When students at the University of Minnesota, Morris, were forced to finish their spring semester remotely because of the COVID-19 virus, Corbin McCall returned to St. Paul determined to deal with the situation in a positive way.

“When school closed in April,” said McCall, “I had the mind-set of going home and preparing for anything.”

That uncertainty quickly turned into an educational opportunity for McCall.

McCall was asked by his university if he was interested in working on a research project related to the spread of the virus. The biology major who was finishing his junior year welcomed the chance.

“They contacted me around the beginning of May and told me there was an opportunity for Native students to do research at Morris,” said McCall. “I was blessed with the opportunity.”

The project overseen by Prof. Engin Sungur tracked data from around the country about the virus in real time.

“It was not a typical 9-to-5 job,” said McCall. “It was more like 24/7 to get yourself acquainted with what was going on. If there was any news coverage about an outbreak happening in a particular state, I had to turn my attention to that state right away and see what’s going on at that moment. The pandemic was getting worse, so I was doing data collection and analysis, looking at the morbidity and mortality rates from each state. We had a lot of information. We looked at how stay-at-home orders were affecting things.”

McCall said he was surprised by how differently the virus was handled in each state. “I think everyone wants to do the right thing,” McCall said. “There has been so much confusion. It’s been interesting.”

Conducting research wasn’t the only way McCall dealt with the virus while he worked from home. His mother, Heidi McCall, is a nurse.

“She has worked at Regions Hospital for about 15 years,” said McCall. “I was worrying about her every day. She would come home tired and I would wonder if she was getting sick. It motivated me to stay focused on my project.”

McCall worried about other relatives, as well.

“A lot of family members were quarantined,” said McCall. “My grandparents couldn’t go to the store, so we had to take food to them.”

McCall and his family stayed healthy throughout the summer. The project concluded in August and McCall is back on campus this fall.

McCall, a graduate of St. Paul’s Harding High School, is also a soccer player for Morris. His coach said McCall, who is an Academic All-Upper Midwest Athletic Conference soccer player, was well-suited to handle the COVID project.

“Corbin is a quiet, focused leader,” said Cougars coach Scott Turnbull. “He is a great role model for our younger players on and off the field and puts his best into whatever he is doing.”

McCall, who has a minor in chemistry, plans to attend graduate school and pursue a master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies.

“In my freshman year of high school at Harding,” said McCall, “I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was focused on college and playing soccer. It’s been a dream.”

Even though his final season of college soccer has been postponed until the spring, McCall thinks his experiences over the last five months will help him deal with any issues that come up.

“This experience has had a major impact on me because I know that what I was doing was impactful for others around the country,” said McCall. “I learned how cope better with all the stresses.”