Alumni across the country were on the front lines of crisis and community care during the pandemic. Here we feature a few of the heroes who are serving their communities.
Orlando Bermudez, Weather Forecaster for National Weather Service
Orlando Bermudez is a weather forecaster in San Antonio, Texas, and a recent graduate of Millersville’s master’s in emergency management program.
In 2017, a group called the Multimedia Assistance in Spanish was formed to assist the National Weather Service’s Southern Region with providing Spanish translations of outgoing weather messages. The group became a national program the following year.
“Let’s say that I’m here in San Antonio, and the Miami office is having a severe weather day. But at the time that the storms are about to come across the Miami area, there is no Spanish speaker on-site,” explains Bermudez. “They go and activate the Multimedia Assistance in Spanish team through an activation request form which sends an email to the group and then we can coordinate to whoever is on-site to do those translations, interviews or weather briefings for [the office] so they can then provide that service to the Hispanic community.”
Organizations like NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have Spanish program leaders dedicated to such translation projects. The National Weather Service, however, does not have an internal program leader appointed to take care of these translations. Bermudez and his team volunteer their time to provide translations, while also managing their daily tasks.
Bermudez says that as the group of volunteers comes together to provide translation support, he hopes the National Weather Service will appoint someone to manage the workload at regional and national levels.
After receiving his bachelor’s in earth science with a minor in communications, Bermudez waited to pursue a master’s degree until his two daughters were grown. Once they were both in college, Bermudez decided to take the leap and get his master’s degree in emergency management at Millersville. He heard about Millersville’s program from a colleague in the Dallas Weather Office and received his master’s in May of 2021.
With his graduate degree, Bermudez is confident that he understands the emergency management field and has the ability to contribute to the work that needs to be done.
“It never is too late. I am about to be 50 in a few months. And yes, I took a big break because I wanted to do that for my girls, however, I told myself that nothing can stop me since life is about choices, goals and having a purpose. So count on me to build a better tomorrow for all,” says Bermudez.
Emily Hendricks, ’17 Millersville Grad- First Grade Teacher
Emily Hendricks graduated from Millersville University in May 2017. She is currently a first-grade special education teacher in Barrington, New Jersey.
Hendricks grew up in New Jersey and chose to return to her home state after graduating from Millersville. Growing up, Hendricks was influenced by teachers who inspired her with their care and attention. She always admired her grade school teachers, who acknowledged her personal love of learning and helped her continue to foster her curiosity.
“I knew Millersville’s education program was the perfect place to prepare me for my future career,” says Hendricks.
Hendricks’ sister attended Millersville and spoke highly of the programming she experienced as a student.
“I spent numerous weekends visiting my sister at Millersville, which made me fall in love with the campus and the surrounding area,” says Hendricks. “Some people may find this crazy, but I actually thought the dining hall and the Anchor were the best, and looked forward to having food on demand during my time at the ’Ville. And yes, after being at Millersville for four years, I still stand by this statement.”
Hendricks says her education at Millersville University impacted her career for the better, providing strong academic and experiential learning opportunities.
“My Millersville education helped me tremendously to get to where I am today,” says Hendricks.
One thing her Millersville education could not prepare her for was teaching in a global pandemic.
“One very specific challenge I am facing with teaching first grade in particular is the kiddos can’t see my mouth due to wearing a mask, which makes teaching phonics extremely challenging. I never realized how important it was for them to see the way my mouth was moving to form letter sounds until I had to wear a mask all day,” says Hendricks. “I am facing the same challenges all educators are facing when it comes to the remote learning aspect, especially the immense amount of planning that goes into teaching both in-person and remote.
Hendricks advises educators to give themselves time to relax, spend time with family and friends, and keep up with any hobbies they enjoy.
Peggy Johnson, MHSA, RRT; Respiratory Therapist
Peggy Johnson, MHSA, RRT, graduated from Millersville in 2004 with a degree in biology with a focus on respiratory therapy. Johnson currently works as a respiratory therapist at both Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Albert Einstein Medical Center in North Philadelphia.
“My role involves helping patients to breathe through medication administration, assistance with code blues, intubations and airway and ventilator management,” says Johnson.
As a respiratory therapist, Johnson works with a team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals across the health care field, to ease or assist in breathing treatments to help patients overcome asthma, COPD, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis and lung or breathing affected by traumatic injuries.
Johnson says that working as a respiratory therapist at the start of COVID-19 was a scary and anxious time.
“For the first month or two, I panicked a lot, driving home, thinking I somehow contracted COVID-19,” says Johnson. “It was all anxiety.”
Johnson says the workload was overwhelming when her team started seeing patients with Covid.
“We had increased incidences of code blues come through our emergency room, and more critical patients in general,” says Johnson, explains that Code Blue refers to patients who are in critical condition, often involving cardiac arrest, issues breathing, or other medical emergencies. “Most days were nonstop, and while we were saving many patients, after a few months, it seemed like we were losing a lot.”
Johnson says the days were sad and exhausting, coupled with the fear of getting loved ones sick at home.
