11 ways the orange and blue is green, too

April 11, 2017
Alisson Clark
Earth Day, sustainability

When Jessica Miller drives to the University of Florida campus, she’s not just getting to work. As part of the Neutral UF Coalition, her commute pays for trees to clean the air and energy retrofits to help low-income homeowners use less power.

Miller is one of over 100 UF faculty and staff in the program, which is the first in the nation to allow university employees to automatically offset the climate impact of their commutes through payroll deduction.

“How cool is that?” Miller says. “It makes me feel proud to be not just part of the Coalition, but part of UF.”

Members choose what to contribute each pay period. The suggested amount of $1 is enough to offset the driving done by the average UF commuter. Participants also have opportunities to get hands-on with their offsets. In a field at Little Orange Creek Preserve east of Gainesville, Miller took a tiny pine tree – one of 2,000 coalition members and other volunteers would plant that day – out of a plastic bucket and nestled it into its new home in a sandy clearing. Members aren’t required to take part in the tree plantings, but Miller appreciates that the Office of Sustainability, which created the program, gave her a chance to put her donation into action.

“You can see and feel the impact in your community,” she says.

The coalition, which helps UF toward its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025, is just one of the efforts promoting sustainability on campus. Here are 10 more ways the orange and blue is also green.  

  • We medaled in biking: UF recently earned silver level status as a “Bicycle Friendly University” from the League of American Bicyclists. The university offers 13 miles of bike lanes, 22 self-service bike repair stations, a student bike rental program and other ways to help students and staff choose sustainable transportation options.
  • You can make your spring break sustainable: Some UF students spent their spring break volunteering at a nonprofit farm providing organic produce to cancer patients, preserving Cumberland Island National Seashore, and working on an agroecology farm in Costa Rica through Florida Alternative Breaks. Others headed to Florida’s Nature Coast for a field course on sea-level rise and coastal ecology.
  • We <3 trees: For four years in a row, UF has been recognized as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.
  • You can graduate green: Through the Green Gator Graduation Cord Challenge, students can earn graduation cords — worn with their cap and gown at the commencement ceremony — showing their commitment. Taking related courses, volunteering, attending events and doing research can all earn points toward green cords.
  • You can eat green: Campus restaurants have been foam-free since 2011, and Gator Dining offers reusable drink and to-go containers. In the dining hall, labels denote local and sustainable food choices. 
  • Our sports are sustainable: Everything available for purchase in the stadium is either compostable or recyclable, and has been since 2013. This summer, UF will hosts a Collegiate Sports Sustainability Summit for like-minded schools nationwide.
  • We give a Kermit trophy: In addition to the annual Champions for Change Awards, which recognize accomplishments on campus and beyond, UF’s Department of Planning, Design and Construction bestows a Kermit the Frog “It ain’t easy being green” trophy on the project manager who racks up the most LEED building points. UF has more than 60 certified LEED buildings. 

javaheri with kermit puppet

Campus Life

Important April 1st University of Florida Announcement

April 1, 2017
President W. Kent Fuchs
Drain the Swamp

An important message from President W. Kent Fuchs.



Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier reacts to announcement.


UPDATE 10:30 AM:

Go… Florida Clams? New mascots proposed amid furor over “fake news".


UPDATE 11:30 AM:

President Fuchs makes an emotional concession to the Gator Nation.



Previous April 1st Announcements:


Chancellor Marshall Criser III discusses combining FSU and UF

President Fuchs and President Thrasher discuss the FSU, UF merger

City of Perry selected as site for new FSU + UF campus

Chomp-chop or chop-chomp?

The reveal


Effective immediately, Coach Jim McElwain will be taking over as University of Florida President and Dr. W. Kent Fuchs is now the Gator Football head coach.

Campus Life

University of Florida selects new Executive Director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs

April 3, 2017
Sara Tanner

After a thorough national search, the University of Florida announced that Will Atkins has been selected as Executive Director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, effective immediately. 

Multicultural and Diversity Affairs supports and empowers underserved communities and leads the Division of Student Affairs’ inclusion efforts to accomplish the University of Florida’s diversity goals, by educating, empowering and mobilizing students, campus stakeholders and community partners towards creating an inclusive, affirming, and just campus community. The Executive Director oversees the department of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, including Black Affairs, Hispanic-Latino Affairs, Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer Affairs, and Intercultural Engagement.

"Out of a robust and competitive applicant and finalist pool, Mr. Atkins has been selected to serve as the Executive Director of MCDA,” said Dr. David Parrott, UF’s vice president for Student Affairs. “He brings experience from several large universities, in addition to six months as the interim leader of MCDA. The University of Florida, the Division of Student Affairs, and our students will benefit from his leadership, compassion, and commitment to excellence. He has a superb core group of full-time staff, graduate assistants, and student employees and volunteers who will serve as the foundation of the new team he will build."

In his time serving as interim Executive Director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs and past roles at the University of Florida, Miami University, and University of Michigan, Atkins has a proven track record of exemplary professionalism, leadership and relationship building skills. Most recently, he co-lead the Black Student Affairs Task Force, launched an intercultural dialogue series, and organized the Town Hall with President Kent Fuchs.

“Mr. Atkins brings a strong foundation in social justice education, serving underrepresented students and working on campus climate initiatives and assessment,” said Dr. Mary Kay Carodine, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “His excellent relationships and collaborations with academic colleges and departments, student organizations and alumni combined with the strength of the team, poise MCDA to make a substantial and lasting impact on campus.”

Through the search process, the Division of Student Affairs brought four candidates to Gainesville for on-campus interviews. The finalists were strongly vetted through a review of stakeholder feedback, strengths/weaknesses provided by the search committee, and extensive reference checks with the candidates’ current and former employers and faculty members.

For the role of Executive Director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, UF sought an individual with strategic vision and leadership, strong communication skills, experience with advocacy, and a history of meaningful collaborations, among other attributes.

Campus Life

Eight UF programs ranked top 10 in the world, according to new rankings

April 3, 2017
Steve Orlando

The University of Florida’s entomology department is the best in the world, and a host of other UF programs rank in the top 10 globally from among more than 26,000 degree-granting institutions of higher education, according to the 2017 Center for World University Rankings list released today.

The programs, followed by their world rank and their score, are:

  • Entomology (World Rank: 1, Score: 100.00)
  • Zoology (World Rank: 4, Score: 87.78)
  • Mycology (World Rank: 8, Score: 83.42)
  • Agriculture, Dairy & Animal Science (World Rank: 9, Score: 92.56)
  • Biodiversity Conservation (World Rank: 9, Score: 89.55)
  • Horticulture (World Rank: 9, Score: 90.63)
  • Psychology, Applied (World Rank: 9, Score: 91.57)
  • Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism (World Rank: 10, Score: 79.86)

The CWUR Rankings by Subject 2017 rank the world’s leading universities in 227 subject categories, based on the number of research articles in top-tier journals. Data is obtained from Clarivate Analytics (previously the Intellectual Property and Science business of Thomson Reuters).

The Center for World University Rankings publishes the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions.

The ranking started as a project in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2012 with the aim of rating the top 100 global universities. In 2014, the ranking expanded to list the top 1,000 out of 25,000+ degree-granting institutions of higher education worldwide, making it the largest academic ranking of global universities.

The Center for World University Rankings is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates.

Global Impact

University of Florida/Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute Receives 2017 Top Global Incubator Award from the International Business Innovation Association

April 3, 2017
Mark Long

UF's Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute named Incubator of the Year among more than 7,500 incubators worldwide.

Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute (SMBI), the leading biotechnology incubator at the University of Florida, has been awarded the Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year award for 2017, the highest award given by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA). InBIA is the world's leading organization for advancing business incubation, acceleration and entrepreneurship. SMBI was named Incubator of the Year among more than 7,500 incubators worldwide. The annual award, sponsored by the Friends of the University Science Center in Philadelphia, recognizes the top global business incubation program and includes a cash prize.

The award was presented on March 28th at the InBIA's 31st Annual International Conference on Business Incubation.  Accepting the award for SMBI were Mark S. Long, Director, and Merrie Shaw, Assistant Director.  SMBI also received another award, the 2017 Technology/Science Entrepreneurship Center Program.

David L. Day, Assistant Vice President for Technology Transfer at the University of Florida, said, "We are honored for the Institute to be recognized as the best in the world incubator. It is a tribute to our staff and their outstanding efforts helping startups grow great innovations and new solutions into successful businesses that will make the world a better place."

SMBI has a biotechnology focus, and over the past 21 years has served more than 100 startup companies in biotechnology, biomedicine and bioagriculture. The Institute has created more than 2,200 high-tech jobs since its inception, and SMBI resident companies have accumulated over $1.62B in capital and M&A activity.  There is a 93% survival rate for companies that entered the SMBI program since March of 2003, and an overall 78% survival rate for all companies served over the past 21 years.

Since becoming Director of SMBI in January 2016, Long has overseen the admission of 13 new companies, and the graduation of three companies. "We continue to see the growth of North Central Florida as a biotech hub," said Long. "As part of the University of Florida's Research Foundation, we are able to offer new biotechnology startups a tremendous wealth of resources, advisement and equipment.  We are proud to be recognized by our peers as the top incubation program in the world."

About Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute at the University of Florida

The Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute (SMBI) is the leading biotechnology incubator headquartered at the University of Florida in Alachua, Florida at Progress Park. SMBI has been honored with national and international awards for incubator excellence and achievements in technology commercialization, funding access, job creation and technology-based economic development. It is dedicated to mentoring and accelerating the growth of innovative early-stage bioscience and biotechnology companies, and supporting the economic growth of the North Central Florida region.  For more information, visit sidmartinbio.org.

Global Impact

Florida consumer sentiment in March hits pre-recession level

April 4, 2017
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians rose last month to the highest level in 15 years, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.

The reading of 99 in March was the highest since March 2002 and the second-highest since November 2000. The 5.2-point increase in March followed a dip in February, which ended the month with a revised reading of 93.8.

All five of the components that make up the index increased.

Perception of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago ticked up four-tenths of a point, from 88.1 to 88.5. Perceptions as to whether now is a good time to buy a major household item such as an appliance rose 3.8 points, from 99.7 to 103.5.

“The increase in these two components shows that current economic conditions improved among Floridians in March,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “In particular, women and those under age 60 displayed more optimistic perceptions.”

Expectations of personal finances a year from now rose 7.8 points from 99.5 to 107.3. Opinions of anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next year increased 7.2 points, from 92.0 to 99.2. Similarly, expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years rose 7.2 points, from 89.5 to 96.7.

“Overall, Floridians are far more optimistic in March than the previous month. The gain in March’s index came mainly from consumers’ future expectations about the economy. Importantly, these views are shared by all Floridians, independent of their demographic characteristics and socioeconomic status,” Sandoval said. “These expectations are particularly strong among women and those with an income under $50,000.”

Consumer sentiment at the national level also remained positive in March at 96.9, according to the University of Michigan’s survey of consumers.

In Florida, consumer sentiment may have been lifted by good economic news. The Florida labor market has continued expansion, adding jobs on a monthly basis for more than six years.

The unemployment rate in Florida remained unchanged at 5 percent in February, the most recent figure available. Over the last year, the unemployment rate has remained stable: Between March and December 2016, the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, and since January the rate has been 5 percent.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Florida ranked third of all states in the country in personal income growth, with a growth rate of 4.9 percent in personal income between 2015 and 2016. The main contributor to this change came from net earnings, which includes wages, salaries and supplements but excluding contributions for government social insurance.

Nationwide, economic activity and the labor market has continued to expand and strengthen, and household spending has risen. As a consequence, last month the Federal Open Market Committee decided to raise the federal funds rate to a target range of 0.75 to 1 percent.

“In general, the economic outlook is very positive and the positive sentiment will aid the economy to expand even further,” Sandoval said.

Conducted March 1-30, the UF study reflects the responses of 507 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data.

Society & Culture

A lighthouse and its island face sea level rise

April 4, 2017
Stephenie Livingston
Environment, Island conservation, sea level rise

Shifting Sands

Science & Wellness

Fulbright scholar to study unknown biodiversity in Poland

April 5, 2017
Ellison Langford
Environment, biodiversity, Fulbright Scholar Program

Karolina Weclawska is the first UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation undergraduate to receive a Fulbright scholarship.

For six months after she applied for a Fulbright Research Scholarship, Karolina Weclawska’s life was on hold. The University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation senior said people would ask about her plans for after graduation this spring, and all she could say was, “Well, that’s up to the Fulbright Commission.”

You can’t make alternate plans for the opportunity of a lifetime.

After months of waiting nervously while the commission deliberated over thousands of applications, the commission responded.

“I almost brought down the foundation of my house jumping around and screaming,” Weclawska said.

Her project targets an underappreciated area of biodiversity — forest mosses. Mosses provide habitats for microscopic organisms, in turn creating miniature ecosystems. As Weclawska described it, a patch of moss is basically a tiny forest.

And, as allowing other, seemingly unimportant, species to go extinct has shown, neglecting mosses could have unforeseen consequences.

