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President Recognizes Leadership in Action Amidst Global Pandemic in Annual Address

In her fourth annual State of the University address delivered via video amid the global coronavirus pandemic, University of Toledo President Sharon L. Gaber recognized the resilient leadership of the campus community to stay true to our mission amidst difficult circumstances.

The speech was shared with campus via email April 7 at the same time it was planned to be an in-person event before the COVID-19 outbreak required social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus. The State of the University video address is available online.

Gaber delivers virtual address

President Sharon L. Gaber delivers a virtual State of the University address amid the global coronavirus pandemic. In her fourth annual address, the president recognized the resilient leadership of the campus community.

“Despite these unprecedented times, our role as a public research university is more important than ever,” Gaber said. “We are educating the next generation of critical thinkers and innovative leaders, advancing knowledge through groundbreaking research, and serving as a strong community partner with our region and our state.”

Following a theme of “Proving Resilience: Leadership in Action,” the president highlighted success stories from the academic year and positive momentum that indicates a bright future ahead. Gaber discussed ways UToledo is innovating educational programs, how students are succeeding like never before, growth in research excellence, and ways the University is supporting our communities.

Reflecting an ongoing, campus-wide commitment to student success, Gaber underscored the University’s record-high six-year graduation rate of 51.7% after fall 2019 commencement. UToledo surpassed the target rate of 50% listed in the Strategic Plan three years ahead of schedule.

The president also recognized faculty researchers who continue their important work to apply for grants, test theories and publish papers even though we are not on campus.

“Our researchers are leaders in their fields facing the world’s most urgent problems head on, with a cross-disciplinary approach and innovative solutions,” Gaber said. “In just the first six months of this year, we received $32.2 million in competitive research awards, an increase of nearly 24% over this time last year.”

The University’s growing partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy national labs after hosting a National Lab Day in October was featured in a video story about Dr. Michael Weintraub, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, who is researching the terrestrial aquatic interface. Another video story shared the student success story of Naba Rizvi, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in information technology following internships with Google and Adobe and another opportunity lined up at Microsoft.

The University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was lauded throughout the president’s address. She recognized faculty and staff for finding innovative ways to make resources available to students remotely and highlighted how faculty experts are helping the community better understand the impact of this pandemic on our health and the economy.

“These may be challenging times, but we’re in this together,” Gaber said. “Thank you for all you’ve done, and continue to do, for The University of Toledo. I am so proud of how you’ve stepped up — as students, as faculty, staff, alumni and community members — to not only ensure that our academic mission continues forward, but also realizing that our collective sacrifices are for the greater good of our region.”

Early Interest in COVID-19 Testing Helped UTMC Launch Lab Services

As the world watched a novel coronavirus begin to spread beyond central China, a team of molecular experts at The University of Toledo Medical Center were already weighing how they might be able to test for the dangerous new disease here in northwest Ohio.

Just a handful of cases had been confirmed in the United States at that time, and testing was barely off the ground in the country. Only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was providing laboratory services.

Working in the lab are, back row from left, Heather Byrd, Nicole Ortiz and Heather Kvale, and front row from left, Michelle Lewandowski, Holly Mohon and Shauna Rasor.

Even so, Dr. Ji-Youn Yeo, a UTMC molecular specialist who earned her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from UToledo, was eager to put a plan together.

Her early push paved the way for UTMC’s pathology laboratory to become the first location in northwest Ohio capable of testing samples for COVID-19.

“Dr. Yeo said, ‘I want to do this,’ and put it in motion. When she came to us, it was really early, but we knew we could do it,” said Cynthia O’Connell, the lab’s administrative director.

A few weeks later on March 18 when Abbott Molecular received an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a new test using one of its molecular instruments, UTMC jumped at the opportunity.

By March 23, UTMC’s lab was up and running. The lab has the ability to test up to 180 samples per day and return results in less than 48 hours.

“We had the right equipment here, and we had folks who had the knowledge,” O’Connell said, noting that a number of individuals inside the lab, elsewhere in the hospital, and in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences deserved credit for the project coming together in such a short amount of time.

Microbiology supervisor Heather Byrd worked to source the difficult-to-find swabs necessary for doing the testing. Molecular specialist Heather Kvale and microbiologist Nicole Ortiz worked to get confirmed positive and negative samples from Columbus and Detroit to validate the UTMC test.

