From four eyes to sore eyes: The story behind my LASIK procedure

By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko

From the age of 5, I always had trouble with my vision. When I had my glasses on, I could see everything clear as day. However, when I took them off it was a different story. I could see shapes and stumble around the house a little, but I couldn’t read much. Seeing objects from a distance was near impossible. I remember when I was 12, I heard about a procedure that could correct my vision. It sounded like something that was too good to be true. I wondered if one day I’d be lucky enough to get this procedure.

Fast forward 11 years later, I’m 23 and still hoping to one day get this procedure. Over the past year, I’ve scheduled multiple consultations and canceled them at the last minute.

“I don’t know if I can ever afford this,” I would tell myself.

There were always so many seeds of doubt. I can’t even get a contact lens in my eyes, I can barely do eyedrops. I’ve never had a lot of money, and the money I do have in my savings I’ve had to work for many years to acquire. Would it be right to throw this all away? Would I be able to justify spending the same amount on this procedure that I could spend on a used car? I had to take time to think about it.

In January, I took the first step in changing my life. I started a weight loss program and slowly started to shed pounds. As the weeks went on, I grew happier with what I saw in the mirror. But there was one thing that still bothered me…my glasses.

My glasses have always hindered my ability to do things. During the winter they would fog up nonstop, when I would wrestle against my brother (something that just about everybody with a brother does) they would fall off of my face and I’d have to frequently pause to throw them aside. It even became a pain to find a decent pair of clip on lenses to fit over my glasses, and even those never fit right.

I was very open with my family over the years about wanting to get this procedure, and being on my own with some money saved and a good credit score I was wondering if it was the right time to pull the trigger on something that could truly change my life. My brother’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend (I know, that’s a mouthful) had just gotten the surgery and loved it. I had always been wary of LASIK simply because the results are a mixed bag. But at the same time, there always seemed to be a rhyme or a reason to why some LASIK operations were better than others. Some people got the procedure when it was still relatively new, others were almost twice my age, and some didn’t properly follow the aftercare procedures. Seeing someone who was my age and in a situation like mine getting this procedure was the nail in the coffin. I finally made the call and scheduled the consultation.

070501-N-5319A-007 BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) - Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence RyderÕs eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patientÕs time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service memberÕs to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho (RELEASED)

BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) – Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence Ryder’s eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patient’s time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service member’s to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho

I was excited about scheduling the appointment and I promised myself that I wouldn’t cancel this time. I made sure not to tell anyone outside of my immediate family about this procedure. I was scared. If my corneas were not thick enough, I couldn’t get it done. If my vision was too bad, I couldn’t get it done. There were so many unknown variables and I didn’t want to get my own hopes up only to have them crushed.

In April, I finally made it to a LASIK appointment that I scheduled. From the moment I walked into the door, I felt like I was at home. The staff was understanding of my fears, they were considerate, and they treated me like an adult. They told me the realities, and the risks. They told me financially what type of burden I would have and because of my credit score it became something I could afford. All that remained was the tests…

I went into multiple rooms, and went through multiple exams. I took every type of vision test imaginable and all that remained was a scan of my corneas. If they were thick, I’d qualify for the procedure. If they were not thick, my fear would be realized.

I anxiously sat in a chair as both of my eyes were being scanned. It felt like something out of a bad spy movie, as a beam of light circled around my eyeballs. After a few minutes, the staff told me the news that would define my future…

I qualified for the surgery.

Words couldn’t describe how happy I was. Something that held me back for so long would become a thing of the past. Over the next few weeks, I prepared by buying medications, making arrangements to take a short three-day weekend off of work, and staying at my parents house until I was recovered. Each day seemed shorter than the one before as I felt my time coming closer and closer.

Finally the day came, and I was completely nervous. I don’t remember the last time I felt so much anxiety about something. After filling out a mountain of paperwork, I was called back and sat in a small room. They asked me if I wanted a Valium to help me relax and I immediately took the pill. I put a surgery cap over my head and similar material over my shoes. As I waited for the Valium to kick in, the doctor walked in and introduced himself to me.

