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Health and Human Services

Blackboard Recognizes UToledo Online Health Class for Excellence

The Public Health Nutrition class at The University of Toledo has received a Blackboard 2020 Exemplary Course Program Award.

Dr. Debra Boardley, professor in the School of Population Health in the College of Health and Human Services, teaches the course. Dr. Claire Stuve, director of curriculum development, testing services and research in University College, helped design the online class.

“I have found that most nutrition textbooks for graduate level are heavy in chemistry and biology,” Boardley said. “I wanted a course based on science, but was also approachable and useful to students without that background. I focused on the major public health nutrition issues: What is a healthy diet? How does nutrition affect chronic disease? We explored the challenge of obesity and weight management, and we learned about government programs, from food labeling to school lunch, that promote better nutrition in the U.S.”

Boardley wrote all the content for the graduate-level course.

“Then, as I say it, I made the content ‘pretty,’” Stuve said. “I turned what she wrote into videos, images and interactive multimedia using instructional design best practices. We worked together to ensure that the assessments aligned with the learning objectives and that they also were engaging to students.

“Content in any course can be presented in a way that is relatable to students’ real lives, so we made sure that was the case for this course,” said Stuve, who has won two Blackboard Catalyst Awards for creating innovative online classes.

The two worked on the class spring semester 2019. They used a third-party tool to create the modules, which contain flashcards, knowledge checks and avatar simulations. They found some YouTube videos and images that already existed, and they created many new ones. Then the material was embedded in Blackboard and linked with some of Blackboard’s tools.

“Class participation was high,” Boardley said. “I think students were enthusiastic because the topic areas were broad, and they had the opportunity to delve into the aspects that were the most interesting to them.”

“Although the course was designed to captivate students, I think it has the potential to change students’ lives because it is about nutrition, and as Debra says, ‘Nutrition impacts everyone because everyone has to eat,’” Stuve said.

The Blackboard Exemplary Course Program designation recognizes instructors and course designers whose classes demonstrate best practices in four major areas: course design; interaction and collaboration; assessment; and learner support. Courses were evaluated and selected through a peer-review process.

“I am so passionate about providing courses for students that not only intrigue them, but also help students to make positive changes in their lives; I want them to enjoy enriching their lives,” Stuve said. “This award is meaningful to me because it means that we succeeded in creating that type of course and contributed to the University’s online course excellence for which it is known.”

UToledo Physical Therapy Student Group Recognized by State Association

Students in The University of Toledo’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program have been recognized by the Ohio Physical Therapy Association for their advocacy and community service efforts.

The state association named UToledo’s Student Physical Therapy Organization winner of its 2019-20 Program of the Year Challenge.

Among the students’ service projects were fundraising for Food for Thought, working with athletes participating in the Special Olympics held in Bowling Green, and helping to provide healthcare to underserved populations through UToledo’s Community Cares Clinics.

The student organization also launched the Multicultural Leadership Council, which aims to promote a more culturally diverse physical therapy profession.

“Our Student PT Organization led by Drs. David Kujawa and Tori Smith is made up of students who are passionate and enthusiastic about our profession. I am so very proud of them.” said Dr. Cindy Bouillon, associate professor and director of UToledo’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. “They’ve participated in advocacy for our profession, as well as supporting our community through a mix of directly working with individuals who have disabilities or disease, and helping with fundraisers and other efforts for the greater good.”

The Program of the Year Challenge is an annual competition among Ohio’s 11 accredited physical therapy doctorate programs. Student groups are judged on the total number of volunteer hours, the number of students involved, and their collaboration with other programs.

Nearly 60 students are enrolled in the UToledo Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. Bouillon said all were involved in at least one of the projects. During the last year, the students have logged nearly 725 total volunteer hours.

“I am blown away by the amount of effort our program puts into attending events outside of school from volunteering in the community, attending conferences, lunch and learns, and more,” said McKenna Shives, a third-year student and the volunteer challenge representative for UToledo. “Everyone deserves the credit for this award. It was 100% a whole team effort.”

