MSU Senior Answers Call to Serve the COVID-19 Relief Effort with the Michigan National Guard

Corporal Catherine Brooks Lends a Hand in the Global Pandemic, Helping to Build a Field Hospital in Michigan

Applause filled a virtual classroom at MSU, when the professor and his students realized Corporal Catherine Brooks had been called into active duty. As a soldier in the Michigan National Guard, she is serving in the COVID-19 relief effort.

"It was quite a moment in class when I asked how Catherine was doing, and she told the class she was driving to Taylor, Mich., to report for duty for the Michigan National Guard to begin helping to build a hospital in Novi, Mich., for COVID-19 patients,” said Rick Epps, who teaches in the MSU School of Journalism.

The class was already meeting virtually using the video conferencing software, Zoom, when they heard the news. Brooks had received the call during another course, JRN418.

“Our class broke out into almost spontaneous applause across all our Zoom screens,” said Epps. “It was a very inspiring moment, and I know I speak for our JRN 336 class when I say we are proud of her and deeply appreciate her service to our country."

A senior in the Class of 2020, Brooks is studying journalism with a sports reporting concentration. She hails from Detroit, and she enlisted in the Michigan National Guard on February 27, 2015.

From Class to the Call to Serve

“Growing up in a city like Detroit, everyone wants to ‘make it out,’ but honestly I wanted to see how I could make it better,” said Brooks. “I love serving my state, my people.”

She was inspired to enlist by her brother, who is 24 years old and serving as a 1st Lieutenant in the Ohio National Guard.

“I give all the glory to my older brother,” said Brooks. “He’s been my role model my entire life, and I’ve always followed his blueprint.”

The partial tuition assistance from the Michigan National Guard also made it possible for Brooks to attend college. Knowing this was her ticket to a college education, she signed a six-year contract.

“The military can advance your career in ways unimaginable,” said Brooks. “And what makes it so appealing is that you can simultaneously live a separate life as well by joining components like the National Guard or Reserves.”

Brooks has been in the military for five years, but this is the first time she has been called into active duty.

“Being in Michigan, we don’t really suffer a lot from any natural disasters or other crisis,” said Brooks. “So, for a lot of soldiers in the Michigan National Guard, this is our first time getting in on the action and serving our community.”

Brooks regrets the lost opportunities for the Class of 2020, but she is determined to make the best of her situation.

“I was supposed to graduate from Michigan State University on May 1, and not having a commencement ceremony hurts me to my core,” said Brooks. “I came here in 2017 as a freshman and would’ve graduated in three and a half years. That’s huge for me and I wanted to commemorate that.”

For the summer after graduation, Brooks secured an internship in sports journalism with a National Football League team. The internship was slated to begin in July, but even that has been put on hold due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Providing Relief for COVID-19

When asked to give examples of the work she has been called to do, Brooks said “Everything.” There are countless ways soldiers are helping to support the relief effort as the state tries to cope with the spread of COVID-19.

“Imagine turning an empty showplace into a working relief center for a pandemic,” said Brooks. “Building beds, moving furniture, moving supplies, opening hundreds and hundreds of boxes, etc. Organization and communication are also key at a time like this, because there are so many people and so many moving parts. And most of all, trying to stay safe.”

Brooks works as a cable systems installer and maintainer, and she has been assigned to Charlie Company 156 ESB (Expeditionary Signal Battalion) – a unit based in Howell, Mich. She and her fellow soldiers could be called to serve in locations across the state.

“I was always told throughout my life that most people don’t take things seriously until it affects them. That’s the biggest challenge we as a society face,” said Brooks. “I see people still going outside and not taking the necessary precautions when they do.”

People need to take the 2019 novel coronavirus seriously, to help prevent the spread of disease.

“Until people understand the danger of the virus… people won’t change,” said Brooks.

Being the Best Version of Herself

Brooks has found strength and encouragement in working with faculty and staff at MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences, as well.

“What separates a good professor from a great professor is a professor who cares about what a student does after they leave them. And my professors have been nothing short of supportive of me,” said Brooks. “Most of my professors in ComArtSci know I am in the military. Specifically, Professor Epps and Professor (Joanne) Gerstner have been outstanding when it comes to their support of me and working with me in accommodating my unique situation.”

In times like these, Brooks said small gestures make a big difference to young people.

“The little things like asking how I am and constantly checking on me, it matters. Also, a huge shout out to my advisor Julie Hagopian, who has been the best advisor I’ve ever had and who has been supportive of me throughout my entire journey at MSU.”

After teaching her in his journalism courses, Epps attested that Brooks is talented and hard-working. He admired how she would enhance class discussions with her insightful opinions.

"Catherine has been an absolute pleasure to work with in class,” he said.

As for Brooks, she hopes that she and others will be OK in the pandemic, even as they embark on life after college in a different time. Because graduating seniors have not been able to stay on campus and attend the usual meetings and extracurriculars with mentors, they’ve had little in-person support in the final weeks of college.

“For me and a lot of other seniors, we’re being thrown out into the world without any proper guidance. Real life has started and it’s scary,” said Brooks. “I want to be the best possible version of myself coming out of this pandemic.”

Yet, Brooks knew it was inevitable she would be called upon to assist Michigan with the relief effort. She pointed out it’s literally in her job description to do so.

“The late-great Kobe Bryant said that, ‘Everything negative—pressure, challenges, is all an opportunity for me to rise.’ That’s what we as a society need to do in these challenging times we’re in,” said Brooks. “Rise above the fold.”

By Melissa Priebe

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