Interview with Dr. Courtney Kurtz, 04/08/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐ES: This is Ethan Schelbert interviewing Dr. Courtney Kurtz on Friday, April 8 to 2022 for campus COVID stories. Student Spencer Schneider is also with us. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences and in the time of COVID, thank you for sharing your stories with us. So before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

CK: Courtney Kurtz C O U R T N EY K U R T Z.

ES: Now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording. Tell us again, who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

CK: I'm Dr. Courtney Kurtz, associate professor of biology.

ES: And before we get, before we dive into the campus COVID story, we'd like to get to know you a little bit better. So could you tell me about where you grew up?

CK: I grew up in De Pere, Wisconsin, so not too far away.

ES: Where did you earn your degree or degrees?

CK: I did my bachelor's degree, Bachelors of Science in Biology at the 00:01:00University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. And then worked at a zoo for a few years and then went back to graduate school at UW Madison. And then did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia.

ES: And then how did you come to work here at UW Oshkosh?

CK: Well, we were looking for some place back in Wisconsin. You know, my parents are up in De Pere. My husband's parents are down in Middleton down by Madison. So this was like a perfect spot in between.

ES:So tell me about your position at UW Oshkosh pre COVID. So before March of 2020.

CK:It's hard to remember back that far. So, we in biology, we have a split, we call it 45/45/10. So we're 45% teaching, 45% research, and 10% service. So I taught, you know, about nine to 10 credits a semester, mainly general biology, 00:02:00physiology, both for majors and non majors, and then immunology, which is my area of expertise. And then I had an active research lab with anywhere from five to 10 students at a time. And we, we got NIH funding in July of 2018. So we were in the beginning stages of that grant. And then also serving on committees and things across campus.

ES: Alright, so now let's move to the early days of COVID. So when was the first time you remember hearing about COVID-19? And what was your reaction?

CK: I remember seeing it on the news, you know that it was in China and that they had shut down Wuhan. You know, and I remember thinking, I don't know, it seems you guys are probably too young to remember this. But the SARS outbreak, which was about 10 years ago, it seemed like it was kind of the same thing. And 00:03:00I thought, well, that never really came to the United States, you know, so we're probably okay, they're probably blowing it out of proportion a little bit. But yeah, that was probably in December of 2019.

ES:Um, so do you know anyone close to you or yourself that has been in contact with COVID-19 and has gotten really sick?


Yes. Yes.

ES: Um, do you mind explaining it?

CK: Yeah. I mean, I can say, you know, a couple of the households or the family got COVID, where one person got it. And then they all got it. One of them is just my child's, you know, flu like symptoms, but in one family, one member was in the hospital for a week, didn't need a ventilator, but needed oxygen. So he was in the hospital for a while with that. I actually had an aunt who passed away of COVID. So she was in the hospital for probably a month. And then, you 00:04:00know, passed away in the hospital. And the tough thing is, you can't go visit anybody, you know, like it was all shut down. So it was like, so she passed away right before the vaccine became available. So I think it was February 2021. And then, you know, we have some people in the department, like a couple of people who were, who got COVID Early on, and there wasn't one of them is one of those long haulers. So kind of been dealing with the symptoms for a while, on and off.

ES: Alright, so now let's talk about your situation when the university closed campus in mid March. So what were your feelings as everything like UW and elsewhere in mid March, started shutting down all of a sudden, so like, what were your feelings when things started shutting down?

CK: Well, at first it was frustrating because they shut down the week. You know, they get Give us that week before spring break, and they shut down. And I was supposed to give an exam that week. And so I was like, oh, because we had moved 00:05:00everything online. So all of a sudden, it moved from frustration to stress. Because we had to get everything ready for online teaching, and a lot of us had never taught online before. So that was really stressful. It was also right around the time when our squirrels were starting to wake up. So we work with hibernating 13, land ground squirrels, they were all hibernating at the time, but they were gonna wake up within the next week or two. And so everything kind of hit the fan all at once. And so it was a lot of stress and frustration more than being afraid, I would say, you know, because I knew I could lock down in my house, but it was kind of what am I going to do with classes? And what am I going to do with my research?

ES: So, some employees' roles were also deemed essential, in that they were instructed to come to work in person. So were you among that group of people?

