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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.


“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.”

UToledo Electrical Engineer Leading Charge to Build Ventilators in the Congo

Feeling powerless to help her native country in Africa amid the coronavirus pandemic, an electrical engineer at The University of Toledo found a way for people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to build their own breathing machines from scratch using equipment and materials accessible to them.

Using Twitter, Dr. Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga, assistant professor of electrical engineering technology, tapped into her worldwide network of engineers with ties to the DRC and engineers and students inside the country.


Mubenga is the founder of the STEM DRC Initiative, a nonprofit organization that has awarded scholarships to pay all associated costs, including transportation and books, for more than 60 students in the Congo to go to college since 2018.

“There are less than 1,200 ventilators in a country with nearly 85 million people, and about 50 of those machines are in the capital city of Kinshasa,” Mubenga said. “Kinshasa will need a minimum of 200 ventilators by mid-May when COVID-19 cases are expected to peak in the Congo.”

In the DRC, there are more than 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, more than 40 deaths caused by the new coronavirus, and about 3,000 suspected cases. An estimate last week showed the country had a maximum capacity of 200 tests per day for the whole country.

“When I was watching the news here in Ohio and heard the president of the United States announce that General Motors was going to build 100,000 ventilators, I thought, ‘What is going on in the Congo?’” Mubenga said. “We have the opportunity, means, technology and knowledge to do that here, but the Congo is a state that is rebuilding its infrastructures with very few factories for assembly.”

In three weeks, the team of about 20 people who answered her call to volunteer worked together — through videoconferencing and emails — and developed a prototype of a life-saving ventilator using open-source specs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The working prototype next needs to undergo testing and certification, which Mubenga hopes to accomplish by the end of this year.

Nicole Bisimwa, a student at Loyola University in Congo, is helping to build ventilators.

“It costs up to 30,000 U.S. dollars to buy a ventilator right now,” Jonathan Ntiaka Muzakwene, who teaches engineering on the faculty of Loyola University of Congo, said. “Dr. Mubenga is timely to respond to the needs of our country and help save lives.”

Mubenga teamed up with many partners, including a hospital in Kinshasa and the national trade school.

Dividing the team based on their talents, they built an emergency ventilator that makes use of Ambu resuscitator bags commonly hand-operated in hospitals by medical professionals to create airflow to a patient’s lungs until a ventilator becomes available. The new device includes a mechanism that automates the squeezing and releasing motions.

“Instead of having a doctor or a nurse pressing the bag manually, we have a machine pumping the bag so the patient can breathe,” Mubenga said.

Muzakwene and his engineering students inside the DRC made use of their school’s 3D printer in their work to fabricate, assemble, program and test the prototype, a process made more challenging because of troubles with internet access, expert resources, and unclear laws and standards for validation of the technology.

“All the materials, components, parts and equipment necessary for the production of these ventilators are difficult to find here on site in the DRC,” Muzakwene said. “The big challenge then is to find what we need to make these ventilators locally here in the country, challenges that the United States does not have.”

“A ventilator is very delicate,” Mubenga said. “You have medical, mechanical and electrical specifications that have to be met. And while MIT provided most of the design documents, it did not include the most important piece until very recently: the controls code of the model. We’re talking about how to get feedback from different sensors to the microcontroller and adjust the system based on that feedback.”

The controls adjust the timing and compression of the Ambu bag based on three main input parameters: the volume of air pushed into the lungs, the ratio between inspiration and expiration time, and the respiratory rate, or breath per minute.

The task is personal for Nicole Bisimwa, a student at Loyola University in Congo. She worries about friends, family and loved ones across the African country.

“The clinics of Ngaliema and university have only one ventilator each, which is sorely insufficient in case they have several patients who need it,” Bisimwa said. “Limiting international trade is a barrier to supply, but we continue to find solutions to overcome this problem. Any help is welcome.”

The project also is personal for Mubenga, who understands the life-changing power of technology. When she was 17 years old in the DRC, she waited three days for surgery after her appendix burst because there was no power at the hospital.

