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Ph.D. Candidate Aims to Impact Next Generation of Mental Health

Clark Ausloos wanted to find a way to have the biggest possible impact on the world.

A Ph.D. candidate in The University of Toledo’s Counselor Education Program, his goal has always been to serve people who consistently face discrimination or who find themselves underrepresented in traditional mental health communities. Through his doctoral program, he’s found a way to not only help those people individually, but to raise the overall quality of care received by the entire population.

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.

As a researcher and instructor in best practices for serving marginalized or stigmatized populations, Ausloos gets a chance to shape the future of mental healthcare.

“I can teach other future counselors how best to work with their clients,” he said. “So, in a way, I’m fortunate to be able to impact clients’ lives, as well as students and their families through my teaching.”

Fueled in part by a 2019 grant from the National Board for Certified Counselors Foundation, Ausloos is working to identify new ways to make sure all clients and students get the same level of care, regardless of their affectional or sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression.

“I’d like to work toward competencies and standards that counselors can use both in schools and in clinical counseling settings,” he said.

Clark Ausloos presents research

Clark Ausloos, a Ph.D. candidate in UToledo’s Counselor Education Program, presented his research with doctoral student Lena Salpietro at the North Central Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Conference.

He’s already making strides. Dr. Madeline Clark, one of Ausloos’s research partners, said their work has produced a set of best practices for working with specific demographic groups.

“Clark developed a research agenda that focuses on supporting trans and gender expansive youth in mental health and school settings, publishing multiple articles in peer-reviewed journals,” she said.

It’s a great result for any researcher, but it’s especially rewarding for Ausloos, who admitted he wasn’t excited about the idea of committing to a life of research early on.

“It’s something that can be really intimidating to people, and UToledo really allowed me to stand on my scholarly legs and really excel in that way,” he said. “I thought it’d be really scary. Now I realize that it’s just asking questions and being curious about things.”

In addition to his research and teaching activities, Ausloos also has worked to support access to mental healthcare at UToledo. A member (and later president) of the Chi Sigma Iota counseling honor society, he participated in an annual Wellness Fair at UToledo. The event was specifically designed to showcase new ways to stay healthy on college campuses in addition to highlighting community wellness initiatives students might not otherwise have known about. The educational aspect of the event fit perfectly with Ausloos’ ongoing focus on education and awareness.

Clark Ausloos posed with students

Clark Ausloos consults with various groups on campus, including providing these students tips and tricks to manage stress during final exams.

After graduation, Ausloos plans to continue his research work while finding new opportunities to help students gain counseling and mental health-related skills, a focus he thinks will continue to boost the next generation of mental health professionals.

“To hear stories about my students using interventions with clients, and how those clients go on to do well after that, I feel fortunate to be able to have that impact.”

Getting Involved Fueled Engineering Graduate’s Passion for Environment

Elizabeth Markert was inspired to get involved from her first moments on campus.

She joined Engineers Without Borders after seeing a student presentation her freshman year, and has helped to raise money and write grants and proposals, most recently for a project to supply water to an indigenous tribe of 2,000 people in Kenya.

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 work includes providing pumps, generators and a concrete storage tank, where previously the tribe had to travel 15 kilometers for clean water. Plans for Markert to travel to Kenya were canceled due to COVID-19, but the experience has taught her about herself.

“I’m not the leader type, traditionally,” said Markert, who will graduate May 9 with her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering. “But working with Engineers Without Borders has helped me grow into it, to figure out how to lead and become better at it.”

She connects her Louisville, Ky., roots to her initial interest in pursuing her degree program.

“I was a student that always liked school,” said Markert, whose favorite subject growing up was English. “My parents were very environmentally conscious. We volunteered with the parks conservancy in Louisville to pull invasive species of vines when I was younger; I really enjoyed that and it stuck with me.”

Another opportunity that made an impact was during her first year when Markert indulged her creative side as a carpenter for the UToledo Department of Theatre and Film. It’s a role she’s kept throughout her time at the University and a passion that she will continue.

“I plan to volunteer for the arts no matter wherever I live after graduation,” Markert said. “It’s wonderful to see a show, to have a sense of accomplishment, and see what I made and designed be part of an experience for so many people.”

