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Ottawa River Photography Contest winners announced

Three UT graduate students won gift cards for their striking shots entered in the 2016 Ottawa River Photography Contest.

Bruce Kwiatkowski, who is pursuing a master of arts degree in German, won first place with his photo titled “Winter Scene.”

Tyler Westendorf, a graduate student in environmental science, came in second with his shot, “Bridge View.”

And Isha Muthreja, a graduate student in engineering, took third place with her photo titled “Reflections.”

“This contest was created to encourage students to take a closer look at the Ottawa River,” said Dr. Patrick Lawrence, associate dean of social and behavioral sciences in the College of Arts and Letters; professor of geography and planning; and chair of the President’s Commission on the River. “And it’s a great way to showcase the beauty of the waterway that we’re lucky to have run through campus.”

The event was part of the Celebrate Our River Week and was sponsored by the President’s Commission on the River.

Bruce Kwiatkowski won first place with “Winter Scene.”

Bruce Kwiatkowski won first place with “Winter Scene.”

Tyler Westendorf came in second with “Bridge View.”

Tyler Westendorf came in second with “Bridge View.”

Isha Muthreja took third place with “Reflections.”

Isha Muthreja took third place with “Reflections.”

UT cancer survivor forms team for Komen Race for the Cure

Until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in spring 2015, it was the kind of thing that happened to someone else.

Now Wendy Howe, The University of Toledo’s assistant director of recruitment events, knows the importance of a team when it comes to fighting cancer.

UT employee and cancer survivor Wendy Howe snuggles with the youngest members of her care team, her children, Abby, Ben, center, and Caleb.

UT employee and cancer survivor Wendy Howe snuggles with the youngest members of her care team, her children, Abby, Ben, center, and Caleb.

On Sunday, Sept. 25, Howe and her team will join thousands of other walkers and runners at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in celebration of her own victory over cancer and in support of all of those who have battled breast cancer.

“My diagnosis meant I had to rely on others to take care of me. Co-workers and friends organized meals, the school principal helped with my kids, my family helped with chores, and my husband researched the best doctors,” she said. “We assembled a team to take on cancer together.”

Howe credits her team at UT’s Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center with providing top-quality care during her cancer treatment. She said the physicians and nurses fought for her, cared for her, and encouraged her as she went through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

A little more than a year later, Howe is living cancer-free.

“Thanks to my team, I’m in a great place right now,” Howe said. “I’m in a place where I can give back.”

Howe is inviting members of the UT community to join her at northwest Ohio’s Race for the Cure. Faculty, physicians, staff and students are welcome to join Howe by registering to join team UT Survivors online at http://komennwohio.org.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in going through this, it is that people are awesome,” Howe said. “I feel like I have a whole new network of people who have been down this road and have been touched by cancer. It’s a special bond.”

Keeping the faith: Senior lecturer explores immortality in new book

The greatest mysteries of all time: death, the afterlife, and the essence of the human soul.

“I am terrified of dying, and I think most people are,” Dr. Deborah M. Coulter-Harris said. “As humans grow older, they become increasingly aware of their mortality, and I am part of this group.”

web chasing immortality coverThe senior lecturer in The University of Toledo Department of English Language and Literature decided to delve deeper and examine the eternal enigmas.

“I have studied comparative religion for over 40 years and have always wanted to write a book that analyzed similarities rather than differences in varied faith systems,” Coulter-Harris said. “I wanted to highlight connections and influences that ancient religions had on later faith systems.”

Chasing Immortality in World Religions (McFarland & Co. Inc.) was published in August.

“Beginning with ancient Sumer and traversing ideas in ancient Egypt, Greece, India, and in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I attempted to discover how earlier, regional, religious models influenced subsequent theories, and if this multitudinous array of thinking developed simply as a reaction to historical events or to an assimilation of cultural values,” Coulter-Harris wrote in the book.

She discovered that man’s belief in immortality and afterlife hasn’t changed much in 6,000 years.

“After many years of studying these issues, I was not a bit surprised, as there has been a continuity of general ideas about immortality and the afterlife throughout human history,” she said.

