Eanas Abutaha loves to see people smile.
“Smiling is a universal language,” she said. “If someone smiles, you know exactly what they mean. A smile is a gorgeous part of the body.”
The senior in the Jesup Scott Honors College and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics has a lot to beam about: She will graduate May 9 with a bachelor of science degree in biology with a concentration in pre-dentistry.
“Dentistry is a profession that combines a perfect balance of compassion, business, science and art. I want to combine these personal passions to change someone’s life and create lasting smiles,” Abutaha said.
“When I shadowed a few dentists, I really loved the experience. Dentistry is something I’m very passionate about,” she said.
That passion was stoked in 2018 when Abutaha traveled to Nicaragua on a medical mission trip with financial support from the Honors College.
“I was teaching children dental hygiene, handing out packages with a toothbrush, floss and toothpaste,” she recalled. “This little boy didn’t know what to do with the toothbrush; he was so confused; he stood there waiting. And it hit me: He doesn’t know what to do with the brush.
“I showed him how to use the toothbrush and repeated one of the few Spanish words I knew, ‘Círculo, círculo,’” Abutaha said.
“He had never seen a toothbrush before. It was sad. It made me realize we have to be thankful for our blessings and the simple things. Don’t take anything for granted.”
The Toledo native is appreciative of her time at the University.
“I could have applied and been accepted at bigger schools,” the 2016 valedictorian of the Toledo Islamic Academy said. “But I knew people at UToledo, and some of my friends had trouble getting involved at bigger schools.
“UToledo is not too small, and it’s not too big. The opportunities here were perfect for me,” Abutaha said.
One big bonus: Abutaha was able to get into the lab and conduct research when she was a freshman.
“It was the Honors College that encouraged me to start researching with Dr. Heather Conti,” she said. “With that little push, I was offered a stipend by the Office of Undergraduate Research.”
Abutaha’s research proposal focused on determining the protein levels of proinflammatory cytokines in tongue tissues exposed to head and neck radiation. With guidance from Conti, assistant professor of biological sciences, Abutaha worked on her honors thesis.
In April, Abutaha was scheduled to travel to Harvard University to present part of her research on the therapeutic potential of blocking these proinflammatory cytokines to prevent the damage irradiation causes to the oral cavity. That presentation was postponed due to the pandemic.
“Dr. Conti was so encouraging. She helped me submit my abstract, reviewed it and offered suggestions,” Abutaha said. “She has become an adviser for me. I can go to her for any advice. I am so grateful for her assistance and guidance.”
“Eanas has committed herself to research in our lab during her whole time at UToledo,” Conti said. “We are proud to see her hard work result in data that will be included in a future publication. Even better, her research directly related to oral health and disease, and her time in the Conti lab will serve her well in her future career in dentistry.”
Abutaha packed a lot into her four years at UToledo. She was an Honors College ambassador, vice president of Phi Eta Sigma, a tutor for the UToledo Chapter of the Syrian American Medical Society, and a senator in Student Government. She also was selected for membership in the Klar Leadership Academy.
“The Honors College put me in an environment surrounded by individuals who wanted to do more than just pass classes, and that inspired me to want to do more,” she said. “Dean [Heidi] Appel takes so much time to make sure students in the Honors College feel welcome and make the most of their experience. She’s so sweet and approachable.”
“It’s really exciting to see the success of our students, especially those like Eanas, who chose to take full advantage of what we offer,” Dr. Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “She embodies our dual mission of cultivating academic excellence with a strong ethos of community service.”
There will be two graduations to celebrate this spring in the Abutaha home. Eanas’ younger sister, Seham, is the valedictorian at Toledo Early College High School and plans to start classes this fall at UToledo, where she will join older sister, Amani, who is a graduate student. Amani received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in human resources management and marketing in 2019 from the University and is a graduate assistant for Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, vice president for student affairs and vice provost.
“I’m waiting for my cap and gown and honors cord so we can take some photos,” Abutaha said. “UToledo is still giving us opportunities to celebrate.”
Abutaha will study for the Dental Admission Test and plans to start dental school in 2021.
“In the future, I would love to help underserved communities, those who really need dental services.”