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Health and Human Services

Volleyball Player Ready to Make Impact Off the Court

In many ways, Zoe Birnbrich will leave The University of Toledo volleyball team in a class all her own. Which is fitting, because that’s exactly how she entered the program.

Birnbrich, who played her last match for the Toledo volleyball team last fall and is set to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy, finished her career with a 0.308 hitting percentage, second in program history.

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.

When the Dublin, Ohio, native arrived on campus in fall 2016, she was the only freshman on the team.

“It was very cool, but scary at the same time,” Birnbrich said. “Having no one to go back to the dorm with and talk about how practice went, or not having someone with the same schedule as me, that was hard.”

Birnbrich was lucky that her roommate, Abby Demboski, was a Toledo soccer player from the same hometown. But the volleyball and soccer teams had opposite schedules, so there were many weekends where one was home while the other was on the road.

“I was so scared to miss morning lifts if my alarm did not go off because no one could get into the dorm and get me,” Birnbrich said.

On the court, Birnbrich proved to be a valuable asset for the Rockets as a freshman, starting 19 of the 24 matches in which she played.

At every match and at every practice during Birnbrich’s time as a Rocket was Assistant Coach Bethany Lokken, who was hired in spring 2016. Birnbrich credited her with helping her not just as the only freshman getting started on the team, but throughout her whole career.

“She was my position coach, so she worked with me every day on the court,” Birnbrich said. “She helped me through everything in college and was the only person who stayed in my life at Toledo from freshman year to senior year.”

Zoe Birnbrich playing volleyball

Zoe Birnbrich, who finished her Rocket volleyball career with a 0.308 hitting percentage, second in program history, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy.

“Zoe is the first Rocket I had the privilege of coaching all four years,” Lokken said. “From her first days on campus to the end of her senior season, I saw a ton of growth not only as an athlete on the court, but also as a student, a teammate and a person.”

“Zoe was a great player and a fun person to be around,” added Head Coach Jason Oliver. “I know that we saw great improvement in her on and off the floor, and she dedicated a lot of time and energy to this program. I will miss our conversations and will look forward to seeing how she impacts the world around her.”

The final step for Birnbrich is a 14-week internship at a behavioral and mental health inpatient facility in her hometown of Dublin for the final credits she needs to graduate from the College of Health and Human Services.

“My classes and professors in my major really prepared me for life after college,” Birnbrich said. “We had to complete 250 hours of clinical experiences with many different populations, so I feel confident leading group sessions and knowing I can impact my clients’ lives.”

UToledo Faculty, Students Helping to Track Local COVID-19 Cases

The University of Toledo is leading an effort to collect data about suspected mild and moderate local cases of COVID-19 in the Toledo region through an online survey developed by researchers in the College of Health and Human Services.

The project, which is being done in partnership with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, will provide clearer insight on community spread of the disease and assist public health officials with their planning efforts now and in the future.

Joseph Dake

Dake

“This will give us as a community the ability to respond in an intelligent manner to what our needs are,” said Dr. Joseph Dake, professor and chair of the School of Population Health who is leading the data collection effort from UToledo.

The online survey collects information about an individual’s symptoms, pre-existing health conditions and social distancing activities, as well as contact information for potential follow up. It also directs them to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s symptom checker, which helps guide individuals toward decisions about seeking appropriate medical care.

“The benefit of doing a community surveillance like this is that it does help to flatten the curve through helping to inform people about what they should be doing,” Dake said. “It’s not going to completely stop COVID-19 from spreading, but we can slow it down a little bit. We recognize that testing and other resources are limited at the moment, but by collecting this information now, we’re better setting ourselves up for the future as more tools become available.”

The survey went live March 31.

“Amazing people do amazing things during a crisis and exceptional institutions go beyond expectations. Dr. Dake and The University of Toledo under Dr. [Sharon L.] Gaber’s leadership, has shown this to be true,” said Eric Zgodzinski, health commissioner at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

Additionally, a number of UToledo graduate students working toward a Master in Public Health degree have been trained to help the health department perform confirmed case interviews, which are required after someone tests positive for COVID-19.

Those calls — which are done remotely — include a series of questions about symptoms and contact individuals have had since they became ill. Volunteers then call each of those people to let them know they may have come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. About a dozen M.P.H. students have been trained at this point and a call has gone out for additional students studying public health and health education to volunteer.

Steps also are being taken to train students from the College of Nursing to make confirmed case interview calls.