“You ready Tim,” he asked me.

I slowly nodded my head.

“Let’s do it,” he said as he led me to the surgery room.

I want to preface this part by saying that while I am not going to try to get too disgusting with this post, I will be describing what surgery was like from my end. If this is something that makes you uncomfortable, this may be the time to click off of this post.

I was told to lay on my back and lift my knees up and over what looked like a small pillow.

“Just like pilates class Tim,” the doctor joked with me.

I appreciated the jokes but I was still a bit nervous. The doctor put numbing drops into my eyes and the procedure was ready to start. They asked me to raise my eyebrows and they put what looked like masking tape over them to hold them in place. They proceeded to do the same with my lower eyelid and my eyes were wide open.

“This is really happening,” I thought to myself.

A laser device came over my head and I started to feel scared. They asked me to look up toward a green light. I made sure to stare right at it at all times. That’s when one of the scariest experiences of my life came.

“You’re going to have some blurry vision for a few seconds but it is normal Tim,” the doctor said.

My vision started to blur as he said it and then a few seconds later everything went black…

My eye was wide open, but I couldn’t see a thing. I was momentarily blind. I don’t know if anything ever scared me as much as that. They repeated the same process with my left eye and then gave me a minute to breathe after it was over. Despite the fear, I was amazed at how fast it all happened. I didn’t time it, but if I did I’d bet it was no more than 10 minutes.

“Come with me Tim,” the doctor said.

He took me into an exam room and turned on an exam chart. He asked me to read the chart. In that moment, the blurriness in my eyes went away and I read the entire chart top to bottom. The doctor looked at me and my jaw dropped.

“Oh my God,” I mouthed to him as he smiled. The surgery was a complete success, in less than 10 minutes my entire life had changed.

I went from four eyes to sore eyes. The aftercare has been a bit of a chore but for the enhanced quality of life I’ve experienced since then, it is something I am willing to put up with. A procedure I’ve been so scared of getting has changed so much already. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so excited.

As I drive places now, I read things out loud just because I can. I feel like a child that just learned how to read and is showing it off. I don’t squint whatsoever, I can go from watching TV to looking at my phone in a millisecond with no adjustment. I can wear brand new Oakley sunglasses instead of a cheap pair of clip-ons that never fit my glasses. So many little things that the average person takes for granted, I am experiencing for the first time and enjoying every second of it.

There are some set backs. I have to use multiple medicated eye drops for the next month, I have to wear sunglasses outdoors every day for the foreseeable future, I have to wear goofy looking goggles when I go to bed so I don’t rub my eyes in my sleep, and I’ll be paying on this 10 minute surgery for the next two years. But all in all, this was worth every single penny.

In the words of Johnny Nash: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.”

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Challenger anniversary brings back memories

The first thought that goes through my mind, thinking about the anniversary of the Challenger disaster on Jan. 28, 1986, is where i was at the time.

i was in the third grade, if i recall correct, and i’d stayed home from school that day, more than likely due to a “sore throat.” (That was always a good go-to ailment.) i was at my grandma’s house, sitting on the living room floor watching the TV when it happened.

More recently, i’d had an opportunity to learn more about one of the astronauts on that mission: Dr. Ronald McNair. While attending Cleveland State University, i wrote a story about the McNair Scholars Program, and during research for that i was happy to find out more about the scholarship’s namesake.

Ronald_mcnair wikimedia commons

Dr. Ronald McNair

If you’d like to check out the original publication of the story, it’s still available at The Cleveland Stater website.

Or, you can read it here below under the image of the Stater page as the story originally appeared, where i’ve copied the text from my original draft for your convenience.

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The road to becoming a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is daunting.  The challenge requires a serious commitment of time, focused research, comprehensive exams, publication and completion of a journal of the dissertation.