“It’s like saying, we’re going to eliminate trees, but you’re eliminating trees for that level of the ecosystem,” she said.

 stock photo

Beginning September 2017, she will spend nine months to a year creating an index of critically understudied mosses in Poland, her birth country. Poland is home to Białowieża Forest, one of the last primeval forests in the world, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Centre for its biodiversity.

However, most of the woodlands in Poland belong to the government, and are used for industry. Because of this, many of the plant species they house have gone unresearched.

Even so, Weclawska said scientists believe there is enough deadwood within the forests for mosses to thrive.

As there is no complete index of moss species in Poland, part of Weclawska’s proposal involves expanding the list of known species. She has a background in nature photography and plans to use her findings to create a booklet for moss identification.

“I really want to try to capture photos of these mosses that show non-scientific people how beautiful they are,” she said.

stock photo

The project will culminate with Weclawska giving talks about her research to scientific and lay audiences. One idea involves helping schoolchildren build their own terrariums.

As enthusiastic as Weclawska is to preserve a valuable part of the natural web, she is also looking forward to the other opportunities working in Poland will provide, like traveling and the career boost that pursuing a Fulbright project can bring.

Although she was born in Poland, Weclawska’s family moved to the U.S. when she was small, and she hasn’t traveled anywhere in Europe besides her birth country.

“Combining community outreach, science and art– those are all things that are important to me,” she said. “This was just the perfect next step in my life, and I’m just really, really glad I got it.”

Science & Wellness

A Man for All Seasons

April 11, 2017
Steve Orlando

Michael Gannon, who taught at UF for more than 30 years and was a nationally recognized historian – especially in matters related to Florida history -- passed away Monday at age 89. This article, which appeared in the Winter 2011 issues of “Florida,” then the UF alumni magazine, covers his long, rich and purposeful life.

It was a balmy evening in May 1972, and all around Michael Gannon* (PhD ’62) a nightmare was unfolding.  

Florida highway patrolmen clad in riot gear were chasing UF student protestors down West University Avenue. Gannon, chaplain of the nearby St. Augustine Catholic student center, spotted a plate-glass-lined Krystal Hamburger restaurant packed to the gills with students seeking a safe haven. A state trooper was holding open the front door, his arm cocked as he prepared to lob a tear gas canister inside.  

Mike Gannon - riot

Gannon grabbed his arm and pleaded, “Sir, you do not want to throw that gas canister in there. If you do, those young men and women are going to be killed and maimed going through the glass.”

Seconds later, another trooper saw the altercation and whacked the priest with a nightstick. Gannon fell and was arrested. A UF official intervened for his release.

The canister was not thrown.

“I put myself in the middle of that to try to keep people from getting hurt,” Gannon recalls nearly 40 years later.

That devotion to students is a big part of what has made Gannon a UF institution, but that’s only part of the story. Among the other roles he’s filled are prize-winning author, mediator, historian, radio announcer, sports columnist, college professor and war correspondent.

“Mike has a particular talent at capturing what we all feel and reflecting the best of all of us,” says David Colburn, director of the Reubin O’D. Askew Institute on Politics and Society at UF and a member of the history faculty since 1972.

The Writer

Born in 1927 in Fort Sill, Okla., Gannon, his two younger brothers and his recently widowed mother moved to St. Augustine in 1940.

While still in high school at St. Joseph Academy, Gannon became a sports writer at the St. Augustine Record. World War II was in full swing, and the sports editor, Harvey Lopez, was called away to military service. At 16, Gannon took over the job.

The work meant missing class each afternoon to write and lay out pages. The sisters were none too pleased and told his mother. The truancy continued. Finally, Gannon was summoned by the Rev. Joe Devaney, assistant pastor at the Cathedral of St. Augustine.

In the 1970s Gannon was often a calming influence at UF amid student protests. Students, administrators and sometimes -- but not always -- law enforcement officers tended to trust his guidance.

Gannon braced himself for a tongue-lashing. What he got instead changed his life.

“Mike, I’ve been reading your stuff,” Devaney told Gannon. “It’s good but … your style is too ornate. You need a cleaner, more direct style. So I’m going to get you a subscription to the New York Herald Tribune so you can read (famed sports writer) Red Smith.”

He instructed Gannon to rewrite Smith’s column verbatim on his own typewriter.

“I want you to pay attention to the leanness of his style and how much he can say without using adverbs and adjectives,” Devaney told Gannon. “I want you to catch the rhythm of it.”

“God bless him,” Gannon says, “he taught me how to write!”

Recalling that event nearly seven decades later, Gannon’s eyes fill with tears and his ringing, baritone voice breaks.

“I always get choked up when I think about it. Here was a guy who’s in a position to scold you and he doesn’t. The guy made only $30 a month and he buys me a subscription.”

The lesson stayed with Gannon. He has authored numerous books, most of them focusing on Florida history. “Florida: A Short History” and “The New History of Florida” are considered must-reads for those interested in the state’s past.

Last March, in fact, the body of Gannon’s work earned him the inaugural Florida Lifetime Literary Achievement Award from the Florida Humanities Council.

The Priest

At 18, Gannon joined the American Field Service, but before he could begin training, the war was over. Without any clear goal in mind, he decided to try his hand at radio and spent the next four years giving play-by-plays of Southern college football.

With the radio bug out of his system, Gannon finally found the path he’d previously lacked: He decided to become a priest.

After graduating from Université de Louvain in Belgium, he was ordained in 1959. His first assignment: chaplain of the brand-new St. Augustine Catholic Church and Student Center in Gainesville.

“I organized the dedication ceremonies,” he says.

Gannon’s reach stretched beyond his church’s walls. For 12 years at the Catholic Student Center post — through the Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, integration and campus strife — Gannon was a sounding board for students of all faiths on a host of issues.

It probably didn’t hurt that he, too, was a member of the UF community. Having earned his doctorate in history in 1962, he joined UF’s faculty in history and religion in 1967.

The War Correspondent

In the turbulent ’60s, no issue was so vexing to students as the war in Vietnam. After being asked countless times whether the war was moral, Gannon decided to find out for himself.

In the 1960s, Gannon questioned whether the Vietnam War was a just war. A former newspaper writer, he decided to go to Vietnam to see for himself.

Mike Gannon combat

Armed with a press pass from the national Catholic journal, America, Gannon spent a month in 1968 traveling the war-torn country from the Demilitarized Zone to the Mekong Delta. His journalistic duties were interspersed with his priestly obligations. More than once, he administered Last Rites to dying soldiers.

His conclusion: The war was not just. Not long after Gannon returned, war protests arrived on UF’s campus.

“In 1970, ’71 and ’72, we had student demonstrations the likes of which this old staid, Southern institution had never seen,” he says.

The first was May 4, 1970, hours after National Guardsmen shot and killed four Kent State students. Gannon led about 6,000 students on a march to the home of then-UF President Stephen C. O’Connell* (BSBA ’40, LLB ’40). They carried candles and sang John Lennon’s refrain, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”

The group found the house ringed by police. Gannon asked that the students be allowed to protest peacefully, “and that’s just what happened,” he says.

“[Gannon] had a good heart and a good mind. He was trustworthy. He was always interested in both sides,” says Steve Uhlfelder* (BSBA ’68, JD ’71), UF’s 1970 and ’71 student body president, now 63 and a Tallahassee attorney. “In my heart, I think he agreed with us more than [with] the administration.”

Yet Gannon was able to maintain the respect and trust of administrators, too. UF Trustee Cynthia O’Connell, wife of the late President O’Connell, has fond memories of Gannon.

“Michael was one of Stephen’s dearest and closest friends,” she says. “They had a love and respect for each other. Michael is a hero … he has always been a champion for the university, for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for students, for all things that are right.”

The Academic

In 1976 Gannon left the priesthood. He married, taught at UF full time and spent the next 30 years earning his academic stripes.

Gannon is widely respected for his research into colonial Spanish Florida — an interest spurred, in part, by his upbringing in St. Augustine.

Gannon gained widespread respect for his research into the development of colonial Spanish Florida, including the introduction of Catholicism — and Christianity as a whole — to the United States through St. Augustine.

Yet he stayed close to students, too, teaching an estimated 16,000 in 36 years at the university. He retired as a professor emeritus of history in 1998, but continued teaching until 2003.

“Mike seems to turn up everywhere in recent UF history,” says university historian Carl Van Ness* (MA ’85). “In May of 1970, he’s a calming force on campus after the Kent State shootings and delivers an eloquent and moving memorial to the four slain students. Thirty years later, he delivers the 9/11 memorial and somehow finds a way to reassure the campus … He is also a warm and caring person and one of the nicest people I have ever met.”

The “Retiree”

Since his retirement, Gannon has maintained a rigorous schedule of speaking engagements. And, of course, he writes.

His historical interests have turned toward World War II. He has written or edited 11 books so far, including “Black May,” “Pearl Harbor Betrayed” and “Operation Drumbeat.” He’s working on book No. 12 now.

Gannon, who received the LeRoy Collins Lifetime Leadership Award last summer, hasn’t forgotten the lesson in brevity his school administrator gave him as a cub sports reporter. One of his latest books revisits his popular lecture: “Michael Gannon’s History of Florida in 40 Minutes.” It’s just 80 pages long.

“I’d like to be remembered as a good person,” he says, then pauses. “Actually, I’d like to be remembered as a good writer.”

One more thing

Michael Gannon is quite the character. In the 2011 winter issue of Florida, the historian and Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Florida reminisces on the many roles he has assumed during his interesting life. Gannon speaks of his time as a student, a professor, a war correspondent, and a priest. But there was one story that was too good to miss: how he met the 35th President of the United States. We include it here

Meeting President Kennedy 

Mike Gannon - Kennedy

Michael Gannon met President John F. Kennedy at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa days before the president's assassination. Photo courtesy of Michael Gannon

President John F. Kennedy was scheduled to visit MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on Nov. 18, 1963. Harold Colee, then director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, asked Gannon to meet with Kennedy and chat him up about St. Augustine’s upcoming 400th anniversary in 1965. 

A 15-minute meeting between Kennedy and Gannon was arranged. With them were a White House photographer, a Tampa Tribune photographer and U.S. Secret Service Agent Gerald Blaine. 

Gannon presented Kennedy with a framed copy of the oldest written record of American origin from 1565. 

“He was fascinated, particularly since St. Augustine was a port,” Gannon says. “He wondered about the sandbars at the entrance to the port and so on … and he had a very solid knowledge of American maritime history. 

“The last words he said to me were, ‘What did you say your name was?’ I said, ‘Michael Gannon,’ and as he turned to leave he said, ‘I’ll keep in touch.’ But four days later, he was dead. Four days.” 

Two months later, Gannon received a package from the White House. Inside was a photograph of Gannon and Kennedy looking over the framed gift Gannon had given Kennedy. With it was a typewritten note from Blaine expressing how much the president had enjoyed his visit with Gannon. 

“It was very touching that he did that,” Gannon says. 

Campus Life

Pamela and Douglas Soltis elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

April 12, 2017
Natalie VanHoose

University of Florida plant biologists Pamela and Douglas Soltis are among this year’s class of national and international leaders elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academy announced Wednesday.

Distinguished professors and curators at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF, Pamela and Douglas Soltis study the origin and evolution of flowering plants, plant genome evolution and conservation genetics. They use genomic methods and computational modeling to understand patterns and processes of plant evolution and identify conservation priorities.

They have also initiated outreach projects to help increase public understanding of biodiversity, using the “tree of all life” as a metaphor for the importance and connectivity of all species.

“Doug and Pam Soltis are not only brilliant, hard-working and productive scientists, but also warm, engaging colleagues committed to their students and anxious to share the implications of their ground-breaking research with broader audiences for the benefit of humankind,” said Douglas Jones, director of the Florida Museum. “They are richly deserving of this wonderful recognition.”

The Academy convenes preeminent scholars, scientists, writers, artists and civic, business and philanthropic leaders to respond to national and global challenges. Members contribute to Academy publications and studies in science, engineering and technology policy; global security and international affairs; the humanities, arts and education; and American institutions and the public good. 

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2016, Pamela Soltis directs the Biodiversity Institute at UF. Douglas Soltis, also a professor in the UF department of biology, directs the Tree of Life, a map that covers every named organism on the planet. The pair are members of the UF Genetics Institute.

Jointly, they have won numerous honors for their contributions to the study of plant diversity, most notably the International Prize in Botany, the Asa Gray Award, the Botanical Society of America’s Distinguished Fellow Award and the Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London.

The 228 new members of the Academy include winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the Wolf Prize; MacArthur Fellows; Fields Medalists; Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts recipients; and Academy Award, Grammy Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award winners. 

The full list is available at www.amacad.org/members.

“In a tradition reaching back to the earliest days of our nation, the honor of election to the American Academy is also a call to service,” said Academy President Jonathan Fanton in a press release. “Through our projects, publications and events, the Academy provides members with opportunities to make common cause and produce the useful knowledge for which the Academy’s 1780 charter calls.”

Global Impact

UF Research Foundation names 2017 professors

April 13, 2017
Joe Kays

The University of Florida Research Foundation has named 34 faculty members as UFRF Professors for 2017-2020.

