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Archive for May, 2020

UToledo to Host Virtual Roundtable June 4

The University of Toledo is a community that celebrates and respects people of all backgrounds and experiences. As an institution, we remain committed to building an inclusive environment free of racism, sexism, bigotry and other negative influences.

The events of the past week have brought to light the critical role higher education can and must play in facilitating open and honest discussions that empower us as a community and a nation to translate our ideals into actionable change.

As such, UToledo will host a virtual roundtable Thursday, June 4, at 5:30 p.m. It is through this open dialogue that we can move forward, together, and breathe.

Access information will be released next week.

UToledo Announces Rocket Restart Plan for Returning Safely to Campus

The University of Toledo is planning to begin a safe return to campus this summer in advance of resuming on-campus instruction and activities for fall semester.

University leadership shared Friday the first phases of the Rocket Restart plan with the campus community detailing plans for employees to return to campus. Employees, who have been working remotely since March 19, will return to campus in phases.

Using guidance from the Ohio Department of Health and pending no significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the region, the first staff members expected to return to campus on June 8 will include select employees from Academic Affairs, Finance and Administration, Student Affairs, Enrollment Management, Research and Sponsored Programs, Information Technology, and Athletics.

A second phase of employees will return to campus on July 6. This includes select employees from Diversity and Inclusion, Legal Affairs, and Marketing and Communications, as well as the continued transition of employees in the departments that previously began to return to campus in June. Supervisors will contact their employees at least one week prior to reporting back to work on campus.

The remainder of UToledo employees will return to campus Aug. 3 with nine-month faculty returning to campus as planned on Aug. 17. The University intends to resume face-to-face instruction with the start of fall semester in August.

Employees will be required to follow a set of Rocket Prevention Principles, which include self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, wearing face coverings on campus, practicing social distancing, keeping a clean workspace, and following good personal hygiene practices, including frequent handwashing.

As part of our campus-wide health assessment, UToledo public health and infectious disease experts are examining facilities around campus to determine how best to reduce the population density in these spaces. Changes may include retrofitting spaces, moving classes to larger meeting spaces on campus or rotating attendance, as well as robust cleaning and disinfecting of all campus facilities.

The letter sent Friday, signed jointly by President Sharon L. Gaber, Provost Karen Bjorkman, and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Matt Schroeder, thanked employees in advance for their cooperation in returning safely to campus.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our UToledo community has proven that, together, we can accomplish anything,” the letter read. “We have remained focused on our academic mission to provide students an exceptional education. We appreciate your efforts and patience with the unpredictability of this virus and ask for your continued flexibility as we move forward to navigate the uncharted waters of this pandemic.”

Additional details on UToledo’s Rocket Restart plans for fall semester will be announced in early July. The University anticipates a return to campus using prevention and risk mitigation practices.

Social Distancing Signs Available to Download

As The University of Toledo plans for the return to operations on campus, preparations are underway to ensure UToledo is following social distancing best practices.Guidelines to prevent spread of infection

Signage for campus spaces is now available for download and internal printing as one tool to help individuals adhere to the advice of public health experts. Signs can be found under Rocket Restart Toolkit on the COVID-19 Updates tab in the myUT portal.

Signs include messages for social distancing reminders, infection control best practices, traffic flow for entering and exiting doors, and other signs for offices and workspaces. Additional banners, mirror clings and floor stickers will be made available through a centralized ordering process.

As recovery plans are finalized to safely return to on-campus operations, additional resources will be added to the Rocket Restart Toolkit. Check the Rocket Restart plan website for the latest information.

Toledo Infielder Named Academic All-District

Sophomore infielder Darryn Davis of The University of Toledo baseball team has been named Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

Davis will be on the ballot for Academic All-America, which will be announced next month. He is the eighth player in program history to earn Academic All-District honors and the first honoree since 2013.

Sophomore Darryn Davis was named Academic All-District, putting him in contention for the Academic All-America squad.

The Ann Arbor, Mich., native was outstanding in the 16 games Toledo played this season. Davis hit .400 (24 for 60) and tallied a team-best 17 RBI. He ranked second in the Mid-American Conference in batting average and hits, as well as on-base percentage (.532).

Davis compiled a 20-game hitting streak dating back to the 2019 season, the longest by a Rocket since 2010. He served as Toledo’s leadoff hitter for most of the season, scoring a team-high 14 runs and walking 13 times while striking out in just six of his 77 plate appearances.