While many of the activities were completed before COIVD-19, the Student Physical Therapy Organization has continued meeting virtually to continue their work with the Multicultural Leadership Council and a shoe fundraiser.

Dean of College of Health and Human Services Announced

Dr. Mark A. Merrick has been selected to lead The University of Toledo College of Health and Human Services.

Merrick, who earned his baccalaureate and doctoral degrees at UToledo, has spent the last two decades at Ohio State University as director of the Athletic Training Division in OSU’s College of Medicine.

His appointment at UToledo begins July 1.

Mark Merrick

Merrick

“We’re excited to welcome Dr. Merrick back to The University of Toledo. He brings valuable leadership and experience to the College of Health and Human Services,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen the value of public health and allied health fields. Dr. Merrick will be a great asset to the college and the University.”

The majority of Merrick’s academic career has been spent at Ohio State, where he was the founding director of the university’s new Athletic Training Division. Merrick was instrumental in creating OSU’s bachelor of science in athletic training program and growing the program to national prominence.

Prior to Ohio State, Merrick held faculty positions at Xavier University and Indiana State University, where he was director of both the undergraduate and graduate athletic training programs.

“It’s great to return home and have a chance to give back to the place where my professional life began,” Merrick said. “The College of Health and Human Services has a strong and dedicated faculty who are working to make a difference for people in our community and world. Their passion and enthusiasm are evident in not only what they do and how they do it, but also in the students in whom they are so invested.”

Merrick earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic training from UToledo, a master’s degree in athletic training from Indiana State, and a doctorate in exercise physiology from UToledo.

Merrick is a certified and licensed athletic trainer, and a member of the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine’s Global Forum on Innovation in Health Professional Education. Additionally, Merrick previously served as president of the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education.

“If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, there is a growing need for the kinds of professionals we prepare in the College of Health and Human Services,” Merrick said. “This is a college poised to grow to not only meet that need, but to also partner with our community, region and state in doing so. The University is focused on its role in Fueling Tomorrows, and, in the College of Health and Human Services, we plan to play a big part in that vision.”

Bjorkman also thanked Dr. Barry Scheuermann, interim dean of the College of Health and Human Services, for his leadership during the transition.

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.”

Three Rockets Named MAC Distinguished Scholar Athletes

Three University of Toledo student-athletes were named Distinguished Scholar Athletes from the 2019-20 winter season by the Mid-American Conference. The awards were received following strong contributions in the field of competition and exemplary work in the classroom.

Women’s indoor track and field athletes Rayna Horner and Petronela Simuic were named Distinguished Scholar Athletes, as was Izzy Jones from the women’s swimming and diving team.

Horner is a sophomore majoring in pre-social work; she has a 3.774 grade-point average. Simuic is a senior majoring in health promotion and education; she has a 3.695 GPA. And Jones, a redshirt junior, is studying kinesiology and has a 3.734 GPA.

The award is given to student-athletes who have excelled in athletics and academics. Following each season, any student-athlete with a 3.20 GPA and participation in at least 50 percent of the contests is automatically named to the Academic All-MAC Team for each sport. First-year students and junior college transfers in their first year of residence are not eligible for the award.

New for this 2019-20 academic season, the selection for the Distinguished Scholar Athlete included all student-athletes that were recognized as All-MAC selections and Academic All-MAC selections from their respective sport, along with maintaining a 3.50 GPA and above. Previously, a voting process among the MAC Faculty Athletic Representatives determined the selection of the Distinguished Scholar Athletes. MAC membership voted for the change in recognizing the Distinguished Scholar Athletes during the conference spring meetings in June 2019.

UToledo Experts Share What You Need to Know About COVID-19 as States Reopen

As governments begin easing restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, public health and infectious disease experts from The University of Toledo are offering insight into what you need to know about the novel coronavirus, how to protect yourself, and how to protect others.

