ROHA Pandemic Interviews

Project Description

In 2020, the Rutgers Oral History Archives began to document the experiences of individuals throughout Rutgers and New Jersey communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. The interviews are autobiographical with a focus on pandemic-related issues. This series of pandemic oral histories is ongoing, and new interviews will be added periodically.  For additional interviews, visit Voces of a Pandemic on the Rutgers Oral History Archives website.


Select a name below to be directed to the description page, and then select the HTML version or PDF version of the transcript.

  • Antonio Calcado

    Description: Antonio M. Calcado has served as the Executive Vice President for Strategic Planning and Operations and Chief Operating Officer at Rutgers since 2016. In this two-part oral history conducted by ROHA Director Shaun Illingworth and History Professor Dr. Paul Clemens, Calcado discusses his family's roots in Portugal, childhood, education, career and experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Calcado grew up in the Ironbound section of Newark and earned his undergraduate degree in political science at Seton Hall and Master of Public Administration at LaSalle University. In a career at Rutgers spanning more than thirty years, Calcado has held a number of leadership positions, including Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning, and Senior Vice President of Institutional Planning and Operations. He is a leading expert on deferred maintenance. As the Emergency Management Coordinator, Calcado directs the University's responses to crises. Topics discussed in the interviews include preventative maintenance, involvement in professional organizations, Hurricane Floyd, Y2K, the merger of Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and subsequent establishment of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Hurricane Sandy, public safety issues, development of the College Avenue and Livingston campuses, emergency preparedness, and the 2030 master plan. In the second session, Calcado delves into the Covid-19 pandemic. He traces the opening of the Emergency Operations Center and mobilization of the Rutgers COVID-19 Task Force during the early days of the pandemic in February 2020. Having contracted the virus in March, Calcado discusses his own experiences battling Covid-19, during which time he was hospitalized. He explores the University's response to the pandemic, highlighting considerations that have factored into decision-making involving a number of topics, including switching to remote instruction, repopulating campuses, and dealing with the impact of the financial crisis.
  • Faith D'Alessandro

    Description: Born in 1999 in Brooklyn, New York, Faith D'Alessandro grew up in Middletown, New Jersey. At Rutgers, she majored in history and has undergone the five-year program in the Graduate School of Education to become certified in Social Studies Education. In part one, she discusses her upbringing, family and impetus for becoming an educator. She delves into her education at Rutgers and then transitions into how she was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic initially in March 2020 and then in the fall semester 2020. In part two, she explores the first portion of student-teaching that she did in Woodbridge and how the pandemic has impacted education in general and her experiences student-teaching. She talks about getting vaccinated and family members who work in the health-care profession. In part three, she discusses getting COVID-19 herself multiple times. As a fifth-year graduate student, she student-taught in Woodbridge and analyzes her teaching experiences and issues surrounding student performance after being virtual or hybrid for almost two years. She also discusses her own education at the GSE over the course of the pandemic. This oral history is a part of Paul Clemens and Johanna Schoen's research into Rutgers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Linda Flynn

    Description: Linda Flynn, PhD, RN, FAAN, serves as dean and professor of the Rutgers School of Nursing. In part one (Jan. 14, 2021), Dr. Flynn traces her background growing up Washington, D.C. and attending the University of Maryland School of Nursing. She began her nursing career in labor and delivery and then in acute care. For nearly thirty years, she worked in community health and Medicare-certified home health. She earned her master's in community health nursing and PhD in Nursing Research from the Rutgers School of Nursing. She served as a professor at the University of Colorado and University of Maryland-Baltimore, before returning to Rutgers in 2017. In the interview, she traces the early response at Rutgers and at the School of Nursing to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as shifting to remote learning in classrooms and adapting clinical placements to a virtual model. She talks about the toll the pandemic took on the student body educationally, as well as for students working in the health care profession, and how the school responded in terms of curriculum and support structures. She discusses the evolution of clinical placements at different times in 2020. In part two (July 18, 2022), Dr. Flynn discusses the role of the School of Nursing in the VAX Corps and the establishment of vaccine clinics in Newark and New Brunswick, as well as the creation of the Student Nurse Reserve Corps to help during the nursing shortage. She examines changes in curriculum in terms of mental health, population health, public health, and diversity, inclusion and equity. She talks about how the pandemic has affected the nursing profession overall and undergraduate education in nursing specifically. This oral history is a part of Paul Clemens and Johanna Schoen's research into Rutgers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Michael R. Greenberg

