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From music to medicine: MD/PhD student serves as concertmaster for high-profile charity orchestra in nation’s capital

Robin Su won an international piano competition before he had a driver’s license, has been invited to play at Carnegie Hall, and performed a violin solo at the esteemed Cleveland Orchestra.

But the greatest musical honor of the violinist and aspiring physician’s life came in August when he was selected to be concertmaster for two rare joint performances by the World Doctors Orchestra and the National Institutes of Health Philharmonia in Washington.

Robin Su, fourth-year MD/PhD candidate in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, performed last month with the World Doctors Orchestra and the National Institutes of Health Philharmonia in Washington.

Su, a fourth-year MD/PhD candidate in The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, wasn’t just sitting first chair — the most important orchestra position after the conductor — he was the only student among the 70 or so doctors and researchers volunteering their time for the charity concerts.

“It is very difficult to be invited to perform with this orchestra,” Su said. “Some of the world’s finest MDs and PhDs were there together.”

Su, 25, is hoping to join their ranks.

As he worked toward a degree in violin performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Su was taking pre-med classes at Case Western Reserve University.

Robin Su posed for a photo with Nancia D’Alimonte, music director of the National Institutes of Health Philharmonia, in Washington.

“I was always interested in music and medicine,” he said. “As I got older and looked at the different possibilities of pursing both, I think that became more realistic.”

Su was one of just three students accepted into UT’s joint MD/PhD Program in fall 2015. His current research is focused on how microcystin, a dangerous toxin produced by algal blooms, might affect individuals with pre-existing conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

He is working to find biomarkers that could help clinicians diagnose microcystin-induced liver damage.

“We’re trying to be at the front end and have preventative measures and diagnostic measures to prevent it from progressing further,” Su said. “Liver disease is a progressive disease from multiple hits, and we think that microcystin definitely plays into that and accelerates that process. We’re trying to prevent that from moving forward.”

As a professional musician, Su would dedicate eight hours a day to practice. That’s been significantly scaled back as he juggles his course load and laboratory work. Even so, Su managed to cram in four hours of practice every night in the weeks prior to the August performances.

Once together in Washington, the group went through three days of grueling eight-hour rehearsals. As concertmaster, Su took on many added responsibilities, including the execution of several solo passages, acting as a liaison between the conductor and orchestra to facilitate musical communication, and serving as a leader of the entire orchestra to ensure musical unity.

That’s no small task when you’re talking about an organization in the World Doctors Orchestra that draws from a rotating cast of more than 1,200 physicians from nearly 50 countries. Combine that with integrating musicians from the NIH Philharmonia, and it’s downright challenging.

“Normal orchestras rehearse throughout the year and we only have three days,” Su said. “I think everyone was very appreciative of my strong leadership of the orchestra, and I think it played a role in bringing everything together very quickly.”

His work won high praise from Sheyna Burt, president of the World Doctors Orchestra USA. There’s a bit of a cliché, Burt said, of a hard-charging physician by day and a dedicated amateur performer by night.

“With Robin it’s different. Whatever his academic prowess might be, he is a genuinely gifted and sensitive artist,” she said. “During the first rehearsal of the World Doctors Orchestra/NIH Philharmonia collaboration, I witnessed his interpretation of the opening violin solo in Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Russian Easter Overture’ stop an entire orchestra in its tracks.”

Su, who is about halfway through his dual degree program, eventually wants to actively practice medicine along with conducting academic research.

And he hopes to continue playing violin, encouraged by the world-class doctors and researchers with whom he recently performed.

“It’s definitely inspirational for me, seeing that physicians can still balance their work with their musical passion,” he said.

Greening UT’s projects blossoming

Greening UT has been leaving its mark on campus through projects aimed at replacing turf grass with native plantings and reintroducing habitats that once thrived in the area.

Greening UT is a team of students supported through the UT Student Green Fund. Its mission is to make the University a more sustainable institution and improve the human condition by supporting green ideas and initiatives proposed, decided upon, implemented by, and funded directly by students.

Black-eyed Susans, butterfly milkweed, false sunflower, partridge pair and gray-headed coneflower are included in Greening UT’s prairie planted by Bowman-Oddy Laboratories.

The group’s most recent project is a prairie planted in front of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories on Main Campus. This site was chosen due to its visibility, continuous monitoring, and two greenhouses that allow the students to manage seed sorting and growing.

