Down the Drive

Kalea Lucas poses on a bustling street in Seoul, South Korea.

Kalea Lucas poses on a bustling street in Seoul, South Korea. Photo/provided

Around the world in eight experiences

Student breaks record for individual study abroad excursions during undergraduate career

By Natalie Ochmann

MEXICO. ITALY. CANADA — twice. Hong Kong. South Korea. India. Chile. And, if not for the cancellation of study abroad programs due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Ghana.

Though her ninth study tour was cancelled, University of Cincinnati student Kalea Lucas still broke the known university record by going on eight unique study abroad experiences during her academic career. Recently graduating with her degree in marketing and international business from the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and a minor in fashion design from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, Lucas credits her many, varied international experiences as the real-world value of a diploma from UC.

And that’s a major reason she came to UC in the first place. Originally from the Columbus, Ohio, area, Lucas paid attention to universities that not only offered travel opportunities, but had study abroad woven into the curriculum.

Lucas’ first international experience was with the Lindner Business Fellows, a program designed to empower historically underrepresented students with peer mentorship, dedicated academic resources and its own faculty-led study abroad program to Toronto, Canada. As a student in the program, she had the opportunity to go abroad in her very first semester at UC.

From there she was inspired to travel as much as possible. Her next three study abroad journeys were faculty-led programs, meaning she could take a class with her regular coursework, and then spend scheduled breaks with a group of other UC students exploring their lessons overseas.

By the end of her second year, Lucas was ready to make a change. Having spent her previous four experiences in more popular destinations, she knew it was time to step outside her comfort zone. For Lucas, that meant a new continent.

“The reason I wanted to go to Asia was to be completely immersed in something that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced,” Lucas says. “I think the whole point of being out of your comfort zone is to grow. There’s that saying that nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Lucas made the world her classroom, choosing her experiences carefully and examining how each one would contribute to her knowledge and personal growth.

By her senior year, three countries later, Lucas wanted to boost her language acquisition by working and living in a Spanish-speaking country. She rounded off her experiences abroad — and clinched the university record — with an internship in Santiago, Chile. (A final experience planned in Ghana would have marked Lucas’ ninth experience, eighth country and fifth continent. It was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Lucas made the world her classroom, choosing her experiences carefully and examining how each one would contribute to her knowledge and personal growth, faculty say.

“Kalea’s warm, curious and upbeat personality make her the model ambassador both abroad and at home,” says Lee Armstrong, Lindner College director of international programs. “I’ve enjoyed watching her select her international experiences over the past five years to continuously be challenged and to expand her cultural adaptability. Kalea personifies the global Bearcat, experiencing the world through UC’s diverse partnerships.”

Many students hold back from study abroad due to concerns about finances, safety or fears of the unknown. And while she recognizes the pitfalls, Lucas has learned from experience that students have something to gain from the process.

“Fear can stop us from doing things. I’m personally someone who doesn’t like a lot of risk or change, but travel is one of the most risky things you can do,” Lucas says. “But I would say you have to weigh out the risk and the fear versus what you could stand to gain and benefit from it. If you’re looking to grow in some way, you will most likely experience that if you study abroad.”

After graduating last spring, Lucas had planned to go back to South Korea. She applied to the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship program and received notification that she was a semifinalist before the program’s cancellation due to COVID-19.

For now, she is ready and waiting for her next adventure.

Read more about Lucas' journey.


Illustration of a smart speaker connected to a tin can

Hey, Alexa, who’s listening right now?

UC engineers are making smart speakers more secure for consumers

By Michael Miller

VOICE-ACTIVATED SPEAKERS like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Home are becoming ubiquitous in homes, cars and offices.

These digital assistants make it easy to get travel directions or find a restaurant’s phone number. But computer scientists at the University of Cincinnati are investigating potential security weaknesses that hackers could exploit.

The growing popularity of these devices has raised red flags about their security, says Boyang Wang, assistant professor in UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“We have millions of smart speakers in our homes these days,” he says. “People use them every day. It’s convenient. On the other hand, we don’t have a good understanding of the vulnerabilities they have.”

In UC’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Wang and his students are investigating ways hackers can exploit devices to steal financial or personal information.

Wang, an expert in applied cryptography, was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to investigate one particular gap. Voice command fingerprinting is a passive attack in which hackers can eavesdrop on data transferred between the smart speaker and the cloud server to learn what questions or commands the user gives the device.

Using machine-learning algorithms, Wang calculated that with this information alone hackers could correctly infer about one-third of voice commands by intercepting the data.

“If someone is asking for the weather, that doesn’t reveal a lot,” research collaborator and UC graduate Sean Kennedy says.

But knowing what questions or commands people give can establish a pattern that someone could exploit, Kennedy says.

Kennedy graduated with a master’s degree last year. Now he conducts research for Fortune 500 company Leidos at the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

UC researchers found that knowing the size of the encrypted packets alone could help them correctly infer what the user is asking 33% of the time. Wang said their latest study this year can improve this predictive accuracy by 81%.

