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Since January 2021, the College of Arts & Sciences has highlighted people putting service at the forefront as they helped to keep the University going during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we had back to campus in July, we conclude this special feature with a spotlight on two College unsung heroes, Michael Rolleri in the department of dramatic art and Joanne Ekena in the department of biology.

Photos by Donn Young

Michael Rolleri, wearing a mask, sits in the production booth of Paul Green Theatre up high in the theater.
Michael Rolleri in the Paul Green Theatre for a PlayMakers’ production of “Edges of Time.” (photo by Donn Young)

Michael Rolleri, Professor and Head of the Graduate Technical Production Program

Production Manager, PlayMakers Repertory Company, both in the Department of Dramatic Art

What chief challenge or challenges have you had to overcome in doing your job in the middle of a pandemic?

On the production side of things, how do we keep the shops open and running safely? On the academic side, how and what do our graduate students learn and produce in this time, and how do we keep them safe? We had to adapt constantly to changing conditions.

Why are you passionate about what you do? What keeps you committed to doing your job in the College?

I am passionate about my job here. I love teaching, and at the same time I am still able to have a professional career in theater. The production staff is great; they are always willing to step up and try new materials and technologies. Every production is different and presents new things. There are no problems in theater, just challenges to overcome. On academic side, there is the excitement and love of teaching in the Graduate Technical Production Program. My colleagues and I say, “We do not teach, we mentor.” That’s a big difference, and it keeps the passion going.

Read more about PlayMakers’ innovative and challenging season in this spring 2021 magazine story featuring Rolleri.

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Tight shot of Joanne Ekena in the Gladfelter lab.
Joanne Ekena in the Gladfelter lab. (photo by Donn Young)

Joanne Ekena, Lab Manager, Gladfelter Lab, Department of Biology

What chief challenge or challenges have you had to overcome in doing your job in the middle of a pandemic?

The Gladfelter Lab studies a range of processes including how fungal cells sense their shape, how cells organize their cytoplasm in physical space to regulate cellular processes and also looking for new, understudied fungi from extreme environments to identify new problems in biology.

My role is to manage the day-to-day lab needs so that this smorgasbord of experiments can happen. This is a challenge under normal circumstances, but with the addition of a pandemic I needed to help the lab pivot to a new normal. It was especially challenging for me to convert from being almost completely hands on at a lab bench to a temporary office at home reading literature, attending Zoom meetings and missing daily interactions with my coworkers. When some lab members started doing research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it was a challenge to get reagents to them despite the building lockdowns and lack of delivery services. I like to think I was able to make this happen with as much grace and compassion as possible.

Why are you passionate about what you do? What keeps you committed to doing your job in the College?

I have been passionate about science and nature since childhood (when my Dad let me look at pond scum through his microscope) and to have that be part of my eventual livelihood has been the greatest adventure. I am so excited and grateful to work in a place where I get to help make future scientists in some small way. I love teaching, and I love learning from my coworkers in return. Every day is something new.

Read previous “Lights on the Hill” features:

Jesse Moorefield, Melody Hunter-Pillion, Baskin Cooper (January)

Valerie Bernhardt (February)

Chloe Russell (March)

Christie Norris (April)

Shayla Evans-Hollingsworth (May)

 

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