“Native prairie plants work with the ecosystem rather than fighting it,” said Dr. Todd Crail, UT associate lecturer of environmental sciences. “They remove the need for fertilizer, dramatically reduce water usage, have root systems that store as much carbon as a forest, and additionally balance natural water and nutrient cycles. These plants species also feed the ecosystem through the food web interactions with insects and birds. Ultimately, they reduce the costs of maintaining a landscape, and we’re hoping to demonstrate that this different aesthetic is acceptable, if not beautiful and inspirational.”

Jeanna Meisner developed the Greening UT project as her capstone project. She graduated in 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in biology.

“Jeanna’s proposal was the first to receive wages for students from the UT Student Green Fund,” said Linnea Vicari, a former UT Greening student. “Using these hours, Jeanna and another student were paid to identify potential areas for native plantings on campus. As I moved in and Jeanna finished up, we focused on the Bowman-Oddy site.”

Service learning opportunities to work with these plants have been offered throughout the semester by faculty in the Environmental Sciences Department. Students can help raise and plant in existing prairies and gardens, as well as collect and process seeds to germinate and grow for new projects.

As for upcoming projects, UT Greening plans to work on filling existing prairies with more plant species and create more installations around campus, according to Bernadette Barror, a UT student on the team.

“I feel that this is a great way for students to get involved with plants on campus,” Barror said. “So many of our volunteers have never or rarely worked in a garden, and Greening UT provides not only this experience but the satisfaction of knowing that they are contributing to an improvement of the environment for the whole community.”

To the surprise of many, herbicide is one of the tools used when converting swaths of turf grass and is coordinated with UT Facilities.

“[Targeted] spraying will give us a clean slate to work with,” Barror explained. “When we do this, it will kill the invasive plants while not affecting the plants we want to grow.”

“Working with UT Greening was an incredible experience for me,” Vicari said. “UT Greening helped me develop my leadership skills as well as really rooting me into the Environmental Science Department.”

Students who are interested in learning about UT Greening, its projects and volunteering opportunities are encouraged to contact Crail at todd.crail@utoledo.edu or Dr. Jon Bossenbroek, director of the UT Office of Undergraduate Research and professor of environmental sciences, at jonathan.bossenbroek@utoledo.edu.

Photographer frames memories for Art on the Mall

A stolen moment brought life into focus for Agnes L. Barnes.

In 1985, she and her husband, Chet Barnes, were on vacation in California when their friend’s car was broken into; the thief took her vintage camera, an Argus C3.

Agnes and Chet Barnes hold two of her photographs taken at the Toledo Museum of Art and Wildwood Preserve Metropark. The couple will be at Art on the Mall Sunday, July 29.

“Then I bought a Canon Rebel G,” she said. “Right after that, we went to South Africa, and I got some really nice pictures.”

A photograph of three majestic elephants crossing the road at Kruger National Park. A crouching lion near Johannesburg. Thatched-roof huts in Soweto.

“When people saw the photos from South Africa and commented on how great the pictures were, I realized, well, maybe I have an ability many people don’t have. I was 50 years old before I discovered this,” Agnes said and laughed.

“She never had a lesson in photography. She’s taken pictures, pictures and more pictures,” Chet said beaming with pride. “Her first show was in Sylvania in 1994. We had photos hanging on chicken wire under an umbrella. She won a blue ribbon and sold so many photos.”

More shows and awards followed. And more photos.

Freshly fallen snow on the boardwalk at Wildwood Preserve Metropark. UT’s iconic University Hall bell tower. The colorful animal menagerie mural on the railroad bridge over the Anthony Wayne Trail by the Toledo Zoo. A close-up of a pink rose with dewdrops.

Agnes L. Barnes looked at daisies in her garden. She loves taking photographs of flowers.

“A lot of the photos are serendipity,” Chet said. “I hear all the time, ‘Chet, get the camera.’ I’ll think she’s had enough time for a shot, and I look over and her toes are moving her back and forth: She has to get it just right.”

“I like to capture the beauty for others to enjoy that beauty,” Agnes said.

After Chet retired from Toledo Public Schools in 1996, the couple traveled so Agnes could capture more beauty.

The two have been up and down the East Coast, zooming in on lighthouses and old Southern homes. They went to England and visited quaint villages and gorgeous gardens. Island-hopping on Pohnpei, Guam, Saipan and Hawaii found lush, tropical paradises. And during two weeks in China, Agnes pointed her camera at the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors.

“So many people have told me that looking at my photos is like taking a vacation,” Agnes said.

While her striking images can transport viewers, she didn’t recognize her superpower for years.

“I didn’t look at the camera as an artistic tool; I just looked at it as something to record for future reference,” Agnes said.

