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UToledo Alumnus’ Film Gets National Play on Amazon Prime

The film “Dream Runner” (2020) by University of Toledo alumnus James Aponte is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

The film’s national debut on Amazon is a major step forward in Aponte’s effort to take his film to mainstream audiences.

“It’s been two years of navigating distribution, but I am so happy to say that … my feature film ‘Dream Runner’ is now streaming on Amazon Prime!” Aponte, who received a bachelor of arts degree in film and video in 2016, wrote on Facebook announcing the film’s release.

Dr. Edmund Lingan, UToledo professor and chair of theatre and film, said he is thrilled that Aponte’s film is receiving national play, but not surprised.

“As a UToledo student — and later as a professional filmmaker — James always proved to be that rare blend of artist and entrepreneur that leads toward professional success. Our department has been proud and happy to support his work from the beginning, and I am sure this is only the beginning of a series of successes in his career that I will enjoy watching.”

The film’s subject matter leans toward sci-fi, as the opening text makes clear: “Humans no longer dream. Now man-made, dreams are sold in supermarkets, drug stores and fueling stations. Certain dreams are declared illegal by world governments and organizations. Patrons turn to dream runners to attain these illicit fantasies.”

Watch the “Dream Runner” trailer.

A host of UToledo and Theatre and Film Department grads star in and helped create the film.

Cast members include 2016 theatre alumna Olivia Pierce as Dana; 2014 UToledo alumnus Ian Davis as Drake; 2016 theatre graduate Nolan Thomaswick as Robbie; 2016 theatre alumnus Jeffrey Burden II as Julian; 2017 theatre graduate Christina Pinciotti as Rene; and 2017 theatre alumna Samantha Campbell as Victoria Kingsley.

Production team members include Nick Kostelnak, 2015 film/video graduate, producer; John Eidemiller, media producer/director in the Communication Department, producer; Stephen Mariasy, 2015 film/video alumnus, music; Andre Lewis, 2018 film/video graduate, cinematography; Marcus Jordan, 2017 film/video alumnus, production management/assistant director; and Ryan Dalton, 2017 music graduate, guitar.

Rockets Earn Record 3.527 Grade Point Average in Spring Semester

University of Toledo student-athletes earned a combined grade point average of 3.527 in the 2020 spring semester, Vice President and Athletic Director Mike O’Brien announced today. It is the highest semester GPA for the Rockets, shattering the previous record of 3.306 set in spring 2019.

It is also the third consecutive semester in which UToledo student-athletes have earned a semester GPA of 3.3 or higher, and the 11th straight semester above a 3.2.

Softball recorded the highest semester team GPA with a mark of 3.812, the highest ever for a Rocket team. Men’s tennis (3.780), women’s coss country (3.776), women’s soccer (3.775), men’s golf (3.768), men’s cross country (3.745), and women’s swimming and diving (3.742) were each above the 3.7 mark, the first time in school history that seven teams had GPAs above a 3.7.

Other highlights from this past semester include:

• 20.4 percent (73 of 357) of student-athletes earned President’s List honors with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

• 57.4 percent (205 of 357) earned a spot on the Dean’s List by garnering at least a 3.50 GPA.

• 87.4 percent (312 of 357) made the Honor Roll by securing a 3.00 GPA or higher.

“Under unprecedented circumstances, our student-athletes rose to the occasion to have another outstanding semester in the classroom. They have set a very high standard of excellence in the past, but to eclipse the previous GPA record by more than two points is simply amazing,” O’Brien said. “This achievement says so much about the priorities of our student-athletes, coaches and staff. Special congratulations to Head Coach Joe Abraham and the softball team for setting the record for the highest team GPA in our school’s history.

“I would also like to express recognition to Associate Athletic Director for Academic Services Ericka Lavender and the Student Athlete Academic Services (SAAS) staff for putting in long hours and extra effort to help our student-athletes adjust to the mid-semester switch to remote learning. This is a very proud day for University of Toledo Athletics.”

Lavender added, “I am extremely proud of our student-athletes, SAAS staff and coaches for their tremendous work and effort during such an unprecedented time this semester. I would like to thank the UToledo faculty, staff and administration. This could not be possible without their support.”

UToledo Assistant Director of Sports Medicine Named Division I Assistant Head Athletic Trainer of Year

University of Toledo Assistant Director of Sports Medicine Brad Pierson has been named the Division I Assistant Head Athletic Trainer of the Year by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) and the Intercollegiate Council for Sports Medicine (ICSM).