There also was help from Dr. Travis Taylor, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, who created the viral transport media needed to keep testing swabs safe until they’re examined in the lab — another material in very short supply across the country.

One of the biggest contributions to the speed with which UTMC was able to start testing came from Yeo, who also worked as a postdoctoral fellow under Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. Yeo still regularly collaborates to research in the Joe lab focusing on microbiome sequencing.

On the COVID-19 project, Yeo modified the test to make it safely work at UTMC and then ensured the accuracy following those modifications.

“Dr. Yeo made validation of this testing seemingly effortless, minimizing the number of runs it took to bring this online and saving days’ worth of testing. Her organization helped us go live as fast as possible,” Kvale said.

For O’Connell, the biggest payoff is seeing how UTMC is able to help the region.

“It’s wonderful to be able to do something for the community. We’ve had so many other hospitals say thank you. Many times, they were waiting seven or eight days to get results back. We can provide results in less than 48 hours,” O’Connell said. “It’s nice to be able to help.”

‘What Were You Wearing?’ Exhibit to be Shared on Social Media During Sexual Assault Awareness Month

An exhibit displaying the stories and re-creations of the clothing survivors were wearing at the time of their assaults is one of a number of events The University of Toledo will hold virtually during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The “What Were You Wearing?” installation, which is sponsored by the UToledo Title IX Office, will be shared on the Title IX Office’s website and social media pages.

This is one of the outfits included in the “What Were You Wearing?” virtual installation.

“Continued awareness surrounding sexual assault is key to changing perceptions,” Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, vice president for student affairs and vice provost, said. “This virtual exhibit allows survivors of assault the opportunity to be heard, validated and believed, and it also creates a space for the UToledo community to participate in this critical conversation.”

In its third year at UToledo, the installation features survivor stories that will be released on Wednesdays starting April 8 on the Title IX Office’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

The goal of the project is to debunk the myth that sexual violence happens because someone dresses a certain way or that they are “asking for it.”

“This year’s virtual exhibit allows for the important message to be shared even while we are not on campus,” Vicky Kulicke, director of Title IX and compliance, said. “We want our UToledo community to understand the difference between the messages received in media regarding victim blaming and the reality presented in this virtual installation.”

The exhibit has been presented on campuses across the U.S. since it was created in 2013 and changes at each campus based on the submissions of the survivors of sexual assault in each location.

“I am grateful that the Title IX Office adapted quickly to honor people who submitted their stories this year,” said Maya Mineoi, graduate assistant with the Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Program. “Regardless of any limitations on in-person programming, I am inspired that the focus on survivors’ stories was not lost.”

“We are honored and privileged that those who submitted stories in the UToledo community trusted us to share their stories,” Lindsay Tuttle, sexual misconduct prevention education coordinator, said. “It’s important that we as bystanders react with empathy and support, not victim blaming, when someone is impacted by sexual misconduct.”

Additional events hosted by the Title IX Office in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Prevention Month include:

Thursday, March 26 through April 30

Red Flag Campaign in Goddard Field along Bancroft Street across from University Hall. Red flags are displayed to spell out the number 3,537, which stands for the number of Toledo police reports last year of domestic violence, domestic assault, stalking and violations to protection orders.

Wednesday, April 8

• Bringing in the Bystander virtual training from noon to 1:30 p.m. Students, faculty and staff can sign up on Invonet to participate using Zoom. Title IX leaders at UToledo will explore different strategies to help a friend or acquaintance by safely intervening in instances of sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking.

Monday, April 13

• Bringing in the Bystander virtual training from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sign up on Invonet to participate using Zoom.

Thursday, April 23

• Bringing in the Bystander virtual training from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sign up on Invonet to participate using Zoom.

Wednesday, April 29

• Bringing In The Bystander virtual training from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sign up on Invonet to participate using Zoom.

• Denim Day. Faculty, staff and students are asked to wear jeans to raise awareness of sexual violence and post photos online using the hashtags #utoledotitleix and #utoledodenimday.

• Learn to make origami at 9 a.m. on Title IX’s Facebook and Instagram pages as a self-care activity during Rocket Coalition’s De-Stress Fest.

For information about Title IX or where to report an incident related to Title IX, visit the UToledo Title IX website.

