As an eventful and tumultuous year comes to a close, UNC Greensboro faculty, staff, students, and alumni share their reflections on the difficult year – including what has inspired them – and their hopes for 2021 and beyond.
Yubisela Aranda Sandoval ’17
Assistant director of alumni engagement
Office of Alumni Engagement
There hasn’t been anything easy about 2020. Like millions of others, I began working from home in March and taking care of my infant daughter full-time. It took a while to get a routine going and get back into the groove of a somewhat normal life. It’s been almost a year now, and I still struggle with keeping boundaries between my home and work lives. I miss seeing my family and friends, our celebrations, our random get-togethers, our hugs, our kisses on the cheek. Some weeks are better than others, but one thing that has kept me moving forward is knowing that this won’t last forever. I also realized that to get through this, I needed to give myself grace and take care of my mental health.
Early on, I knew exercise was going to help me get through these tough times. I decided to begin practicing yoga twice a week, but soon I discovered that to keep my momentum going I needed a bigger goal. In late spring, I began training for a half-marathon. The training was tough, but along the way it gave me the clarity to see beyond the fog, to appreciate time with my child and husband, to grow spiritually, personally, and professionally, to recognize my privileges, and be grateful for our health, food, home, jobs, colleagues, friends, and family.
It’s going to be difficult spending this holiday season away from our loved ones. But let’s look beyond this short time frame and work together to keep each other safe and healthy. Making this short-term sacrifice is the biggest gift we can give one another. To all my fellow moms: Take care of your soul and your mental health. Know that you are doing an amazing job and give yourself all the grace and love you deserve!
¡Un abrazo fuerte!
Director of business operations
This year has been full of uncertainty, especially working in Athletics, but sometimes a pause is what is needed to get recharged and revamped for the next phase in life. I took advantage of the COVID-19 shutdown and pursued some professional development opportunities that I don’t believe I would have if not for this pandemic. I helped launch a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee for our department, as well as applied for a Women Leaders in College Sports membership scholarship and a mentorship program. All three of these accomplishments are near and dear to my heart, and I’m grateful that I pursued them when I did. With every negative thing that’s going in on the world currently, we have to take the time to celebrate the small victories when we can, and I’m hopeful that we will come out stronger in the end because of this.
Dr. Randy Penfield
Dean and professor
School of Education
As I reflect on the past year, I am drawn to how the power of compassion guides individuals, organizations, and communities to collectively address our greatest challenges. We have been faced with enormous hurdles – literally life and death, freedom and oppression – and it has been inspiring to witness the principles of compassion swell to the surface: listening to understand, caring, and acting to help others. I have seen these principles in action within the School of Education, across the UNCG campus, and in our schools and communities, and I am hard-pressed to recall a situation where a compassionate approach didn’t lead us in a positive direction. Compassion works. In the coming years, I hope we remember this. I know that I will.
Cheryse McLeod Lewis ’01 MM
Opera singer, model, actor, and voiceover artist
Spoleto Festival USA, Seattle Opera, Village Theatre
2020 has been a difficult year for all performing arts professionals and arts organizations. But they don’t call us “creatives” for nothing. After all of my performance gigs were cancelled for 2020, I had to pivot to keep working. This led to new opportunities with voiceover work and at-home singing jobs. I have also used the downtime to polish my promotional materials and work on other projects that had been on the back burner. It has also been great fun to be able to spend more time with my husband and daughter, since we are all working and doing kindergarten from home. I look forward to 2021 being a better year for the entire world. I am especially hopeful that live, in-person music and arts performances will be able to resume in earnest next year. We all need it.
2020 Homecoming Royalty winner
While school looked a little different this past semester, the love I have received from the UNCG community was more than I could ever imagine. While COVID-19 held the UNCG community back from direct interactions, the love for our school and each other continued to shine brightly.
This semester has handed us many challenges. However, I am so proud of my peers for trying their best, and for pushing through. While it is important to learn from mistakes, it is also important to celebrate your accomplishments. It was truly amazing to see my friends and classmates achieve so much success, despite the unique trials we faced. Because of the support and love I received from my sisters in Chi Omega, and being elected UNCG’s Homecoming Royalty, I can easily say that this was one of my favorite semesters at the G. Thank you to everyone who lent a helping hand to someone this semester. Next semester, let’s all push hard to be our best, create new virtual memories, and keep our heads high with Spartan pride! As UNCG’s Homecoming Royalty, I say, “I believe in you, Spartans!” As Grace Murdoch, I say, “Do the dang thing!”
Vice chancellor for facilities
This year we confronted several big challenges, yet there remains much to be thankful for. Throughout the pandemic, our students, faculty, staff, vendors, and visitors have remained vigilant and heeded all the recommendations put forth by public health and our campus. I couldn’t be prouder of our constituents and our leadership team throughout this process. While addressing the details of enhanced cleaning, adherence to ventilation standards, procurement, and distribution of protective equipment, testing, etc., the campus community continued to model the “shared fate” concept that our Chancellor so often talks about, thus creating the sense of community and belonging. With regular and frequent communications through our daily and weekly meetings and town hall sessions, we remained open and transparent with each other and our community, further building the trust. These have been some of the reasons for us remaining open and successfully completing this rather difficult year.