God, Anu, Ra, Zeus, Vishnu, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah — to believe or not to believe, that is the question.

“Whether one chooses to believe or not, the concept of immortality becomes a type of protector of human morality,” Coulter-Harris said.

Perchance to presume that there is an afterlife, that the soul lives on, that resurrection is around the corner.

“Considering the vast number of texts throughout the millennia that support these possibilities, it would seem more logical to accept that not all of these minds can be in error,” Coulter-Harris wrote in the book.

Yet doubters abound.

“As the human mind is finite, full understanding of such mysteries is impossible, unless it can be concluded that belief in immortality is simply a delusion created to bring order, control and optimism to human lives, and, without such a fantasy, life would be a nihilistic misadventure, an existence that would have meaning only in the material,” she wrote in the book.

While growing up, the author attended Roman Catholic schools for 12 years.

“I treasure the fact that I had such a sound and stable cultural background,” she said. “As a professionally trained analyst, I consciously try to avoid biases toward other religious systems, and, in this book, I make no value judgments or moral assessments of any of the religions.”

She has faith: “I know I fall short of moral perfection, but I do try to be kind and generous in my dealings with others. I hope I am found worthy of assuming my immortal body on Resurrection Day, as promised in scriptures. I believe there is some type of afterlife, but the form and essence that the afterlife will take is unknown to me as a concrete concept — the same with the soul.”

Coulter-Harris will read from and discuss Chasing Immortality in World Religions Thursday, Sept. 22, at 3:30 p.m. in the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections in Carlson Library. 

“I want readers to recognize that human beings are more than just an enlivened lump of clay, more than a miraculous and complex combination of minerals, proteins and atoms, that we are vessels of some greater love, intelligence, energy and spirit,” she said. “Our religions are more connected than disconnected.”

Chasing Immortality in World Religions is $35 and available at the Barnes & Noble University Bookstore, Barnes & Noble online, Amazon, and hundreds of online booksellers worldwide.

Physician recommends specialized care for senior citizens

Aging is inevitable, and health issues can start to arise as our bodies get older. While some aches, pains and forgetfulness are a normal part of this process, other symptoms can signal a more serious problem.

September is Healthy Aging Month, and UT Health physicians want to remind caregivers that now is a great time to take a closer look at the health of the senior citizens in their lives.

Garg

Garg

“When most people think of health-care concerns as we age, they most commonly think about memory loss and dementia. It is a major concern because it limits the physical, mental and financial independence of the elderly,” said Dr. Anu Garg, program director of the Geriatric Medicine Fellowship. “It’s important that seniors and their families seek out care early. We can help to maintain their quality of life longer.”

Darletta Snyder said she sought out a geriatrician when she felt her husband’s needs were no longer a good fit for their family practice physician.

“Sam had some concerns about his memory, and I thought it would be best if we found a doctor that was specially trained in caring for us,” she said. “Dr. Garg listened to our concerns and felt it would be a good idea to have a more detailed evaluation done. Everything came out fine for Sam, but she has continued to care for us and does a great job in seeing we stay healthy.”

Garg said warning signs of dementia can include repeating questions, forgetting to pay bills or take medications, and leaving the stove or oven on.

“As we age, we do become more forgetful, but this forgetfulness should be seen as a warning sign and the patient should be evaluated,” she said. “We use the St. Louis University Mental Status evaluation to determine if there are signs of early dementia and can start medications that can slow its progression, if necessary.”

Garg said there isn’t a cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease at this time, but she has begun collaborating with a UT assistant professor of neuroscience to explore new medications for treatment.

Dr. Joshua Park received two grants this year to assist in funding his research into how a common food additive could reverse brain cell damage caused by the disease. Midi-GAGR, a byproduct of low acyl gellan gum, already has shown promise in lab testing to reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice.

“There is still much more testing to do before we will be approved for human trials, but it should move fairly quickly as low acyl gellan gum is used as a thickening agent in foods like pudding and has already been approved for human consumption by the FDA,” he said.