“I was living in a small town called Kikwit, far away from the big and beautiful capital city of Kinshasa,” Mubenga said. “I was very sick, doctors needed to do surgery, but they couldn’t find any gas to turn on the power generator. For three days, my life depended on electricity. I was praying. I could not eat. And decided if I made it alive, I would work to find a solution so people wouldn’t die because of lack of electricity.”

The hospital found fuel to power the generator, doctors did the surgery, and Mubenga survived.

Mubenga started studying renewable energy at the UToledo College of Engineering in 2000 and earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering. After receiving her professional engineer license in Ohio, she went on to found her company called the SMIN Power Group, which develops and installs solar power systems in communities throughout the DRC.

Mubenga next plans to test the ventilator prototype using software from the DRC that can be accessed online.

“We still have a lot to do, but this prototype is a big step,” Mubenga said. “We are putting together the clinical team of doctors who will provide feedback so we can improve the device. After that, we will proceed through certification. We have applied for funding to help spark production, but we’re committed to continue volunteering our time, talent and resources. Taking action to find a solution is our way to bring light in this dark, gloomy time. It’s the right thing to do.”

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.”

University Honors Faculty, Staff for Advising, Research, Teaching, Mentoring, Outreach

UToledo has announced outstanding advisors, researchers and teachers, and recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement for the 2019-20 academic year.

In addition, the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award has been presented.

“It is important to recognize these dedicated and deserving award recipients, even though we were not able to hold an official ceremony this semester,” Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said. “These faculty members and advisors exemplify the excellence everyone at The University of Toledo strives for every day.”

A ceremony to celebrate recipients is scheduled to take place during fall semester.

Recipients of the Outstanding Advisor Award are:

Dr. Lorie D. Gottwald, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Dermatology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She received her doctor of medicine degree from the former Medical College of Ohio in 1990. Gottwald joined the MCO faculty in 1998.

“It is obvious to anyone who has spent time around Dr. Gottwald how much time and effort she puts toward cultivating success for her mentees,” one nominator wrote. “When one of her students is successful or reaches a goal, she shares that joy with him or her. She is very invested in her mentees.” Another noted, “Dr. Gottwald develops great relationships with her students, especially those interested in dermatology. She is friendly, positive, and always encourages students to pursue their dreams.” Another wrote, “She has frank conversations about strengths and weaknesses, and she is helpful in finding research opportunities.”

Matt Reising, academic advisor for interdisciplinary and special programs, and instructor in University College. He started advising UToledo students in 2016.

“Matt educates and empowers students by listening to them and understanding what their future goals are,” a nominator wrote. “He has a nurturing personality, substantial knowledge about academic pathways, and an overall love for helping students reach their goals.” Another wrote, “Matt creates an environment in which students feel comfortable sharing their goals, fears and concerns. He is a good listener and offers positivity, hope and vision for each of his students.” Another wrote, “I’d be lost without his knowledge and guidance of everything UToledo. I’ve bombarded him with countless emails and calls, and he shows me the way time and time again. Thanks for everything.”

Recipients of the Outstanding Research and Scholarship Award are:

Dr. A. Champa Jayasuriya, professor of orthopaedic research in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She joined the faculty in 2004 and also holds an adjunct faculty position with the Department of Bioengineering in the College of Engineering.

Her work focuses on injectable bone graft devices to regenerate and repair damaged human bone tissues. She is investigating biocompatible, biodegradable and injectable biomaterials that can be applied for bone regeneration via an arthroscopically administered, minimally invasive procedure. Jayasuriya’s recent research uses a 3D printer to create viable multifunctional bone grafts to regenerate damaged or lost bone tissues. In addition to bone regeneration studies, Jayasuriya’s lab is working on the delivery of drugs, antibiotics, growth factors and cells. She has received $4.6 million for her research and has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, which have approximately 1,750 citations.

Dr. Sridhar Viamajala, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He has been at UToledo since 2009.

