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Making Connections: Engineering Student Interns in Silicon Valley

Naba Rizvi is one of nine students selected from more than 1,000 applicants to receive the Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship.

In addition to that $10,000 award that honors women students who show great promise in the field of computer science, The University of Toledo junior landed an internship on Adobe Research’s team in San Jose, Calif.

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

“I worked on two projects,” said Rizvi, who is majoring in information technology in the College of Engineering. “They both focused on natural language processing and human-computer interaction.”

Her Adobe Research mentor was Dr. Franck Dernoncourt, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who specializes in natural language processing.

“My first project involved research engineering. I used my experience as a web developer to develop a visualization for a sentence compressor and text summarizer,” Rizvi said. “For the second project, I worked on making the output of latent Dirichlet allocation models for automatic document topic classification more human readable.”

In other words, Rizvi’s research is focusing on topic modeling — training the computer to recognize topics in written text with an algorithm.

Naba Rizvi, left, posed for a photo with Lisa Wang, a student at Westmont High School in California. Rizvi mentored Wang during the Girls Who Code Camp run by Adobe Research.

“I learned so much about natural language processing, particularly text summarization. I even submitted my first paper to a conference.”

That paper, “Margin Call,” which she wrote with Dernoncourt and Sebastian Gehrmann, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, was accepted by the International Conference on Natural Language Generation. That conference will be held in Tokyo this fall.

“My colleagues and myself were delighted to host Naba this summer at Adobe Research,” Dernoncourt said. “Naba is a fast learner and highly motivated. She made a great impact on our research projects.”

What was a typical day like?

“I read a lot of research papers, wrote code, tested the output, and turned to Stack Overflow, my co-workers or my mentor for help if I got stuck,” Rizvi said. “I met with my mentor every week to discuss my projects, progress toward my goals, and any roadblocks.”

“We are proud of Naba Rizvi and all that she continues to accomplish,” Dr. Michael Toole, dean of the UToledo College of Engineering, said. “Her success is well-earned and spotlights the strength of our Engineering Technology Department in the College of Engineering.”

The student in the Jesup Scott Honors College made the most of her time in Silicon Valley, home to many global technology and startup companies.

“To receive such a competitive internship as a first-generation college student really motivates me to work harder and take advantage of all the opportunities available to me,” Rizvi said. “I embrace the growth mindset and believe it is the key to success.”

And she is familiar with success: Last year, Rizvi won the $10,000 Google Women Techmakers Scholarship, which included a scholar retreat with Google scholars from around the world on Google campuses, including the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif.

She is taking her momentum and launching a nonprofit organization called Nontraditional Techies.

“We already have 600-plus members and a job board,” Rizvi said. “I will be creating a mentoring program and an interview series featuring people who have overcome great obstacles on their path to a technical career to inspire others to pursue a career in technology.”

Doodle Revolution Leader to Speak at Museum as Part of Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series

The University of Toledo is teaming up with the Toledo Museum of Art to bring author and visual literacy expert Sunni Brown to the Glass City as part of the Jesup Scott Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series.

Brown, author of “The Doodle Revolution,” will give an interactive lecture Thursday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m. in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.

Brown

Brown is known for her large-scale, live content visualizations, and she is also the leader of the Doodle Revolution — a growing effort to debunk the myth that doodling is a distraction. Using common sense, experience and neuroscience, she is proving that to doodle is to ignite your whole mind.

“This will be a fun, interactive event as Sunni engages with the audience,” said Mike Deetsch, director of education and engagement at the Toledo Museum of Art. “Her work has an element of gamification and play that elevates her visual dialogue and will appeal to a wide audience.”

The interactive lecture is geared to teachers, students and business professionals who work in teams.

“The Jesup Scott Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series brings innovative thinkers and doers to campus for all of the Toledo area to enjoy. Sunni Brown is an amazing speaker who will change the way you think about teamwork and brainstorming,” said Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College.

“Her talk is part of the exciting collaboration between The University of Toledo and the Toledo Museum of Art to enhance the skills of visual literacy,” Appel said. “Visual thinking fuels creativity and innovation, and knowing how to use, make and interpret visual images makes all of our students more successful.”