Until a cure is found, patients and their caregivers need to know there are support systems available for individuals who are experiencing memory loss and early symptoms of dementia.

“This is a progressive disease and it can become very difficult for caregivers to support their loved one as they become less independent,” Garg said. “We work with social workers to reach out to organizations and programs and connect them to families as they travel this path.”

Social workers connect patients with community resources such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Area Office on Aging and Lutheran Village at Wolf Creek, which provide geriatric wellness and caregiver support programming.

UT’s Center for Successful Aging is another resource for education and finding resources within the community.

“Our focus is on education, research and service,” said Victoria Steiner, assistant director of the center. “We offer a graduate certificate in gerontology to support those who wish to work with seniors, participate in local research to determine our community’s needs, and work closely with area support organizations to provide educational outreach programs and to connect individuals with the support they need to age well.”

Garg created a support fund for the center to continue to promote geriatric medicine education for students, residents and fellows; enhance research and education activities; and promote team building and support excercises for those who provide senior care.

“It is important that all caregivers, including medical team members, take time to get the support they need when caring for elderly patients,” she said. “It can be very taxing as patients can progressively lose their independence and it’s easy to get burnt out.”

While caring for aging patients can be challenging at times, Garg said she is confident she is making a difference for older adults and their families.

Snyder says switching to a geriatric specialist was the right decision for her and her husband.

“Going to see Dr. Garg is enjoyable,” Snyder said. “She is very knowledgeable and listens to us and has a great sense of humor. It’s comforting to know we are with someone who cares and stays on top of our health.”

UT physician warns overloaded backpacks could cause health problems

School is in full swing and that means backpacks are loaded with textbooks, binders, homework and athletic gear. Backpacks are convenient for toting must-have items to school, but they can quickly become too heavy for children to carry safely.

Sept. 21 is National Backpack Awareness Day, and a University of Toledo physician advises parents to make sure children are properly loading and carrying backpacks to avoid back strain and pain.

Backpack“When a backpack is too heavy, its weight can pull the child backwards,” said Dr. Nabil Ebraheim, professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. “The child counteracts the weight by arching his or her back or bending forward, causing the spine to compress unnaturally, which can contribute to neck, shoulder and back pain.”

The best way to avoid back strain is to avoid overloading backpacks. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, children should limit their backpack weight to between 10 and 15 percent of their body weight.

“It also is important that backpacks are sized properly to the child and have wide, padded straps as not to restrict circulation or cause nerve pain,” Ebraheim said. “A backpack with a waist strap also may help to transfer weight to the hips and help to prevent slouching.”

Students should be taught how to properly carry a backpack to avoid serious injury or long-term damage to the spine.

“Carrying a backpack over just one shoulder causes an uneven distribution of weight that forces the child to compensate by leaning to one side,” Ebraheim said. “That causes muscle strain and extra stress on the discs in the spine. Over time, it could contribute to more serious back problems such as scoliosis.”
Ebraheim said when loading a backpack, try to concentrate the bulk of the weight closest to the child’s body and near the middle of the back. This distribution of weight will help the child achieve better posture and balance, reducing the risk of back or neck injury and falls.

He said schools that are replacing heavy textbooks with tablets are on the right track.

“With today’s modern technology, there’s no reason students should be carrying so many textbooks back and forth to school,” he said. “Schools that make the switch to digital learning are doing more than simply engaging students with an interactive way to teach; they also are protecting students’ health by lightening the load of their backpacks.”

Photography book frames Toledo’s past to highlight present

Guts — that’s what Ben Morales needed to get some of the photos for Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time.

There’s a shot of the Glass City’s iconic Anthony Wayne Bridge.

Hindsight-cover“Traffic never seems to slow on that bridge, and I had to walk out to the median. There really isn’t a place to stand; I had to straddle the cement median as traffic was whizzing by close to me,” he recalled.

And the Capital Tire & Rubber Co. building at the corner of Cherry Street and Spielbusch Avenue in downtown Toledo.

