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Golfer Ready to Play Professionally After Overcoming Injuries

For the first time in almost six years, Grant Godfrey is feeling like himself again.

After spending nearly his entire career with The University of Toledo men’s golf program overcoming a life-threatening auto accident suffered when he was 16, the Rocket senior is finally fully healthy and eager to show what he can do on the golf course.

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 have never felt better physically,” Godfrey said. “I have zero back problems now. I have gained almost 20 pounds in the last year and a half. I’ve also gotten a lot stronger which has helped a lot thanks to [Strength and Conditioning] Coach [Steve] Murray.”

That’s saying something considering Godfrey shattered his ulna bone in his forearm and doctors needed to put five screws and a plate in his right elbow after that car accident Dec. 28, 2014. He was told at the time there was only a slim chance he would play golf again.

However, the Delaware, Ohio, native beat those odds and returned to the links 10 months later. Pain lingered in his back, though, and doctors discovered ankylosing spondylitis, a condition that made his spine less flexible and led him to take a redshirt season following his freshman year.

“Grant wasn’t able to get out of bed after playing golf at that point,” Head Coach Jeff Roope said. “It was something that was very frustrating because he possesses the talent to be a great golfer.”

After lots of hard work over the last two years to get healthy, Godfrey, along with his Rocket teammates, were starting to hit their stride this spring. But Toledo’s season and Godfrey’s college career came to a halt March 12 when the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Just two days earlier, the Rockets had turned in their best performance of the season at Auburn’s Tiger Invitational.

Golfer Grant Godfrey lines up his put

Grant Godfrey, who overcame a life-threatening auto accident, will receive his bachelor’s degree in marketing and plans to pursue a professional golf career.

“Our goal was to compete for the MAC Championship,” Godfrey said. “The starting five had just started to click as a group, and we were moving in the right direction. When it happened, it didn’t seem real. I’m still in a little bit of shock. Everything just ended so abruptly. There were a lot of unanswered questions for every sports team. The whole ‘What if?’ question still drives me crazy.”

With his college career over, Godfrey made the decision to play professional golf. He played in two tournaments in Florida before seeing that opportunity postponed as well.

Being part of a team is something that Godfrey said he will miss as he continues his golfing career. He said that fellow senior Rasmus Broholt Lind in particular provided him even more motivation.

“Rasmus had a big impact on me,” Godfrey said. “He helped push me on and off the course every single day. He helped make me a better man, and I can’t thank him enough.”

Unfortunately, walking across the stage at the Glass Bowl along with Lind is another memory Godfrey and his family will miss out on. Godfrey will receive his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the College of Business and Innovation.

“Earning a degree is a big thing for me and my family,” Godfrey said. “My dad was the first Godfrey to get a college degree, and I will now be the second. It’s a bummer for my family not being able to see me on stage receiving my diploma.”

Still, Godfrey is thankful for his time at UToledo and will take skills with him on his golfing journey that will last a lifetime.

“I have grown tremendously the past four years in all areas,” Godfrey said. “I’ve become a more well-rounded player and person. I have also learned how to be a leader and how to push people to be their best. I have become more resilient as a person. I had many ups and downs like many other athletes, but as bad as it got, I never gave up.”

Networking Opportunities Key to Law Graduate’s Success

Tessa Bayly, who graduates in May with her J.D. from the UToledo College of Law, didn’t follow a traditional path to law school. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, her post-graduate life won’t exactly follow a straight road, either.

Bayly was about two months into her dream internship when COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the country. Instead of waking up in Washington, D.C., and heading into work at the Securities and Exchange Commission, she now rolls out of bed and works remotely from her home in Waterville, Ohio.

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’m thankful I had the opportunity [at the SEC] in the first place and that they allowed me to continue to work remotely, even if the experience looks different than I expected,” she said.

Bayly’s entire academic career has looked different than she expected. She started out as a UToledo mechanical engineering student and switched to law and social thought after her second year.

She graduated in 2017 with her bachelor’s degree and went directly to law school, where she has set her own course.

“Tessa is a bright and inquisitive student, who has shown a limitless enthusiasm about learning the law,” said Law Professor Eric Chaffee. “I am excited to see where these qualities take her in her career. I am sure that she has a bright future ahead of her.”

When she first started law school, Bayly said she felt a bit adrift. She had no lawyers in the family. She only knew a handful of attorneys.

During a meeting over coffee, a former UToledo law student recommended Bayly join Toledo Law Review. Bayly took the advice and eventually won a spot as a note and comment editor for the student-edited journal.

