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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.”

Class Explores Natural Wonders on Trip to Galapagos Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One

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

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

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

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

Sierra Negra Volcano

Day Two

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

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

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

A sea turtle swam in the lava tunnels.

Day Three

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

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

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

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

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

Whitetip sharks circled in the lava tunnels.

Students jumped into the submerged lava tunnels to snorkel.

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

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

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

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

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

Day Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

Botany Bay, San Cristobal

Day Five

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

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

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

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

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

Something special happened for Thusu while overlooking Botany Bay.

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

Kicker Rock

Day Six

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

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

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

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

The class visited a geyser on Española Island.

Day Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing Smiles: Honors College Graduate Preparing for Dental School

Eanas Abutaha loves to see people smile.

“Smiling is a universal language,” she said. “If someone smiles, you know exactly what they mean. A smile is a gorgeous part of the body.”

The senior in the Jesup Scott Honors College and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics has a lot to beam about: She will graduate May 9 with a bachelor of science degree in biology with a concentration in pre-dentistry.

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.

“Dentistry is a profession that combines a perfect balance of compassion, business, science and art. I want to combine these personal passions to change someone’s life and create lasting smiles,” Abutaha said.

“When I shadowed a few dentists, I really loved the experience. Dentistry is something I’m very passionate about,” she said.

That passion was stoked in 2018 when Abutaha traveled to Nicaragua on a medical mission trip with financial support from the Honors College.

“I was teaching children dental hygiene, handing out packages with a toothbrush, floss and toothpaste,” she recalled. “This little boy didn’t know what to do with the toothbrush; he was so confused; he stood there waiting. And it hit me: He doesn’t know what to do with the brush.

“I showed him how to use the toothbrush and repeated one of the few Spanish words I knew, ‘Círculo, círculo,’” Abutaha said.

Eanas Abutaha smiled for the camera while posing for a photo with children she met during a medical mission trip to Nicaragua.

“He had never seen a toothbrush before. It was sad. It made me realize we have to be thankful for our blessings and the simple things. Don’t take anything for granted.”

The Toledo native is appreciative of her time at the University.

“I could have applied and been accepted at bigger schools,” the 2016 valedictorian of the Toledo Islamic Academy said. “But I knew people at UToledo, and some of my friends had trouble getting involved at bigger schools.

“UToledo is not too small, and it’s not too big. The opportunities here were perfect for me,” Abutaha said.

One big bonus: Abutaha was able to get into the lab and conduct research when she was a freshman.

“It was the Honors College that encouraged me to start researching with Dr. Heather Conti,” she said. “With that little push, I was offered a stipend by the Office of Undergraduate Research.”

Abutaha’s research proposal focused on determining the protein levels of proinflammatory cytokines in tongue tissues exposed to head and neck radiation. With guidance from Conti, assistant professor of biological sciences, Abutaha worked on her honors thesis.

In April, Abutaha was scheduled to travel to Harvard University to present part of her research on the therapeutic potential of blocking these proinflammatory cytokines to prevent the damage irradiation causes to the oral cavity. That presentation was postponed due to the pandemic.

Eanas Abutaha cultured cells in Dr. Heather Conti’s lab.

“Dr. Conti was so encouraging. She helped me submit my abstract, reviewed it and offered suggestions,” Abutaha said. “She has become an adviser for me. I can go to her for any advice. I am so grateful for her assistance and guidance.”

“Eanas has committed herself to research in our lab during her whole time at UToledo,” Conti said. “We are proud to see her hard work result in data that will be included in a future publication. Even better, her research directly related to oral health and disease, and her time in the Conti lab will serve her well in her future career in dentistry.”

Abutaha packed a lot into her four years at UToledo. She was an Honors College ambassador, vice president of Phi Eta Sigma, a tutor for the UToledo Chapter of the Syrian American Medical Society, and a senator in Student Government. She also was selected for membership in the Klar Leadership Academy.

“The Honors College put me in an environment surrounded by individuals who wanted to do more than just pass classes, and that inspired me to want to do more,” she said. “Dean [Heidi] Appel takes so much time to make sure students in the Honors College feel welcome and make the most of their experience. She’s so sweet and approachable.”

