Category: Student Highlight

Zoie Sheets Selected as 2016 Truman Scholar


Zoie Sheets, a junior in the UIC Honors College and a biological sciences major in the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

A University of Illinois at Chicago junior has been named a Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation scholar for 2016.

Zoie Sheets, a biological sciences major in the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the only recipient from Illinois among the 54 Truman Scholars selected from across the country.

The foundation’s competitive $30,000 scholarships are awarded to exceptional college students planning to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government or the nonprofit sector. Scholars also receive leadership training, career and graduate school counseling and special internship opportunities within the federal government.

Sheets, a student in the UIC Honors College, has as a passion for inclusion and cultural responsiveness that is reflected in her education, volunteerism and career aspirations.

She serves as co-coordinator of UIC’s chapter of the Peer Health Exchange, a national nonprofit which provides health workshops in Chicago Public Schools that would not otherwise have a health curriculum. Her responsibilities include managing more than 100 volunteers, along with training and mentoring undergraduate peers to teach the workshops.

“It has been life changing,” Sheets says. “Cultural responsiveness and inclusivity matter in every walk of life, but they really matter in those personal aspects of life, such as education and healthcare.”

As part of an inclusive campus ministry group, she conducts weekly outreach to assist those experiencing homelessness in Chicago’s South Loop.

After she receives her bachelor’s degree next year, she will enter medical school at UIC through the university’s Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions (GPPA) in medicine. She plans to become a teaching physician, with a focus on implementing policy that requires cultural-competency training. Her goals are to improve access to healthcare and education in underserved communities.

“I thoroughly enjoy science and understanding the world around me, but I also enjoy people and gaining an understanding of their background, culture and experiences,” said Sheets, who is minoring in chemistry and Spanish.

“Medicine is the perfect intersection of those interests.”

She supplements her challenging course work in the GPPA program with research in the department of psychiatry on chronic migraines.

“It’s been a great opportunity to gain scientific knowledge and skills, but also just life skills such as critical thinking,” she says.

Sheets’ commitment to community service and advocacy is evident in her service as a mentor in the Honors College and as a member of the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities and the Chancellor’s Advisory Council. Her service has been recognized with campus awards, including the Jane Addams Distinguished Service Award and the Eugertha Bates Memorial Award.

Sheets is from Blue Mound, Illinois, a town of approximately 1,000 people located 20 miles southwest of Decatur. She is a 2013 Meridian High School graduate.

“I have loved every second of getting to explore Chicago, museums and neighborhoods, but also exploring UIC,” she said. “In terms of the diversity, it has given me an opportunity to explore other people and their backgrounds, but it’s also given me more of a chance to define myself.”

The 2016 Truman Scholars were selected from among a record number of applicants (775) and institutions (305). They were chosen in a multistage process that concluded with regional interviews by 16 independent selection panels.

Sheets and her fellow scholars will gather May 24 for a leadership development program at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. They will receive their awards at a May 29 ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.

Created by Congress in 1975, The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation serves as the federal memorial to the 33rd president. Its mission is to select and support the next generation of public service leaders.

By Brian Food

Student Research Forum Showcases Top Talent

Student Research Forum

Jasmine Lopez, an undergraduate in biological sciences, presents her research on reversing retinal ischemic injuries. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Students’ hard work came to fruition April 12 as they presented their projects at the Student Research Forum.

Nearly 300 students showed off their work at the UIC Forum, judged by 300 faculty and alumni judges.

Students from all disciplines were invited to present their work individually to judges and others during a three-hour presentation session, which was followed by an awards ceremony.

Senior Jeff Harvey, a physics major, enjoyed discussing his project, which uses physics to try and understand what’s happening on a molecular scale when an ion is extracted from the water into the oil phase.

“It was a great opportunity to get to talk to people that are outside of physics and try to show them why this work is interesting,” he said. “Presenting work in this kind of forum is also a really good test of how well I understand the material myself. Being able to explain things in an accessible manner takes a lot of work, and forces you to really identify the key points of the concepts in order to paint a cohesive and logical picture.”

Ruxandra Griza presented her work on the relationship between food waste and energy and the impact of smart food packaging.

“I’m really into environmental things, especially when it’s considering wasteful behavior not only with food but with plastic waste and water waste,” said Griza, a freshman in earth and environmental sciences.