Tessa Bayly

Bayly

Law Review became a defining experience, Bayly said, and the best preparation for her legal career.

“It opens doors,” she said. “Having that on my resumé helped me. It helped me become a better writer. I even had the chance to speak at the student symposium. It was a great opportunity. Presenting to all of those people was terrifying, but it showed me that, with God, I could succeed in the opportunities he’s provided me.”

The willingness of her professors to chat with her about career prospects was also helpful, she said, as were the networking opportunities that the UToledo College of Law offered with alumni and other legal professionals.

“It was nice for someone like me who didn’t know many lawyers or really what it meant to be a lawyer,” she said.

Tessa Bayly, who graduates in May with her J.D., was about two months into her dream internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission when COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the country.

After her first year, when she took some contracts and property classes, Bayly said she found her niche — corporate law. She secured two internships at an investment firm in the Chicago area.

At the SEC, she works in the Division of Enforcement investigating potential securities fraud, market manipulation and the like.

The abrupt end to her law school career feels anticlimactic, Bayly said. She didn’t get to say goodbye to her classmates or collect her diploma at a live commencement ceremony. Since starting law school, she’s looked forward to participating in her first graduation day. She didn’t attend her high school or undergraduate ceremonies.

She plans to take the bar exam this summer, hoping the state doesn’t cancel the July administration. She’d like to apply at the SEC ― one of her top job choices — which generally requires applicants to have taken the bar.

But Bayly has proven time and again that she’s nothing if not flexible.

“Everyone’s experiencing disappointment right now,” she said. “You just have to roll with it.”

Volleyball Player Ready to Make Impact Off the Court

In many ways, Zoe Birnbrich will leave The University of Toledo volleyball team in a class all her own. Which is fitting, because that’s exactly how she entered the program.

Birnbrich, who played her last match for the Toledo volleyball team last fall and is set to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy, finished her career with a 0.308 hitting percentage, second in program history.

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.

When the Dublin, Ohio, native arrived on campus in fall 2016, she was the only freshman on the team.

“It was very cool, but scary at the same time,” Birnbrich said. “Having no one to go back to the dorm with and talk about how practice went, or not having someone with the same schedule as me, that was hard.”

Birnbrich was lucky that her roommate, Abby Demboski, was a Toledo soccer player from the same hometown. But the volleyball and soccer teams had opposite schedules, so there were many weekends where one was home while the other was on the road.

“I was so scared to miss morning lifts if my alarm did not go off because no one could get into the dorm and get me,” Birnbrich said.

On the court, Birnbrich proved to be a valuable asset for the Rockets as a freshman, starting 19 of the 24 matches in which she played.

At every match and at every practice during Birnbrich’s time as a Rocket was Assistant Coach Bethany Lokken, who was hired in spring 2016. Birnbrich credited her with helping her not just as the only freshman getting started on the team, but throughout her whole career.

“She was my position coach, so she worked with me every day on the court,” Birnbrich said. “She helped me through everything in college and was the only person who stayed in my life at Toledo from freshman year to senior year.”

Zoe Birnbrich playing volleyball

Zoe Birnbrich, who finished her Rocket volleyball career with a 0.308 hitting percentage, second in program history, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy.

“Zoe is the first Rocket I had the privilege of coaching all four years,” Lokken said. “From her first days on campus to the end of her senior season, I saw a ton of growth not only as an athlete on the court, but also as a student, a teammate and a person.”

“Zoe was a great player and a fun person to be around,” added Head Coach Jason Oliver. “I know that we saw great improvement in her on and off the floor, and she dedicated a lot of time and energy to this program. I will miss our conversations and will look forward to seeing how she impacts the world around her.”

The final step for Birnbrich is a 14-week internship at a behavioral and mental health inpatient facility in her hometown of Dublin for the final credits she needs to graduate from the College of Health and Human Services.

“My classes and professors in my major really prepared me for life after college,” Birnbrich said. “We had to complete 250 hours of clinical experiences with many different populations, so I feel confident leading group sessions and knowing I can impact my clients’ lives.”

Arts and Letters Graduate is Embracing Every Opportunity

Standing on the main stage at Songfest 2019, where she was being inducted into the newest class of the Blue Key Honor Society’s chapter at The University of Toledo, Shelby Howard felt the full force of support she’s received during her college career.