“A high priority for us is to help the community deal with this crisis in any way that we can.” said Dr. Linda Lewandowski, dean of the College of Nursing. “This opportunity allows our students to both get valuable experience and serve the community in a meaningful way.”

UToledo Health Specialty Programs Move Up in U.S. News Rankings

Health specialties at The University of Toledo improved their place in the U.S. News & World Report list of the top graduate programs in the nation.

The recently released 2021 Best Graduate Schools edition lists the doctorate program in occupational therapy at 36, up from 37 last year. It is the first accredited, entry-level, occupational therapy doctorate program at a public institution in Ohio and the U.S., and includes intensive course work, clinical training and service learning.

Pharmacy is ranked No. 57, up from 60, and the graduate program in clinical psychology improved five spots to 138.

Also, tax law jumped 21 spots from 153 last year to 132 this year.

U.S. News ranks programs on criteria such as acceptance rate, GPA, student-faculty ratio, grant funding and peer assessment, among other indicators.

Reception for Health Science Campus Artist Showcase Set for Feb. 21

The 15th annual Health Science Campus Artist Showcase will take place from Monday, Feb. 17, through Wednesday, April 8, on the fourth floor of Mulford Library.

This year’s exhibit features work from more than 30 artists who are students, faculty and staff in the health sciences from Health Science and Main campuses, as well as The University of Toledo Medical Center.

Woodson

On display will be a variety of 2-D and 3-D artwork, including paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture and mixed media.

An artist reception will be held Friday, Feb. 21, from 4 to 6 p.m. on the fourth floor of Mulford Library. Dr. Donna Woodson, professor emerita of medicine, will give a talk, “Art is Good for Your Health,” at 4:30 p.m.

Woodson teaches the elective course Art and Medicine: Using Visual Literacy to Improve Diagnostic Skills in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She is a longstanding participant in the Health Science Campus Artist Showcase; three of her pieces will be featured in this year’s exhibit.

Light refreshments will be served at the reception, where attendees will have the chance to win books on art and medicine.

Visitors can view the artwork during regular library hours: Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to midnight; Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight.

For more information on the free, public exhibit and reception, visit the University Libraries’ website or contact Jodi Jameson, assistant professor and nursing librarian at Mulford Library, and member of the artist showcase committee, at 419.383.5152 or jodi.jameson@utoledo.edu.

Submissions Sought for 2020 Health Science Campus Artist Showcase

Mulford Library is seeking submissions for its 15th Annual Health Science Campus Artist Showcase.

The deadline to apply for consideration to be included in the exhibition is Friday, Jan. 10.

The library is accepting submissions from UToledo faculty, staff and students in the health sciences — nursing, medicine, pharmacy and the health professions — as well as hospital employees.

To be considered for the show, digital images of artwork can be sent to hscartshow@utoledo.edu, along with a submission form that can be found with guidelines on the Health Science Campus Artist Showcase website.

In the past, the showcase has featured artwork in a variety of media, including photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, jewelry, quilting, multimedia, graphics, wood carving and more.

Artists will be notified by email if their work is accepted into the show by Wednesday, Jan. 15.

The showcase will be on display from Feb. 17 through April 8 on the fourth floor of Mulford Library.

Questions about the exhibit can be directed to Jodi Jameson, assistant professor and nursing librarian at Mulford Library, who is a member of the artist showcase committee, at 419.383.5152 or jodi.jameson@utoledo.edu.

Families Set to Celebrate Commencement Dec. 14

More than 2,000 students at The University of Toledo will graduate at commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 14, in Savage Arena.

The University is holding two ceremonies to include both undergraduate and graduate students from each of the colleges.

A total of 2,070 degrees will be awarded: 1,474 bachelor’s degrees, 426 master’s degrees, 104 doctoral degrees, 41 associate’s degrees, 15 education specialist degrees and 10 graduate certificates.

The 9 a.m. ceremony will recognize all Ph.D. candidates and graduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters; Engineering; Judith Herb College of Education; Natural Sciences and Mathematics; and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The 1 p.m. ceremony will recognize undergraduate and graduate students receiving degrees from the colleges of Business and Innovation; Health and Human Services; Nursing; University College; and Medicine and Life Sciences.

Commencement is always a time to celebrate with family. Their support is critical to achieving success. For several students walking across the stage this year, family was literally at their side for the journey.

