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UT organization welcomes international students; assists in transition to college

While there are nearly 8,000 miles separating India and The University of Toledo, a student organization on campus helps to make it feel a little more like home for Indian students.

The Indian Student Cultural Organization (ISCO) helps Indian students adapt and flourish at college in America. Between social events, festivals, aid with housing and airport pickups, the organization works to make the transition for international students as easy as possible.

Preparing paratha, an Indian flatbread, at the Festival of India earlier this month were, from left, Roshan Kini, volunteer; Sai Kumar Naini, panel member, graduate vice president and webmaster for the Indian Student Cultural Organization; Narendra Raghav Venkatesan, volunteer); and Krishnakant Patel, president of the Indian Student Cultural Organization.

Preparing paratha, an Indian flatbread, at the Festival of India earlier this month were, from left, Roshan Kini, volunteer; Sai Kumar Naini, panel member, graduate vice president and webmaster for the Indian Student Cultural Organization; Narendra Raghav Venkatesan, volunteer); and Krishnakant Patel, president of the Indian Student Cultural Organization.

“It’s very difficult for an international student going somewhere new,” said Krishnakant Patel, ISCO president.

When Patel first became a member of ISCO in 2012, the group’s membership was at an all-time low due to a large number of graduating students. The seniors at the time decided to revamp the organization so that future students wouldn’t have to struggle to get acclimated on campus like they did.

“The group wasn’t active when we first came here, so it was kind of difficult to get in touch with everyone here at UT,” Patel explained.

New programs and events were instated, including an airport pickup program where students could be shuttled from either the Detroit Metropolitan or Toledo Express airports if they became a member of ISCO — which costs just $10.

Since then, ISCO’s numbers have been steadily increasing.

Members of the Indian Student Cultural Organization posed for a shot at the Festival of India earlier this month. Members manned the food booths at the event and served up a variety of Indian delights, including dosa, naan and panner, mango lassi, and pani puri.

Members of the Indian Student Cultural Organization posed for a shot at the Festival of India earlier this month. Members manned the food booths at the event and served up a variety of Indian delights, including dosa, naan and panner, mango lassi, and pani puri.

“We want to bring our organization to the next level and make sure everyone at UT, especially the new incoming students this semester, know about our organization and what we offer,” said Raj Jessica Thomas, ISCO marketing manager.

A variety of activities and festivals also are offered through ISCO to celebrate Indian culture, including Patel’s favorite, Diya — an event to celebrate Deepawali, the festival of lights. During the event, students perform traditional dances and songs, and Indian food is provided. The event is ISCO’s largest; last year more than 600 people attended.

“This event gives an overall idea for the people on what India really is,” he said. “People get to see India is a diverse place where each state has its own way of living.”

ISCO also helps put on Holi Toledo, which is Thomas’ favorite. The campus-wide event, which is organized by a collaboration of groups including ISCO, the UT Center for International Studies and Programs, and the UT Center for Religious Understanding, is for the Hindu religious festival Holi — a celebration known for the color thrown into the air to commemorate the arrival of spring.

“Since so many people are walking around the field where Holi is, it gives us a great opportunity to expose our culture to everyone,” she said.

In addition to the big festivals, ISCO gives students the chance to connect and just hang out with movie nights and cricket tournaments. The group also organizes trips to the Hindu Temple of Toledo, located on King Road in Sylvania, so students can connect with community members.

“It gives [students] good exposure to a lot of other people so they don’t feel homesick,” Patel said.

For more information about ISCO, contact Thomas at Raj.Thomas@rockets.utoledo.edu or visit utoledoisco.org.

Start of school year signals stress in students

Back to school can mean back to stress for some students, according to a psychiatrist at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

The school year — as opposed to summer vacation — is ripe for stress and anxiety, said Dr. Theodor Rais, director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division at UTMC.

Parents need to try to continually communicate with their students, even those in college, if they want to stay on top of mental health issues that might arise during the school year, Rais said.

Rais

Rais

Students in high school are more likely to be bullied or worried about getting good grades, he said, while college students, especially first-year students, are adjusting to a new environment and being away from home for the first time.

Rais, who said his office sees an uptick in patients September through May, recommends giving your student advance notice before a visit to check in, that way you aren’t surprising him or her. Incorporating food into the conversation is also a tactic that works with many young people. It’s hard to turn down a free meal, he said.