After the free, public lecture, Brown will sign her books, which will be available for sale.

To register for the free, public event, go to the Distinguished Lecture Series website.

Entertainment icon Katie Holmes to deliver commencement address May 4

Katie Holmes, a native Toledoan who rose to fame as an actor, producer and director, will return to her hometown to deliver the keynote address during The University of Toledo’s undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday, May 4.

A Notre Dame Academy alumna and international icon of screen, stage and film, Holmes will address 2,078 candidates for degrees — 2,023 bachelor’s and 55 associate’s candidates. The event will take place at 10 a.m. in the Glass Bowl.

The University’s graduate commencement ceremony is scheduled the same day at 3 p.m. in the Glass Bowl, and will commemorate 915 candidates for doctoral, education specialist and master’s degrees, as well as graduate certificates. Analese Alvarez, an educator and musician who has recorded with the Grammy Award-winning rock group Fleetwood Mac, will be the keynote speaker. She is a candidate for a doctoral degree.

Both ceremonies are open to the public and can be viewed live on the University Views website.

President Sharon L. Gaber will present Holmes with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree before the keynote address.

“The University of Toledo is pleased to welcome Katie Holmes as our commencement speaker to inspire our newest alumni as they celebrate receiving their degrees,” Gaber said. “As a Toledo native with close, personal connections to the University, we are eager for her to share her experiences and accomplishments in the entertainment industry and as an entrepreneur and philanthropist.”

Holmes

Holmes is an internationally recognized film and television actor, producer and director, as well as a Broadway actor and an entrepreneur.

An exceptional student at Notre Dame Academy, Holmes was accepted to Columbia University, but deferred to embark on an entertainment career. She made her feature film debut in “The Ice Storm” in 1997, then established herself as a rising young actor the next year in the television show “Dawson’s Creek.” For six years, she played Joey Potter, a character still recognized in pop culture.

Holmes has appeared in supporting or starring roles in more than 30 films and television programs, including acclaimed performances as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in “The Kennedys” and “The Kennedys: After Camelot,” Hannah Green in “Wonder Boys,” Rachel Dawson in “Batman Begins,” April Burns in “Pieces of April,” Rita Carmichael in “All We Had,” and Paige Finney in “Ray Donovan.”

Her credits as a director and producer include “All We Had,” “Touched With Fire,” “The Romantics” and “The Kennedys: Decline and Fall.”

Holmes made her Broadway debut in a revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” in 2008 and played the role of Lorna in “Dead Accounts” in 2012.

As an entrepreneur, Holmes managed and designed a well-received fashion line, Holmes & Yang, with Jeanne Yang, from 2009 to 2014.

Her philanthropic efforts include the Dizzy Feet Foundation, an organization Holmes co-founded in 2009 that increases access to dance education in the United States. She also supports the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes; Love Our Children USA, a national nonprofit organization that fights violence and neglect against U.S. children; Raising Malawi, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to helping vulnerable children in extreme poverty through health, education and community support; and the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation.

Alvarez

Graduate ceremony speaker Alvarez has been an educator for nearly two decades and is a candidate for an education doctorate in educational administration and supervision.

The Santa Barbara, Calif., native has enjoyed an outstanding career teaching high school music, highlighted by leading her previous school’s music department to become a Grammy Signature Schools recipient in 2015. She has continued teaching music while pursuing her doctorate at UToledo by serving as a graduate assistant for the Rocket Marching Band and athletic bands since 2015.

Alvarez”s long career as a musician includes recording with Fleetwood Mac on “The Dance” and appearances on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and Nickelodeon’s “The Big Help.” She also was a member of the Los Angeles Laker Band, a subset of the University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band. She has performed with numerous professional ensembles, including The Desert Winds and the Gold Coast Wind Ensemble.

A volunteer club advisor for Gay Straight Alliances, Alvarez co-chaired the Southern Nevada chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network and served the Gay and Lesbian Center of Las Vegas. During the past year, she has been executive director at Equality Toledo, where she has worked to support the local community.