It was a journey made in 1976 by Dr. Ronald McNair, a first-generation college student from South Carolina.  He grew up in a house without running water or electricity.  He took a stand for his civil rights at 9-years-old when he refused to leave a segregated library without his books, a library that would later be named after him.  He was a high school valedictorian who went on to become a PhD in physics.  And he was selected as one of 35 from a pool of 10,000 to become a NASA astronaut.

On his second mission, on Jan. 28, 1986, Dr. McNair was killed along with six others aboard the space shuttle Challenger after it broke apart 73 seconds into its flight.

His legacy is preserved by the McNair Scholars Program, a U.S. Department of Education funded program that helps prepare undergraduate students for doctoral study.  The program is offered at 200 institutions across the US and Puerto Rico, including Cleveland State University.  Participants in the program are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a traditionally under-represented group in graduate education.

For students majoring in STEM disciplines, the deadline to apply is Friday, Nov. 1 this year.  On Nov. 12 there is a follow-up interview for selected applicants.

“The goal of this program is to increase the diversity of the professoriate,” explained Dr. Valli Sarveswaran, director of the McNair Scholar program at Cleveland State.  “Every college has their own diversity challenge, to increase their numbers.  That has to start somewhere, like our program.”

The McNair Scholars program launched at Cleveland State in 2008 after Dr. Sarveswaran was hired as the first director.  Prior to that, he was an administrator for an outreach program funded by the National Science Foundation at the University of Notre Dame.  Through his work at universities, he came to admire the interactions that took place and bonds that formed amongst students and faculty.

“I have a PhD in chemistry and spent several years doing research,” Dr. Sarveswaran said.  “Then I realized I started liking working with students more than chemicals.”

The program sponsors 30 students each year and takes a comprehensive approach to prepare them for doctoral studies.  Students receive support in the form of research opportunities, paid full-credit tuition for independent study, meal and housing allowances, and mentored research with a chance to present their findings at Cleveland State.  Additional research and presentation opportunities exist beyond Cleveland State’s campus, with travel expenses covered by the program.  Trips also include visits to graduate schools and professional conferences, with expenses covered by the program.

“We offer a lot,” Dr. Sarveswaran said.  “Financially and through other support like a GRE [graduate record examination] prep course and writing courses.”

The GRE prep course is a 32-hour workshop offered in the summer.  Other workshops include effective resume building and cover letters, writing a statement of purpose, and financial guidance like how loan forgiveness works and how to pay for graduate school.

One of the current cohort of McNair Scholars is Shannon Walker, a senior environmental studies major.  She learned about the McNair program before transferring to Cleveland State, while attending Tri-C Metro.  Walker joined the program in spring 2013, and worked with Dr. Robert Simons to update the CSU Master Plan this past summer.  After the summer program ended, she was offered a position to stay on until the project is complete.

“The program’s been a great asset in facilitating opportunities and connections for all of us – especially as a first-generation college student,” Walker said in an email.  “The mentoring portion of it has been extremely valuable.”

Scholars work with both a discipline and non-discipline mentor and meet with each of them at least once a month.  The discipline mentor guides students with research projects and helps to navigate their interests and choices in graduate schools, internships and opportunities outside of Cleveland State.

Dr. Dan Simon, a professor of electrical & computer engineering at Cleveland State, became a discipline mentor at the request of Dr. Sarveswaran.  He considers a PhD important for anyone who wants to become a leader in their field.  Becoming a PhD means that you’re not only an expert in your discipline, but also that you can effectively communicate that knowledge.

“Communication is huge, and it goes both ways” said Dr. Simon.  “We stand on the shoulders of giants, but if we can’t understand what other people have done and explain it to other people then we can’t advance the state-of-the-art.  Communication is a two-way street and it’s very important for engineers, especially leaders.”

He noted two things that are vital to students of any discipline thinking about pursuing a doctorate.  The first is to maintain good grades throughout your undergraduate studies.  Second, he stressed getting involved with professional organizations.