The virus is still here. We have to act accordingly.

Fink

While the number of newly confirmed cases in many states — including Ohio and Michigan — appears to have peaked, the virus hasn’t gone away or become less dangerous.

“We all yearn for the way life was in the pre-pandemic days, and we are going to get there, but this is going to be the situation for a while,” said Dr. Brian Fink, an epidemiologist and professor of public health. “We have to respect that and continue taking the same precautions.”

Though it’s tempting to see businesses reopening and leisure activities resuming and think the threat of the virus is behind us, Fink said the reality is the novel coronavirus is still spreading across the United States.

Take steps to protect your own health and the health of others.

“People do still need to be careful,” said Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan, an associate professor of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at The University of Toledo Medical Center. “One of the worst things that people could do at this point is go out and resume their normal behavior. We would certainly have a resurgence.”

Diligent handwashing, avoiding touching your nose and mouth, staying home if you’re sick, and social distancing should all continue, UToledo experts said. Individuals who are older or high-risk because of underlying health conditions should be more careful.

Fink said there are simple things you can do. For example, when shopping, avoid picking up an item and then putting it back, and keep your distance from other shoppers. It’s also important, he said, to make decisions based not only on your own risk, but the risk of those around you.

“It’s difficult. We all want to see our friends and family,” he said. “We just have to be patient. If we’re patient and we follow the guidelines as best as possible, we’ll be back to normal sooner rather than later, even though that’s going to take time,” Fink said.

Wearing a cloth face covering does make a difference. Wear one if you’re around others.

Hanrahan

The shifting guidance from public health officials on mask usage has caused confusion and pushback, but Hanrahan encourages people to wear a simple mask or cloth face covering when around other people.

“Two things are happening. The person wearing the mask is reducing the amount of stuff they’re putting in the environment, and they’re also reducing the amount they breath in,” she said. “It’s not going to prevent everything, but there is some protection.”

Hanrahan said face coverings, combined with continued social distancing and new measures being implemented by businesses, such as clear barriers at cash registers and limits on the number of people allowed in one place at one time, will reduce the overall risk.

Fink said its important people recognize things such as mask recommendations or requirements are being done for the benefit of everyone, not to target specific individuals.

“I always tell my students there are going to be people in the population who aren’t going to be happy. We’re seeing that,” Fink said. “But we’re putting these guidelines in place for the health and well-being of everyone.”

Individuals with pre-existing health conditions are most vulnerable, but no one is immune to the illness.

As physicians and researchers learn more about COVID-19, there are also some troubling discoveries. Along with older Americans and those who have diabetes, compromised immune systems and chronic lung diseases, Hanrahan said doctors are finding people with morbid obesity and high blood pressure are at high risk of complications.

“Hypertension alone would not necessarily be thought of as a potential problem with a viral infection, but it actually is,” she said. “For people who have those conditions or other underlying medical conditions, they really need to think about whether it makes sense for them to go to the grocery store or be around a lot of other people.”

Additionally, there are an increasing number of reports of children developing a severe inflammatory response linked to COVID-19, even when they weren’t previously sick.

“COVID-19 is not just affecting people who are at high risk for complications,” Hanrahan said.

Scientists and physicians have learned a lot about the virus, but we’re still a long way from having routine treatments or a vaccine.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was completely unknown before it began spreading among people early this year. Since then, there has been a tremendous amount of research both in how the virus spreads and potential ways to treat or prevent it.

“We have learned a lot about this virus,” Hanrahan said. “Most of the spread really is by droplets, typically within a few feet of the person. The social isolation part, keeping six feet of distance, that does actually make a difference.”

Doctors also have a better idea how to manage the virus, and hundreds of drugs are being examined to potentially fight COVID-19 and its effects. Some, including the antiviral drug remdesivir, are showing promising early results. Progress also is being made in vaccine development.

However, while there is reason for hope, Hanrahan said it will take time to get any of these therapeutics in the quantities needed. Gilead Sciences, which makes remdesivir, anticipates making a million courses of that drug globally by December.

“That’s not going to be enough to treat people if we get a really huge outbreak. This is unfortunately going to be with us for a while,” Hanrahan said. “That’s why it’s important everyone continue to treat this pandemic seriously.”

State Awards UToledo $613,436 to Lead Harmful Algal Bloom Research Projects

The University of Toledo is among four Ohio universities to receive a total of $2.08 million from the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative in this year’s round of state funding to address Lake Erie water quality and find solutions for algal bloom toxicity.

UToledo scientists situated on the western basin of Lake Erie from diverse research areas were awarded $613,436 to lead four projects related to protecting public health:

• Dr. April Ames and Dr. Michael Valigosky, assistant professors in the School of Population Health in the College of Health and Human Services, will assess microcystin inhalation risk to shoreline populations;

• Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, will work to create a new therapy for microcystin exposure and hepatotoxicity using naturally occurring Lake Erie bacteria that removes microcystin released by harmful algal blooms in drinking water;

• Haller also will conduct deep phenotyping of human organ biobank specimens for cyanotoxin exposure in at-risk populations; and

• Dr. Von Sigler, professor of environmental microbiology in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, will investigate any risks to beach visitors who come in contact with sand along a beach that has had bloom-enriched water wash up on the shoreline.

The UToledo Lake Erie Center research vessel helps to monitor the lake’s water quality.

“Foreshore sands are frequently contacted by beach visitors and are known to play a crucial role in accumulating bacteria, often harboring potentially pathogenic bacteria in densities exceeding those in nearby waters,” Sigler said. “Although no data is currently available that describes the ecology of microcystis in sands, there is potential for human health impacts.”

UToledo and Ohio State University lead the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, which consists of dozens of science teams across the state and is managed by Ohio Sea Grant.

Researchers from UToledo, Ohio State University, the University of Akron and Bowling Green State University will lead 12 newly announced projects — four from UToledo — to track blooms from the source, produce safe drinking water, protect public health, and engage stakeholders.

The selected projects focus on reducing nutrient loading to Lake Erie, investigating algal toxin formation and human health impacts, studying bloom dynamics, and better informing water treatment plants how to remove toxins.

Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and co-chair of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, examines a water sample aboard the UToledo Lake Erie Center research vessel.

“Thanks in part to past HABRI projects, the primary threat of microcystin algal toxin to our Lake Erie-sourced drinking water has been greatly diminished,” said Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and co-chair of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative. “Even under the best-case scenario, however, we are likely to be living with harmful algal blooms for many years to come. This new set of HABRI projects allows us to follow up with questions about other algal toxins such as saxitoxin and anatoxin that we know much less about, long-term exposure to toxins, and secondary routes of exposure, such as inhalation.”

Harmful algal blooms are not only a Lake Erie problem.

“Many lakes and rivers across Ohio are having similar issues,” Bridgeman said. “Several new projects are dedicated to helping smaller Ohio lakes and rivers use remote sensing, groundwater tracing and improved toxin-testing methodology.”

Previous HABRI projects have developed algal toxin early warning systems for water treatment plants, changed the way state agencies collect data for fish consumption advisories, and helped modify permit procedures for safer use of water treatment residuals as agricultural fertilizer.

“Lake Erie is an invaluable resource and a true treasure for the state of Ohio, and we have a responsibility to do all we can to preserve it and protect it,” said Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE). “I’m pleased that our university researchers are collaborating to lead this endeavor.”

The projects also aid the efforts of state agencies such as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Health, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“Direct engagement with these front-line agencies continues to allow HABRI scientists to develop research proposals that address both immediate and long-term needs of the people tackling this important statewide issue,” said Dr. Kristen Fussell, assistant director of research and administration for Ohio Sea Grant, who leads the initiative’s daily administration.