Elizabeth Markert

Elizabeth Markert credits study abroad opportunities, such as in Trinidad and Tobago in 2019 with an environmental sciences class, with shaping her experience at UToledo.

As part of the nationally recognized mandatory co-op program in the College of Engineering, Markert was able to complement her activities on campus with three consecutive summers working for Gresham Smith, an architecture, transportation and engineering firm with offices in Louisville. One of her favorite projects was helping to design bike lanes around the city, which allowed her to see the real-time impact and benefits of her work for the community.

Dr. Defne Apul, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, saw Markert’s creativity firsthand through her senior design class and research on the environmental cost of recycling photovoltaic technology.

“The sky is the limit for Elizabeth. It has been an amazing experience working with her,” Apul said. “What do we want our students to have? Problem solving and critical thinking? Excellent time management and communication? Leadership and being a change agent? Elizabeth has demonstrated all of these skills and more.”

Some of Markert’s greatest experiences at UToledo came from continents away when she was able to travel to Beijing, China, with the Department of Theatre and Film in 2017 and to Trinidad and Tobago with an environmental sciences class in 2019.

“Those study abroad opportunities were the best parts of UToledo for me,” Markert said. “I was able to work with film and music students in China, and study endangered wildlife in South America. It changed my life.”

Softball Player Never Gave Up

Morgan Paaverud has been filled with a competitive spirit since grade school. Growing up in Anoka, Minn., she earned a spot on her high school’s swim team as a seventh-grader. She excelled in that sport to the point where she qualified for the state meet as a sophomore and junior.

During that time, however, she discovered a passion for softball. By her sophomore year, she was traveling around the country, competing in national tournaments and improving her skills. It was then that she started to realize where her future lay.

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.

“As I started putting more time into softball, I developed friendships with teammates who also had the love for softball and dreamed about playing college softball,” Paaverud said. “They pushed me to work even harder than I was. I began to fall in love with it. Swimming definitely kept me in shape, but my heart was in softball.”

It was that love for softball that brought Paaverud to the Glass City as she accepted a scholarship to play for the Rockets in 2016. Her experience at UToledo lived up to her expectations and more.

“My experience as a softball player here was unbelievable,” Paaverud said. “It molded me into the person I am today. I learned the true meaning of what hard work really is. From putting in the extra practice time, to 6 a.m. workouts, to the time spent in the classroom.”

Paaverud’s academic efforts can be seen by her 3.65 grade-point average. She will receive her bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy Saturday, May 9. It’s a field that is responsible for planning, organizing and directing recreational activities to promote health and well-being for patients who are physically, mentally or emotionally disabled. She plans on taking a national exam to become a recreational therapist in July and then apply for occupational therapy school in fall 2021.

Morgan Paaverud posed for a photo during a UToledo class trip to the Smoky Mountains to learn how to facilitate an outdoors group while navigating risks when hiking in the mountains.

“I really didn’t know what recreational therapy was as a freshman, but a former academic advisor thought I would like it and the impact it has on individuals,” said Paaverud, who arrived on the UToledo campus as an exercise science major. “It has been the best experience. Our Recreational Therapy Program is one of the best in the country and prepares you for the real world. There are five different clinical rotations and an internship that prepares us to be the best therapist possible.”

Paaverud also was pushed to excel on the softball diamond. After coming off the bench in her first two seasons as a Rocket, she opened her junior year as the team’s starting first baseman. Midway through the year, though, she was hitting just .111 at the plate, nowhere close to her own expectations. She found herself on the bench, but wasn’t ready to quit on herself.

Paaverud

“Morgan came to me asking for another shot at playing time,” Coach Joe Abraham said. “She wasn’t hitting well and had been benched the previous weekend against Akron. We were playing Oakland in a mid-week doubleheader, and I was planning to give her one start anyway. We started her in the first game and she had a huge game. Then we started her in game two. She had another big game. She was a starter for us from that point forward.”

“The key for me was to be relentless,” Paaverud said. “I knew that if I wanted something, I needed to keep working for it. I knew if I wanted to be a starter, I had to have an outstanding game. I happened to go 6 for 7 with a home run and five RBIs that day. It was the best day I have ever had in my career. It showed me the importance of working hard and to keep pushing to get what you want.”