CK: Yes

ES: And could you, like, describe, like, how was it like, difficult to like, come to work in person?


CK: Um, well, so we were deemed essential because we had animals. So just to kind of back up a little bit, the only reason we were considered essential was because we had animals. There's an office of laboratory animal welfare, which is run through the basically through the federal government. And so they monitor, you know, that you're taking care of your animals, okay, and everything. And they sent out a notice saying, you have two options, you can either make the animal personnel essential, or you can euthanize all your animals, and you who did not want to euthanize all our animals, you know, it seemed kind of wasteful. And so we, you know, made us essential personnel, which was me and my students. And it was very, it was kind of eerie and disquieting, I would say, because you come to campus, and it was just dead. You know, there's no one here. They told 00:07:00us we had to enter one door, and they had literally a map marked of the hallway, we could walk down to get to the animal facility, you couldn't go outside of that area. And there were police kind of patrolling, you know, so it was really, um yeah, just kind of eerily quiet. But on the other hand, I felt thankful that I could come in, when other people were stuck at home, because I know people who, in our department who worked with plants, and all the research was done, you know, they couldn't come and water the plants, because that wasn't considered essential. You know, animals are a little different, obviously. And we still, we still have to be careful. You know, when we come in to clean their cages, we can only have two people in a room at one time, we had an N-95 masks on. So, um, it was, it was strange, but it was also kind of nice to be one of the people who could come on campus, I couldn't go to my office to follow that path. But at least I could come on and see what was going on a little bit.


ES: Alright, so moving to the time of teaching during this time, how many classes did you have? Like how many classes went online? And how many did you have in person?

CK: Um, so in spring 2020, when like, they suddenly went online, I had one class, but it's a big class. So I teach the lecture lab and discussion. It's an animal physiology class. And, you know, we were what, halfway through when everything shut down. So that class, I had to find online alternatives to lab, which is not fun. Record all the lectures. We did some of, it wasn't zoom, we had at the time, it was something called collaborate ultra. I don't know if you guys were here, we had that. So we set up some meetings that way, but you had to be really flexible. And then I teach in the summer, too. So it was still shut down through the summer. So my summer class was online, which is advanced physiology for nursing. And then going into the fall even we had those hybrid. 00:09:00So I had one, no I had two courses that were entirely online, the asynchronous unit where it was pre recorded, but we'd meet once a week and then I had a lab class that one we had to be on campus because it's hard to teach a lab online. And it was really awkward because it's usually a very small group of like 16 to 18 students, but it was too many to be you know, how they had the desk. Do you guys remember that how they had certain desk blocked off, you couldn't sit you had to sit like every other one? Well, in a lab that really cuts down the number of people you can have, so we had to split between two rooms. And so I was running back and forth between the two. It was not fun, but yeah, that was that was that was kind of the way it went. Yeah.


All right. So um, did you find any difficulties like moving from in person to online?

CK: Yes. See, the biggest hurdle was student involvement and engagement, you know, keeping the students engaged. So which is why I tried to do those regular 00:10:00meetings on collaborate ultra or zoom, to kind of keep them with it, check in with them. I, I use a lot of the technology anyway, so it wasn't that hard to record. But then you had to close caption everything to which was really interesting in the sciences, because the automatic closed captioning does not even remotely match the correct spelling of anything. So I mean, it was it was, I'd say the student engagement was the biggest challenge.

ES: So are you still teaching remotely today?

CK: No. No.

ES: And then do you prefer teaching online or in person?

CK: I prefer teaching in person. I didn't mind the online but it's just nice to get to know the students better.

ES: Um, do you incorporate the pandemic in your lessons?


CK: Yes, definitely. So I teach immunology. And so we had a whole section on vaccines. We talked about all the different COVID vaccines, the development of vaccines, how vaccines work, and even in physiology, and we talked about the physiology of COVID a little bit and how it infects cells and things like that. So being in biology, it's a little easier to work that in.

ES: What was your living situation like when teaching virtually.

