Fostering Love During COVID-19

Shannon and her two dogs, Starley and Maddie. Photo courtesy of Shannon Bartholomew.

It has been said that the true winners of stay-at-home and quarantine orders, if such a thing exists, are the beloved four legged canine companions who have all but certainly been basking in the constant presence of their human counterparts. In fact, social distancing has benefited not only the dogs who had already found homes, but their homeless brethren, too, as people have flocked to shelters and rescues looking to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness through the love and admiration of a new pet.

Critical to the success of some such operations are foster parents, like Phi Sigma Rho sister Shannon (Gorman) Bartholomew (Pittsburgh - Zeta). Foster parents serve as temporary caregivers with whom dogs are placed until they are adopted.

Although her home was not lacking in canine residents -- Shannon and her husband already have a 14 year old pug mix and a two year old lab mix -- she always knew she wanted to be a foster parent, but “never felt like [she] had the time to dedicate to it until now.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Shannon began working from home in mid-March, which allowed her the opportunity to foster through a group called Paws Across Pittsburgh. The organization takes in dogs from local shelters, owner surrenders, and high-kill shelters in nearby areas and places them directly into foster homes, bypassing shelters entirely. Prior to rescuing a dog, Paws Across Pittsburgh ensures that all dogs have a foster home by recruiting fosters through their Facebook group.

Over the past two months, Shannon has fostered five dogs: four puppies and one adult lab. She notes that puppies tend to be adopted quickly (“which is good because they are a ton of work!”), but that dogs are typically within her care for two weeks. During that time, the foster dogs are able to get up-to-date on their veterinary care and interested applicants are able to complete the adoption application process.

The foster dogs. Photos courtesy of Shannon Bartholomew.

“Fostering is time consuming but if you are a dog lover (like me) it is so rewarding knowing that you are providing an actual home to a dog for a few weeks and giving them a better chance at adoption,” Shannon said.

As an added bonus, fostering has provided her own dogs with new, often energetic, and playful companions. Shannon says that her two-year-old lab mix loves the experience of getting a steady stream of new friends who pass through the house. Her 14-year-old pug mix, on the other hand, finds comfort in securing her spot on the couch and largely staying out of the way. 

Since most of the fostering activity happens at home, the pandemic hasn’t greatly affected the adoption process. Aside from meet-and-greets between fostered dogs and their potential adopters, which happen outdoors at safe social distances, and applicant home visits, which are now done digitally, it’s basically business as usual.

Contributing to the process of finding a forever home for the dogs is rewarding and Shannon’s favorite part of fostering. “Watching their adopters getting to take their dog home and getting pictures of my previous fosters in their new homes are such great feelings,” she said.

Although she acknowledges that she may not be able to foster as frequently once this quarantine period ends, Shannon knows this is not the end of her foster parent journey. 

“Most of the time, not only are you helping a dog that might be facing a grim future, but usually dogs from fosters/rescues are fully vetted and ... they provide just as much love,” she said.


My Experience Working at a Startup: Q&A with Alex Milat

Alex Milat (Purdue - Alpha) works at Lucid Motors, an electric luxury vehicle company based on Newark, CA. Read below to find out more about her experience working at a startup company, including what it's like to be in the tech startup hub of America, and how working at a startup differed from her experiences at more established companies.

Photo courtesy of Alex Milat.


Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Southern California, without knowing much about the field of engineering. I actually found out about the field late into my senior year of high school and thought it could be a great way to combine my interest in art and math. I attended Purdue University for my degree in mechanical engineering, with an interest in automotive and sustainable technology. After interning at a startup in the Bay area, I moved to Silicon Valley the summer after graduation. Right now I'm working at Lucid Motors, working on electric vehicles.


What internships or co-op experiences did you have during college? At the time, were you looking for something particular? How did those roles/experiences help you decide what you would pursue post-college?