“I tried several times to get the photo, but I could never bring myself to walk out into the intersection because there was always traffic. And finally on my fourth or fifth attempt, I just went out and had some cars honking at me, and it was quite terrifying. And when I was leaving the intersection, I dropped my keys, so I had to run out there again and get them. 

“It literally only took me 10 seconds to get the shot. It probably took me 10 minutes to get the courage to walk out there,” Morales said and laughed.

He waded into the cold, rushing Maumee River for a photo of Roche de Boeuf and Interurban Bridge in Waterville. 

UT’s University Hall is one of nearly 100 locations featured in Ben Morales’ "Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time."

UT’s University Hall is one of nearly 100 locations featured in Ben Morales’ “Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time.”

“Thankfully, my friend loaned me waders,” Morales said. “I needed to go into the river for the correct alignment for that shot.”

Perspective is critical for Hindsight, which features historical black-and-white photos that Morales held and lined up in front of the same locations to take new seamless shots that meld time.

It all started four years ago when the graphic designer was working at a local ad agency and was looking for inspiration for the “You Are Here Toledo” project. He searched for an old photo of the Washington Street Bridge.

“I found a really nice old shot of the bridge and, along with that, I found a lot of old shots of the Toledo area that I’d never seen before,” Morales said. “I was just kind of amazed by the richness of Toledo’s history and how interesting it looks and how different it looks, but at the same time, we could still see a glimpse of that today that I hadn’t really taken notice of until then.”

Something compelled him to print out a couple of the black-and-white shots. He cut out the images of the former Key Bank on Madison Avenue and a shot looking down Madison and tucked them into his pocket. 

Mancy's Steakhouse on Phillips Avenue

Mancy’s Steakhouse on Phillips Avenue

“On my lunch break, I was just walking around downtown and thought it would be cool to go to the actual locations and compare and contrast — look at the photo compared to how it looked in real life,” he said. “So I took the opportunity to walk to those locations and do my best to line them up, and I took my first shots with my old iPhone 4.”

Then he posted the photo of the old-timey snapshot framed in the present on Instagram.

“The photos got a really resounding response, and people suggested more locations,” Morales said. “I thought it would be interesting to try to see if I could find more of these photos and continue it as a series.”

Arjun Sabharwal, associate professor and digital initiatives librarian in Carlson Library, was a fan of Morales’ work on Toledo Rephotography on Instagram at #toledorephotography.

Morales book signing box“What is particularly compelling is how Ben’s work combines new technology with history,” Sabharwal said. “The time, effort and imagination lends his book seriousness, credibility and originality.”

A history buff who helps manage Toledo’s Attic website, Sabharwal recalled three years ago when northwest Ohio’s virtual museum invited the public to contribute Instagram shots tagged #toledosattic: “By the time the contributions exceeded 2,000 images, the experiment had morphed into a publicly curated exhibition representing local history through the public eye. Ben’s work was truly a gem from the outset.”

He mentioned Morales’ cool project to Barbara Floyd, interim director of University Libraries and director of the UT Press.

Toledo, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Bridge over the Maumee River

Toledo, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Bridge over the Maumee River

“I felt that Ben’s photography was so original in concept that it deserved a larger audience,” Floyd, director of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, said. “And because his work is focused on images from northwest Ohio, it seemed like a perfect fit with the mission of the UT Press. We have found that photography books featuring local images are very popular, such as the book of photographs of rock and blues stars performing in Toledo taken by John Rockwood that we published last year.”

Floyd added, “I love the way you can almost walk into history through Ben’s photos.”

Photos and historical information on The University of Toledo, Ohio Theatre, Toledo Zoo, Holy Rosary Cathedral, Oliver House, Toledo Museum of Art, Side Cut Metropark, and other landmarks are included in the 145-page book.

“The Valentine Theatre, particularly with Houdini hanging from the top of the façade, is probably my favorite photo because I love Houdini and it fascinates me that he was even in Toledo let alone hanging by a chain with a straitjacket on,” Morales said.

That stunning shot also is a favorite of Yarko Kuk, managing editor of the UT Press, who helped track down historical information included in the book and arranged access for Morales to take some photos.

