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Essential workers from SOU's MBA program

Essential workers in SOU’s MBA Program share their stories

Joan McBee, the department chair of the SOU School of Business, asked essential workers in her graduate program this spring to share their experiences on the department’s Facebook page. Their responses are bittersweet, highlighting the strength of people in crisis and the tragedy of COVID-19.

“I know several students who are struggling to get their homework done, get their kids to do their homework, deal with working at home and all the distractions, and also have the demands of work – especially if they are considered essential workers,” McBee said. “My graduate assistant and I thought it would be good to run some stories on Facebook to honor those essential workers and to motivate others.”

One such essential worker is Sarah Wheeler, an operations specialist for Albertsons supermarket. She mentors and coaches managers, but has been swamped with other duties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with working full-time, she’s raising her 2-year-old son and getting her master’s in business administration degree at SOU.

“I spend most days helping out wherever I am needed in the stores,” Wheeler said. “We have super-sized freight loads with the panic buying, so it has become increasingly difficult for the stores to get it all out on the sales floor before the store opens. It is incredible to see how our associates have come together as a big family, supporting each other through positive encouragement.”

While Wheeler works in retail, many of the responses that McBee received were from medical professionals. MBA students Alicia Preston, Dave Bergland and Ben Gugler all work at Rogue Valley Manor, where they support nearly 1,000 senior residents. Kylie Marshall is a respiratory therapist trained in critical care and cardio-pulmonary medicine.

“We’re the first ones in the room when you come into the ER short of breath and exposed,” Marshall said. “We’re the last ones you see when we’re intubating you. We’re the ones managing your life on the ventilator. We’re the ones who pull the tube when you’re awake or the ones who pull it to let you go.”

However, the most dramatic of McBee’s collected stories comes from Ryan Lilley, a bachelor of applied science student and the operations manager at Mountain Medics. Lilley started by detailing the event that caused him to get into health care in the first place.

“I was 5 years old and there was a car accident up the street from my grandmother’s house,” Lilley said. “My mother was a nurse and my father worked for the Forest Service. We briskly walked up the street to a crowd of 15 to 20 bystanders looking over … a man lying lifeless on the ground. My mother immediately began CPR and my father assisted.

“The gentlemen recovered and immediately vomited and rolled over… I knew from then on, I was going to be like my mother, and not a bystander.”

Lilley has jumped around a number of healthcare professions, from Ski Patrol to wilderness EMT to paramedic to lab assistant, before joining his friend’s company, Mountain Medics.

“Mountain Medics performs essential duties for the state of California, federal government and large corporations in reference to medical response for disasters, wildfires, rescues, along with COVID-19 screening and testing sites,” he said.

“Now more than ever the relevance of our company has become increasingly obvious. These crews need our help, and communities need our help.”

McBee found all of the stories she received emotional and motivational. Everyone who responded to her call for stories is working as hard as they can to keep themselves and their communities safe, and working toward their master’s degrees at the same time.

“This situation will change us forever, from our families to our jobs, from our small towns to our great cities,” Lilley said. “Our response is what will define us and this pandemic.”

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer