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UToledo Students Examine Human Consumption in International Biodesign Challenge Summit 2020

Four University of Toledo students have teamed up to critically investigate the behaviors of human consumption. Their project is competing in the international Biodesign Challenge Summit 2020, held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The competition is being held online June 15-19, but the video presentations are available for view anytime. Winners will be announced June 19 on the Biodesign Challenge Summit website.

The UToledo project, “Wastr: Reassessing Our Trash,” was the brainchild of students Jarrett Cunningham, who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in film and video in May; Madalyn Jones, a senior majoring in environmental science; Michael Miller, a bioengineering major with an economics minor; and Mohamed Nawras, who received a bachelor of science degree in biology in 2018 and is a doctor of medicine candidate for fall 2020.

The team developed a presentation highlighting the paradox of creating an eco-friendly product that adds to consumptive behaviors. The ultimate goal is to get people to become more aware of the amount of waste they personally generate.

A video presentation of the project states, “Landfills are reaching capacity at alarming rates, impacting the environment tremendously while also contributing to a culture of consumption.”

Students from UToledo prepare for the competition every year through a class offered in the Department of Art. The spring 2020 Biodesign Challenge course brought together students from multiple disciplines into the Department of Art under the direction of faculty members Brian Carpenter and Eric Zeigler. Students worked in interdisciplinary teams to research real-world problems and then sought to solve those problems with biotechnology and/or biomaterials. This year’s groups addressed potential eutrophication solutions, antimicrobial structures, innovative health testing devices, and consumption.

The Biodesign Challenge course asks students to stretch their known capabilities by making meaningful connections between disciplines and designing unique solutions to complex problems in a normal year. As the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the course moved to virtual learning, the teams continued to work extensively on their projects.

“We are truly amazed at the tenacity of our students, and the outcomes from remote research they were able to accomplish in such a difficult time,” Carpenter, assistant professor of art and gallery director, said.

“We are proud of the work every student has done, and we are excited to compete internationally again,” Zeigler, associate lecturer of art, said.

UToledo Students Earn Recognition in Statewide Health Professions Competition

Tomorrow’s doctors, nurses and other health professionals aren’t waiting for a diploma to contribute to their fields. Several Rockets set themselves apart in a recent statewide competition among health science and biomedical programs in events testing their medical knowledge, presentation skills and analytical abilities.

The UToledo chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) Future Health Professionals competed remotely for the first time in the organization’s annual State Leadership Conference against chapters from other Ohio colleges and universities. More than 1,000 teams from high schools and postsecondary institutions participated in the competition.

Because of their placing performances, the UToledo students qualified to compete in the HOSA International Leadership Conference, which will be held virtually Wednesday through Saturday, June 24-27.

“Despite the challenges faced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our members continued to showcase dedication and pride,” said Rupesh Boddapati, a bioengineering major as well as founder and president of UToledo’s chapter of HOSA Future Health Professionals. “We cannot thank them enough for their participation as well as their involvement in the UToledo chapter.”

Members of the UToledo chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) Future Health Professionals posed for a photo after preparing food during a CommunityCare Clinic service event before the pandemic.

HOSA Future Health Professionals, founded in 1975, is an international student organization with more than 245,000 members that helps to develop leadership and technical skills in health science education programs around the world.

Qualifying students were:

• Aditya Acharya, first place in medical law and ethics;

• Amarjot Bhangu, first place in job-seeking skills;

• Rupesh Boddapati, first place in pathophysiology;

• Sharvari Brahme, third place in prepared speaking;

• Samhitha Dasari, second place in human growth and development;

• Maya Girn, second place in cultural diversities and disparities;

• Megha Girn, second place in nutrition;

• Jeremy Mathews, second place in medical math;

• Drew Pariseau, first place in nutrition;

• Jessica Rinehart, third place in medical math; and

• Calvin Sunny, third place in medical law and ethics.

UToledo Resumes Research on Campus Prioritizing Health, Safety

Robust research is a vital element of The University of Toledo’s mission to discover life-changing solutions to problems and drive economic development.

Three months after noncritical research was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, scientific laboratories reactivated on campus this week with the health and safety of faculty, staff and students as a top priority.

Gabriel Otto, left, and Abdel Hakim Abou Yassine, worked in the lab of Dr. Hossein Sojoudi, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. Otto is an undergraduate student, and Yassine is a graduate student.

“Researchers started coming back to campus Monday, June 8, with research operation plans in place to mitigate transmission of COVID-19,” said Dr. Constance Schall, associate vice president for research and professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. “Our researchers continue to show their creativity, resilience and support to our students and to strengthening our research enterprise.”

The safety protocols implemented University-wide to restart research on campus include measures to curtail the spread of the virus, such as maintaining a social distance of six feet, wearing face masks or face shields and personal protective equipment, disinfecting shared spaces, practicing good personal hygiene, and self-screening for fever and COVID-19 symptoms at home before coming to campus.

Faculty or staff who are sick should not report to work and contact their primary care provider.