Viamajala’s research concentrates on sustainable energy production and green engineering. He is working to find a faster, cleaner process to produce fuel using algae without needing to add concentrated carbon dioxide. Viamajala has received nearly $12.1 million in awards for his pioneering work in the areas of algae cultivation, harvesting and conversion. His creative, innovative engineering solutions are aiming for commercial implementation to replace fossil fuels with algal fuels. He has established collaborations with researchers at UToledo, Montana State University and Arizona State University. Viamajala has written more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and technical reports, presented his work at more than 110 conferences, and received 11 patents with colleagues.

Recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement are:

Dr. G. Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He joined the faculty in 1994.

Lipscomb has led efforts to engage students in chemical and environmental engineering in projects to provide clean water to communities in need. In 2015, he arranged a partnership between the University and Clean Water for the World, a nonprofit organization, for UToledo students to have a multi-year experiential learning project. Students in the chemical and environmental engineering programs produce and install units that deliver up to 300 gallons per hour of clean water — enough water for a community of up to 600 people. These water treatment systems greatly reduce water-borne diseases. Students also raise funds to travel to villages to install the systems. Thanks to Lipscomb, UToledo students have provided clean water to communities in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Dr. Matt Foss, assistant professor of theatre in the College of Arts and Letters. He began teaching and directing at the University in 2017.

Since coming to UToledo, Foss has found opportunities to be involved in the community — and included his students. He has worked with the Toledo Museum of Art on two projects, “Portraits of Toledo” and “The Art of the Cut.” After “Portraits,” the museum requested his assistance with “The Art of the Cut,” an initiative with ProMedica that raised awareness of the role barbershops play in the health and wellness of African-American men. Foss involved students to help stage manage the event, which proved a success in 2018 and was repeated this year. He and students also created puppets of endangered area wildlife and held eco-parades to raise awareness during the Momentum Festival.

Recipients of the Outstanding Teacher Award are:

Dr. Gabriella Baki, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and director of the Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program for undergraduates in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She came to the University in 2012.

“I am so lucky to have the opportunity of knowing such an amazing faculty member. Dr. Baki assists us with finding good internship sites and great job opportunities, and she encourages us to attend conferences to become the best version of ourselves,” one nominator wrote. Another noted, “I love that she always welcomes students to her office. Students can come for help, for questions, for guidance, or even candies she keeps stocked. She will always make sure she has time for students.” “Dr. Baki is friendly but respected, challenging but helpful. She encourages her students to work hard and put themselves out there,” another wrote.

Dr. David Gajewski, associate lecturer of mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The UToledo alumnus received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University, where he started to teach in 2009.

“Dr. Gajewski was my favorite calculus teacher in college,” one nominator wrote. “Not only does he have a real passion for the math he teaches, he also really cares about the students in his class. A lot of teachers are intimidating and hard to approach, but with Dr. Gajewski, it is easy to make jokes and be friendly while still respecting the fact he is a professor.” “He explained things so logically that I found I no longer thought of calculus as some alien language. Instead, it made complete sense. I actually started looking forward to class,” another wrote. Another noted, “He even met students who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving for dinner.”

Dr. David Jex, professor of music in the College of Arts and Letters. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University in 1973 and joined the UToledo faculty in 1983.

“Dr. Jex is extremely warm and inviting. The first time you meet him, it feels like reconnecting with an old friend,” a nominator wrote. “When sitting in class, I can’t help but admire his creative styles in keeping the class engaged and active with each lesson. He is a leader in the Music Department and has gone unnoticed for far too long. It is because of him and his encouragement that I feel like I’m going to be successful in the future.” “As an accomplished composer, Dr. Jex has always been a champion of the creation of new music,” another wrote. “Dr. Jex is well-liked and well-respected by music students and faculty.”

Teresa Keefe, Distinguished University Lecturer of Information Operations and Technology Management in the College of Business and Innovation. She received a B.B.A. and a M.B.A. from the University in 1987 and 1990, respectively, and began teaching at her alma mater in 2001.