Dimitra Papadakis, a senior in psychology, focused her research on juror motivation by gender. She conducted a mock jury study that showed that contrary to previous research, women didn’t change their minds more frequently than men.

“All the studies that say that women change their minds were done before the year 2000, so maybe that means that women do not struggle to uphold a position. Maybe there has been a cultural change. Maybe women are more motivated to speak up, so I think that’s pretty cool,” she said.

Sarah Lee, a senior in neuroscience, was happy to fulfill a dream she’s had since freshman year of presenting at the research forum.

“Now since I’m a senior, I feel like I’ve got my nostalgia goggles on, and I just want to enjoy everything as it’s happening,” she said.

View a complete list of award winners online.

By Libby Goldrick


UIC Student Helps Bring Clean Water to Flint, MI

University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry Student Uvoh Onoriobe, a second-year student in the DMD Advanced Standing program, spent several weeks in February and March organizing free water distribution in Flint, MI.

“I take water to local groups in Flint and help in the distribution,” he said. “I do this through the auspices of Healing Hands Inc., a non-profit group I founded in 2008.” Healing Hands is a faith-based organization that helps provide dental and medical care throughout the world. It is based in Raleigh, NC, and Lagos, Nigeria. For more about Healing Hands, go to

Onoriobe formerly lived in nearby Plymouth, MI.

“For many years I have responded to crises in other countries,” he explained. “One hour from my home town a looming crisis exists. High levels of lead have been found in kids after the city switched water sources. The water is no longer safe to drink or cook with. This is a serious crisis, especially amongst the underserved. Many inhabitants in Flint live at the poverty line or below.”

Healing Hands is working with a local Pentecostal church, RCCG Flint, to distribute the water and water filters to needy families in Flint.
The group plans to distribute a total of 50,000 bottles, and is “facilitating blood tests for many who have not been able to check if lead is in their system,” he said.

Onoriobe noted that Healing Hands’ activities “serve as instruments with which we show Christ’s love to the hurting.”
For those who want to support Onoriobe in his work, a GoFundMe account is available at

Dentistry Students Score Big With ACP Awards

Out of 129 presentations at the recent American College of Prosthodontists Annual Session in Orlando, FL, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry representatives took three of the six awards.

In the table clinic competition, third-year prosthodontic resident Dr. Craig Sikora took first place. The title of his project is “Wear and Corrosion at the Titanium-Zirconia Implant Abutment Interface.”

“My project garnered a great deal of attention because it ushers in a new school of thought towards abutment materials,” Dr. Sikora said. “We used an innovative way of testing materials, which incorporates electrochemical effects into the equation. The results challenge the current opinions and shed light on the importance of corrosion in implant dentistry.”

In the future, Dr. Sikora hopes “to be able to work in private practice while maintaining a role in dental education,” he said. “In particular, I have gained a great deal from my mentors in the Prosthodontics Department, so I would like to be able to give back to the field in a similar way.”

He thanked his mentors and research team in the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Dr. Maria Alfaro-Coto, Assistant Director of Digital Oral Health Science and Technology; Dr. Aristotelis Marinis, Clinical Assistant Professor; Dr. Mathew T. Mathew, Visiting Associate Professor; Dr. Cortino Sukotjo, Assistant Professor; and Dr. Judy Yuan, Assistant Professor.

D-4 Jeri McCombs finished second in the dental student poster section for her project, “Utilizing Digital Workflow to Restore Single Tooth Implants in a Pre-Doctoral Setting.”

The poster was based on the case of the first implant restored with CAD-CAM technology in a predoctoral clinic in the College.

“Along with the Prosthodontics faculty, we’re aiming to create a digital workflow on how to restore single tooth implants with CAD-CAM technology, blending together the implant program’s curriculum with the digital dentistry program,” McCombs said, noting she hopes to create “a streamlined layout for future students to use for a new, more time-efficient, esthetic way to restore implants.”

She will attend the General Practice Residency program at Advocate Illinois Masonic after graduation.

McCombs thanked the faculty who mentored her on the project, particularly Dr. Alfaro-Coto; Dr. Fatemeh Afshari, Clinical Associate Professor; Dr. Sukotjo; Dr. Yuan.