Lori and Jordan Boyer in 2001 and 2019

At 48 years old, Lori Boyer is set to take the stage and grasp her diploma on the same day as her son, Jordan.

Lori, a preschool teacher, started taking classes at UToledo in 1990, but stopped to raise her three children.

After returning in January to cross the finish line, the UToledo employee at the Early Learning Center is graduating from University College with a bachelor’s degree in an individualized program of early childhood education and educational leadership. Her son is graduating from the College of Engineering with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering technology.

“I am proud to share this special moment with my oldest son,” Boyer said. “It’s important to me to prove to all of my children that you can accomplish anything no matter what point you are in life. I accomplished something I set out to do a long time ago, and it has the potential to take me in different directions in my career.”

Fall commencement also is a family affair for a brother-and-sister duo who worked side by side as undergraduates in the same exercise biology research lab.

Nicole and Dylan Sarieh

Dylan and Nicole Sarieh, two-thirds of a set of fraternal triplets, both chose to study exercise science as pre-med students in the College of Health and Human Services, while their brother studies business at UToledo.

Together, Dylan and Nicole researched the molecular regulation of skeletal muscle growth under the guidance of Dr. Thomas McLoughlin, associate professor in the School of Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, in order to help clinicians develop ways to help patients grow stronger after suffering from muscle loss.

“The opportunity to do real, meaningful, hands-on work in the lab definitely built our confidence and opened our eyes to what is important,” Dylan said about his undergraduate research experience. “My sister and I both plan to next go to medical school. She wants to be a dermatologist, and I want to be a general physician.”

“Whether at home, in the classroom or in the lab, I always had someone I could lean on who was tackling the same challenges,” Nicole said. “Putting our two brains together — even during car rides — made a big difference in our success.”

For some graduates, they found love and are starting their own family.

McKenna Wirebaugh completed a co-op at the BP Whiting Refinery in Whiting, Ind. This photo shows Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

McKenna Wirebaugh, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, met her soon-to-be husband at UToledo. Both she and Travis Mang, her fiancé, will receive degrees Saturday.

Turns out, planning their upcoming wedding is the only item left on the to-do list. Wirebaugh secured a full-time job as a process engineer at BP’s Cherry Point Refinery in Blaine, Wash., located about 40 minutes south of Vancouver. She is scheduled to start her new job in March, about a month after her honeymoon.

“I chose to go to UToledo because of the mandatory co-op program in engineering,” Wirebaugh said. “It guaranteed I would have a paycheck while in school and build my resumé. I’m grateful for my decision because it ended up launching my career.”

Wirebaugh completed four co-op rotations with BP while at UToledo. She also helped build a water purification unit that was sent to Ecuador through the nonprofit organization Clean Water for the World.

Her favorite experience as a student in the Jesup Scott Honors College was a class focusing on creativity. For a group project on the dangers of cell-phone use, they brought in a PlayStation 2 system and challenged students to text and drive on Mario Kart without crashing.

“My professors have truly cared about me inside and outside of my academic career,” Wirebaugh said. “I don’t see the friendships I’ve made here ending anytime soon.”

In the event of inclement weather, the approximately two-hour commencement ceremonies will be moved to Sunday, Dec. 15.

For those unable to attend, the ceremonies will stream live at video.utoledo.edu.

For more information, go to the UToledo commencement website.

Health Information Administration B.S. Core Courses Certified

It’s official: All 15 online classes in The University of Toledo’s Health Information Administration Program have received national Quality Matters certification.

Two more online classes in the program recently received Quality Matters certification: Ambulatory Clinical Classification Systems and Services, and Integrative Capstone Experience.

That means the UToledo Health Information Administration Program for a bachelor of science degree is the first undergraduate program at the University to have all core courses certified by Quality Matters.

“We are so proud to have another online degree program with all required courses certified by Quality Matters,” Dr. Barbara Kopp Miller, dean of University College, said, noting classes for a master of arts degree in recreation administration were certified last year. “Our faculty are ensuring their online classes meet the nationally recognized Quality Matters peer review process so they are delivering the best online courses for UToledo students.”

Marie Janes and Nilgun Sezginis, senior lecturer and associate lecturer in the School of Population Health, respectively, have been working on receiving this distinction for the online classes in the Health Information Administration Program since 2016. To date, their program has the most Quality Matters-certified classes.

Janes said the Quality Matters certification demonstrates the program has the correct level of teaching materials, course expectations are clear, and the curriculum produces learning outcomes that can be measured.