Alvarez earned a bachelor of music degree from the University of Southern California and a master of music degree from Northern Arizona University, both in music education.

UToledo’s spring commencement ceremonies will recognize graduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters; Business and Innovation; Judith Herb College of Education; Engineering; Graduate Studies; Health and Human Services; Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Nursing; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; and University College.

UToledo’s College of Law will host its commencement ceremony Sunday, May 5, at 1 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium. Angelita Cruz Bridges, a 2000 graduate of the College of Law who serves as an assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, will give the commencement address.

The next week — Friday, May 10, at 4 p.m. — the College of Medicine and Life Sciences will hold its commencement ceremony in Savage Arena. Dr. Scott Parazynski, a physician and inventor whose career included serving 17 years as an astronaut, during which time he flew five space shuttle missions and conducted seven spacewalks, will be theutoledo.edu/commencementrmation, visit the commencement website.

Service learning trip to Guatemala an eye-opening experience

This is my senior year at The University of Toledo, and I will graduate in May. Every year during our breaks, I have always worked as many hours as possible in order to save money for the next step of my life. However, it being senior year, I realized that I had never studied abroad and it saddened me to think that I might miss out on such an opportunity.

When I received an email in November stating the Jesup Scott Honors College was going on multiple service trips for spring break, I thought, “There’s my chance to see more of the world!” When I saw that one of my favorite, now retired, professors [Dr. Page Armstrong, former associate lecturer in the Honors College] was coming back to lead the trip to Guatemala, I was sold.

Brianna Becraft took a selfie with Lake Atitlán on her first day in Guatemala.

I’ve traveled to eight countries prior to going to Guatemala, but they were all tourist trips. I knew Guatemala would be different, that my purpose was to serve. I wasn’t expecting the large differences that greeted me.

When nine students and I first got to Guatemala, it was dark. The airport was eerily empty, and everyone was tired from flying. Leaving the airport in our packed van, I tried to soak it all in. There was barbed wire on nearly every wall of the airport and other buildings. People everywhere were walking the streets. The homes seemed to be made out of metal materials all pieced together, and motorcycles weaved wildly in and out of traffic — culture shock.

The retreat we arrived at was beautiful with its center courtyard and artistic paintings and sculptures scattered throughout. It was a building I came to truly appreciate over the course of the week as I “recovered” from the hard days’ work.

On our first day, we visited the area of Atitlán, which included a gorgeous view of Lake Atitlán, a calming boat ride, and lunch with a breathtaking view. The three-hour drive to Atitlán provided me with plenty of time to take in more sights with daylight; to say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. So many people were out walking on dirty, trash-covered streets; dogs belonging to no one ran to and from people begging for food; children followed parents or were held to their mothers by cloth wrapped around shoulders; and women carried bundles of their trinkets for sale on their heads. Dust kicked up as we drove through different villages. Roadside markets popped up every now and then, and I watched as people unloaded their products and set up their displays. I had no idea what to expect for our first day of service, so I made sure to take in everything during our trip to Atitlán.

This photo shows the river Brianna Becraft saw each time she pushed the wheelbarrow to move dirt while helping to renovate a tutoring center in Chinautla.

The service began on Monday, and I was excited to be put to work, but nervous about the conditions we might be working in. We arrived at the job site in Chinautla, and I was sad to see the way the houses were pieced together, sheets of metal screwed to one another, dirt floors that got muddy when it rained, and loose dogs, chickens, goats, kittens and cows scattered throughout the village. While it was shocking and hard for me to understand why people lived this way, coming from my place of privilege, I came to really appreciate the village and began to find beauty in it over our five days of working.

I spent a lot of time loading up wheelbarrows of dirt and gravel and moving it from its original pile to the tutoring center, which we were working to improve. I was tired early on and contemplated whether I could make it another four days. After lunch the first day, I started to take comfort in the view of the river every time I rounded the corner with yet another load of dirt. I began having conversations with the students from my trip, and I became more confident in my ability to stick it out.