Uvoh Onoriobe, DMDAS-2, finished third in the dental student poster section for his project. “Assessing the Impact of Limiting Adult Dental Medicaid Benefits on Prosthodontic Procedures Completed at the UIC College of Dentistry Predoctoral Clinic.”

“Results from this research will help policy makers in decision making on health coverage for the citizenry,” Onoriobe said. “Specifically, the decision to eliminate health coverage should be based on the possible effects on the vulnerable population.”

Onoriobe plans on training in Advanced Prosthodontics. “My long-term plans are to influence the policy and practice of restorative dentistry on national and global levels through research activities and outreach programs,” he said.

He thanked his mentors from the Department of Restorative Dentistry Dr. Afshari; Dr. Stephen Campbell, Head; Dr. Sukotjo; and Dr. Yuan; and Dr. Linda Kaste, Associate Professor, Pediatric Dentistry; and Dr. Susan Rowan, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs.

“This all occurs because of a caring faculty that provides the critical mentorship that makes a difference, as well as the vision we share to transform dental education and practice,” said Dr. Stephen Campbell, Head, Department of Restorative Dentistry.

UIC Students Awarded APIASF Scholarships

apiasf-logo-390x83The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) has awarded scholarships to 18 students from University of Illinois at Chicago in support of their studies during the 2016 spring semester.

APIASF is the nation’s largest non-profit provider of college scholarships for Asian American and Pacific Islander students.

The UIC students are among more than 625 undergraduates awarded APIASF’s Asian American and Pacific Islander-Serving Institution scholarships totaling more than $625,000 during the 2015-16 academic year. Awardees receive $2,500 to $5,000 to apply toward their tuition costs.

To be eligible for the award, students must be of Asian or Pacific Islander ethnicity as defined by the U.S. Census; demonstrate financial need; and be enrolled full-time as a degree-seeking student at one of 18 schools designated an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution.

UIC received the federal designation in 2010. More than 22 percent of UIC’s undergraduates identify as either Asian American or Native American Pacific Islander, and about half of its undergraduates are Pell grant recipients.

The scholarship program is supported by the Coca-Cola Foundation, Educational Testing Service, General Mills Foundation, Hilton Worldwide, Honda, USA Funds, Walmart Foundation, and Wells Fargo.

Local recipients from UIC and their hometowns are:

BERWYN – Carlo Ahumada, freshman in finance

CHICAGO – Kara Liu, undeclared junior; Mohammed Mithun, senior in nursing; Samrudhi Vaghmare, Honors College sophomore in information and decision sciences; Rabees Rafiq, senior in chemical engineering; Peniza Thapa, senior in civil engineering; Waymond Zhou, Honors College senior in biological sciences

GENEVA – Rohan Patel, Honors College senior in biochemistry

HARWOOOD HEIGHTS – Khalid Javed, senior in biological sciences

JUSTICE – Mary Chaudhry, senior in biological sciences

LAKE IN THE HILLS – Paul Lancero, junior in kinesiology

LaSALLE – Helen Klabel, Honors College senior in finance

NAPERVILLE – Sarah Lee, Honors College senior in neuroscience

PLAINFIELD – Sana Khan, senior in neuroscience

ROUND LAKE – Sarah Le, junior in psychology

SKOKIE – Krupa Shah, sophomore in chemical engineering

STREAMWOOD – Adil Siddique, Honors College junior in neuroscience; Nabeel Qureshi, senior in chemical engineering



Mural Paints Picture of Social Transformation

Painting Social Change

Students contribute their artwork to a movable mural at the Latino Cultural Center, which will be displayed outside the building. — Photo: R. Glass

The UIC community showed what issues are at the heart of national, immigrant and undocumented populations’ struggles with brushes that bled for social, cultural and environmental justice.

Students, faculty, staff and alumni created a movable mural last month at the Latino Cultural Center to inspire dialogue on the effects of legislation, beliefs or national events on different communities. Contributors visualized topics such as man-made borders, socially constructed concepts of citizenship, access to quality education, the importance of clean and safe environments, job security, sufficient healthcare and a secure future for everyone.

“Students wanted to have a public mural that was going to serve to mobilize people to talk about these issues,” said Rosa Cabrera, director of the Latino Cultural Center.

The mural, part of an event titled “Mobilizing with Art for Social Transformation,” was spearheaded by the Fearless Undocumented Alliance, a student organization on campus, along with the LCC and the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center. The event was part of the UIC Peace Project, an initiative of the Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change that strives to create dialogue and shift language and actions to put peacemaking into practice.