As a freshman in 2019, Davis hit .329 and started games at five different positions. He was second on the team with 19 multi-hit efforts while recording 12 extra-base hits and driving in 33 runs.

Academically, Davis carries a 3.96 cumulative grade point average as a pre-business major.

The 2020 Academic All-District Baseball Team, selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America, recognizes the nation’s top student-athletes for their combined performances on the field and in the classroom.

ProForma Specialty Printing Launches T-Shirt Fundraiser to Support UToledo COVID-19 Student Emergency Support Fund

ProForma Specialty Printing is launching a T-shirt fundraiser to support The University of Toledo COVID-19 Student Emergency Support Fund.

The shirts, representing the Fueling Tomorrows brand, will be supplied by longtime UToledo supporter ProForma Specialty Printing. Each shirt will cost $20 plus shipping and will be available at utoledostrong.buyproforma.com.

All proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward the COVID-19 Student Emergency Support Fund and UToledo scholarships.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to add to the great work being done to help UToledo students through the COVID-19 Student Emergency Support Fund,” said Billy Pierce, UToledo associate vice president of alumni engagement. “We think a T-shirt fundraiser will be another great way to continue to support this important initiative, and we hope the Rocket community will agree.”

The fundraiser will run through Monday, June 15.

Theatre Faculty Member Translates Play to Online World for Interactive Learning Experience

Dr. Matt Foss, assistant professor of theatre with The University of Toledo Department of Theatre and Film, wrote and directed a play that was originally intended to be performed live and taken on the road to elementary schools.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down performances, he translated the production to the online performance space and lesson plan to help learners at home. The play premiered online in April.

Cast members from “Faithful Friends” are, from left, Sarah West as Julia, Gabe Taurman as Valentine, Emily Hawkins as Silvia, and Crabbe.

Foss originally created the play, “Faithful Friends: An Adaptation of the ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona,’” in January and worked with the company’s staff and leadership to build the interactive modules and workshops that accompany it. The work was created for pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students and to tour elementary schools. It was developed in partnership with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, a theater he has worked with in the past, and its Montana Shakes! program, an elementary school outreach tour to make Shakespeare and other classic works accessible to young people.

“Working with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks was a foundational experience early in my career. They provide free and public art across the mountain west, and their mission relates closely to what I have found and seek to do here in Toledo” Foss said.

Four of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks’ teaching artists, who were safely quarantined together, filmed the play and created lesson plans through the interactive learning platform FlipGrid.

To convert the project to online, Foss enlisted the help of UToledo film student Jarrett Cunningham.

“I’ve been teaching myself to edit as fast as I can, but Jarrett was able to work remotely and close my learning and ability gap to help get the performance out to students and their families as quickly as possible,” Foss said.

The play and lessons are available on Montana Shakespeare in the Parks’ YouTube channel.

New Research From UToledo Medical Resident Links COVID-19 to Loss of Taste

Nearly half of individuals who contract COVID-19 experience an abnormal or complete loss of their sense of taste, a new analysis led by a University of Toledo researcher has found.

The systematic review, published in the journal Gastroenterology, could provide yet another diagnostic hint for clinicians who suspect their patients might have the disease.

Aziz

“Earlier studies didn’t note this symptom, and that was probably because of the severity of other symptoms like cough, fever and trouble breathing,” said Dr. Muhammad Aziz, chief internal medicine resident at UToledo and the paper’s lead author. “We were beginning to note that altered or lost sense of taste were also present, not just here and there, but in a significant proportion.”

Aziz and his research collaborators analyzed data from five studies conducted between mid-January and the end of March. Of the 817 patients studied, 49.8% experienced changes to their sense of taste. Researchers suspect the true prevalence could be even higher because some of the studies were based on reviews of patient charts, which may not have noted every symptom.

“We propose that this symptom should be one of the screening symptoms in addition to the fever, shortness of breath and productive cough. Not just for suspected COIVD patients, but also for the general population to identify healthy carriers of the virus,” Aziz said.

Prior research has found that a significant number of people who have COVID-19 don’t know they’ve been infected and may be spreading the virus.

Aziz and his research collaborators suspect an altered sense of taste is more prevalent in patients with minor symptoms, though more studies are needed to validate that suspicion. Even so, changes in an individual’s sense of taste could be a valuable way to identify carriers who are otherwise mostly asymptomatic.

Taste disorders are tied to a variety of viral illnesses. The review did not attempt to identify the reason that COVID-19 is causing changes in patients’ sense of taste; however, researchers theorize it could be COVID-19’s ability to bind to what’s known as the ACE-2 receptor, which is expressed in epithelial cells on the tongue and mouth.