Paaverud and her teammates displayed that same attitude at the end of their 2019 season. That’s when the Rockets came out of the consolation bracket to become the lowest seed ever to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

“We never gave up. We kept pushing and grinding it out until it was over,” Morgan said. “I feel like that is a true definition of anything is possible. We barely made it into the tournament as the No. 7 seed and then won five games in less than 48 hours to win it all. It felt like I was on cloud nine for the week after we won it. It still feels surreal. It’s a memory I will cherish forever in my softball career as a Rocket.”

Business Graduate Brings Servant Leader Mindset to Human Resources Career

When Carley Palmer is sitting across from someone as a recruiter and getting to know them, she is truly in her element.

The human resource management major has developed that passion throughout her time at The University of Toledo, and she will join Owens Corning’s human resources team after receiving her bachelor’s degree in business administration May 9.

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.

In addition to its beautiful campus, Palmer chose UToledo on the strength of its student organizations and found her place in the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. While she started as a nursing major, she discovered a niche for herself when meeting and developing new members for the organization — where she ultimately served as vice president for recruitment.

“I took a tour of UToledo and fell in love,” Palmer said. “I knew right away I wanted to be involved in Greek life. Alpha Omicron Pi taught me a lot about servant leadership, and I wouldn’t have found my career path without that experience.”

Palmer’s resumé includes a broad set of experiences that have paralleled her work in the classroom. As part of the Klar Leadership Academy in 2019, she learned the importance of aligning the complementary skills of classmates and colleagues.

“Being involved with Klar really taught me how important it is to work as a team,” Palmer said. “I learned that when working toward a common cause, my strengths will offset others’ weaknesses and vice versa.”

She began learning some of the basic principles of human resources during an internship with MaritzCX, a customer experience and research company. There, she saw how critical it is to recruit the best people and how high employee turnover rates can devastate productivity.

Carley Palmer in front of Owens Corning sign

An internship with Owens Corning led Carley Palmer to a full-time position at the company’s world headquarters in Toledo after she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in human resource management.

During an internship with Owens Corning the following summer, she connected what she learned in class with real-time assignments at one of the company’s facilities in Aiken, S.C.

“That was one of my most challenging, yet rewarding experiences,” Palmer said. “One project was to create a training program that would get approved by the employees’ union. I actually used a proposal developed in class to help develop the program, and it resulted in a pay increase for people. To see that impact makes me excited to join the profession.”

Palmer will begin a three-year rotational development program at Owens Corning’s world headquarters in Toledo this summer.

She is one of the 2020 recipients of the Student Pacemaker Award, the College of Business and Innovation’s highest honor that recognizes individuals for outstanding achievement in business as well as contributions to the community.

“Carley has been an amazing, resourceful and driven student since she came to the College of Business and Innovation,” said Alison Devolder, a co-worker of Palmer’s in the Business Career Programs office, where she has worked part time since 2017.

“She has been able to easily translate her passion for human resource management and marketing to the benefit of the office. I am excited for her as she journeys on to what I know will be a bright future.”

Inquisitive Medicine Graduate Ready to Help Patients

Jack Edminister can trace his inquisitive nature back to his childhood.

At the age of 6, his 8-year-old brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He began asking questions as part of that new challenge for his family — and showing the hunger for knowledge that would foreshadow his later career.

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.

“Once my brother was diagnosed, I quickly became interested in some unfamiliar words and concepts,” said Edminister, who will graduate with a doctor of medicine degree Friday, May 15, from the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “I started asking what a pancreas is, what insulin does and why it’s important. Those were life-saving pieces of information for my brother.”

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, Edminister followed up that early curiosity with a request to his instructors during his sophomore year in high school to allow him to take an AP chemistry class as a junior. He and a friend successfully lobbied and were able to take the course the following year.

Edminister went on to earn a bachelor of science in biology from Ohio State University in 2014.

“During my undergraduate experience, the idea was there, of how to use my love of science,” Edminister said. “But once I interviewed at The University of Toledo for medical school, I knew this was where I belonged. The collaborative atmosphere among everyone I met, students and faculty, made me feel right at home.”

