In the news

A major obstacle to graduating on time: colleges hold student transcripts for small debts

Because former students owe money, colleges are withholding transcripts from more than 6.6 million Americans who’ve transferred to another school or abandoned their pursuit of higher education. These debts total about $15 billion, but in most cases the balances owed are $25 or less, according to a new study by the research firm Ithaka S+R. In Massachusetts, more than 153,000 students who owe more than $794 million cannot obtain copies of their college records. Julia Karon, who led the Ithaka study, said once a student transfers, colleges have a couple of options to collect any money they’re owed. With enrollment down and finances a major concern for colleges that were already financially-strapped, administrators could grow even more strict about holding back transcripts and even less willing to forgive small balances. A majority of students who cannot obtain copies of their transcripts are poor and attend community colleges, so a handful of states are moving to prevent the practice. California and Washington have enacted bans, while lawmakers in New York and Massachusetts have proposed similar legislation. Now some colleges are addressing the problem, too. “Sometimes for a student, any barrier is a big barrier,” said Dawn Medley, associate vice president for enrollment management at Wayne State University. Medley led the effort to ban transcript holds at the public school as long as students agree to a repayment plan. “If you have bad credit, you can still borrow money to get a car. But if you have a past due balance at an institution — that's it, you can't go on,” she said. “In the southeast Michigan region, we realized there were almost 700,000 adults who had some college and no degree and a lot of those students were locked out because of past due debt and they couldn't access their transcripts.” Medley said while first-year college enrollment is down nearly 20 percent across the country, this new, student-centered approach has helped Wayne State maintain its overall enrollment, which is flat. “We grew over five percent in our freshman class this year,” she said. “We see that as a pretty big achievement given the pandemic.”
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How the pandemic is changing children’s friendships

Many things in our pandemic-stricken world are very different. But perhaps the most striking change is how kids’ interactions with each other have transformed. Learning to socialize in the era of social distancing can be tougher than any subject offered in virtual school. When clinical psychologist Julie Wargo Aikins couldn’t leave her house last year without stepping on chalk drawings and spotting packs of kiddie cyclists, she realized something was changing when it came to kids and friendships. The associate professor at Wayne State University knew that prior to the pandemic, kids mostly formed friendships at school and through extracurricular activities. With the shift to remote learning and Zoom everything, the kids in her Michigan neighborhood had started getting noticeably closer to those who lived nearby. “Children are seeking out socialization where they’re at and interacting with children they wouldn’t have before,” says Aikins, who notes that as long as they wear masks and play outside, this is a healthy and welcome development. Through her ongoing research, adolescent developmental psychologist Hannah Schacter has found one early nugget of promising news: In a survey of about 400 ninth graders entering high school in the fall of 2020, about 90 percent reported having close friends. Schacter, an assistant professor at Wayne State University, says that indicates that these young people are managing to keep up connections in a time when extra support is critical. “In the face of stress—whether that’s being bullied or going through a global pandemic—no one wants to go through anything alone,” she says. Schacter adds that with friendship, quality may matter more than quantity. When it comes to fending off feelings of loneliness, the key difference is “between one and not having anyone,” she adds. But she is concerned by the fact that new friendship opportunities have been interrupted by COVID-19, forcing many kids into a funny game of “musical chairs” that has locked them into the relationships they had just before the pandemic. “For kids not in the healthiest friendships, it’s harder to escape those,” Schacter says. “There aren’t as many opportunities for informal friend building anymore, like sitting next to each other in math class."
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Spotlight on the News: U/M & WSU legal experts Richard Primus and Jonathan Weinberg preview Trump impeachment trial

Spotlight on the News interviewed two Michigan legal experts about the second Donald J. Trump presidential impeachment trial. Guests included Professor Richard Primus of the University of Michigan Law School and Professor Jonathan Weinberg of Wayne State University Law School. Primus and Weinberg looked at the important constitutional issues and politics facing the U.S. Senate jurors who will judge this historic trial.
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Zinc may help with fertility during COVID-19 pandemic, researchers report