Pretty sneaky.

Isiah Andrews finally walks free after serving nearly 46 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Isiah Andrews finally walks free after serving nearly 46 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Photo/Mark Godsey

Finally free

After 45 years, Isiah Andrews thought he’d die in prison. Then UC’s OIP stepped in.

By Rachel Richardson

ON A LATE summer afternoon in 1974, the body of Regina Andrews was discovered near a Cleveland swim club. The crime was both shocking and savage: The newlywed had been brutally stabbed 11 times and wrapped in hotel linens.

Three days later, police arrested her husband of just three weeks, Isiah Andrews, despite the fact that evidence strongly implicated another man. Andrews, who has always maintained his innocence, was nevertheless eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Andrews, now 82, thought he’d die in prison. But this spring, nearly 46 years after he was incarcerated, he finally walked out of prison a free man, thanks to the work of Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) law students, professors and attorneys at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

Andrews marks the 30th person freed with the help of the OIP. Combined, those clients have served nearly 600 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

“The things that lead to people being wrongfully convicted are really commonplace,” says Brian Howe, an OIP staff attorney and assistant professor of clinical law at the UC college. “But the ways that people are exonerated are really one-in-a-million, lightning-striking type of stories. That’s what I hope people understand about these cases, and Isiah Andrews’ case.”

The extraordinary chain of events leading to Andrews’ release was set in motion in 2015, when the OIP agreed to review his case. Police reports revealed that investigators had initially suspected and even arrested another man, Willie Watts, for the crime — evidence of which had been unlawfully suppressed from Andrews and his attorneys for 45 years.

No physical evidence tied Andrews to the crime, and prosecutors relied on the unreliable eyewitness testimonies to obtain a conviction against him.

Police did, however, find evidence linking Watts to the scene, all of which was documented in the newly obtained police reports. He also had a history of violence against women involving knives. However, he provided several alibi witnesses for the three-hour period in which the coroner initially estimated the victim had been killed, and he was released. Watts died of natural causes in 2011.

If Andrews’ defense had known about Watts in 1975, there is a reasonable chance he may have been acquitted. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Robert McClelland agreed. In May, McClelland threw out Andrews’ conviction and ordered a new trial on the basis Andrews’ defense was never provided evidence regarding Watts.

Andrews finally walked out of prison a free man.

“It’s hard to say that Isiah Andrews is lucky after all the wrongs that have been done to him in the course of his life,” says Howe. “But in 99 times out of 100, he would have died in prison. This would have been successfully covered up. No one would have found out about Willie Watts.”

“There are so many cases where the evidence never comes out and the person maintains their innocence until they die, and the case is forgotten. How many other people are out there who just don’t get lucky like that?”

Read more about Washington's case.

Nishant Gupta, MD, of the UC College of Medicine

Nishant Gupta, MD, of the UC College of Medicine. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

Discovering COVID-19 solutions

Research offers hope for effectiveness of common drug

By Bill Bangert

RESEARCHERS AT THE University of Cincinnati are testing a commonly used drug, called sirolimus, to determine if it can safely and effectively treat patients with pneumonia related to COVID-19.

The research trial will examine the Food and Drug Administration-approved medication, which is most commonly used to prevent organ rejection in patients with kidney transplants. It is also FDA-approved for the treatment of a rare lung disease.

There are several reasons why sirolimus was a logical target when researching potential treatments for COVID-19, according to Nishant Gupta, MD, of the UC College of Medicine and the principal investigator of the study. Sirolimus has been shown to inhibit the replication of a variety of viruses, including MERS. In a randomized controlled study involving healthy volunteers, treatment with medications that act similar to sirolimus resulted in improved immune response to influenza vaccination.

“In animal models, sirolimus has been shown to regulate the immune system in a way where it augments the body’s response against viral pathogens and dampens the overall immune response that is responsible for the bad outcomes in patients with COVID-19,” says Gupta, who is an associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine in UC’s Department of Internal Medicine.

“This dual action of selectively augmenting the response against viral pathogens and regulating the immune system to prevent collateral organ damage makes sirolimus a really promising treatment target for patients with COVID-19.”

Gupta says UC is uniquely positioned to study this drug because of previous involvement and ongoing work with the lung disease LAM. He and his colleagues are using sirolimus on a daily basis in patients with LAM and are very familiar with the nuances of prescribing the drug and the side effects associated with it.

“In many ways, the ability to repurpose an existing drug as a potential treatment option for COVID-19 patients is enticing for both patients and the medical community,” he says. “This approach provides more reassurance for patients considering participating in the study as the drug has a known safety profile that has been developed over decades of experience rather than potential unknown side effects from a new medication. And, if proven beneficial, the drug is readily available to be used widely.”