Sezginis, who also is a doctoral candidate in the UToledo Health Education Program, said, “The students are receiving the best quality education and learning opportunities because we are making sure that all of our courses are meeting national standards.”

The University has 95 online courses certified by Quality Matters. Janes with eight classes and Sezginis with seven courses have the most individual course certifications.

Quality Matters is a nonprofit organization that provides standards for courses and program review to support quality assurance goals. A recognized leader in quality assurance for online education, its mission is to promote and improve the quality of online education and student learning nationally and internationally through the development of current, research-supported and practice-based quality standards and appropriate evaluation tools and procedures.

The organization also provides recognition of expertise in online education quality assurance and evaluation along with professional development in the use of rubrics, tools and practices to improve online education.

Official Quality Matters course reviews coordinated through UToledo Online are conducted by a team of certified peer reviewers who teach online and have been trained and certified by the organization.

The review process centers around the application of the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric. The standards outlined in the rubric were developed and are periodically revised based on research and established standards in the fields of instructional design and online learning.

Any UToledo faculty member interested in learning more about the official Quality Matters course review process are encouraged to visit UToledo’s Does Quality Matter?

UToledo Study Estimates Impact of Opioid Epidemic at $1.6B in Northwest Ohio

Fatal overdoses tied to Ohio’s ongoing opioid epidemic cost the metropolitan Toledo economy $1.6 billion and more than 2,000 jobs in 2017, according to a new study by The University of Toledo.

At $1.6 billion, the total economic impact of the opioid epidemic is equivalent to approximately 4.5% of the region’s gross domestic product — or roughly the same amount of economic activity generated annually by the entire private construction industry.

“The University of Toledo has an important role to play in addressing the major issues that affect northwest Ohio and beyond,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “This research provides another piece of the puzzle as we work together to confront the opioid epidemic.”

The research was led by Dr. Oleg Smirnov, associate professor of economics, in close collaboration with members of The University of Toledo Opioid Task Force.

“Over a relatively period of short time, the number of deaths from opioid overdose has skyrocketed, and the crisis doesn’t show any signs of abating,” Smirnov said. “This report helps give us a better understanding of how the epidemic affects our region and also provides a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of our community’s ongoing response.”

Among the report’s key findings:

• Fatal opioid overdoses directly resulted in $1.27 billion in lost economic output in 2017.

• Each overdose death costs the economy $8.67 million.

• The indirect, or spillover, effects of fatal opioid overdose were $329.2 million in 2017.

• Premature deaths caused by the opioid epidemic cost metropolitan Toledo the equivalent of 2,082 jobs in 2017.

• While Narcan is relatively expensive at approximately $130 per dose, there is clear evidence the economic benefit outweighs the cost of administering the drug.

“These new findings add valuable context to our understanding of and response to the opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Amy Thompson, vice provost for faculty affairs, professor of public health, and co-chair of the UToledo Opioid Task Force. “The research can be used to advocate for funding that goes toward prevention efforts and treatment of opioid use disorder. It also can be used to inform local businesses how this epidemic is affecting the job market and creating financial loss in the community.”

The report’s calculations are based on data from the Ohio Department of Health’s Ohio Public Data Warehouse, which documented 147 fatal opioid overdoses in Lucas, Wood, Fulton and Ottawa counties in 2017. Data from 2017 is the most recent finalized figures available.

State records show those four counties had 22 deaths attributed to opioid overdose in 2007. The state data relies on the official cause of death listed on state-issued death certificates and differs slightly from fatal overdose data from local sources.

“While it may seem morbid to put a price on human life, there are established economic models that show how an individual’s premature death ripples through the economy,” Smirnov said. “This report shows just how costly each death is to our entire community, on top of the personal loss of a friend, brother, sister or parent. The opioid crisis may appear hidden to some, but it affects all of us.”

To calculate the economic cost of a fatal opioid overdose in metro Toledo, researchers began with a federally established finding that a premature death has an economic cost of $9.4 million. By adjusting for northwest Ohio’s lower per-capita income and lower cost of living, they arrived at a figure of $8.6 million per premature death and $1.27 billion in lost economic output in 2017.

Each fatal overdose also hurts the economy indirectly. As spending and demand for goods and services shrink, employers may begin to reduce staffing. In turn, individuals who have lost their jobs cut back on their own spending. UToledo researchers calculated those indirect, or spillover, effects cost the local economy $329.2 million in 2017, while reducing full-time equivalent employment by 2,082 jobs.