“During my early years, I was born in 1937, and then World War II started, and film was very difficult to get. We did not have many pictures of my family growing up. So I made up my mind I was going to make sure I had pictures of my little brother and of my own children someday.”

With her mom’s Brownie camera, Agnes took photos of her baby brother, Paul, who was born in 1950. And then with the Argus C3, she clicked away while her children, John and Beth Ann, were growing up.

When 11-year-old Beth Ann passed away from leukemia in 1980, those images helped Agnes and Chet.

Agnes L. Barnes’ photographs appear in the book, “Choosing the Gift: Dealing With the Loss of a Loved One.”

“Most of the photos of my children were on slides, which turned out to be a really good thing,” Agnes said. “After Beth Ann’s death, I gave talks on how to help grieving families, and I showed slides of her, plus audio of her, so people would feel like they knew her, and they could see where our grief was coming from. I gave talks for 10 years.”

For nearly a decade, Agnes and Chet facilitated a bereavement group for parents.

And some of Agnes’ breathtaking shots of nature are featured in a book, “Choosing the Gift: Dealing With the Loss of a Loved One,” by Dr. Scott Shepherd and the photographer.

“The majority of the pictures I sell are because they bring back memories to my customers, I do believe,” she said.

Agnes and Chet will return to Art on the Mall Sunday, July 29. The cute couple sporting matching T-shirts that say “Eye-Catching Photos by Agnes L. Barnes” will be among more than 100 artists showcasing their work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the free, juried show on Centennial Mall.

“Art on the Mall is a good show,” Agnes said. “Many of my customers are repeat customers; they return again and again. One lady told me that she has an entire wall that she calls her ‘Agnes wall’ because it is filled with my photos. It’s nice to keep in contact with my customers.”

Chet likes returning to his alma mater each summer; he received a master of education degree and an education specialist in guidance and counselor education in 1973 and 1975, respectfully.

“Every picture has a story,” he said.

“Chet is good at telling stories and keeping people in the booth,” Agnes said and smiled.

A missed photo opportunity is one of his favorite tales.

“The one time we didn’t have a camera was when we met Elvis Presley,” he said. “True story!”

Whimsical, funky pieces featured in UT’s Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition

A fire seemingly blazes on the hill west of University Hall. A plucky musical instrument stands outside the Center for Performing Arts. And a 1,500-pound yellow creature soon will lumber near the entrance of UT Medical Center.

Cynthia McKean’s “Fire VI,” Michael Magnotta’s “Rodney’s Bass” and John Parker’s “Ornythopterus” are three of the 10 new works being installed for The University of Toledo’s 13th annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition.

“Rodney’s Bass” by Michael Magnotta is located outside the Center for Performing Arts.

“Inspiration for my work comes from my life — my experiences and things I love: jazz, space, nature and beauty in all its manifestations,” Magnotta said. “My sculptures typically begin with a trip to the metal yard. From the shapes and textures I rescue, a conversation takes place — a visual conversation — that results in the three-dimensional work composing my sculptures.”

“Outdoor sculptures have to function in a comprehensive way as a drive-by experience, as strong and dynamic silhouettes,” Parker said. “With further exploration for the passer-by, a deeper appreciation and enjoyment can be explored walking around, under and through the pieces.

“Art is not an instant snapshot. It is meant to be lived with and experienced,” he said.

Like perennials, the artwork comes to life each spring on campus.

“This is such a gorgeous time of year when nature puts on a show. The sculptures add another dimension to that beauty — a pop of color here, movement there,” said Dr. Steve LeBlanc, executive associate dean of fiscal affairs in the Office of the Provost and chair of the Campus Beautification Committee.

“Homage to Matisse” by Mike Sohikian sits near the sidewalk between University Hall and the Memorial Field House.

Two of the new eye-catching works are by Mike Sohikian. “Homage to Matisse” features four steel figures in various positions of repose along the sidewalk between University Hall and the Memorial Field House. And located on the east side of the Health and Human Services Building, “Dance of Bliss” shows motion and strength.

Another steel piece, “Poetry” by Maureen Gray, is appropriately placed in Carlson Library’s new plaza. Matt Amante’s “Elevated Intersection” adds an elegant dash of blue to Ravin Plaza on Centennial Mall.

“Stainless Steel IV” by David Vande Vusse gleams near the sidewalk on the north side of University and Gillham halls. Charles Pilkey’s “Paleozoic Landscape” consists of painted steel and river pebbles; it will rest on the west side of Centennial Mall.

And Ray Katz’s aluminum work aptly named “Burst” is located between Nitschke and Palmer halls near the traffic circle.