Non-discipline mentors provide students with a faculty perspective in a more casual relationship removed from the pressures of study and research.  This mentor’s role involves teaching students what to expect as university professors and informing them of job opportunities.  And because 80 percent of McNair Scholars are first-generation college students, mentors often become a friendly refuge in what can be a challenging environment for them.

One of the McNair non-discipline mentors is Dr. Ulrich Zurcher, a professor of physics.  Dr. Zurcher got involved with the McNair program because he identified with the under-represented groups in doctorate studies.  Himself a first-generation college student in his native Switzerland, Dr. Zurcher understood that minority students can feel out of place in college.

“I’m highly motivated about this,” said Dr. Zurcher.  “When I went to college, because I’m not from an academic background I always felt excluded.  I felt I did not belong.  Minority students sometimes feel like they don’t belong, to some extent.”

Dr. Zurcher, who came from a working class family, can relate to students for whom college is a wholly unfamiliar environment.  As a non-discipline mentor he hopes to help students acclimate to college and find their niche.

Sara Al-Nimer, a senior McNair scholar double majoring in mathematics and psychology, considers the program invaluable.  She cites her mentors as well as fellow scholars and especially Dr. Sarveswaran as a wonderful support system.

“I have been fortunate to be a part of this program and I wouldn’t trade the experience, the skills or the people I have met for anything,” she said.

Turkey and technology collide at Great Lakes Science Center’s ‘Turkey Tech’

This story originally appeared in The News-Herald and The Morning Journal

Great Lakes Science Center

The Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland is shown in July 2009. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

When you think about Thanksgiving, science and technology might not be the first things that spring to mind.

Sure, there’s the chemistry of starch behind the family recipe for gravy. And in the last four hundred years since the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621, kitchen gadgetry has come a long way. But, robots, 3-D printing and vacuum chambers aren’t the images that are typically conjured when turkey day draws near.

This year, the Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Ave. in Cleveland, aims to change those perceptions with Turkey Tech, a holiday-themed event Nov. 27-29 “where turkey and technology collide.” Regular admission to the Science Center gives access to the planned activities and presentations, with additional registration required for a couple of the items due to limitations on space and participation.

With the potential for chilly outside temperatures and the long weekend many look forward to from school or work, Science Center Communications Director Joe Yachanin explained that the event programming sought to give families a fun option for how to spend the holiday time.

There’s a bit of Thanksgiving-themed stuff developed just for the event, plus a holiday theme to several mainstays like the Big Science Show, he said.

“We thought, what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving weekend with the people in your family than coming downtown and visiting the Great Lakes Science Center,” said Yachanin. “We’re always looking for things to do that can engage multiple generations.”

On top of all of that, Yachanin said, the timing worked out for the debut of National Geographic’s “Robots 3-D” film in the OMNIMAX theater on Nov. 27, showcasing the latest successes and failures in robotics research.

“It’s a tour of robotics labs around the world, so that people can see what sorts of advancements are being made in the world of robotics,” Yachanin said.

RoboThespian, a humanoid robot actor designed to interact with humans in a public setting, acts as the film’s narrator. Viewers will be introduced to several high-profile robotics projects like CHIMP, ATLAS, Herb the Butler and more.

For more robotics, VEX Robotics exhibitions are scheduled all day for all three days. Builders will be demonstrating how to design and build robots with the VEX Robotics Design System, a platform geared towards students.

One of the more intriguing Turkey Tech exhibitions, which will run all day throughout the weekend, is the vacuum chamber floor demonstration. Attendees can see what happens when different Thanksgiving side dishes are put into the chamber to have the air sucked out of them completely and then put back in.

“It works really neat with whipped cream on top of pumpkin pie — to see the whipped cream expand and contract right before your eyes,” Yachanin said. “It works really well because there’s a lot of air in the whipped cream. It’s really neat to watch the food literally change size right before your eyes.

“And the education person doing that demonstration can of course explain the science behind how changing the air pressure affects the food.”