“She teaches each concept with the utmost patience and loves to solve problems for each student. I love that she has a lot of knowledge about whatever she teaches and loves to joke around in class,” a nominator wrote. “She teaches with the best material, which is very simple to understand.” Another wrote, “She is an exceptional lecturer; all of the handouts and learning materials were custom-made by her for the specific class and concepts being taught. I learned and retained more information than in any other class that I can recall because the presentation made it a joy, and I always looked forward to class.”

Dr. Kristi Mock, associate lecturer of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. She began teaching at UToledo in 2011.

“Despite only having Dr. Mock as an instructor for one semester, her kindness and helpfulness made a huge impact on me,” one nominator wrote. “Something I found incredibly helpful was the amount of resources she provided. Every class, she would come in with a new opportunity — shadowing doctors, scribing jobs, volunteer and internship opportunities — for those of us who desired a job in chemistry.” “Dr. Mock is an incredibly enthusiastic teacher. She is incredibly knowledgeable and describes subjects in many ways so students can better understand. She is very passionate and grounded when she is teaching. She is very approachable and is always there for her students,” another wrote. Another noted, “Moving forward, we all really miss her lectures and her personality.”

Dr. Ozcan Sezer, associate professor of finance in the College of Business and Innovation. He joined the faculty in 2002.

“I am in the Student Managed Portfolio class taught by Dr. Sezer. It has been the most useful class I have taken,” one nominator wrote. “We receive a huge amount of investment knowledge, as well as learning how to work together toward one main goal. This class is a great simulation of the workplace. It is not a regular class; it is real money, which puts a lot of responsibilities on students, but Dr. Sezer set up the class as an amazing learning experience.” Another wrote, “Dr. Sezer is very laid-back, open-minded and friendly, which makes it very easy to communicate with him. And at the same time, you are feeling respected and appreciated for your effort.”

The recipient of the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award is:

Dr. Maria Coleman, professor and chair of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering, and associate director of the Polymer Institute. She joined the University in 1998.

“I have worked with Dr. Maria Coleman since 2003. She began serving as my mentor when I arrived on campus and began my tenure-track position. We also have collaborated on research and co-mentored many women in engineering,” a nominator wrote. “She is an approachable, nonjudgmental and thoughtful mentor. She has always been more than willing to help, intervene on behalf of, and to advocate for her mentees. Dr. Coleman has been a longstanding and excellent mentor to several current and former women in the UToledo College of Engineering.”

Tennis Player Found a Home at UToledo

Danilo Vukotic found a home at The University of Toledo.

Well, eventually.

A senior on the Rocket men’s tennis team, Vukotic initially took a slight detour to New Jersey from his home in Nis, Serbia, before landing in Ohio. Both places are a long way from home, but he could not have been more satisfied with the final destination on his collegiate journey.

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.

Becoming a top tennis player also was a bit of a journey for Vukotic. As a boy, he played several sports: basketball, soccer, volleyball and, of course, tennis. His path was not settled until he was 14, when he reached the semifinals of the U14 Tennis National Championship and was nationally ranked in the top five for his age group in Serbia.

“That gave me a pretty good indication that I can keep playing well and on a high level,” Vukotic said.

Though Vukotic had always dreamed of playing professionally, he opted to pursue the collegiate route instead.

“After giving it some thought, I started thinking that college tennis might even be a better idea than playing professional tennis,” Vukotic said. “Traveling all over the U.S., playing the sport I love, and getting a degree seemed like a good deal to me.”

Moving from Serbia to the United States was obviously a huge decision, and it took Vukotic and his family some time to find a school that was the right fit for him. Finally, in June 2016, he inked a national letter of intent to play for Farleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J. Vukotic enjoyed a successful freshman year at FDU, earning first-team all-conference honors and helping his team reach the semifinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament.