Each year, NATA and ICSM honor the hard work and dedication of outstanding individuals who have devoted their time, energy and talents to the betterment of the athletic training profession.

“I’m extremely honored to be recognized by the NATA and ICSM for this award,” Pierson said. “To be nominated by my peers for this award is extremely humbling. There are athletic trainers across the country that do amazing work day in and day out, and for me to be recognized in this group of professionals is pretty incredible. The opportunity to provide healthcare for some outstanding student-athletes makes the long days well worth it. I want to thank my co-workers, coaches, and department administrators, because without their support, I would not be successful in my work.”

Pierson recently completed his seventh season as a member of The University of Toledo sports medicine staff and second year as the assistant director of sports medicine and associate head athletic trainer. Pierson works directly with the women’s basketball program and also oversees the graduate assistant athletic trainers who cover the track and field and men’s and women’s cross country programs.

“As the ICSM awards committee reviewed the many exceptional nominees for the Staff Athletic Trainer of the Year Award, Brad rose to the top of the list,” said Steve Hillmer, a member of the ICSM Awards Committee. “Brad has been involved in increasing the quality and services provided to all of the student-athletes at The University of Toledo. His ability to work with various resources on campus to increase the care for the student-athletes is a model for every institution nationally. With all of his responsibilities on campus, Brad still finds the time and energy to serve the profession through his work at the state, regional and national level by volunteering on several committees. He is a role model for all athletic trainers in our profession.”

Pierson came to Toledo after spending two years at Mid-American Conference member Eastern Michigan, where he was the primary athletic trainer for the men’s basketball, crew and women’s volleyball teams.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic training in 2009 from Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, W.Va., before going to EMU to earn a master’s degree in exercise physiology in 2011 and working on the sports medicine staff as a graduate assistant.

In 2011, Pierson accepted a position at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology as an assistant athletic trainer and professor in the Physical Education Department.

A native of Charleston, W.Va., Pierson is a certified athletic trainer in the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.

“Brad is clearly one of the best young professionals I have worked with in my 22 years at Toledo,” said Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Brian Jones. “His passion for this profession, the care he provides to our student-athletes, and his compassionate personality truly make him a fantastic recipient of this award. I’m truly honored to have Brad as a member of our Toledo sports medicine family.”

Toledo Women’s Golf Program Receives Spirit Award

The University of Toledo women’s golf program has received the 2020 Women’s Golf Coaches Association’s Kim Moore Spirit Award.

“We are honored to be one of the Kim Moore Spirit Award recipients because Kim is an inspiration to all of us,” Head Coach Jenny Coluccio said. “Our 2019-20 season was a difficult one, not just for our team, but for everyone in college golf. We hope that our story has been an inspiration and motivation for others, and that is why we’re proud to share what we have been going through.

“I want to thank my team with the way they have been a rock for each other, held their heads high, and continued to use golf as a vehicle to help us move forward. I also want to thank our mental health, athletic training and administrative staff for helping us through our tough times.”

This award is dedicated to Kim Moore, who played golf for the University of Indianapolis (1999-2003). Moore was an inspiration to all as she persevered through many physical challenges while playing collegiate golf. Her positive outlook and dedication toward the game was only out done by her sense of humor and passion for the game.

The purpose of the award is to recognize and honor a student-athlete or coach who exemplifies a great spirit toward the game of golf, a positive attitude on and off the golf course, a role model for her team, and mental toughness in facing challenges.

In addition to the Rockets being honored in the team category, the Women’s Golf Coaches Association also honored Furman senior Carly Burkhardt and North Carolina State’s Head Coach Page Marsh.

For more information on the adversity and challenges the Rockets faced throughout the season, read Coluccio’s Rocket blog.

Dialogue Critical to Addressing Heart of Floyd Protests Across Country

Column written for and published in the June 3, 2020 edition of The Blade newspaper.

On Monday, May 25, George Floyd literally had his last breath squeezed from his body, akin to the lynching’s of thousands of African-American men and women in the American South up through the 1940s.

That awful image and moment in American history is played repeatedly on television and social media. More importantly, it is played repeatedly in the minds and hearts of many of us every day.

The killing of George Floyd and the aftermath make it difficult for me to separate my personal beliefs from my professional responsibilities as vice president of diversity and inclusion at The University of Toledo.

