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Swimmer Finishing M.B.A. Program Over 9,000 Miles Away

By all accounts, senior Bec Welke had a successful collegiate swimming career at UToledo. And yet, that career almost didn’t happen.

The Toowoomba, Australia, native nearly quit swimming in 2015. Despite her success as a youth swimmer, she did not receive much interest from Australian universities.

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.

“Swimming in Australia places an emphasis on the highest elite athletes, and there are no motivation mechanisms to keep athletes on board,” Welke said. “There are very few scholarships for athletics at universities unless you’re at a school in a capital city. College athletics in the U.S. stand out from how sports operate in Australia. Australian universities and colleges place more focus on purely academics rather than helping athletes follow their dreams.”

It wasn’t until an American talent scout spotted Welke that she decided to look into coming to the United States to study and swim. As a self-described “water baby” who fell in love with swimming at an early age, Welke can’t believe now that she almost thought of quitting the sport that has become such a big part of her life.

“I talked to a few other schools,” Welke said. “But I really liked Toledo’s business program, and the campus is incredibly beautiful. It was clearly the right decision, and I’m so glad I didn’t give up a sport I love dearly.”

Welke came to campus in fall 2016. The transition from high school to college is already a difficult one for so many incoming freshmen, let alone those attending school more than 9,000 miles away from home.

“I think I handled the transition pretty well,” Welke said. “I did get homesick a bit my freshman year. But my teammates became my biggest support rocks, and we were always there for each other whenever we felt homesick.”

Her collegiate swimming career ended Feb. 29 at the Mid-American Conference Championship meet in Buffalo, a few weeks before the sporting world, and the world at large, came to a halt.

Bec Welke, a Rocket swimmer shown here with her parents, Karen and Ashley, completed her undergraduate degree in 2019 and is finishing her M.B.A. from home in Australia.

“When everything started closing, I was stressed and overwhelmed,” Welke said. “Everything was happening so fast. I got back from my spring break trip on the morning of March 14, and I left Toledo for Australia on St. Patrick’s Day. I took one suitcase with me as that’s all I could bring with me at the time.

“This isn’t how I pictured my senior year to end. I was looking forward to our swim and dive banquet and the [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee] senior banquet, but COVID-19 had other plans for the entire world.”

Welke, who graduated last spring with a degree in finance, is pursuing her MBA in business administration and plans to go into financial advising after graduation this summer. Finishing her master’s degree halfway across the world has created some unique challenges.

“For one of my classes I have a group project, so trying to communicate with them while I’m 14 hours ahead has been a little difficult,” she said. “However, we manage quite well. For the most part, I am able to complete my work well before the due date and start next week’s work a little earlier. I like being able to work ahead so the time difference pushes me to get my work done.”

A hard worker in and out of the pool, Welke credits her time at UToledo for helping her develop those skills that will lead her to a successful life after graduation.

“Being a student-athlete at Toledo has helped me become more organized and time-managed. All of the classes I have taken have in some way directly related to what I’m going to do in my career. I think I’m pretty well-prepared for life after college.”

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.”

Women’s Golfer Putting Up Strong Battle vs. Cancer

Saranlak “Sara” Tumfong’s life changed forever March 3, the day she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

A senior on The University of Toledo women’s golf team, Tumfong was admitted to the hospital that day, ending her college golf career and thrusting her into a battle for her life. What made matters worse was the fact that the native of Thailand was half a world away from home.

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.

Her ordeal began innocently enough. She noticed strange bruising in her mouth that eventually spread to her arms and legs just prior to her final round March 1 at the Florida State Match-Up in Panama City, Fla. After returning to Toledo, doctors initially thought Tumfong may have had an allergic reaction to aspirin. But additional tests were run. Tumfong could barely believe the devastating news.

“At first I was hoping my diagnosis might be false because I barely felt sick,” Tumfong said. “I was thinking I would still be able to play the rest of our season. But once the doctor told me I did have AML, I felt sad that I wouldn’t have the chance to play in my last MAC Championships.”

