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Face masks sewn by a group of women from the USD and Vermillion communities arranged in baggies to distribute free to community organizations.

This year, USD’s mid-March spring break occurred just as the nation began responding to the coronavirus outbreak with quarantines and work-from-home arrangements to help slow the spread of the disease. Classes moved to remote instruction and students and faculty of the College of Arts & Sciences managed this unanticipated change with grace and hard work. Many of these same professors and students, as well as College of Arts & Sciences alumni, volunteered their time and expertise to help their communities weather the pandemic’s impact. Later in the spring, as civil unrest and a national reckoning on racism swept the country, the College of Arts & Sciences community again held discussions and hosted public events that informed and inspired participants virtually and in-person (while masked and physically distant). Here are some examples.


Students and alumni joined community members to check messages on sidewalks downtown in honor of Juneteenth.

College of Arts & Sciences faculty, students and alumni joined fellow community members in downtown Vermillion to celebrate Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when the last enslaved Americans learned of their emancipation. Faculty members in political science and history joined with city and community groups to sponsor this event. They invited the public to write messages and draw artwork in chalk on downtown sidewalks in honor of the holiday, which took on added importance after the spring’s nationwide protests against racism.


Sara Lampert displays an historical image at the start of each class and asks students to examine and contextualize.

Sara Lampert, Ph.D., associate professor of history and coordinator of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Program, helped organize a group of women from the USD and Vermillion communities to sew masks to distribute free of charge to community organizations, such as the Vermillion Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels. “From wars to pandemics, women in American history have used their skills with a needle to make mittens, socks and masks for soldiers and civilians,” Lampert said.


Anna Doering volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank helping to pack boxes.

Rising senior and criminal justice studies major Anna Doering planned to spend her summer abroad in South Africa, but travel restrictions caused her to remain stateside in Charlotte, North Carolina. She volunteered with Justice Ministries, an anti-trafficking nonprofit, and Second Harvest Food Bank, which distributes food to 24 counties surrounding the Charlotte region. “Since the pandemic has begun, the demand for people to help serve has grown exponentially,” Doering said. “Through my experience, I have learned how important it is for communities to work together during times of hardship, and I am eager to continue learning from the inspiring workers at both of these nonprofits as the summer progresses.”


People protesting with signs and marching.

In early June, the Department of Political Science held a brown bag lunch to discuss how politics and society are affected by the coronavirus, unemployment and protests demanding policing reforms. Facilitated by Ed Gerrish, assistant professor of political science, the USD community and the public attended a virtual Zoom meeting with political scientists, criminal justice experts, legal scholars and public administration professionals.


Kevin Cwach, chief medical resident in Long Island, NY and 2011 USD alumnus, is shown in PPE.

As a chief medical resident in Long Island, New York, 2011 biology alumnus Kevin Cwach, M.D., was at the center of the COVID-19 epidemic in mid-spring. Originally from Yankton, he then lived in central Queens. During the height of the medical crisis, Cwach temporarily moved from his position as a urology resident, performing surgeries and seeing patients in the clinic, to staffing the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit in his New York City-area hospital. In mid-summer, Cwach moved to South Carolina to start a fellowship. “Unfortunately, cases are ramping up here,” he said.


Medical biology sophomore Nathan Popp worked part-time as a patient care technician at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls.

Medical biology rising sophomore Nathan Popp hopes to attend medical school in the future. His part-time job as a patient care technician at the Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls this spring and summer has introduced him to the field of medicine during a time of intense need. Popp said that one of the most emotional days at the hospital involved a patient who lost a loved one. Unable to have visitors due to the pandemic, they spent the day with Popp, who provided both physical and emotional support. “Medicine isn’t just about making people healthy on the outside. It’s also being there for them so they are healthy as a whole. Medicine is taking care of body, mind and spirit—for the patient and their loved ones,” said Popp.