George Mason University
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George Mason University

Engineering students step up to help others during coronavirus crisis

March 29, 2020   /   by Nanci Hellmich

Statistics major Brody Receveur (right) and his parents invited computer science sophomore Nawaf Alshathri to live with them in Hampton, Virginia for the rest of the semester because Alshathri can't make it back to his home in Saudi Arabia.

Mason Engineering students are using their innovative skills to solve more than engineering problems.

They are coming up with creative ways to do random acts of kindness, both big and small, during the coronavirus outbreak.

For example, statistics major Brody Receveur and his family invited computer science sophomore Nawaf Alshathri to stay with them for the rest of the semester.

The students are friends who lived in the same residence hall at Mason. When classes became virtual after spring break, Receveur was at home with his parents in Hampton, Virginia, while Alshathri was on campus because he couldn’t get back to his home in Saudi Arabia.

Receveur asked his parents if Alshathri could come live with them for a while, and they agreed. Receveur returned to the Fairfax Campus to pick up Alsharthri.

Mason Engineering students Brody Receveur (left) and Nawaf Alshathri (center) are spending time with Receveur's parents April and Tim in Hampton, Virginia, while the students finish their courses online.

When they’re not taking their classes online or studying, the two have been working out together, walking on the beach, and playing board games with the family.

“I taught him how to make Yankee cornbread and steaks,” says Receveur, an Honors College student. “He’s gardening with my mom (April), and my dad (Tim) is talking to him about the history of our area. My dad wrote a book about it. They talk all the time.”

Alshathri says he’s enjoying his time with the Receveur family. “Tough times make the best qualities of people shine,” he says. “The Receveurs have been caring and kind. They took me in during this period of uncertainty, and they are teaching me valuable life skills. I will have some vegetables that should be grown by the end of the semester, thanks to them.”

He’s also enjoying the family dog, Puzzles, and he enjoys playing with their dog when he is done with his work for the day.

Alshathri says the family living near the beach is a bonus. “You expect to be locked up during quarantine, but the beach is pretty empty, so we can go out and take walks.”

Other members of the Mason Engineering community are finding ways to show kindness to faculty, family, and others while still maintaining social distancing:

Angelica Watson, a senior in mechanical engineering, has been doing random acts of kindness daily, including calling to check on her grandmother.

Reaching out virtually 

Angelica Watson, a mechanical engineering senior, has been calling her grandmother every day to check on her. When her grandmother asked why she was calling so often, Watson said to remind her to stay home and be safe.

Watson also has been going to the grocery store to get supplies for her family. “Today when I went looking for some cleaning supplies, there was an older lady in the store who couldn’t reach the bleach on a higher shelf, so I passed her two bottles of it,” she says.

“I also saw a lady looking for toilet paper, and I gave her a pack of wipes that I had picked up. ... It’s the little things that warm people’s hearts.”

Arash Touhidi, a senior in electrical engineering, gave his entire paycheck to a friend who was struggling financially.

Arash Touhidi, a senior in electrical engineering, gave his entire paycheck to a Mason alumna who is struggling financially.

Paying it forward

When Arash Touhidi, a senior in electrical engineering, heard about a Mason alumna/friend who was struggling financially in part due to the coronavirus outbreak, he knew he wanted to help.

“Although it wasn’t much, I gave her the money from my recent paycheck from my work at the Bioinspired Robotics and Intelligent Control Lab so that she can get by,” he says.

“I live with my mom so I don’t have many bills, except for a car payment and insurance” he says.

“I’m still texting with my friend, and we’re offering each other moral support.”

Mechanical engineering senior Vineet Nair, a senior in mechanical engineering, sent emails to several faculty members and staff thanking them for working so hard to make turn their in-person courses into online classes.

Mechanical engineering major Vineet Nair sent emails to faculty thanking them for preparing for online classes over spring break.

Sending a word of thanks

Vineet Nair, a senior in mechanical engineering, sent emails to several faculty members and staff thanking them for going the extra mile to make online learning work.

“I can’t imagine how hard it was for them to prepare to do this in a week or so,” he says. “They are trying to give us our money’s worth and give us the tools we need when we graduate.

“I’ve had two or three classes, and there have been some challenges, but overall, it’s going very smoothly. I think what they are doing right now is tremendous.”

Ivory Sarceno, a mechanical engineering major, is sending funny stories to her family in the United States and Guatemala.

Lifting up others with humor 

Ivory Sarceno, a senior in mechanical engineering, has been doing her best to stay in touch with her family in Guatemala and the United States while practicing social distancing.

Everyone is stressed out, and during this time laughter is still the best medicine, she says.

“I’ve started a family group chat with 11 members through WhatsApp where my family can share memes and uplifting stories, and most importantly our love and support for each other.”

Systems Engineering senior Jason Nembhard shared safety tips for preventing the coronavirus with a friend who might have been exposed.

Sharing safety insights

Jason Nembhard, a senior in systems engineering, says a friend of his became alarmed when someone in his building in Arlington was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Naturally, he was stressed about catching the virus,” Nembhard says.

“I reached out to him to talk about what he's going through and suggested ways he can keep himself safe. I was able to pass along the personal safety information I had learned from my mom, who is a nurse at INOVA Fairfax Hospital.”

 “He told me thank you, and then he went to work cleaning and disinfecting his apartment,” Nembhard says.

Elizabeth Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics, said it made her day when her students wished her happy birthday in Blackboard chat.

Elizabeth Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics, said it made her day when her students wished her "Happy Birthday" in their Blackboard chat.

Brightening a professor's day

When the statistics students in one of assistant professor Elizabeth Johnson’s classes found out that it was her birthday one day recently, they all started writing  "Happy Birthday" in the Blackboard chat.

“It was unexpected, and it made my day,” she says.

If you’ve done some random acts of kindness for others and would like to share them, please email your story to Nanci Hellmich.

Stories from throughout the Mason community can be submitted here.