Nearly 170 artists submitted proposals to the Midwest Sculpture Initiative, and the UT Campus Beautification Committee reviewed the entries and selected pieces for this year’s exhibition.

Cynthia McKean’s “Fire VI” roars on the hill west of University Hall.

Artists receive stipends for the sculptures, which will be on display for the next year.

More than 120 sculptures have rotated through the display at the University since the exhibit began, and 11 have become part of UT’s art collection thanks to the generosity of campus benefactors, colleges and departments, according to LeBlanc.

“Gifts from donors make the annual exhibition possible,” he said. “If you like the sculptures, please consider a gift to the Campus Beautification Committee through the UT Foundation.”

Go to https://give2ut.utoledo.edu.

UT student selected for Fulbright Award

Soon-to-be-UT graduate Kristen Murray is undoubtedly the best argument for making sure to check junk email folders.

Murray, who will graduate May 5 with a bachelor of arts degree in global studies, received a prestigious gift last week — an email from J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board representatives notifying her that she’d been selected a Fulbright student ambassador to Mexico.

Murray

“I’d been waiting to hear because it’s been hard to plan the next year until I knew,” Murray, a Toledo native, said and chuckled. “My friend had just asked about it and said, ‘Whatever happens, happens for a reason,’ and there was the letter in my junk mail.”

Murray will be an English teaching assistant in a yet-unassigned area of Mexico from September 2018 to May 2019. The Bowsher High School graduate also submitted a plan to create a volleyball team in her Mexican community or participate in an existing program.

“They really want you immersed in the local community when you’re not teaching,” Murray said. “I played volleyball and coached seventh grade, freshman and varsity while in college, so it will be a great way to tie together all of my passions.”

The Fulbright Award is named for former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, who in 1945 introduced a bill to promote goodwill between the U.S. and other countries. Today, the program awards 3,500 student scholarships each year in research, study and teaching to 140 countries.

Being selected a Fulbright scholar is a competitive and, as Murray discovered, a lengthy process. She applied in summer 2017, was notified that she was a finalist in January (via an email in her junk folder), and endured a tough interview before receiving last week’s notification.

Murray’s global studies advisor, Dr. Jetsa Cáceres, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, said the award will have benefits beyond her time in Mexico.

“It’s a huge deal,” Cáceres said, noting that only 54 Fulbright Awards to Mexico are offered. “It gives students an opportunity to live abroad for a year and experience cultures, languages and opportunities they’ll never get in a classroom.

“Fulbright scholars have gone on to be Nobel prize winners, leaders in business, government and academia, and global trailblazers. If I was on a hiring committee and I had a choice of a candidate who had a Fulbright experience and one who did not, I’d choose the Fulbright scholar without even thinking.”

The Fulbright Award is another step toward Murray’s eventual goal of working in the U.S. Department of State with a specialty in Latin-American relations. She’s had internships in Peru, Cuba and Ecuador, and was elected by the Organization of American States as an international observer of the Ecuadoran election process in 2017.

Calling the experience “amazing,” Murray recalled, “I got to see firsthand one of the cornerstones of democracy, a presidential election in a different country. I got to talk to everyone in the town where I was living about the elections, including different groups such as Afro-Ecuadorans and indigenous Ecuadorans about the political climate and how it affected them.”

Murray understands the current U.S. political climate will be a topic of keen discussion once she arrives in her assigned city.

“I definitely think I’ll get a lot of questions about the current administration and the situation here in the U.S.,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I should go. I think it’s important that people judge our country not only on news and policy, but from meeting me as a U.S. citizen and knowing me as an actual person.”

This summer, she’ll study for her GRE so she can apply to graduate schools in December. She plans to earn a master’s degree in Latin American affairs.

With an “about 80 percent” fluency in Spanish, Murray also intends to use her time in Mexico to master the language while immersing herself in the culture of its people.

“I think it’s important to understand the countries we’re creating policies with and making deals with,” she said. “A lot of times, the voices of those who are most affected by policy are left out of the discussion. I want to try to change that.”

World War II veteran to graduate from UT

At the age of 96, Robert Edgar Barger will graduate Saturday, May 5, from The University of Toledo with an associate of technical studies degree from University College.

Barger entered the military service in 1940 with the United States Navy, where he served as a commissioned naval officer, earned his naval aviator wings, and was detailed as a naval flight officer.

Barger

After returning from WWII, Barger attended the University, but left before finishing his degree so he could get a job to provide for his wife and two children.