The recognition goes to faculty who have a distinguished current record of research and a strong research agenda that is likely to lead to continuing distinction in their fields.

“Faculty chosen for UFRF Professorships have a proven record of research and scholarship and the potential for even more success in the future,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “History has shown that by investing in these outstanding faculty, we can generate significant return in research discoveries, scholarship and technology transfer.”

The UFRF Professors were recommended by their college deans based on nominations from their department chairs, a personal statement and an evaluation of their recent research accomplishments as evidenced by publications in scholarly journals, external funding, honors and awards, development of intellectual property and other measures appropriate to their field of expertise. In many colleges, the selection process is conducted by a special faculty committee.

The three-year award includes a $5,000 annual salary supplement and a one-time $3,000 grant. The professorships are funded from the university’s share of royalty and licensing income on UF-generated products.

This year’s UFRF Professors are listed below:

College of the Arts

Paul Richards
Professor of Music

Warrington College of Business

Mo Wang
Professor of Management

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Adam Veige
Professor of Chemistry

Gregory D. Webster
Associate Professor of Psychology

Jodi Lane
Professor of Sociology and Criminology & Law

Lillian Guerra
Professor of Caribbean & Latin American History

Malini Johar Schueller
Professor of English

Stephen S. Eikenberry
Professor of Astronomy and Physics

College of Design, Construction and Planning

Ruth Steiner
Professor of Urban and Regional Planning

College of Dentistry

L. Jeannine Brady
Professor of Oral Biology

College of Education

John H. Kranzler
Professor of School Psychology

Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering

Jon Dobson
Professor of Biomedical and Materials Science Engineering

Shigang Chen
Professor of Computer & Information Science & Engineering

Yuguang Fang
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Florida Museum of Natural History

Jaret C. Daniels
Associate Curator of Lepidoptera 

College of Health and Human Performance

David Vaillancourt
Professor of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Kai Lorenzen
Professor of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 

Lisa A. House
Professor of Food and Resource Economics

Nemat O. Keyhani
Professor of Microbiology and Cell Science

Sabine Grunwald
Professor of Soil and Water Sciences

Svetlana Y. Folimonova
Associate Professor of Plant Pathology

Won Suk Lee
Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

College of Journalism and Communications

Clay Calvert
Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication

Levin College of Law

Charlene D. Luke
Professor of Law

College of Medicine

Barry J. Byrne
Professor of Pediatrics

Desmond A. Schatz
Professor of Pediatrics

Michael J. Haller
Professor of Pediatrics

Stephanie M. Karst
Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology

Suming Huang
Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

College of Medicine, Jacksonville

Dominick Joseph Angiolillo
Professor of Cardiology

College of Nursing

Ann L. Horgas
Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Nursing Science

College of Pharmacy

Almut Winterstein
Professor of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy

College of Public Health and Health Professions

Ira M. Longini
Professor of Biostatistics

College of Veterinary Medicine

Julie K. Levy
Professor of Small Animal Clinical Sciences

Campus Life

Gale Lemerand Drive to close temporarily for underground utility work

April 14, 2017
Steve Orlando

Most of Gale Lemerand Drive between Stadium Road and Museum Road on the University of Florida campus will be closed starting May 1 as workers upgrade underground utilities.

The work will be finished by August 14, and signs will be posted directing traffic to detours as the work progresses. In addition, updates, detour maps and other project information will be posted at http://www.facilities.ufl.edu/news/ut172.html

The work will be carried out in four phases:

Phase 1 – Gale Lemerand and Stadium Road closure – six to eight weeks

This phase will include the construction of a temporary right turn lane from the southbound lane of Gale Lemerand Drive onto Stadium Road. All other traffic movements through the intersection will be blocked. Detours will be posted at Fletcher Drive, Woodlawn Drive and Museum Road. Local traffic will be allowed to access parking and service areas at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium from Stadium Road, and the Tolbert Housing Area and Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering area from Gale Lemerand Drive. Deliveries to Gator Dining will be allowed from Stadium Road west of Gale Lemerand. The scooter parking at Weil Hall will be closed.

Phase 2 – Gale Lemerand Drive from Stadium Road to Tolbert parking area – Two to three weeks

Traffic will be allowed on Stadium Road through the Gale Lemerand intersection east and westbound. Southbound traffic on Gale Lemerand will be directed east or west on Stadium Road. No southbound traffic will be allowed on Gale Lemerand Drive. Northbound traffic on Gale Lemerand Drive will be detoured east and west on Museum Road. Service traffic will be able to access the College of Engineering area through the southern driveway (between buildings 183 & 719), entering from Museum Road, and the Tolbert parking area will remain open. Reserved and ADA-designated parking in the College of Engineering area will remain open. Orange decal parking may remain open but is discouraged as substantial ingress and egress delays may be experienced during construction.

Phase 3 – Gale Lemerand Drive from Tolbert Parking Area to Materials Engineering – Two to three weeks

Traffic will be allowed on Stadium Road through the Gale Lemerand intersection east and westbound. Southbound traffic on Gale Lemerand will be directed east or west on Stadium Road. Southbound traffic on Gale Lemerand Drive will be limited to service vehicles only. Northbound traffic on Gale Lemerand Drive will be detoured east and west on Museum Road. Access to the Tolbert parking area will be from the southern entrance only. Reserved and ADA-designated parking in the College of Engineering area will remain open. Orange decal parking may remain open, but is discouraged as substantial ingress and egress delays may be experienced during construction.

Phase 4 – Gale Lemerand Resurfacing from Museum Road to Stadium Road – Two to three weeks

The final phase will include intermittent daytime and nighttime lane closures between Museum Road and Stadium Road as crews install curbs and gutters, a traffic separator, curb ramps and a sidewalk, as well as asphalt paving. Access to service and parking during hours of construction will be controlled by flaggers.

Campus Life

Thinking of throwing graduation confetti? Here are some environmentally friendly alternatives

April 20, 2017
Ellison Langford
Environment, pollution

A handful of glitter can make for an impressive graduation photo, but it can also have serious consequences for the environment once it leaves your hand. The recent trend of blowing glitter or confetti during graduation photos has scientists concerned about the potential harm these seemingly innocuous bits of plastic could do.

“I think there’s two problems: there’s land animals that could be attracted to [eat] it, because it’s shiny; and the second problem would be it getting washed down into the drains,” said Tracey Ritchie, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences doctoral student. “That impacts our water quality, but also can be consumed by wildlife – fish, water birds, and then it works its way up the food chain.”

She hopes students will consider biodegradable alternatives, or just not incorporate glitter at all into their photo shoots. Some universities have encouraged students to use rose petals, dyed rice or bird seed. However, Ritchie said the problem with bird seed is the mix can contain non-native seeds, and create weeds where it’s thrown.

What to do if you see plastic confetti on the ground around campus? Pick it up — you’re helping protect animals and our water. 

Ritchie, who studies environmental education in the lab of Martha Monroe, a professor in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said people probably don’t realize the potential harm that could be caused by a single handful of plastic confetti. It may not seem like much, but it adds to the global problem of plastic pollution caused by disposable utensils, bath soap microbeads and laundering running leggings.

“I’m happy to let people know that there are biodegradable alternatives to confetti instead of plastic,” Ritchie said. “But there’s got to be other ways to celebrate this great accomplishment besides throwing stuff onto the ground.”

Campus Life

New chemistry building opens its doors

April 21, 2017
Gigi Marino

The first time former UF President Bernie Machen visited the chemistry labs on campus, he was shocked. He himself had been a chemistry major at Vanderbilt in the 1960s and didn’t see much of a difference between those mid-20th century spaces he used as an undergraduate and those he was viewing in the 21st century in Leigh Hall.

“Chemistry has a huge presence on this campus,” Machen said. “We have a big, diverse graduate program that is punching all the right buttons. Chemistry is one of our star departments, and they were suffering from poor resources to deliver their mission.”

He made it his mission to upgrade the facilities. In 2009, architectural plans for a new building were drawn, and underground utilities infrastructure had been laid. “The problem was,” Machen said, “we were in this darned recession. Construction was shutting down everywhere.” Indeed, construction on the chemistry building halted in 2010, but resumed in 2014, with the official groundbreaking for the new building taking place October 10, 2014, just two months before Machen retired.

Former UF President Bernie Machen, second from left, with other UF leaders.

Less than three years later, the striking new chemistry/chemical biology building sits on the corner of Buckman Drive and University Avenue as if it always should have been there. Named Joseph Hernandez Hall, after a generous donor and UF alum, the building's dedication took place on Friday, April 21.

“Chemistry is a symbol for what a 21st-century land-grant university should be. Even on our own campus, people don’t realize what a good chemistry department we have. This is a celebration, not just of a building but of a department, not just for what we’ve done, but for what we’re going to do,” Machen said.

Dave Richardson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and former chair of the chemistry department, has called the building “magnificent” and “marvelous.”

“Thousands of students will pass through these doors annually,” said Richardson during the dedication on Friday. “They will receive a laboratory experience that is second-to-none in higher education. The modern laboratories make it easy to introduce technology and cutting edge techniques into truly experiential learning. In an age when many parts of education are enhanced by online learning, often anywhere-anytime, we believe that one of the hallmarks of a great university experience happens in the hands-on lesson of teaching labs.”

Covering 111,552 square feet, the building consists of six levels, with four being used for teaching and research, and has the capacity to support 650 people at any one time (the entire fifth floor is storage and mechanical space). The first floor holds undergraduate general chemistry labs that can house 250 students, and it is these labs that will have the greatest use. Because general chemistry and organic chemistry are required courses for a large number of majors across the university, 8,000 undergraduates a year, including more than half of the freshman class, will use the new facilities. Currently, Leigh Hall’s general chemistry labs are bursting at the seams with labs scheduled five days a week, from morning until night, and this has been the case for the last decade.

Bill Dolbier, professor and chair of the chemistry department, says the new labs “will give students a tremendously favorable impression of the campus. Right now, we don’t show them the undergraduate general chemistry and organic chemistry labs and just hope they don’t notice them. The new labs are going to blow them away.”      

Senior project manager Frank Javaheri, who’s been working on the building since it was first discussed, is a numbers man. He will tell you that 6,777 yards of concrete have been poured into the new construction. “That’s enough to build a four-foot sidewalk from the building to Micanopy and back,” he says. (Micanopy is roughly 13 miles from campus.) Structural and non-structural metals? 165.25 tons. Number of bricks? 380,000. Vinyl tiles? 42,480. Javaheri is particularly proud of the fact that LED lighting has been used throughout the building, and he anticipates LEED Gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for building certification conferred by the US Green Building Council.

A total of 643 people have put in nearly 41 years’ worth of work (357,867 hours, to be exact) to make the dedication happen on April 21.

The new space is student-centered, with few administrative offices, and even the chemistry chair will not have an office there. Undergraduate organic chemistry will have its home on the second floor with room for 120 students. Dolbier points out that the new facilities allow for a new curriculum, being developed by the new undergraduate director of general chemistry, Melanie Viege. Together, she and Davidson will implement the new curriculum for the general chemistry and organic chemistry laboratories.

With four buildings devoted to chemistry — in addition to the new building, Leigh Hall, and Sisler Hall, there is the Chemistry Laboratory Building — Dolbier says the department is committed to fostering creativity and innovation across all of its programs. “We intend to create an undergraduate program that others will want to emulate. We will be national leaders,” Dolbier said.

UF Chemistry’s graduate programs also will get quite a boost with the new building. The third and fourth floors are dedicated to graduate research. The third floor is specifically designed for research in the area of chemical biology, and the fourth floor contains labs for research in synthetic organic chemistry, along with separate conference rooms. Dolbier notes that recent UF hiring initiatives have specifically contributed to two areas in chemistry: smart polymer nanomedicine and chemical innovations in cancer research.

“Chemical biology is a new field that requires very specialized research spaces — clean rooms, autoclaves, cold rooms, rooms for dealing with radioactive materials,” says Dolbier. “We’ve had professors waiting for facilities like this for 10 years.”

Aaron Aponick, associate professor of chemistry, has been at UF since 2006, and has been involved with the discussion of the new chemistry building since the very beginning. Aponick is a synthetic organic chemist, and his research group will occupy labs on the fourth floor. He, like other researchers in the building, will reap the rewards of having modern, pristine research space; however, the benefit exceeds sheer functionality, he says.

“There’s a lot to be said for students from different research groups interacting and intermingling,” Aponick said. “At the graduate level, having a cadre of people exchanging ideas is invaluable. You’re no longer compartmentalized. At this point in your education, the more you see and think about, the better your education. You broaden your knowledge base.”

Ashley Erb is an undergraduate research and teaching assistant in Aponick’s group who has been admitted into UF’s graduate chemistry program. She says she loves the history of the older buildings — Leigh Hall was built in 1926 and Sisler Hall in 1966 — but is excited about the opportunities that the new building will provide for both teaching and research.

“The new equipment in the teaching labs is way more advanced,” she said. “Although, one of the greatest impacts is going to be on undergraduates who’ve had a hard time getting into a research lab. You don’t know how to do research until you actually get into the lab and do it. Clearly, this opens new avenues for UF Chemistry.”