The opportunity to play at MAC Championships was something Tumfong was looking forward to since finishing second at last year’s conference tournament. That momentum carried over to this past fall when she played the best golf of her Rocket career, posting a 74.4 stroke average.

“This year was really fun for me,” Tumfong said. “I saw improvement in my game. Even though my season was cut short, it is still super-fun looking back. Coach Jenny [Coluccio] taught me to learn from my mistakes. This not only helped me on the golf course, but life in general, too.”

“Sara was beginning to reach her potential as a golfer,” Coluccio said. “Her confidence on the golf course was getting stronger every day and that translated to her everyday life.”

Saranlak “Sara” Tumfong, right, is spending time with her mother, Suphalak, while waiting for a match for a bone marrow transplant.

Tumfong said Coluccio helped her form a new outlook on life. She is extremely appreciative of her coach’s impact on her.

“Working with Coach Jenny has changed me a lot,” Tumfong said. “I was so pessimistic and full of self-doubt, especially in my golf game. The most important thing she taught me is to be positive. It sounds easy, but it actually is a very hard thing to do. I was improving little by little and finally felt comfortable playing golf again.”

Now, instead of trying to improve her golf game, Tumfong is focused on getting healthy. She left the hospital April 9 and is in remission after undergoing intensive chemotherapy.

Tumfong’s mother, Suphalak, is now able to be with her daughter for the first time since she first came to Toledo from Thailand in early March. The two saw each other only briefly when the COVID-19 pandemic put Sara into mandatory isolation. With Sara out of the hospital, Suphalak can provide motherly support and help as needed.

Saranlak “Sara” Tumfong played the best golf of her Rocket career last fall; she posted a 74.4 stroke average.

“Having my mom here makes it feel a little like home, even though it’s not,” Sara said. “She cooks Thai food for me every day, and that keeps my appetite high.”

That’s important because Sara still needs to keep up her energy levels. She will need to undergo a bone marrow transplant to cure her leukemia and is still waiting to find a match. Until that happens, she will need to receive consolidation chemotherapy approximately once a month.

One thing that is helping Sara through this trying time is the support she has received from near and far.

“I am so thankful to receive support from everyone,” she said. “There are so many people I don’t even know who have reached out to me and told me that they’re keeping me in their prayers. Of course, Coach Jenny, my athletic trainer Alex [Lovato] and my teammates have been with me since day one. There are so many people I would like to mention and thank, but the list might be too long. I could never ask for a better support system.”

Another thing helping Sara throughout her ordeal has been finishing up her course work in her final semester as a UToledo student. She possesses a 3.794 grade-point average in media communication in the College of Arts and Letters, and will be extremely proud when she receives her diploma. “Earning a degree is like completing one of the huge steps in life,” Sara said. “It feels good to know I am capable of doing something that seems impossible.”

Sara’s battle with cancer has changed her perspective, as well as her future plans. She is counting her blessings and is learning to take her life one day at a time. And being with her family has become even more vital.

“I was originally going to try to find a job here in the United States. It is my biggest dream to work in the media industry,” she said. “However, now I have a new plan of going back to Thailand to spend more time with my friends and family because I don’t know what my future holds.”

Pioneering Business Student Grateful for UToledo Mentors, Capitol Hill Internship

The first student at The University of Toledo selected by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to participate in its internship program on Capitol Hill plans to return to UToledo in the fall to pursue his master of business administration.

Emir Moore, who will graduate May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing from the College of Business and Innovation, was one of 25 African-American students across the country who spent fall semester in Washington, D.C., immersed in the firsthand experience learning the intricacies of the federal legislative process.

Graduation Cap

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

The outgoing past president of the Black Student Union is filled with optimism and gratitude as he finishes his senior year while taking classes remotely from his home in Dayton amid the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“My time at UToledo has been priceless with everlasting memories,” Moore said. “I am staying positive and appreciative of the support from The University of Toledo and my family.”