As one of UToledo’s oldest traditions, Songfest draws hundreds to Savage Arena. In that moment when their attention was focused in her direction, she concentrated on the people in that crowd who supported her to achieving that milestone. Her parents, who had made a special trip to be there, and her Alpha Xi Delta sisters.

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.

“My time at UToledo has been like an ice cream sundae,” Howard said. “The experiences and what I’ve learned are the base, and being able to share Blue Key with others in my life, that was the perfect cherry on top.”

Howard will graduate with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology May 9 and has chosen to pursue a career in student affairs administration. She will begin graduate studies at Ball State University this fall.

“I’m excited to continue to serve the college community,” Howard said. “I want to help other students have the unforgettable undergraduate experience I’ve had.”

She has a wide, diverse range of involvement to draw from. While at UToledo, Howard has served as president of Alpha Xi Delta and Gamma Sigma Alpha, as secretary for the Residence Halls Association, as Mortar Board emcee, and as alumni relations director for Blue Key.

And as a first-generation college student, she found a particular passion for helping to guide incoming students through the Summer Scholars Underclassman Mentor Program.

Shelby Howard with parents

Shelby Howard, pictured here with her parents, Minda and Joe, will graduate May 9 from the College of Arts and Letters. An involved student on campus, Howard plans to pursue a career in student affairs administration.

“If I were to get involved with anything, I knew I would pour my heart into it,” Howard said. “The leadership and service of Alpha Xi Delta meant a lot to me. We help all women realize their potential — not only our sisters or fellow students, but all women.”

“Shelby is one of those students who cares about every single person she comes into contact with,” said Alex Zernechel, assistant director for Greek life in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership. “She models the way by making sure to reach behind her and bringing others along with her. I’m thrilled that she has decided to pursue a career in higher education because I know that she will have a lasting impact on anyone she is able to work with.”

Howard credits the students, instructors and organizations she’s collaborated with as having shaped her into the person she is today. During the unexpected transition to remote learning in her final semester as part of the university-wide response to coronavirus, she said her professors and classmates set a great example with their compassion, flexibility and resourcefulness.

And throughout her UToledo experience, Howard also has worked at SIP Coffee and as a babysitter. Her advice to other students? Find balance.

“College has been a lot more fun than I thought,” Howard said. “Embrace every opportunity, but also look out for your own physical and mental well-being.”

Nursing Leader Graduates Early to Join Fight Against Coronavirus

Rushing to the front lines comes naturally for Josh Howarth.

He enlisted with the Army National Guard in 2016, after earning a bachelor of science degree from The University of Toledo. The memory of the United States’ involvement in Iraq was fresh in his mind when making that decision — from both a military perspective and a humanitarian one.

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 paid close attention to the Iraq situation while in high school,” said Howarth, who through the individualized studies program earned his undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies with a pre-physician’s assistant concentration. “I always wanted to connect military service with nursing, but didn’t really know what that looked like.”

Four years later, Howarth will earn his second UToledo diploma today — a master of science in nursing degree through the Clinical Nurse Leader Program — a few weeks early. In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the University is allowing more than 275 medical and nursing students the option of graduating early.

Howarth has always thrived in fast-paced environments that allow him to help people. He welcomes the opportunity to take his UToledo education to the field sooner than expected, joining other healthcare professionals fighting coronavirus directly.

His passion for serving veterans was stoked early. Howarth’s first job in his native Flat Rock, Mich., was caring for the grounds at the cemetery of a community church with his father, David. He remembers planting flags and making other preparations in honor of Veterans Day.

Josh Howarth

Josh Howarth will earn his second degree from UToledo — master of science in nursing degree through the Clinical Nurse Leader Program — a few weeks early taking advantage of the University’s efforts to help respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic by allowing medical and nursing students to graduate early.

Throughout his education, Howarth has continued to sharpen his skills in nursing beyond the classroom working night shifts as a nursing assistant at Regency Hospital, an acute care facility in the Toledo area. And he’s drawn valuable insights from interprofessional team simulations, completing a seminar for mental health first aid and participating in academic boot camp activities.

“Whether we students want to be respiratory therapists, speech pathologists or physicians, when we get into the real world we have to be able to collaborate,” Howarth said. “These experiences have been great because I’ve been able to network with colleagues and people I might never have met.”

Entering the profession during an unprecedented public health crisis doesn’t intimidate Howarth.

“The field of nursing is ever-changing. I’ve learned you have to be comfortable with a little chaos.”