    Michael R. Greenberg, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. Born in the Bronx in 1943, he grew up in the Bronx and Yonkers and attended public schools. He attended Hunter College, where he played baseball and earned his B.A. For graduate school, he studied at Columbia, where he received his M.A. in urban geography and Ph.D. in environmental and medical geography. In the interview, he recalls being a graduate student at Columbia during the turbulent years of the late 1960s. After beginning his career at Columbia, he joined the faculty at Livingston College in 1971. He discusses the early years of Livingston and the development of the urban planning department. Over the course of his career, he has specialized in environmental health, environmental planning and management and risk analysis and has written more than thirty books and over three hundred articles. He has been a member of numerous National Research Council Committees, including those focusing on the disposal of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, chemical waste management, and the degradation of the U.S. physical infrastructure. He has served on advisory boards for several governmental departments and agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research. He served as the editor-in-chief of Risk Analysis and as associate editor for environmental health for the American Journal of Public Health. He served as the Associate Dean of the Bloustein School from 2000 to 2017 and as Interim Dean in 2017-'18. Dr. Greenberg is the 2019 recipient of the Gorenstein Memorial Award. In the oral history, he examines changes at Rutgers over the course of the pandemic, as well as public policy issues concerning COVID-19 and resulting health disparities.
  • Kristina Grkovic

    Description: Since 2020, Kristina Grkovic has been a student-athlete at Rutgers with an undergraduate major in supply chain management. In part one (September 1, 2021), Grkovic traces her background growing up in Belgrade, Serbia. When she was nine, her family moved to Sudan, Africa, following her father, who works for the United Nations. Then, the family moved to Italy, where Grkovic began playing volleyball at the age of twelve and moved up to competition at the club level in Rome. She discusses her experiences living in Rome in the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began and then the process she undertook to obtain her visa, travel to the U.S. and quarantine upon arrival in August 2020. She relates what it was like being on campus in the fall of 2020 and practicing with the Rutgers Women's Volleyball Team and the uncertainty surrounding the fall 2020 season, which was delayed until the spring of 2021. She discusses the safety protocols and testing requirements while traveling and playing matches in the spring of 2021. In part two (October 10, 2022), Grkovic delves into the volleyball team's fall 2021 season and changes on the team. She discusses her future aspirations to play professional volleyball and expects to graduate with a degree from the Rutgers Business School in 2024 or 2025. This oral history is a part of Paul Clemens and Johanna Schoen's research into Rutgers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Kamlu Gulrajani

    Description: Kamlu Gulrajani was born in 1946 in Karachi, in what was then India and is now Pakistan. In the interview, she discusses the exploitation and abuse faced by her mother from her in-laws as a result of the dowry system and the stigma endured by her mother as a result of being separated from her father and later getting divorced. In 1950, Kamlu moved to Bandra in Bombay, now Mumbai, with her mother and brother. She attended parochial schools and then went to college at Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics, where she studied commerce. In the interview, she discusses languages that she learned while growing up (Hindi, Marathi, Sindhi and English) as well as Indian holidays and Sindhi Hindu festivals and customs. She worked as a bank teller and then officer at Indian Overseas Bank. Following their father, her brother immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 and settled in Queens. She followed in 1981 and her mother in 1984. Kamlu shares her experiences becoming acclimated to life in the U.S. and the challenges she encountered in entering the American workforce. She continued her education, shifted to information technology, and worked for several major corporations and a hospital. After being laid off during the financial crisis of 2008, she decided on early retirement. In the mid-1980s, she moved to East Brunswick, where her brother had relocated. Once in New Jersey, she became involved in community service through organizations such as Sathya Sai Baba, Elijah’s Promise, East Brunswick Public Library, East Brunswick Senior Center and YMCA. She serves as an officer in Agraj Seva Kendra, an Indian cultural organization in Middlesex County, and participates in the Indian American Club of Rossmoor in Monroe Township. A student of Brahma Kumaris, a world spiritual organization, she leads meditation and mindfulness sessions. In the interview, she describes her experiences as a Sindhi Hindu, difficulties she encountered in the workplace, the growth of the South Asian population in Central Jersey, and her own personal and spiritual development over the course of her life and recently during the pandemic. The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2020-2022 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.
  • Beka Kojadinovic