Moore chose to attend UToledo because of the Multicultural Emerging Scholars program, which was co-founded by one of his mentors: Dr. Willie McKether, vice president for diversity and inclusion.

The program is designed for first-year students to help them make the academic, social and cultural transition from high school to college and inspire achievement in college-level courses.

“The Multicultural Emerging Scholars program gave me the head start, network and support to be successful,” Moore said. “I also was awarded the Kinsey Determination Scholarship, which is a full scholarship for undergraduate students enrolled in the College of Business and Innovation. You must be the child of a single mother and have lived the majority of your life without the presence of a father or male guardian. With the honor and privilege to be afforded to take advantage of these two great opportunities, I knew that UToledo was the place for me.”

“Emir has been an amazing, driven and determined student since he came to the University as part of the Summer Bridge Program,” McKether said. “Almost from the very first time we met, he and I established a great relationship. He is certainly destined for greatness, and I am very proud of him.”

Emir Moore, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing, was one of 25 African-American students in the nation selected for a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation internship.

One turning point in Moore’s undergraduate career was volunteering in Haiti through a service-learning class.

“In Haiti, I helped with fundraising efforts to provide food, medication and shelter for Haitian communities,” Moore said. “We were able to immerse ourselves in the culture and interact with students from a local elementary school. This opportunity defined my passion for servant leadership in my own community and the world around me.”

Another critical experience occurred while he was president of the Student African-American Brotherhood. Moore worked with Brothers on the Rise to create the Barbershop Talk, where local barbers gave free haircuts along with free health screenings and food.

“During the haircuts, there were open conversations regarding topics that impact men,” Moore said. “We were able to change lives for African-American male students.”

All of those moments led up to his proudest achievement: interning on Capitol Hill in the office of the youngest black woman ever elected to Congress, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14).

“At first, some people told me I was crazy and it wasn’t feasible to move to Washington, D.C., at the beginning of my senior year for the Congressional internship while taking classes as a full-time student,” Moore said. “I’m happy I listened to myself. I would recommend whoever wants to be successful should and must acknowledge there will be challenges and obstacles. You must set realistic goals, and be teachable and coachable throughout the process. Don’t let others define who you are or what you will achieve. You must find resources such as organizations, programs, individuals and mentors to help assist you along your journey.”

Soccer Player Excited for Next Chapter as Registered Nurse

As Abby Demboski comes to the end of one important chapter in her life, she begins another. As is the case so often these days, the coronavirus pandemic is at the center of both events.

Demboski, a senior on The University of Toledo women’s soccer team, will graduate in May with a degree in nursing. Like her fellow graduates, her final two months of college were spent in virtual classes. Her commencement experience next month will be virtual, too.

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.

After graduation, Demboski intends to move to Colorado to become a registered nurse during a period of time in which health professionals are under tremendous strain. Despite the uncertainty and stress associated with the coronavirus, she is excited to join the work force and do her part.

“I’m gunning to get out to Colorado and become an RN,” said Demboski, who also has a minor in public health. “The whole coronavirus situation is pretty scary because of the worldwide impact it is having, but I can’t wait to be one of those people that helps others.”

Demboski knows her four years at UToledo prepared her well for the future, and she acknowledges all of the opportunities it provided for her.

“These last four years have made me into the person I am today and pushed me to be a better friend and leader,” Demboski said. “It taught me so many life skills, like time management, organization and prioritizing, and these are the same things that will help me become a successful nurse. My time at UToledo created a great base for me, and I’m forever grateful.”

The Columbus, Ohio, native, excelled on the field and in the classroom. A four-year starter, Demboski played an instrumental role in helping the Rockets secure the 2017 Mid-American Conference Tournament title.

“One of my best college memories was winning a MAC Championship,” Demboski said. “That team worked so hard and was rewarded for all of their efforts. I will never forget the journey we took to win that championship. In particular, I will always remember the day we beat our archrival [Bowling Green] in overtime in the finals.”

