Personal growthPaxton Green ('22, left) and Rachel Johnstone ('21) display some of their handmade PJ & Ray Clay creations.

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the winter 2020 issue of the Hearts Together, a special joint campus magazine publication of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor.

Concordians used the gift of time to start side hustles, tune talents, and propel personal growth amidst COVID-19.

The university as a whole has seen a creative surge among its students in recent months. An Etsy shop featuring customized t-shirts, the mass production of face masks for those in need, and a reframed hobby photography business are just a few on the list of dedicated efforts taken up since the coronavirus struck.

A time for personal growth
Paxton Green (’22, left) and Rachel Johnstone (’21) display their handmade PJ & Ray Clay creations.

Paxton Green (’22) and Rachel Johnstone (’21), students on Concordia’s Ann Arbor campus, had been formulating a creative venture just before the pandemic hit. The extra time in quarantine presented the opportunity to begin their handmade earrings business PJ & Ray Clay. Now the bold, colorful clay earrings can be spotted on students throughout campus. “We originally planned to launch after spring break, but then everything changed,” said Johnstone, who made the first clay earrings practice batch in the John Mark Hall common area.

The ladies ended up altering their plans. Each made hundreds of pairs of earrings while sheltering in place in their hometowns. Once they felt safe to ship from the post office, they executed a successful midsummer launch, selling out half of their quarantine inventory within the first month.

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Although not directly related to the women’s chosen career paths, PJ & Ray Clay has already shown returns in numerous ways. Green, who is studying child life, says that doing something with her hands proved therapeutic and meditative. The extra income to pad her savings was a bonus. Johnstone, a nursing major, notes that the two are nurturing business skills that will last them a lifetime as they market their earrings, track spending, and invest revenue back into supplies. Their newly acquired artistic hobby also comes in handy for creating gifts for loved ones and expressing their own personal styles.

DaJuan Thomas (’21) took time in
2020 to reframe his photography
business, DaOne Productions
(a.k.a. D1P). With football
practices on pause, the CUAA
Cardinals’ defensive back and
business major found time during
quarantine to try out new ideas
and add to his business.

Cultivating creativity is one way to grow personally. Concordia students also took time to invest in their talents, practice spiritual disciplines, or introduce fitness habits into their regular routines. Sophia Collins (’22) and Jenna Chaussee (’23) are teammates on the Concordia University Wisconsin volleyball team. Despite the team being unable to meet in person, the two took advantage of the circumstances, challenging themselves (and their teammates) to get stronger and stay physically active during the break.

Collins and Chaussee committed to acing their fitness routines. The Falcons volleyball teammates led the roster’s outside hitters in group workouts via Zoom.

Related: A time to take action

“What I had previously taken for granted I now cherish,” says Collins. “Quarantine helped me rediscover my passion for volleyball and my love for my team at CUW. Though quarantine was not a high point of 2020, I was still blessed to be able to have a lot of positive outcomes because of it.”

Both women capitalized on their time at home to work toward career goals, too.

Collins, a nursing major, started a job as a CNA in a hometown hospital serving on both the medical surgical pediatric floor and in the ambulatory unit. She also joined a nutrition challenge at her CrossFit gym to stay nutritionally fueled for both her job and workouts.

Related: Timing is essential

Sophia Collins (’22) and Jenna Chaussee (’23) are teammates on the Concordia University Wisconsin volleyball team.

Chaussee, a rehabilitative sciences major who will go on to pursue her doctorate in physical therapy, spent time engaged in behavioral therapy with children from three different families in her hometown. Chaussee said her discipline during quarantine put her in the best shape of her life—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

“The pandemic has led to a complete shift in my mindset and what I find important in life,” says Chaussee. “We cannot change things that are out of our control, but we can make the most out of any situation if we focus on the positives. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the negativity, but I truly feel that this time brought me closer to my family, friends, teammates, and to God.”

The winter 2020 Hearts Together magazine hit mailboxes in mid-November. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, email

— Rachel Thoms served on Concordia University's Strategic Communications team from 2015-2022. Any inquiries about this story can be sent to

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