Listening to students is most important. Just let them talk, Rais said. Too often parents try to inject their opinions before hearing what their child has to say.

Parents should be concerned if their students are suddenly getting involved in high-risk behaviors like drinking or drugs.

“You have to be in tune with your child,” Rais said. “The golden principle is that you need to talk to your child. Most of the problems happen when the channels of communication get interrupted.”

Changes in eating or sleeping patterns also should be taken seriously.

“If you see something that is wrong, do not take any chances,” Rais said. “Even if you have the least degree of suspicion, you need to take your child in for an assessment.”

College can be particularly stressful because of the “imposter syndrome,” Rais said. Students at Ivy League schools, for instance, might think that they don’t belong, feeling like they are there by luck and won’t be able to make it academically and socially, he said.

“My best advice is preserving the communication, which is made easier these days with texting, Skype and email,” Rais said. “Even though your students are striving for independence, they still need a family.”

Maumee resident ‘glad to be first’ to get complex surgery

Robert Gayer, 74, was mowing his grass on a hot day in 2010 when he started to struggle to breathe.

“I kept going to sit down in the garage, and then I would start mowing again when I felt better,” he said.

This went on for most of the day until Gayer drove to his then-fiancée’s house.

Robert and Sharon Gayer took a walk at their home last month. Robert had the first percutaneous closure of a mitral paravalvular leak at UT Medical Center in May.

Robert and Sharon Gayer took a walk at their home last month. Robert had the first percutaneous closure of a mitral paravalvular leak at UT Medical Center in May.

“I told Sharon, ‘I have a tightness in my heart and my jaw hurts,’” Gayer said. “She said, ‘Get in the car. We are going to the hospital.’”

This was the start of a series of health problems that wouldn’t end until May 1 of this year when Dr. George Moukarbel performed the first percutaneous closure of a mitral paravalvular leak at The University of Toledo Medical Center. The complex procedure had never been done at UTMC.

“It’s the day I got my life back,” the Maumee resident said.

The complicated surgery required the UT Health cardiologist to go up through Gayer’s groin with a catheter, cross the right atrium of the heart, and then navigate into the left atrium before delivering a plug to the hole next to his prosthetic heart valve.

“This is one of the most challenging and risky cardiac procedures being done in the country,” Moukarbel said. “It is only done in referral specialized centers, which as of May 1 includes UTMC.”

When Moukarbel first met Gayer, they talked about options: Do nothing, which would continue to diminish his quality of life; open him up again for another heart surgery; perform the percutaneous closure procedure.

Dr. George Moukarbel performed Robert Gayer’s percutaneous closure of a mitral paravalvular leak, the first at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

Dr. George Moukarbel performed Robert Gayer’s percutaneous closure of a mitral paravalvular leak, the first at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

Moukarbel said Gayer was not a good candidate for open-heart surgery because he already had a quadruple bypass after he ignored his heart attack symptoms and kept mowing the grass that day in 2010. A few years later, he also had a second open-heart surgery to replace the mitral valve. He then developed a leak behind the prosthetic valve.

The most recent leak left him short of breath, faint and low on energy because the blood wasn’t flowing properly to his heart. He wasn’t able to fish or travel as much. His health was a continual concern.

“We didn’t want to open him up again unless we really thought that was the only option,” Moukarbel said. “I had done this specialty procedure at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and I thought it would be a good fit for Robert because it was less invasive and the recovery was less difficult.”

Gayer’s wife didn’t like the idea of her husband “being the first,” but she asked their longtime cardiologist, Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president for clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, “What would you say if it was your dad?”

Cooper told him to go with the percutaneous closure.

“I had the utmost confidence in Dr. Moukarbel’s skill as an interventional cardiologist, and I knew that Robert was a good candidate for this type of procedure,” Cooper said.

Just days after the surgery, Gayer walked into his follow-up appointment — no walker or wheelchair.

“It was amazing to see him walk in so full of energy and life,” Moukarbel said. “If he had underwent open heart surgery, he would have still been at the hospital.”

“I was only in the hospital for five days with this procedure,” Gayer said. “Normally, when I had open surgery in the past, I had to stay in the hospital for a long time and then when I got home, I was laid up for a few months.