Abby Demboski, left, posed for a photo with former women’s soccer player Kelsey Kraft.

Following that championship run in 2017, Demboski went on to become one of the Rockets’ top players. She experienced her best statistical year last fall as a senior captain, posting a career-high seven points. She finished third on the team in goals scored (3) and total points. Among her three goals, Demboski was a perfect 2 of 2 converting penalty kicks.

“Being elected team captain was one of the biggest honors of my life,” Demboski said. “I had immense respect for each of my teammates and knowing they trusted me enough to lead the team meant a lot.”

Not only did Demboski excel on the field, she was ultra-successful in the classroom, garnering Academic All-MAC accolades a school-record three times.

“Although I spent a lot of time in college playing soccer, school always came first,” said Demboski, who will graduate with a 3.889 GPA. “Getting a quality education was my top priority at Toledo, and being a three-time Academic All-MAC honoree was truly icing on the cake.”

Head Coach TJ Buchholz truly appreciated Demboski’s contributions to the women’s soccer program, both on and off the field during her time wearing the Midnight Blue and Gold.

“Abby was a selfless leader who always cared more for her teammates over herself. I’m enormously grateful to have coached her,” Buchholz said. “It’s hard to say goodbye to a player like Abby after the lasting impact she made on her teammates and coaches, but I’m excited to see the tremendous impact she is going to have after graduation.”

Abby Demboski posted a career-high seven points last fall.

Demboski is excited to earn her nursing degree, but she is disappointed she will not get the chance to walk across the stage, as the University moved to a virtual ceremony because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I’m certainly disappointed that I can’t go through graduation and walk across the stage with my fellow graduates,” Demboski said. “Ever since I was a freshman, I envisioned getting all dressed up, putting on my cap and gown, and walking across the stage to get my diploma. It was supposed to be a day to celebrate four years of hard work and dedication with family and friends.”

The Demboski family has alternate plans to help her celebrate the special day. They have something in the works to give her a well-deserved moment in the sun.

“My family and I will make the most of it,” Demboski said. “I might walk across my backyard and pretend it’s the stage. It’s certainly disappointing not to walk with my fellow graduates, but I totally understand why the decision was made.”

Demboski’s time as a student-athlete at The University of Toledo is quickly coming to an end. She arrived on Main Campus four years ago simply looking to secure a degree and continuing to play the sport she loved. But Demboski left with so much more.

“I had an amazing run at Toledo, and I would not change any part of my experience,” she said. “I met a lot of great people and developed some tremendous relationships that I will forever cherish.”

J.D. Candidate Ready to ‘Jump in Feet First’ Into Employment and Labor Law Career

For almost eight years, Lindsey Self worked in human resources, most recently at First Solar. It wasn’t planning Christmas parties and employee engagement programs that excited her. It was the legal compliance part of her job that she was passionate about ― investigating complaints, managing FMLA compliance and conducting audits.

In May, Self will graduate from The University of Toledo College of Law with her J.D., bringing together the two professional worlds she cares most about.

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.

“I can jump in feet first,” she said. “All those things I enjoyed in HR that we passed along to counsel ― now I’ll be the counsel.”

Self will start her job as a labor and employment attorney this summer at Eastman & Smith in Toledo, a position the firm offered her last August.

When she began law school, Self was a part-time, evening student. The law program’s flexibility allowed her to work and still care for her two young children. A year into the program, she left her job and enrolled full time.

Self said she appreciated the faculty’s flexibility. Her daughter, Vivian, came to class with her a few times, and it was never an issue. The dean’s secretary even set up the kindergartener with candy.

“Toledo Law turned into a family for me. I was sick recently, and the dean of the college reached out to see how I was feeling. You don’t get that at other schools,” she said. “I had opportunities to build strong and real relationships with experts in their field, professors who went to Harvard and Yale. I feel prepared to walk into any practice.”