“We take our work seriously,” says Johnson. “We adjust, we focus, and we plow through it to do the best we can for our patients. I do believe that the clinical experience that I received at Millersville is unmatched at other schools. I was taught to think critically, to speak up, and advocate for my patients using the education I was given. I was encouraged to have empathy.”
Johnson says empathy plays a pivotal role in the healthcare field.
“You can’t be successful at this job without empathy,” says Johnson. “We see a lot of sick patients at their worst, and they aren’t always nice at their worst. We understand that they are sick, and our role is to save them and make things easier.”
Estefania Martinez, Medical Assistant in the Department of Women’s Health at Apple Hill Medical Center
Estefania Martinez is a 2020 biology graduate of Millersville University. She currently works as a medical assistant in the Department of Women’s Health at Apple Hill Medical Center. She started working at the center over the summer when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
“The experience is different than previous years when I worked as a medical assistant elsewhere, pre-pandemic,” says Martinez. “I wasn’t ever terrified of contracting COVID-19, but I definitely was more aware and took more caution when dealing with patients.”
Martinez says now that the vaccines are available, there is less fear, although patients and staff are still being cautious.
“It was a little stressful when having to prioritize patients, as in who could be seen, and what procedures can be done, due to restrictions and protocol,” says Martinez. “The education I received at Millersville has definitely helped me in the role I am in today.”
Martinez is grateful for the courses she was able to take at Millersville, such as genetics, immunology, anatomy and physiology. Martinez believes that these courses equipped her to be able to answer questions patients may have.
Martinez appreciates seeing patient flow and care becoming easier, as COVID-19 restrictions lessen and vaccines are available for both staff and patients.
Leah McDonald, Patient Care Assistant at Mental Health and Behavioral Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio
Leah McDonald graduated from Millersville University in 2020 with a degree in psychology and a sociology minor. As a patient care assistant, McDonald takes care of patients and ensures that they have what they need. She also helps them find the places they need to go and ensures that they attend any necessary events or meals they are scheduled to attend.
“My experience has been wonderful,” says McDonald. “I absolutely love my job!”
McDonald observed that more people have been going through mental health units during the pandemic.
“Most are there for a short time to get their medications correct due to anxiety or depression,” says McDonald. “My education at Millersville has helped me understand what some mental illnesses look like. It has also helped me to understand how to help those who need my help and to be patient with them as well.”
Dennis Merrigan, Deputy Chief of Philadelphia Fire Department
Dennis Merrigan is a Deputy Chief in the city of Philadelphia and the city’s fire marshall. Merrigan received his master’s degree from Millersville University in emergency management in 2015 and has risen through the ranks of his position within the Philadelphia Fire Department.
“I think Millersville opened my eyes to a lot of broader issues and it definitely helped me at a management level, where I am now,” says Merrigan. “It prepared me for a lot of the management challenges that I face in fire service, like budget, manpower, staffing and equipment needs.”
Merrigan continued serving in the fire service through the pandemic, an industry that experienced minimal changes to procedure amidst the global health crisis. Merrigan shared that technology allowed the department to operate as usual, however, instead of gathering in an office space to hold team meetings, the department could meet virtually to limit contact.
Merrigan praised his team for continuing to operate at the highest level of performance throughout the crisis.
“I think we’ve done an excellent job,” says Merrigan. “We’ve continued to maintain our staffing levels every day and respond to jobs all over the city, throughout the entire pandemic, without missing a beat.”
Merrigan encourages his fellow Marauders, “To stay focused and work hard. There’s a lot of opportunities out there and you just have to feel your way. Now, once you get something that you like and you feel that that’s where you want to go, put your head down and go for it.”
Jessica Moore, Behavioral Safety Assistant at Chester County Hospital
Jessica Moore graduated from Millersville University in the fall of 2020 with a bachelor of science in biology. Moore currently holds two positions in the healthcare field, working in the pharmacy department at CVS, and working as a behavioral safety assistant at Chester County Hospital.
“At CVS, I work closely with patients to fill their prescriptions, identify their benefits and immunize them,” says Moore. “At Chester County Hospital, I work as a behavioral safety assistant, where I sit one-on-one with patients who are a behavioral or safety risk. This often includes working closely with nurses to take care of the patient, while also maintaining their absolute safety.”
During the pandemic, Moore says she has observed many patients struggle financially and physically. Moore says Millersville taught her how to be understanding of people and their backgrounds, and how to listen closely to everyone’s story.
“Millersville taught me that as individuals, we all have something to give to others. I’ve watched patients lose their insurance due to job loss, making them unable to pay for their life-saving and maintenance medications. I’ve seen patients struggle mentally due to the pandemic. I’ve also seen coworkers run themselves ragged and overwork themselves trying to provide care. I’ve also seen the community rise up to help each other in a lot of ways,” says Moore.
Mara Tate, Middle Level Education
Mara Tate graduated from Millersville University in May 2020 with a degree in middle-level education with a focus in mathematics.
“Since a young age, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. I always enjoyed going to school and learning,” says Tate. “Throughout my education, I had many teachers that inspired me to become an educator.”