This is a page from Brianna Becraft’s journal she kept during the service trip to Guatemala.

I also learned how to bend iron and tie metal to rebar in a way that created structures to solidify the tutoring center’s foundation once cement was able to be poured. My fingers hurt from pushing wires together, and my arms were burnt because I had forgotten to apply sunscreen that first day, yet I was so happy to be of service, to learn about an area of the world that I had never thought about, and to see how the people of Guatemala truly appreciated what little they had.

I learned a lot from the service in the village, but I also learned a lot from our nightly group discussions. Each night, we were presented with questions to journal about from blame and solutions, to listening and learning who we tell ourselves we are. I was able to hear different views from my peers and even continue group discussion with a few close friends each night, until we felt like we had solved some of the world’s greatest problems (although I can assure you, we did not). My journal is filled with answers to group discussion questions, self-reflections, and poems about the things I saw, heard and learned. It felt great to serve, get to know my peers, learn about myself, and be away from technology for a while.

Everyone should consider taking some form of service trip because it’s a totally immersive and creative way of learning about things that a classroom just isn’t able to provide. I can’t express how grateful I am for everything that I have here at home, and I’m also interested in continuing service work in some way as I move onto the next chapter of my life, post-graduation next month. I made lifelong friends and self-realizations that I would not have made had I stayed home for break another year and worked.

Becraft is a senior majoring in paralegal studies in the College of Health and Human Services; she also is a student in the Jesup Scott Honors College. She will graduate in May.

Fulbright Scholar Program workshop set for April 19

Interested faculty, administration members and professionals are encouraged to attend the free Fulbright Scholar Workshop Friday, April 19, in Carlson Library Room 1005.

The presentations will include an introduction to the Fulbright Program, information about teaching and research opportunities in more than 120 countries, and tips on how to craft a competitive application.

The workshop will run from 9 to 11 a.m.

“Any faculty member interested in increasing mutual understanding between the United States and other countries should attend the workshop,” said Chessica Oetjens, coordinator for competitive awards and undergraduate research in the Jesup Scott Honors College. “Opportunities are available for faculty members to conduct research, lecture, and/or consult with other scholars and institutions abroad.”

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946; it is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“We also want our faculty to walk away with curiosity and explore the option of establishing connections abroad and even consider beginning the application process,” Oetjens said.

Each Fulbright experience is unique for each individual.

“Despite the variety of experiences, Fulbrighters have described their experience as life-changing and having an instrumental influence on both their professional and personal endeavors,” Oetjens said.

More than 1,200 faculty and professionals travel abroad annually through the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program.

Former Fulbright Scholars also will be in attendance at the workshop to answer questions.

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

Detroit theater company to present ‘Lysistrata’ April 12

The Black and Brown Theater of Detroit will give a staged reading of “Lysistrata” with a discussion with the audience after the show Friday, April 12, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Savage Arena Joe Grogan Room.

The free, public event is sponsored by the Program in Law and Social Thought; the School for Interdisciplinary Studies; the Inside-Prison Exchange Program; the Jesup Scott College of Honors; the Office for Multicultural Student Success; and the Department of Political Science.

Dr. Renee Heberle, professor of political science and co-director of the Program in Law and Social Thought, hopes students, faculty and staff will join in this opportunity to engage with performers who are re-creating the classics of Western theater in the voices of people of color.

“The work done by the Black and Brown Theater bring contemporary questions about social justice to the interpretation of these works,” Heberle said. “Ideas we rarely thought of as relevant to understanding and learning from the classics of Western drama are brought to the surface.”

Black and Brown Theatre’s Classics in Color Series takes well-known stories and incorporates a cast composed entirely of people of color. The series aims to enable people of color and students of color to see themselves in the classic narratives that they were exposed to in the classroom setting. The casting of these shows encourages theater directors to rethink how they cast plays.