“It’s really exciting to see the success of our students, especially those like Eanas, who chose to take full advantage of what we offer,” Dr. Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “She embodies our dual mission of cultivating academic excellence with a strong ethos of community service.”

There will be two graduations to celebrate this spring in the Abutaha home. Eanas’ younger sister, Seham, is the valedictorian at Toledo Early College High School and plans to start classes this fall at UToledo, where she will join older sister, Amani, who is a graduate student. Amani received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in human resources management and marketing in 2019 from the University and is a graduate assistant for Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, vice president for student affairs and vice provost.

“I’m waiting for my cap and gown and honors cord so we can take some photos,” Abutaha said. “UToledo is still giving us opportunities to celebrate.”

Abutaha will study for the Dental Admission Test and plans to start dental school in 2021.

“In the future, I would love to help underserved communities, those who really need dental services.”

Graduate Breaking Gender Barriers in Information Technology, Computer Science

Sheltering in place in sunny California, Naba Rizvi already misses the bells.

The University of Toledo first-generation college student is in San Diego taking her final classes online before she starts working remotely at Microsoft Research and begins earning her Ph.D. in computer science and engineering at the University of California at San Diego — her top choice — after graduation May 9.

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.

“My favorite memory will always be hearing the bells from University Hall first thing in the morning when I lived in MacKinnon Hall,” said Rizvi, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in information technology. “I hope I will someday get to return to Toledo, walk across Main Campus again, visit my former professors and colleagues at Engineering College Computing, and say goodbye in a proper way to the University that played a big role in shaping the person I am today.”

Rizvi, who has published research on human-computer interaction and interned with tech giant Adobe in Silicon Valley, is a student in the Jesup Scott Honors College who found great success while majoring in information technology in the College of Engineering.

She was one of nine students to win the Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship, one of 20 students to win the Google Women Techmakers Scholarship, and one of six recipients of the National Center for Women in IT’s Collegiate Award, to name a few of the many ways she has been recognized during the last few years as an outstanding female student studying computer science.

Rizvi is the founder of Non-Traditional Techies, a nonprofit organization with nearly 1,000 members increasing socioeconomic diversity in the technology industry by connecting passionate individuals from underprivileged backgrounds with opportunities.

Naba Rizvi, center, holds the trophy the UToledo Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter received as the Outstanding New Student Organization in 2019.

At the forefront of initiatives related to gender diversity on campus, she also founded the UToledo Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter.

Originally from Pakistan, Rizvi’s parents are now based in Saudi Arabia and her grandparents and sister live in Michigan.

Her journey through higher education started at Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where a recruiter told her about UToledo’s International Student Scholarship.

“I signed up for a campus visit and fell in love with Main Campus,” she said.

She credits the Honors College for access to additional scholarships and opportunities. She said it played a critical role in her ability to work by assisting with Curricular Practical Training, known as CPT, to complete her internships.

Naba Rizvi rode a bicycle outside the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., before posing for a photo with the other Google Women Techmakers Scholarship recipients during a retreat in 2018.

“Naba exemplifies what we hope all UToledo students experience — a passion for a subject and for helping others,” Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “What makes her extraordinary is that she’s using her experience and volunteer activities to shatter glass ceilings in her profession. We couldn’t be more proud.”

Rizvi’s skyrocketing success as an undergraduate in her field belies her uncertainty as a first-year student originally majoring in political science. But once exposed to programming, it was like flipping a switch.

“I discovered IT once I got to UToledo, and that’s when I discovered that I really enjoyed programming,” Rizvi said. “I immediately switched my major to IT and took all of the programming classes. I got involved with hackathons, and the rest is history.”

Naba Rizvi was an intern at Adobe Research in San Jose, Calif., last summer.

The five-time hackathon winner is an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Kevin Xu’s research lab working on analyzing biological networks of antigens that affect kidney transplant survival.

“I have been thoroughly impressed with Naba’s ambition and initiative — she is the founder of UToledo’s Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter and has turned it into one of the strongest student organizations on campus, regularly winning awards at hackathons all over the country,” said Xu, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “I believe Naba will become a tremendous researcher and, most importantly, that her research will have high societal impact.”