94-Year-Old Boxing Legend Dies From COVID-19 Weeks Before Graduation

Carmen Williamson didn’t go down without a fight.

The 94-year-old student at The University of Toledo and one of the nation’s top amateur boxers during the 1940s and 1950s lost his last bout in a hospital room.

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.

Williamson, who eventually hung up his boxing gloves and traveled the globe as a prominent judge and referee representing the United States during Olympic and World Championship competitions, died last week from COVID-19, less than a month shy of graduation.

The first African-American man to officiate boxing in the Olympics — for which he received a gold medal in the 1984 Olympic Games — was scheduled to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from University College on May 9.

Williamson has five daughters, including Dr. Celia Williamson, Distinguished University Professor and director of the UToledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute.

“My dad loved education and was so proud to be finally getting his degree,” she said. “He was very strong. He fought lots of fights through the decades. He was living his best life – still driving and going to school and independent.”

Celia last saw her dad in March when Toledo City Council recognized him as part of Black History Month with a proclamation honoring his achievements.

Carmen and Celia Williamson at Toledo City Council

Carmen Williamson, 94, right, was recognized in March by Toledo City Council with a proclamation honoring his achievements as part of Black History Month celebrations. His daughter, Dr. Celia Williamson, UToledo Distinguished University Professor, joined him at the council meeting.

Born in Toledo in 1925, Williamson was raised by a single mom. He dropped out of high school to work and help the family.

“Back then there weren’t any avenues for young black men. Boxing was a way out of the streets that also taught you discipline and nutrition,” Celia said. “They lived in a high-crime area where it was pretty dangerous in poverty and racism. Instead of getting himself in trouble and to protect himself from trouble, he used his time to box.”

The 112-pound boxer ended his amateur career in the ring with a record of 250 wins and 14 losses.

Instead of pursuing a professional career, Williamson started working with troubled youth in the community and trained them to be boxers.

“Many were successful and owe the positive turn in their life to their mentor and coach,” his daughter said.

Carmen Williamson boxing

Carmen Williamson, who was preparing to graduate from University College with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, right, was one of the nation’s top amateur boxers during the 1940s and 1950s. He went on to serve as a prominent judge and referee representing the United States during Olympic and World Championship competitions.

Williamson, who served in the U.S. Navy and later earned his GED in his 60s, retired after working for nearly half a century as a civilian employee for the U.S. Army’s automotive tank division in Warren, Mich.

“He had a desk job. He wore a suit and tie to work every day,” Celia said. “He worked for 42 years and only missed two days of work. At his retirement party, his co-workers joked, ‘If there was a blizzard, Carmen would be here.’ He was happy to have a job and get his GED.”

In the 1980s, Williamson became involved with USA Amateur Boxing.

He developed a curriculum and began to travel all over the world teaching the sport to young men and preparing them to compete with other countries.

“My dad visited nearly 100 countries, but I’m especially proud that he volunteered to take on assignments in dark, warn-torn countries like Sierra Leone,” Celia said. “White trainers wouldn’t go there, so he trained African and Caribbean men to compete.”

In 1984, Williamson officiated the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and was given an honorary gold medal as the first African-American official to receive this honor.

Olympic Gold Medal

In 1984, Carmen Williamson officiated the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and was given an honorary gold medal. He was the first African-American official to receive this honor.

“He has helped countless young men in Toledo and all over the world find focus and discipline in their lives,” Celia said. “His Olympic gold medal is a symbol that he achieved greatness. My dad is my hero and an American hero.”

But he wasn’t done. In 2000, the 74-year-old recipient of the African-American Sports Legend Award went to college.

“My dad first wanted to make sure he paid for my college before it was his turn,” Celia said. “He just wanted the education. A degree from The University of Toledo was the goal. I remember he took an Africana studies class and flew to Africa to look around, bring things back and give them to the class. He would sit in the front row. He loved education.”

During his last semester, the coronavirus pandemic spread to the United States and Toledo.

As campus closed and professors starting teaching classes remotely, Williamson was in and out of the hospital. At first, doctors thought he had a rare kind of pneumonia.

“When we found he tested positive for the coronavirus, doctors tried experimental drugs,” Celia said. “He did have diabetes, so I think his age and condition contributed to what happened. But it was a terrible situation. We couldn’t be by his side. The doctors and nurses were his family for the end.”

Celia and her sisters, left to grieve while social distancing, plan to host a memorial service once the pandemic clears and everyday life resumes.

But it turns out their dad did leave them one more success to celebrate.