The great thing about mechanical engineering is that it can be applied to a wide range of jobs, so I used college internships and projects as means to try different roles in manufacturing, testing, and design. I interned at both large companies and startups while in school. I co-oped with Toyota in Michigan for two rotations, in the transmission testing and chassis design groups. While on campus, I worked in the engineering machine shop. I also had side projects such as joining my sorority go-kart team and building a hyperloop pod for SpaceX's design competition. My last internship was in battery pack manufacturing at electric bus startup, Proterra, in the Bay Area. It was this last role that sparked my interest in startups, with the smaller teams and exciting work culture.


How did you find your current job? How was the interview process? Was it any different from interviews at an established company?

I was approached on LinkedIn by a hiring manager who messaged me. I also interviewed at other startups in northern and southern California, and the interview process is much more rigorous than what I experienced elsewhere. Teams take the time to screen each person thoroughly to test your understanding of fundamental engineering concepts, and your ability to apply it to current problems. At times, I would go over my FE practice book to study before interviews.


Tell us about your job and the work environment. What is the day-to-day like?

I am responsible for the mechanical design and release of low voltage electronics throughout the car. In addition I work on the design of several injection molded and stamped sheet metal parts. While there are certain milestones that the company continually works on, often tasks change day to day, and you need to learn to prioritize quickly. I need to switch gears when another team needs help with something urgently.


What do you think are the biggest differences between an established company and a startup?

Both have their pros and cons. My time at Toyota provided me with a steady stream of projects on a set timeline. Working at a startup, I worked on a larger variety of projects but they are more sporadic. You are expected to work quickly and diligently without needing a lot of help or guidance. However, being in a smaller work environment allows you to walk across the office to experts in the industry, which is a great resource. More of the people working at a startup are there because they believe in the mission of the company, especially since we all benefit if the company does well and our stocks go public.


What are some challenges people might face in the startup environment? Do you believe there are certain personalities that would be better suited for startup life or do you feel as though anyone can readily adapt to it?

The work culture suggests that you be self-motivated, manage your time well, and be a quick learner. Work/life balance is a common challenge, since there is a lot of work to get done but not a lot of people to do it. This can lead to longer hours than what you may expect at a larger automotive company. I've also heard the quickest way to fail in a startup is to not be open to helping others. My advice is learn to set boundaries early, and not doubt your abilities.


What's it like living in such a startup/tech heavy area?

It's very exciting to live in a tech area like Silicon Valley, for example every time I see self-driving taxis and Tesla's driving next to me. Since the community is made up of many high-earning tech employees, it does tend to drive housing prices up in the area. The community is large, but it feels like everyone knows everyone at other companies, so the community feels close-knit.


Do you see yourself staying in the startup world long-term?

I'll try to stay in the startup world for the next few years. I'd at least like to see our current electric car go to market. This area has some of the greatest minds working on ways to solve the world's problems. If you're willing to put in the time and effort, you'll learn more here in a year than you would elsewhere.


Plan Bee: How One Phi Rho Sister Went from Contestant to Crew Member


Photo courtesy of Yashna Nainani.

As the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in an unprecedented eight-way tie, Yashna Nainani was watching off to the side of the stage. Despite having competed as a contestant herself years earlier, she felt that something truly special was happening. She recalls this exact moment as her favorite Bee moment of all time simply because “it was really awesome to be a part of history.”

Yashna, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying bioinformatics and health sciences and a member of Phi Sigma Rho’s Omega chapter, had been selected to be part of the 2019 Bee’s College Crew, a group of students who work behind-the-scenes to make the Bee as memorable as possible for the spellers, their families, and all other attendees. 

The Bee’s College Crew is only a small fraction of the people who work diligently to put on the televised Bee, but the work they do is crucial to the success of the overall event. Members of the Crew are tasked with helping with registration, filling favor bags, directing crowd flow, and guarding over the “Bee-Hive,” a gathering space for the spellers and their families to hang out and socialize with others. Yashna laments that the Bee’s TV viewers “don’t see the amount of effort that gets put into making Bee Week such a fun and wholesome experience for everyone that attends.”