Rizvi is passionate about using computer science for social good, with a particular interest in breaking race, gender and accessibility barriers in education, healthcare and politics.

“Women are very, very underrepresented in computer science,” Rizvi said. “We make up less than 20% of the overall population of computer science majors, and now because of all the work we did with the Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter, not only do they know that these opportunities are out there for them, but they have the passion and the courage to reach for them.”

While at Adobe, Rizvi worked on a project that helps blind people generate summaries of newspaper articles.

“That’s when I discovered my passion for developing assistive technologies for people with disabilities,” Rizvi said. “I’m hoping with all of these diversity initiatives, we can move toward a society where computer science is not just viewed as something for men. A lot of people from different backgrounds can see themselves as programmers or computer science researchers. I would really like to see the field that I’m in become more diverse and more open to different perspectives. I’m doing all I can to make that happen.”

Fulbright 101 Goes Online

UToledo Rockets who want to learn more about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program: Mark your calendars for next week.

The Office of Competitive Fellowships’ Fulbright 101 has gone virtual. The office will host two informational sessions:

• Monday, April 20 — Join via WebEx at 3 p.m. Meeting number: 470 899 115; password: Fulbright.

• Thursday, April 23 — — Join via WebEx at 3 p.m. Meeting number: 472 094 760; password: Fulbright.

“This is a great opportunity to learn about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which offers research, study and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries,” said Chessica Oetjens, coordinator for competitive awards and undergraduate research in the Jesup Scott Honors College.

Read more about the U.S. Fulbright Student Program.

For more information on the Fulbright 101, contact Oetjens at chessica.oetjens@utoledo.edu.

Using Visual Literacy in the Classroom

“Visual literacy is not just about art …”

We’ve all heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Learning to read those pictures gives us advantages in both work and life. The University of Toledo and Toledo Museum of Art’s Visual Literacy Initiative is paving the way for what it means to speak visual.

Visual literacy is defined as being able to read, comprehend and use visual images effectively. The initiative provides faculty with visual literacy tools to prepare students for the future. To date, the initiative has advanced student learning across all disciplines by launching visual literacy modules for UToledo faculty to use with their students.

UToledo students visited the Toledo Museum of Art for a visual literacy exercise called Back to Back Drawing.

“Visual literacy is not just about art. It’s about understanding the world around us through observation, critical thinking, perspective and collaboration in a vast world of images and visual stimulation,” Dr. Heidi M. Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “To communicate successfully in our increasingly image-saturated culture, we must also learn to read, understand and critique images — to become literate in visual language.”

The ability to speak visual will be important in all fields of study and employment whether it’s to read and design schematics, visualize problems and solutions, see data, diagnose patients, interpret clinical images, or communicate information.

“Visual literacy is a way to engage students to begin the process of deep learning and creative thinking,” Dr. Arun Nadarajah, UToledo professor of bioengineering, said.

There are new University of Toledo courses that focus exclusively on visual literacy in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, the Honors College, and the College of Arts and Letters.

Shari Norte, assistant lecturer in the School of Exercise Rehabilitation Sciences, left, and Mirta Parodi, senior lecturer of Spanish, participated in a visual literacy activity that challenged teams to build something with Legos and write instructions so others could replicate the same object.

All faculty now can include visual literacy in their courses using modules and exercises to support instruction while achieving student learning outcomes. The modules are made to be easily adaptable and span across all disciplines.

“We’re all visual learners. These modules are a great way to infuse our already vital subject areas with more active learning strategies that increase visual literacy,” Dan McInnis, assistant lecturer in the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “The visual literacy modules and exercises assist me as a faculty member to deliver specific skill sets to students, giving them conduits to stronger visual understanding.”