Wayne State University School of Medicine researchers have reported that zinc supplements for men and women attempting to conceive either naturally or through assisted reproduction during the COVID-19 pandemic may prevent mitochondrial damage in young egg and sperm cells, as well as enhance immunity against the virus. In “Potential Role of Zinc in the COVID-19 Disease Process and its Probable Impact on Reproduction,” published in Reproductive Sciences, Husam Abu-Soud, Ph.D., associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the C.S. Mott Center for Growth and Development, said that in addition to benefiting couples attempting to conceive during the pandemic, zinc supplementation of up to a maximum of 50 mg per day for all adults could be beneficial in enhancing immunity and fighting the viral disease process of COVID-19. He also noted that zinc can be beneficial to the general population in enhancing immunity and fighting the viral disease process.
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Wayne State research team developing AI model to aid in early detection of SARS-CoV2 in children

Children have been less impacted by COVID-19 caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SAR-CoV-2) than adults. But some children diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 have experienced severe illnesses, including Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) and respiratory failure; nearly 80% of children with MIS-C become critically ill with a 2 to 4% mortality rate. Currently, there are no methods to discern the spectrum of the disease’s severity and predict which children with SARS-CoV-2 exposure will develop severe illness, including MIS-C. Because of this, there is an urgent need to develop a diagnostic modality to distinguish the varying phenotypes of disease and risk stratify disease. To prevent children from becoming critically ill from SARS-CoV-2, a team of Wayne State University researchers led by Dongxiao Zhu, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, are developing an artificial intelligence (AI) model to aid in the early detection of severe SARS-CoV2 illness in children.
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New podcast “Seizing Freedom” brings Black Americans’ Civil War stories to life

In recent months, the issue of social justice and its connection to systemic racism and oppression have led to significant shifts in our collective thinking about the ways white supremacy persists in so many aspects of American life. These important conversations have been long in the making. In addition to having frank discussions about biased policies and uprooting unconscious racism, this moment is also bringing to light the importance of narrative equity and having the kind of balance in storytelling that make audiences feel more connected to the media they consume. One new offering that is tied to this shifting media paradigm is the new podcast, “Seizing Freedom.” It takes listeners back to the lessons about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and into the work that Black Americans did to battle for and secure their own freedom. Kidada Williams is a Wayne State University professor, author and historian who studies what happened to African American survivors of racist violence. She’s also the host of the new podcast, “Seizing Freedom.” Williams says children are often not told about the role of African Americans in securing their own freedom. “If it’s not erased altogether, it’s distorted,” says Williams. “Coming up through school, we didn’t learn about Black people during the Civil War, we didn’t learn about Black people during Reconstruction,” she continues. “What was made clear to me when I raised questions was this was a White man’s war and a White man’s history of it.” She also shines light on the fact that the struggle for freedom didn’t come easy. ”Freedom isn’t something that’s given to African Americans. They had to seize it during the Civil War. And once they gained legal freedom, they had to work to make it real.”
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Impeaching a former president – 4 essential reads

As the U.S. Senate takes up the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, there are a lot of questions about the process and legitimacy of trying someone who is no longer in office, including what the point is and how impeachment works. The House has passed an article of impeachment, charging him with “incitement of insurrection” in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and now the process turns to the Senate. The Conversation has published several articles from scholars explaining aspects of the situation, as well as describing more generally what the purpose of impeachment was for the founders when they wrote the Constitution. This is a selection of excerpts from those articles. What happens if Trump is convicted? Though Trump can no longer be removed from office, he may still face consequences. Kirsten Carlson, a law professor at Wayne State University, explains that there is an additional step: “The Senate also has the power to disqualify a public official from holding public office in the future. If the person is convicted …, only then can senators vote on whether to permanently disqualify that person from ever again holding federal office. … A simple majority vote is all that’s required then.”
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Wayne State University’s Board of Governors recognizes National Gun Violence Survivors Week