Self’s first internship was with Judge Darlene O’Brien at the Washtenaw County Trial Court. The supervising attorney there was a UToledo College of Law graduate and urged her to apply for an internship in federal court. She landed a position with Judge Jeffrey Helmick at the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

The judicial internships led to a clerk position with Eastman & Smith and eventually to a full-time job offer.

Lindsay Self

After graduation from the UToledo College of Law, Linday Self will start her job as a labor and employment attorney at Eastman & Smith in Toledo; the firm offered her the position last August.

“Lindsey is an extraordinary student, one of the best I’ve ever had,” said Joseph Slater, Distinguished University Professor and Eugene N. Balk Professor of Law and Values. “She was always prepared, always thoughtful. She has a new, smart idea about labor law that no one’s come up with and is writing a paper about it.”

Self said she’s sad about not being able to walk at commencement. She wanted her children to experience the final moment, to see all that mom had worked for. But they’ll find another way to celebrate, she said. She knows there’s so much more good to come.

“I look forward to raising my family in Toledo and building my career here,” she said. “I want to help Toledo continue to be a great city and to be a community leader.”

Self graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2010 with a dual degree in psychology and sociology. She was the 2019-20 editor of the Toledo Law Review, a student-edited journal written by professors, judges and students. In 2017, while a first-year law student, Self spoke at TEDxToledo about unconscious bias, gender inequality and women’s empowerment.

She also is a member of the Emerging Leaders Council of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, the Northwest Ohio Human Resource Association and the Toledo Women’s Bar Association. She is co-founder of Make It Count Toledo, a local nonprofit that provides emergency mobilization services to nonprofits that work to help underrepresented and disadvantaged members of the community in crisis.

Self lives in Holland with her husband, Brian, and two children, Vivian (6) and Connor (4).

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.”

Soprano Ready for More Golden Moments

Paige Chapman pictured it: She would wear a sky blue off-the-shoulder dress with a rose-gold necklace and matching earrings, and sparkly gold heels.

She would walk on stage of the Center for Performing Arts Recital Hall and sing “Tornami a Vagheggiar,” a love song from Handel’s “Alcina.”

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.

That song will still open her senior recital, but the performance will be a video online.

“I won’t totally get all glammed up. I won’t pull out the ‘Cinderella’ blue gown that is so pretty,” she said. “But I’ll still look nice.”

And even though the soprano will record that video in the basement of her Troy, Mich., home, it’ll be a soaring performance.

Chapman’s singing career has continued its upward trajectory since she became a Rocket in the College of Arts and Letters.

The ingénue has played six leading roles in UToledo operas and one supporting role in a musical. She took top honors in the Concerto/Aria Competition Collegiate Division in fall 2019, and she participated in the National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition, placing third in fall 2017.

“Paige is a highly talented performer and singer. She has purity, agility and depth in her tone that make her voice adaptable to many different styles ranging from classical to musical theater,” Dr. Emily K. Oehrtman, UToledo visiting assistant professor of music, said.

“She is a genuine and generous performer, portraying a wide variety of characters adeptly, expressing poetry through song with ease, and showcasing different styles of music with grace and accuracy,” Oehrtman said.

Paige Chapman played Titania, queen of the fairies, in the UToledo Opera production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo courtesy of Zach Mills Media

Chapman recalled her first opera role at the University — Natalie in Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widower.” “I definitely learned a lot in that production. I was cast with someone older and more experienced. It was interesting to see the differences and similarities in how we performed the role.”

She had fun playing the title role in UToledo’s presentation of Seymour Barab’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” Another of her favorite roles on the University stage was in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” an opera with music by Benjamin Britten and libretto adapted by Peter Pears from Shakespeare’s classic comedy.

“I played Titania, queen of the fairies,” Chapman said. “I wore these ginormous wings — it was hard to walk in the hallway! It was an amazing costume to go along with amazing music.”