The mural will be on display in April outside the Latino Cultural Center before being moved to another location — possible places include the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen or the Chicago Field Museum.

Students from Fearless Undocumented Alliance were inspired to start the project because of support for legislation like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability and the Student ACCESS Bill, or Access to College and Career-Education for Statewide Success.

“We’re using it as a space where students can really come and express themselves and then to really get to talking about these things, the things that you don’t really get to hear in class,” said Ana Ruiz, vice president of the Fearless Undocumented Alliance. “So this [mural] actually changes every day. We’re creating new ideas.”

Participants were under the direction of renowned muralist Hector Duarte, a Mexican muralist who studied mural painting at the workshop of David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1977.

Duarte has created more than 50 murals — his work has been featured in places like the National Museum of Mexican Art, the School of the Art Institute and the Chicago Historical Society. He also created the Latino Cultural Center’s series of indoor murals, which were completed in 1996. Known as “El Despertar de las Americas,” it’s one of the largest indoor murals in Chicago.

But this mural, he says, is unique.

“We’re reinventing the wheel. This generation, they’re looking for change. People need to be receptive to catch this message with the lines, color and beautiful images.”

“Mobilizing Art” took more than 30 hours to complete — from Feb. 3 to 19 — with the help of nearly 800 people

By Francisca Corona

UIC Student Veteran

Nicholas Corby

“Everything I did led me to where I am now and who I am today,” says Nicholas Corby (right), who served with the U.S. Army.

Duty and honor are two of the most indispensable principles that make up the U.S Army’s core values — and it was those values that prompted Nicholas Corby to enlist.

“I joined to serve my country and because my uncle served back during the Vietnam War and I wanted to do it to honor his memory,” said Corby, a freshman in history from Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Corby, a former Infantryman, was a member of Delta Company, 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the oldest active duty regiment in the U.S. Army. The regiment is known historically for being home to the Sentinel guards, who keep watch on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Corby was a leader of a firing team that took part in full honor ceremonies.

Corby and Wife

Corby’s wife, Marina (right) is also a UIC student, pursing a doctorate in mathematics.

While in the service, Corby received the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Army Achievement Medal (four times), and the Army Commendation Medal.

“During my time in the military I gained a hard work ethic and a sense of brotherhood, which continues here at UIC through discipline, honor and duty,” Corby said.

At UIC, Corby is majoring in history with a minor in Russian. He hopes to become a high school teacher after graduation.

Corby credits his wife, Marina, with his decision to attend UIC. She is also a student at UIC, pursuing a doctoral degree in mathematics.

An active member of the Student Veterans Association, Corby is happy to be part of the UIC community and continues to carry on the values that helped him strive as a soldier. He wouldn’t change anything about his military experience.

“Everything happens for a reason and everything I did led me to where I am now and who I am today,” he said.

By Cesar A. Medina

Engineering Student Trains For Future Trip To Mars

Barak Stoltz; UIC News profile

Barak Stoltz hopes to work for NASA or SpaceX. — Photo: Jenny Fontaine

Barak Stoltz wasn’t on Mars, but it was the next thing to it — a station in the Utah desert that duplicates the harsh conditions astronauts will face when they get to the Red Planet.

Stoltz, a junior in mechanical engineering and physics, spent two weeks in December at the Mars Desert Research Station.

The station is run by the Mars Society, a nonprofit that calls itself  “the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization” and “works toward a human presence” on Mars.

“It’s a full-scale approximation of what they would send to Mars,” Stoltz said. “It’s for people who want the experience of being an astronaut on the first [Mars] mission.”

He and his six fellow crew members had to wear spacesuits whenever they went outside. They ate dehydrated food.

“Rehydrated, it tastes about the same,” he said. “We had potatoes, vegetables, sausage, chicken, beef, even cheese. Once we even made pizza,” although it made everyone gassy.

Student prepared for Mars

Barak Stoltz spent two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. “It’s for people who want the experience of being an astronaut,” he says.

Geologically, the Utah desert is much like Mars. Another resemblance: “The isolation,” Stoltz noted.

“I was fancily named the astro-engineer. I worked at the Musk Observatory [Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, donated it], fixing up the telescope, recreating the training program that any future crew astronomer will have to go through.”