Despite his success as a freshman, the fit wasn’t quite right, so Vukotic opted to transfer. He began talking to some of his friends who played collegiate tennis, and one of those friends, former Rocket and fellow countryman Luka Vitosevic, suggested he check out Toledo.

Danilo Vukotic wrapped up a successful tennis career this spring and is set to graduate with a degree in information technology.

“I liked the coach [Al Wermer] and the school even though I did not come for a visit,” Vukotic said. “I saw pictures, and coach was FaceTiming me so I saw some things around campus.”

Along with Vitosevic, Vukotic also mentioned tennis player Nikola Arsic and swimmer Jovana Djuric as fellow Serbians who made his transition to Toledo easier.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” he said. “It really makes it more special and unique. People don’t realize how much it helps. Speaking my native language, hanging out with them, sharing stuff and asking for advice when we’re going through a rough patch, etc. Those were the people that made it feel like home.”

With friends by his side and a comfortable setting, Vukotic continued to thrive as a tennis player. This past season, he was a two-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Week honoree, once in singles and once in doubles, and he was on track to wrap up his career on a high note.

“This year he clearly came in with something to prove,” Wermer said. “His mindset was palpable and consistent. Danilo was clearly headed for an All-MAC finish to this year. He mobilized the team. His leadership kept a young roster on the same page.”

Unfortunately, Vukotic’s senior tennis season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. What made it even worse for him was missing out on commencement and graduation celebrations this spring. Vukotic comes from a place where donning a cap and gown is not a given, so that made it sting just a bit more than it might for an American student.

“For people back home, going to the U.S. is like a dream, and college is only really seen in movies,” Vukotic said. “For me, throwing my graduation cap in the air would have been a dream come true. I’m super sad I will never get a chance to experience walking at the Glass Bowl and getting the honor of being there with all the other graduates. My family was supposed to come the week of graduation as well. They were supposed to stay for graduation and then we were going to go to New York City to explore. I wanted to show them so many places, but, unfortunately, we are unable to do that now.”

Despite his disappointment, Vukotic is making the most of his time at home. He flew home shortly after the news that campus was shutting down. While self-isolating for 28 days, per Serbian law, he took time to reflect on his time as a college student.

“I think I matured a lot during these last four years, especially my three years at Toledo,” Vukotic said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about how lucky I am to have spent four years in college in the U.S.”

An information technology major in the College of Engineering, Vukotic already has a job lined up in his chosen field. And while he was not able to end his athletic career on his terms, he is doing everything he can to go out on a high note academically.

“I’ve been keeping my head up because this semester has been one of my best semesters, if not the best semester, grade-wise,” he said. “Even with everything going on, I have managed to keep myself motivated and will try to finish with all A’s.”

Engineering Students to Present Senior Design Projects Online May 1

The Senior Design Expo, a tradition in The University of Toledo College of Engineering for decades, is for the first time moving online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Students split into 75 teams will present projects ranging from a tricycle for a girl with cerebral palsy; a portable, bicycle-powered electric generator; and a triple-balloon catheter system that stops blood flow in vessels during surgical repair.

“The College of Engineering is excited to hold our first-ever virtual senior design exposition,” Dr. Matthew J. Franchetti, associate dean of undergraduate studies and professor of mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering, said. “The students, instructors and clients overcame massive difficulties when they were thrust into an emergency remote learning environment and not able to work face to face. This event will celebrate the students’ dedication and commitment to their problem-solving projects.”

To attend the Expo on Friday, May 1, click on the links below:

• 1:30 to 1:45 p.m.: Welcome/Overview of the Virtual Senior Design Expo;

• 1:45 to 3:15 p.m.: Virtual Senior Design Expo Projects and Virtual Rooms.

Visitors can enter the senior design teams’ personal WebEx rooms directly through the Virtual Senior Design Expo Projects and Virtual Rooms, where you can find the following information:

• Team project overview;

• Design team members;

• Team leader and their contact information;

• Faculty adviser;

• Client/sponsor (if applicable);

• Informational video (if applicable); and

• Guests will be able to sort projects by major and live presentation.