While being a previous participant is not a requirement for being a Crew member, Yashna was alerted to the opportunity via an email sent to past competitors encouraging them to apply. As a past participant, it’s understandable why Yashna would be so passionate about wanting to put together a memorable event for the spellers.

Yashna as a participant in 2013. / Photo courtesy of Yashna Nainani.

Yashna’s earliest memories of the Bee go back as far as 2005, when she first watched it live. She quickly became enamored and began to compete along from home every year. Yashna’s proficiency at spelling won her success not just at home, but at school, as well. She won her first school-wide competition in third grade and didn’t stop there. She was her school’s champion each year from third through eighth grade, with the final of those victories sending her to the National Spelling Bee.

Yashna appreciates the experience she had as a contestant, but she has a real fondness being part of the Crew. “I met and became friends with the coolest group of nerds who get just as pumped as I do about spelling, and we still keep in touch to this day,” she said.

And if you thought the Crew members would leave the spelling to their under-age-15 counterparts, well, think again.

“We even had our own College Crew spelling bee one night,” she said.


Crafting for a Cause

Photo courtesy of Laurie Gilson.


The fires were raging. The fortunate animals, lucky to be alive, were displaced from their habitats. Animal welfare and rescue organizations stepped in and began caring for them -- some orphaned, some burned, others malnourished -- since they could no longer do so for themselves.

A half a world away Laurie Gilson, a third-year mechanical and metallurgical engineering student at Missouri University of Science and Technology and a member of Phi Sigma Rho Sorority’s Rho chapter, was reading about the devastation of the fires and saw that the animal rescue and rehabilitation organizations were asking for sewn donations of pouches, nests, and wraps -- concoctions that would mimic the animal’s real habitat and provide a warm, snuggly temporary home while they recuperated. Immediately upon seeing the request, Laurie “knew this would be a good way I could help.”

For as long as she can remember, Laurie has been sewing. At age 16, she taught herself to crochet because, as a huge Marvel fan, she wanted to make an Avengers doll. “After that I fell in love with the craft!” she said.

Through an online search, Laurie started working with Relief Crafters of America, a volunteer-run organization that “serves to direct handcrafted fiber products to groups in need.” At the time, the organization was largely focused on sending crafted goods to animal rehabilitation organizations in Australia. The organization promotes different projects and causes on a monthly basis.

“The main item I worked on were animal pouches,” she said. “These are essentially sacks with rounded bottoms and sturdy construction that provide a snuggly temporary home for the animals (like joeys and opossums). I also worked on bat wraps, which mimic a mama bat wrapping up a baby bat in her wings. Other items were hanging versions of the animal pouches, bat pouches, and crochet bird nests.”

Laurie began to realize that her efforts could also be needed locally as well. 

“I was thinking about how rehabilitators in my area could use these as well, and not just for huge disasters but for everyday animal care,” she said. 

She contacted Lakeside Nature Center in Kansa City, MO to find out what they might need, which prompted her to supply them with animal pouches, too.

She was planning on utilizing Phi Sigma Rho’s annual Service with Sigmand Week, a yearly spring event that encourages philanthropy and volunteerism within the sorority, as a way of getting her sorority sisters involved in making animal pouches for Lakeside Nature Center. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing global pandemic and the closure of college campuses, that project was put on hold.

As the pandemic has spread and our country’s need for personal protective equipment (PPE) has been highlighted, Laurie has refocused her sewing efforts into making fabric face masks to help with the nationwide shortages, another project sponsored by the Relief Crafters of America. With the help of her Phi Sigma Rho sisters, Laurie was able to supply a nursing home with enough masks to protect both their nurses and residents.

In addition to the face masks, Laurie continues to make animal pouches with the remaining scraps she has, and would like to continue to support future projects sponsored by Relief Crafters. When asked if she had a specific goal in mind with regards to ending the project, she responded, “My plan is to keep sewing until I run out of fabric! Our faculty advisor just donated a ton of extra fabric to me, so I’ll be busily sewing for a while!”