CK: So I was at home, I'm married and have two kids. So my oldest at the time was a sixth grader. Um and my youngest was a second grader. And so they went entirely online. We live in Neenah and Neenah already had kind of a digital learning thing going on, because during snow days, they would do digital learning. Um, so they were a little better set up than I think a lot of other schools were, but they didn't have, I think, I think the state told them, they had to have like two hours of instruction a day or something like that for the elementary kids. So it was kind of it was juggling, you know, like getting them 00:12:00to do their stuff, but then they'd have nothing to do so they'd be running around making noise when I'm trying to work. And my husband was home to, you know, because he got sent home. So it was a little hectic, I would say.

ES: Um, so overall, do you think you were able to deliver the same quality of teaching to students remotely?

CK: I think I definitely in the fall. And in the summer, I was because I had enough time to sort of prep. I did my best in the spring. I think the lecture was fine. The students did really well, actually. And I gave them more. You know, they had open book exams, because it just you know, how do you do a closed book, right. Um, but we, you know still covered everything they did well, and I had a lot of them the next semester and Immunology. And they did well there. So I think they did okay, but I think this spring was a little iffy. But I think we did a lot better in the fall. But you know, the campus had all these workshops 00:13:00and things over that summer to get people ready to teach online in the fall. So I think that made a lot easier.


Okay, this is now Spenser Schneider interviewing Dr. Courtney Kurtz. So with who did you work the most closely with when executing your response to COVID-19?

CK: Oh, so I would say the chairs of our department, um, especially Dr. Sheldon Cooper, because he's the other, and I know that's from Big Bang Theory, but that's his real name. Um because he's the other physiologists in the department. So he and I teach the same classes. So he and I work together. Sarah Bradway in um, she's one of our instructional designers was awesome helping people get stuff online. I mean, she was great. Um and then, um, yeah I would say those are 00:14:00the people.

SS: Other than the challenges that we've already touched on, are there any other challenges regarding your work from March of 2020 to December of 2021, please describe what needs to be done to your department and your area of responsibility.

CK: Yeah, so. So for March 2020. Yeah, so I would say I mean, one of the biggest challenges was my kids were on, they were virtual learning that next year, which was, my son was okay, he was in seventh grade. So he was pretty self paced, but my daughter was not so it was it was a lot of helping her and doing my stuff and running back and forth type of thing because I was still at home in the fall. As far as the department went, we had a pretty good support system. They set up a Canvas page Just so people could share resources, we actually have one person who's taught online for years. So he was really helpful. But it was still, I 00:15:00would say one of the biggest challenges was losing that, that face to face interaction with students and with your colleagues. You know, being like doing faculty meetings over Zoom is not the same as doing them in person, you know, you miss out on those hallway talks and things like that, where you get a lot of, um, your social interaction, right, you know, so you felt kind of cut off.

SS: What three things were you most proud of regarding your response to COVID-19?

CK: Um, I think I did pretty well moving my stuff online. So I was pretty proud of that. Like, I feel like I could teach online if I had to. We, I think I balanced my home and work fairly well, considering I know a lot of people who struggled more. Um, and I mean, I think I'm proud not just of myself, but of my lab students for keeping the research going through that whole ordeal because it 00:16:00was a lot for everybody, you know. Um, and so, you know, we managed to keep the project going and not have to take any breaks, really, we just kept cranking through.

SS: How is your job changed? Because of this global pandemic? Essentially? What do you think COVID has changed permanently in regards to your work?

CK: Yeah, um, So I think I'm trying to think of the right way to say that. I think it's change a lot of the, like, the interaction between faculty and student, I think there's, in a good way, I think, because I think there's more appreciation of actually being in person now. You know, I mean, so I think there's more appreciation on the part of the faculty member that they get to actually see people's faces. And then there's appreciation on the part of the students that they actually get to ask questions and things like that when they 00:17:00want to. So I don't think that's a bad thing. We've also I think it's helped with, you know, we had that the merger with the access campuses, Fox and Fond du Lac in our department have kind of struggled with how to do faculty meetings and things. And now that we're forced to use Zoom for so long, we're just a lot better at it. You know, I mean, so it's a lot easier to have meetings, virtually, where everyone can be equally included, you know, people can be in the room, or they can be on Zoom, but everyone can kind of follow what's going on. So I think that kind of forced us into that a little bit.

SS: Were there any positives about working online?