As part of required senior design/capstone projects, UToledo engineering teams worked with local businesses, industries and federal agencies to help solve technical and business challenges. Students will present their final prototypes, provide demonstrations, and answer questions about their experiences.

Graduate Breaking Gender Barriers in Information Technology, Computer Science

Sheltering in place in sunny California, Naba Rizvi already misses the bells.

The University of Toledo first-generation college student is in San Diego taking her final classes online before she starts working remotely at Microsoft Research and begins earning her Ph.D. in computer science and engineering at the University of California at San Diego — her top choice — after graduation May 9.

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

“My favorite memory will always be hearing the bells from University Hall first thing in the morning when I lived in MacKinnon Hall,” said Rizvi, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in information technology. “I hope I will someday get to return to Toledo, walk across Main Campus again, visit my former professors and colleagues at Engineering College Computing, and say goodbye in a proper way to the University that played a big role in shaping the person I am today.”

Rizvi, who has published research on human-computer interaction and interned with tech giant Adobe in Silicon Valley, is a student in the Jesup Scott Honors College who found great success while majoring in information technology in the College of Engineering.

She was one of nine students to win the Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship, one of 20 students to win the Google Women Techmakers Scholarship, and one of six recipients of the National Center for Women in IT’s Collegiate Award, to name a few of the many ways she has been recognized during the last few years as an outstanding female student studying computer science.

Rizvi is the founder of Non-Traditional Techies, a nonprofit organization with nearly 1,000 members increasing socioeconomic diversity in the technology industry by connecting passionate individuals from underprivileged backgrounds with opportunities.

Naba Rizvi, center, holds the trophy the UToledo Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter received as the Outstanding New Student Organization in 2019.

At the forefront of initiatives related to gender diversity on campus, she also founded the UToledo Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter.

Originally from Pakistan, Rizvi’s parents are now based in Saudi Arabia and her grandparents and sister live in Michigan.

Her journey through higher education started at Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where a recruiter told her about UToledo’s International Student Scholarship.

“I signed up for a campus visit and fell in love with Main Campus,” she said.

She credits the Honors College for access to additional scholarships and opportunities. She said it played a critical role in her ability to work by assisting with Curricular Practical Training, known as CPT, to complete her internships.

Naba Rizvi rode a bicycle outside the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., before posing for a photo with the other Google Women Techmakers Scholarship recipients during a retreat in 2018.

“Naba exemplifies what we hope all UToledo students experience — a passion for a subject and for helping others,” Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College, said. “What makes her extraordinary is that she’s using her experience and volunteer activities to shatter glass ceilings in her profession. We couldn’t be more proud.”

Rizvi’s skyrocketing success as an undergraduate in her field belies her uncertainty as a first-year student originally majoring in political science. But once exposed to programming, it was like flipping a switch.

“I discovered IT once I got to UToledo, and that’s when I discovered that I really enjoyed programming,” Rizvi said. “I immediately switched my major to IT and took all of the programming classes. I got involved with hackathons, and the rest is history.”

Naba Rizvi was an intern at Adobe Research in San Jose, Calif., last summer.

The five-time hackathon winner is an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Kevin Xu’s research lab working on analyzing biological networks of antigens that affect kidney transplant survival.

“I have been thoroughly impressed with Naba’s ambition and initiative — she is the founder of UToledo’s Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter and has turned it into one of the strongest student organizations on campus, regularly winning awards at hackathons all over the country,” said Xu, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “I believe Naba will become a tremendous researcher and, most importantly, that her research will have high societal impact.”

Rizvi is passionate about using computer science for social good, with a particular interest in breaking race, gender and accessibility barriers in education, healthcare and politics.

“Women are very, very underrepresented in computer science,” Rizvi said. “We make up less than 20% of the overall population of computer science majors, and now because of all the work we did with the Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter, not only do they know that these opportunities are out there for them, but they have the passion and the courage to reach for them.”

While at Adobe, Rizvi worked on a project that helps blind people generate summaries of newspaper articles.