McKether

I am a professional African-American male who understands his privilege and responsibility to say something.

I will never again hear the words “I can’t breathe” without visualizing the image of the police officer’s knee deeply penetrating Mr. Floyd’s neck, and Mr. Floyd pleading for his life as he lies handcuffed on the ground.

In 2014, Eric Garner also died after a white police officer in New York held him in a choke hold that led to his death. He also cried out, “I can’t breathe.”

Now another unarmed African-American male has been killed at the hands of a white police officer.

To be clear, I believe the overwhelming majority of white police officers are good, law-abiding citizens who risk their lives each and every day to protect and serve our society. Like many of us, these brave men and women have families and loved ones, and at the end of their shifts, they want to go home safe and sound. I get it.

But what did George Floyd do to deserve his untimely and likely painful death? One could say his problem is that he was born male and black in America.

As an African-American male with three black sons, that is an awfully tough pill to swallow and feels too simplistic.

That pill is difficult, in part, because it means black men must bear the burden of surviving in ways men in other ethnic groups do not. It means that we must be mindful to double-dot our “i’s” and triple cross our “t’s” and know that our worth and contributions are scrutinized beyond that of our peers.

For many — not all — black men, women, and children, this is the reality.

That makes many black people, in particular our children, youths and young adults not OK. We are left asking ourselves, “What happened to being born with inalienable rights in our great country?”

While being born male and black in America may be part of the problem, I believe the larger problem is that we live in a society rooted in systemic racism that seemingly devalues the life of certain people — in this case, black men.

Let’s be honest, not all black men are perfect, and nor are all white men, or men from any ethnic group.

Regardless of our ethnic or racial differences, no one deserves to die an unnecessary tragic death at the hands of those sworn to protect us. That has to be our bond of humanity, regardless of our difference.

I am proud to work at an institution that is committed to the values of diversity, inclusion and equity, and stands in solidarity with those who mourn the tragic killing of George Floyd.

The University of Toledo in no way condones or supports violence of any type, but does support peaceful social protests.

As a member of our community, the University understands its responsibility to use its resources to help address societal issues such as racism.

We understand that it is our responsibility to teach our students important subjects such as American and Black History and the intersection of racism, race and class, and about privilege, diplomacy, respect for difference, and about social movements and protests through political science, sociology, anthropology, economics, education and many other disciplines.

Perhaps most importantly, we must care for our students, protect them, and include their voices in our work.

To address the killing of George Floyd and the larger issues of society, The University of Toledo will be hosting a series called “Dialogues on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity” composed of virtual town hall discussions designed to address a range of topics. The first in the series is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 4, through WebEx.

Please join us.

Dr. Willie McKether is vice president of diversity and inclusion, and vice provost, at The University of Toledo.

UToledo Psychologists Study How Americans Are Coping With Impacts of COVID-19

New research from The University of Toledo Department of Psychology aimed at establishing a baseline of how COVID-19 and social distancing measures to curb the spread of the disease are affecting Americans’ mental health uncovered something unexpected — individuals’ loneliness appears to be lessened the more they personally feel affected by the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that being under a stay-at-home order was broadly associated with increased health anxiety, financial worry and loneliness.

Tull

Even so, people who said that their lives had been significantly uprooted by COVID-19 consistently reported feeling less lonely relative to those who saw the pandemic’s disruption on their daily lives as more minor.

“COVID-19 can impact people in a number of ways. Parents may have had to take on new responsibilities at home, regular schedules and habits may be disrupted, or a person may be concerned about a loved one who is vulnerable for COVID-19,” said Dr. Matthew Tull, a UToledo psychology professor and lead author on the study. “It looks like it’s possible that those who feel COVID-19 has had a greater impact on their daily lives might be trying to connect more with people and access social support. This could have some positive mental health aspects down the road.”

The findings, Tull said, are consistent with suggestions that the shared experience of COVID-19 could increase closeness and social cohesion, similar to what has been seen following other mass tragedies.

The study was published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

That people are anxious about their health, worried about their finances, and feeling isolated from their communities in the face of a pandemic is natural and understandable. Researchers say anxiety can be a motivating factor that leads to helpful behaviors, such as taking seriously the recommendations of public health officials and being cautious in your own decisions and assessments of risk.

However, when people struggle to cope with that anxiety, it can lead to problematic behaviors — substance abuse, seeking medical care that isn’t needed for reassurance, or, alternatively, putting off an emergency room visit that could be life-saving over worries of contracting COVID-19.