A number of generous donors contributed to the building, including a huge gift that has momentum-building benefits coming from Joseph Hernandez, who gave a $10 million endowment, Dolbier said.

Joseph Hernandez Hall is named in honor of him and the endowment that will benefit this generation and beyond.

“In terms of the impact of the endowment on the department of chemistry, these are rare and exceptional opportunities that only a few programs get to have, where their future can be improved and enhanced through a gift that can keep giving to the students, to the research, and to the scholarly enterprise of the department,” says Dean Richardson. “When the world demands a new kind of technology, a new chemistry, a new approach to solving problems, chemistry will be ready to invest and move forward. This is what the income from the endowment can bring.” 

As a UF student in the late 90s, Joe Hernandez knew early on that he wanted to be a medical scientist. His passion and curiosity was recognized, encouraged and nurtured at UF, he said. For the last 20 years, Hernandez has worked in the pharmaceutical and biotech world, creating a number of startups.

“I’ve been inspired to give to UF. There’s an absolute link between chemistry and its importance to my work,” Hernandez said. “The flexibility to jump from chemistry to neuroanatomy in attaining knowledge was very attractive to me. I don’t like rigidity. My endeavors were well suited for the liberal arts and sciences.”

UF President Kent Fuchs said Hernandez’ investment in UF’s chemistry department will touch the lives of thousands of students each year.

“It will also enable faculty to be more effective educators while achieving even greater excellence in research,” he said.

See the full story in the spring 2017 issue of Ytori, produced by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Campus Life

App aims to take the risk out of routine traffic stops

April 17, 2017
Steve Orlando

Many police officers will tell you the riskiest parts of their job are responding to domestic violence calls and making traffic stops.

A group of University of Florida students has come up with a way to make the latter a little less dangerous – for everyone.

The group, all students in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering department of computer and information science and engineering, developed Virtual Traffic Stop, an app that allows the officer and the driver to remain in their vehicles during routine stops.

Virtual traffic stop team photo

Members of the student team that created Virtual Traffic Stop, from left to right: DeKita Moon (CISE PhD Student), Isabel Laurenceau (CISE undergrad and now PhD student), Michelle Emamdie (CISE undergrad), and Jessica Jones (CISE PhD Student). Photo by Lyon Duong.

While the idea was inspired by a series of police shootings starting with events in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015, the students say their goal is to make the interaction between law enforcement and citizens safer for all involved.

“At the end of the day, everyone just wants to make it home,” said team member and doctoral student DeKita Moon.

Said her fellow team member and doctoral student Jessica Jones: “The goal is not to keep the police and the community separate; the goal is to keep the police and the community safe.”

Here’s how it works: A motorist downloads the app and enters their vehicle information, driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Police download a different version of the app that an officer can use on his or her laptop.

When the officer stops a driver, the officer enters the vehicle's license plate number and can see the driver’s information. The officer can then request a real-time video conference with the driver.

The app also makes it possible to bring a third party into the interaction -- for instance, the parent of a minor or a translator to help someone whose knowledge of English may be limited.

For routine stops, the students said, the interaction could be conducted entirely from the safety of the vehicles involved. But police will also tell you that they gather much valuable information from the face-to-face encounter – the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, for example.

That would still be possible. Jones said if an officer sees anything during the video conference that raises concern or prompts suspicion, he or she could still approach the driver in person.

The app, team members say, would also reduce the risk officers face stepping out onto the shoulder of a busy highway or during dangerous weather conditions. In addition, they say, it would address the fear some motorists experience being pulled over at night and not knowing whether the person in the vehicle behind them is actually a cop.

“Virtual Traffic Stop has the potential to save lives. That statement alone justifies testing this app. If we can save a single life with this app, it’s worth it,” said Juan Gilbert, chairman of UF’s computer and information science and engineering department and Andrew Banks Preeminence Chair in Engineering.

The team is working with two law enforcement agencies in hopes of launching a pilot program to try the app in real-world settings this summer. If all goes well, they say, the app could be available to consumers later this year.

The team also was scheduled to present Virtual Traffic Stop at the National Academy of Inventors sixth annual meeting in Boston in April.

Society & Culture

University of Florida names new director of technology transfer

April 18, 2017
Sara Dagen

The University of Florida has a new O’Connell to welcome in Gainesville. After a thorough national search, UF has selected Jim O’Connell as the new assistant vice president for technology transfer and the director of the Office of Technology Licensing.

photo of Jim O'Connell

Though he is no relation to the former UF president for whom the newly renovated Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center is named, this O’Connell shot a selfie in front of the building on his first trip to Gainesville.

“Mr. O’Connell will work with internal and external constituents to provide strategic leadership and direction in building and capitalizing on facilities, expertise, and technology at the University of Florida,” said Dr. David Norton, vice president for research.

O’Connell will oversee the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) program and be responsible for two business incubators, the Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute and the Innovation Hub at UF. OTL transfers technologies arising from the discoveries of UF faculty and staff to the marketplace in order to enhance the university’s educational and research missions.

“I think Jim is the ideal fit for UF,” said David Day, the outgoing assistant vice president and director. “With both his private sector and university tech commercialization experience, we are most fortunate to land him.  We had an outstanding field of candidates, and our search committee performed admirably.  But the feedback from the broad-ranging search process was that Jim was the clear choice.

“He has already seized the reigns and is running things his way,” Day continued. “I am totally confident that he will build upon the existing program and take UF to greater heights.” 

O’Connell replaces Day, who is retiring after serving in the position since 2001. Under Day’s leadership, UF consistently has ranked among the top universities for startup launches and licensing. In the past 16 years, UF OTL has launched 195 biomedical and technology startups and generated more than $1 billion in private investment. Last year the office signed a record 122 licenses and options.

“Following David Day is a tough act,” O’Connell admits. “In addition to building a tremendous office in tech transfer, he has established the University of Florida as a presence nationally.”

As the director of OTL, O’Connell hopes not only to continue the upward climb of the office, but he also intends to join with UF President Kent Fuchs in making the university one of the Top 5 in the nation in research and tech transfer. He comes into the position with a broad range of experiences.

“I’ve been in two startups and worked in the medical device industry,” O’Connell said. “I’ve worked with both the University of Miami, which deals with biomedical technologies on a much smaller scale, and with the University of Michigan, which by research dollars is the largest public research university.

“I hope to bring my experience to bear in aligning my goals with Dr. Fuchs’. I want to make Florida one of the Top 5 public universities in research, tech transfer, and in startups produced.”

O’Connell served in the United States Air Force as a chief evaluator helicopter pilot and still flies helicopters on occasions.

“My other thrill-seeking activities include biking, as in cycling, not motorcycles,” he said. “I ride road bikes, and I’ve done cyclocross competitions. Those bikes look like road bikes but have knobby tires. In competition, you ride off-road on courses that are like an obstacle course.”

(Think “tough mudders” for cyclists rather than runners. Individual riders traverse grass, dirt, mud, gravel, sand, obstacles, and barriers that might require them to carry rather than ride the bike in some sections.) O’Connell took 6th place in Michigan competition, didn’t race last year in Miami, and says “I’m overweight and out of shape” but plans to race again.

“I look forward to watching the continued ascension of the program at UF and take great pride to have been a part of something that delivers so much good to the world,” said Day. “It makes it easier to leave, knowing the program is in such good hands.”

Campus Life

Consumers often pay more for organic – but not wine

April 19, 2017
Brad Buck
Organic, Food and Beverage

You swish around a sip of organic wine in your mouth and it might tempt your taste buds, but that doesn’t mean you’ll pay more for it, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

Researchers found that about 16 percent of wine consumers purchase organic wine and most American and Italian consumers are not willing to pay more for wine labeled as organic.

For the study, former UF/IFAS graduate student Lane Abraben used an economic model to determine if consumers are willing to pay more for organic wine. Abraben specifically examined wine from the Tuscany region of Italy that was consumed by American and Italian consumers. But his adviser, Kelly Grogan, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics, said the research findings likely apply to any organically produced wine.

“Our research finds that higher-quality organic wine does not receive a price premium and may actually receive a lower price compared to a similar wine that is not produced using organic practices,” she said.

For many products, organic production costs more than conventional production; thus, to make organic products more viable, consumers must be willing to pay more, Grogan said.

For the study, UF/IFAS researchers collected prices paid for different bottles of wine through online retailers. They also compared various wine characteristics to get the price effect of organic certification and labeling, Grogan said.

UF/IFAS researchers used a data set with 444 premium red wines from 50 wineries in the Tuscany region of Italy and sold to Italian and American consumers. They also found out which wines were organic, and they used an average rating from multiple sources to determine the wines’ quality.

Of the wines they used, about 31 percent are organic; about 42 percent of those are certified as organic, and of the certified organic wines, about 24 percent are labeled as organic.

Organic agriculture has expanded in the last decade or so. From 1999 to 2011, global agricultural land devoted to certified organic production increased from 27 million acres to 91 million acres. And, the market for organic products has gone up from $15.2 billion to $59 billion, according to a 2013 report from an international organics group.

In addition, organic viticulture has grown in popularity since the 1980s, out of concern for pesticide residues in wine.

Society & Culture

Injured veteran to graduate with physical therapy degree

April 19, 2017
Jill Pease

Jordan Kooiman has a special appreciation for the veterans and active duty military personnel he has worked with during his clinical internships as part of the University of Florida doctor of physical therapy program.

“They work hard, they’re resilient and they don’t know how to take it easy,” he said. “They’re in therapy several hours a day kicking butt. They want to keep pushing themselves, and that’s so fun to work with.”

It also helps that Kooiman has a unique rapport and understanding of these patients. A U.S. Navy veteran, Kooiman has undergone his own physical therapy to heal from injuries he experienced while in service, including those he received from a roadside bomb.

Jordan Kooiman, 3rd from right.

“As veterans we can be a little testy sometimes, especially with people who don’t understand our experiences,” Kooiman joked. “But if they meet someone like me who has been deployed, they may think, ‘This guy knows what I’ve been through and maybe I’ll give him a little more information or listen better to what he’s saying.’”

Kooiman, a Wisconsin native who graduates this month from the department of physical therapy in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, joined the Navy in 2007 and did two tours in Iraq as part of a riverine squadron charged with maritime security and disrupting enemy forces along the Euphrates and Shatt al-Arab rivers and Lake Tharthar. His unit also worked with other branches of the armed forces to provide support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and transportation of ground troops.

During his second tour in 2010, his unit was on its way back to base in Nasiriyah after training Iraqi police on waterborne operations when the vehicle Kooiman was in was struck by an improvised explosive device. Fortunately, no one was severely injured. But for Kooiman, the blast exacerbated a decade of back and neck injuries accumulated through contact sports and the physical demands of deployment and training, including running for miles with heavy weights or riding out rough waters.

During his rehabilitation, Kooiman was impressed by his physical therapists and fellow veterans and military personnel, many of whom who had very serious injuries, such as amputations and traumatic brain injuries.

“When I went through it myself, I saw the broadness of physical therapy and all the conditions it treats, such as neuromuscular, skeletal, balance and traumatic brain injury,” Kooiman said. “I realized how physical therapy could address all of that in veterans, a population that can have a lot of different health issues.”

Two of Kooiman’s four clinical internships have placed him with these patients. At James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, he worked with patients with traumatic brain injury in the polytrauma center. He was accepted for an internship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he treated patients in the outpatient orthopedic unit. Following graduation, Kooiman expects he will have the opportunity to work with several veterans and military personnel at his new position at a sports medicine facility in Chesapeake, Virginia, which is close to several naval bases.

As a student, Kooiman has demonstrated confidence, the ability to put challenging situations into perspective and sound clinical reasoning, said Kevin Lulofs-MacPherson, a clinical lecturer and the assistant director of clinical education in the department of physical therapy.

“I personally believe Jordan’s confidence comes from knowing exactly what is on the line in clinical practice and his ability to rapidly assess and adapt to the situation -- hallmark behaviors of someone with a background of active military service who has experience in situations with much higher stakes,” he said.

Campus Life

Milken Institute ranks UF third nationally in moving ideas from lab to real world

April 20, 2017
Steve Orlando

The University of Florida ranks third among all research universities in the country for getting its ideas out of the laboratory and into the real world, according to the Milken Institute’s 2017 ranking of Best Universities for Technology Transfer released today.

UF was fifth in 2006, the last time the report was issued by the Santa Monica, California-based independent economic think tank. The new ranking places UF ahead of schools such as Stanford, MIT and Cal Tech, as well as the entire University of Texas System.

“Our top-ranked tech transfer operation is driving economic development and cycling royalty dollars back into research,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “More importantly, it’s moving the research out of the lab and into the world.”

The ranking is based on the Milken Institute’s University Technology Transfer and Commercial Index. The index, based on data collected by the Association of University Technology Managers, or AUTM, via the AUTM’s Annual Licensing Activity Survey, is measured using four-year averages (2012-15) for four key indicators of technology transfer success: patents issued, licenses issued, licensing income and start-ups formed. These are normalized based on a four-year average of research dollars received by each university to yield four additional variables, for a total of eight.