“When you see Black and Brown present ‘Frankenstein’ or Black and Brown present ‘Scarlet Letter,’ you know it is something different, it’s something great,” said Jonathan Curry, actor and Black and Brown Theatre board member. “When we see people of color play kings and queens on stage, our communities can see themselves as such and people outside of our communities can see us in a new light.

Black and Brown Theatre of Detroit

“Classics in Color has been a way for actors like myself to access new worlds and different variations on the English language, which creates empathy and understanding for us as actors and for the audience as well.”

“The performance of ‘Lysistrata,’ a classic Greek comedy about war and sex, is entirely relevant to the contemporary moment in which we are living,” Heberle said. “The staged reading and talk-back will give us the time and space to reflect on what exactly it means to have a voice in our noisy political environment and what it might take to really be heard on issues of social justice that impact the public good.”

“Classics in Color is important because it creates access into the theatrical canon, a place that rarely sees people of color as significant figures in classical stories,” said Amber Nicole Price, actress, director and Black and Brown Theatre board member. “It expands representation from beyond the conversations of the present, and allows space for diversity in our history.”

Following the reading, audience members will be able to share their reactions to the text and the ways in which they can connect the story.

“Sometimes with classics plays, students and community members can both ask the question, ‘Why does this matter to me?’” said Emilio Rodriguez, Black and Brown Theatre artistic director. “But when they see the story told by people who look like them, they are able to hear it in new ways, which foster discussions and reflections that would have otherwise been dormant.”

For more information on the staged presentation, contact Heberle at renee.heberle@utoledo.edu. For more information on the Black and Brown Theatre, visit the company’s website.

Former NSF director, water quality expert to speak at University

A former director of the National Science Foundation who is known worldwide for her work in addressing water quality issues will visit The University of Toledo next week as part of the Jesup Scott Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series.

Dr. Rita Colwell was the first scientist to discover cholera can enter a dormant state and lurk in water until conditions are again favorable for it to grow. Her finding opened the door to new research about the link between the natural environment, climate, and the spread of infectious diseases.

Colwell

She is working with the British government on a project to track and better respond to likely cholera outbreaks.

“Dr. Colwell is one of the most influential and well-known life scientists in the world today,” said Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College. “She is a leader not only in her academic discipline, but in pulling people together from many academic disciplines to focus on water quality and interdisciplinary approaches to solve major societal challenges.”

Colwell is scheduled to present a pair of lectures at the University:

• A public presentation of how connections between climate and oceans affect human health on Monday, March 25, at 6 p.m. in Doermann Theatre on Main Campus.

• A technical talk about how next-generation DNA sequencing has revolutionized the study of the relationship between microbial communities and how that new knowledge can be used in diagnostics, drug development, public health and water safety Tuesday, March 26, at noon in Radisson Hotel Suite C on Health Science Campus.

Both lectures are open to the public, but reservations are requested to the technical talk luncheon; go to the Distinguished Lecture Series website.

Much of Colwell’s six decades of research has been dedicated to understanding and preventing cholera outbreaks. Among her many discoveries, she demonstrated how algal blooms, spurred by high nutrient loads and warming ocean waters, increases the population of cholera-carrying zooplankton.

Though Lake Erie’s algal blooms raise concerns of microcystin — not cholera — Colwell’s innovative research methods and multidisciplinary way of developing solutions could prove a helpful roadmap to addressing the problem in northwest Ohio.

“We believe the kinds of tools she’s developed and the way of thinking about interdisciplinary research-based problem solving will be of interest and value to the people in our region who are dedicated to protecting water quality,” Appel said.

Colwell was the first woman to lead the National Science Foundation, serving as director from 1998 to 2004. She was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2006 and the Stockholm Water Prize in 2010.

She has a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology, master’s degree in genetics and doctorate in oceanography. She holds distinguished professorships at both the University of Maryland at College Park and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Women’s History Month to be celebrated at University

A noted historian will visit The University of Toledo to give the keynote address for Women’s History Month.

Dr. Lorri Glover will give a talk titled “Why Not a Woman? The Improbable Life of Eliza Lucas Pinckney in Revolutionary America” Wednesday, March 13, at 6 p.m. in Thompson Student Union Room 2592.