    Description: Jelisaveta "Beka" Kojadinovic was a student-athlete at Rutgers from 2017 to 2021 on the Women's Volleyball Team. She was born in 1998 in Belgrade, Serbia. She began playing volleyball at the age of six and played at the club level in Serbia. In part one (September 14, 2021), she discusses her decision to come to Rutgers, transition to life as a student-athlete, experiences during the first two seasons playing volleyball at Rutgers in 2017 and 2018, and the new coaching staff in 2020. In the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began, she traveled back to Serbia for six months and returned to Rutgers in the summer of 2020 for the fall season. She explores testing and practicing protocols in the fall of 2020 and her experiences during that season, which was delayed until the spring of 2021. She weighs her thought process about continuing volleyball professionally versus entering the workforce in Serbia or in the U.S. In part two (May 5, 2022), Kojadinovic talks about her undergraduate degree and master's in financial analysis at the Rutgers Business School and plans to return to Serbia to work as a data analyst, while also pursing professional volleyball in the future. She explores the fall season in 2021 and the relaxing of testing requirements and other protocols, both as an athlete and as a student. She also relates general sentiments regarding vaccines and mask requirements in Serbia. This oral history is a part of Paul Clemens and Johanna Schoen's research into Rutgers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Debora La Torre

    Description: Debora "Debbie" La Torre was born in 1982 in Lima, Peru. In the mid-1980s, her father immigrated to the United States, and she and her mother soon followed. The family settled initially in East Newark and then in Kearny. La Torre graduated from Kearny High School in 2000 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. After basic training, she was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii with the 58th Military Police Company as a combat medic. In 2004, she deployed with her unit to Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base, where she rotated between serving as a combat medic on patrols, at the combat support hospital, and in the detention center that held enemy prisoners of war. Following her deployment in Afghanistan, La Torre was stationed in Germany with the 67th Combat Support Hospital in Würzburg and then the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Kaiserslautern, during which time she worked in the emergency room at the military hospital at  Landstuhl. After deciding to get out of the Army, La Torre went to nursing school on the GI Bill at Bloomfield College and then got her Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN). She joined the Army Nurse Corps Reserves and currently serves, at the rank of captain, as a medical readiness officer. She is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC). During nursing school, La Torre became involved in the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN). In 2020, she became president of the New Jersey Chapter of NAHN. The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2020-2022 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.
  • Barbara Lee

    Description: Barbara A. Lee is a Distinguished Professor of Human Resource Management at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR). She was born in 1949 in Newton, New Jersey. Growing up in Newton and Andover Township, she attended public schools. She went to the University of Vermont, where she majored in English and joined the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. She was inducted in Phi Beta Kappa as a junior. After graduating in 1971, she went to graduate school at Ohio State University, earning a M.A. in English in 1972 and Ph.D. in higher education administration in 1977. She attended law school at the Georgetown University Law Center, receiving a J.D. in 1982. Dr. Lee became a professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers in 1982.  In 1984, she joined the faculty in the Department of Industrial Relations and Human Resources at SMLR. Over the years, she has taught classes on employment law, labor law and higher education law. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Law of Higher Education, A Legal Guide for Student Affairs Professionals, and Academics in Court: The Consequences of Faculty Discrimination Litigation. As an administrator, Dr. Lee has served as department chair, associate dean, associate provost and dean, as well as director of the Center for Women and Work. In 2015, she became the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, a post she held until June 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, she worked with others in the Emergency Operations Center to manage the University's response and the shift to remote instruction.
  • Taylor Lorchak

    Description: Taylor Lorchak is a registered nurse, combat medic in the Army National Guard, and alumna of the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden. Born in Bristol, Pennsylvania in 1994, Lorchak grew up in Levittown, Philadelphia and Glassboro, New Jersey. Homeschooled during her youth, she trained as a musician and played the French horn at the Settlement Music School and in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. She attended The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and majored in performance. Influenced by her brother and sister-in-law, who are nurses, she decided that she wanted pursue an accelerated second degree nursing program and, while an undergraduate at TCNJ, started taking nursing prerequisites. After graduating with a B.A. from TCNJ in 2016, she enlisted in the Army National Guard. She went to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood and advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, completing the 68W Combat Medic course. She served as a noncommissioned officer in the 250th Brigade Support Battalion, Charlie Company, and worked as an emergency medical technician in civilian life. In 2019, she began the fifteen-month-long accelerated nursing degree program at the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden. During her last semester in nursing school, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Lorchak experienced the shift to remote instruction as a student. At the same time, her National Guard unit was activated as a part of New Jersey's crisis response, and she deployed to the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home, where she served as a medic. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers-Camden in 2020 and soon after became a registered nurse. Currently, she serves in the National Guard in Pennsylvania and works as a nurse at WellSpan Health. The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2020-2021 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.
  • Donna Nickitas