Both the Maker Workshop and Family Turkey Launch Tournament are free with regular admission, but require additional registration due to space and material limitations. The Science Center is asking for a donation of canned food for this event as well.

In the Maker Workshop, scheduled for Nov. 27 at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., participants will get an introduction to 3-D printing and make their own cookie cutters.

The turkey launch, scheduled for Nov. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., challenges teams to construct a catapult using a basket of household objects provided. The catapult will then be used to launch plastic turkeys, with the winner being the team able to propel their turkey the closest to landing in a pot, with a bullseye for getting it to land inside.

“The closer you get, the more points it will be worth,” Yachanin said. “It’ll be tournament style, and the top teams will go home with a turkey trophy.”

Visitors who have been to the Science Center before may not recall seeing any bowling lanes on the premises. Nevertheless, Turkey Bowling is scheduled Nov. 27-28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Nov. 29 1-4 p.m. Set up in open exhibit space, participants will get to make and decorate their own head pins and then hit the boards for a chance to roll their own turkeys, or three strikes in a row — a term that originated when bowling tournaments handed out grocery items (like turkeys), eventually becoming part of the vernacular.

A staple of the Science Center, the Big Science Show will have a few surprises in store for anyone who’s seen it before. Turkey Tech-themed elements were integrated into the show, scheduled to run on Nov. 27 at 2 p.m., Nov. 28 at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. and Nov. 29 at 2:30 p.m.

“One of the new demonstrations is an explanation of why Thanksgiving Day parade balloons are full of helium instead of hydrogen,” Yachanin said. “And another one we’re doing is called the Tesla Turkey. We’re going to be conducting electricity through a turkey on a giant Tesla coil.”

For parents looking to take advantage of Black Friday shopping, the center is also offering a one day camp-like program called “Parent’s Day Out” on Nov. 27 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. By registering in advance, children ages 6-13 can be dropped off at GLSC for a day of supervised scientific fun with hands-on activities, a pizza lunch, an OMNIMAX film, the Big Science Show and more. The cost per child is $30 for nonmembers and $25 for members.

Like the Spooktacular Science Day in October, Turkey Tech continues a programming schedule of holiday-themed events. Coming up, GLSC plans a whole week of wintry/cold themed activities for Winter Week, Dec. 26-Jan. 2.

“Lots of kids are home from school, on winter break,” Yachanin said.

“We’re trying to put in a bit of added incentive with fun, wintry-themed activities. We’ll probably do some fun stuff with liquid nitrogen that week.”

Events like carpet skating will take place, with plans to run a snow machine inside GLSC to complete the wintry atmosphere for visitors.

“We basically just want people to make family memories,” Yachanin said.

“Come down and have a little fun with science. Hopefully we’re going to make it engaging and expose people to some level of creativity that they don’t normally associate with science.”

GIS Day at Lakeland Community College showcases geographic software

This story originally appeared in The News-Herald and The Morning Journal

GIS Day 1

Dakota Benjamin from Cleveland Metroparks shows the E384 unmanned aircraft during a presentation by GIS Manager Stephen V. Mather (left) to guests during GIS Day at Lakeland Community College on Nov. 18. The craft is part of a fleet used by Cleveland Metroparks that includes rotorcraft drones and kites for surveying land and gathering geospatial data.

Since 1999, the third Wednesday of each November has been designated as GIS Day, a grassroots global event developed by Esri — an international supplier of GIS software — that lets users and vendors of the geographic software to showcase their applications to the public.

On Nov. 18, Lakeland Community College hosted a GIS Day event, organized by Lisa Stanich, geospatial technology program assistant, and Mark Guizlo, professor and chair of the department of geography and geospatial technology.

The free and public event took place across two rooms set aside for presentations and demonstations, and a third room for exhibitors.
Lakeland also uses GIS Day to showcase their Geospatial Technology program. Developed in 2011, it is the first program in the state that’s aligned with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Geospatial Technology Competency Model designed to produce a skilled workforce.