One module from the initiative titled Infographic Creation and Interpretation “is designed to meet student learning outcomes and provide students with an understanding of the use of infographics for communicating complex ideas efficiently and effectively.” Students also have shared their experience with this module. One student said, “This module taught me that we process pictures faster than words, so by having a picture represent information, people want to share.” Another student said, “Infographics should be an aid to help us tell a story.” Not only did this module teach students how to interpret and read infographics, it taught them how to create their own infographics. A student reflected on his experience: “The module put the ‘common sense’ of visual interpretation into words. It helped me understand why we need concise, accurate and appealing infographics beyond ‘they look nice and are easy to understand.’”

Another student said, “I feel more confident when analyzing an infographic. I look at its content, the structure of the image, how clear it is, if it’s simple, how did they emphasize on the problem. For the design, I pay attention to the colors, if it’s attractive, how easy it is for me to digest and retain the information provided.”

The visual literacy modules and exercises are made available through the Visual Literacy webpage or Blackboard. To access the visual literacy modules and exercises through Blackboard, use the Faculty Support tab on the top of your Blackboard page to find Other Resources and select the Visual Literacy link. Visual literacy will then show up as one of your organizations below your courses. You’ll find instructions on how to use the modules and exercises there.

Campus community members are invited to explore visual literacy modules and exercises during open houses:

Friday, Jan. 31, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in Nitschke Hall Room 5013;

Friday, Feb. 28, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the Center for the Visual Arts Conference Room on the University’s Toledo Museum of Art Campus.

Friday, April 24, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in MacKinnon Hall Room 1370.

An extended workshop also is planned for Friday, March 27, from noon to 3 p.m. in Toledo Museum of Art Room 128.

Register to attend an open house or workshop on the University Teaching Center website.

To inquire more information about the Visual Literacy Initiative and its campus-wide efforts, visit the Visual Literacy Initiative website or contact visualliteracy@utoledo.edu.

Mejias Santoro is an academic and adult programs coordinator at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Attending Propel Collegiate Leadership Summit 2019

Civic engagement involves working to make a difference in the civic life and improving the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political methods.

To me, civic engagement means volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to tutor students in inner-city schools, participating in community service opportunities with the Toledo women’s soccer team, encouraging family members and peers to vote in local elections, coaching soccer to my community’s youth, and staying active in the community by engaging with its leaders.

UToledo students who attended the Propel Collegiate Leadership Summit posed for a photo; they are, from left, John Young, Lexa Bauer, Rebecca Dangler, Liam Walsh, Myla Magalasi, Lexi Alvarado and Stephanie Smith.

When I was informed of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s annual Propel Collegiate Leadership Summit, I jumped at the opportunity to apply. I am so grateful to have been accepted and to have had the pleasure of attending the summit with 400 other civically engaged students from across Ohio.

The theme for this year’s summit was civic engagement, and it was incredible to meet and listen to other students’ experiences and opinions. It was eye-opening to realize the number of people who exemplify the definition of being civically engaged so well.

I was lucky enough to accompany six other UToledo students to the summit: Rebecca Dangler, Liam Walsh, John Young, Lexi Alvarado, Stephanie Smith and Myla Magalasi. It was humbling to be surrounded by so many awesome leaders, and I loved knowing that six others were from the same community as I am.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Connie Schultz and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown spoke last month at the Propel Collegiate Leadership Summit.

The summit began with a tremendous discussion between Sen. Brown and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Connie Schultz. They discussed their backgrounds, opinions and gave advice on how to move forward. When the floor opened for questions, there were a number of thought-provoking, intellectual and fascinating questions asked by the students, including one asked by Dangler. Schultz and Sen. Brown had very good answers to the questions and did a great job engaging everyone and meeting us at our level.

Following their discussion, there was a panel of influential leaders from northwest Ohio that included Katy Crosby, chief of staff for the city of Toledo; Richie Webber, founder of a nonprofit for recovering addicts; and Ruth Chang, founder of Midstory, a nonprofit created to share the historic and social history of northwest Ohio through different multimedia mediums. Their panel was equally as groundbreaking and set a great tone for the remainder of the summit.

The keynote speaker for the summit, Monica Ramirez, spoke of her work with the migrant farming communities in Fremont and across the country. She told her story with a passion and articulateness that drew the audience in and truly left an impression. After the keynote presentation, Diana Patton took the stage to prompt discussion amongst the audience about what each of our individual stories looks like and what that means to us. She challenged us all to look within ourselves to find a passion, a gift, and a way to use them to change the world.