“Ben went to great lengths to create thoughtful then and now photographs,” Kuk said. “We really tried to capture the sense of a bygone era and the history that surrounds us.”

“There’s just something about old photos — there’s just sort of a haunting beauty behind them,” Morales mused.

Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time is $39.95 and available online at utoledopress.com, as well as at Rockets Bookstore, 3047 W. Bancroft St., and Gathering Volumes, 196 E. South Boundary St., Perrysburg.

“The past is all around us, but we don’t always notice it because it is often tucked away in between modern structures, and it may not be quite as visible as it once was,” Morales said. “I want people to be able to see, notice and appreciate the beauty of the past and take ownership of it.”

UT student attempts to launch first Toledo-based Spanish radio station

A University of Toledo communications student is on her way to changing the airwaves for Latino listeners.

Linda Parra started her Spanish-language radio show, “Nuestra Gente,” in 2005 with the goal of connecting with the Latino community of the city.

Parra

Parra

Parra’s objective for 2016 is to take her mission a step further by launching a station called WVZC-LP, 96.5 FM. The station, to be broadcast fully in Spanish, will showcase music, local and state news programming, and talk shows.

“We started the radio show as a community program — serving the community, informing members about the different programs and organizations — and it was very successful,” Parra said.

In 2008, Parra launched a nonprofit with the same name as her radio show to further community outreach. Nuestra Gente Community Projects Inc. looks to provide a combination of health and community-based programs, including education, social services, and health and safety awareness to residents, migrant workers and their families.

“Doing nonprofit work is more about community, it’s more about social work, and more about serving. I get connected with the community,” Parra said. “There is a lot of need for our community, especially in terms of translation and transportation. People don’t know where to go when they need appointments, they don’t have translation. So we provide those services through the organization. I like to provide a service.”

Parra said a few years ago, she and the team at Nuestra Gente Community Projects helped a Mexican senior at risk for stroke realize his extremely high blood pressure and make it to the ER before he suffered further complications. This experience proved to Parra the importance of the health screenings provided by her organization.

One of the greatest challenges to the establishment of the new station is funding for equipment. Parra needs $40,000 to put together the broadcasts; events will be held until she has the total amount. After receiving an extension on her permit, Parra has until next summer to raise the money.

“It’s not something that you learn, it’s something that you have inside you, that passion to serve, to be there for others,” Parra said.

Following her graduation in December, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health to further qualify her work with the nonprofit.

While working with Nuestra Gente, fundraising for the station and the radio show take up much of her time, but Parra still appreciates her life as a full-time student.

“There’s a lot of diversity going on campus,” Parra said. “I like the different faces you see, the different colors; you hear different languages, and it’s a really nice environment. Most of the people are young, so they give me more energy. I say, ‘I wish that I could be 20 again!’”

For more information on Nuestra Gente or to make a donation, visit nuestragentecommunityprojects.org.

Psychiatrist addresses suicide during awareness month

It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, yet suicide remains a difficult topic for many people to address.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and a University of Toledo psychiatrist wants to change the conversation surrounding mental illness and suicide to move toward a culture of acceptance and tolerance.

Singh

Singh

Dr. Tanvir Singh, medical director of child and adolescent inpatient psychiatry at the UT Kobacker Center, said mental illnesses should be treated the same way physical ailments are treated.

“We have shown that there are physical changes that occur with mental illness, but we don’t look at it with the same lens,” Singh said. “There are different, personalized treatments for someone who is experiencing chest pain. We need to do the same for patients who are experiencing emotional pain.”

He said mental illnesses are made up of a delicate balance of biological, psychological and social components, and there is not a one-size-fits-all method to treatment.

“Medications can work for some people, while others need more intensive treatment,” Singh said. “There have been improvements in the way we treat mental illness, but we need to focus more directly on evidence-based therapies to help each individual patient.”

Singh said patients having suicidal thoughts are in a state of dilemma. They make a conscious effort to try to stay positive and strong, but it isn’t long before they revert to old habits of thinking. He said it is this self-talk that can push people into isolation and put them at risk for suicide.