Because the novel coronavirus was unknown prior to its emergence in January, scientists have been moving rapidly to learn more about both the virus and the disease it causes.

Aziz said the drip of new information shows the need for more scientists to dig into the impacts of COVID-19.

“A lot of things are being missed, which is why I think researchers from every field should try to look into this and see if it’s affecting their specialty in one way or another,” he said. “Who knows what systems this virus is affecting. If we can catch it earlier in the disease course, we can prevent the spread of the virus and potentially have ways of managing it.”

Runner Named All-American by U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association

Senior distance runner Petronela Simiuc was named an All-American May 26 by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

Simuic made the Indoor Track & Field All-American Team for her performance in the mile. She qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., but she never got to compete as the meet was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Petronela Simiuc is the Rockets’ first track and field All-American since Janelle Noe in 2018.

“This has been a long time coming for Petra to reach All-American status, and I’m so glad the USTFCCCA and the NCAA chose to recognize these athletes,” said Head Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough. “I look forward to watching her continue her career in her final outdoor season in 2021.”

Simiuc had a tremendous indoor season, breaking UToledo’s all-time record in the mile and 800 meters twice each. On Jan. 24, Simiuc clocked a time of 4:38.40 in the mile at the John Thomas Terrier Classic in Boston, smashing the previous record of 4:39.81 set by Megan Wright in 2014. She later broke her own record with a time of 4:34.59 to place fifth at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational Feb. 14 in Boston.

She closed out the regular season by breaking Toledo’s 800-meter record at Michigan’s Silverston Invitational Feb. 21 with a time of 2:08.23, surpassing the previous record of 2:09.20 held by Janelle Noe.

At the Mid-American Conference Indoor Championships, Simiuc re-broke the 800-meter record, posting a time of 2:07.46 in the final to place first.

At the MAC Indoor Championships in Akron, Ohio, Simiuc clinched gold in the 800m (2:07.46), mile (4:46.93), and distance medley relay (11:38.11). She also was named First Team All-MAC for her performances in all three of her events, and she helped the Rockets to a sixth-place team finish with 60.5 points, a half of a point ahead of Miami (Ohio).

On March 3, Simiuc was named the MAC Most Outstanding Female Track Performer.

UToledo Chemists Identify Toxic Chemicals in Fracking Wastewater

Before water produced during hydraulic fracturing is disposed of in waterways or reused in agriculture and other industries, chemists at The University of Toledo are zeroing in on water quality and environmental concerns of fracking wastewater to determine if it is safe for reuse.

The research scientists of the new Dr. Nina McClelland Laboratory for Water Chemistry and Environmental Analysis at UToledo created a new method that simultaneously identified 201 chemical compounds in fracking wastewater, called produced water.

Dr. Emanuela Gionfriddo, assistant professor of analytical chemistry, and Ronald Emmons, UToledo Ph.D. candidate, are studying water quality and environmental concerns of fracking wastewater to determine if it is safe for reuse.

The research, which is published in the Journal of Separation Science and was carried out in collaboration with scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington, shows that many of the chemicals found in produced water are carcinogens, solvents and petroleum distillates that can directly contaminate drinking water sources.

“The issue with produced water is that this is a very new and overlooked source of pollution, and disposal and purification practices are not yet fully optimized to guarantee total removal of environmental pollutants,” said Dr. Emanuela Gionfriddo, assistant professor of analytical chemistry in the UToledo Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the School of Green Chemistry and Engineering. “Our work aimed to provide a new, simple and cost-effective method for the comprehensive characterization of chemicals and fill the gap of knowledge currently existing about the chemical composition of this waste product of the oil and natural gas industry.”

Scientists and natural gas companies are seeking creative ways to use produced water because current treatment processes to remove salts and radioactive substances — processes that include reverse osmosis and distillation — are expensive.

“Current methods for chemical characterization of produced water can give an estimate of the total amount of contamination, but do not give information about what type of contamination is present,” Gionfriddo said. “It could be that a molecule can be still very toxic even if present at very low concentration, or it has the potential to accumulate in the body over time, so the point is to know exactly what is in produced water, not only how much.”

Gionfriddo’s research outlines how the chemists developed and optimized a thin-film, solid-phase microextraction approach to characterize the organic compounds in the produced water.

The team identified many chemicals, including a pesticide called atrazine; 1,4-dioxane, an organic compound that is irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract; toluene, which at low exposure has health effects like confusion, weakness, and loss of vision and hearing; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to skin, lung, bladder, liver and stomach cancers.