“I was scared to be the first person to have this procedure at UTMC, but after talking with Dr. Moukarbel and hearing him explain how it was to be done, I had confidence,” he said. “I am glad I was the first person because now others might not be as scared.”

Students helping TARTA revamp downtown routes

For some time, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority has been working to change their routes downtown — and they’re getting some help from students at The University of Toledo.

Right now, TARTA is working on finding a way to replace its five-station bus loop downtown with a single bus terminal. To do this, TARTA is considering route proposals from Taslima Akter and Jonathon Ousky, two UT grad students.

Dr. Bhuiyan Alam, associate professor of geography and planning, center, posed for a photo with graduate students Taslima Akter and Jonathon Ousky, who put together new route proposals for TARTA for the Community Planning Workshop class.

Dr. Bhuiyan Alam, associate professor of geography and planning, center, posed for a photo with graduate students Taslima Akter and Jonathon Ousky, who put together new route proposals for TARTA for the Community Planning Workshop class.

“It may seem small,” said Dr. Bhuiyan Alam, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, “but given that TARTA is the sole public transportation system in Lucas County and since it involves 12 major blocks in the heart of the city, changing this plan and the proposal given by the students is very important and will have a long-term impact on downtown Toledo.”

Akter and Ousky are part of a planning workshop class led by Alam. For a semester, they analyzed data from TARTA and came up with proposals for changing most of the routes that would lead into the downtown hub.

“We could change whatever we wanted, but our main concern was to reduce the route length,” Akter said.

And the students were successful in that sense — if TARTA accepts their proposal, they could save up to 46 hours of driving time each week. This would have an impact on the amount of time riders spend on buses, as well as the amount of gas used by TARTA.

“It could be convenient for both TARTA and the passengers,” Akter said.

Alam has taught this course for six years, with the exception of 2014 when he was on sabbatical. Each year, he tries to get his students involved in projects that have real impacts on the local community.

In the past, students in this course have researched predicted impacts of community hub schools on their students and communities, land-use classification and suitability analysis of walkability and bikeability in Toledo’s uptown district, brownfield redevelopment potentials in Toledo, and streetscape planning of Broadway Street in Toledo. This year, he approached TARTA, where officials were open to receiving help from students.

Throughout the semester, the students worked and met with TARTA officials to create their proposal. TARTA gave the students suggestions, reviewed drafts of routes, and answered their questions.

“It’s been a really nice experience for me to work with TARTA, and I’m surprised by how much they helped us to complete the project,” Akter said.

Though no plans have yet been finalized for TARTA’s downtown hub, administrators have a wealth of ideas for routes to use thanks to the efforts of these two students.

For more information on Alam’s Community Planning Workshop class, email Bhuiyan.Alam@utoledo.edu.

Children’s eye health is highlighted during August

A local pediatric optometrist wants to make sure that your back-to-school lists include more than notebooks, markers and glue.

A successful school year begins with good vision by having a comprehensive eye exam, which is one reason that August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, said Dr. Nahrain Shasteen, who is on staff with Vision Associates, which serves as The University of Toledo’s Department of Ophthalmology.

Shasteen

Shasteen

“If your child has never had a comprehensive eye exam, it is a good idea to schedule one to make sure everything is developing well,” Shasteen said. “Blurred vision can make it difficult to see the board in school. Eye coordination, eye focusing or visual perception problems can also impact learning.”

The American Optometric Association actually recommends that a child have his or her eyes examined at 6 months of age because vision development is rapid within the first year of life, Shasteen said. If normal, the next exam should be at 3 years old and then every year once a child is in kindergarten.

The importance of early detection recently was popularized with a YouTube video that showed 10-month-old Piper seeing clearly for the first time with her new eyeglasses.

“She was a patient of the InfantSee Program, which I participate in,” Shasteen said. “Doctors participating in the American Optometric Association’s InfantSee Program provide no-cost eye examinations to infants between 6 and 12 months of age.”

Shasteen said children with vision problems often can’t communicate the issue. They might not know what normal vision looks like or they want to please their parents, so when quizzed, they indicate they can see something far away.