In 2013, Barger met Navy Reserve Lt. Haraz N. Ghanbari, UT director of military and veteran affairs, when he promoted Ghanbari to the rank of lieutenant.

Ghanbari later found out that Barger had not been able to finish his degree.

After reviewing Barger’s transcripts, it was determined the veteran met the requirements to graduate with an associate degree.

“We are proud to honor a member of the ‘Greatest Generation’ at commencement,” said Dr. Barbara Kopp Miller, dean of University College. “It will be a memorable moment to see Bob receive the degree he earned and pay tribute to a veteran who served our country.”

Barger has invited 100 people from his retirement community to the commencement ceremony and plans on having a large graduation party to celebrate his achievement.

World War II Navy veteran Robert Edgar Barger held a photo taken of himself Oct. 9, 1943, during his service as a naval aviator.

He is believed to be the oldest UT graduate.

Barger said that earning his degree is something he will be proud of for the rest of his life and is excited to accomplish something he had set out to complete many years ago.

“I thought I would never be able to accomplish this degree,” Barger said. “My grandson graduated from UT, and he no longer can say he is one up on me; I have a degree, too, just took me a while!”

Barger has four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren.

High school sophomore brings touch of home to UTMC patients

Patients undergoing chemotherapy at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at The University of Toledo were surprised earlier this month with gifts of fleece blankets from 15-year-old Mae Kennedy of Toledo.

“Two years ago, my grandmother was a cancer patient, and she complained of the scratchy hospital blankets at the hospital that smelled of medicine,” Kennedy said.

Mae Kennedy gave one of the blankets she made for her project, A Touch of Home ,to Fremont resident Cathy Warwick, a patient at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center.

Following her grandmother’s death last year, Kennedy wanted to replace those scratchy blankets with new fleece lap blankets.

Kennedy, who is a sophomore at Central Catholic High School, created an organization, A Touch of Home, for a National Honor Society project. She buys the fleece fabric and makes blankets to sell. The remaining fabric and any money she has left is used to make more blankets to give away.

Since beginning the project in December, Kennedy has sold more than 25 blankets.

April 3 was the first day that Kennedy distributed the blankets at UTMC, where her mother, Melissa Kennedy, is respiratory therapist.

Therapy dog and educator inspire, energize children at local schools

Instant smiles. It’s almost a whiteout inside Reynolds Elementary School.

Hazel, the therapy dog, is in the hallway, and happiness abounds.

Marquis, a student at Reynolds Elementary School, petted Hazel, a therapy dog, as owner Dr. Dawn Sandt watched.

It’s just another day for the sweet, outgoing golden retriever and her owner, Dr. Dawn Sandt, associate professor in the Department of Early Childhood, Higher Education and Special Education.

“Hazel!” yelled a boy in the preschool special-needs classroom, alerting all to the visitors.

“Do you want to go see Hazel?” teacher Bridget Harding asked as the children walked and crawled toward the therapy dog that laid down and was content literally being the center of attention.

“Get your pets in,” Harding encouraged the kids sitting around their four-legged friend. “Let’s talk about Hazel’s tail today. She’s wagging her tail. When she’s happy, she wags it back and forth. Ricardo, where’s your tail? Do you have a tail?”

Ricardo shook his head no, beaming as he ran his hand over Hazel’s soft coat.

Sandt knelt next to Hazel; she held the dog’s leash and monitored all interactions.

Dr. Dawn Sandt, right, and Reynolds Elementary School teacher Leah Richter, center, watched as Hazel visited Ireland.

Then it was on to a classroom to see medically fragile students.

Hazel walked up to teacher Leah Richter. After soaking up compliments and a few pats, Hazel melted into the floor and flipped over, and Richter obliged with a belly rub.

“That’s her shtick — she says ‘Hi’ and rolls over,” Sandt said and laughed. “She likes it here.”

Watching it all from her wheelchair was Ireland, who could not stop smiling.

“You love it when Hazel and Dawn come!” Richter said to Ireland.

With encouragement from Sandt, Hazel put her paws on the edge of Ireland’s chair — and the girl grinned.

Then it was time to see the younger medically fragile students.

Marquis, a student seated on the floor, clapped and started humming when Hazel trotted into the room.

Paraprofessional Zippy Keith helped Lee grasp a tennis ball to give to Hazel during a recent visit to Reynolds Elementary School.

“We have a gift! We have doggy tennis balls for Hazel,” paraprofessional Zippy Keith announced.

The children took turns tossing the ball for the canine. For the first time, Lee picked up a ball and handed it to Hazel.

Meanwhile, teacher Liz Bishop told Tessa she needed to complete her assignment so she could see Hazel.