“There are many chemicals that still need to be identified at this time,” said Ronald Emmons, UToledo Ph.D. candidate. “More research also is needed to test the uptake of these chemicals in crops when produced water is recycled for agriculture. We need to study if and how these chemicals from the produced water can accumulate in the soil watered with produced water and if these chemicals can transfer from the soil to the crops.”

The collaborative research between UToledo and UT Arlington will continue using the new method for screening the presence of toxic molecules in produced water samples from various sampling sites in Texas.

UToledo scientists also are developing new methods for the extraction of heavy metals and rare earth elements that will aid the full characterization of produced water samples.

Class Explores Natural Wonders on Trip to Galapagos Islands

Over spring break before travel restrictions and shelter-in-place mandates, seven honors students explored the Galapagos Islands as part of their class in the Jesup Scott Honors College.

Known for crystal-clear waters and wildlife found nowhere else in the world, the remote islands located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador proved to be a place of awe and inspiration.

During time on campus and on the trip itself, students in the Galapagos Islands: Biology and Conservation class taught by Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Honors College and professor of environmental sciences, learned about the unique life of the islands, the evolutionary processes creating it, and current challenges to preserving it. The land-based trip — with boat rides between the islands — included the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal and Española.

Snorkeling submerged lava tunnels, swimming with sea lions, and learning about the danger of dumping plastic garbage in the ocean, the students’ journey carried even greater poignancy because of escalating worries about COVID-19.

Upon returning home, Appel and the students spent 14 days in self-isolation and reflected on their time in a place defined by resilience and change — the inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Dr. Heidi Appel, right, and students from the Jesup Scott Honors College watched a giant tortoise at El Chato Giant Tortoise Ranch.

Day One

After arriving on a flight from Guayaquil, the class headed to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island to see the unique Scalesia forests and the El Chato Giant Tortoise Ranch.

“As with the animals, most of the plants on the islands are endemic and found nowhere else,” Appel said. “But it is the animals that capture our imagination.”

“The Galapagos tortoise is one of the most iconic species on Earth,” Gabrielle Cario, a bioengineering student, said. “To be able to stand within a few meters of such astonishing creatures was incredible.”

“I was so surprised to learn that this tortoise is over 100 years old,” Alexx Rayk, exercise physiology student, said.

Sierra Negra Volcano

Day Two

Situated on the Nazca continental plate near junctions with two others, the Galapagos Islands are all volcanic in origin. Students had the opportunity to hike up a volcano on Isabella Island.

“Despite the heavy showers that prevailed during our hike to the Sierra Negra Volcano, the experience was amazing,” Michelle Cherian, biology major, said. “While the volcano is now extinct, the previous eruptions have left behind enormous calderas and unique flora and fauna endemic to the Galapagos Islands.”

“The hike up and down to the viewpoint was one of the most memorable days on the trip, as we were all soaked through,” Cario said. “Seeing the newly formed lava rock and streams was incredible.”

A sea turtle swam in the lava tunnels.

Day Three

Isabella Island also is home to a large complex of lava tunnels formed millions of years ago when lava flows were cooled on the outside by water but stayed molten on the inside and emptied.

The top of the tunnels was a rocky desert habitat with Opuntia cactus the size of small trees and lots of nesting blue-footed boobies.

“It was also the best example of natural selection for the flightless booby born outside of the typical mating season,” said Dilpreet Kaely, bioengineering major, who had taken her first swim lessons in preparation for snorkeling on the trip.

Taylor Boyd, a biology major, enjoyed looking down from the top of the tunnels.

“The water was so clear we could see everything underneath the surface from the boat,” Boyd said.

Whitetip sharks circled in the lava tunnels.

Students jumped into the submerged lava tunnels to snorkel.

“Within the maze of underwater lava tunnels, we weaved in and out of rocky coves and shallow corals, sighting schools of fish, sea horses and sea turtles along the way,” Cherian said. “The green sea turtles were especially impressive due to their size and mellow activity.”

“I never realized how large sea turtles were until we were swimming right next to them,” said Tessa Keran, a chemical engineering student.

“I have always wanted to swim with marine wildlife, and to be able to swim into a cave with a bunch of whitetip sharks was a highlight in my life,” Ashima Thusu, bioengineering major, said.

“We encountered turtles, sea horses, sting rays, several different types of fish, and a cave full of sharks,” Cario said. “It was an amazing snorkeling trip.”