Signs that a child might be struggling to see include red eyes, tearing eyes or squinting. More subtle clues are tilting or turning of the head, covering an eye, having difficulty paying attention in class, loss of place when reading, or avoiding reading. Some children with vision problems have difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination and playing sports.

Shasteen said even if a child has good vision, the health of the eye needs to be protected. She recommends wearing sports goggles, which often is not emphasized in a school setting, and for parents to set a good example by wearing protective gear when mowing the lawn or working on home improvement projects. Sunglasses should be worn outside to prevent damage from ultraviolet light.

“Children learn best by what their parents are doing,” she said.

While it’s a myth that carrots will improve eyesight, Shasteen said an overall healthy diet is good for eye health because it prevents diabetes and other diseases that affect eyesight.

“As for video games, they are OK in moderation,” she said. “We actually found that video games used in vision therapy have a positive impact in improving lazy eye and other vision disorders.”

Modernist jeweler to feature colorful work at Art on the Mall

As Jane Lamanna settled into her chair, she adjusted her ivory crescent necklace, just one of many pieces she’s fashioned throughout her career.

Lamanna

Lamanna

The jeweler constructs a variety of colorful pieces, but her favorite ones to create are earrings.

“I do make a lot of earrings; I like to wear them,” she said, gesturing to a dangly pair on her own ears. “For me, it’s fun to make two of the same — pairs are always fun to make.

“I don’t make tons of bracelets probably because I don’t like to wear them,” she added with a laugh.

Inspired by midcentury modernist jewelers, much of Lamanna’s work features clean lines and shapes that relate well to the body.

“When I’m thinking of how to make my jewelry, I like it to be clean and comfortable to wear and colorful — that’s the other thing that really inspires me,” she said. “Some of my newer pieces that feature color resin are more fun for me because I’m mixing the color myself to get just the right one.”

But long before color mixing, Lamanna starts with a sketch where she formulates her idea and scales it to a size that she would want to wear. From there, she cuts sheet metal with a tiny saw blade and forms it to create the style she wants.

“There’s soldering, sawing, filing, sanding; lots and lots of cleanup so it looks snappy,” she said.

Lamanna blue earringsWorking with the metal is her favorite part of jewelry making, but mixing the colors to create resin is a close second. It takes her two days to tinker with the colors — blending and mixing the different hues to get just the right shade.

Sometimes while mixing, Lamanna creates a color she never intended to that works for the piece: “It’s a great surprise when that happens.”

She sells her jewelry at many art fairs and venues, including Art on the Mall, where she will be one of more than 100 exhibitors Sunday, July 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on UT’s Centennial Mall. Her work also is featured at the Toledo Museum of Art’s gift shop.

A number of her wearable works will be featured at the free, juried event.

Lamanna necklace“I’m still in the process of creating pieces for [Art on the Mall],” she said. “There’s going to be tons of earrings and some new styles of necklaces and everything. There should be new colors and styles of resin. All sorts of new things — clean and colorful.”

For Lamanna, jewelry making is a family affair that started with her grandfather in the 1940s and 1950s. He owned a jewelry shop in Manhattan, where Lamanna’s grandmother and aunts helped string pearls, she recalled. Since then, there have been many family members who owned shops or created their own pieces.

While Lamanna never got the chance to work with her grandfather because he passed away while she was very young, she feels he lives through her today. Many of his tools were passed down to her, and she uses them for her own work.

“It’s funny, I have an old design book — kind of like a reference book — of his. A couple years ago I was flipping through that and found that he had made little sketches and notes. I felt like he was talking to me through that,” she said.

When she’s not creating or selling pieces of jewelry, Lamanna can be found teaching others how to make it at the Toledo Museum of Art. She teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced fabrication classes, which guides students through the process of cutting sheet metal and wire to building something — a job she finds highly rewarding.

“I just really, really love teaching.”

Ever since taking classes in college, Lamanna said she has known jewelry making is where she belongs.

Hands-on class puts students at crime scene, in courtroom

A roped-off crime scene. A dead body on a couch. A pesky reporter trying to get the scoop.

13 ABC Action News Reporter Melissa Voetsch interviewed UT student Alex Izsak, a criminal justice major, as part of the crime scene investigation that took place May 26 on Health Science Campus. Voetsch was brought in to teach students that journalists come to crime scenes to conduct interviews and get information about investigations.