“These individuals struggle with their own thoughts,” Singh said. “They can begin to feel like they are a burden to their families or that they are not needed. These thoughts keep them from wanting to reach out to others, and they begin to pull away from friends and family.”

Maintaining a close relationship with those who are struggling mentally and emotionally is key, but Singh advised a careful approach to conversation.

“We always want to get to the bottom of a problem. We push for answers and can appear aggressive when we only want to help,” he said. “It’s best to just talk with individuals in a nonjudgmental way. If they are having suicidal thoughts, it will likely come to the surface naturally.”

Singh advised not every person will open up immediately, but he or she will know you care. He said engaging in regular conversation can reveal someone may be struggling emotionally.

“If an individual exhibits personality changes, is increasingly more irritable, begins to lose function, or spends more and more time alone, it’s time to seek help,” he said. “The key is avoiding isolation. Everyone needs someone to talk to.”

If a loved one is experiencing mental health issues or having suicidal thoughts, Singh said an assessment by a mental health professional at a crisis center or hospital is the best place to start, but quality, ongoing care is critical.

“Every person is so important,” Singh said. “Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we need to support those struggling with mental illness and see that they continue to receive the individualized, client-centered care they need.”

Med students complete summer community health project

This summer, medical students spent more than 4,500 combined hours of service in the community.

Rising second-year medical students were part of the eight-week Waite Brand Community Health Project, a summer work-study program that pairs medical students between their first and second years with local social service agencies.

Intern Jessica Ickes had fun with several students at Reynolds Elementary, one of 11 sites throughout northwest Ohio that is part of the Waite Brand Community Health Project.

Intern Jessica Ickes had fun with several students at Reynolds Elementary, one of 11 sites throughout northwest Ohio that is part of the Waite Brand Community Health Project.

For medical students, it’s their last free summer of college before they begin year-round clinical rotations, and they could spend it doing anything they want.

From May to July, these 15 students spent roughly 300 hours each at one of 11 sites throughout northwest Ohio: Reynolds Elementary School, Sight Center of Northwest Ohio, Ability Center of Greater Toledo, ProMedica, Feed Lucas County Children, Cherry Street Mission, YWCA of Northwest Ohio, Prescribed Pediatric Center, Mercy Health, UT CommunityCare Clinics and the University Church Garden.

“Many students began their summer unsure of what to expect from their internship, but by the end, after jumping in to serve with these organizations, they learned a tremendous amount,” said Sam Ivan, second-year medical student and this year’s director of the program. “Students saw firsthand barriers to health that many of us would never consider.”

Established in 1993, the Community Health Project provides medical students with a deeper and broader understanding of the socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors that contribute to an individual’s health status.

Medical students who participated in the Waite Brand Community Health Project posed for a photo Aug. 13 at the reflection picnic at Providence Dam Metropark in Grand Rapids, Ohio. They are, from left, Director of Student Affairs Dawn Durivage with medical students Omar Badawi, Danielle Bozek, Jessica Ickes, Student Program Director Sam Ivan, Kayla Lockhart, Danielle Smith, Amira Najjar, Veronika Kholodovych, Josh Hall, Talya Spivak and CommunityCare Clinics Director Hannah Kissel.

Medical students who participated in the Waite Brand Community Health Project posed for a photo Aug. 13 at the reflection picnic at Providence Dam Metropark in Grand Rapids, Ohio. They are, from left, Director of Student Affairs Dawn Durivage with medical students Omar Badawi, Danielle Bozek, Jessica Ickes, Student Program Director Sam Ivan, Kayla Lockhart, Danielle Smith, Amira Najjar, Veronika Kholodovych, Josh Hall, Talya Spivak and CommunityCare Clinics Director Hannah Kissel.

“The best part was seeing students build relationships,” Ivan said. “We have several students who continue to volunteer with their organization because of relationships they made there.”

Students also had the opportunity to visit other sites within the program, engage in small group discussions, and craft a proposal to address a local need of their choosing. This resulted in seven unique student-made proposals, many of which will be considered for implementation.