A total of $9.1 million in funding was made available through ODHE in 2015 and designated for five rounds of HABRI projects. Matching funding from participating Ohio universities increases the total investment to almost $19.5 million for more than 60 projects, demonstrating the state’s overall commitment to solving the harmful algal bloom problem.

Information about HABRI projects, partner organizations and background on the initiative is available on the Ohio Sea Grant website.

The UToledo Water Task Force, which is composed of faculty and researchers in diverse fields spanning the University, serves as a resource for government officials and the public looking for expertise on investigating the causes and effects of algal blooms, the health of Lake Erie, and the health of the communities depending on its water. The task force includes experts in economics, engineering, environmental sciences, business, pharmacy, law, chemistry and biochemistry, geography and planning, and medical microbiology and immunology.

Water quality is a major research focus at UToledo, with experts studying algal blooms, invasive species such as Asian carp, and pollutants. Researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure our communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

UToledo Students Join Volunteer Army of Contact Tracers

A group of nursing, public health and physician assistant students from The University of Toledo is playing a vital role in the region’s effort to curb the spread of coronavirus by serving as volunteer contact tracers.

Contact tracing is a core tool that public health officials use for stopping the spread of infectious diseases. It sounds deceptively easy — interview patients with a confirmed illness, find out who they were in close contact with, notify those individuals, and ask them to pay close attention to their health and limit their exposure to others.

In reality, it’s a time-consuming process that, in a pandemic, can quickly overwhelm existing resources.

Joseph Dake

Dake

“Those calls take a fair amount of time,” said Dr. Joseph Dake, professor and chair of the UToledo School of Population Health. “When there’s only three or four cases coming in per day, that’s no problem. When we get to 30 or 50 cases per day, it’s much more difficult for health departments to keep up.”

In early April, after speaking with Lucas County Health Commissioner Dr. Eric Zgodzinski, Dake put out a call for volunteers interested in being trained as contact tracers. The first group of students began working with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department on April 8.

As of the first week of May, the Volunteer Contact Tracing Program has grown to include 57 public health students, 65 students from the College of Nursing and five students from the physician assistant program. Nearly 100 additional nursing students will be trained early this summer.

“Dr. Dake took the idea of using UToledo students for contact tracing far beyond my expectations,” Zgodzinski said. “Through the work of UToledo, this will allow us to take what we have and may be used as a national model and training program for any local health jurisdiction to protect their community from COVID-19.”

Together, UToledo students have made more than 350 calls to individuals in Lucas County who have either tested positive or been identified as having been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“This is vitally important. You’ll hear a lot in the next few weeks about contact tracing and the need for more trained individuals. At the end of the day, the whole idea is prevention,” Dake said.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials estimates the nation is likely to need nearly 100,000 contact tracers — tens of thousands more than currently exist.

“We really need to have stronger infrastructure for mass contract tracing,” Dake said. “We’re really trying to make sure we build the capacity the right way.”

Dake has been in contact with officials at the Ohio Department of Health and shared one of UToledo’s training modules to be incorporated in their training program.

Bailey Kurtz

Kurtz

The training program developed by Dake takes about six hours of independent study. The students must then do a full mock interview with a faculty member or clinical instructor who is part of the team, and be cleared before they begin making calls.

One of the first students trained was Bailey Kurtz, who is in her first year of the Master in Public Health Program.

“There are times where I’ll spend an hour and a half talking to someone who’s in the hospital and doesn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said. “It’s not just about the data collection. It’s about making sure people in our community are doing OK. Being that light to answer their questions and give them some peace of mind.”

Kurtz, who hopes to eventually go to medical school, estimates that she has made between 20 and 30 calls since she finished training. She’s providing a crucial service to the community and getting hours that count toward her required internship.