13 ABC Action News Reporter Melissa Voetsch interviewed UT student Alex Izsak, a criminal justice major, as part of the crime scene investigation that took place May 26 on Health Science Campus. Voetsch was brought in to teach students that journalists come to crime scenes to conduct interviews and get information about investigations.

That is what University of Toledo students encountered on the first day of their summer class May 26.

By the end of the six-week class, these same students were in a courtroom trying to prosecute the accused murderer of this simulated crime.

The class, offered through the UT College of Social Justice and Human Service, is a pilot course for the Criminal Justice and Paralegal Studies programs. The cross-listed class was titled Criminal Forensics and Trial Practice for paralegal studies students and Criminal Investigations III for criminal justice students.

“This has been the class that I have learned the most,” said Nick McCullough, a criminal justice major who served as a prosecutor during the mock trial. “You can only learn so much in a textbook about investigations and trial prep. Being hands-on is so much more valuable. This is as close to the real deal that you can get. I have learned more about criminal investigations in these six weeks than I have in the entire semester.”

The class was taught by John Schlageter, director of the Paralegal Studies Program, and Mick Dier, a retired UT police officer and lecturer in the Criminal Justice Program.

Students were placed on prosecution and defense teams and assigned as crime scene investigators, paralegals and attorneys. They were responsible for investigating the mock homicide, indicting one of three possible suspects, and conducting a jury trial.

“I think students gain transferable skills that they wouldn’t otherwise attain,” Schlageter said. “You can read books all you want, but until you do it, you aren’t truly getting it.”

With the guidance of Schlageter and Dier, criminal justice students shared their knowledge of forensic principles such as crime scene processing, blood spatter analysis and interviewing/interrogation. In return, paralegal studies students shared information relative to trial procedure, including courtroom technology, the preparation and examination of trial witnesses, and effectively delivering an opening statement and a closing argument.

Callie Nelson, a paralegal studies graduate, took the class when it first started and volunteered at the mock trial June 24. She is attending law school at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

“It is really important for us paralegal students to understand how the investigation works,” she said. “For criminal justice students, it is important to see what it is like after you are done investigating the crime.”

Josh Project educating, protecting community with help from UT

After her son Josh drowned at the age of 16, Wanda Butts decided she had to do something to save other families from the same heartache.

Zhada Fields spoke with three girls about how to swim during the Josh Project’s June 18 lesson at St. Francis de Sales High School.

Zhada Fields spoke with three girls about how to swim during the Josh Project’s June 18 lesson at St. Francis de Sales High School.

She founded the Josh Project, which has since taught hundreds of children how to swim and continues to educate the Toledo community on water safety.

This summer, the organization is holding free lessons for 114 students, 30 more than usual, thanks in part to members of The University of Toledo who helped them secure a grant.

The grant is from the Children’s Nationwide Hospital through funding from the Center for Disease Control. It is an injury prevention grant designed so that the Josh Project and UT researchers can measure attitudes and behavioral changes of parents about water safety after the program.

“We are a small organization, so with UT’s help writing the grant proposal for us and helping to get funding, we were able to offer our program to more students than we would normally be able to,” said Tankeeya Butts of the Josh Project.

In addition to writing the grant proposal, UT provided educational materials to participants, highlighting water safety tips. The University has created brochures and pamphlets, designed social media messages and other communications in order to help get the message across to parents and their children.

“The reality is that the parents have a great deal of influence on where their children swim and whether or not they’re supervised,” said Dr. Tavis Glassman, UT associate professor in the College of Health Sciences, the primary investigator for this study.

Glassman and his graduate students will be evaluating the intervention via a pre- and post-test study design utilizing a control group. They will then analyze the results, evaluate the program, and aim to publish those results in a journal.

For now, the grant provides funds to assess the current intervention, but Glassman is hoping to get further funding for other water safety studies so that they can continue their research.

Though this is one of the largest groups that the Josh Project has taught, it’s just one of many initiatives that the organization is working on to help protect Toledo’s youth. Just this year, the organization installed a life jacket station at Olander Park in Sylvania following the accidental drowning of a young boy last summer.

“We can count the number of students and parents in our program, but we know that we impact more than just those people,” Butts said. “We’ll never know how many lives we actually save because the people we teach will share the information that they learn. There’s a ripple effect.”

