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A Crafty Adventure

One faculty member stitched face masks during a national shortage. 
Joe Cress, NKU alumnus and faculty member
As Joe Cress (’12, ’12, ’17) saw the effects of the pandemic unfold, he wondered if there was anything he could do to help. One night as he stared at his television, he listened to news that the health care industry was going through a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). As he searched for a sign to get involved, one appeared in the form of a Joann Fabrics coupon for discounted fabric, sewing machines and designs for handmade masks.

Cress, a three-time graduate of Northern Kentucky University, is an assistant professor within the Radiologic Science program at NKU. His husband, Jacob, is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Management, Systems and Technology at the University of Dayton. The Cresses will tell you that they are not strangers to helping others.

“We are sort of your stereotypical gay couple, we are very crafty. I love to crochet, and my husband loves to knit,” Cress says. “So, when we saw there was a need for masks along with a sale on sewing machines at Joann Fabrics, we knew what we had to do.”

They initially made reusable masks for themselves to allow the typical disposable masks to go to health care professionals in need. But their crafty adventure soon bloomed into something much bigger. After receiving requests for masks of different patterns and sizes, the Cresses sewed more than 80 reusable masks for friends and colleagues in the health care industry.

“We got a lot of attention at NKU from my colleagues, including Dr. Dale Stephenson. I wanted to make sure my colleagues knew it wasn’t just me, but also in large part from my husband,” Cress says. “Many of my colleagues did not know I was gay, so at first I was hesitant to talk about the project much. The outpouring of support was amazing. Jake is kind of like an NKU celebrity at this point.”

"I love to crochet, and my husband loves to knit. So, when we saw there was a need for masks along with a sale on sewing machines at Joann Fabrics, we knew what we had to do.”

Cress says his love for NKU began when he was in high school. His mother attended the NKU Grant County Center, so he was familiar with the university at a young age. And then during his freshman year of college, Cress transferred to NKU from the University of Kentucky to be closer to home.

“When I was an undergraduate student at NKU, the small class sizes and passionate instructors made it feel as if I was getting a private university education,” he says.

Shortly after Cress received both his associate and bachelor’s degree from NKU in 2012, he began working at Christ Hospital and Mercy Health. While in the field, he had the chance to connect with NKU students during their clinical rotations. He enjoyed teaching and asked if he could guest lecture in the Radiologic Science department.

Fast forward a few years and a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology later, and Cress is not only a clinical assistant professor at NKU but also pursuing another degree: a doctorate in educational leadership.

Cress, like many other faculty members, has felt the impacts of teaching during a pandemic.

“This has been extremely difficult for me,” he says. “I tend to feed off of the energy of my students in face-to-face classes and know when to project my own energy onto them.”

Due to social-distancing requirements set by health professionals and the university, Cress moved to teaching classes in an online-only format. But everything has come full circle for Cress, and he’s doing what he can to keep his students engaged.

“As a faculty member, I try to instill my own passion and drive in all interactions with my students—though this has been difficult due to the pandemic,” he says. “However, I found fun ways to inject this passion and love for NKU into video lectures throughout this semester. Instead of a one-way street of me teaching at my students, I wanted to make sure my students were engaged throughout these videos making it more of a two-way street.”

About This Article

Flynn Ashley
P. Flynn Ashley ('13, '15)
Contributor, NKU Magazine
Published March 2021
Photography by Scott Beseler

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