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 to prepare for her first term teaching at OSU this spring, she began to realize 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 at the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station in Newport with the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He was on a research vessel in the Indian Ocean doing shark research when the pandemic started making news. As airports started 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 tried to book tickets to get her husband home, and figure out how to tackle her research project without her team, as well as figure out 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.

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 3-5 hours per 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.”

~ Theresa Hogue

Have an OSU Unsung Hero suggestion? We are looking for submissions that highlight OSU employees and students who are not typically in the spotlight but are going above and beyond during this pandemic. Send your suggestions to [email protected] and our staff may contact them to conduct remote interviews that we would feature in OSU Today and elsewhere.