“We are very excited to get students, faculty and staff back on campus and re-engaged in research,” Dr. Patricia Relue, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering and professor in the Department of Bioengineering, said. “Our faculty and graduate students have been extremely creative in finding ways to keep research moving forward during the shutdown, but COVID-19 has definitely slowed progress, especially for our experimentalists.”

Though a limited number of critical research projects continued on campus during the last three months, the majority of projects were paused. Even so, many UToledo researchers have continued work remotely while planning for the full return to their laboratories.

“A group of more than 20 faculty and staff from across the University started work in April on developing a blueprint for resumption of research activities while protecting and maintaining the health and safety of our researchers and University community,” Schall said. “We developed our process to phase in research activities on campus and off-campus field studies.”

If there is an increase in community infections, it may be necessary to restrict research operations again.

Read more about the full Rocket Restart plan as UToledo puts measures in place to safely return to on-campus operations. Additional details will be released in early July.

UToledo Unites in Solidarity to Identify Solutions to Address Systemic Racial Injustice

The University of Toledo’s campus community united in solidarity and support Thursday evening for those affected by the killing of George Floyd.

The first Dialogues on Diversity Virtual Town Hall brought together University leadership, faculty, staff, students and the public to reflect on their experiences, identify solutions to address systemic racial injustice, and highlight campus and community resources to aid in coping with trauma.

“I am so pleased with the dynamic, meaningful ideas that resulted from our successful discussion,” Dr. Willie McKether, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said. “I appreciate the passion and motivation of our Rocket family and the support we have for each other. This is the beginning of a series of respectful, painful conversations in the coming weeks, including when the semester starts.”

More than 350 people attended the event that featured panelists:

• UToledo Police Chief Jeff Newton;

• Benjamin Davis, UToledo law professor;

• Dr. Monita Mungo, UToledo assistant professor of sociology;

• Dr. La Tasha Sullivan, director of the University Counseling Center;

• Nyah Kidd, president of the Black Student Union;

• Darren Gordon, former president of the UToledo chapter of the Student National Medical Association;

• Giselle Zelaya, president of the Latino Student Union;

• Nick Thompson, president of Student Government;

• Anjali Phadke, vice president of Student Government; and

• Asher Sovereign with the Sexuality and Gender Alliance.

Members of the campus community shared personal experiences and the great sadness and fear sparked by watching the video of George Floyd’s death.

“As a teen growing up in Mississippi, my parents would consistently remind my siblings and me when we would leave the house for fun or to hang out with our family and friends, ‘Remember we love you, but you must come home at night,’” Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, vice president for student affairs and vice provost, said. “As I got older and started to experience racism, discrimination and prejudice firsthand, I began to understand the meaning of those powerful 11 words. In essence, my parents were saying, ‘Always obey the law and follow their instructions and rules. Do as you are told. Don’t argue.’ These past two weeks have been the most difficult weeks in my life. When will this behavior stop? Am I next? I’m at a loss for words.”

“As I reflect on the events of the last few weeks and our community discussion last evening, I am inspired by our students, faculty, staff and alumni for their commitment, perseverance and passion to change the world,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “Yet I grieve the recent senseless deaths of George Floyd and Breona Taylor. As a human and a mother, I cannot fathom the pain and anguish that their families are experiencing. Racial injustice, police brutality and disparate treatment have painfully existed for longer than all of us have been alive. As a campus community, we have made great strides to create a more open and inclusive community, working together to develop and implement UToledo’s first diversity plan. And yet it isn’t nearly enough. Now is the time to end this in our community, our country and in the world. I challenge each and every one of you to ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’”

Panelists brought forward ideas and solutions to elevate our community, such as training students in nonviolence and conflict transformation to teach them how to respond to what they will face while protesting by utilizing faculty expertise in the Peace Education Program, which is part of the Judith Herb College of Education.

“I am proud of the strength and courage of our students as they engage in deep, thoughtful, critical discussions and examine the ways we can change our society for the better,” Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said. “It is our solemn responsibility and our honor to equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to lead that change into the future.”

Leaders from across the University have expressed their commitment to embracing 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.

• Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College: “We believe in the power of higher education to address major societal problems like this injustice. We hope that by challenging our students to think deeply about the world they live in and to take actions that support greater diversity, equity and inclusion, we are helping to build a better world.”

• Dr. Anne Balazs, dean of the College of Business and Innovation: “It is with great sadness that we bear witness to the events of the past week, with the untimely and violent death of George Floyd and the continuing expressions of hatred and prejudice. As members of a scholarly community, one which is dedicated to education and improving our shared quality of life, it is unacceptable to idly stand by and allow racism in all its many forms to persist.”

• Benjamin Barros, dean of the College of Law: “The past week’s events have shown the realities of the work we must do as a nation to ensure that our justice system protects and serves all people. Our mission at the law school is intrinsically tied to the mission of equal access to justice. We are uniquely positioned to empower future generations of lawyers to evaluate our country’s legal systems, engage in thoughtful discourse, and address inequality. The change we need to see as a nation begins with each of us doing our part to create a diverse, supportive and inclusive community.”

• Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, dean of the College of Graduate Studies: “Life is heavy for all of us today. It has been that way for some of us for many, many days. First, a global pandemic and now violence and division dominate our news cycle. I am sad, I am afraid, and I am hopeful. I am sorry for your loss, I am sorry for your fear, I am sorry for your anger, I am sorry for the lack of justice, I am sorry there is no cure, and I am sorry that I am sorry. You are valued, and we hear you. We are here for you today and every day.”

• Beau Case, dean of University Libraries: “The University Libraries believe that diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are not merely ideals — they are core values which we display daily in our work. Our campus doors are open to all. Our services are free of bias. We offer safe spaces for exploration, discovery, lifelong learning and wonder.”

• Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences: “From all appearances, he was neither protected with courage nor served with compassion. Now ‘I can’t breathe’ has become the rallying cry of protests locally and nationally, peaceful and violent. Lurking beneath this are the concerns and outrage of ongoing racism, systemic racism, institutional violence and failed inclusion. If we want to improve the world, we better start close to home with our region, our community and, most importantly, with ourselves.”

• Charlene Gilbert, dean of the College of Arts and Letters: “The peaceful protests occurring in many of our major cities and towns not only reflect the anger over the death of Mr. Floyd, but also represent years of frustration with the injustice and unequal treatment experienced by African Americans and people of color in communities all across this nation. The College of Arts and Letters is a community where we value and celebrate not only critical inquiry, but also thoughtful action. We want to thank every student, faculty member, staff person and alumnus who has participated in some form of action to add your voice to the many calling for justice.”

• Dr. John Laux, associate dean of student affairs in the College of Health and Human Services: “George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers is the latest example of violence perpetrated against African Americans. We honor George Floyd’s life, and those who were murdered or assaulted previously by focusing our attention on our society’s history of and ongoing racism and systemic social injustice by working collectively to be agents of change. The College of Health and Human Services trains students for careers in social service, health sciences and criminal justice, including police civil service. We recognize that we are a product of our society. The status quo is not acceptable. And, as such, we have work to do to root out and put an end to individual and institutional racism. We are committed to do the work necessary to be a part of the solution.”

• Dr. Linda Lewandowski, dean of the College of Nursing: “We know that long-term discrimination has negative effects on physical and mental health and that violence, discrimination and racism directly impact social determinants of health and result in health disparities and inequities. Given the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our African-American communities, the health impact of continued disparities is even more profound. As healthcare professionals, we are in a unique position to address the health and the social justice issues that are so pressing in our nation at this time. Change begins with each one of us and is reflected in how we treat each other on a daily basis.”

• Mike O’Brien, vice president and athletic director: “Last night’s dialogue was excellent as it was very informative and insightful. We must stand together and be committed for equity, diversity and the fight against racial injustice.”

• Dr. John Plenefisch, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics: “The College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics must translate the powerful words and feelings expressed by those protesting systemic racism into sustained action that makes a concrete difference in our community, including through our work and actions here in our college. As scientists and mathematicians, we can take action against racism, bigotry and prejudice in many ways, including choosing to focus our research on issues that disproportionally impact marginalized communities or groups, and deliberately supporting the careers and training of people of color as future generations of scientists and mathematicians.”

• Dr. Gary Pollack, dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences: “Our obligation to our fellow human beings is not diminished by the color of their skin, or by how they express their spirituality, or by their country of origin, or by whom they happen to love. Those characteristics, which some voices emphasize in an attempt to divide us, are infinitesimal compared to the many things that make us what we are: the human family.”

• Dr. Mike Toole, dean of the College of Engineering: “I found each of the speakers and the entire event to be compelling and inspiring. It is critical that we have administrators, faculty and student leaders on campus who are speaking out to support the protests against racial injustice in our nation. Eliminating institutionalized racism, white privilege and racist violence will take many voices and much work.”

• Dr. Raymond Witte, dean of the Judith Herb College of Education: “We all want to feel safe when in the presence of the police. This will require time and honest dialogue because many, including myself now, don’t feel safe. I am now faced with the reality that police may not act impartially and without bias. To be honest, most of us are biased in some way. However, the decisions police make can have life and death outcomes.”

The next Dialogues on Diversity Virtual Roundtable is scheduled Thursday, June 25, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Access and panelist participation information will be released prior to the event, which is titled “The Death of George Floyd: Race and Anti-Blackness in America.”

UToledo Researchers Play Critical Role in Historic Mission to International Space Station

After a nine-year hiatus — and a weather delay last week — American astronauts have flown to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., instead of using seats aboard Russian spacecraft.

Scientists at The University of Toledo who are based at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland played a critical role in the historic SpaceX Demo-2 mission, which was successfully completed Sunday.

A team of engineers from NASA, UToledo, the University of Akron, Vantage Partners, Parker Hannifin and the Ohio Aerospace Institute developed and tested the main docking seal that secures the connection between the spacecraft and ISS. The seal prevents breathable air from escaping from the spacecraft, allowing astronauts and cargo to safely transition to the orbiting laboratory.