The Provost’s Office will be asking the UToledo Board of Trustees at its next meeting to award Carmen Williamson’s degree posthumously.

“I was disappointed for him because he was there. He was taking his final three classes,” Celia said. “But he did it. Living or dead, doesn’t matter. He’ll have the degree he earned. That’s what he always wanted. We are grateful and hope he inspires another generation to work hard and take care of themselves and their families.”

Cosmetic Science Major Matches Love of Chemistry With Interest in Makeup

Roanne Reyes didn’t learn about The University of Toledo’s Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program until the second semester of her senior year of high school.

The Illinois native was looking at schools closer to home, but a near-random connection online introduced her to UToledo — and changed her path forever.

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 was on Facebook, and there was an article talking about a woman who started her own business after she had studied cosmetic science,” she said. “And I thought ‘That’s a thing? People do that?’”

They do, but not just anywhere. UToledo’s Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program is one of the only of its kind in the entire country. The program, which focuses on the science behind personal products we use every day, promised the opportunity to learn about virtually every aspect of the cosmetic production process. Reyes was hooked.

“I’ve always loved science,” she said. “I was in AP chemistry and AP biology in high school, and I’ve always loved makeup and the idea of working in makeup production.”

She got to do just that and a whole lot more as a pharmaceutical sciences major — with minors in chemistry and professional sales to boot. In her four years at UToledo, Reyes has learned about producing all types of personal-care products, from makeup to shampoos, conditioners, deodorant and even baby-care products.

“If you have touched any personal-care product in the past 24 hours, we’ve probably made it or have had a hand in creating those kinds of products,” Reyes said.

“If you have touched any personal-care product in the past 24 hours, we’ve probably made it or have had a hand in creating those kinds of products,” said Roanne Reyes, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences through the University’s unique Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program.

Reyes also spent time researching the effects of ingredients in personal-care products, a key aspect of the pharmaceuticals industry. Every product intended for human use or consumption has to be rigorously researched and tested, a process she now knows well.

“I spent 10 weeks studying the effects of penetration enhancers on caffeine penetration into the skin,” she said. “The studies that I ran were 24-hour studies, so I had to be in the lab all the time.”

Her research paid off with several speaking engagements; she presented her findings at the Ohio Valley and Michigan chapters of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, as well as at a sunscreen symposium. She’s also planning to publish a paper on the research with Dr. Gabriella Baki, UToledo assistant professor of pharmaceutics and director of the Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program.

“I found Roanne to be a dedicated, enthusiastic and reliable researcher who worked well with little supervision,” Baki said. “She had great ideas and creative solutions for problems that would come up during the research projects. I cannot wait to see all the great things she will accomplish in her career.”

Reyes hopes to land a job on the East Coast after her May 9 graduation. She’s aiming for a position as a formulation chemist, preferring lab work to the sales part of the industry.

Math Graduate Prepares for Career Using Statistics to Fight Infectious Disease

Jenna Bedrava is comfortable with uncertainty.

Sure, it doesn’t sound that way. After all, she’s graduating May 9 from The University of Toledo with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a concentration in statistics and a minor in public health, a well-defined major if there ever was one. But uncertainty — and the battle against it — have defined her time at UToledo, leading her to a career path where she’ll join the fight against infectious disease on the front lines.

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.

Bedrava arrived at UToledo without a major, but that was part of the appeal.

“Coming in undecided was the reason I chose The University of Toledo,” she said. “A lot of my high school friends had very specific things they wanted to do. I was the only one who didn’t. They all chose schools based on their degrees, and a lot of them didn’t even end up graduating with those degrees.”

Banking on UToledo’s support for undecided students, she quickly connected with success coach Malaika Bell. Together, they identified a major of mathematics with a concentration in actuarial sciences by the end of her freshman year while also working through the challenge of avoiding comparisons to high school classmates who identified academic paths much earlier.

“We met regularly during her first year,” Bell said. “During these meetings, we discussed the fact that she should not compare her real-life experiences at UToledo to the highlight reel of her friends at other universities.”

But when a health incident landed her in the hospital, Bedrava wanted to try something new. Her academic advisor steered her toward statistics, coupling her math background with her growing interest in public health.

“Of course, I’d taken a bunch of stats classes before, but I’d never thought of getting a degree in it,” Bedrava said. “I realized that you can do so much with stats.”

Jenna Bedrava, who will graduate May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, is a member of Chi Omega sorority at UToledo. She plans to continue her education toward a career in biostatistics to help fight infectious diseases.