The honors class saw this saddleback tortoise at the Darwin Research Center.

Day Four

The class returned to Santa Cruz Island to visit the center of conservation efforts in the islands.

“It was really interesting visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center and learning about their conservation initiatives,” Keran said. “Saddleback giant tortoises are critically endangered due to the historic harvesting for food and oil by seafarers and later introduction of invasive species such as dogs, rats and cattle.”

The species of saddleback from Pinta Island was thought to be extinct with the death of Lonesome George in 2012, and the species from Floreana Island was believed to be extinct for 150 years.

But good news came recently in a report from the Darwin Research Center that they had recently located on Isabela Island some tortoises with DNA like those from Pinta and Floreana islands, perhaps a last-minute drop-off from those same seafarers as they left the island archipelago.

New challenges are more sobering though. Twenty Galapagos bird species, including 12 species of Darwin’s finches, are under threat from a parasitic fly accidentally introduced to Galapagos that feeds on the blood of hatchlings causing all of the chicks to die.

“We have to remember that the amazing animals we saw in the Galapagos may not always be there if things continue the way they are,“ Rayk said.

Botany Bay, San Cristobal

Day Five

The students arrived on San Cristobal Island, their home base for the last three days of the trip.

Except for the rainy hike up the Sierra Negro volcano on Isabela, all of the days were hot.

After lunch, they visited the Tijeratas Interpretive Center featuring the geological, biological and cultural history of the islands. It included a large topographic map of the islands and the surrounding ocean, giving a full sense of their volcanic origins.

The class posed for a photo with the Charles Darwin statue in San Cristobal.

“Tijeretas Hill, or Frigate Bird Hill, was my favorite view from the Galapagos. It is also historically important because it was where Darwin first came on San Cristobal,” Kaely said.

Something special happened for Thusu while overlooking Botany Bay.

“This view will be forever ingrained in my head,” Thusu said. “The uphill trek was steep, but once we reached the top, it was worth it. At that moment, I received an email saying that I had been accepted to medical school, an email I had been waiting for two months. It was truly one of the most joyous experiences of my life.”

Kicker Rock

Day Six

Kicker Rock, or Leon Dormido, is an hour and a half boat ride from San Cristobal and home to a very different kind of marine habitat.

Rising almost 500 feet above the ocean, this remnant of a volcano cone was home to nesting frigate birds, Nazca and blue-footed boobies. Its stronger currents and upwelling attracted different marine species.

“Despite not being an adequate swimmer, the snorkeling experience at Kicker Rock was breathtaking,” Cherian said. “From swimming with a manta ray to spotting several sea lions, it was most definitely an unforgettable day for me.”

“Right off the boat, we saw an enormous pool of fish swimming in silver streaks while besting a mighty sea lion from becoming its prey,” Thusu said.

The class visited a geyser on Española Island.

Day Seven

“One of my favorite days was the day trip to Española Island,” Cario said. “The nature here was surreal, as it was not disturbed by human interaction except on the small foot trails. The natural geyser was also incredible. Birds, iguanas and lizards were everywhere.”

“We found a huge flock of Nazca boobies, and it was really cool to see them all together, and we could even see some fluffy babies,” Boyd said.

That evening, students met with Juan Pablo Muñoz, special projects director from the Galapagos Science Center, a joint partnership between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

This Nazca booby stands outside the Galapagos Science Center; the sculpture is made from recyclable material to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

Muñoz gave a lecture on plastic pollution in the Galapagos Islands, a problem that is particularly bad because of their position at the intersection of three major ocean currents. Plastic has been recorded inside of 18 marine species.

Through research by an international consortium of scientists, the major sources of plastic pollution have been identified: the coasts of Ecuador and Peru, and discharge from Asian fishing vessels in international fishing zones adjacent to the islands.

Outside the Galapagos Science Center stands a sculpture of a Nazca booby made from recyclable material to raise awareness about this plastic pollution.

“The conservation efforts established within the Galapagos Islands have given me an entirely new insight into the issue of pollution as a whole,” Cherian said.

Over a farewell dinner on the waterfront in San Cristobal, students reminisced about the trip with David Cevallos, their Ecuadorian trip leader.

They realized that heading home during the worsening spread of COVID-19 was bittersweet.

“The opportunity to go on a trip like the Galapagos Islands was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Cherian said. “Despite the prevailing sense of anxiety and chaos that developed during the influx of COVID-19, I was truly able to enjoy the endemic flora and fauna, as well as the unique animals that have evolved on the islands.”