Taylor

“Anything that’s going to space is a major endeavor. There are extreme temperatures, tight tolerances, and a huge amount of testing to ensure everything works properly. That’s even more important when there are astronauts on board. It really adds another level of stringency,” said Shawn Taylor, a senior research associate in UToledo’s Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department.

The seal is an important part of the NASA Docking System, making it International Docking System Standard compliant to enable different spacecraft to dock to the space station. SpaceX developed its own unique docking system for Crew Dragon, but decided to use several components from the NASA Docking system, including the seal, to remain compliant.

Taylor was part of the team that worked to develop, perfect and test the craft’s main docking seal, working their way from simulations to full-scale testing of the seal to ensure it would properly attach and detach.

So rigorous were the requirements for testing how much air would leak through the seal that researchers had to come up with a whole new testing method. To help visualize just how tight a seal is needed, over the course of a day, no more air could escape than what would approximately fill something the size of a regulation softball, Taylor said.

On Sunday, Taylor watched the launch and docking from his parents’ home alongside his wife and their 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program were aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon as it approached the International Space Station. The Crew Dragon’s nose cone is open revealing the spacecraft’s docking mechanism that would connect to the Harmony module’s forward International Docking Adapter.

“It was somewhat surreal because I vividly remember sitting in the same living room when I was his age, watching the Space Shuttle launch,” he said. “As we watched the countdown and launch of the Crew Dragon, I was excited, nervous and proud to share such a great moment for America with my family.”

This mission was even more special for Taylor, knowing that he had contributed to the technology that enabled American astronauts to go back to the International Space Station from American soil.

“The docking on Sunday was especially memorable, as I could clearly see our team’s seal on the Crew Dragon vehicle as it approached the ISS,” he said. “This launch represents an exciting start to a new era in American exploration that will hopefully inspire new generations of scientists and engineers that will work to make our world a better place for all.”

The Crew Dragon is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership in which the agency contracted with SpaceX and Boeing to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations.

The vision is for private companies to someday fly customers to hotels in space and other celestial destinations.

“To think a part of our work is flying on that vehicle that’s going to enable a U.S. astronaut to fly from Florida and be able to make our space program be self-sufficient again — that’s huge,” Taylor said. “It’s really fun to see people be excited about space spaceflight and science.”

UToledo Electrical Engineer Leading Charge to Build Ventilators in the Congo

Feeling powerless to help her native country in Africa amid the coronavirus pandemic, an electrical engineer at The University of Toledo found a way for people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to build their own breathing machines from scratch using equipment and materials accessible to them.

Using Twitter, Dr. Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga, assistant professor of electrical engineering technology, tapped into her worldwide network of engineers with ties to the DRC and engineers and students inside the country.

Mubenga

Mubenga is the founder of the STEM DRC Initiative, a nonprofit organization that has awarded scholarships to pay all associated costs, including transportation and books, for more than 60 students in the Congo to go to college since 2018.

“There are less than 1,200 ventilators in a country with nearly 85 million people, and about 50 of those machines are in the capital city of Kinshasa,” Mubenga said. “Kinshasa will need a minimum of 200 ventilators by mid-May when COVID-19 cases are expected to peak in the Congo.”

In the DRC, there are more than 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, more than 40 deaths caused by the new coronavirus, and about 3,000 suspected cases. An estimate last week showed the country had a maximum capacity of 200 tests per day for the whole country.

“When I was watching the news here in Ohio and heard the president of the United States announce that General Motors was going to build 100,000 ventilators, I thought, ‘What is going on in the Congo?’” Mubenga said. “We have the opportunity, means, technology and knowledge to do that here, but the Congo is a state that is rebuilding its infrastructures with very few factories for assembly.”

In three weeks, the team of about 20 people who answered her call to volunteer worked together — through videoconferencing and emails — and developed a prototype of a life-saving ventilator using open-source specs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The working prototype next needs to undergo testing and certification, which Mubenga hopes to accomplish by the end of this year.

Nicole Bisimwa, a student at Loyola University in Congo, is helping to build ventilators.

“It costs up to 30,000 U.S. dollars to buy a ventilator right now,” Jonathan Ntiaka Muzakwene, who teaches engineering on the faculty of Loyola University of Congo, said. “Dr. Mubenga is timely to respond to the needs of our country and help save lives.”

Mubenga teamed up with many partners, including a hospital in Kinshasa and the national trade school.

Dividing the team based on their talents, they built an emergency ventilator that makes use of Ambu resuscitator bags commonly hand-operated in hospitals by medical professionals to create airflow to a patient’s lungs until a ventilator becomes available. The new device includes a mechanism that automates the squeezing and releasing motions.

“Instead of having a doctor or a nurse pressing the bag manually, we have a machine pumping the bag so the patient can breathe,” Mubenga said.

Muzakwene and his engineering students inside the DRC made use of their school’s 3D printer in their work to fabricate, assemble, program and test the prototype, a process made more challenging because of troubles with internet access, expert resources, and unclear laws and standards for validation of the technology.

“All the materials, components, parts and equipment necessary for the production of these ventilators are difficult to find here on site in the DRC,” Muzakwene said. “The big challenge then is to find what we need to make these ventilators locally here in the country, challenges that the United States does not have.”