CK: While it was kind of nice to work from home, and you'll be in pajamas while you're working, right? Students did that faculty did that too. Um, there are some positives. So it takes a lot to set up an online exam, but it's a whole lot easier to grade. I'll tell you that. So that's nice. It was a little bit more flexibility and schedule, you know, because for the students too right, but 00:18:00being able to, like I recorded a lot of my lectures when we shut down over that spring break, because you couldn't go anywhere, right. So I was just sitting there recording, recording, recording and posting. So that gave me time later to have more interaction with students rather than, like, I know, some people who were basically a lecture ahead. So they were recording for the next day type of thing. But because I recorded so far ahead of time, then I could check in with students, we could ever zoom meetings, it was a little bit more, you know, relaxed, even that next fall, because I recorded most of it over the summer. It was like we had our zoom meetings, but I felt like I had more time to do your check emails and you know, have more of that communication with students.

SS: Awesome. So in the fall of 2021 vaccines were available on campus and in fact, strongly advocated by administration in the CDC. What were your initial thoughts about the vaccines?


I got mine the first day I could. I was all for them. I mean, I'm, I'm an 00:19:00immunologist. So the stuff that I was reading or hearing about, oh, it was too fast, I knew wasn't true. I've, I've read about that type of vaccine for the last 10 years. So I know it's been around for a long time. So I got Yeah, I mean, I got vaccinated as soon as they opened up to essential workers. Um, you know, the teachers. My husband got vaccinated students, he could the kids got vaccinated. So a lot of my students in biology also were getting vaccinated right away, which was nice. It just made me feel a little better. Like maybe it would end at some point, although, as we know, it hasn't really ended but it's getting better at least right?

SS: How much do you How much do you feel things are getting back to normal and for the matter what is normal to you?

CK: Yeah, it's I think they're starting to get back to normal. I don't know if you guys have any summer classes. But last summer, we didn't have to wear masks, um, which was really awkward after a whole year. And then we started wearing 00:20:00them again, right, because the cases went back up. It feels more like, and it might be the same for you guys, but it felt really awkward at first to not wear a mask and to see people not wearing masks in class. But then, you know, the cases are down and so I had to kind of wean myself off of it. But now it's it feels a lot more like normal. I don't think normal is ever going to be what normal was, you know, I think there's always going to be, you know, every time someone coughs, people will be like, uhh, you know, but I do feel like it's getting back to normal, I think there's a chance we might have to wear masks again, you know, the cases go back up in the fall or whatever. But I think our vaccination rate on campus is pretty good. You know, so even if people do get sick, they're not going to get that sick. And I feel like it's probably going to be like a flu, pretty soon, where we'll get an annual booster and, you know. But 00:21:00I mean, I think we are starting to get back to normal. It's just whether it'll last I guess is the question.

SS: What is living and working during the time at COVID taught you about yourself and others?

CK: I think it's really, it showed the resilience people have I think people have been pretty tough and pretty good at adjusting to a lot of changes. And that includes students, faculty, staff, you know, everyone's been pretty flexible. Um, but also kind of rolled with the punches more than I guess I thought they would. And I think, you know, I mean, despite what you kind of hear, you know, maybe outside campus and on the news, I think on campus, people have been pretty good about being understanding of others concerns and things like that. So I think I think that's kind of shown the good side, you know, of UWO.

SS: Knowing what you know now about COVID, and how it relates to your work. What 00:22:00would you have done differently? Like, when COVID first came around?

CK: Yeah, um, I guess I probably would have taken it a little bit more seriously at the beginning. Because they were all taught everyone was talking about it during spring semester. And I knew the chancellor was like, trying to figure out what to do and stuff. But I thought, you know, it's not really here yet, you know, and then all sudden, everything shut down. And it kind of caught me by surprise. So I guess, and I think we're all at that point now, where we take it a little bit more seriously. But yeah, I guess I would have I would have taken more seriously. So I could have planned ahead a little better.

SS: So now, as long as we still have time, I wanted to ask you a few questions about how you, how you personally, in your private life, fared during COVID? Would that be okay?

CK: Yep.

SS: So we were sent home a week before spring break in March of 2020. What did you do during that spring break?

CK: I recorded lectures. The whole time I sat there with my laptop and my I have 00:23:00a headset and I, I was recording lectures nonstop.

SS: Do you remember how long you thought the University of Oshkosh would be close?

