The Women for FSU

W4FSU Embraces Sense of Community During COVID-19

Graphic displaying community and words that say W4FSU Embraces Sense of Community During COVID-19
By: 
Melissa Powell

Support networks, community, family and friendships become more important than ever during times of uncertainty. For the Women for Florida State University, that's never been more apparent.

In early May, W4FSU asked its members to share their stories about how they've been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and their experiences managing this ever-changing world through leadership roles, community engagement and outreach, and supporting their families, friends and colleagues.

As it has been for many of our members, the pandemic has FSU alumna Autumn Blackledge ('98 and '01) working from home. Her family law firm, Autumn Beck Blackledge PLLC, has witnessed the growing needs among families as they work to recover financially and emotionally from the pandemic.

"It seems like a lifetime ago that we took our law practice completely virtual and started working remotely, with four students home. I went through every emotion, from fear to inspiration and everything in between," Blackledge expressed. "People's families are strained, fragile and unsteady, but I have used the time to hone my leadership skills, recognize need in new places and push my team to do a better, more efficient job for our clients."

Similarly, Lisa Schelbe, an associate professor at the FSU College of Social Work, has been working from home, teaching three classes during the most recent spring semester—including a small doctoral seminar. She describes her transition to working remotely as being fairly seamless thanks in part to her teaching assistant Footie, her 145-pound mastiff.

"I feel very fortunate to have my health and to be able to continue working from home," Schelbe said. "FSU and the College of Social Work have been amazingly supportive, and the students have been exceptional. I'm inspired by the compassion and dedication I have witnessed in my FSU family."

Angélique Stevens, an international student and scholar advisor for the FSU Center for Global Engagement, shared in those sentiments.

"I'm going through my first pregnancy, and I did not know what to expect," Stevens said. "It has been harder to be in isolation during this time, but my colleagues have been very supportive, and I'm thankful for the FSU community."

Students also experienced the challenge of having their lives on campus uprooted just as spring break arrived. Current FSU student and 2019 Women’s Leadership Institute participant Bridget Duignan left Tallahassee to spend time with family during spring break. With family working in the food service industry and her on-campus job in question, the uncertainty weighed heavily on Duignan.

"Immediately upon my return to Tallahassee, I applied to work at Publix Super Markets," Duignan said. While difficult at times, her decision had been worthwhile. "My friends and family have been supportive of my decision to work during this pandemic, some reaching out with homemade masks and words of encouragement. These acts of kindness continually push me through days that seem rougher than others."

FSU student Annika Heetderks , also a member of the 2019 Women’s Leadership Institute cohort, found an opportunity to give back to her community by making and donating masks to those in need.

"In my hometown of Miami, nearby hospitals and clinics were quickly overwhelmed, running out of necessary supplies," Heetderks shared. "My mom had friends in need of masks, so she came up with a design and how-to video using supplies you have at home."

Heetderks and her family created a network of stitchers and other volunteers who joined the project, and even received approximately $3,000 in generous donations for sewing machines and supplies as her family continues to produce masks for their community.


Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Amy Hecht provided insight on Florida State's efforts supporting students while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. She also shared comments on students like Duignan and Heetderks, who have shown great resilience and leadership during such a trying time.

Read Our Interview with Dr. Hecht

Autumn Blackledge
Autumn Blackledge
Lisa Schelbe
Lisa Schelbe
Angélique Stevens
Angélique Stevens
Bridget Duignan
Bridget Duignan
Annika Heetderks
Annika Heetderks