The Wayne State University Board of Governors voted unanimously over the weekend to declare the first week of February as National Gun Violence Survivors Week. The action was taken following a request at the Jan. 29 meeting by Megan Dombrowski, president of the WSU Students Demand Action of Gun Sense in America group. The board will ratify its vote and consider if the designation will be recurring at its March 12 meeting. WSU first commemorated National Gun Violence Survivors Week last year, to honor and remember all victims and survivors of gun violence. National Gun Violence Survivors Week is also recognized by the State of Michigan, following a proclamation by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Gun violence is an all-too-common occurrence here in Detroit and in our nation,” said Marilyn Kelly, chair of the WSU Board of Governors. “The board respects our students’ initiative in raising awareness of this issue and in honoring those lives lost to gun violence. We are proud to stand with our students.”
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MDHHS, Wayne State University, to provide mobile COVID-19 testing

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is partnering with Wayne State University and Wayne Health to provide mobile COVID-19 testing. The partnership comes in an effort to reach more Michiganders in need of COVID-19 testing and other public health services. This new program allows three mobile units to move between sites and serve communities at the highest risk. Locations are chosen in part to help address racial and ethnic disparities that had existed prior to the pandemic and were exacerbated by the virus – a focus of the Racial Disparities Task Force. Wayne Health’s Mobile Health Unit offers an array of health care screenings, including COVID testing, flu shots, blood pressure screening, HIV testing and on-site referrals for public benefit programs such as Medicaid and unemployment assistance and emergency food and shelter services addressing social determinants. “Partnering with the state will expand our efforts to bring these vital services to more Michigan residents who need them,” said Phillip Levy, M.D., M.P.H., who leads the Mobile COVID Testing Program for Wayne Health and is WSU’s assistant vice president for Translational Sciences and Clinical Research Innovation. “This work is a key element of who we are as a university and as a practice group. Meeting people and providing services where they live is critical not only to containing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to improving health in general.” 
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Researchers assess impact of family migration on infant well-being

While the number of immigrants from Arab countries to the United States has steadily increased over the past several years, family and child health research on this population remains scarce. To address this disparity, Dalia Khalil, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor in Wayne State University's College of Nursing, was recently awarded a two-year, $161,451 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. Khalil and her team will expand on her previous research on immigrant Arab American parents and families.
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Opinion | Michigan economic development is a failure. Time to focus on people

Ned Staebler, vice president for economic development at Wayne State University and president and CEO of TechTown, and Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, Inc., wrote a guest column for Bridge Michigan. “Michigan faces the prime economic challenge of our times: creating an economy that provides enough household-supporting jobs so that all working households can raise a family and pass on a better opportunity to their children. A prosperous Michigan is a place with a broad middle class where wages and benefits allow everyone to pay the bills, save for retirement and the kids’ education, and pass on a better opportunity to the next generation. Even in Michigan's strong pre-pandemic economy, 43 percent of households – most with at least one working adult – could not pay for basic necessities. When more than four in 10 Michigan families are struggling, our state is not succeeding, and our economic developers are failing. As long-time economic developers ourselves (who very much implicate ourselves when we talk about failing), we believe the primary goal of state economic policy should be rising household income for all Michigan residents. Meeting this challenge requires not only that the state make rising income for all its top economic priority, but that it reevaluate and redesign its economic development infrastructure accordingly. This mission change will also require us to think differently not just about state and regional economic development efforts, but how they coordinate with community development, housing and workforce development policies and programs as well.”
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Wayne State receives $1.2M to help veterans complete college

Wayne State University has received $1.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education to supplement student success services for military veterans over five years. The $1.2 million Veterans — Student Support Services grant enhances services provided by the Office of Military Veterans Academic Excellence. The grant will serve 120 currently enrolled student veterans each academic year and provide intensive advising, career preparation, financial aid information, and benefits assistance. “Given the unique needs of our undergraduate veteran population, the VET-SSS grant will provide WSU with the additional resources needed to fully actualize our vision of truly comprehensive veteran academic support services on campus,” says Matthew McLain, assistant director of OMVAE. The grant is a collaborative effort between OMVAE and of the Office of Federal TRIO Programs’ Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) program, which helps veterans transition from the classroom to the workforce. “The VET-SSS program is designed to make a significant contribution to the student-veteran experience,” says Henry Robinson, senior director of the Office of Federal TRIO. “The Office of Military Veterans Academic Excellence and Veterans Upward Bound provide high-quality services and programs dedicated to meeting the academic support needs of this dynamic group of students.”
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Why Covid vaccines are likely safe for pregnant people