“A ventilator is very delicate,” Mubenga said. “You have medical, mechanical and electrical specifications that have to be met. And while MIT provided most of the design documents, it did not include the most important piece until very recently: the controls code of the model. We’re talking about how to get feedback from different sensors to the microcontroller and adjust the system based on that feedback.”

The controls adjust the timing and compression of the Ambu bag based on three main input parameters: the volume of air pushed into the lungs, the ratio between inspiration and expiration time, and the respiratory rate, or breath per minute.

The task is personal for Nicole Bisimwa, a student at Loyola University in Congo. She worries about friends, family and loved ones across the African country.

“The clinics of Ngaliema and university have only one ventilator each, which is sorely insufficient in case they have several patients who need it,” Bisimwa said. “Limiting international trade is a barrier to supply, but we continue to find solutions to overcome this problem. Any help is welcome.”

The project also is personal for Mubenga, who understands the life-changing power of technology. When she was 17 years old in the DRC, she waited three days for surgery after her appendix burst because there was no power at the hospital.

“I was living in a small town called Kikwit, far away from the big and beautiful capital city of Kinshasa,” Mubenga said. “I was very sick, doctors needed to do surgery, but they couldn’t find any gas to turn on the power generator. For three days, my life depended on electricity. I was praying. I could not eat. And decided if I made it alive, I would work to find a solution so people wouldn’t die because of lack of electricity.”

The hospital found fuel to power the generator, doctors did the surgery, and Mubenga survived.

Mubenga started studying renewable energy at the UToledo College of Engineering in 2000 and earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering. After receiving her professional engineer license in Ohio, she went on to found her company called the SMIN Power Group, which develops and installs solar power systems in communities throughout the DRC.

Mubenga next plans to test the ventilator prototype using software from the DRC that can be accessed online.

“We still have a lot to do, but this prototype is a big step,” Mubenga said. “We are putting together the clinical team of doctors who will provide feedback so we can improve the device. After that, we will proceed through certification. We have applied for funding to help spark production, but we’re committed to continue volunteering our time, talent and resources. Taking action to find a solution is our way to bring light in this dark, gloomy time. It’s the right thing to do.”

Getting Involved Fueled Engineering Graduate’s Passion for Environment

Elizabeth Markert was inspired to get involved from her first moments on campus.

She joined Engineers Without Borders after seeing a student presentation her freshman year, and has helped to raise money and write grants and proposals, most recently for a project to supply water to an indigenous tribe of 2,000 people in Kenya.

Graduation Cap

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: During this time when we cannot come together to celebrate our graduates, UToledo is recognizing the Class of 2020 with a series of feature stories on students who are receiving their degrees. Help us celebrate our newest UToledo alumni. Visit utoledo.edu/commencement to share a message of support to graduates and come back online Saturday, May 9, to take part in the virtual commencement ceremony.

The work includes providing pumps, generators and a concrete storage tank, where previously the tribe had to travel 15 kilometers for clean water. Plans for Markert to travel to Kenya were canceled due to COVID-19, but the experience has taught her about herself.

“I’m not the leader type, traditionally,” said Markert, who will graduate May 9 with her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering. “But working with Engineers Without Borders has helped me grow into it, to figure out how to lead and become better at it.”

She connects her Louisville, Ky., roots to her initial interest in pursuing her degree program.

“I was a student that always liked school,” said Markert, whose favorite subject growing up was English. “My parents were very environmentally conscious. We volunteered with the parks conservancy in Louisville to pull invasive species of vines when I was younger; I really enjoyed that and it stuck with me.”

Another opportunity that made an impact was during her first year when Markert indulged her creative side as a carpenter for the UToledo Department of Theatre and Film. It’s a role she’s kept throughout her time at the University and a passion that she will continue.

“I plan to volunteer for the arts no matter wherever I live after graduation,” Markert said. “It’s wonderful to see a show, to have a sense of accomplishment, and see what I made and designed be part of an experience for so many people.”

Elizabeth Markert

Elizabeth Markert credits study abroad opportunities, such as in Trinidad and Tobago in 2019 with an environmental sciences class, with shaping her experience at UToledo.

As part of the nationally recognized mandatory co-op program in the College of Engineering, Markert was able to complement her activities on campus with three consecutive summers working for Gresham Smith, an architecture, transportation and engineering firm with offices in Louisville. One of her favorite projects was helping to design bike lanes around the city, which allowed her to see the real-time impact and benefits of her work for the community.

Dr. Defne Apul, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, saw Markert’s creativity firsthand through her senior design class and research on the environmental cost of recycling photovoltaic technology.

“The sky is the limit for Elizabeth. It has been an amazing experience working with her,” Apul said. “What do we want our students to have? Problem solving and critical thinking? Excellent time management and communication? Leadership and being a change agent? Elizabeth has demonstrated all of these skills and more.”

Some of Markert’s greatest experiences at UToledo came from continents away when she was able to travel to Beijing, China, with the Department of Theatre and Film in 2017 and to Trinidad and Tobago with an environmental sciences class in 2019.