“We’re all so happy to see Hazel. We enjoy her,” Keith said as the kids petted the retriever.

“Aren’t you glad you got your work done?” Bishop asked Tessa, who lit up when Hazel gently stood up on the side of her wheelchair.

“Thank you for the visit,” paraprofessional Melissa Falkenberg said as Sandt and Hazel left.

“The best part of making the rounds with Hazel is seeing students progress toward their individualized goals and realizing Hazel did contribute to that progress in some way,” Sandt said.

Paraprofessional Melissa Falkenberg smiled as Hazel took her tennis ball to Dylan. The therapy dog regularly visits Reynolds Elementary School.

Sandt and Hazel have been visiting students at Reynolds Elementary for two years.

“We started in the classrooms where students were medically fragile. Hazel does well in those classrooms because she is willing to initiate contact with the children,” Sandt said. “The children have opportunities to track her with their eyes, reach out to pet her, and grasp and drop a ball for her to retrieve.

“We wanted to go into that classroom because the medically fragile population need intensive interventions, and I thought Hazel could help with communication and social interaction, as well as some range of motion activities.”

Indeed, the pretty pooch that will turn 4 in August does just that. Tessa communicated with her assistive device so she could see Hazel, and Lee had a breakthrough by picking up a tennis ball.

“The teachers, nurses and I thought that was pretty extraordinary for [Lee], who is medically fragile and also has sensory issues. The nurse said he had never shown that type of initiative before,” Sandt said.

“I like watching the preschool students interact with Hazel,” she said. “This gives the students a chance to learn about dogs, their body parts, how they move, and how to care for them. The preschool students are learning content knowledge — for example, same vs different — and functional skills like waiting their turn, asking permission to pet, communicating their name and Hazel’s name. These are relevant skills they can use in kindergarten and in the community.”

The duo also visits McTigue Elementary School.

“The administration and teachers within Toledo Public Schools have been wonderful to Hazel, and it is work that makes a difference,” Sandt said. “Wherever we go, the teachers appreciate the opportunity to interact with her.”

Dr. Dawn Sandt said Hazel would go home and sleep after visiting children at Reynolds Elementary School.

Dr. Virginia Keil, interim dean of the Judith Herb College of Education, said Sandt and Hazel are an example of how faculty collaborate with Toledo Public Schools.

“Dawn is deeply committed to working with our school partners to provide support for medically fragile children with special needs along with the educators in these classrooms,” Keil said. “Therapy dogs like Hazel are desperately needed to provide affection, comfort and love, which can help to improve the lives of the children they have visited.

“Watching Dawn and Hazel work together to support these children is heart-warming. Their work is an invaluable service to the community.”

“There is growing evidence that animals in school settings have potential benefits on cognitive and socio-emotional behavior, as well as physiological responses of children,” Sandt said. “However, there is a need for a larger evidence base of studies that are designed with more rigor and adhere to strict protocols for human and animal welfare and safety.”

To that end, Sandt is working with Dr. Janet Hoy-Gerlach, associate professor in the UT Social Work Program and author of the book, “Human-Animal Interactions: A Social Work Guide.” They have applied for a grant to explore how therapy dogs can be used in applied behavior analysis interventions for students with disabilities.

Sandt has another golden retriever, Rusty. The 2-year-old is training to be a therapy dog.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else with the time I have on this earth,” she said as she gave Hazel a treat.

In her quest to find ‘home,’ UT graduate student wins Sahara marathon

As her feet pounded the dirt road — mile after mile — through the Sahara Desert in northern Africa, the wind whipped sand through Inma Zanoguera’s hair and up her nose.

Camels lifted their heads, their long-lashed eyes following her as she ran by. Up and down the rocky dunes under the cloudy sky, The University of Toledo graduate student and former basketball player ran.

Based on last year’s winning time, Inma Zanoguera knew she had a shot at winning the Sahara Marathon — and she did, becoming the first Sahrawi to win the 26-mile race. (Photo by Damien Patard)

What was she chasing?

To while away the hours, Zanoguera filmed herself talking to her family on the GoPro she carried. She recited poetry. And she returned to her favorite running song, Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA”:

I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA…
Got war and peace inside my DNA
I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA
I was born like this…

This song meant a lot to Zanoguera on so many levels. It was her DNA that brought her to the desert, the birthplace of her biological mother. She was on a quest of sorts, a search for her roots.