Additional resources for students, faculty and staff can be found on the Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Program website.

CORRECTION: Varsity T Hall of Fame Nominations Due May 1

Nominations for the 2020 class of the Varsity T Hall of Fame are being accepted through Friday, May 1.

Nominations may come from any source. Nominations from previous years automatically carry over to the next year.

Criteria are:

• Any former varsity student-athlete who has performed with athletic distinction at The University of Toledo. The student-athlete need not necessarily be a graduate. For the 2020 class, nominees must not have been active on or after July 1, 2015.

• Any coach, administrator, trainer, etc. who has served The University of Toledo with distinction for a period of at least five years and who has been retired or resigned or otherwise separated from his/her position for a period of at least five years. For the 2020 class, nominees must not have been active on or after July 1, 2015.

The nomination form can be found on the Toledo Rockets Varsity T Hall of Fame web page.

Email the nomination form along with all supporting data to Paul Helgren at paul.helgren@utoledo.edu.

Nominations also can be mailed to:

Paul Helgren
The University of Toledo
Athletic Communications Office MS 302
2801 W. Bancroft St.
Toledo, OH 43606

Members will be chosen by a three-quarters vote of the selection committee.

The Varsity ‘T’ Hall of Fame banquet will be held in the fall, with the 2020 class being presented at halftime of a Toledo football game.

UToledo Announces All Summer Courses Will be Taught Online

All summer courses will be taught remotely as The University of Toledo continues efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do not know what the situation will be in May and want to give our faculty and students time to plan ahead, which we were not able to do when courses had to be moved online rapidly in the middle of spring semester,” said Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

By planning ahead now, all summer courses will be designed to be delivered 100% online to maintain the quality of instruction and offer students options to get ahead in their studies.

All summer sessions will be offered remotely, the first of which is scheduled to begin May 18.

“While I know we are all hoping to return to normal as quickly as possible, your health and safety are our top priority and we will continue to do our part to stop the spread of this coronavirus,” President Sharon L. Gaber said.

For more information about summer courses, visit utoledo.edu/summer.

Family Nurse Practitioner Students Holding Virtual Book Drive

Everyone remembers that cherished childhood book.

“My favorite was ‘Go, Dog. Go!’ by P.D. Eastman,” said Cassi Laberdee, a student in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program. “Reading and being read to beginning at a young age can shape children in such a positive way; it can pave the way for a knowledge-filled life. And this allows parents and children another way to bond and grow their relationships.”

Jessica Asher, a student in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, read “Bedtime Bear” to her 3-month-old twins, Jasey, left, and Jozey.

“I loved Dr. Seuss’ ABC book when I was a kid. It helped me to learn my alphabet in a fun way growing up. I always loved learning and reading,” said Stephanie Zecman, who also is in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program.

Laberdee and Zecman are teaming up with a couple peers to hold the family nurse practitioner students’ spring project — a virtual book drive that runs through Monday, April 20.

The drive is being conducted through Books By the Bushel, and donations will go to Reach Out and Read, a grant-funded program in the UToledo Department of Pediatrics.

“Our goal is to give 500 books to Reach and Read; that’s the equivalent of $1,000 — $2 a book,” Laberdee said.

Reach Out and Read prepares America’s youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together.

Doctors, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals incorporate Reach Out and Read’s evidence-based model into regular pediatric checkups by advising parents about the importance of reading aloud and giving developmentally appropriate books to children.

Locally, the program reaches 15,000 families with young children at 24 pediatric and family practice offices in northwest Ohio. The program distributes 30,000 new books a year.

Nationally, Reach Out and Read programs are located in 6,400 hospitals, health centers and pediatric clinics in all 50 states. The program also serves 4.8 million children and families each year. More than 7.4 million new, developmentally appropriate books are given to children annually.

“I think the book drive is important during this unfortunate time because it allows one to look forward to something and gives people the option to donate to a good cause,” Jessica Asher, family nurse practitioner student, said. “With these hard times in mind, it will help these kids to feel loved and have something to look forward to at their well visits.”

Asher’s favorite book as a child was “Kittens and More Kittens” by Marci Ridlon. These days, she reads “Dragons Love Tacos” by Adam Rubin to her twin girls.

“We hope to gather donations to give children the gift of reading and new memorable books to take home,” Asher said.