According to the latest AUTM statistics released in November, in fiscal year 2015 UF had 261 licenses and options executed, 118 patents issued and 15 start-ups. It also received a record $724 million in research funding in fiscal year 2015-16.

From the index, a score is assigned to each school with 100 being the maximum. The rankings are as follows:

Milken Ranking Table


“This is an astonishing set of numbers that far surpasses our previous high-water mark. It is a credit to the outstanding people at the University of Florida: the brilliant scientists and the best tech transfer team in the world,” said David Day, director of UF’s Office of Technology Licensing.

The Milken Institute’s full report is available at http://www.milkeninstitute.org/publications/view/856.

Global Impact

After water reporting institute, stories keep flowing

April 20, 2017
Alisson Clark
water, College of Journalism and Communications

All over the University of Florida campus, researchers grapple with how to meet the world’s ever-increasing need for access to clean, fresh water. For a group that convened at the College of Journalism and Communications in November 2015, however, the challenge was how to convey water issues to the public.

At “Covering Water in a Changing World,” a McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute, journalists from print, digital and broadcast outlets around the country gathered to learn from UF scientists, visiting experts and communications professors, including Ann Christiano, UF’s Karel Endowed Chair for Public Interest Communications, and author Cynthia Barnett, UF’s Environmental Journalist in Residence, who organized the institute.

Over a year later, the lessons from the event continue to inform participants’ coverage, with stories in outlets such as National Public Radio, Bloomberg BNA and the Christian Science Monitor, tapping into the insight they gained on topics like algae blooms, public utilities and extreme weather. Paddling on the Ichetucknee River with scientists, participants saw the links between groundwater and surface water firsthand.

“It's helped me research many stories since,” said Texas-based freelancer Lana Straub, whose story on groundwater pollution aired on the Texas Standard, a group of 20 stations around the state. Straub also worked with reporters she met at the institute to apply for a Spotlight Investigative Journalism Fellowship focusing on water infrastructure. She didn’t win this time, but she’s hoping to gather a team of institute alumni to apply again.

Global Impact

Senior’s “That’s a Rap” podcast gives news a musical makeover

April 21, 2017
Ashley Grabowski

As news media struggle with dwindling readership and audience fragmentation, a group of University of Florida undergrads has come up with a way to get news into the heads of college students — one of the most elusive and coveted demographics.

Their secret: music.

“That’s a Rap” is a podcast developed by students from UF’s College of Journalism and Communications that aims to bridge the disconnect between college students and modern news media through tunes.

Its compilations explain intricate political processes and offer insight on a diverse range of global issues in minutes through rhyme and rhythm, offering listeners the opportunity to update themselves on newsworthy events in the time it takes to walk between classes or ride a quick bus route.

Laura Cardona, a student on the project’s production crew, believes music has a unique ability to make a memorable impression. 

“Music is something that people really enjoy. People love seeing their friends rapping, and the words stick with them because of the song. I think this shows that news doesn’t necessarily have to be so cut and dried,” Cardona said. 

Paige Levin, a senior dual-majoring in journalism and political science, came up with the podcast during a course called Innovative Storytelling taught by Matt Sheehan, a lecturer in the department of journalism. Levin explained the significance the course had in inspiring her to reconsider everything she believed about storytelling and journalism.

“Until that point, in my eyes, a story was quotes and paragraphs or maybe a video, but while taking that class I realized that these things we were looking at didn’t have to be novelties,” Levin said.

One of the course’s assignments was to find particularly intriguing examples of modern storytelling to present to the class for analysis and discussion. Levin became captivated by a National Public Radio segment in which Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer of “Hamilton,” rapped a story previously covered by NPR to demonstrate the effectiveness and simplicity of sharing information through music.

She believed in the promise of his storytelling approach and, encouraged by his example, sought to use music to facilitate renewed interest and passion for world events.

“I think we’ve known for a long time that it’s easier to remember a song than it is to remember long blocks of information,” said Levin, “so that made us think we could use it to explain news and make it stick in people’s brains.”

Levin’s zeal for storytelling and news began at a young age; a fifth-grade assignment that tasked her class with creating a newspaper inspired her to become a journalist. She is also deeply inspired by her journalist mother, who taught her the power and great importance of making news accessible and engaging. 

Following her graduation, Levin will begin an internship at the CNN assignment desk in Atlanta.

That’s a Rap is hosted on Facebook @rappingthenews and SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/user-815589495.

Society & Culture

The Trumps’ conflict of interest issues

April 21, 2017
Beth A. Rosenson

UF professor of political science Beth Rosenson notes that while Trump’s conflicts of interest are in her mind unprecedented, such issues are not new in America.

Ivanka Trump recently gave an interview to CBS television in which she attempted to answer concerns about her role as an official adviser to her father, President Donald Trump, and potential conflicts of interest from her fashion business. The Conversation

She suggested that such concerns were unwarranted, as she would no longer manage the company which had been placed into a trust, run by her sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Like her father, she has declined to sell off her assets, saying that would not be fair when the company (like his) bears her name.

Her responses do little to allay growing criticism about conflicts of interest as they pertain to both her and her husband Jared Kushner, and her father. A majority of Americans have said they are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about Donald Trump’s conflicts of interests.

I’ve researched and written about conflicts of interest for 20 years. Conflict of interest issues are not new in America. The fear and reality that government officials may be unduly swayed by their personal interests has existed since Colonial-era customs officials took bribes to reduce penalties for smuggling.

From my perspective Trump’s conflicts of interest are unprecedented in scope. But conflict of interest laws are often not cut and dried. They involve interpretation by lawyers within the Justice Department and judges, who can give a stamp of legitimacy (or illegitimacy) to presidential practices.

What’s at stake?

Among the Trump Organization’s holdings are 16 hotels, 17 golf courses, a modeling agency, a production agency and at least 25 residential real estate properties (a minimum of 17 domestically and eight overseas). His over 500 companies have dealings in 25 countries including India, Panama, Scotland and the Philippines.

That’s not all: Trump leases his D.C. hotel from the federal government and appoints the head of the agency that monitors his lease. Trump also owes millions in loans, including over US$300 million in loans to Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the federal government. He also owes money to at least seven other banks for his heavily mortgaged properties; one of his real estate partnerships has a loan from the state-owned Bank of China.

What does the law say?

Trump raised eyebrows when he said shortly after he was elected, “The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

Legally speaking, though, he has a good case, with regard to several key statutes.

The basic criminal conflict of interest statute, enacted in 1962, forbids federal executive branch employees from participating in government matters in which they – or their immediate family members – have a financial interest.

But the president and vice president have been considered exempt since 1974, when Congress requested an opinion from the Justice Department on whether the law applied to Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller was the scion of a wealthy business family whom Gerald Ford had selected as vice president after he became the president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon. The DOJ was asked if a vice president could have any financial interest in a company that contracted with the U.S. government.

The DOJ responded in a letter that the statute didn’t apply to either the vice president or the president. The letter pointed to the “uniqueness of the president’s situation” and argued that it would be unconstitutional to apply the law to the president, since it could constrain him to the point that he would be unable to perform constitutionally prescribed duties.

Subsequent statutes such as the 1978 Ethics in Government Act and 1989 Ethics Reform Act reinforced this argument. A 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service further reiterated it.

Members of Congress are subject to some stricter conflict of interest regulations. For example, according to the 1989 Ethics Reform Act, they must adhere to an outside earned income limit equal to 15 percent of their official salary. They are also subject to “revolving door” limits that restrict them from lobbying or working for foreign governments for a year after leaving office. The president is required only to make public any conflict of interest issues.

Accepting gifts from foreign powers

What about foreign governments, or companies controlled by foreign governments, that do business with the Trump hotels?

The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution says that no person holding a federal office of profit or trust shall accept any “present, emolument, (or) office… from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

Even though the president clearly holds an office of “trust,” the clause does not name the president specifically, unlike other clauses in the Constitution. Opinions are divided on the issue.

One study argued that it would be inconceivable for a clause aimed at limiting influence by foreign governments not to apply to the president. According to this analysis, a member of the Constitutional Convention, who later became a member of George Washington’s Cabinet, specifically mentioned “the danger… of the president receiving emoluments from foreign powers.”

However, another historical analysis reached the opposite conclusion, pointing to President George Washington accepting gifts from the French ambassador after he became president. Since Washington was not criticized at the time for this action, according to this author, the understanding of the president and the broader public was that this clause did not apply to the president.

The researcher also argued that if the president was intended to be included, he would have been specified by name, as he is in the impeachment clause.

Either way, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the Emoluments Clause applies to the president.

Blind trusts and previous presidents

Just because something is legal, however, doesn’t mean it is good.

Presidents are not required by any law to place their assets in blind trusts (just as they are not required to disclose their tax returns). But before Trump, starting with Lyndon B. Johnson, most presidents voluntarily placed their assets in blind trusts. This meant that any investments (but not cash or personal real estate) were managed by an independent entity, without the beneficiary knowing what they were.

The exceptions were President Obama and President Nixon. Nixon liquidated his limited assets and bought two houses. Obama chose not to place his assets in a blind trust, saying his family’s money was mostly invested in U.S. treasury bonds and other funds unlikely to cause a conflict.

While Trump has put his assets in a trust, the trustees are not truly independent. His two eldest sons are managing the assets of the Trump Organization, which remain known to him and of which he maintains ownership.

Since it is highly doubtful that Trump will give in to pressure to liquidate his assets, potential conflicts will remain, indeed abound.

Who will monitor the president’s conduct?

The Office of Government Ethics isn’t of much use in policing the president. One study shows that OGE is a weak and ineffective agency.

It has a small staff of about 80 full-time people and a budget of $15 million. Furthermore, the director is nominated by the president.

Its main authority is overseeing financial disclosure for legislative, judicial and executive branch officials, including the president. But the disclosure reporting categories are very broad and not very informative. Civil or criminal charges for false disclosure can be filed only by the presidentially appointed attorney general. There is a $50,000 maximum fine for false filing, but that is not much of a deterrent for very wealthy individuals.

Oversight of the president’s ethics could come mainly through two channels: Congress and the media. Congress has the power to impeach the president, by a simple majority vote of the house and a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

Congressional committees can conduct hearings to investigate presidential and executive branch activities, as with the current House Intelligence Committee’s hearing into Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped him.

Creation of an independent commission, such as the one that investigated the U.S. administration’s preparedness for the 9/11 attacks, will require that Congress and the president sign off on such a commission.

The DOJ could also investigate and prosecute criminal violations by the president. The Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the judiciary could review the legality of the president’s actions, both in his capacity as a private citizen and in his official role. But the attorney general has discretion over whether to pursue violations of federal criminal law.

The decisions by the president and his daughter not to create truly blind trusts mean that concern over potential conflicts of interest will likely persist. Many other questions, such as those about the fitness of Trump’s daughter and son-in-law as top advisers, are also unlikely to disappear.

Simply asking the American people to trust the president, his three eldest children and his son-in-law to do the right thing may not be satisfactory for many Americans.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Vaccination campaign necessary to stop the spread of cholera in Haiti, says UF researcher

April 24, 2017
Evan Barton
Haiti, cholera, transmission, disease, vaccine

A mathematical model of cholera transmission in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake suggests that current approaches to cholera control and elimination, which focus primarily on improving sanitation, are not likely to solve the problem.  However, eradication of cholera is possible with use of oral cholera vaccine.

“We need to focus on routine vaccination in areas that are at risk of cholera transmission in Haiti,” said Ira Longini, a professor in the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine’s department of biostatistics. Longini is the senior author of the report.

Previous cholera elimination strategies have emphasized the need for infrastructure improvements; the authors, however, suggest that this approach has led to few if any changes in Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure. According to the authors, resources should be allocated toward administering oral cholera vaccines, or OCVs, in order to end transmission over the next few years.

Longini stressed the need for urgency, citing climatic instability as a factor that could increase disease occurrence.

“We need to start now,” he said. “We don’t know when the next disaster is coming – the next hurricane or the next earthquake – that could cause another big jump in transmission. We know it is going to happen. We just don’t know when.”

The study relied on data from the Ouest Department of Haiti, a region that includes Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. It suggests, however, that several vaccination strategies have the potential to end cholera transmission throughout Haiti before 2023 – the deadline established by Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population in 2013 to eliminate cholera from the country.

The article, titled “Controlling cholera in the Ouest Department of Haiti using oral vaccines,” was published online in April 2017 in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The vaccine would not need to be 100 percent effective in order to eliminate cholera transmission. In fact, the study’s mass vaccination projections assume that vaccine effectiveness will only be 60 percent – a level surpassed by Shanchol, one the two OCVs prequalified by the World Health Organization, in previous studies.

The WHO manages a stockpile of several million doses of OCVs. Since more than 1 billion people live in regions at risk of cholera, however, campaigns relying on WHO resources will likely have to begin with targeted vaccination instead of mass vaccination. Longini is currently developing models that will identify where vaccination campaigns should be targeted to be most effective.

“Transmission occurs along river systems and in areas with poor sanitation,” Longini said. “UF researchers have been tracking where cholera transmission occurs since the beginning of the epidemic, so we know where to look for transmission.   Now we just need national and international leaders and health policy officials to place a strong emphasis on administering these vaccines to the population.”