“Those study abroad opportunities were the best parts of UToledo for me,” Markert said. “I was able to work with film and music students in China, and study endangered wildlife in South America. It changed my life.”

University Honors Faculty, Staff for Advising, Research, Teaching, Mentoring, Outreach

UToledo has announced outstanding advisors, researchers and teachers, and recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement for the 2019-20 academic year.

In addition, the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award has been presented.

“It is important to recognize these dedicated and deserving award recipients, even though we were not able to hold an official ceremony this semester,” Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said. “These faculty members and advisors exemplify the excellence everyone at The University of Toledo strives for every day.”

A ceremony to celebrate recipients is scheduled to take place during fall semester.

Recipients of the Outstanding Advisor Award are:

Dr. Lorie D. Gottwald, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Dermatology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She received her doctor of medicine degree from the former Medical College of Ohio in 1990. Gottwald joined the MCO faculty in 1998.

“It is obvious to anyone who has spent time around Dr. Gottwald how much time and effort she puts toward cultivating success for her mentees,” one nominator wrote. “When one of her students is successful or reaches a goal, she shares that joy with him or her. She is very invested in her mentees.” Another noted, “Dr. Gottwald develops great relationships with her students, especially those interested in dermatology. She is friendly, positive, and always encourages students to pursue their dreams.” Another wrote, “She has frank conversations about strengths and weaknesses, and she is helpful in finding research opportunities.”

Matt Reising, academic advisor for interdisciplinary and special programs, and instructor in University College. He started advising UToledo students in 2016.

“Matt educates and empowers students by listening to them and understanding what their future goals are,” a nominator wrote. “He has a nurturing personality, substantial knowledge about academic pathways, and an overall love for helping students reach their goals.” Another wrote, “Matt creates an environment in which students feel comfortable sharing their goals, fears and concerns. He is a good listener and offers positivity, hope and vision for each of his students.” Another wrote, “I’d be lost without his knowledge and guidance of everything UToledo. I’ve bombarded him with countless emails and calls, and he shows me the way time and time again. Thanks for everything.”

Recipients of the Outstanding Research and Scholarship Award are:

Dr. A. Champa Jayasuriya, professor of orthopaedic research in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She joined the faculty in 2004 and also holds an adjunct faculty position with the Department of Bioengineering in the College of Engineering.

Her work focuses on injectable bone graft devices to regenerate and repair damaged human bone tissues. She is investigating biocompatible, biodegradable and injectable biomaterials that can be applied for bone regeneration via an arthroscopically administered, minimally invasive procedure. Jayasuriya’s recent research uses a 3D printer to create viable multifunctional bone grafts to regenerate damaged or lost bone tissues. In addition to bone regeneration studies, Jayasuriya’s lab is working on the delivery of drugs, antibiotics, growth factors and cells. She has received $4.6 million for her research and has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, which have approximately 1,750 citations.

Dr. Sridhar Viamajala, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He has been at UToledo since 2009.

Viamajala’s research concentrates on sustainable energy production and green engineering. He is working to find a faster, cleaner process to produce fuel using algae without needing to add concentrated carbon dioxide. Viamajala has received nearly $12.1 million in awards for his pioneering work in the areas of algae cultivation, harvesting and conversion. His creative, innovative engineering solutions are aiming for commercial implementation to replace fossil fuels with algal fuels. He has established collaborations with researchers at UToledo, Montana State University and Arizona State University. Viamajala has written more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and technical reports, presented his work at more than 110 conferences, and received 11 patents with colleagues.

Recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement are:

Dr. G. Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He joined the faculty in 1994.

Lipscomb has led efforts to engage students in chemical and environmental engineering in projects to provide clean water to communities in need. In 2015, he arranged a partnership between the University and Clean Water for the World, a nonprofit organization, for UToledo students to have a multi-year experiential learning project. Students in the chemical and environmental engineering programs produce and install units that deliver up to 300 gallons per hour of clean water — enough water for a community of up to 600 people. These water treatment systems greatly reduce water-borne diseases. Students also raise funds to travel to villages to install the systems. Thanks to Lipscomb, UToledo students have provided clean water to communities in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Dr. Matt Foss, assistant professor of theatre in the College of Arts and Letters. He began teaching and directing at the University in 2017.

Since coming to UToledo, Foss has found opportunities to be involved in the community — and included his students. He has worked with the Toledo Museum of Art on two projects, “Portraits of Toledo” and “The Art of the Cut.” After “Portraits,” the museum requested his assistance with “The Art of the Cut,” an initiative with ProMedica that raised awareness of the role barbershops play in the health and wellness of African-American men. Foss involved students to help stage manage the event, which proved a success in 2018 and was repeated this year. He and students also created puppets of endangered area wildlife and held eco-parades to raise awareness during the Momentum Festival.

Recipients of the Outstanding Teacher Award are:

Dr. Gabriella Baki, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and director of the Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program for undergraduates in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She came to the University in 2012.