Inma Zanoguera’s journey to Africa was about much more than the marathon. In her search for her roots, Zanoguera said she found more questions than answers. She said she relishes the connections she made with people in the camps, who were gracious and hospitable. (Photo by Michelle-Andrea Girouard)

As she crossed the finish line, completing her first marathon, Zanoguera fell to her knees. A race representative scanned her bar code. It was official: She had won the race with a time of 3:48:11 — the first Sahrawi woman to win the 18-year-old event.

The 2018 marathon was historic. For the first time, Sahrawis won both the men’s and women’s marathons.

A search for ‘home’

Adopted when she was a toddler by a family in Mallorca, Spain, Zanoguera discovered last year that her birth mother was a Sahrawi.

In 1975-76, Sahrawis fled their home in Western Sahara as Moroccan soldiers invaded during the Western Sahara War. Zanoguera’s mom was fortunate to land in Spain. But many others ended up in refugee camps in Algeria. They are still there, four decades later.

The marathon route traveled through three of the five refugee camps.

Zanoguera said she tried not to have any expectations of her trip to Africa. She wanted to remain open to whatever she saw and felt. A few weeks later, back in Toledo, she is still processing the experience.

Inma Zanoguera looked at her award for winning the 2018 Sahara Marathon; the awards were made by artist Mohamed Sulaiman Labat, who lives in Smara, the refugee camp where Zanoguera stayed while in Algeria. (Photo by Michelle-Andrea Girouard)

After the race, she stayed in Smara, one of the camps, for a few days. The people there knew who she was by then — the girl who won the marathon. Some of them knew her story, that her mother was a Sahrawi. They peppered her with questions: “How do you feel being back home?” “Do you feel Sahrawi?”

“Those were big questions,” Zanoguera said.

She didn’t have ready answers.

The question of “home” has always been one that troubles her, she said. She never felt quite at home in Spain, where the only people who looked like her were her brother and sister.

She decided to come to America in part because it had black and brown people. But when she got here, she said she was still seen as “other,” as a foreigner.

“I never feel at home anywhere,” she said. “Part of me unconsciously wanted to find a home [on this trip to Africa].”

At the award ceremony the day after the race, Inma Zanoguera raised the Sahrawi flag, the flag of her birth mother’s homeland. (Photo by Michelle-Andrea Girouard)

After she won the marathon, the Sahrawi minister of sports held a reception for the 2015 UT alumna.

“He welcomed me home,” she said. He told her he was happy to have her back, even though this was her first trip to her mother’s homeland. She was offered dual citizenship.

As she wandered the camps, she knew she stood out. Once again, nobody looked like her. She wasn’t wearing a melhfa, the traditional full body cloth that Sahrawi women wear. But at the same time, she said, it was like holding up a mirror to herself when she looked at them.

She said she was touched by their hospitality, their willingness to answer her questions. She had so many. “What do you think about someone like me coming to the camp and calling herself Sahrawi? How do you find meaning in the camps?”

Inma Zanoguera befriended 18-year-old Mohamed Moulud on the day of the race’s award ceremony. He convinced Zanoguera that she should raise the Sahrawi flag when she claimed her prize.

Zanoguera found the answer to that last question when she met an artist, Mohamed Sulaiman Labat. He showcases his art in Germany and England and had every opportunity to leave the camps. But he didn’t.

“The world has enough art,” he told Zanoguera. “They need me here.”

He built a studio in the camp and creates art out of whatever he can find — wood, cloth, clay, metal. He made the colorful, creative awards that Zanoguera and the other runners received.

Zanoguera said she thought she might have some kind of mystical revelation as she ran. She didn’t. But one evening at sunset, her guide took her and Canadian filmmaker Michelle-Andrea Girouard, who is making a documentary about Zanoguera’s search for her roots, to the dunes near the camps.

As she gazed out over the endless horizon, Zanoguera said she had a moment of sadness. There isn’t much beauty in the camps, she said, but here, there was indescribable beauty.

Inma Zanoguera took this photo of the endless Saharan dunes near the refugee camp.

“I realized that the beauty, the oil, the [natural resources] were so out of reach for those who belong to the land. They didn’t get to enjoy this,” she said.

Finding her place

The marathon and the connections she made to her mother’s people were healing for her, Zanoguera said.

“This trip was part of the learning process and acceptance,” she said. “I am Spanish, and I am Sahrawi, and I feel like a part of me also is American because I came here at such a young age. I am all these things, not just one.”

She said she has more questions now than when she started.

“I don’t know yet what it means for me and how it will affect my daily life,” she said.

