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Jamie Cornelius holding a bird

As husband races across oceans to get home, songbird researcher prepares for very strange first term at OSU

By Theresa Hogue, OSU News

Header photo by Paul Vuoccolo

Assistant Professor of Biology Jamie Cornelius

Jamie Cornelius

Assistant Professor, Department of Integrative Biology

Years at OSU: 1

City of residence: Philomath

When Jamie Cornelius came to Oregon State University from Eastern Michigan University, she was ready to adjust to the changes of a new university. But as she began preparing for her first term teaching at OSU this spring, she quickly realized that things were going to be very different.

Cornelius is an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, where she studies the mechanisms wild animals use to cope with unpredictable and extreme environmental events. Her husband, Taylor Chapple, is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He was on a research vessel in the Indian Ocean doing studying sharks when the pandemic started making news. As airports began shutting down internationally, his team decided to end their trip early. But getting back home to the U.S was becoming a challenge.

Meanwhile, Cornelius was depending on her previous online teaching experience to pivot to remote teaching, but as a new faculty member, the pressure was high. Additionally, she runs a songbird lab in Cordley Hall, and when campus shut down, she lost her research team in the middle of a large experiment as they were no longer allowed on campus.

“It felt like a constantly evolving situation so I was just trying to remain mentally flexible and roll with the changes,” Cornelius said. “Unpredictability is something that’s really hard to cope with (I actually study that in birds) and so it didn’t come as a surprise to me to feel really upended by the rapid and uncertain changes that were flying at us left and right.”

As she frantically booked tickets to get her husband home, she also had to figure out how to tackle her research project without her team and find childcare for their two young children. Cornelius wasn’t sure how she’d juggle it all. Luckily, her department’s administrative assistant checked in with her during the height of her panic and was able to put things in motion that landed her a graduate student assistant and a lot of peace of mind.

Jamie Cornelius' husband, Taylor Chapple, undergoing quarantine away from his two kids and wife.

Cornelius' husband, Taylor Chapple, returned home from an international trip and had to self-quarantine in their home away from Cornelius and their two young kids.

Her husband reached the United Arab Emirates and got onto the last flight to London. But once he returned to the United States, he had to be quarantined at home for two weeks. Meanwhile, Cornelius had to figure out a way to care for her songbirds without her undergraduate and graduate students.

“The real challenge is caring for a large number of birds while keeping workers safe and socially distanced,” she said. “We spend three to five hours a day caring for them. Our team is pared down to two essential workers and me, who have been working tirelessly to keep the birds clean and healthy.”

Her husband is now out of quarantine and has taken on a majority of the childcare duties, and Cornelius has adjusted to her new reality. Meanwhile, she’s come to really appreciate her new workplace.

“I have been so very impressed with OSU’s careful, calm and measured responses to this pandemic,” Cornelius said. I feel well supported by my department and by the College of Science. I feel that the administration is listening to our challenges and working hard to help us rise to meet them. I am very proud to be a part of the OSU community.”

This story is a part of an OSU series called "Unsung Heroes," highlighting faculty, staff and students who are going above and beyond to assist with the pandemic response in their roles at OSU or in their communities from Corvallis to Bend to Newport and throughout the state. Read more stories like this.