The Face of COVID

Project Overview

This project was conceived as a way to connect local university and high school students, documenting life during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2021. High school students from a broad range of cultural backgrounds shared a poem, a biography, and pictures of their life during the COVID-19 pandemic with James Madison University students, who used those photos to create a life-size silhouette photo montage and an accompanying sign for each student. The outcome of this project became a traveling exhibit shown at various locations throughout Harrisonburg—from town hall to the high school.

This project provided a chance for students from different backgrounds to connect with each other, look beyond their own experiences, and develop empathy and understanding for each others’ experiences during a season of virtual instruction. It also gave 19 students from diverse cultural backgrounds an chance to share their stories widely with peers and the local community about what it meant to be a teenager during a global pandemic.

Although living through the COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult—sometimes tragic—experience, it also had positive effects on students, allowing them to rediscover family time, learn about themselves, find satisfaction in simple pleasures, and rediscover the joy of helping others.

Final Images

Below are images of the silhouettes and signs at the Harrisonburg City School Board Meeting in April 2021.


This project won a 2023 Bronze Anthem Award in the category: Partnership or Collaboration


I presented about this project at the May 2021 “Community Engagement in the Design Classroom” event, sponsored by the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Cleveland State University. My students Maria Copeland and Dylan Hensell co-presented with me. Watch the presentation »


Mary Strickler and I worked with Harrisonburg High School Students in spring 2021 to create images for the basis of their silhouettes.

Collaborator Feedback

Professor Kvernen used this opportunity to couple a real-life project with learning new strategies. It was a thing of beauty! We received a lot of press and television coverage about this project. From Dr. Alger spotlighting, “The Face of COVID” project to the JMU Board of Visitors, to the project being broadcast citywide during a Harrisonburg City School Board meeting, we feel like we exceeded our expectations. Hats off to Professor Kvernen for her visionary work.

—Mary Strickler, English Teacher, Harrisonburg High School