Researchers surveyed 500 people between March 27 and April 5 — roughly the peak of stay-at-home orders that asked more than 300 million Americans to significantly limit interactions outside their own household. The age of those surveyed ranged from 20 to 74, with a mean age of 40. About 52% were male. Income was broken down into three brackets, with roughly one-third reporting annual household income of less than $35,000, one-third reporting earning between $35,000 and $64,999, and another third reporting household income of at least $65,000. Respondents represented 45 states.

The findings were generally uniform across the board, although people in lower income brackets reported more anxiety, financial worry and loneliness.

By getting a baseline of how Americans were being affected during the high point of stay-at-home orders, psychologists can better understand the long-term mental health impacts of the crisis.

“This is just an initial snapshot of where people are. It’s really setting the stage for the next stage of the study, which will look at how people are coping over time,” Tull said. “I think that’s going to be particularly fruitful and give us ideas in terms of what kind of interventions should be offered or needs should be addressed in the community. Our hope is this work might help us identify over time individuals who are particularly in need of services and how we can best connect with them.”

Tull and fellow UToledo researchers Dr. Kim Gratz and Dr. Jason Rose are gathering data for the second phase of their study.

UToledo Researchers Play Critical Role in Historic Mission to International Space Station

After a nine-year hiatus — and a weather delay last week — American astronauts have flown to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., instead of using seats aboard Russian spacecraft.

Scientists at The University of Toledo who are based at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland played a critical role in the historic SpaceX Demo-2 mission, which was successfully completed Sunday.

A team of engineers from NASA, UToledo, the University of Akron, Vantage Partners, Parker Hannifin and the Ohio Aerospace Institute developed and tested the main docking seal that secures the connection between the spacecraft and ISS. The seal prevents breathable air from escaping from the spacecraft, allowing astronauts and cargo to safely transition to the orbiting laboratory.

Taylor

“Anything that’s going to space is a major endeavor. There are extreme temperatures, tight tolerances, and a huge amount of testing to ensure everything works properly. That’s even more important when there are astronauts on board. It really adds another level of stringency,” said Shawn Taylor, a senior research associate in UToledo’s Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department.

The seal is an important part of the NASA Docking System, making it International Docking System Standard compliant to enable different spacecraft to dock to the space station. SpaceX developed its own unique docking system for Crew Dragon, but decided to use several components from the NASA Docking system, including the seal, to remain compliant.

Taylor was part of the team that worked to develop, perfect and test the craft’s main docking seal, working their way from simulations to full-scale testing of the seal to ensure it would properly attach and detach.

So rigorous were the requirements for testing how much air would leak through the seal that researchers had to come up with a whole new testing method. To help visualize just how tight a seal is needed, over the course of a day, no more air could escape than what would approximately fill something the size of a regulation softball, Taylor said.

On Sunday, Taylor watched the launch and docking from his parents’ home alongside his wife and their 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program were aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon as it approached the International Space Station. The Crew Dragon’s nose cone is open revealing the spacecraft’s docking mechanism that would connect to the Harmony module’s forward International Docking Adapter.

“It was somewhat surreal because I vividly remember sitting in the same living room when I was his age, watching the Space Shuttle launch,” he said. “As we watched the countdown and launch of the Crew Dragon, I was excited, nervous and proud to share such a great moment for America with my family.”

This mission was even more special for Taylor, knowing that he had contributed to the technology that enabled American astronauts to go back to the International Space Station from American soil.

“The docking on Sunday was especially memorable, as I could clearly see our team’s seal on the Crew Dragon vehicle as it approached the ISS,” he said. “This launch represents an exciting start to a new era in American exploration that will hopefully inspire new generations of scientists and engineers that will work to make our world a better place for all.”

The Crew Dragon is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership in which the agency contracted with SpaceX and Boeing to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations.

The vision is for private companies to someday fly customers to hotels in space and other celestial destinations.

“To think a part of our work is flying on that vehicle that’s going to enable a U.S. astronaut to fly from Florida and be able to make our space program be self-sufficient again — that’s huge,” Taylor said. “It’s really fun to see people be excited about space spaceflight and science.”

Toledo Women’s Basketball Ranks No. 26 Nationally in Home Attendance in 2019-20

The NCAA recently released its final home attendance figures for the 2019-20 season, and the Toledo women’s basketball team finished No. 26 in the country, averaging 3,844 fans per contest.