CK: Yeah, I figured to be close through the end of the semester. Some people were like, oh, no, we'll come back. I'm like, we're not gonna come back. I just figured if they were, if it was enough that they were willing to shut everything down, that it didn't make sense to bring people back for like a week, you know, because they were saying it was gonna be like six weeks or something? Well, that would have been like a week before the end. So I figured we were going to be through this semester.

SS: Were you pretty confident coming back in the fall? Or was that still kind of up in the air type thing?

CK: It was up in the air for sure. Because they were pushing so much over the summer to train us on online that we were all like, oh no, it's going to be all online. And that's why we had you know, we have to choose well ahead of time. Or we had to choose like in May or June, what we were going to do with our courses 00:24:00in the fall. And so I just went, I knew they were going to push me. My one class was 240 students. So I'm like, there's no way they're letting that run face to face because you can't distance right. So I put that one online right away. And then my other ones, 50 students, and I'm like, you know, I knew they were thinking about having the students choose memory of that high flex and modified tutorial and stuff. So I just put that one on line right away, because I figured that was gonna happen. But it was really, so I wasn't real sure about my lab class, because it's only lab. And I had no idea what I would do if it was forced to be online. So I was really hoping they'd let me do that one face to face. Luckily they did. So.

SS: When we initially went into isolation, who are you living with? And where were you living at the time?

CK: So my husband and my two kids and our cat, um and we're in Neenah.

SS: How were the COVID protocols dealt with at home?

CK: We just we really didn't go anywhere. You know, like, even for a couple of 00:25:00weeks, we didn't even go to the grocery store, right? Because they were even shut down. The kids weren't allowed to play with their friends that was rough. They're for years apart. So they're kind of too far apart to play with each other really. You know what I mean, like, my son was a teenager, my daughter's not. So there were a lot of video games, and Disney plus.

SS: Was there any friction between you and anybody in the house when coming to these protocols?

CK: No, everyone was pretty good. I mean, I would say the only one would be my, my youngest, my daughter because she really wanted to play with her friends. So that was really hard. And we couldn't even you know, go see Grandma and Grandpa, you know, so it was tough. But she dealt with it okay. It's hard for little kids.

SS: With everything that happened and how it happened so quickly, how were you feeling emotionally? And how were the people around you coping?

CK: Um, it was frustrating and stressful. So it was just, it was hectic, it was 00:26:00almost like I was too busy to be worried. You know what I mean? Like I had too much to do to be worried. My husband had just started a new job. So they kept him in as long as they possibly could. So I think he was home like two weeks later than the rest of us, because he was training. So they wanted to make sure he was trained before he went home. So he was still going in. But, um, then once he came home, it was like space issue. You know, like, who was going to be where, you know, we only had one desk, and I had already taken it. So we had to set him up a spot. But yeah, I mean, it was it was more stressful than anything. It wasn't, I mean, there was also the scariness like you're supposed to like wipe down your mail and stuff like that. And it was like, I still, like I don't wipe down my mail. But like what we did was like, put it in one spot, and then open it a couple days later. And I still do that even though I don't have to 00:27:00because I'd forget that I don't have to do it, you know what I mean? So it was just like it was kind of, you know, watching the news, we kind of stop watching the news, because it was too stressful for the kids especially. But yeah, it was more hectic than anything I would say.

SS: How was getting back into school come fall time for you and your family.

CK: Um, so the kids were still virtual through the next year, which was interesting. So my husband couldn't with his job, he's pretty much on all the time. And so he couldn't really help the kids with their school. So I was at home when I could be and I just come in my lab day, and helping the kids and kind of running back and forth. But I really enjoyed going back to school because number one, that interaction with people, I'm a social person. So I had to be social, but also, it made it feel a little bit like you were returning to 00:28:00normal, you know, and then that next spring, it was even a little bit more normal, you know, like it kind of phased in a little bit. Whereas he like my husband just went back to work this week. Like they had them home until this week. And that's a long time to be working remotely when you're not used to it. So I was glad they let us come back at least part time.

SS: Yeah for sure, shoot, I was just gonna ask something else to. All right. I think that's it. Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

CK: Um, I don't think so. I can't think of anything. No. Okay.

SS: Well, thank you for sharing your story with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus of COVID stories here at UW Oshkosh.

CK: All right. Thank you!