Zanoguera and Girouard raised $1,200 for the refugees. Zanoguera said the two want to be smart and use it to create a sustainable program for the refugees. They’re considering starting a sports program for children, a way to distract the kids from life in the camps and share the many lessons that Zanoguera learned from athletics.

Her new friends in the camps asked if she was going to come back to visit. Zanoguera said she’s not sure. She said she would love to come back when their film is finished and present it at FiSahra, the film festival the camps hold each year.

Celebrating her victory

At the award ceremony the day after the marathon, Zanoguera leaned against a fence as she waited to receive her prize. She was torn. She’d never really felt a strong allegiance to any flag. When she played basketball for the Spanish national team, she said it never felt right to her to raise the Spanish flag.

But here, among the Sahrawi people, it felt right to raise the Sahrawi flag.

“But how do you dare raise a flag that signifies so much persistence and honor after only three days of being in this camp?” she said.

As she waited, she struck up a conversation with Mohamed Moulud, an 18-year-old refugee, who stood on the other side of the fence. She asked him what he thought. Would he be offended if she raised the Sahrawi flag?

“You absolutely must,” he told her.

She turned to the crowd and asked to borrow someone’s Sahrawi flag. As she walked to the stage — the first Sahrawi woman to win the Sahara Marathon — she carried the flag of her mother’s country and raised it high.

UT chapter of Food Recovery Network reduces, recycles

The University of Toledo is addressing food waste and hunger with the Food Recovery Network, the largest student movement to fight waste and feed people in America.

UT’s chapter is the fourth largest donor of recovered food among Ohio colleges involved with the organization. Since its inception in fall 2015, the UT group has donated more than 6,500 pounds of food to those in need in the Toledo community.

Kate Barbee of the catering staff, Chef Manager Otis Fitzpatrick, center, and Jacob Beakas of the UT chapter of the Food Recovery Network posed for a photo last month with food that was donated to an area organization.

Students involved in the organization take food left over in the dining halls at the end of each week to various places around Toledo; these locations include the Cherry St. Mission, St. Paul’s Community Center, Family House, Aurora Project and the Beach House Family Shelter.

In addition to recovering food from on-campus dining halls, the chapter collects leftovers from Panera Bread every week. In the past, members have worked with various UT campus events, alumni tailgates, Monnette’s Market, and Fowl and Fodder.

“Lucas County has one of the highest poverty rates in Ohio,” said Krisha Conley, president of the UT chapter of the Food Recovery Network. “To see how much waste college campuses provide nationwide is unsettling. This program not only provides a meal to those who are hungry, it connects the campus to the community in a way that is personal and humbling.”

Founded in 2011, the Food Recovery Network has 230 U.S. chapters that have distributed more than 2 million pounds of perishable food that otherwise would go to waste on campuses, restaurants and stores.

Jacob Beakas of the UT chapter of the Food Recovery Network loaded his car with food from the University to take to a local shelter as Chef Manager Otis Fitzpatrick watched.

While Toledo offers many resources for those affected by poverty, the winter months especially propose a challenge as many shelters are at or over capacity and run on little to no funding. The food donated from UT, ranging from 50 to 200 pounds weekly, is either served immediately or the next day and helps to alleviate stress on budgets.

“Overall, our waste at UT is relatively low, but we do see the amount of a donation increase as we go into winter or summer break due to closing of our locations,” said Gary B. Casteel, resident district manager with UT Dining and Hospitality Services.

“Items donated vary weekly depending on the menu offerings at our locations. Donated foods include fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, pasta, desserts and more,” Casteel said. “Our priority is to offer our guests a top-quality product at a good value, but if there are usable leftovers, we wish to ensure they are put to good use by supporting our local community and those in need.”

In addition to the weekly donations, the students in the UT chapter of the Food Recovery Network also volunteer at the Cherry St. Mission and are working toward more volunteer opportunities at St. Paul’s and Family House.

“Administrators have a responsibility to engage with our students in support of the common good through stewardship and philanthropy,” Bonnie Murphy, UT associate vice president for auxiliaries, said. “College life raises students’ awareness of the importance of advocating for kindness. We would like to think we play a part in our students’ development.”

Conley said the organization also helps to provide an educational standpoint for students as they can learn how much food is wasted and teach them to be more aware on how much they consume.

“My experiences with the Toledo community has humbled me beyond belief and taught me to love my neighbor no matter the circumstance,” Conley said. “I am constantly mindful of what my actions are doing to impact others. The Food Recovery Network has provided a spot in my heart to serve others by action and creating relationships instead of being a bystander.”

To learn more about the organization or to get involved, contact Conley at krisha.conley@rockets.utoledo.edu.