Stoltz valued the diversity of his crew, which included members from Australia, India and Italy.

As a Jew born in Israel, he marked Hanukkah by telling the story behind the holiday, lighting a menorah, saying a prayer, singing a song and “attempting to make latke.”

“It was an opportunity for people from different cultures to learn and share,” he said.

Now that he’s gone through the simulation, is he interested in actually going to Mars some day?

“Absolutely,” said Stoltz, who guesses that the first trips will start around 2030-2040. The trip will take about six months.

“I’m definitely willing to put up a fight to get picked,” he said. “Crew members will basically have to be as elite in your field as can be found  — engineers, medical, pilots — picked out of thousands.”

Planners are improving the technology to make the trip more affordable and practical, he said. “Mars has a scarce magnetic field that doesn’t cover the whole planet, nothing to protect astronauts from radiation.

“Companies like SpaceX are working to make rockets more affordable. For the first time they launched a cargo into orbit; it spun around, came back down and landed. They can refuel and send it up again, saving millions of dollars.”

The Utah station has hosted 161 crews, with more than 1,000 members, since opening in 2001.

Stoltz’s father, Michael, is director of media and public relations for the Mars Society. A year ago, he mentioned to his son that one of the upcoming crews was short one member. Barak applied and was named to crew No. 159 about a month later.

Born in Israel, he came to this country in 2007 at age 12. His family’s home is in Northbrook; he lives on Taylor Street about 10 minutes from campus.

At UIC he works under Alexander Yarin, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and Ph.D. student Sumit Sinha Ray.

“We’re working on production, modification and application of nanofibers,” he said.

Stoltz plans to pursue a master’s degree and perhaps a Ph.D., then work for SpaceX, NASA or a space-oriented company like Lockheed Martin.

His career will involve “anything engineering-, space- or science-related,” he said. “Anything pushing humanity forward.”

Mars is never far from his thoughts.

“A successful manned mission to Mars would be one of the biggest accomplishments in human history, and being a part of it would be an absolute pleasure,” Stoltz said.

“As an enthusiastic believer in the future of space travel, I believe that our mind should wonder at the thought of space exploration, and what better way to do so than in the middle of the Utah desert with a sky full of stars.”

By Gary Wisby

Grad Student Designs Winning Museum Logo


Biomedical visualization student Samantha Olson’s design was selected as the new logo of the National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago

By Elizabeth Harmon Miller

Biomedical visualization student Samantha Olson’s design was selected as the new logo of the National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago.

The National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago has revealed its new logo and, with it, the designer: Samantha Olson, a second-year student in UIC’s biomedical visualization program.

“We were lucky enough to partner with [the Advanced Graphic Design class in] UIC’s biomedical visualization program to redesign our logo,” said a museum news release. “Straddling the boundaries between simplicity and complexity, [Olson’s] design eloquently embodies the core concepts that drive NMHMChicago.”


Samantha Olson’s winning design

Olson said she was surprised her design was selected. “My peers had also developed beautiful, insightful logos,” says Olson. “We all pushed each other in the project, and that family-like support is why I love my graduate program at UIC.” Her work will be on a slate with the identities of other world-class Chicago museums. “How cool is that?” Olson said. “I’m truly honored to be involved in representing the NMHMC, an equally wonderful museum among its peers.”

Students and Staff Continue Volunteering In Chicago


UIC students and employees volunteering in Chicago. — Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlan

UIC Students and employees spent the day off school and work helping others Jan. 18 during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. However, the volunteering efforts continue with service projects sponsored by Student Leadership Development and Volunteer Services.

Participants can paint, decorate and clean shelter spaces, bake cookies or write comfort cards for the Illinois Medical District Guest House. Projects also benefit A Safe Haven Foundation, Casa Central, and other service agencies.

“One of the things that we’re intentional about when we’re setting up sites for days of service is that we want volunteers to learn about the community they’re helping and learn about the organization to really understand the root causes of what is needed,” said Olivia Desormeaux, graduate assistant in Student Leadership Development and Volunteer Services.

Desormeaux wants students to have a chance to connect with Chicago.

“We want to emphasize the importance of our surrounding communities,” she said. “We really like the idea of viewing UIC as part of the community.”

By Melissa Martinez