“That’s when I discovered my passion for developing assistive technologies for people with disabilities,” Rizvi said. “I’m hoping with all of these diversity initiatives, we can move toward a society where computer science is not just viewed as something for men. A lot of people from different backgrounds can see themselves as programmers or computer science researchers. I would really like to see the field that I’m in become more diverse and more open to different perspectives. I’m doing all I can to make that happen.”

UToledo Installs New Solar Array on Health Science Campus

A new 2.3-acre, 332-kilowatt solar array on Health Science Campus is expected to save The University of Toledo nearly $30,000 a year while increasing the amount of renewable energy powering the University.

The HSC Tech Park Solar Field is located off Arlington Avenue along Main Technology Drive near the Facilities Support Building.

Mike Green, UToledo director of sustainability and energy, took this photo of the solar array on Health Science Campus.

First Solar, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of solar cells and a company that originated in UToledo laboratories, donated 365 kilowatts of its Series 5 modules valued at $192,000 to the University in 2017. Approximately 10% of the donated modules are being reserved for maintenance.

A senior design team made up of UToledo students studying mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering worked with UToledo Facilities and Construction to identify the site and prepared construction engineering drawings with assistance from JDRM Engineering. The UToledo Student Green Fund approved spending $350,000 to cover the costs to install the array. The construction contract was awarded to Solscient Energy LLC after a public bidding of the project.

The projected electrical production over the 25-year life of the system will be more than $700,000, enough to power about 60 homes annually.

“The University of Toledo continues to reduce its carbon footprint and strengthen its commitment to a clean energy future,” said Dr. Randy Ellingson, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Thanks to First Solar’s generous donation of modules and UToledo working to keeping costs down, the array will produce some of the lowest cost solar energy in the state of Ohio. We are excited to connect our students to these solar projects. They gain valuable experience with this fast-growing energy technology that generates carbon-free electricity directly from sunlight.”

Based on avoided combustion of fossil fuels, the array will prevent the release of approximately 6 million kilograms of carbon dioxide while generating approximately 10.5 gigawatt hours of clean electricity for Health Science Campus.

A portion of the value of the electricity generated will go to a fund for use on future renewable energy projects.

Building on its more than 30-year history advancing solar technology to power the world using clean energy, UToledo researchers are pushing the performance of solar cells to levels never before reached.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded UToledo $4.5 million to develop the next-generation solar panel by bringing a new, ultra-high efficiency material called perovskites to the consumer market.
The U.S. Air Force also awarded UToledo physicists $7.4 million to develop solar technology that is lightweight, flexible, highly efficient and durable in space so it can provide power for space vehicles using sunlight.
Plus, the U.S. Department of Energy last year awarded UToledo physicists $750,000 to improve the production of hydrogen as fuel, using clean energy — solar power — to split the water molecule and create clean energy — hydrogen fuel.

Problem-Solving is Nothing New to Engineering Graduate

Justin Fleming knows how to make things work.

The Sycamore, Ohio native, who will graduate May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology, served as an electrician for six years in the U.S. Air Force prior to transferring to The University of Toledo for his final two years of college. That experience brought a unique, valuable perspective to his studies.

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 this field, you work in the middle – you have to speak both the language of engineers, and the language of craftsmen like electricians,” Fleming said. “I hardly touched a plane during my time in the Air Force, but I did learn how to build and work with many different types of systems.”

While in high school, Fleming started in a vocational program for computer science, but gradually found his niche as an electrician thanks to influences in his family and basic training tests for the military, which reinforced where his strengths lied.

After four deployments — including to Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates — all to build and maintain power lines, airfield lights, generators and other heavy-duty equipment, the transition from the military to his engineering coursework was relatively seamless. But he did find some surprises along the way.

“By the time I got to UToledo, I had been doing many of the things in my early courses for a long time,” Fleming said. “But the more I got into my degree, I started looking back and realizing why some projects didn’t work. We misunderstood how electricity runs through different systems and components.”