As the initial priority groups are being offered a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., one population in particular faces a difficult decision: Pregnant people who are health care personnel or essential workers—categories that are eligible for the early phases of the vaccination program—“may choose to be vaccinated,” according to the latest official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The problem is that there are scant data available on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant individuals. They were not included in the clinical trials, as has historically been the case with most vaccines and drugs. For many years, it was believed that pregnancy was a state of immunologic weakness. The fact that pregnant individuals died more from diseases such as influenza was attributed to this state. More recently, it became clear that immunologic changes in pregnancy were much more complex than that. “They were not dying because they were immunosuppressed,” says Gil Mor, scientific director of the C. S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University. “They were dying because their immune system was so strong and activated that they produced a massive inflammation that killed them.” Mor, who is an expert in the immunology of pregnancy, says there are several mechanisms to maintain the delicate balance between too much and too little inflammation during that state. If this balance is not maintained for any reason, the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms rises.
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Wayne State board appoints chair, pledges to 'renew our efforts to work together'

The Wayne State University Board of Governors met Friday for the first time this year, with two newly elected members, and unanimously approved reappointing Marilyn Kelly as chair. "I consulted in recent weeks with other members of the Board of Governors and each of us has pledged to renew our efforts to work together in the best interest of this great university, and we've agreed on our intentions," Kelly said during the meeting, conducted remotely. 
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Wayne State researchers use AI to bring micro-transit to hourly workers

Researchers at Wayne State University are working to bring micro-transit solutions to those who live in affordable housing so they can get to their jobs. The National Science Foundation is helping to fund the project. Micro-transit, which exists between traditional transit options such as buses and ride-hailing technology, is designed to complement public transportation. Detroit and other cities have begun to adopt the concept, the researchers say, as a means of increasing coverage and reaching more people, particularly in low-density or low-income areas. However, there is a shortcoming — the service often isn’t available on paths between areas of affordable housing and employment opportunities. “With the rise of artificial intelligence and increasingly available smart mobility data, the vision of this research project is to create a dynamic routing-prediction system based on learning the hourly mobility patterns between jobs and housing,” says Dongxiao Zhu, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Wayne State, and the project’s principal investigator. The researchers will design an artificial intelligence-assisted micro-transit system that transportation officials can deploy to better adapt to place and time variations in the mobility patterns of hourly workers. Geocoded socioeconomic data can be used to identify and reduce mobility disparities. “The research innovation is expected to provide immediate, low-cost, effective public transit solutions that benefit vulnerable communities in Detroit by significantly reducing transit risk, commute time and distance, and trip cost,” says Zhu.
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COVID Update: New variants complicate future of pandemic in Michigan

Wayne State University’s Dr. Paul Kilgore discusses the latest developments around COVID-19 and what Michiganders can do to remain vigilant in slowing the spread of the virus. Many people are hopeful that the COVID vaccine is a light at the end of a nearly year-long tunnel that has taken Americans very far away from what life was like pre-pandemic. But now, as Michigan and other states are struggling to get the vaccine distributed, there’s an even bigger obstacle: The emergence of several new variants of the coronavirus. “The virus is actually changing its genetic code. It’s changing over time. All viruses do that, and we expected it from the beginning,” says Kilgore, associate professor and director of research at Wayne State University Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He’s also the principal investigator at Henry Ford Health System’s testing of Moderna’s vaccine trial. As far as the severity of COVID-19 symptoms in the new variants, Kilgore says there is some research indicating that these mutations could create more complicated cases of the virus. In looking ahead to how these new variants could impact the future of life in Michigan and throughout the country, Kilgore says, “I think there’s a chance this gets worse before it gets better in the next several weeks.”