2019 National Award Winners

During Convention Phi Sigma Rho recognized several chapters and individuals for their achievements over this past year. Please join us in congratulating this year's award recipients.

For a list of the previous year's winners, please see this page.

Chapter Award Winners

The Rashmi Khanna Scholarship Award
University of Toledo-Delta Chapter (0.035 increase in GPA)

The Abby McDonald Spirit Award
Purdue University-Alpha Chapter (103 events)

The Christine Mooney Service Award
Ohio Northern University-Iota Chapter (1,040 hours at an average of over 77 hours per member)

The Chapter Advisor Award
Kristin Boomer, Case Western Reserve University-Omicron Chapter.

National Senior Award
Alisa Rogers of the UCSD-Chi  Chapter

Rising to Excellence Awards
Ohio State University-Beta Chapter - Orchid Level
Missouri University of Science & Technology-Rho Chapter - Orchid Level


Service with Sigmand

In total, Phi Sigma Rho sisters from 15 different chapters completed approximately 1200 hours during this week, logging 500 more hours than last year! 

Most events
1st Place: Nu chapter, which hosted 5 group events
2nd Place (tie): Rho and Alpha chapters, which hosted 4 group events each. 

Most hours logged by a chapter
1st Place: Nu chapter (376 hours)
2nd Place: Xi chapter (308 hours)
3rd Place: Alpha chapter (102 hours)

Sigmand Active Award
Kaylie Bair (Nu chapter)
Sigmand Alumna Association Award
Sigma Alumna Association who collectively logged 12.5 hours over this week. 


Saturday Night Banquet Awards

President's Commendations

For helping to create and nurture a safe space for our LGBT+ sisters to connect, come together for support, and discuss issues.
Nichole Aquino, Connecticut-Theta
Rachel Rich, Kentucky-Epsilon
Award presentation video

For working hard to review platforms and resumes to slate or recommend candidates for National Council and mid-term vacancies to ensure the membership and National Council had guidance on candidates.
The Nominating Committee:
Lindsay Gelorme, Case Western-Omicron (Chair)
Monique Chinchar, Toledo-Delta
Lexi Heironimus, Wright State-Alpha Zeta
Nicolette Yovanof Little, Penn State-Lambda
Laurel McHugh, Toledo-Delta
Alisa Rogers, UCSD-Chi
Hillary Emer Taggart, Case Western - Omicron
Award presentation video

For their tireless efforts to collect historical information, including pictures and founding stories, from the membership and creating some amazing materials for our celebration of 35 years.
Elishka Jepson, Washington-Mu (Historian)and the Historical Committee:
Alaina Austin, Purdue-Alpha
Belle Jung, Purdue-Alpha
Emily Moll, Michigan-Eta
Rebecca Palmer, Purdue-Alpha
Aly Schwind, Toledo-Delta
Devin Stanke, Michigan-Eta
Hannah Weisman, Arizona State-Alpha Lambda
Award presentation video

Based on multiple nominations from sisters:
Katie Ricciardi, Kentucky-Epsilon
Award presentation video

Orchid Award for Woman of the Year
Ali Crupper, Kentucky-Epsilon Chapter

Pearl Award for Exceptional Service
Alex Caliguire, Toledo-Delta Chapter

Engineering Champion Award
Camille Schrier, Miss Virginia 2019
Video prepared by Camille after receiving the award

Distinguished Alumnae Award
Charlene Yauch, Purdue - Alpha Chapter

The Order of the Pyramid 2019 Inductees
Alex Caliguire, Toledo-Delta Chapter
Ali Crupper, Kentucky-Epsilon Chapter
Cara Redding, Connecticut-Theta Chapter
Dominique Fantasia-Amin, Penn State-Lambda Chapter
Stacey Horvitz, Pittsburgh-Zeta Chapter
Mona Kim, UCSD-Chi Chapter

Fabulous Phi Rho - 35 Year Edition
Beth Holloway, Purdue - Alpha Chapter