She reached new heights as Despina in UToledo Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte.” “This was the most challenging role. The entire opera is in Italian, and I had to master recitative — speaking that moves the story along. It was a very new skill to learn; it is music written with rhythms more speech-like with limited accompaniment,” Chapman said.

It wasn’t always about opera.

“I love music. I remember singing at Sunday school, and everyone told my parents [Steve and Annette Chapman] they should put me in voice lessons,” Chapman remembered.

When she turned 5, Chapman asked for voice lessons and a karaoke machine.

“The first song I learned in voice lessons was ‘The Beauty and the Beast,’” she said.

At age 11, she saw her first opera: Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest.

“Opera did not resonate with me right away,” Chapman said. “It definitely was something I fell in love with later — like a switch flipped.”

And once it was on, it was really on.

After she receives a bachelor of music in performance May 9 at UToledo’s virtual commencement ceremony, Chapman will pursue a master’s degree in music performance at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she has a full ride and graduate assistantship.

“The goal is to perform a little — a young artist program, an opera company,” Chapman said. “The goal is to keep music in my life.”

As she ascends, she’ll take UToledo with her.

“I learned so much; I don’t think I can ask anything better as a student and person,” Chapman said. “There is such a tremendous sense of community here. I have made friendships and faculty relationships that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Basketball Standout to Return Home to Italy Following Graduation

Women’s basketball player Mariella Santucci made the most of her time at The University of Toledo.

“I had a great four years,” she said. “I experienced a lot of great memories and met a lot of great people during my time here.”

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.

On the hardwood, Santucci wrapped up her collegiate career fifth in school history in assists (614) and minutes played (3,878), sixth in steals (202), eighth in games played (130), and 24th in scoring (1,103).

In the classroom, Santucci earned Academic All-Mid-American Conference honors a school-record three times.

“I worked extremely hard to be the best on the court and with my studies,” Santucci said. “It was very important for me to do well at both.”

Santucci will graduate May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in international business and an impressive 3.39 GPA. She is also the only player in program history with at least 1,000 points, 600 helpers, 500 caroms and 200 thefts.

“I’m proud of what I accomplished at Toledo,” said Santucci, who will be the first person in her family to earn a college degree.

She is excited to earn her degree, but sad to not have the opportunity to walk across the stage because the University canceled the event due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I feel bad for all graduates to not get the chance to walk,” Santucci said. “We need to look at the bigger picture, though, and it’s much more important to keep everyone safe.”

Mariella Santucci

“I’m the person that I am now because of all my experiences with the Rockets,” said Mariella Santucci, who earned Academic All-Mid-American Conference honors a school-record three times as a member of the women’s basketball team. She will receive a bachelor’s degree in international business.

Graduation was the last thing on Santucci’s mind when she arrived at Toledo as a freshman in fall 2016. Speaking little English, she was hesitant to leave her home country. A native of Bologna, Italy, the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy, Santucci had concerns about attending college in the United States.

“I didn’t know how I was going to adjust,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how basketball and school would go hand in hand. Back home, it was one or the other, but never at the same time. I just didn’t know what to expect.”

Santucci settled in quite nicely as a freshman and played a big role in the Rockets capturing the 2016 MAC Championship, its first title since 2001.

“One of my greatest memories at Toledo was winning the MAC Championship,” said Santucci, who was named to the 2016 MAC All-Tournament Team.

Over the next two years, Santucci helped the Rockets advance to the second round of the Postseason WNIT on both occasions.

Then this past season as a team captain, Santucci led the MAC in helpers (160) and finished second in assist/turnover ratio (1.70, 160-94). As a result of her efforts, she was named team MVP and was selected the Ultimate Rocket, which is awarded to the player who excels on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.

“It was a great honor to receive those two awards,” Santucci said.

Santucci is heading back to Italy in the coming weeks and will have to quarantine herself for 14 days before starting the next chapter of her life.

