At the beginning of every semester, Mike Gould—professor of LSA’s Residential College and U-M's School of Music, Theatre & Dance—offers his students access to GAP: the Gould Assistance Program. “It’s just a way to remind my students that they should be comfortable asking me for help or advice, even after they graduate,” he explains. So when COVID-19 forced in-person classes to go remote, he thought about how to make his students feel his support more concretely. And that’s the moment when the Gould Pizza Assistance Program was born.

To participate, Gould’s students fill out a survey saying what they want on their pizza, when they want it, and where—Gould takes care of the rest. “The first week I had 11 pizzas delivered, and the next week I had nine,” he says. “It’s amazing what people like on their pizzas, and it’s nice to hear students’ happy reactions in what has been a pretty surreal and stressful time.”

Gould has long been tuned into his students’ stress. “At the beginning of every single class, I ask each of my students to rank their stress level,” he says. “This helps me track the stress temperature in the class and to focus on the students who are really stressed out.” It’s a practice he’s maintained in his virtual classroom too. “If a student’s stress level is high, I ask what is going on aside from the obvious situation. We all deal with it together in a way, and I try to make sure they know we can help each other deal with this situation and also be creative and productive.”

The online classes have created light-hearted moments and opportunities to connect too.

“We get unusual glimpses into each other’s lives and where and how we live,” he says. “Teaching remotely, I see my students’ rooms, their posters, their parents and pets, their significant others, the kinds of cereal they eat. Some come to class in pajamas. It has been extremely interesting, and, at times, hilarious. And, to be honest, we’ve done a lot of interesting work because of this situation.”

Being isolated has opened creative avenues for his own work as a composer too.

“Usually I’d compose with other musicians in the studio together,” he explains, “but this makes you think differently about creating music and staying engaged with people while you’re isolated.”

Gould is keen to discover what else comes from teaching in this new environment. “So far, my favorite part of online teaching is putting on a virtual background in Zoom and dancing for my students.”

There may be other inspiring and meaningful breakthroughs, but we’ll have to wait for them. “I’ve got to go,” he says, ending our interview. “I have a class to teach from my basement.”



Illustration by Julia Lubas