The John Francis Bannon Endowed Chair and Professor of History at Saint Louis University is writing a biography on Pinckney, who, at age 17, took over running three plantations in South Carolina in the late 1730s. Pinckney experimented with indigo production, which, cultivated by slave labor and marketed globally, became a cornerstone of the state’s economy.

“Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s remarkable writings — the largest collection from any women in the colonial South — afford fascinating insight into agriculture and commerce in the Atlantic World, Southern plantations and racial slavery, 18th-century family values, and especially gender history,” Glover said.

In addition to Glover’s talk, the University has several other events slated to mark Women’s History Month.

“I am really excited for this year’s lineup of Women’s History Month events. We have tried to highlight some of the spaces where women have fought and are still fighting for justice,” said Danielle Stamper, interim program coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success and interim program manager at the Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women.

Monday, March 11 — Women’s History Month Kickoff Exhibit, 9 to 11:30 a.m., Carlson Library Room 1005. Authors featured will be NK Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, rupi kaur, Alison Bechdel, Suheir Hammad, Monique Truong, Zadie Smith, Melody Moezzi and Audre Lorde. Attendees will be able to read about these authors and eat bagels. Everyone who attends will be entered into a drawing for some of the pieces by the authors. In addition, Carlson Library will have books by the authors on display.

— Stand Up to Stalking and Sexual Violence, 6 p.m., Health and Human Services Building Room 1711. Anna Nassett will share her personal account of being stalked by a stranger for more than seven years, and how advocacy for stalking victims is important for recovery. The event is sponsored by The University of Toledo Center for Student Advocacy and Wellness.

Friday, March 15 — Film Screening, “#SayHerName: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland,” 6 p.m., Thompson Student Union Room 2592. The event is sponsored by the Eberly Center for Women, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Toledo alumnae chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.

Monday, March 18 — Womxn of Color Symposium: Finding and Using Our Voice, 1 to 7 p.m., Thompson Student Union Ingman Room. Denice Frohman, poet, educator and performer, will lead the symposium. Her work focuses on identity, lineage, subverting traditional notions of power, and celebrating aspects women deem unworthy. The professional development event will feature dialogue and cultivating resilience and empowerment. Register by Thursday, March 14, to utoledo.edu/diversity. Limit 100 participants. Read the UT News story about this event.

Tuesday, March 19 — Lunch With a Purpose, noon, Eberly Center for Women, Tucker Hall Room 0152. Dr. Barbara Mann, UToledo professor of humanities, will give a talk titled “Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath: The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America.”

Monday, March 25 — Preparing for Success, 4 p.m., Collier Building Room 1035. Amy O’Donnell, Distinguished University Lecturer of Career Development, will lead a program on salary and contract negotiations.

Tuesday, March 26 — Preparing for Success, 4 p.m., Carlson Library 1005. Amy O’Donnell, Distinguished University Lecturer of Career Development, will lead a program on salary and contract negotiations.

Thursday, March 28 — Discussion, noon, Eberly Center for Women, Tucker Hall Room 0152. Dr. Nyasha Junior, a faculty member in the Department of Religion at Temple University, will discuss “What Is Womanist Interpretation?”

— Women’s History Month Jeopardy, 6 p.m., Eberly Center for Women, Tucker Hall Room 0152. Stop by for trivia and a chance to win prizes.

Sunday, March 31 — Phenomenal Woman, 6:30 p.m., Thompson Student Union Auditorium. Jasmine Dees, founder of Anointed Angels, will speak at the Association for the Advancement of African-American Women’s Sixth Annual Woman’s Gala.

— A Slash of Color and Culture, 6:30 p.m., Thompson Student Union Auditorium. Be there for the Natural HAIRitage’s Third Annual Hair Show.

For more information about these free, public events, go to the Office of Multicultural Student Success website or call 419.530.2261.