How to get accepted into college with a low GPA

For students who struggle academically in high school, the college application process can be especially stressful. A low GPA can prevent teens from getting accepted into top universities — like the Ivy League schools — and other selective colleges, but there are still options. Admissions experts say high schoolers can explain an academic dip in their college applications and spend the rest of their senior year making their applications more appealing. Another piece of advice: Students should discover the root cause of those academic shortcomings. Students can discuss poor grades in a college application essay, also called a personal statement, or in the additional information field on the Common Application. “Anything that the student can provide to explain that (GPA) would be helpful,” says Monica Brockmeyer, senior associate provost for student success at Wayne State University. “They should be transparent, because (GPA) is already visible to admissions officers through their transcripts. Colleges already know, so they’re looking to understand the situation and circumstances better.” She adds that admissions officials understand that “every learner is on a journey. For those eyeing a four-year college, an alternative admissions program may be the way in. If a student’s GPA is below the school’s standards, he or she may still be admitted under certain conditions. As part of the program, students receive additional academic support in their first year of college and beyond, depending on the curriculum. One such example is Academic Pathways to Excellence at Wayne State, which focuses on sharpening students’ academic skills as they enter college. “It provides them a transition period between high school and college to really understand how college learning is different from high school learning, to get extended support or even some remediation of writing skills or mathematics skills or other barriers like that,” Brockmeyer says.
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Metro Detroiters react to Whitmer's State of the State address focusing on COVID-19, roads

It was a State of the State unlike any other, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking to Michiganders virtually from her Capitol office on Wednesday night. As expected, the governor focused heavily on the pandemic, vaccinations, the state's economy and schools. Despite the year it's been, the governor had a sense of optimism about the road ahead and that's something people noticed, including a political science professor at Wayne State University. Professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson was encouraged overall by the governor's address. She says bipartisanship will be key to the administration reaching its goals in 2021. Whitmer also addressed education. She's previously said she'd like to see students return to the classroom by March 1. “I think it’s going to be important just to get the younger kids back at least in smaller groups," Thompson said. “I’m a little bit concerned about how fast we’re going to be able to get the teachers vaccinated.”
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Wayne State secures more than $5 million in NIH funding for cerebral palsy research

The National Institutes of Health is supporting a Wayne State University School of Medicine physician-researcher’s work at preventing and treating cerebral palsy in the form of two new five-year R01 grants worth a collective $5.59 million. The principal investigator on both projects is Sidhartha Tan, M.D., professor and co-division chief of Neonatology in the Department of Pediatrics. Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood, caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control his or her muscles. Tan obtained his first R01 last May for “Potent Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase Inhibition for Prevention of Cerebral Palsy,” which will provide $2,393,590 over the half-decade award period to test new, promising drugs aimed at a preventive cure for the condition. “These are new drugs aimed at brain condition called neuronal nitric oxide synthase. New information about how these drugs act, how they affect brain cells and how effective they are in an animal model of cerebral palsy will be very valuable for future translation to clinical use in humans throughout the world,” Tan said. His second, a multiple principal investigator award launched Dec. 15, is “Probing Role of Tetrahydrobiopterin in Cerebral Palsy by Using Transgenic Rabbits.” The grant will provide $3,197,644 in funding over five years to explore whether an essential enzyme co-factor is involved in brain injury before birth. The cellular and genetic basis of brain regional injury will be investigated using an animal model in which genes have been altered by genetic engineering methods, as well as advanced methods of magnetic resonance imaging.
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Sensor shows promise for continuous heart and lung health tracking

A small, liquid-filled sensor can continuously and accurately measure heart and lung sounds, detecting cardiac problems or shortness of breath at an early stage, something which could warn heart failure patients of health deterioration and also help pick up early signs of infections such as Covid-19. Many of us own smart watches or fitness trackers, a large number of which now include heart rate monitors. However, while their accuracy has improved, they offer fairly limited information about heart health. They mostly measure heart rate by shining a green light through the skin, a method called photoplethysmography, which controversially works much better on lighter rather than darker skin. Heart sounds, such as those heard by a stethoscope, can give a more accurate picture of heart health as they can pick up inconsistencies of rhythm as well as rate. But have been historically harder to track using a wearable device. To try and get round this problem, Yong Xu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Wayne State University, and his team have developed a small flexible sensor that can be worn continuously on the chest to measure heart and lung sounds. “Heart and respiration activities offer pivotal physiological and pathological information through mechano-acoustic signals. Continuous monitoring of these signals has the potential to significantly improve the diagnosis and management of many cardiovascular and respiratory diseases,” emphasizes Xu.