    Donna M. Nickitas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNE, FNAP, FAAN, is the dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden. She became dean in July 2018, after a distinguished career at the City University of New York's Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing and the Graduate Center, where she was a professor, executive officer of the nursing science Ph.D. program, and specialty coordinator of the dual degree in nursing administration/public administration. A native of Brooklyn, she earned her bachelor's at SUNY Stony Brook, master's degree at New York University and Ph.D. at Adelphi University. Dr. Nickitas served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps at Ellsworth Air Force Base from 1976 to 1978. She then served as a Reservist in the Air Force Nurse Corps from 1978 to 2000, when she retired as a major. Early in her civilian career, she served as assistant director of maternal/child health nursing at Bellevue Medical Center in New York and as a staff nurse in the labor and delivery unit at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. She is the author of numerous books and articles and has served as the editor of the journal Nursing Economic$. In the first session, she discusses her family history, upbringing, education, active-duty military service, and Reserve service as a flight nurse in the 69th Aero-Medical Evacuation Squadron. In the second interview session, she delves into her graduate education, career in nursing and academia, service in the Reserves in the 34th Medical Service Squadron, transitioning to the deanship at Rutgers, and changes brought on by Covid-19 at the School of Nursing-Camden, as well as how the school has responded to the pandemic in terms of education and community engagement.(Photo below: John Costello, U.S. Navy, World War II, father of Donna Nickitas)
  • Margaret Eraclio Nizolek

    Description: Margaret Eraclio Nizolek was born in Flushing, Queens in 1954. She spent her early years in Flushing and then grew up in Jericho, where she went to public schools. From 1972 to 1976, she attended Rutgers College, majoring in English and minoring in French. In the interview, she discusses her experiences in the pioneering class of women at Rutgers College. She delves into dorm life at Davidson, memorable professors, campus life and meeting her future spouse. She went to graduate school for library science at Rutgers in 1976-1977. She worked her entire career at the New Jersey State Library. After beginning in New Jersey Reference, she moved into Governmental Reference, followed by a stint as the General Reference Health Specialist, and then became the supervisor of General Reference. She served as the Associate Director of the State Library Information Center and then as the Director of the Information Center. In the oral history, she traces changes in library science over the course of her forty-five year career and examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the New Jersey State Library.
  • Rafael Perez

    Description: Rafael Perez was born in 1968 in Havana, Cuba. He grew up in Caibarién. Influenced by family members who worked in health care, he went to medical school at Instituto Superior de Ciencias Medicas de Villa Clara and then worked for two years in social service work at a nursing home. With little economic opportunity available in Cuba, in 1994, he fled by boat to Florida and then settled with family members in New Jersey. He describes starting over in the United States and the support of the Cuban-American community in New Jersey. He continued his education in the health care profession, while working as a critical care technician. He has spent his career as a hospital cardiovascular technologist. In the interview, he discusses the effects of the pandemic and compares and contrasts living in America to life in Cuba. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.
  • Brian Strom

    Description: Brian L. Strom, M.D., M.P.H., is the Inaugural Chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) and the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs at Rutgers University. Born in 1949, he grew up in Queens and attended public schools. He earned a B.S. at Yale University in 1971, M.D. at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1975, and M.P.H. in Epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1975 to 1978, he was an intern and resident in Internal Medicine and from 1978 to 1980 he was an NIH fellow in Clinical Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). In 1980, he joined the faculty at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, where he went on to serve as the Executive Vice Dean of Institutional Affairs, Founding Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Founding Director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Founding Director of the Graduate Program in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Part one of the oral history delves into Rutgers University's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and then traces the evolution of the pandemic and Rutgers' decision making over the course of 2020-2021. At the end of part one, Dr. Strom relates his family's history and his own upbringing and education. In part two, he discusses his undergraduate years at Yale during the late 1960s, experiences in medical school and as an intern and resident at UCSF, interests and research in clinical epidemiology and pharmacoepidemiology, career at Penn, transition to Rutgers, role as Inaugural Chancellor of RBHS after the merger with UMDNJ, and the current status and challenges facing RBHS.