Global Impact

UF announces more than $300,000 in UF-City of Gainesville research awards

April 24, 2017
Matt Walker

The University of Florida’s Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer has announced it will award more than $300,000 in research awards to seven UF-City of Gainesville research projects.

As part of UF’s Strategic Development Plan, UF Senior Vice President and COO Charlie Lane in February announced a call for proposals that utilize the UF campus and greater Gainesville community as a living laboratory to address real-world problems in the local community.

“A distinct goal of the Strategic Development Plan is to increase collaboration between the university and the city, and to connect UF’s talent and resources to Gainesville in a way that can make improvements in a number of areas,” Lane said.

Lane’s office received 62 proposals from about 40 departments and centers throughout UF in just over a month. The proposals covered a broad range of topics, including health and wellness, smart cities, economic development and equity.

“The response to our call for proposals was impressive,” Lane said. “Narrowing it down to the final recipients was extremely tough. Originally, we intended to select five winners but we were able to expand the list to seven, thanks to Shands CEO Ed Jimenez and Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager Ed Bielarski contributing to the award pool.”

Lane also acknowledged the valuable input he received from Gainesville City Manager Anthony Lyons and his staff as well as other community leaders and faculty, in narrowing down the list of recipients.

Lane said after seeing such an enthusiastic response he would like to be able to fund additional research projects in the future.

“There are a lot of great ideas and talented researchers here at UF, and I’m very pleased that my office can play a role in connecting these individuals to important issues in the Gainesville community,” Lane said.

The University of Florida’s Strategic Development Plan seeks to shape the university and surrounding community’s future over the next 40 to 50 years and establish the framework for the “New American City.” Find out more about the plan at www.strategicdevelopment.ufl.edu.

The total amount currently being awarded is $312,760.

Below is the complete list of award winners and the research projects they proposed.

UF-City of Gainesville research award winners
PI = Primary investigator; Co-PI = Co-primary investigator

Dr. Michael Morris, Ph.D., PI: The Gainesville Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program
Co-PI Dr. Jamie Kraft, Ph.D.

Dr. Lily Elefteriadou, Ph.D., PI: Public Acceptance of Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Technology
Co-PI Dr. Nithin Agarwal, Ph.D.

Dr. Lisa Chacko, M.D., PI: Community Resource Paramedic:  An Innovative Approach to Meeting the Needs of Gainesville’s Most Vulnerable Populations
Co-PIs Dr. Laura Guyer, Ph.D., and Mr. David Sutton

Dr. Jose Fortes, Ph.D., PI: Data-centric Modeling and Support of the Lifecycle of the Gainesville Businesses
Co-PIs Dr. Christopher McCarty, Ph.D.; Dr. Renato Figueiredo, Ph.D.; Dr. Erik Bredfeldt ,Ph.D.; and Ms. Lila Stewart

Dr. Kathryn Frank, Ph.D., PI: Neighborhoods as Community Assets—Preparing for the Future While Protecting Neighborhoods
Co-PIs Dr. Kristin Larsen, Ph.D.; Dr. Laura Dedenbach, Ph.D.; and Ms. Tyeshia Redden

Dr. Herman Knopf, Ph.D., PI: Building a Partnership Between Early Head Start and the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies to Benefit Young Children and Families in East Gainesville
Co-PI Dr. Maureen Conroy, Ph.D.

Dr. Ravi Srinivasan, Ph.D., PI: Urban Energy Model for Smart City Informatics

Campus Life

Transportation Partnership to Create ‘Smart Testbed’ for Advanced Technologies

April 25, 2017
Elaine Khoo
Smart testbed, autonomous vehicle, smart device

The City of Gainesville, University of Florida (UF) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) are proud to announce their partnership to develop a ‘smart testbed’ for new and evolving advanced transportation technologies and equipment.

Advanced technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles, smart devices and sensors will be tested on the UF campus and surrounding highway network. Goals for the testbed include improving mobility and safety on the UF campus and around Gainesville; to facilitate the incorporation of UF invented technologies; to quantify how people engage with automated vehicles; to collaborate with businesses to test and enhance their own technologies; and to become a national and international model for the use of technology to enhance transportation.

“We are very excited to be working with our long time partners, FDOT and the City of Gainesville, as well as the UF administration in the development and use of advanced technologies on our campus,” said Lily Elefteriadou, Ph.D., lead researcher and the director of the UF Transportation Institute (UFTI) and the Barbara Goldsby Professor of Civil Engineering. “UF is an ideal location for such testing, as speeds are relatively low, there are lots of pedestrians, extensive bicycle facilities, scooters and mopeds, and one of the most heavily-used transit systems in Florida.”

This will be the first such program in Florida to involve a city, a university and a state DOT. It will also involve industry partnerships to facilitate the development and operation of testbed. “As changes in technology and infrastructure shape new opportunities for cities, we are excited to join this unique partnership and look forward to pursuing new approaches that will benefit our community and residents,” said Teresa Scott, City of Gainesville public works director.

This initiative aligns with the UF and City of Gainesville Strategic Plans by helping to turn Gainesville and UF into a proving ground for solutions that challenge cities nationwide; testing and implementing transportation alternatives for the community; and providing technologies that highlight UF as a preeminent university and the City of Gainesville as a New American City.

“This is just one area that the city and university are collaborating to solve problems using more productive, creative and efficient methods than those used in the past,” said City of Gainesville Manager, Anthony Lyons. The two organizations have also partnered recently to establish undergraduate fellowship opportunities and a series of research awards aimed at addressing common issues in the community.

FDOT is funding the beginning research effort of the initiative. UF officials with the UFTI are currently reviewing literature and other testbed applications around the world before setting an official date to begin local tests of new transportation technologies.

Global Impact

Student-run radio for millennials

April 25, 2017
Randy Bennett

Think of it as radio with a millennial-powered social media twist.

A group of 35 University of Florida students has launched GHQ, a new multi-platform “radio” station using mobile, social and digital audience engagement technology designed by Futuri. With help from professional staff at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications and Futuri, the G-Team, as it is known, is using audio-based app features and testing engagement, acceptance and likability through digital and social platforms in UF’s 50,000+-student community.

Students occupy every position at GHQ, including station manager. A team of students under the direction of Professor Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, a highly regarded consumer media researcher, is also conducting market research that will be shared with the industry.

“GHQ shines an entirely new light on our ability to work with industry to create real solutions,” said Randy Wright, executive director of the College’s Division of Media Properties. “Our theory is that intelligent use of multimedia engagement tools can have a direct impact on the growth of a station’s audience and help maintain and boost terrestrial radio’s relevance in the long run.”

GHQ, a contemporary hit-radio formatted product, is available over the air on 95.3 mhz in addition to transmitting on the College’s WUFT-FM HD3 signal to the Gainesville-Ocala, Fla. market.  Audio and entertainment content is available nationwide through the GHQ app, which incorporates the entire suite of mobile audience engagement features designed by Futuri.

“It's clear that Millennial and Gen Z audiences are eager to engage, but broadcasters have to meet them where they’re at," said Futuri Media CEO Daniel Anstandig. "Innovation is key to engaging these critical audiences, and the R&D lab that Futuri Media has created with the University of Florida can ultimately help broadcasters everywhere stay ahead of the curve."

The partnership with the college is Futuri’s first engagement with a higher-education institution.

The College of Journalism and Communications operates seven television, radio and digital properties, including the local PBS, NPR and ESPN affiliates, serving the 19-county North Central Florida market.

“Partnering with a world-class organization like Futuri is an incredible opportunity for us,” Wright said. “Broadcast is ripe for experimentation to engage millennials and I am confident this collaboration will lead to insights that can help the industry increase its market share.”

Campus Life

AAU Releases Report of Universities’ Efforts to Combat Sexual Misconduct

April 26, 2017
Margot Winick

University of Florida students took the survey in 2015

The University of Florida, in concert with most of the 61 leading research universities that comprise the Association of American Universities (AAU), has implemented strategies to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campuses. These steps were detailed in a report issued today by the AAU, as a follow up to its Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.

The purpose of the new report is to assist AAU universities in their efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual misconduct by providing data and examples of the efforts their peer institutions are making in this area, noted AAU President Mary Sue Coleman.

In April 2015, UF students joined150,000 students attending AAU institutions, by taking the online survey.  The results provided campuses a better idea of the views, knowledge and experiences of students with respect to sexual assault and services available on campuses to respond to this national issue. Now, AAU has conducted a new survey of its member universities to determine what actions universities are taking to address this complex challenge. Findings from this survey have been compiled in a new report, available at www.aau.edu.

The report shows that universities are creating, developing and enhancing programs to educate the campus community and to assist victims of sexual assault and misconduct. At UF, several programs have been implemented, such as a mandatory learning module called Campus Clarity for all new students including undergraduate, transfer, graduate and professional students.

“Everyone at the University of Florida deserves to be valued, respected, and to live and work in a safe environment,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “We have strived to reduce the incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, but we simply cannot tolerate this behavior. We understand there is more to do. We are committed to boosting awareness, increasing prevention and creating a secure and supportive campus culture.”

Some of the actions that UF has undertaken include:

  • GatorWell’s STRIVE (Sexual Trauma Interpersonal Violence Education) peer education group provides presentations to inform students and student groups about consent and Title IX issues. During Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, STRIVE also holds a “Take Back the Night” march and rally, now in its fourth year, in conjunction with LGBT Affairs and University Police Department’s Office of Victim Services.
  • More than 120 UF students participated in a multimedia theater experience that engages students on the topics of sexual assault, consent and how to intervene or support each other, called “Ashley’s Consent.” The innovative program explores the question of what constitutes a sexual assault and when one should intervene, and concludes with a discussion with the audience about sexual assault on college campuses, bystander intervention and victim shaming. The piece recently was honored with a statewide award by NASPA, the leading association for student affairs professionals, and the university hopes to expand this program next academic year.
  • UF has invested resources to expand an office dedicated to Title IX issues, and has hired a full-time director and an investigator. A second investigator should be on staff in the coming months. The office oversees nine deputy Title IX coordinators and administers campus-wide educational programs that include options for reporting suspected harassment or dating violence. The office is currently revising its website to feature enhanced information to educate students, faculty and staff.

These programs work with a university-wide umbrella initiative called U Matter, We Care, which provides resources of all kinds to all students and their families and sets the tone for the campus culture of care and respect – at UF Every Gator Counts.

UF’s Vice President of Student Affairs, David Parrott, who joined the university last summer, has brought a wealth of experience in developing and leading effective student services and programs. Under his guidance, the student conduct code has been revised and is slated for final review by the UF community.

University of Florida is creating its own campus climate survey on sexual assault to gauge attitudes, opinions and experiences, to be administered in Spring 2018. Results of the survey will be used to plan future programming. UF also plans to participate in any future AAU-institution surveys.

Campus Life

Biological engineering senior dives into graduation

April 26, 2017
Dana Edwards
Scuba diving, engineering, water resources

An avid scuba diver of seven years, biological engineering senior Leah Potts found her career calling by merging her love for the water with engineering. Now, she will celebrate the combination of both loves by joining 5,885 other undergraduates from the University of Florida who graduate this spring. 

Potts was selected as one of only three 2017 Rolex Scholars in the world. After graduation, Potts will be introduced to hands-on underwater and other aquatic excursions of her choosing as she works alongside current field leaders for one year.

“Leah’s program is interdisciplinary, and the UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering department provides the opportunity for Leah to combine engineering with her interest in natural resources and water use in agricultural systems,” said department chair Dorota Haman. “The opportunity the Rolex Scholarship provides is fantastic. There is so much going on in water around the world and Leah can select several institutions and conferences to visit and ‘learn about water’ during this coming year. Our department is very proud of her.”

Potts will have the chance to go on various expeditions, field studies, underwater research, laboratory assignments, equipment testing and trainings with a network of sponsors and academics. The program created by the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society will help cover travel costs.

“I’m hoping to use the scholarship to explore cutting-edge engineering opportunities in water-related fields as well as continue my diving education at the technical and research levels,” Potts said. “Ultimately, I’d like to combine my passion for technical diving with my engineering education into a career path that helps sustain our water resources.”

A curiosity for deep waters and previous snorkeling trips led Potts to complete an initial scuba diving certification by herself on a family vacation to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She was hooked. Potts went on to complete certifications at the educator and technical levels, including a cave diving certification, an activity she pursues regularly in Florida’s springs.

Leah Potts is shown here diving in a Florida spring.

"As (Leah’s) professor and adviser, it has been easy for me to share different opportunities with her, because everything she is involved in she gives her all,” said IFAS agricultural and biological engineering lecturer Jim Leary. “She’s been able to direct her whole academic path. This scholarship is a perfect fit for her since she is incredibly self-motivated and has such enthusiasm for learning.”

Originally from Blacksburg, Virginia, Potts transferred from Virginia Tech to UF so she could take on more advanced dives while earning a quality education. In addition to teaching diving in the Florida Keys for a year, Potts has completed a yearlong research internship at Divers Alert Network, where she participated in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition monitoring the physiology of deep-sea divers in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

One of the accomplishments Potts is most proud of is the recent publication of a paper she wrote on cave diving fatalities with researchers from Divers Alert Network. Diver safety and education is a topic Potts is proud to promote throughout her work.