Following her graduation from high school, Tate took a gap year where she served as a Pennsylvania FFA State Officer. During that year, Tate traveled the state, facilitating leadership workshops and visiting schools.
“I realized that being in the classroom with students was something I truly loved and would enjoy doing for the rest of my life,” says Tate. “It would also be a way for me to continuously make a positive influence on the lives of students. I chose the Millersville education program because I knew it was a well-respected program that would set me up for success in my career as a teacher,” says Tate.
Tate is a 6th-grade teacher at Martic Elementary School in the Penn Manor School District.
“This year has had a mix of everything in terms of teaching. We began the school year following the hybrid model. During that time, we taught half of our classes in person, while the other half was virtual,” says Tate.
She thinks the most beneficial component of her time at Millersville was the opportunity to participate in field placements, gaining first-hand experience in the classroom prior to graduation.
Leilany Tran, Social Worker with Lancaster Police Department
Millersville alumna Leilany Tran works in emergency services from the perspective of law enforcement. Tran is a social worker with the Lancaster City Police Department. She graduated from Millersville University in 2012 with a bachelor’s in psychology and went on to receive her master’s in social work from Temple University.
Tran works with police officers, community leaders and residents in the city of Lancaster and surrounding areas of the county. She coordinates care for residents struggling with issues of mental health, assists with housing support and connects elderly residents with resources and services.
“The bulk of my work consists of supporting officers on the scene when needed for populations who call in to 911 and are calling for social service support,” says Tran. “At that point, they just don’t know who else to call, so they’ll dial 911.”
Tran joins police officers on incident calls to provide de-escalation services and resources for residents. According to Tran, there are several people who law enforcement continually visits due to mental health incidents or repeated calls to 911. Given the nature of Tran’s position within the police department, she is able to build relationships with these community members with the goal of connecting them to local resources.
As the conversation surrounding police brutality increased in the U.S. during the summer of 2020, Lancaster experienced an incident that brought this concept home. Lancaster City resident, Ricardo Muñoz, was shot and killed by an officer with the Lancaster Police Department in September 2020. Following the death of Muñoz, a group of protesters gathered outside of the police station in downtown Lancaster City.
“I spent the majority of my time when the riots were actively happening here in the city. Sometimes it was 10- or 11-hour days with the crowd, out there on the front lines, talking to people, hearing their demands, explaining what my role is because some individuals didn’t even know that I was within the police department,” says Tran. “A lot of that time was spent just listening and trying to see how I can continue to advocate while serving both the police department I worked for, but also the community that was demanding answers or change. That’s where the work begins, is being right there with them where they’re at.”
As Tran explains, “I have been exposed to things that I’ve never seen before. I’m exposed to seeing people at their absolute worst and that can take a personal toll on you. It gives me more of an inner energy, I don’t know how to explain it, but an inner energy to want to help those people during that time. I feel like this is something I was meant to do.”
Sam Waldman, Second Grade Teacher
Waldman graduated from Millersville University’s education program in spring 2020. She teaches in a second-grade classroom at West Creek Hills Elementary School in East Pennsboro Area School District, located in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Waldman says she pursued a career in teaching because of the opportunity to make a positive impact on the students in her classroom.
“Education is a powerful platform to make a positive impact on children, and gives teachers the amazing opportunity to serve as leaders and role models,” says Waldman. “I want to serve as a role model for my students and remind them every day that they are valued, cared for and believed in.”
Waldman initially chose Millersville’s education program because of its positive reputation in the teaching community but came to realize the most compelling reason to join the program was its commitment to making its students successful.
“Not only does the program offer a wide variety of courses that educate its students on every aspect of the job, but Millersville also gives college students the opportunity to work in actual classrooms during each year of the program,” says Waldman. “Most programs don’t offer field experience until junior or senior year, but Millersville gives its students the experience early on, and even offers a year-long student teaching placement during the final year of the program.”
Waldman has faced new teaching challenges as the pandemic unfolded, explaining that, “Some of the biggest challenges during this pandemic have been the ‘uncontrollables.’ When students are learning from home, there are many challenging factors that teachers have no control over. It can often be difficult to meet the needs of all students and provide an equitable education when students are learning through a screen in an environment that teachers have little to no control over.”
Waldman says both teachers and students have needed to become extremely flexible and adaptable as things change rapidly and without prior warning.
Waldman goes on to say, “Many of my students have experienced a lot of adversity in the past year. It is the relationships that they have with their teachers and classmates that keep them motivated and still willing to learn during a pandemic.”
“I am so thankful that my professors made this a priority in my education at Millersville,” she says. “My advice to students who are studying to become teachers is to remember your why, or your purpose for entering this profession. The job hunt is hard, and the job itself is even harder. It is very easy for these challenges to push people away from entering the profession. This is why it is important to remember your reason for wanting to become a teacher and allowing that purpose to drive you forward. Take every opportunity to learn, grow and better yourself. Go above and beyond. The intangible qualities like work ethic, commitment and passion will make you a successful educator.”