The total economic burden in UToledo’s report does not include calculations from non-lethal overdoses. While those incidents do have costs associated with them — emergency room visits, criminal justice proceedings and mental health services, for example — the spending stays within the local community.

The report also offers some hints that the region’s response to the opioid epidemic is making a difference.

For example, a comparison of overdose-related 911 calls received by Lucas County dispatchers in 2016 and 2017 to the total number of overdose deaths in those years found the mortality of opioid overdoses declined from 8% in 2016 to 6% in 2017.

Researchers attribute that to first-responders dealing with opioid overdose more effectively, particularly with the use of naloxone.

UToledo’s research also supports the notion that the expanded use of naloxone prevents not only additional deaths, but also significant damage to the local economy.

While first responders in Lucas County administered an estimated $1 million-plus worth of naloxone in 2017, a single premature death would have cost the regional economy $8.6 million.

Access the full economic impact report online at utoledo.edu/economic-impact/opioids.

K9 Therapy Topic of Social Work Event Dec. 6

Some four-legged special guests will be on campus for a K9 therapy event Friday, Dec. 6, at The University of Toledo.

Hosted by the Human Interaction and Health and Wellness class in partnership with officers from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, the event will take place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Health and Human Services Building Room 1711.

Officers will be drive from Columbus, Ohio, with their therapy dogs for the event.

“Through having the officers and their K9 therapy dogs visit The University of Toledo and share about their work, we hope to raise awareness on how therapy dogs in police settings can benefit both individuals and communities,” said Dr. Janet Hoy-Gerlach, associate professor of social work.

Officers with Franklin’s Therapy K9 Unit will discuss the history of therapy dogs in law enforcement, and the daily work that primarily revolves around children with a focus on trauma, mental health and victim’s advocacy.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department started the first law enforcement K9 therapy program in Ohio in 2017; at that time, the department was one of six agencies in the United States with such a program.

Therapy K9 dog programs in law enforcement settings typically focus on victim support and advocacy, as well as community-police relations.

“Individuals who experience a traumatic crime can receive comfort and support from the therapy dogs as they go through the various legal system processes,” Hoy-Gerlach said.

She added, “Communities may experience more positive police relations through the therapy dogs helping to facilitate positive engagement and interactions during community police work.”

For more information on the free, public event, contact Hoy-Gerlach at janet.hoy@utoledo.edu.

UToledo Pre-Health Advising Center Offers Enhanced Support for Students Pursuing Healthcare Careers

The University of Toledo is celebrating the opening of a specialized undergraduate advising center to support students in UToledo’s growing pre-professional and allied health programs.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the new Pre-Health Advising Center will take place Thursday, Nov. 7, at 9 a.m. outside University Hall Room 2160. The Nursing Advising Center, relocated across the hall, also will be recognized.

Deborah Hendricks, director of the Pre-Health Advising Center, left, and Shavron Kelley, program coordinator at the Pre-Health Advising Center, are on campus to assist students interested in pre-professional and allied health programs.

The new Pre-Health Advising Center brings together a comprehensive array of services for students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare.

Academic advisers will be available to help students who have declared a pre-med/pre-vet/pre-dental concentration with course selection, provide information about clinical and networking opportunities, and offer guidance on navigating the application process to medical school and other professional healthcare programs.

“We know that jobs in healthcare are growing. As part of our commitment to student success, we want to ensure our students are on track and well-prepared to enter those career fields,” said Dr. Amy Thompson, vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of public health. “This center provides specialized resources to support and encourage students, as well as help them review their options at UToledo.”

UToledo boasts an extensive catalog of options for undergraduate students pursuing a career in healthcare; these include a number of pre-medicine tracks, pre-physical therapy, pre-dental, pre-veterinary and pre-pharmacy.

The Pre-Health Advising Center is open to all undergraduates enrolled in a healthcare program. Staff at the center also can provide guidance to those considering attending UToledo or who are undecided on a major explore the University’s numerous pre-professional and allied health fields.

“We want our students to find the right home for their interests and talents,” Thompson said. “Our advisers can walk students through academic prerequisites and help them evaluate all possible majors that are in the health professions so that they find the best fit.”

The center also has special workshops for pre-medicine, pre-dental and pre-veterinary students, as well as students enrolled in UToledo’s Bacc2MD Program and the UToledo/Case Western Reserve University’s School of Dental Medicine Program.