UToledo News » UToledo20

Categories

Archives

Resources

Categories

Archives

Resources

UToledo20

Pitcher Finishes Collegiate Career as Student Assistant Baseball Coach

They say college is a time of change and transformation.

That definitely has been true for senior Caleb Scoles.

Scoles started his college life as a player on The University of Toledo baseball team and then ended it as a coach. In between those two milestones was a series of physical setbacks that sent him on a challenging path he certainly didn’t anticipate. Nevertheless, Scoles ultimately found his college journey very rewarding.

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.

A Richland, Mich., native, Scoles became a Rocket following a prep career in which he was a two-time all-district and all-league pitcher at Gull Lake High School. While he had other offers, the campus and academics swayed him into donning the Midnight Blue and Gold.

Scoles’ baseball career, however, did not get off to a great start. He missed his freshman season in 2017 after experiencing arm pain in the fall. Instead of taking the mound for the Rockets that year, he underwent physical therapy to try and relieve some of the pain in his bicep and shoulder.

He came back as a sophomore in the fall and was looking to work past the injury issues that plagued him the year before. But his arm wasn’t feeling any better. He was still experiencing discomfort even after months of physical therapy. An MRI revealed that he had a partially torn labrum. Once again, his season was over before it began.

“It was probably one of the hardest things I have been through,” Scoles said.

By the start of Scoles’ junior season, it appeared that the physical therapy had paid off. That fall, Scoles was throwing again without pain for first time in years. He was on track to be ready for the 2019 season when, again, the pain in his biceps and shoulder reappeared.

Caleb Scoles, third from left, was a student assistant coach for the Rockets in 2020 after
spending three years on the roster as a pitcher.

This time there was no avoiding it; Scoles underwent surgery to repair his labrum and bicep tendon that spring, wiping out his 2019 season. It was the third straight year he missed due to injury, and it would end up being his last season as a Toledo baseball player. He ended his career having never appeared in a game for the Rockets as a player.

“Despite the surgery and extensive rehab efforts, my arm didn’t heal the way I hoped it would,” Scoles said. “I was very fortunate that I had teammates around who supported me. Even though I didn’t see time on the field as a player, I made the most of being a part of the team during games and practices.”

Entering his senior year and the 2020 baseball season, Scoles was presented with an opportunity to continue his baseball career in a different capacity. Instead of being on the roster as a player, he could serve as a student assistant coach.

“When I was hired last summer, one of the first things I did was call all the players on the current team,” Head Coach Rob Reinstetle said. “I talked to Caleb, and he gave me some insight into the arm struggles he’d had during his time at Toledo. He said that he loved Toledo baseball, but didn’t feel he could pitch anymore. We talked about his options and had the idea of him being a student assistant coach.”

For Scoles, the decision was a no-brainer.

“It was a simple decision for me because I loved all of my teammates, and I love the game of baseball,” he said. “I knew that I would have really missed everything if I said no.”

So, for the 2020 season, Scoles played an important role on the Rockets’ coaching staff. He served as the team’s first base coach and helped relay signals from the dugout when Toledo was pitching.

“My favorite part of being a coach was getting to travel with the team across the country and getting to play great competition,” Scoles said of his coaching stint with the Rockets this past spring. “I also couldn’t complain about being at the baseball field every day. I thoroughly enjoyed my time being a coach.”

“He proved to be a very valuable member of my staff,” Reinstetle said. “He was a great leader and had the respect of the team. He worked daily with the pitchers and took on just about every task we threw his way.”

Of course, for Scoles and the rest of the Rockets, this past season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. After returning with the baseball team from its spring break trip in March, Scoles stayed in Toledo for a couple weeks before heading back to his parents’ house in Michigan.

Scoles is set to graduate this weekend with a degree in marketing and professional sales. He has a sales job lined up that will begin in July. With his college career winding down, he is able to reflect on the time he spent at The University of Toledo and how it prepared him for life after college.

“Being a college athlete really helped me handle the ups and downs that I’ve experienced over the last few years, which really helped me grow as a person,” he said. “From an academic standpoint, I was able to grow a ton within my sales classes, which really helped prepare me for my job after college.”

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.”

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.”

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.”