It proved to be the perfect fit. Bedrava pursued and landed a key research opportunity at the University of Michigan, studying the emerging and in-demand field of biostatistics. She connected with a fellow student who studied infectious diseases, a perfect medical application for her statistics skills.

Public health depends on statistics to inform policy decisions. Government and health organizations need reliable data to coordinate responses, and someone with statistical experience and public health understanding can provide just that, helping to stop the spread of disease by identifying where it may pop up next. Someone with Bedrava’s interests could be uniquely positioned to help in our current health climate — or one like it in the future.

“There are definitely people who do what I want to do working on COVID-19 and that’s really interesting,” she said. “I’m definitely excited to research infectious disease, and, hopefully, I can do that in my master’s program. It’s something I’ve been interested in, and this has only increased that.”

She’ll begin pursuing a master’s degree in biostatistics at the University of Michigan this fall, with plans to continue on to pursue a Ph.D., though she’s not certain yet. But as Bedrava can tell you, a little uncertainty is OK. She overcame it at UToledo and has gone on to thrive in a unique program built to suit her interests.

“It’s really meaningful having something specific you’re going into that you’re really passionate about,” she said. “Obviously, it’s a lot different than when I was as a freshman. Either way, I think Toledo has been great in finding the resources I need.”

Defensive End Made Impact Despite Injuries That Kept Him Off Football Field

There was never much doubt that Obi Anunike would be a college student-athlete.

The son of Nigerian immigrants, Anunike has three older siblings who all played college sports. His brother Kenny played in the NFL, while his sisters Adaora (track at Miami) and Ganiru (volleyball at Case Western) were standouts in their own right. So it was no surprise when the 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound defensive lineman out of Olentangy High School near Columbus was offered a scholarship to play football at The University of Toledo.

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.

Anunike’s college career took a different path than his siblings, however. Beginning his sophomore year in high school through his sophomore year with the Rockets, he had six football-related surgeries. After the last one, following a knee injury at practice in 2018, he was told by the team medical staff that his football career was over.

“The hard part was it came just at the time I was going to get my first chance to play in a game,” Anunike said. “It was the week after we beat Nevada. Coach [Brian] George (defensive coordinator) told me that I would be playing in the next game. That’s when I tore my ACL in practice, a day before the next game.

“I underwent five surgeries before I tore my ACL, but this one was the toughest, mentally and physically. The rehab took 11 months. I came to realize that my body could no longer take the stress of playing football.”

Surprisingly, very little changed for Anunike after he became medically disqualified to play football. He continued to go to all the team meetings, all the practices and all the games — home and away — as a student assistant. He took on the role of signaling the defense in both practices and games.

Obi Anunike with Family

Rocket football defensive end Obi Anunike, far right, posed for a photo with his family, from left, Kenny, brother; Adaora, sister; Oby, mother; Ganiru, sister; and Emmanuel, his father. Anunike is graduating from the College of Business and Innovation.

“Obi never let his circumstances dictate the outcome of his life,” Toledo Head Coach Jason Candle said. “When something is taken from you, your character is defined by how you respond. His football career was taken from him, but he did everything he could to stay involved with the team. He came to practice, he volunteered for community service, his grades were outstanding. He did as much for this team off the field as anybody in our program.”

One thing that stayed constant for Anunike after his playing days were over was his emphasis on academics. Assuming he receives all A’s this spring term, he will graduate May 9 from the College of Business and Innovation with bachelor’s degrees in finance and management with a perfect 4.0 cumulative GPA. Growing up, it was understood that grades always came first.

“I give a lot of credit to my parents,” said Anunike, who in addition to exceling in the classroom also served as the football team’s representative on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. “They knew that education was the only way out for them, so they emphasized that for us. My father earned his Ph.D., and my mother also earned her bachelor’s degree. They wanted to raise a family in this country, and education made that possible.”

His plans for a family reunion at this spring’s graduation ceremony at the Glass Bowl were wiped out, like so many other things, by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he is philosophical about it.

“My family was going to come in for my graduation from New York, Cincinnati, Cleveland, all over,” he said. “Sure it’s disappointing, but people are sick and dying. That really shifts your perspective.”

After graduation, Anunike plans to pursue a career in finance. No matter what his future holds, there is no doubt that he made an impact on the Toledo football program without ever having played a single down.

“Obi is a perfect example of a true student-athlete,” Candle said. “He’s the picture of how sports can help shape you as a person no matter what you did on the field.”