It is important that we recognize everyone’s contribution and acknowledge that we are all in this together and all have a role to play. Everybody has worked extremely hard, and I hope everyone can take a well-deserved break during the upcoming holidays. We need everybody to be rested, refreshed, and back to tackle the next year again together. It has been inspiring to see how resilient people have been and the creative lengths they have gone to for our Spartan community.
Dr. Noelle Morrissette
Director and associate professor
African American and African Diaspora Studies Program
This summer 2020 I began my directorship of the Program in African American and African Diaspora Studies. From our faculty, staff, and students’ remote locations in North Carolina, we have reconsidered the central impact of public health policy on the mental, physical, and emotional wellness of African Americans, African Diasporic peoples, and other marginalized communities of color, especially women and children. I see clearly a continued, transformed role for AADS as it advocates for these individuals and the collective. The pandemic, occurring in a continued cycle of violence directed at Black people, has underscored for me the central role of the scholar as a moral leader and advocate. AADS has always advanced interdisciplinary dialogue about the practice of knowledge. In our pandemic year and beyond, AADS scholars must speak to the world. What happens to knowledge? How is it used, and why? These vital concerns inform the public-facing role of AADS scholars as we advocate for conscientious leadership, become those leaders, and advance the value of higher education in our communities.
Matthew Russ ’87
Tate Street Coffee House owner
The news was not good and getting worse. For lack of information, we closed on that Monday in March. The state would follow suit by the end of the week. After months of anxious inactivity, welcomed empowerment came from refitting the store for the safety of the staff and community. I cut and stained wood, and as I assembled the acrylic panels, I looked forward to the day that I could take it all down, for Tate Street Coffee has always been about busting boundaries. In our 27 years, we have survived floods, fires, and recessions, and now a pandemic, but we will weather this too.
Dr. Michelle Martin Romero
Department of Public Health Education
The semester has ended and, oh, what a semester it has been! As I reflect on this time as a new faculty member at UNCG, I find myself filled with gratitude. Although navigating this new position during such a tumultuous and uncertain time (hello, pandemic + societal reawakening to the realities of racism!) has not been easy, I am thankful. I am thankful for life and the opportunity to be among caring colleagues. I am grateful to have witnessed students’ perseverance and astounding coping as they moved forward with their educational goals. I am also grateful for personal growth, in learning my limits as a human being, and extending grace to myself and others. As I look onto 2021, I hold onto hope for brighter days filled with the necessary work for racial equity and justice, the energy needed for high COVID-19 vaccination rates, and the drive to challenge the status quo and question our constructs of normalcy. Onward we must go.
Shammond “Kel” Holden
2020 Homecoming Royalty winner
2020 is the year that could’ve broken me.
At the beginning, the pandemic incited abrupt changes. I had no job, no money. My mental health was deteriorating back home. Relationships that I thought were developing had been strained and were changing right in front of me. I had nothing to look forward to. Academics persisted, demanding more than ever, while race wars were brewing right outside. I had no escape. I struggled for months on end, trying to preserve what little remained of me.
The tides turned in August. I returned to campus, cultivated a space that rejuvenated me, began working two jobs, and created new relationships. I pushed myself to succeed academically and to step out of my comfort zone, running for a position on the 2020 Homecoming Royal Court. At times, I exerted myself in an attempt to restore all that had been taken, so making it through was no small feat. Now, I sit back and reflect on all that I’ve been able to accomplish despite the hardships.
2020 is the year that could’ve broken me, but I came out stronger.
Bachelor’s of Liberal Studies program director
Department of Philosophy
Perhaps I have the right stuff to be an astronaut? Confined by space, with only one other, interacting via long-range communications for extended periods of time and making it work. 2020 has been an unwelcome test of our ability to adapt. Yet, challenge and change in our daily lives provide an opportunity to rethink how we live, what is important, and why things matter. I take the long view of 2020 as a year to test our ability to prioritize, grow, and retain the perspective of how good we have it most of the time, how bad it can be sometimes, and not let the little things keep us down. Just as those who lived through the Great Depression and world war, I hope lessons learned in tragedy build a better future. Decades from now we will tell tales of 2020 to those who didn’t live through it so that they might appreciate how small many problems are and our capacity to overcome them. It is the way.
And our reflections roundup would not be complete without hearing from the perspective of a couple of our fuzzy Spartan friends.
Member of the Maki family
2020 is the best. My humans are here all the time. I get to go outside and inside as much as I want. They will cuddle, feed, walk, and brush me on demand. The only improvement would be less time talking at the big box with all the other human faces in small boxes for hours every day.
Member of the Maki family
2020 is the worst. My humans are here all the time. They are always watching me and telling me not to chew this or bark at that. I can’t get away with anything! Also, I miss going to the dog shows and showing those ladies who is best. It’s like I’m trapped in a prison with two guards watching my every move. Help!
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, Susan Kirby-Smith, and Matthew Bryant, University Communications