Better Days Ahead

U of I alumni weather the COVID-19 storm with help from their Alma Mater

Rick and Terry Hazlewood Alumni couple Rick (left) and Theresa Hazlewood were touring the Grand Canyon as UIAA EXPLORERS when Rick, a member of the University’s IT team, was called away on his cellphone. He and his colleagues held a hasty conference call to map out the migration of classes to the web. “We turned it around a lot quicker than anybody anticipated,” he says. (Image by David Scott)
U of I alumni weather the COVID-19 storm with help from their Alma Mater

THE COVID-19 ERA, Part 2 of 3

Where were you on Thursday, March 12, 2020? Rick Hazlewood, EDM ’85, was hunkered down in back of a tour bus outside of Sedona, Ariz., oblivious to the grandeur of the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks as they emerged in the distance from a blanket of fog.

He was supposed to be on vacation. Instead, he was on a hastily arranged conference call with University of Illinois colleagues, strategizing how to shift all instruction online in response to the spiraling COVID-19 pandemic. Robust Wi-Fi wasn’t a given in the middle of the Coconino National Forest; still, Hazlewood and his colleagues persisted. 

“It’s easy to think of the University as a large oil tanker that you can’t turn around quickly,” Hazlewood says a month later. He chuckles, perhaps thinking for the first time about the magnitude of what he’s been through. “And yet, we turned it around a lot quicker than anybody anticipated.”

Hazlewood is a lead e-learning professional for University Technology Services. He, his wife, Theresa Folts Hazlewood, ’78 EDU, EDM ’85, and their traveling companion, Lynn Ishida, ’72 EDU, EDM ’76, were on the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s EXPLORERS “Great Trains and Grand Canyons” tour. During normal times, Rick helps to maintain Compass 2g, the U of I’s online education portal that allows students and instructors to perform routine coursework tasks, such as updating assignments or submitting written work. He credits the program as a big reason why the University was able to convert to all-online learning so quickly, noting that “90 percent of students were online in at least one of their classes.”

Working from his home in Champaign, Hazlewood has shifted his focus from working with Compass’ parent company, Blackboard, to solving faculty problems. For example, he helped a sociology professor find two online interactive diversity demonstrations to share with her students by working with his Big Ten colleagues. (Hazlewood serves as U of I’s representative in a tech consortium.) 

This type of collaboration also has become more common on campus. Department and division staff “cyber meet” every week to discuss online-education challenges and share successful solutions. These efforts are relatively new, but Hazlewood believes it will be transformative. 

Dr. Suzanne L. Miller, ’74 LAS, MD ’78 UIC, MS ’14 UIC, and husband David R. Noll, CAN ’75 ENG, also were among the 14 Illini on the Grand Canyon trip, the last completed EXPLORERS trip before the pandemic suspended travel. Miller says they feel fortunate to have returned home without incident.

“This is the first serious pandemic our generation has ever had to deal with, and we’re dealing with it in the light of a major political and financial upheaval,” she says. “It’s something that no one ever anticipated experiencing in this country because we’ve been so lucky and blessed.”

Miller experienced firsthand the stress of being a frontline health-care provider when she treated victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

“I thought that would be the worst thing we ever encountered,” she says. “COVID-19 has demonstrated that all of us are in danger all the time nationwide. The pandemic has revealed major flaws in the health-care system. If you have routine illness, you’re going to be completely ignored.” 

As dire as things seem, James Fuss, ’80 LAS, finds hope in knowing that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has engaged “University of Illinois’ strong science faculty and research arms to determine how and when we can reopen our businesses and economy.”

Like Fuss, Miller also is comforted by her Alma Mater, specifically the community she finds in the UIAA’s St. Louis alumni chapter. “We have a very strong collection of people who get together,” she says, adding that she was excited to participate in a virtual COVID-19 town hall that the UIAA hosted with U of I Chancellor Robert J. Jones in late April. “My husband and I both are on the alumni calling list,” she says. “The University called right before it happened. Dave’s cellphone went off. Mine went off. Our house phone rang, and I said, ‘It’s time to talk Illinois!’ I really like it! I enjoy hearing other people’s opinions and views while also remaining part of the University community.”

All three alumni eagerly look to brighter times. Miller and Noll have already booked an EXPLORERS trip to Scotland and France in 2021. Miller isn’t the least bit worried about the financial aspect. “EXPLORERS manages payments, reimbursements and cancellations in a robust way,” she says.

Fuss, an Illini sports enthusiast, holds hope that Illinois will return to action. “I was anxiously looking forward to the success of the Fighting Illini’s men’s basketball team,” he says. “I think we’d have gone deep in the Big Ten Tournament and the Big Dance.”

Hazlewood has signed up for next season’s football and basketball tickets, although he isn’t sure how the teams will return to play and anticipates modifications. He and Theresa also have their eyes on an upcoming EXPLORERS trip to Cuba. Is it too soon to think about travel?

“We’ll go again,” he says with quiet confidence.


For more on this topic, visit:

THE COVID-19 ERA, Part 1 of 3
A World Beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic sent students home, moved classes online, and more or less shut down the University. That was scary. But that’s also when things got really interesting.

THE COVID-19 ERA, Part 3 of 3
Rapid Responders
U of I researchers and faculty combine their talents and resources to battle COVID-19—from modeling the disease’s spread and tracking symptoms to manufacturing hand-sanitizer, and designing diagnostic tests and life-saving medical equipments.