On June 18, the Josh Project participated in a worldwide swimming lesson. The local lesson, held at St. Francis de Sales High School, was one of more than 900 that took place around the globe on that day in an attempt to break a Guinness World Record.

There were 21 participants at St. Francis, with guest appearances by Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Robert Adler, commissioner of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

To get involved, visit joshproject.org or facebook.com/thejoshproject.

UT initiative dedicated to teaching how to promote peace

In a world plagued by violence and unrest, there is an initiative at The University of Toledo working for peaceful resolutions.

Dr. Tony Jenkins delivered a lecture on peace education in Trondheim, Norway in February.

Dr. Tony Jenkins delivered a lecture on peace education in Trondheim, Norway in February.

The Peace Education Initiative in the Judith Herb College of Education was established to help the University become a global leader in peace education. Through a variety of programming and research in peace education and peace studies, UT is working to promote understanding both in the local community and globally.

“Peace education, in a nutshell, is education about and for peace,” said Dr. Tony Jenkins, director of the initiative. “The two sides of the coin are learning that helps bring critical issues related to peace, conflict and violence into the curriculum, but more than that, it’s about how we prepare and nurture students to become critically engaged citizens who are able to create a better world for themselves and future generations. It’s not just learning about peace, but also capacitating students to resolve differences nonviolently.”

The rapidly growing field of study is available at more than 400 international universities, including UT, where a graduate certificate in peace education is offered. The certificate pushes students to explore the philosophy and theory of peace studies, and also teaches about incorporating peace into the curriculum.

“It’s about how we make the learning environment a space where we are modeling peaceful and just relationships,” Jenkins explained.

The subject leads to a host of potential jobs after graduation, ranging from community-based education or faith organizations to international peace and development organizations such as the United Nations.

According to Jenkins, the highlight of the initiative is the International Institute on Peace Education — a weeklong residential experience for peace educators hosted in a different country each year. Last year UT was established as the program’s coordination headquarters.

“It’s our shining gem,” Jenkins said.

The institute, which will be hosted at UT in July, was established by Dr. Betty A. Reardon in 1982 at Teachers College, Columbia University. It serves as an opportunity for peace educators to exchange theory and practical experiences to grow and enhance the field. This summer’s institute will explore urban revitalization as pursued through the lenses of peace and justice with emphasis given to the role of formal and nonformal educational strategies in contributing to positive community development.

The Peace Education Initiative also oversees the Betty A. Reardon Archives, which is housed in UT’s Canaday Center for Special Collections. The collection consists of Reardon’s extensive publications, unpublished manuscripts, curriculum, reports, scholarly presentations, and correspondence from the 1960s to the present about peace studies. Her archives have been in the Canaday Center since 2009.

For more information on the initiative and its programs, visit utoledo.edu/education/peace or contact Jenkins at tony.jenkins@utoledo.edu.

Brothers on the Rise helps students stay, succeed

College requires a major adjustment for many new students. They face various problems, based largely on their previous educational experience, culture and family situation.

“Students come to The University of Toledo with varied levels of academic preparedness, maturity and cultural readiness,” said Dr. Willie McKether, associate dean and associate professor in the College of Languages, Literature and Social Sciences. “First-generation, direct-from-high-school, and low-income students particularly face unique challenges.”

Demond Pryor, director of the Office of Recreation and vice chair of mentoring with Brothers on the Rise, shook hands with Deon Brown, a sixth-grader at Bennett Venture Academy, last month when students from the Toledo school visited campus.

Demond Pryor, director of the Office of Recreation and vice chair of mentoring with Brothers on the Rise, shook hands with Deon Brown, a sixth-grader at Bennett Venture Academy, last month when students from the Toledo school visited campus.

Being part of a predominantly white campus population, and often coming from an underperforming urban school district and a low-income household, he noted, can be intimidating and overwhelming.

Founded in 2011, Brothers on the Rise offers these students a lifeline. The group’s objective is to help UT males, especially African-American and Latino, make the transition from high school to college.

“We targeted this population because it has the lowest first- to second-year retention and graduation rates on campus,” McKether, Brothers on the Rise president, said.

In 2013, 18 percent of UT’s African-American male students and 39 percent of Latino males graduated after six years, compared with 51 percent of the University’s white male students. The greatest gap is in the retention between the students’ first and second years of college.