Insects hijack reproductive genes of grape vines to create own living space on plant

A team of scientists at The University of Toledo uncovered new, galling details in the intimate relationship between insects and plants, opening the door to new possibilities in protecting the source of wine and raisins worldwide from a major agricultural pest.

The biologists discovered grape phylloxera — the insect that nearly wiped out wine production at the end of the 19th century in France — hijacks a grape vine’s reproductive programs to create a leaf gall, which it uses as a pseudo apartment for the parasite to siphon off the plant’s nutrients. The research is published in the latest issue of Nature Scientific Reports.

The researchers studying how insects control grape vines are, from left, Dr. Melanie Body, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Environmental Sciences; Dr. Jack Schultz, senior executive director for research development; and Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College and professor of environmental sciences.

A gall is an organ a little smaller than a marble on a plant that can look like a wart, flower or fruit and provides insects with a protected place to feed and reproduce.

“When galls form on a leaf, the flower genes are on. They shouldn’t be activated, but the insect is manipulatively inserting its own signals into the pathway to get a flower-like result,” said Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College at The University of Toledo and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences.

The insect lays an egg and starts the process to exploit the plant’s reproductive genetic machinery, directing the plant to create these structures.

Insects have set up house in phylloxera galls on this leaf. This cross-section of a gall taken with a stereosmicroscope shows an insect mom — the orange ball in the center — surrounded by eggs she laid — the yellow ovals.

Appel and Dr. Jack Schultz, senior executive director for research development at The University of Toledo, said Charles Darwin guessed at the idea in 1867 when he observed that the gall bears a certain degree of resemblance to the inside of a peach when cut open.

“We examined Darwin’s hypothesis and found the insect forces the plant to use the same genes to make a gall that the plant uses to make a flower or fruit,” Schultz said. “The plant produces the central part of a flower known as the carpel in a place the plant would never produce one on its own.”

“In each case as we genetically held up a mirror to see the differences in the plant at each stage of galling, an insect injected some kind of signal into the plant,” Appel said. “The signal took over the plant’s development and told the plant to make a gall on a leaf instead of normal plant tissue.”

Galls damage grape vines by draining resources and getting in the way of photosynthesis, resulting in lower yields.

By identifying the genes in grape vines that have to be activated for an insect to produce a gall, scientists can next find a way to block the insect from attacking the plant.

“While North American grape vines have developed the ability to resist phylloxera, one option is to crossbreed plants to be genetically resistant,” Schultz said. “Another option is to create a biologically based pesticide to spray on grape vines to manipulate the hormones in plants to be active at different times.”

UT student to graduate Dec. 15, start job as mayor of Oak Harbor in 2019

Quinton Babcock, a UT student in the Jesup Scott Honor College, will graduate this weekend and become mayor of Oak Harbor, Ohio, in the new year.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, Babcock will receive two bachelor of arts degrees — one in economics and disability studies, and one in mathematics.

Babcock

And then the 22-year-old will become mayor of Oak Harbor in 2019.

How did it happen?

Babcock ran and was elected to the Oak Harbor Village Council in December 2016.

“I had always had an interest in public service, and I felt I had acquired some professional skills that I could put to good use in the community,” he said.

In August, the Oak Harbor mayor resigned. Protocol says the mayor is succeeded by the president pro tempore, who is the president of the Oak Harbor Village Council.

At the time, the president pro tempore, Don Douglas, was in the middle of a campaign for Ottawa County Commissioner. Due to the uncertainty if Douglas would be elected to this position, Oak Harbor had to elect another president to replace him.

“I was elected by the council to be the president pro tempore,” Babcock said. “Come November, Mr. Douglas won his election for county commissioner and … I will serve as mayor for the duration of 2019.”

As the new mayor, Babcock wants to create a trust with the government.

“I think people generally feel very disempowered when it comes to government; they feel the government is not responsive to their concerns,” Babcock said. “With that in my mind, I would like to use my change in position to increase transparency, accountability, accessibility and responsiveness of the village government.”

Babcock also wants to address the concern of the possible closure of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, a major employer of area residents. “I would like to play a more active role in advocating for state solutions to this potential problem,” he said.