Collin Texas Faculty Association Honors Professor Who Died of COVID-19

Simone Carter
Selene Meda-Schlamel holds a plaque honoring her late mother.
It’s been a challenging year for the family of Iris Meda, a Collin College nursing professor who died of COVID-19 last November. But smiling through tears on a brilliant autumn afternoon, her daughter accepted a plaque honoring Meda's service.

On Sunday, Nov. 7, Selene Meda-Schlamel welcomed officers from Collin Texas Faculty Association (TFA) into her McKinney home. On top of presenting her with the plaque, the group announced that they’re creating a scholarship in her mother’s name.

Sitting in her home’s living room, Meda-Schlamel told her company about her mother’s life tending to the sick and vulnerable. She would have been “over-the-moon ecstatic” about the honor if she were alive today.

“Because she spent so much time taking care of everyone else, she really learned to love the spotlight in her older years,” Meda-Schlamel said. “So, she would have been so happy.”

Since last year, Collin College has repeatedly made headlines over its handling of the pandemic, with some faculty saying they were let go for criticizing its COVID response. Meda reportedly contracted COVID-19 in the classroom, falling ill several days after one of her students tested positive for the virus.

Many employees were appalled that district President Neil Matkin announced Meda’s death in the 22nd paragraph of an email titled “College Update & Happy Thanksgiving!” But while some say the school has attempted to shirk responsibility for Meda’s death, the fight to remember her continues.

Meda had a green thumb; one of her house plants rests on her daughter’s living room mantle. A photo of Meda stands there, too. Sitting on the steps in front of a bush filled with colorful flowers, she beams at the camera, dressed in hot pink.
click to enlarge Nursing professor Iris Meda, who died last year from COVID, will have a scholarship in her name. - SIMONE CARTER
Nursing professor Iris Meda, who died last year from COVID, will have a scholarship in her name.
Simone Carter
Meda-Schlamel remembers her mother as the family historian who never left anyone behind. And although she hadn’t worked at Collin College for long, Meda relished helping her students. “I hate that she was doing it for such a short period of time because I knew that she really loved it,” her daughter said.

Prior to getting hired at Collin College, Meda had worked at Lancaster ISD as a school nurse, she added. Some of those students confided in Meda about health-related issues that they may have been too embarrassed to divulge to their own family.

"She spent so much time taking care of everyone else." – Selene Meda-Schlamel

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“She never discounted them and always uplifted them and really just empathized in a way that made everyone feel really good to be around her,” Meda-Schlamel said. “I think that that kind of loss is so substantial. You don’t ever really get over that. You just figure out how to move forward.”

Collin TFA is still working out the details of the award in Meda's name, but membership has considered making it a nursing scholarship, said President Lorena Rodriguez, an economics professor.

Earlier this year, history professor Dr. Michael Phillips, who's also the group's vice president, had penned a resolution asking Collin College to honor Meda. Although these requests were ultimately stonewalled, the faculty council had passed the resolution, which asked for a portrait of Meda to be displayed, for a scholarship to be named after her and for her family to be recognized at a school event.
click to enlarge Collin College history professor Dr. Michael Phillips presents a plaque honoring Iris Meda. - SIMONE CARTER
Collin College history professor Dr. Michael Phillips presents a plaque honoring Iris Meda.
Simone Carter
The resolution also acknowledged Meda’s career as a nurse at New York’s Rikers Island jail. There, the inmates clapped for her as she left on her last day of work, and she later brought that same standard of care to the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas.

Then, in January 2020, Meda retired from North Texas Job Corps. She hoped to travel and wanted to write a book. But after the pandemic hit, she decided to teach at Collin College, unwilling to sit on the sidelines during the crisis.

Even when Meda lay dying in the hospital, she asked about how her students were holding up, Phillips said.

“The family lost so much,” he later told the Observer. “And we wanted to make clear that there was a community that cared about them and cared about their mother and to extend that love to them directly, because of the nature of her service to the world.”