The Rockets also led the Mid-American Conference in attendance for an unprecedented 30th-consecutive season.

Toledo led the Mid-American Conference in attendance for an unprecedented 30th consecutive season in 2019-20, averaging 3,844 fans per game.

Toledo drew at least 4,000 fans to five contests during the year, including a season-best 5,051 against Western Michigan Feb. 22.

The Rockets have ranked in the top 30 nationally in home attendance in eight of the last nine years under Head Coach Tricia Cullop. The Midnight Blue and Gold also finished No. 28 (3,748) in 2011-12, No. 25 (4,012) in 2012-13, No. 24 (3,932) in 2013-14, No. 28 (3,636) in 2014-15, No. 24 (4,050) in 2015-16, No. 27 (3,744) in 2016-17, No. 31 (3,420) in 2017-18, and No. 30 (3,728) in 2018-19.

In 12 years under Cullop, Toledo is 144-47 (.754) on its home court, including 82-26 (.759) against conference opponents.

Toledo also has won at least 11 home contests in nine seasons under Cullop, including a school-record 19 victories during the 2010-11 campaign.

UToledo to Host Virtual Roundtable Discussion June 4 About Death of George Floyd

*NOTE: This article has been updated to include additional panelists participating in the conversation.

The University of Toledo is hosting a campus conversation about the death of George Floyd at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 4.

The free, public event titled “Dialogues on Diversity Virtual Townhall” can be accessed on WebEx using the access code 160 282 6992. The meeting password is HSfu4PQF6D3. Join by phone at 415.655.0002.

Participants include:

• UToledo Police Chief Jeff Newton;

• Benjamin Davis, UToledo law professor;

• Dr. Monita Mungo, UToledo assistant professor of sociology;

• Dr. La Tasha Sullivan, director of the University Counseling Center;

• Nick Thompson, president of Student Government;

• Anjali Phadke, vice president of Student Government;

• Nyah Kidd, president of the Black Student Union;

• Giselle Zelaya, president of the Latino Student Union;

• Asher Sovereign, of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance; and

• Darren Gordon, former president of the UToledo chapter of the Student National Medical Association.

“The events of the past week have brought to light the critical role higher education can and must play in facilitating open and honest discussions that empower us as a community and a nation to translate our ideals into actionable change,” Dr. Willie McKether, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said.

The University of Toledo is a community that celebrates and respects people of all backgrounds and experiences. As an institution, we remain committed to building an inclusive environment free of racism, sexism, bigotry and other negative influences.

UToledo Doctor of Pharmacy Grads Best in Country on Law Exam

The University of Toledo was the only accredited pharmacy program in the country whose 2019 graduates achieved a 100% passage rate on their in-state pharmacy law exam.

UToledo’s 2019 PharmD graduates also had the highest pass rate among the seven accredited pharmacy programs in Ohio on the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination.

The results were announced this spring.

“We are extremely proud of our graduates,” said Dr. Laurie Mauro, associate dean of academic affairs for UToledo’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Both of these exams were made significantly more challenging in recent years. Our students’ success speaks to their preparedness to practice pharmacy and the excellent instruction they’re getting at UToledo.”

The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) tests students’ knowledge of federal and state laws. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) measures a student’s knowledge of pharmacy practice. Both must be passed before a graduate can begin working as a licensed pharmacist.

UToledo’s first-attempt pass rate on the NAPLX was 95.7%, which not only was best in the state, but 23rd in the country out of 133 accredited programs.

All 76 doctor of pharmacy practice graduates passed the MPJE on their first attempt. The next best program on the MPJE recorded a 97.4% pass rate.

Mauro credited Dr. Anthony Pattin, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, for preparing students for the law exam. Though it’s only a small part of their curriculum, students need to effectively know the entire Ohio pharmacy law book.

“It’s a one-credit-hour course,” Pattin said of the Pharmacy Jurisprudence and Ethics class. “There’s no way I can teach them all the laws, so what’s really important for me is that they get used to reading the law. We cover the really important things, but some of the small nuances they may have to learn on their own. I structure the class in a way to give them practice in doing that. It gives them confidence that they can read this stuff, and as they progress, they get better.”

Further evidence of the strength of the UToledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ programs recently came from U.S. News & World Report, which ranked the college’s pharmacy graduate program at No. 57 in the county in the 2021 Best Graduate Schools list, up three spots from the prior year.