“We have many cases of the virus close to my home,” said Santucci, whose family is currently safe and healthy. “Every city around Bologna is in lockdown. The only places you can go are the grocery store or the pharmacy.”

Once she is home and the virus is under control, Santucci will begin the process of determining what’s next for her.

“I’m looking to play professionally overseas and get a master’s degree during the offseason,” Santucci said. “My initial thought is to get an MBA and specialize in trying to stabilize the economy.”

Santucci knows that whatever path she chooses, her time at Toledo provided her the proper foundation for future success.

“My time at Toledo was great and prepared me for my future,” Santucci said. “I’m the person that I am now because of all my experiences with the Rockets.”

Living With Autoimmune Disorder Made Distance Runner Appreciate College Experience

Jordan Doore knew something was off.

A distance runner for The University of Toledo track and cross country teams, Doore had battled through numerous injuries throughout her career. But as she was preparing for the 2018 cross country season, she began to notice something was not quite right. She was accustomed to the wear and tear of competitive running, but this was something else.

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.

“I started to experience some pain and numbness in parts of my body. I didn’t know what was going on,” said Doore, who will graduate May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “Then it got worse. The numbness spread throughout my whole body, and I had no energy. I was constantly on the verge of passing out and was unable to finish workouts. I knew something was really wrong.”

Doore went through a battery of tests and was eventually diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, an autoimmune disorder that affects the body’s ability to regulate normal functions, such as blood pressure and heart rate. Symptoms flare up when she simply stands up. There is no known cure, but it can be managed with medication.

“It was a relief to finally get a diagnosis, but at the same time I still felt terrible physically,” Doore said. “Mentally it was tough as well. I deal with a disorder that you can’t see and most people have never heard of.”

Despite this setback, Doore was determined to continue competing. She was back on the track for the 2019 outdoor campaign. She set her personal best with a time of 4:49.44 in the mile at the RedHawk Invitational April 20 and had a solid time of 4:54.33 in the 1500 meters at the 2019 MAC Outdoor Championship Meet May 11. “I wasn’t the most fit, but I was determined to run,” she said.

Jordan Doore running

Jordan Doore, who was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, overcame challenges to continue as a distance runner on the Rocket track and cross country teams. She will graduate May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences.

Her determination has been an inspiration to her teammates, according to Head Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough.

“There were lots of reasons that Jordan could have stopped running. Certainly most people would have called it quits,” said McDonough, who took over as the director of cross country and track and field in July 2019. “But we are so grateful that Jordan continued to be a part of this team. She is a great teammate and a great role model. She comes to practice every day with a great attitude. She always seems to be in a great mood. I have never once heard her complain.”

Of course, life is not exactly easy for Doore. On some level, she deals with challenges nearly every day.

“My daily life can be difficult,” said Doore, who has aspirations to be a coach someday. “The medication helps, and I need to follow a good diet and always stay hydrated. Sometimes there is nothing I can do to combat symptoms, so all I can do is take a nap and sleep it off. I try to listen to my body and do as much as I can when I feel good, and rest when I don’t.”

Not being as active as she wants may be the toughest part for Doore. She is happiest when she is busy. In addition to being an honor roll student and a two-time Academic All-MAC honoree, she served four years on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, including as president this past year. Doore is one of two Rocket student-athletes who serves on the MAC Council of Student Athletes. And she is active in church and volunteer activities.

This past fall, Doore sprained her ankle early in the season, but came back to compete at her last cross country meet at the Eastern Michigan University Open Oct. 26. She rehabbed and came back to compete in the indoor track season. The Akron Invitational Feb. 8 would be her final competition wearing the Midnight Blue and Gold due to the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out what would have been her last chance to compete in the outdoor track season this spring.

As she approaches graduation and her final days as a Rocket, Doore looks back on a challenging four years with no regrets.

“Nothing has gone as planned for me in my college experience,” she said. “But I’ve definitely learned from it. It’s been a great experience for me at Toledo. I know that something good can come from anything.”