Interns were second-year medical students Omar Badawi, Danielle Bozek, Josh Hall, Jessica Ickes, Veronika Kholodovych, Kevin Litzenberg, Kayla Lockhart, Saloni Mathur, Amira Najjar, David Quan, Danielle Smith, Joseph Silvestri, Natasha Sinai Hede, Talya Spivak and Sonita Tem.

Learn more about the Waite Brand Community Health Project here.

Freshman design project leads engineering students to El Salvador

Four students from UT’s College of Engineering traveled with Dr. Glenn Lipscomb to El Salvador this summer to install a water treatment unit they built earlier in the year.

Kylee Kramer, Alison Haas and Lisa Young, chemical engineering majors, and Kayla Piezer, environmental engineering major, turned their freshman design project into a real-world solution.

The UT team, from left, Kayla Piezer, Lisa Young, Alison Haas, Kylee Kramer and Dr. Glenn Lipscomb, posed for a photo with the water purification unit that the students constructed in Toledo before taking it to El Salvadore.

The UT team, from left, Kayla Piezer, Lisa Young, Alison Haas, Kylee Kramer and Dr. Glenn Lipscomb, posed for a photo with the water purification unit that the students constructed in Toledo before taking it to El Salvadore.

Students in the Chemical Engineering Department’s fall 2015 orientation class manufactured water treatment units as part of their freshman design experience. They also were tasked with identifying possible improvements to their design and comparing it to alternatives. This design opportunity arose after another engineering student, Lucy Hosenfeld, approached the department about working with the nonprofit Clean Water for the World to produce the treatment units. Hosenfeld previously had worked with the organization and installed a treatment unit.

Following the completion of their freshman design experience and orientation class, Kramer, Haas, Young and Piezer sought funding for a trip to install their treatment unit in El Salvador, where contamination makes access to clean drinking water an increasingly urgent issue. The students collaborated with the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) to plan their trip, seeking donations from external donors and obtaining partial support from The University of Toledo.

“This trip provided the real-world experience that is needed to understand the impact of engineering design on the adoption and use of technology to improve the human condition,” Lipscomb, professor and chair of chemical and environmental engineering, said.

The purification unit was installed at the San Pablo Tacachico health clinic and provides clean water.

The purification unit was installed at the San Pablo Tacachico health clinic and provides clean water.

In El Salvador, contamination arises from inadequate wastewater treatment facilities, especially in rural areas where the majority of the population lives. Addressing this crisis, the students’ water treatment unit has two elements: a micron filter for removal of large particulate matter and a UV light chamber that sterilizes bacteria and other pathogens to prevent proliferation and ability to cause illness. The team also inspected previously installed water treatment units while in the Central American country.

As part of the trip, the student team learned about efforts by the Center for Exchange and Solidarity to support local economic development, create businesses led by women, provide high school and university scholarships, and spread awareness of proper hygiene practices. The team also spent time with local families in Comasagua.

“It was incredible to expand our freshman design project to make a global impact while connecting with the community in El Salvador,” Piezer said. “It gave us the opportunity to examine the specific needs of a different environment, which led to an understanding of the community’s way of life and allowed us to build relationships on a personal level.”

“The journey from design project to real-world application was worth every minute. And seeing the effect our unit had on the communities in El Salvador had a great impact on me,” Haas said. “Though the design project itself had significance, interacting with the people of El Salvador and experiencing their way of living gave me a new outlook on the value of our unit and clean water in general. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

Incoming students in the freshman orientation course will continue to build water treatment units as part of the freshman design experience, according to Lipscomb. They will explore improvements to installation, maintenance and performance. The department intends to facilitate future trips to deliver the water treatment units to communities in need.

“I’ve never really been a person who likes to travel, but this trip was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life,” Young said. “It helped broaden my views of different cultures and expand my abilities as an engineer.”

“This trip allowed me to use the skills that I learned in the classroom and put them to use in the real world,” Kramer said. “It was also an amazing experience to see the culture and people of El Salvador while helping them receive a vital aspect of life.”