As he made his way through medical school, Edminister ultimately settled on dermatology as his field of medicine. While it’s a competitive specialty, the choice was made clear by a combination of faculty mentorship and his interactions with patients during clinical rotations.

“My experiences showed me that I wanted to impact people directly, not from behind the scenes,” Edminister said. “I saw firsthand how certain dermatological patients would enter the clinic very defeated by their conditions and would leave more confident as they received treatment. I’m invigorated by helping people in that way.”

Jack Edminister White Coat Ceremony

Jack Edminister, second from left, received his white coat when starting medical school at UToledo in 2016. Edminister, pictured here with his brother, George, left, mother, Alice, and father, John, is specializing in dermatology.

Dr. Lorie Gottwald, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Dermatology, is one of the instructors who inspired Edminister to pursue dermatology as a career.

“His sensitivity toward patients is unparalleled; he makes everyone comfortable and confident in his presence,” Gottwald said. “He is the kind of individual you would be proud to call a brother, a son, a family member. I am just extremely proud to call him my student. I know he will make his mark.”

During UToledo’s virtual Match Day event in March, Edminister learned that he will perform his three-year residency at Wake Forest University beginning in July 2021. First, however, his transitional year as a medical intern will be completed at hospitals of the Mercy Health system in the Toledo area.

Edminister expects the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis to play a large role during that transitional year. He’s better able to face that challenge thanks to two things: the support he received during medical school, and a bedside manner reflected in his induction to the Gold Humanism Honor Society after being nominated by his peers and UToledo faculty.

“It was a huge honor to be selected. That’s why I’m going into medicine, to impact people in a positive, respectful way,” Edminister said.

“We’re entering the medical field at an interesting time. But the people around me always believed in me, perhaps more than I believed in myself. I’m honored to call this year’s other graduates my colleagues.”

Student-Athlete Gained Lifelong Impact From Basketball

To say that Luke Knapke took advantage of his basketball scholarship from The University of Toledo would be an understatement.

On the hardwood, Knapke went from becoming a big man “project” out of high school to becoming one of the best centers in Rocket history. In the classroom, he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree during his five years on campus. It goes without saying he is extremely thankful for the opportunity he was provided.

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.

“Being part of the basketball program was very, very special to me,” Knapke said. “I made a lot of great friendships and had the pleasure of being led by a lot of great coaches. Each person that was a part of Toledo basketball impacted me in a way that I will not forget.”

Rocket fans certainly won’t forget Knapke’s contributions on the court. He was part of teams that won 82 games and a pair of Mid-American Conference West Division titles. He finished his career as the program’s all-time leader in blocked shots and is one of five individuals to score more than 1,400 points and grab at least 800 rebounds.

Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk credits much of Knapke’s on-court success to his determination to be the best.

“Luke is one of the hardest workers I’ve coached,” Kowalczyk said. “We knew there was a good possibility he would be a very good player, but to his credit, he put the work in every day to reach his potential.”

That type of perseverance transferred into the classroom as well for Knapke, who was a double major in marketing and management as an undergrad. After graduating in May 2019, the four-time Academic All-MAC team member continued his studies and will receive his master’s degree in recreation and leisure studies this spring. Outside of the classroom, the Maria Stein, Ohio, native also completed summer internships with the Toledo Mud Hens, Toledo Walleye and Team Sports.

Luke Knapke finished his Toledo career as the program’s all-time leader in blocked shots and is one of five individuals to score more than 1,400 points and grab at least 800 rebounds.

“I learned different things from each of my internships,” Knapke said. “With the Mud Hens and Walleye, I Iearned how promotions are developed. I also saw how they set up their ticket and merchandise sales for their fans. With Team Sports, I found out about what really goes into the equipment side of sports.”

His experiences on and off the court have allowed Knapke to grow into the person he is today.

“I am a much better leader than I was coming in as a freshman,” Knapke said. “I am much more comfortable talking with people I may not know, and I know what it takes to be successful outside of basketball based off what we learned in basketball.”

Now Knapke is ready to explore the world using the tools he acquired as a member of the men’s basketball program. Next fall, he will begin his professional career in Belgium.

“Playing professional basketball is something I’ve always dreamed of and it feels really good to have the opportunity to make that a reality.”

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.”