The pandemic and their response to it is also giving Kurtz and her peers perspective that’s likely to last the rest of their lives.

“We have to prepare for the unknown. We have a unique opportunity as young professionals. We can implement some of that preparation into our careers later in life,” she said. “We’re going to be talking about this for the rest of our professional careers.”

UToledo’s National Youth Sports Program Canceled This Year

The University of Toledo is canceling this year’s National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) due to the pandemic.

It would have been the 51st year for the free three-week camp that provides recreational and educational opportunities for local income-eligible children.

“Following the COVID-19 update provided by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, UToledo is taking action to reduce exposure risk for the safety of our faculty, staff, students and campus visitors. Therefore, we are canceling the 2020 National Youth Sports Program,” said Dr. Ruthie Kucharewski, professor in the School of Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, and NYSP administrator.

This is the first time the summer tradition for kids has been canceled, according to Kucharewski.

“Thank you for your continued support of UToledo. We hope to see you at next year’s camp,” she said.

Starting in 1968, UToledo was one of the first universities in the country to offer the federally funded program sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

After federal funding for the program was cut, the University has continued to operate the camp through fundraising, in-kind donations, and commitment from the University to provide some support and facilities.

Ph.D. Candidate Aims to Impact Next Generation of Mental Health

Clark Ausloos wanted to find a way to have the biggest possible impact on the world.

A Ph.D. candidate in The University of Toledo’s Counselor Education Program, his goal has always been to serve people who consistently face discrimination or who find themselves underrepresented in traditional mental health communities. Through his doctoral program, he’s found a way to not only help those people individually, but to raise the overall quality of care received by the entire population.

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.

As a researcher and instructor in best practices for serving marginalized or stigmatized populations, Ausloos gets a chance to shape the future of mental healthcare.

“I can teach other future counselors how best to work with their clients,” he said. “So, in a way, I’m fortunate to be able to impact clients’ lives, as well as students and their families through my teaching.”

Fueled in part by a 2019 grant from the National Board for Certified Counselors Foundation, Ausloos is working to identify new ways to make sure all clients and students get the same level of care, regardless of their affectional or sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression.

“I’d like to work toward competencies and standards that counselors can use both in schools and in clinical counseling settings,” he said.

Clark Ausloos presents research

Clark Ausloos, a Ph.D. candidate in UToledo’s Counselor Education Program, presented his research with doctoral student Lena Salpietro at the North Central Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Conference.

He’s already making strides. Dr. Madeline Clark, one of Ausloos’s research partners, said their work has produced a set of best practices for working with specific demographic groups.

“Clark developed a research agenda that focuses on supporting trans and gender expansive youth in mental health and school settings, publishing multiple articles in peer-reviewed journals,” she said.

It’s a great result for any researcher, but it’s especially rewarding for Ausloos, who admitted he wasn’t excited about the idea of committing to a life of research early on.

“It’s something that can be really intimidating to people, and UToledo really allowed me to stand on my scholarly legs and really excel in that way,” he said. “I thought it’d be really scary. Now I realize that it’s just asking questions and being curious about things.”

In addition to his research and teaching activities, Ausloos also has worked to support access to mental healthcare at UToledo. A member (and later president) of the Chi Sigma Iota counseling honor society, he participated in an annual Wellness Fair at UToledo. The event was specifically designed to showcase new ways to stay healthy on college campuses in addition to highlighting community wellness initiatives students might not otherwise have known about. The educational aspect of the event fit perfectly with Ausloos’ ongoing focus on education and awareness.

Clark Ausloos posed with students

Clark Ausloos consults with various groups on campus, including providing these students tips and tricks to manage stress during final exams.

After graduation, Ausloos plans to continue his research work while finding new opportunities to help students gain counseling and mental health-related skills, a focus he thinks will continue to boost the next generation of mental health professionals.

“To hear stories about my students using interventions with clients, and how those clients go on to do well after that, I feel fortunate to be able to have that impact.”