“My advice to others would be to do what you’re passionate about,” Potts said. “That’s how all of this came about. Pursuing my parallel passions for diving and engineering earned me this amazing scholarship that will allow me to explore both at the same time. There’s always a way to make your passions fit together, so just keep trying.”

Potts is grateful for stumbling upon her major within the UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering department.

“I love my department,” Potts said. “My adviser, Dr. Leary, welcomed me with such enthusiasm and showed me the department really wanted me as a student. The people of this department have a positive impact on natural resources here in Florida and around the world, and this major gives its students the necessary tools to create a more sustainable future. The department has become my home.”

Potts’ adventures throughout her scholarship year can be followed on her upcoming blog here.

Campus Life

The “Anakin” method: Using artificial intelligence to fight disease

April 27, 2017
Stephenie Livingston
Artificial intelligence, chemistry

A team of chemists have created new software — inspired by Star Wars — that will help researchers test and develop medicine faster.

Growing up in small-town Central Alabama, Justin Smith was drawn to Legos and science fiction books and films, like Star Wars and Star Trek — things that allowed him to imagine futuristic realities. 

He’s still building works inspired by his love of science fiction, but they’re very real.

For the past year, the University of Florida doctoral student and colleagues have been developing software using artificial intelligence, specifically a neural network, that can be taught and even learn on its own. The developers hope the new software will lead to faster, cheaper and more accurate testing of treatments and potential cures for diseases and viruses, like diabetes and HIV.

“I wanted to make a difference in the way medicine is developed, ” said Smith, who studies at UF’s chemistry department and recently introduced the software in a study. “With this software, drug companies can identify a target protein, like those that drive the HIV virus, and test binding molecules to proteins that can stop the protein from working, essentially stopping the disease in its tracks.”

The software is called ANAKIN-ME (Accurate NeurAl networK engINe for Molecular Energies) or Ani for short. And describing Ani as “fast” is an understatement.

In order to bind a molecule to a protein, researchers need to understand the molecule’s energy. Smith taught the neural network to calculate energies and forces in molecules hundreds of thousands of times faster than the previous most accurate method — and much more accurately than the quickest methods that currently exist.

The combination of speed, accuracy and low cost will allow researchers to run experiments that were previously impossible, said Smith’s mentor Adrian Roitberg, a UF chemistry professor and study co-author.

“Drugs that used to take decades to test can be tested in months,” said Roitberg, who emphasized the software’s accuracy.

Justin Smith (right) and Adrian Roitberg discuss the new method.

The software might also help engineers and manufacturers develop materials like solar cells and plastics. The network is useful when building things, as it can identify the right materials and take away much of the trial and error, Roitberg said.

The problem with some previous methods is that they were not adapted to the way molecules move and bend, while others that were adapted to movement failed to work in complex chemical environments.

So, Smith took a different approach.

“The idea was to design a method that works the same way they teach cars to drive. You don’t teach a car to drive down a straight road and then expect it to take corners, for instance, “ said Smith, a UF Foundation graduate fellowship recipient. “Because molecules move, I realized we needed to design a way to teach the neural network that things are not rigid.”

The speed at which Ani computes might allow researchers to test huge numbers of possible molecule and protein connections, or study big, complex molecules.

Though it’s already advanced, Ani is still learning. It knows organic chemistry, but eventually the network might be able to train itself to perform even more accurately.

And as for the reason Ani’s creators named it after a Star Wars character, Roitberg said, “In those movies, computers were solving problems long before words like artificial intelligence or machine learning existed. So it’s a shout out to science fiction and the way it spurred interest in computers solving real-world problems.”

Olexandr Isayev with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill co-authored the study.


Science & Wellness

UF receives up to $8.4 million from DoD to study brain training using electric stimulation

April 26, 2017
Michelle Koidin Jaffee

The U.S. Defense Department is looking for ways to speed up cognitive skills training — the types of skills useful for specialists such as linguists, intelligence analysts and cryptographers — and is awarding University of Florida engineers and neuroscientists up to $8.4 million over the next four years to investigate how to do that by applying electrical stimulation to peripheral nerves as a means of strengthening neuronal connections in the brain.

Two neuroengineering experts in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering are among eight team leaders across the country receiving awards announced Wednesday under the Targeted Neuroplasticity Training program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The program’s goal is to develop safe and effective enhanced training regimens that accelerate the acquisition of cognitive skills while reducing the cost and time of the DoD’s extensive training program. A large percentage of the work involves fundamental research to decipher the neural mechanisms that underlie the influence of nerve stimulation on brain plasticity.

Under an award of up to $4.2 million, Kevin J. Otto, Ph.D., will lead a team of neuroscientists from the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida and the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center to identify which neural pathways in the brain are activated by vagal nerve stimulation. The team will conduct behavioral studies in rodents to determine the impact of vagal nerve stimulation on perception, executive function, decision-making and spatial navigation.

This could potentially lead to an expansion of the use of vagal nerve stimulation, a therapy currently applied to prevent seizures in patients with epilepsy and to treat depression and chronic pain.

“There are clinical applications, but very little understanding of why it works,” said Jennifer L. Bizon, a professor of neuroscience at UF and an investigator on Otto’s team. “We are going to do the systematic science to understand how this stimulation actually drives brain circuits and, ultimately, how to maximize the use of this approach to enhance cognition.”

The research funded by the DARPA awards will test the mechanisms by which peripheral nerve modulations make learning faster and more efficient.

For military analysts on the job, “One hypothetical example would be target detection,” said co-investigator Barry Setlow, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at UF. “So for people who spend hours a day looking for things of interest on a screen, if by stimulating their vagus nerve at just the right time you can help them realize performance improvements more quickly, then they become better attuned to the fine details of images.”

The technology has the potential to help Defense Department personnel advance through training more quickly, yet effectively. “Currently, they could spend 50 years of their careers, 80 hours a week, just doing training and still wouldn’t be qualified to do every single thing,” said Otto, an associate professor in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering. “So they’re always interested in increasing mechanisms of learning and memory.”

Otto said if investigators can gain a more complete understanding of how targeted neuroplasticity works, they may be able to figure out how to optimize learning while avoiding potential side effects, such as blood pressure manipulation, heart rate changes and perceived visceral pain.

In a second UF effort, and with an additional $4.2 million award, Karim Oweiss, Ph.D., a professor of electrical and computer engineering, biomedical engineering and neuroscience, will study the mechanisms by which cranial nerve stimulation can affect brain activity. His lab will use advanced optical imaging that will produce extremely high-resolution images of brain dynamics to map the functional circuitry in areas of the brain responsible for executive function. Additionally, optogenetic interrogation, a technique to drive specific brain cells to fire or go silent in response to targeted illumination, will be used to study the causal involvement of these areas in learning cue salience and working memory formation in rodents trained on auditory discrimination and decision making tasks.

Oweiss will collaborate with Qi Wang, an assistant professor at Columbia University. Wang’s lab will focus on the noradrenergic pathway — a neuromodulator widely responsible for brain attention and arousal — and the extent to which it is engaged when rodents learn a tactile discrimination task.

Oweiss’ project seeks to demonstrate the effects of vagal nerve stimulation on cognitive-skill learning and the brain activity supporting those skills, as well as to optimize the stimulation parameters and training protocols for long-term retention of those skills.

“We want to see if it’s possible to promote targeted changes in specific brain circuits to accelerate this process by stimulating the vagus nerve, which sends close to 80 percent of its output back to the brain,” Oweiss said. “So if one knows that ‘brain area A’ talks to ‘brain area B’ when learning a new language, can we develop training protocols that promote the exchange between these two areas while leaving other areas unaltered? Then the person will learn at a faster rate and retain the skills for much longer.”

The implications of both projects reach beyond accelerated learning speeds. “If we identify specific ways that neural pathways change as a person learns, then if a person loses brain function, we could potentially rewire disconnected brain areas and personalize neural rehabilitation,” said Oweiss. “This technology could be used to restore quality of life much quicker if brain function has been compromised.”

Science & Wellness

Why do we like our classes? And each other? Our brain waves tell us, NYU-UF study finds

April 27, 2017
James Devitt

The synchronization of brainwaves among students during class reflects how much they like the class and each other, a team of neuroscientists has found.

The synchronization of brainwaves among students during class reflects how much they like the class and each other, a team of neuroscientists has found.

“How well our brainwaves sync up with those of another person appears to be a good predictor of how well we get along and how engaged we are,” said lead author Suzanne Dikker, a research scientist at New York University’s department of psychology and Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “Overall, our findings suggest that brain-to-brain synchrony is a possible neural marker for everyday social interactions.”

In a departure from standard experimentation, the scientists followed a group of 12 high school students and their teacher for an entire semester and recorded their brain activity during their regular biology classes using portable electroencephalogram, or EEG, technology.

“The study offers a promising new method to investigate the neuroscience of group interactions,” said senior author David Poeppel, a professor in NYU’s department of psychology and Center for Neural Science and director of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt.

Previous studies have typically measured single individuals or one-on-one interactions in highly controlled laboratory settings. By contrast, this work, appearing in the journal Current Biology, gauged dynamic social interactions in a complex group setting outside of the laboratory, shedding light on the role of brain synchrony in a more natural environment.

The study also included University of Florida researchers Lu Wan, the co-lead author, and Mingzhou Ding.

 “The study is groundbreaking in the sense that we studied how the brain works in the real world rather than in a well-controlled laboratory environment,” said Ding, Pruitt Family Professor of Biomedical Engineering UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “The implications for social science and for education are enormous.”

 Using low-cost, portable brain recording equipment, the researchers compared the EEG readings of the students to each other and then explored the factors that might predict the level of synchronized brain activity between students with their self-reports on classroom engagement (e.g., students’ appreciation ratings of different teaching styles and their day-to-day focus level) and measures of classroom social dynamics: Students were not only asked how much they liked each other and the teacher, but also reported on how much they liked group activities in general. Both classroom engagement and social dynamics have been shown to be critical for learning.

The results showed a positive correlation between a student’s ratings of the course and the student’s brain synchrony with her classmates as a group—in other words, the more a student’s brain waves were in sync with the those in the classroom as a whole, the more likely she was to give the course a favorable rating. Similarly, the greater the synchrony between an individual student and her classmates, the more likely they were to give positive ratings to the instructor’s teaching style.

The researchers also examined whether or not brain-to-brain synchrony reflected how much students like each other. To do this, students reported how personally close they were to other individuals in the class.

Specifically, they found that pairs of students who felt closer to each other were more in sync during class, but only if they had interacted with each other face-to-face immediately before class. This suggests that having face-to-face interaction right before sharing an experience matters, the researchers conclude, even if you’re not directly interacting during that experience (like watching a video). Finally, students who considered group activities important in their lives, exhibited higher synchrony with their classmates.

 The mechanism underpinning the observed brain-to-brain synchronization is likely to be shared attention, the authors posit, and this new approach provides a quantitative means to measure the factors that mediate social cohesion in groups.

 The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (1344285) and a Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research Award (275-89-018).

Classroom EEG Study (New York City High School) from Micah Schaffer on Vimeo.

Science & Wellness

Male jumping spiders court whomever, whenever, but females decide who lives, dies

May 2, 2017
Brad Buck

Male jumping spiders will try to mate with any female, but that lack of discretion could cost them their lives, says a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher.

In a newly published study, UF/IFAS entomologist Lisa Taylor and her team documented the courting techniques of jumping spiders. They found that male spiders spend much time and energy — including singing and dancing — trying to mate with potential females, even when these females are the wrong species.

“We think that one reason these displays have evolved in male jumping spiders is to compensate for the fact that they can’t tell females of closely related species apart,” Taylor said. “Males run around courting everything that looks remotely like a female, and they place themselves at a very high risk of cannibalism from hungry females of the wrong species who have no interest in mating with them.”

Gif by Daniel Zurek

For the study, scientists searched for spiders along the shores of a river in Phoenix, Arizona. When they found one, they watched and recorded everything it did, using a voice recorder. If it was a male, they monitored how many other females he encountered, which species and whether or not he tried to court them. If it was a female, they recorded how many males and which species tried to court her.

They also documented whether males were attacked or eaten by females.

Taylor thinks that a male’s colorful courtship dance allows him to identify himself to a female from a safe distance. These displays likely allow females to tell the males of different species apart. Then females can decide what action to take while the male is still a safe distance away.

“This study provides some new insight into the age-old question of why males go to such ridiculous lengths to impress females,” Taylor said.

Lisa Taylor assisted in the making of a recent episode of National Geographic WILD's Untamed with Filipe Deandrade.

In jumping spiders, the answer might be that these colorful displays let males identify themselves to females without being eaten, she said.

The females of many species look a lot alike, and males don’t seem to have a good way to tell them apart. But the males of most jumping spider species look different from one another, so females make the decisions. The male strategy seems to be to court anything that looks remotely like a female and hope for the best, Taylor said.