“We set ours up based on the needs of the industry,” Guizlo said.

While developing the program, Guizlo attended professional meetings for the industry, noting that there were few academics there at the time. At the meetings, he began building relationships with industry leaders to help shape the program.

“We used the (Labor Department) model to guide what we are doing, and no we have a very professional, skills-based approach.”

GIS program participant Caroline Petersen, who manned the department’s exhibit table, was enthusiastic about her experience.

“It’s an amazing program that’s opened up so many doors for me,” she said.

Fellow student Joe Gragg agreed.

“From what I’ve heard, students coming from Lakeland’s GIS program are a year or two ahead when they go on to four-year programs,” he said.

Starting off the day, GIS instructor Bobby Oliver showed attendees a selection of free and open mobile apps for geospatial data collection. She explained that casual users and consumers can take advantage of app capabilities to gather useful information for things like fitness and health tracking.

One of the apps, Endomondo, can track workouts like running or biking, measuring speed, distance and elevation. Using the data, the app provides feedback on how to meet exercise goals.

“There’s lots of free software out there for your phones,” Oliver said.
Most of these sorts of apps are designed to sync with users’ social media networks, making it easy to share your successes or compare with other enthusiasts.

Sharing large swaths of data across multiple entities is one of the broader uses of GIS data, exemplified by municipal organizations like the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

Robert Stoerkel and Dennis Quigney, both graduates of Lakeland’s GIS program, presented attendees with a variety of ways NEORSD collects, uses and shares data.

With over 1 million customers in a 355-square-mile service area and over 90 billion gallons of water treated each year, managing geospatial data is vital.

Customized data logged in their Enterprise GIS system is used to aid many other departments, including Homeland Security, in order to coordinate infrastructure projects and ensure safety and stability for both consumers and professionals in the coverage area.

“Everyone in the district is using this app once a day,” Stoerkel said.

Michael Foley, GIS specialist with CT Consultants, a local municipal engineering and planning firm in Mentor, echoed Stoerkel’s sentiments about the importance of geospatial data.

“People don’t care about maps, they care about apps,” he said.
Situated in the exhibit hall, Foley explained the work that went into developing and managing a comprehensive database and map for the city of Euclid’s sewer system using aerial photos and other techniques. The resulting web application allows the city to access and input data as needed.

Aerial photography was also the focus of Cleveland Metroparks presentation, where GIS Manager Stephen V. Mather showed what his department’s fleet of unmanned craft can provide.

Using OpenDroneMap, an open source toolkit, in conjunction with both fixed wing and rotorcraft drones as well as kites, they’re able to reconstruct the world using series of overlapping photos from repeated drone flights.

The highly-detailed maps created allow for precise attention to problems like erosion, stemming invasive species like phragmites and promoting healthy vegetation growth.

GIS Day 2

A selection of quilts on display at GIS Day at Lakeland Community College on Nov. 18 created by Debbie Berkebile, owner of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures. Berkbile uses GIS data to create artistic representations of geographic locations, including (from left) the Painted Desert, Eye of Sahara and Sustina Glacier.

Exhibitor Debbie Berkebile, owner of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures, puts her GIS training to use for an artistic pursuit.

Using image data from various locations around the globe, she creates quilts and uses topographical information to hand-paint landscape features on them.

“Each one has characteristics of what the colors really mean,” she said.

“I’ve been quilting for over 15 years, but this I just started after graduation. I like mapping.”

Aerospace and aviation symposium in Mentor draws leaders from around the world – and off it completely

This story originally appeared in The News-Herald

Submitted Dr. Janet Kavandi, deputy director of NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, spoke on Oct. 1 at the Aerospace Industry Updates & Opportunities symposium hosted by the City of Mentor and the Ohio Aerospace Institute. Kavandi, a patent scientist-turned astronaut, has logged more than 33 hours in space and traveled over 13.1 million miles in 535 Earth orbits. The event was held at Noah's Event Center, 8200 Norton Pkwy., Mentor.

