Outstanding Pioneers During COVID-19

Outstanding Pioneers During COVID-19

When you are a leader, you often have to make decisions without all of the information you want or need.

That’s the challenge we faced at Spartanburg Methodist College on March 11, when we decided to extend spring break and move classes online – and then again on March 20, when we extended online classes through the end of the semester.

We didn’t have all of the answers – we still don’t – but we knew that the health of our community was at risk.

But with action comes new challenges. After our quick decision to move to distance learning, we had to ask: How do we adapt to a remote environment while still offering the support, resources and sense of belonging that makes SMC what it is?  We found the answers from the SMC family.

Leaders aren’t just people with big titles. They are students, staff members, and professors who have been creative, innovative, and encouraging during this time of great uncertainly.

Kalista Pedersen, SMC Sophomore

SMC’s Fine Arts Night was one of the many events canceled due to the COVID-19 campus closure, but that didn’t stop Kalista Pedersen, a sophomore from Pauline, South Carolina, from organizing a space that allowed SMC artists to showcase their work. Kalista partnered with two other SMC sophomores – Gracie Pall from Gaffney and Curtis Shirkey from Travelers Rest – to find a solution to the canceled event. 

The three worked with Professor of Art and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies Kris Neely to create the SMC Fine Arts Night Online Exhibit. Students, staff, and faculty are invited to submit their works to SMCFineArtsOnlineExhibit@gmail.com. Gracie will add those submissions to a website she made specifically for Fine Arts Night, which will launch on April 24. Art in all mediums is welcome, including creative writing and performing arts.

“We organized this event because we believe, even though our circumstances change, it doesn't mean we should let it limit our opportunities and success. We should grow with change and find ways to be successful with it,” says Kalista. “The Fine Arts Night website is supposed to give people a chance to remember the things they love doing most and share them with the community. Dancing, singing, creating, performing, writing… All of it matters.”

Photos top to bottom: Kalista Pedersen, Gracie Pall, Curtis Shirkey


Dr. Kirk Hansen creating a video message in his now famous Captain America t-shirt. 

Dr. Kirk Hansen, Professor of History

Not all heroes wear capes but some do wear Captain American t-shirts like Dr. Kirk Hansen, professor of history.

“Dr. Hansen has supported us so much through this stressful time. He sent his entire class a pep talk video that was full of encouraging words and Captain America jokes, while at the same time he sported a Captain America t-shirt underneath his suit jacket,” says Landon Wakefield of Moore, SC, B.A. class of 2021. It means a lot to us that he takes time out of his day to not just talk about due dates, but truly support us as students.”

It is no easy task to transitional from teaching and learning in a tradition classroom setting to moving to online learning, but Dr. Hansen’s empathy and encouragement has made the transition smoother for students.

“I always look forward to Dr. Hansen's update videos. They’re full of nothing but positivity, and he always tells us he is rooting for us,” says Rebecca Edmondson of Inman, SC, B.A. class of 2021. “His encouragement puts a smile on my face and motivates me to keep going because we are in this together.”

Alesia Lowe-Jenkins, Director of Counseling

While students were still on spring break in early March, Alesia Lowe-Jenkins was working on meeting all of the criteria for SMC to offer online counseling. Mental health services must meet confidentially requirements, and so counselors must go through official channels to meet with students online.

“Our mental health should always be a priority but especially during this global pandemic,” she says. “We don’t know what to expect from this situation because it’s a first time for all of us. When things feel so out of our control, we often have increased levels of stress and anxiety. That’s why my team and I acted quickly to make counseling services available remotely.”

Students may schedule an appointment with Alesia by emailing her a signed telehealth consent form and scheduling a time to meet virtually. Students also have the option to use Sharpen – an app that partners with licensed mental health providers to provide students self-help information, techniques, and guidance in a safe environment.


Alesia Lowe-Jenkins

We know many Pioneers are going above and beyond during this crazy time, and we want to share your stories. To nominate yourself or someone else, please submit a nomination form through our website.

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