Understanding how to dismantle a problem and examine various possible solutions served Fleming well during his final semester when the shift to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic posed its own challenges.

Justin Fleming

Justin Fleming, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology, is a member of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers. His six years in the U.S. Air Force paved the way for success at UToledo.

“The first person I called when we learned classes would not happen in person was Niki Kamm,” Fleming said. “We brainstormed on how to do senior design projects and labs when we couldn’t be there in person. She’s the type of instructor that refuses to let anyone fail.”

That combination of receiving hands-on, practical training from approachable instructors has prepared Fleming well for his career.

“Justin is the engineer any employer would be grateful to have,” said Kamm, associate lecturer in the Electrical Engineering Technology program. “He has been the kind of engineering student that betters the classroom experience for all those in it — inventive, intelligent and inspiring.”

As part of the unique, mandatory co-op program at the College of Engineering, Fleming has worked in three different rotations servicing electrical lines for American Electric Power: two in Fostoria, Ohio and one in South Bend, Ind.

Fleming in U.S. Air Force

Prior to attending UToledo, Justin Fleming (back row center) was deployed to United Arab Emirates as an electrician during his six years of military service with the U.S. Air Force.

Ultimately, he points to 39 days in Afghanistan that have set the tone for his career and livelihood. It was January 2016, and he was sent to a small U.S. Army base that had gone months without running water or electricity. In that time, Fleming’s team succeeded in their assignment to provide the basics: washing and drying equipment, showers, electricity for communications, a full-blown kitchen and more.

“I’ve never seen 40 guys look so happy to wash clothes,” Fleming said. “That’s the moment I saw that my turning wrenches and installing light bulbs makes an impact on other people.”

Engineering Students Making 3D-Printed Face Shields for Healthcare Workers

From his home a few minutes away from The University of Toledo campus, Nick Michael has cranked out 120 face shields and donated them to hospitals throughout the Toledo area to help medical personnel battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The graduate student studying mechanical engineering is using two 3D printers and a laser cutter as part of his ad-hoc assembly line set up in a small room next to his bedroom.


“People need help, and I have the time and the materials,” said Michael, whose co-op working experience is in the automotive industry. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile from his home office in Sylvania, fourth-year electrical engineering student Cameron McCaskey has built 84 face shields using his 3D printer.

Both engineering students say cleanliness and hygiene are the top priority throughout the entire process as they use 3D printers to make the frame — somewhat similar to a frame for sunglasses — and then attach a clear plastic shield to the arches.

“I found the medical design specifications on the internet because I want to help,” McCaskey said. “It takes about 25 minutes to 3D print one frame. And then I use a three-hole puncher to make holes in the transparent sheet to connect it to the frame.”

They order the clear screens online, finding you can buy about 100 for $15.

“I wash my hands before I start and wear a visor,” said Michael, who averages about five frames an hour using both 3D printers. “With the frames, I do an acetone dip. It melts the outer surface and closes them up so there’s no gaps. Then I wash them with soap and water.”


Though this is their first foray into fabricating medical supplies, they say all engineers are problem-solvers and have the skills to follow the guidelines for personal protective equipment during this public health emergency.

“People have a misconception about 3D printing,” Michael said. “The files are already out there. You load them onto a pre-built slicing program. It’s not that hard to run.”

Michael and McCaskey are donating their face shields to the local chapter of Masks for Docs, which is led by UToledo medical students.

“I am always proud and impressed by what our engineering students accomplish in their classes and on their own time,” Dr. Mike Toole, dean of the College of Engineering, said. “The students’ work epitomizes what we are trying to accomplish in the College of Engineering in instilling an entrepreneurial mindset. Students focus not just on problem-solving, but on creating value for a customer. In this case, the customers are our regional healthcare workers, who deserve our thanks and our help. Our initiatives in entrepreneurial-minded learning are made possible thanks to Tom and Betsy Brady, founders of Plastics Technology Inc., and our recent partnership with the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network.”