The Sirolimus Treatment in Hospitalized Patients with COVID-19 Pneumonia or SCOPE trial began enrolling patients in May and hopes to reach a target total of 30 enrollees by fall. Adult participants are eligible to be included in the study if they have confirmed pneumonia related to COVID-19 and are sick enough to require hospitalization with the need for supplemental oxygen. The study is designed as a placebo controlled, double-blind trial, meaning neither the patients nor researchers will know if they are getting the study drug or placebo.

Gupta says this is a very important aspect of study design in order to reduce the potential for bias and properly assess the safety and efficacy of the study drug. Much of the current data on COVID-19 is limited by being gathered from uncontrolled studies that prevent physicians from being able to assess the true treatment benefits of a drug.

“If this study shows positive results, we are committed and prepared to launch a bigger trial in time for the anticipated second wave of COVID-19 in the winter,” says Gupta.

“Out of the multiple drugs being tested for COVID-19 currently, personally I am most excited about workingwith sirolimus. By intervening relatively early in the disease course, we hope to be able to prevent patients from progressing to advanced respiratory failure where they need to be placed on a ventilator. We are hopeful that this approach can make a meaningful impact in the lives of patients infected with COVID-19.”

Komronbek Rakhimov

Now back home in Uzbekistan, where he’s continuing his UC studies online, Komronbek Rakhimov looks forward to returning to campus in the near future. Photo/provided

Stranded, scared but supported by love

International student faces challenges with help from the UC community

By Melanie Schefft

ON MARCH 13, in a world tossed upside down by a global pandemic, most students were headed off campus, classes were going remote and first-year business student Komronbek Rakhimov scrambled to book a flight back home to Uzbekistan.

“Three days later, on a bus halfway to Chicago’s airport, I got the text message — all international flights to my country were canceled,” says Rakhimov, an accounting major in the University of Cincinnati’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business. “At that moment my world shattered. I was scared, confused and couldn’t stop the bus.”

Following the seven-hour bus trip, “I pleaded with Turkish Airlines officials to find me another flight, as I just heard my country was allowing its own citizens to return home even though the borders are closed,” he says, but quickly learned it didn’t include him. “My country was allowing citizens to return, but not by air — all international flights were now canceled around the world.”

A disappointed Rakhimov searched for restaurants on mostly empty streets while waiting for the next bus back to Cincinnati. “After phoning my mom and telling her I couldn’t come home, the conversation became quite emotional,” he recalls.

Throughout the long journey back, Rakhimov stayed in touch with Sarah Shepherd, a program manager for UC International Admissions who he had worked with as an admissions student ambassador earlier in the year. “Since I couldn’t get back into my dorm room when I got back to campus, Sarah literally saved my life by offering me a room in her home until we could sort things out,” he says.

Acting quickly, Shepherd contacted UC’s housing department to help find him a new room on campus, and it didn’t take long for word to spread.

“Not only is there a helpful UC Bearcat Emergency Fund set up to help international and other students in need during a crisis like this but I also received word from the community coordinator saying there was a room for me on campus in Marian Spencer Hall,” says Rakhimov. “And I was able to get my old job back as a student international admissions ambassador for the summer.

“But the best part happened when an outside staff member from UC’s Marketing + Communications I had never met before offered to help me financially so I could afford food and other expenses.”

With a steady job through the summer, financial help from benevolent staff and a couple friends on campus who were still here living in his residence hall, Rakhimov’s stress was all but over until he learned his visa would soon run out.

COVID-19 was changing everything for Rakhimov. His original plans to return home at the end of the summer were suddenly pushed up when international air travel to Uzbekistan opened up again in June.

“I am so grateful for all the wonderful help and outreach by so many people at UC, but I look forward to spending several months back home with my family now and completing my fall coursework from home remotely,” he says. “But there’s no question that I’ll be eager to return to campus in January (2021).”

Read more about Rakhimov's story.



Social justice through medicine

Carl Fichtenbaum, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and one of the leaders in UC’s efforts to combat COVID-19, is still going to protest marches as his passion for social justice, personally and profession- ally, burns as brightly as ever.


Championing science amid adversity

University of Cincinnati epidemiologist Diego Cuadros is used to telling people what they don’t want to hear. The assistant professor runs the Health Geography and Disease Modeling Lab in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, where he studies global topics such as HIV, malaria and, this year, COVID-19. He condenses data into easy-to-follow maps that predict the future with uncanny accuracy.


Bridging the divide

It’s been said that one should never discuss religion and politics in polite conversation. Similarly, race and gender have long been considered taboo topics best avoided to prevent conflict. That strategy might work at some dinner tables, but for a group of University of Cincinnati women, tackling tough conversations, challenging perspectives and being vulnerable are the keys to growth and understanding.


Remotely possible

When did the COVID-19 pandemic first make an impact on your life? March 10? That was the day the University of Cincinnati decided to change something it has excelled at for 200 years. Teaching. Educating. That day UC announced that all lectures in classrooms, experiments in labs or designing in studios would be suspended. Students started what was expected to be just an extended spring break, but then 12 days later all courses had gone virtual to protect the university community and stop the virus’s spread.

Query for this