivery, hold their hands, greet their new babies — none of this has changed.”

“Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life, but it can also be very scary,” Mattlin says. “All of that is compounded for our population right now with the virus. Everyone is on edge.”

Through these trying days, Mattlin’s resolve is steadfast: “We have to care for them.”

Quantez Harper

Answering the Call

Georgia Army National Guard Sgt. Quantez Harper is a junior interior design major who was deployed to Kosovo in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2014 and 2019. When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp activated medical personnel to assist at Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, a COVID-19 hotspot, Harper says he felt compelled to go.

Though COVID-19 was “completely new territory” for Harper — a combat medic with experience dealing with battlefield trauma — he regularly assisted with the care and treatment of patients who tested positive for the virus.

“After only my first day there, I could not help but notice and feel the tremendous and unbelievable amount of love and support health care workers have received from the community, state and nation,” Harper says.

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