“When you see guys on campus one semester and you don’t see them the next, it hurts,” McKether said. “This is nothing short of a crisis. We lose kids all the time who want to be here but don’t know how to be here.”

To assist this transition, the group’s dozen faculty volunteers conduct biweekly “real talk” discussions with members to address concerns such as study habits and social issues. The group also assigns each student a UT mentor — faculty or staff member or graduate student — and connects him with another mentor from the community.

“We attempt to match students with members from the community in the profession or type of work in which the student hopes to engage upon graduation,” McKether said.

Victor Aberdeen Jr., who graduated in May with a bachelor of arts degree in English and communication, was matched with a local lawyer.

“My biggest off-campus mentor has been Pariss Coleman. He is an attorney here in Toledo,” Aberdeen said. “Pariss has taught me the importance of discipline, planning and professionalism.”

Aberdeen, who has been involved with Brothers on the Rise since 2012, will begin his first year as a law student at UT this fall.

He credited Brothers on the Rise leaders and on-campus mentors as well.

“Dr. McKether and Dr. [Anthony ] Quinn [assistant dean and associate professor in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics] both did a great job of encouraging the students to be active and take leadership roles at the University. I believe that taking on any role on campus, regardless of how big or small, allows for the student to grow as a leader and professional,” Aberdeen said.

As an undergraduate, Aberdeen was president of the African Peoples Association and served as a Presidential Ambassador.

In addition to McKether and Quinn, Aberdeen mentioned Dr. Sammy Spann, assistant provost for international studies and programs.

“Dr. Spann has been a constant source of support and encouragement for me from when I arrived at UT as a freshman. He has taught me that any idea is never out of reach regardless of how big of an idea it may be,” Aberdeen said.

As Brothers on the Rise enters its third year, efforts are paying off. Many students have experienced improvements in their grades, and many, like Aberdeen, are in leadership roles on campus. In addition, the majority of members are returning to UT year after year.

Thanks to a request from Xavier Owens, principal of Bennett Venture Academy in Toledo, Brothers on the Rise recently expanded its reach.

“I talked to Dr. McKether some time ago to express an idea that counters the ‘school house to jail house track,’ a process too many urban families are too familiar with. We want to create a school house to college track,” Owens said.

“One parent recently told me she took her kid to a Scared Straight Program; I told that mom that won’t work because our students understand this process all too well. I suggested taking him to a university so he can see what’s on the other end of the spectrum.

“After that conversation, I immediately called Dr. McKether. He made things happen with an all-day university visit for some of my most challenging students,” Owens said.

Ten Bennett Venture Academy students — nine boys and one girl — spent a day at UT last month.

“Xavier wanted these young students to meet African-American college students, professionals and professors,” Quinn said. “Many of these students had never been on UT’s campus and never imagined themselves attending college.”

“Too many urban youth do not understand that college is reachable and doable. Our primary goal for the visit was to put students around highly positive and successful black men,” Owens said.

Spann arranged for vans to transport the local students to and from the University. Demond Pryor, director of the Office of Recreation and vice chair of mentoring for Brothers on the Rise, provided meeting space in the Student Recreation Center.

“Brothers on the Rise undergraduate and graduate students took the lead in fielding questions from the students,” McKether said. “We were amazed and impressed with the quality and quantity of questions these young people had about attending college.

“We’re now discussing with Bennett the possibility of Brothers on the Rise adopting this school on a pilot basis to establish a mentoring program where we spend more time with these and other potential future Rockets.”

Even with these successes, Brothers on the Rise faces some hurdles.

“A major obstacle we face is lack of infrastructure and staffing to coordinate the program,” McKether noted. “Despite our knowing what works in retention, the volunteer nature of the organization makes it difficult to sustain and sub-optimizes efforts.”

The key to the organization’s continued success is financial support, according to Vern Snyder, UT vice president for institutional advancement.

“Dr. McKether and Dr. Quinn have accomplished a lot with very few resources. They have done wonders,” Snyder said. “Brothers on the Rise is worthy of support from our alumni and friends.”

For information on supporting Brothers on the Rise, contact Snyder at vern.snyder@ utoledo.edu or 419.530.4249.