Patton’s talk was a great segue into the breakout sessions that followed. Each session had a different focus. The first that I attended focused on how to advance your career and professionalism. The second, called the Engagement Fair, gave everyone an opportunity to meet and reach out to organizations and professionals that promote civic engagement. The third and final session focused on how to tell your story and how to make it mean something to others.

The speakers in each session conducted themselves with such a high level of professionalism without presenting their lives as untouchable. It was so inspirational to be able to engage with these amazing leaders. I learned a great deal about myself, my career, and how to make this world a better place.

It was an honor to have been selected to attend this summit with so many other outstanding leaders and students. I appreciate all of the speakers’ willingness to dedicate their day to helping students like us succeed. They are true examples of what it looks like to be civically engaged.

My life, career aspirations and worldview were so positively affected by this experience, and I hope that many others feel the same. I also hope that future University of Toledo students go and continue to make differences in our communities.

Bauer is a pre-law sophomore majoring in political science in the College of Arts and Letters, and also a member of the soccer team.

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.

UToledo Professor Elected Fellow of Renowned Scientific Society

A professor at The University of Toledo has been awarded one of the highest honors a scientist can earn.

Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, professor of medicinal and biological chemistry, is among the 443 scientists elected in 2019 as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

Bryant-Friedrich

The lifetime appointment is an honor bestowed upon the society’s members by their peers and recognizes individuals for their efforts in advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.

Bryant-Friedrich has created tools for the study of oxidative damage processes in DNA and RNA, contributing to the development of new, more effective ways to treat or prevent cancer, neurological disorders and age-related disorders.

Her research also includes biomarkers, photochemistry, mass spectrometry and ionizing radiation.

“I am thankful to be elected as a Fellow to the AAAS for the contributions I have made to the science that I love,” said Bryant-Friedrich, who also serves as dean of the College of Graduate Studies, vice provost for graduate affairs and director of the Shimadzu Laboratory for Pharmaceutical Research Excellence. “Scholarly recognition by one’s peers is the highest honor, and recognition for my work validates my efforts. I credit this honor to the wonderful like-minded, adventurous students and colleagues who have accompanied me along this journey.”

The AAAS includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serves 10 million individuals, and publishes the journal Science. It was founded in 1848 and its tradition of naming AAAS Fellows began in 1874.

“This prestigious national honor for Dr. Bryant-Friedrich brings great pride to our campus,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “Recognition by AAAS is an external validation of our talented experts determined to advance science and improve our world.”

Bryant-Friedrich, who joined the University in 2007, will be honored in February at the organization’s annual meeting in Seattle.

She shares this honor with four UToledo colleagues who were previously elected to AAAS: Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College; Dr. Karen Bjorkman, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs; and Dr. Steven Federman, professor of astronomy, who were named Fellows in 2017; and Dr. Jack Schultz, who recently retired from his position as senior executive director of research development and has been an AAAS Fellow since 2011.

Last year, Bryant-Friedrich was named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society.

She received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at North Carolina Central University, a master’s degree in chemistry from Duke University, and a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry from Ruprecht-Karls Universität in Germany. In addition, she conducted postdoctoral studies at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Graduate and Professional Program Fair Slated for Oct. 30

Looking to advance your career? Want to learn more about continuing your education? Stop by the Graduate and Professional Program Fair Wednesday, Oct. 30.

The event will take place from 2 to 6 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium.

Attendees can meet with representatives from colleges and programs; learn ways to fund graduate education; and start the graduate program application process.

On hand will be representatives from all UToledo colleges: Arts and Letters; Business and Innovation; Engineering; Health and Human Services; Judith Herb College of Education; Law; Medicine and Life Sciences; Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Nursing; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Graduate Studies; Jesup Scott Honors College; and University College.

Go to the Graduate and Professional Program Fair website and register.

The first 100 to attend the event will receive an application fee waiver; J.D., M.D. and Pharm.D. applications not included.

For more information, email graduateinquiry@utoledo.edu.