Letter to grad students: "How one class activity could become reality in a moment's notice"

by Shelly Gabel

shelley-gabel.jpgLast fall, as a new faculty member at Mount Mary,  I led a disaster planning activity in class but as a dietitian, I never thought that I would have to deal with a pandemic. As the reality of the pandemic hit, I recently reached back out to those students through an email that reflected on our learning, along with my best wishes for support. 

When  I sent it I didn't know that, through their responses, it struck a chord that speaks to the importance of the work we do:


Hello Seniors, I woke up early this morning, couldn't sleep and found myself reflecting on Food & Nutrition Management from fall, my first class at Mount Mary.


I was reflecting on that class we had for disaster planning and how I have personally never had to deal with a disaster and how real that has become not only for myself but for each and every one of us.  I've seen the faculty at Mount Mary work tirelessly preparing for online classes and trying to figure out replacements for supervised practice because of this pandemic. They care so deeply for each and every one of you, they really do.


We've also gotten to see schools, health care facilities and government agencies get a chance to put their emergency policies into practice for a situation that I think no one ever dreamed possible. I've seen one of my past interns, now food service director of my daughter's school district, continue to serve meals every single day and even organize a food drive for those in need. I see a dietitian making a huge difference in our community at a time of need to so many people. That part is pretty cool.


I hope you can see now how that one class activity could become reality in a moment's notice.


As this continues, the days will probably get harder than they have been already. I know this has caused your semester to go a little wonky and most of you are in a situation of working from home when you thought you would be finishing up your practicums in area business, hospitals, schools, etc. 

I just wanted to say hello, let you know that I am thinking of each of you and I wish the semester was different but also remember ... what do you get when you don't get what you want? Experience. This experience will be with you for a lifetime and no one can take that away.


I wish you all safety, good health, a strong immune system and hopefully find a little peace during this time.

Sincerely, Shelly


Several students responded:


  • “Thank you for this sweet and important reminder. I shared with my preceptor that we had just done a class on disaster planning with you. It really is interesting to think about the connection this has made. Take care!!!”
  • “Thank you Shelly! This has been such a hard time, but I greatly appreciate all the hard work and open communication.”
  • “Thank you so much for these words, Shelly. You are right, we are all gaining experience in something none of us have ever experienced. We’re in this together and together we’ll get through.”

After I wrote this email, I decided to also write that dietitian that I mentioned who is working  in my area school district. She is a preceptor for our program at Mount Mary.  She responded,


“OMG this email made my day/ week! Thank you the amazing encouragement, I definitely needed it this week."


Reflecting on my class, not only encouraged my students and preceptor, it also encouraged me. The last couple of weeks have been crazy busy with work: converting classes to online, communicating with students and faculty and through it all trying to take care of my own family. Taking the time to reflect offered me peace, understanding and thankfulness through the craziness of COVID-19.


Shelly Gabel is the director of the graduate program in dietetics at Mount Mary University