Submitted
Dr. Janet Kavandi, deputy director of NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, spoke on Oct. 1 at the Aerospace Industry Updates & Opportunities symposium hosted by the City of Mentor and the Ohio Aerospace Institute. Kavandi, a patent scientist-turned astronaut, has logged more than 33 hours in space and traveled over 13.1 million miles in 535 Earth orbits. The event was held at Noah’s Event Center, 8200 Norton Pkwy., Mentor.

Ohio’s Aerospace Industry was the topic of a recent event in Mentor that was geared toward fostering growth both locally and across the state.

As part of the City of Mentor International Trade Initiative’s quarterly symposium series, about 75 people gathered Oct. 1 at Noah’s Event Center for Aerospace Industry Opportunities & Updates.

Hosted by a partnership between the city and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, a nonprofit advocate of aerospace research and technology development, leaders in the industry both local and global gave presentations designed to build networks, create connections and advance the state of the industry in Northeast Ohio.

“Aerospace is such a growing sector in the national economy, and internationally,” said Ronald M. Traub, director of economic and community development for Mentor. “It’s great to have experts of this caliber to speak to Mentor area businesses, and it’s value-added for our local business to take advantage of their expertise.”

One of the experts on hand, state Representative Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, was enthusiastic in his commitment to advancing aerospace in Ohio.

“My strength, my forte, my sweet spot has been aerospace,” Perales said of his background, having served in the U.S. Air Force and as commander of the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. “I’m here for a specific reason: getting the state more involved (in aerospace).”

As a junior representative in 2012, Perales saw a need to bring together the state’s industries, universities and government to help advance aerospace, and formed the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Committee. Comprised of three Democrats, three Republicans and 15 civilians from military, industry and academia, the committee works to identify problems and solve them.

One of those problems, Perales noted, was branding — Ohio didn’t have a strong identity for its aerospace industry, something the committee worked to correct.

“This is the Midwest, we don’t beat our chests about it, we just go out and do it,” Perales said of the region’s persona.

The symposium’s keynote speaker was Dr. Janet Kavandi, deputy director of the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

It’s a position she’s held since February. Before taking on the role, Kavandi was a patent chemist-turned-astronaut, a veteran of three space flights as a mission specialist who’s logged over 33 days in space with 535 Earth orbits.

Prior to her presentation, Kavandi spoke to The News-Herald about the Glenn Research Center’s commitment to supporting aerospace and aviation industries. At that particular research center, one of 10 NASA facilities around the country, the focus is on aircraft engines, space power and communications primarily. Work on sensor equipment there, for example, played a part in the recent announcement of NASA’s discovery of water on Mars — something “not incredibly surprising” to scientists like Kavandi, but still “really exciting.”

She also touched on her time in space, and the change in perspective that astronauts often experience.

“I appreciate a lot of the impact of humanity on the earth,” Kavandi said, “because you can see it. Things like pollution and deforestation.”

During her presentation, she also noted the incredible views from space, like looking down on Africa and seeing a lightning storm travel hundreds of miles across the relatively dark continent. She was also able to confidently answer a question about the validity of building permanent settlements on places like the moon, or Mars.

“Technically, we can do it right now,” she said. “We could have done it 20 or 30 years ago. We have the technology, it just depends how many politicians get behind it.”

Earlier presentations from industry leaders like Boeing, Parker Hannifin, McDonald Hopkins and several people from the OAI covered a broad range of topics for small businesses in the aerospace industry, from securing funding, to forming strong partnerships with larger establishment firms and potential legal hurdles and challenges businesses might face.

“There is no industry in the world in which there is more of a leader than aerospace that the U.S.,” said Michael Heil, president and CEO of OAI. “It all started right here in the state of Ohio with two brothers — Wilbur and Orville Wright. Ohio is not just No. 1 in aerospace, we’re No. 1 by a long way.”