“Doing this virtual book drive through the Reach Out and Read Program, especially during these challenging times, can give people some positivity that they are helping children in need,” Allison Locke, a family nurse practitioner student, said. “Knowing we can help provide books to children through their pediatric care offices brings me so much joy.”

Zecman worked in a pediatric clinical site last semester and saw the program in action.

“Passing out books to all of my pediatrics patients was a great feeling. They would get so excited to get a book, even after they may have had to get poked for blood, they walked out smiling with a book in hand,” Zecman said. “It is especially important during these hard times where kids may not be getting hands-on education every day at school; having a book collection would be so beneficial for the kids that need it the most.”

Donations to the virtual book drive may be made on the Books By the Bushel website.

For more information on the drive, email cassi.laberdee@rockets.utoledo.edu.

UToledo to Celebrate Class of 2020 with Virtual Commencement

The University of Toledo is recognizing the Class of 2020 with a virtual commencement ceremony while we cannot celebrate together amid the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The Celebrating Success online ceremony will go live on Saturday, May 9, the same date graduates and their families had planned to celebrate commencement in the Glass Bowl before drastic social distancing measures were required to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The spring commencement ceremony recognizes UToledo’s undergraduate and graduate candidates for degrees. The College of Medicine and Life Sciences and College of Law hold separate graduation ceremonies and also are planning to hold virtual events due to the state’s stay-at-home order.

On the website, utoledo.edu/commencement, graduates and their families can watch videos from President Sharon L. Gaber and other University leaders congratulating them on their successes.

Most importantly, each graduate has the opportunity to be personally recognized. In a traditional live commencement ceremony, a graduate’s name is read as they walk across the stage to be recognized. In this virtual ceremony, each graduate has a custom online graphic display with their name and degree and the opportunity for additional personalization with a photo and recording of their name.

Students interested in personalizing their commencement graphic need to respond to the email request from Marching Order, the company UToledo is working with to host this virtual commencement ceremony, and provide their information by the April 13 deadline.

“I am heartbroken that we cannot have a traditional commencement ceremony this year and it was important to me that we find another way to recognize the perseverance of the Class of 2020,” Gaber said. “I am proud of the way this group of graduates has handled this unprecedented situation and I look forward to celebrating them virtually.”

Graduates who planned to participate in the spring commencement ceremonies also are invited to participate in the University’s fall commencement ceremony planned for Dec. 12 in Savage Arena.

In the days and weeks leading up to the virtual commencement on May 9, UToledo will celebrate graduates on social media using #UToledo20. Members of the Class of 2020 are encouraged to share favorite campus memories, mentors who helped them succeed and other stories. UToledo alumni, faculty and staff also will provide words of encouragement and congratulations to the newest UToledo alumni.

Student Government Election Results Announced

Nick Thompson and Anjali Phadke have been elected Student Government president and vice president, respectively, for the 2020-21 academic year.

The Election Board released the results late yesterday.

Thompson will be a senior in the fall and is majoring in political science and economics. He has served as vice president of One Foot Forward and was a student trustee for Student Legal Services Inc.

Phadke will be a junior in the 2020-21 academic year; she is majoring in bioengineering with a premedical concentration. Phadke has served as vice president of leadership for Alpha Phi Omega and vice president of education for Global Public Health. In addition, she was an admission ambassador and member of Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honor Society.

Both are involved with Student Government this academic year. Thompson is chief justice, and Phadke is legislative secretary.

Thompson and Phadke will begin their terms in May.

Nick Thompson and Anjali Phadke have been elected Student Government president and vice president.

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

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

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

Joseph Dake


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

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

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

The survey went live March 31.

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

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

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

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

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

President to Deliver Video State of the University Address

President Sharon L. Gaber will continue the University’s tradition of giving an annual State of the University Address, but in a different, digital format as advised by our public health experts.


The 2020 State of the University speech will be published to utoledo.edu/video and shared with the campus community via email at the time it was originally scheduled to be delivered live, at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7.

“Despite these unprecedented times, our role as a public research university is more important than ever,” Gaber said. “We are educating the next generation of critical thinkers and innovative leaders, advancing knowledge through groundbreaking research, and serving as a strong community partner with our region and our state.”

This will be Gaber’s fourth State of the University address since being named president in July 2015.