“I am so lucky to have the opportunity of knowing such an amazing faculty member. Dr. Baki assists us with finding good internship sites and great job opportunities, and she encourages us to attend conferences to become the best version of ourselves,” one nominator wrote. Another noted, “I love that she always welcomes students to her office. Students can come for help, for questions, for guidance, or even candies she keeps stocked. She will always make sure she has time for students.” “Dr. Baki is friendly but respected, challenging but helpful. She encourages her students to work hard and put themselves out there,” another wrote.

Dr. David Gajewski, associate lecturer of mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The UToledo alumnus received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University, where he started to teach in 2009.

“Dr. Gajewski was my favorite calculus teacher in college,” one nominator wrote. “Not only does he have a real passion for the math he teaches, he also really cares about the students in his class. A lot of teachers are intimidating and hard to approach, but with Dr. Gajewski, it is easy to make jokes and be friendly while still respecting the fact he is a professor.” “He explained things so logically that I found I no longer thought of calculus as some alien language. Instead, it made complete sense. I actually started looking forward to class,” another wrote. Another noted, “He even met students who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving for dinner.”

Dr. David Jex, professor of music in the College of Arts and Letters. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University in 1973 and joined the UToledo faculty in 1983.

“Dr. Jex is extremely warm and inviting. The first time you meet him, it feels like reconnecting with an old friend,” a nominator wrote. “When sitting in class, I can’t help but admire his creative styles in keeping the class engaged and active with each lesson. He is a leader in the Music Department and has gone unnoticed for far too long. It is because of him and his encouragement that I feel like I’m going to be successful in the future.” “As an accomplished composer, Dr. Jex has always been a champion of the creation of new music,” another wrote. “Dr. Jex is well-liked and well-respected by music students and faculty.”

Teresa Keefe, Distinguished University Lecturer of Information Operations and Technology Management in the College of Business and Innovation. She received a B.B.A. and a M.B.A. from the University in 1987 and 1990, respectively, and began teaching at her alma mater in 2001.

“She teaches each concept with the utmost patience and loves to solve problems for each student. I love that she has a lot of knowledge about whatever she teaches and loves to joke around in class,” a nominator wrote. “She teaches with the best material, which is very simple to understand.” Another wrote, “She is an exceptional lecturer; all of the handouts and learning materials were custom-made by her for the specific class and concepts being taught. I learned and retained more information than in any other class that I can recall because the presentation made it a joy, and I always looked forward to class.”

Dr. Kristi Mock, associate lecturer of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. She began teaching at UToledo in 2011.

“Despite only having Dr. Mock as an instructor for one semester, her kindness and helpfulness made a huge impact on me,” one nominator wrote. “Something I found incredibly helpful was the amount of resources she provided. Every class, she would come in with a new opportunity — shadowing doctors, scribing jobs, volunteer and internship opportunities — for those of us who desired a job in chemistry.” “Dr. Mock is an incredibly enthusiastic teacher. She is incredibly knowledgeable and describes subjects in many ways so students can better understand. She is very passionate and grounded when she is teaching. She is very approachable and is always there for her students,” another wrote. Another noted, “Moving forward, we all really miss her lectures and her personality.”

Dr. Ozcan Sezer, associate professor of finance in the College of Business and Innovation. He joined the faculty in 2002.

“I am in the Student Managed Portfolio class taught by Dr. Sezer. It has been the most useful class I have taken,” one nominator wrote. “We receive a huge amount of investment knowledge, as well as learning how to work together toward one main goal. This class is a great simulation of the workplace. It is not a regular class; it is real money, which puts a lot of responsibilities on students, but Dr. Sezer set up the class as an amazing learning experience.” Another wrote, “Dr. Sezer is very laid-back, open-minded and friendly, which makes it very easy to communicate with him. And at the same time, you are feeling respected and appreciated for your effort.”

The recipient of the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award is:

Dr. Maria Coleman, professor and chair of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering, and associate director of the Polymer Institute. She joined the University in 1998.

“I have worked with Dr. Maria Coleman since 2003. She began serving as my mentor when I arrived on campus and began my tenure-track position. We also have collaborated on research and co-mentored many women in engineering,” a nominator wrote. “She is an approachable, nonjudgmental and thoughtful mentor. She has always been more than willing to help, intervene on behalf of, and to advocate for her mentees. Dr. Coleman has been a longstanding and excellent mentor to several current and former women in the UToledo College of Engineering.”

Tennis Player Found a Home at UToledo

Danilo Vukotic found a home at The University of Toledo.

Well, eventually.

A senior on the Rocket men’s tennis team, Vukotic initially took a slight detour to New Jersey from his home in Nis, Serbia, before landing in Ohio. Both places are a long way from home, but he could not have been more satisfied with the final destination on his collegiate journey.

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: During this time when we cannot come together to celebrate our graduates, UToledo is recognizing the Class of 2020 with a series of feature stories on students who are receiving their degrees. Help us celebrate our newest UToledo alumni. Visit utoledo.edu/commencement to share a message of support to graduates and come back online Saturday, May 9, to take part in the virtual commencement ceremony.

Becoming a top tennis player also was a bit of a journey for Vukotic. As a boy, he played several sports: basketball, soccer, volleyball and, of course, tennis. His path was not settled until he was 14, when he reached the semifinals of the U14 Tennis National Championship and was nationally ranked in the top five for his age group in Serbia.