Jumping spiders are commonly found in residential backyards, and most people don’t even know they’re there, Taylor said, much less that the male spiders are singing and dancing.

“People might be interested to know that their yard is teeming with confused, but adorable, male jumping spiders that are running around singing and dancing for every female in sight and that these males spiders are pretty clueless about how to find the right species of female,” she said.

The study is published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Science & Wellness

Gator Marching Band director speaks at doctoral commencement

April 28, 2017
UF News

Chip Birkner is an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s School of Music. Together with John M. “Jay” Watkins, he has directed UF’s Gator Marching Band since 2006. Birkner also is the director of both the Spring Concert Band and the Athletic Pep Band. His speech is below.

Good afternoon. I’m delighted and honored that President Fuchs has asked me to spend the next 2 to 2 ½ hours talking to you about my research. Of course, I’m only kidding. I know we all have dinner reservations, so I promise to be as brief as a Kardashian talent show.

If Dr. Fuchs’ decision to break from the traditional commencement speaker profile has you a bit puzzled, well, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in a rather large group that includes all my friends and family that know I’m giving this address. And, if you’ve read my relatively brief bio in the program, I imagine you’re asking the same questions that my Mother-In-Law first asked my wife: “Who is this guy?”, “Why him?”, and my personal favorite, “Couldn’t you find someone more successful?”

It’s true. I’m not a celebrated author, politician, or titan in my field...yet. As a matter of fact, I’m constantly reminded that I’m not even the most impressive Dr. Birkner in my marriage! What I am, is a relatively recent doctoral graduate from UF - having finished just three short years ago, and I’m proud to serve on our faculty, working in our outstanding College of the Arts. 

I’m proud of the meaningful work we do every day to impact the lives of our students, our campus community, and indeed, the artistic world. But, like all of you, I’m more or less at the beginning of my professional journey.   And, because I would like to consider myself as still being in your age group, today, I won’t attempt to grace you with life-changing pearls of wisdom or the typical commencement clichés. Rather, I’d like to take a few moments to help you acknowledge the significance of today, as well as to highlight some of the traits that you’ve undoubtedly honed to get you to that most comfortable folding chair. Traits on which you will certainly rely in the years ahead.

I think you would agree that the final stages of the doctoral program felt like a whirlwind with countless deadlines to meet and boxes to check. If you were like me, the moment you electronically submitted that dissertation, you looked up expecting the heavens to open, trumpets to sound, and maybe even a standing ovation.

The truth is, there are several small moments of finality: concluding your research, submitting your dissertation, final edits, re-submitting your dissertation, final FINAL edits, and eventually shaking the hands of your committee members after a grueling but successful defense. It might have felt like there was no end to the end. This, today, should provide you that sense of finality. The closure you were looking for. Today marks the official end of your doctoral program and your commencement into your chosen field as a designated expert. 

We, on this stage, are certainly glad you chose to attend today’s ceremony. Frankly, the whole event would be rather awkward for us without you here. It’s a meaningful event, and one that you’ve certainly earned. Even so, commencement ceremonies are curious gatherings. Having likely participated in three previous commencements, this might be feeling somewhat habitual for you. Every few years or so, you’re asked to wrap up your studies, don your best 12th-century garb, and sit in a large room where strangers are asked to admire you.

Many of you have been looking forward to this day for several years. Some of you were absolutely required by your families to be here. Others might be looking to today as a cathartic experience – a ceremonial licking-of-the-wounds. But, for all of you, the importance of this event is undeniable. All of this fuss, planning, pomp and circumstance, has one singular purpose: to celebrate you. 

Today is about celebrating your research - your valuable additions to the body of knowledge in your many fields. While glancing through today’s commencement program and reading your dissertation titles (most of which contain words I cannot pronounce), it struck me: the amount of collective intelligence on that floor is truly staggering! You represent an incredible point of pride for our university. Because of your work, our world is enriched and better explained. And we thank you for the important work you’ve done, and that you’ll undoubtedly continue to do. 

Today is also about honoring those valuable relationships you’ve developed with your advisors and mentors, many of whom are sitting amongst you today. While you processed into this room as mentors and mentees, you’ll leave as trusted and respected colleagues, having forged an important bond that should be mutually beneficial for years to come.

Today is a celebration of tradition. The gown you’re wearing is different from the ones you might have worn in your previous commencements. Those three velvet bars on your sleeves are distinctly for doctoral commencements. I’ve looked into what those three bars signify, but even the mighty Wikipedia couldn’t deliver a conclusive answer. So, with your permission, we’ll assign meaning to them as the three most needed traits in surviving your doctoral program.

The first bar would, undoubtedly, represent sacrifice.

Your path to that seat took sacrifice - at times, immeasurable sacrifice. Numerous late nights, early mornings, balancing of responsibilities, and shifting of resources and priorities.

My wife and I completed our PhD coursework and dissertations at the same time, while both working, and raising two little girls. Obviously, our timing and planning are impeccable. I can tell you when the prospect of entering the doctoral program became a serious option for both of us, it took a lot of consideration and prayer. Together, we made the decision to dive in, make the sacrifices, and get through the programs before our children were old enough to remember mommy and daddy’s temporary insanity.  But, as Teddy Roosevelt said: “Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means, effort, pain, and difficulty.” I think we’ve all firmly checked that box!

Each of you had a different path to get here, but I would venture to guess that all were somewhat complicated. Many of you had to sacrifice a great deal of time with your loved ones. Friends, family, spouses, and children, at times, took a backseat to studying, researching, and writing. Often, being productive came with a side of guilt. But you did it. You’re here. And many of those very same loved ones are here too, looking down at you and beaming with immense love and pride.

To the families and friends joining us today, I know these graduates would like to thank you as well. Thank you for being here today. Thank you for your enduring patience, your encouragement, and the sacrifices that many of you made that allowed them to be here today.

The second bar on your sleeve might represent purpose. Your sense of purpose.

I began my professional career as a middle school and high school teacher – and quickly realized all the same frustrations that most public educators face: long hours for somewhat uninspiring pay, intrusive standardized testing schedules, budget concerns, not to mention catching every single stomach bug and cold that makes its way through the school. 

I have a vivid memory of sitting in rush-hour traffic in Houston, Texas, on the way to teach at one of my middle schools. As some of you might know, the blessing of a long commute is not only that it gives you ample time to second-guess your life choices, but you can also analyze your fellow travelers. I would analyze the cars they drove, the clothes they wore, and their facial expressions. I would try to envision what career they were headed to that day. Were they happier going to their job than I was going to mine?

On one of those long morning commutes, I heard some pyramid-scheme guru refer to one’s work-life as “trading hours for dollars.” Seen in that light, the overwhelming number of hours required of a Texas High School band director certainly didn’t feel like an equitable trade. I, like so many young educators, began thinking about a potential career change. The juice, it seemed, just wasn’t worth the squeeze. But, it’s like George Carlin said: “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

Nevertheless, I felt like I wanted out. There was one HUGE problem. I love teaching. It’s in my core. I knew I needed to stay in education, but my exact sense of purpose wasn’t clear. It was perhaps, a moment of divine intervention, when on my birthday in 2006, Dr. David Waybright, Director of Bands here at the University of Florida, and my mentor, called to offer me the opportunity to return and teach here at my alma mater.

Over a decade later, I still occasionally return to that phrase “trading hours for dollars” when trying to keep my own work-life balance in check. Viewing my work schedule in terms of that simple transaction can be useful when I need a reminder to pump the brakes on my work and spend some time playing with my young daughters, who against all of my wishes, continue to grow up entirely too fast.

What this simplistic phrase does not account for is that, most of us, optimistically all of us, have chosen a field for which we have intense passion.

Those work hours, as numerous and sometimes tedious as they may be, are also filled with enthusiasm, discovery, fellowship, joy, and are driven by your sense of purpose.  

My passion for music and music education only intensifies with time. I feel very fortunate that my sense of purpose was sharpened by the doctoral process, as I certainly hope yours has been.

The third bar on your sleeve represents, what I would argue, is the most important trait for thriving in your doctoral program. Creativity. While you may or may not consider yourself to be a particularly creative person, I’m confident that each of you has exhibited notable creativity in your research. You undoubtedly had failures along the way, some small – maybe some large. Which reminds me of one of my favorite research axioms, which says: “If at first you don’t succeed, try two more times so that your failure is statistically significant.” To get over those research hurdles, you had to exercise creativity. You’ve taken intellectual risks and found alternate routes around roadblocks. And, in the process, you’ve developed innovative methods and new products. I simply can’t think of anything that better embodies the creative spirit.

As you move into the next phase of your lives, you must continue to employ that creativity. If there is one thing the recent job market has taught us, it’s the value and necessity of divergent thinking- to see the chessboard differently. We can’t expect to solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. Perhaps that’s what Nietzsche meant in saying: “Our salvation lies not in knowing, but in creating.”

In his book “A Whole New Mind,” author Daniel Pink argued that creativity is now a 21st - century commodity and a core workplace requirement. Regardless of your specific field, if you expect to remain relevant, or even required, in today’s increasingly automated workforce, you’ll need to find ways to capitalize on the fundamentally human capacity of being creative.

Thankfully, that’s where the fun lies. It’s no surprise that research is continually showing links between workplaces that foster creative climates and more productive employees with higher job satisfaction. As UF graduates, I’m confident you’ll find, or create, work environments that are inspiring, energizing, and make your work so much more than trading hours for dollars. 

I’ll leave you with two brief thoughts: you’ll leave this room today as Dr. So-and-So. Use the title, and ENJOY the title. You’ve most certainly earned it. For me, the only people that have had a difficult time calling me “Dr. Birkner” have been my two daughters, but they’ll learn.

I’d love to tell you that, after today, your lives will finally slow down and get easier. But, I think you know better. You know that if you want to continue on this trajectory, you’ll need to continue to sacrifice, embrace your sense of purpose, and make a firm commitment to being creative.

Today, you’ve unlocked a door to incredible possibilities for yourselves and your careers. Your families, friends, and faculty are extremely proud of you. Congratulations, Doctors.

Campus Life

Data analysis looks at Zika’s introduction to Americas, predicts microcephaly cases

April 25, 2017
Evan Barton

Researchers at the University of Florida and several peer institutions have developed a model mapping the spread of Zika virus in the Americas and predicting that the virus arrived in Brazil in late 2013 or early 2014 before spreading throughout the region. The model also projects the number of microcephaly cases that will occur by the end of the year, with hundreds of cases in Mexico, Haiti and Colombia, and thousands of cases in Brazil due to Zika virus infection.

Their findings were published online today (April 25) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In Bahia, a region of northeast Brazil, the epidemic model estimates 2.19 percent of Zika infections during the first trimester resulted in a child born with microcephaly. By applying this rate throughout the region, the model projects that by Dec. 10, 2017 nearly 3,000 children will have been born with microcephaly in Brazil as a result of Zika virus infection. For the period between Feb. 1, 2016 and Dec. 10, 2017, the model projects 728 microcephaly cases in Haiti, 723 cases in Mexico, 504 cases in Colombia and 43 cases in Puerto Rico.

“The strength of the model comes from how much information it is incorporating from different sources,” said Natalie Dean, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ and the UF College of Medicine’s department of biostatistics.

Dean worked with Ira Longini, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine, and Diana P. Rojas, M.D., a graduate student in the department of epidemiology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine, to examine the data. Longini collaborated with Elizabeth Halloran, D.Sc., from the University of Washington and Alessandro Vespignani, Ph.D., from Northeastern University to design this study.

The epidemic model considers 12 cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Recife and Sao Paulo, to determine where Zika virus first arrived, projecting an estimated 90 percent likelihood that the virus was introduced to Brazil between August 2013 and April 2014. While it could have landed in any of these cities, Rio de Janeiro has a higher probability of being the city of introduction than any of the others considered. The researchers compared the modeling projections with phylogenetic data on Zika virus to determine that December 2013 was the most likely time of introduction.

In addition to the most likely time and location of the Zika virus’ introduction to the Americas, the article discusses how the virus spread throughout South America and the Caribbean.

“We think air travel from Brazil to other countries in South America and the Caribbean caused the virus to spread throughout the region,” Longini said.

Rojas also suggested travel has played a role in spreading the disease.

“Zika was introduced to Brazil from ZIKV-endemic areas — mostly from the Pacific Islands,” she said. “It spread into the Caribbean very quickly in islands infested by the mosquito vector. This could be due to tourism and the high mobility of people between these islands.”

Although the Zika virus can be spread between humans through sexual transmission, mosquitoes are thought to be the primary vector of human infection. Scientists consider Aedes aegypti the primary vector of the virus. Aedes albopictus is also a potential vector, covering a much larger geographical area than A. aegypti, although infectious disease experts know less about A. albopictus’ capacity to spread Zika. “Zika virus is still circulating in Latin America,” Rojas said. “The large outbreaks are over in some of countries but there is still transmission of the virus in areas with presence of the mosquito vector, so people have to take precautions when traveling to any of these areas with transmission.”

She also emphasized that, in Florida, continued surveillance is necessary to detect future transmission within the state.

Science & Wellness

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