“That gave me a pretty good indication that I can keep playing well and on a high level,” Vukotic said.

Though Vukotic had always dreamed of playing professionally, he opted to pursue the collegiate route instead.

“After giving it some thought, I started thinking that college tennis might even be a better idea than playing professional tennis,” Vukotic said. “Traveling all over the U.S., playing the sport I love, and getting a degree seemed like a good deal to me.”

Moving from Serbia to the United States was obviously a huge decision, and it took Vukotic and his family some time to find a school that was the right fit for him. Finally, in June 2016, he inked a national letter of intent to play for Farleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J. Vukotic enjoyed a successful freshman year at FDU, earning first-team all-conference honors and helping his team reach the semifinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament.

Despite his success as a freshman, the fit wasn’t quite right, so Vukotic opted to transfer. He began talking to some of his friends who played collegiate tennis, and one of those friends, former Rocket and fellow countryman Luka Vitosevic, suggested he check out Toledo.

Danilo Vukotic wrapped up a successful tennis career this spring and is set to graduate with a degree in information technology.

“I liked the coach [Al Wermer] and the school even though I did not come for a visit,” Vukotic said. “I saw pictures, and coach was FaceTiming me so I saw some things around campus.”

Along with Vitosevic, Vukotic also mentioned tennis player Nikola Arsic and swimmer Jovana Djuric as fellow Serbians who made his transition to Toledo easier.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” he said. “It really makes it more special and unique. People don’t realize how much it helps. Speaking my native language, hanging out with them, sharing stuff and asking for advice when we’re going through a rough patch, etc. Those were the people that made it feel like home.”

With friends by his side and a comfortable setting, Vukotic continued to thrive as a tennis player. This past season, he was a two-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Week honoree, once in singles and once in doubles, and he was on track to wrap up his career on a high note.

“This year he clearly came in with something to prove,” Wermer said. “His mindset was palpable and consistent. Danilo was clearly headed for an All-MAC finish to this year. He mobilized the team. His leadership kept a young roster on the same page.”

Unfortunately, Vukotic’s senior tennis season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. What made it even worse for him was missing out on commencement and graduation celebrations this spring. Vukotic comes from a place where donning a cap and gown is not a given, so that made it sting just a bit more than it might for an American student.

“For people back home, going to the U.S. is like a dream, and college is only really seen in movies,” Vukotic said. “For me, throwing my graduation cap in the air would have been a dream come true. I’m super sad I will never get a chance to experience walking at the Glass Bowl and getting the honor of being there with all the other graduates. My family was supposed to come the week of graduation as well. They were supposed to stay for graduation and then we were going to go to New York City to explore. I wanted to show them so many places, but, unfortunately, we are unable to do that now.”

Despite his disappointment, Vukotic is making the most of his time at home. He flew home shortly after the news that campus was shutting down. While self-isolating for 28 days, per Serbian law, he took time to reflect on his time as a college student.

“I think I matured a lot during these last four years, especially my three years at Toledo,” Vukotic said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about how lucky I am to have spent four years in college in the U.S.”

An information technology major in the College of Engineering, Vukotic already has a job lined up in his chosen field. And while he was not able to end his athletic career on his terms, he is doing everything he can to go out on a high note academically.

“I’ve been keeping my head up because this semester has been one of my best semesters, if not the best semester, grade-wise,” he said. “Even with everything going on, I have managed to keep myself motivated and will try to finish with all A’s.”

Engineering Students to Present Senior Design Projects Online May 1

The Senior Design Expo, a tradition in The University of Toledo College of Engineering for decades, is for the first time moving online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Students split into 75 teams will present projects ranging from a tricycle for a girl with cerebral palsy; a portable, bicycle-powered electric generator; and a triple-balloon catheter system that stops blood flow in vessels during surgical repair.

“The College of Engineering is excited to hold our first-ever virtual senior design exposition,” Dr. Matthew J. Franchetti, associate dean of undergraduate studies and professor of mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering, said. “The students, instructors and clients overcame massive difficulties when they were thrust into an emergency remote learning environment and not able to work face to face. This event will celebrate the students’ dedication and commitment to their problem-solving projects.”

To attend the Expo on Friday, May 1, click on the links below:

• 1:30 to 1:45 p.m.: Welcome/Overview of the Virtual Senior Design Expo;

• 1:45 to 3:15 p.m.: Virtual Senior Design Expo Projects and Virtual Rooms.

Visitors can enter the senior design teams’ personal WebEx rooms directly through the Virtual Senior Design Expo Projects and Virtual Rooms, where you can find the following information:

• Team project overview;

• Design team members;

• Team leader and their contact information;

• Faculty adviser;

• Client/sponsor (if applicable);

• Informational video (if applicable); and

• Guests will be able to sort projects by major and live presentation.

As part of required senior design/capstone projects, UToledo engineering teams worked with local businesses, industries and federal agencies to help solve technical and business challenges. Students will present their final prototypes, provide demonstrations, and answer questions about their experiences.