Florida consumer sentiment decreases in June

July 3, 2018
Mark Girson
Bureau of Economic and Business Research

Consumer sentiment among Floridians dropped 1.9 points in June to 98.3 from a revised figure of 100.2 in May, according to the latest University of Florida Consumer Survey.

The five components that make up the index declined. The last time a drop across all five components happened was in August 2016.

Perceptions of personal financial situation now compared with a year ago decreased one point from 92.9 to 91.9. It is worth noting that opinions varied by age, with respondents under age 60 reporting less-favorable perceptions than respondents 60 and older. Similarly, perceptions as to whether this is a good time to buy a major household item like an appliance decreased 2.6 points from 105.7 to 103.1 but, again, those under 60 manifested less-favorable opinions compared with those 60 and older.

“Despite the difference of opinion depending on age, these two components indicate overall that opinions regarding the current economic conditions have worsened among Floridians in June,” said Hector H. Sandoval, Director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. 

The three components representing the expectations of future economic conditions have also worsened among Floridians in June. Expectations of personal financial situation a year from now went down 1.6 points from 105.4 to 103.8. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year plummeted 3.8 points from 101.7 to 97.9, the greatest decline in this month’s reading. Additionally, expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years decreased five-tenths of a point from 95.1 to 94.6.

Consumer confidence declined across all five components. Although Floridians overall are more pessimistic, this sentiment is not shared by all Floridians. For women and respondents 60 and older, consumer confidence increased slightly, and for respondents with income under $50,000, confidence remained unchanged in June.

“The drop in June’s confidence came primarily from consumers’ expectations about the national economic conditions over the next year. This decline might come as a result of the potential impact that the new tariffs on imports and foreign retaliation might have on the economy in the short run,” Sandoval said.

Despite the decline in confidence, the economy is doing well overall. The labor market in Florida has continued to strengthen, job gains have been strong and the unemployment rate has declined one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.8 percent in May after remaining unchanged for eight months. In May, 180,200 jobs were added statewide compared with a year ago. Among all industries, professional and business services gained the most jobs, experiencing a 3 percent increase compared with a year ago, and the only industry losing jobs was information, which decreased 1.6 percent. Furthermore, since April, the labor force reached over 10.2 million workers. 

“In view of the continued positive labor market conditions in Florida, we expect consumer confidence to remain high. Looking ahead, it’s important to observe closely the perceptions of Floridians’ expectations regarding the economic conditions over the next year, as these might anticipate a change in economic trends,” Sandoval said.

Conducted June 1-29, the UF study reflects the responses of 402 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

An anti-Bat-Signal: Moths with larger hindwings and longer tails are best at deflecting bats

July 5, 2018
Natalie van Hoose & Mary-Lou Watkinson

See original article here.

Each night, dramatic aerial battles are waged above our heads, complete with barrel rolls, razor-sharp turns, sonar jamming, cloaking devices and life-or-death consequences.

But the opponents aren’t tricked-out fighter jets. They’re bats and moths, adversaries locked in a 60-million-year-old duel marked by stealth and deception.

Previous work by University of Florida and Boise State University researchers showed that some silk moths in the family Saturniidae have a built-in bat decoy: hindwings with long, elaborate “tails” that deflect sonar, creating a misleading target. As bats swoop in for the kill, they often strike these expendable tails and not the moth’s vital body core.

Now, a new study by the team, published today in Science Advances, illuminates the bat-driven evolution of these decoys across the silk moth family tree and tests four hindwing shapes in real-time dogfights between bats and moths. The verdict? The larger the hindwings and longer the tails, the better the moths’ chances of escaping bats on the hunt.

“Once we knew that the tails of silk moths deflect echoes away from their body, we were interested in whether there were optimal anti-predator shapes,” said study co-author Akito Kawahara, associate curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at UF. “One of the first things we did was go into the collections and look at specimens. There was a ton of variation in hindwing length, shape, color and twisting. We wanted to analyze these characteristics in an evolutionary framework to see what was happening.”

Kawahara and his postdoctoral researcher Chris Hamilton, one of the study’s co-lead authors, quantified hindwing shape in silk moths, mapping the evolution of this trait across a detailed family tree. Instead of gradual increases in hindwing length and complexity, they noted abrupt shifts in shape, showing that certain wing shapes might be significantly more effective at deflecting bats than others. Four classes of shapes were linked with moths’ ability to escape bat attack: two types of extra-long tails, short tails and long lobes.

These shapes have appeared multiple times in silk moths globally, and nearly identical shapes often showed up in moths that were not close relatives.

“We see moths moving toward peaks of optimal shapes with unrelated moths evolving in similar ways,” Kawahara said. “This speaks to bats’ selective pressure on their prey.”

After identifying these major hindwing shapes, the team test-drove them against the judges best qualified to rate their efficacy: real bats.

After modifying the hindwings of three types of silk moths – polyphemus moths, luna moths and African moon moths – to match these shapes, researchers in study co-author Jesse Barber’s lab at Boise State pit them against big brown bats in a flight room with high-speed cameras and ultrasonic microphones.

Silk moths might be delicately built, but stacked against bats, they are hardly sitting ducks. With wingspans of more than 5 inches, their large size puts pressure on their predators to aim well. Bats and moths also have impressive flight capabilities, said Juliette Rubin, the study’s lead author.

“Bats are incredibly acrobatic and very skilled hunters, but moths are also powerful flyers and have an incredible turn radius,” said Rubin, who completed the research as a Boise State master’s student. “They seem to be pretty well-matched adversaries.”

Unaltered polyphemus moths escaped bats only 27 percent of the time in the flight room. But enlarging their lobed hindwings to match the size of two different tribes of silk moths upped their escape rate to 56 percent.

African moon moths, which have long tails, performed much better with their tails than without. Unaltered moon moths evaded bats 73 percent of the time, but this dropped to 45 percent with shorter tails and 34 percent with none. Luna moths, another tailed species, followed a similar trend.

Bats only eat a moth’s body, not its wings, and they need to attack its core to be certain of success. Long tails are likely creating the illusion of multiple targets, confusing bats and tricking them into striking at tails, Rubin said. Because moth flight depends on their forewings, a rear attack often enables them to skirt away safely, even if they lose part of their hindwings in the process.

Rubin said a bat’s typical attack behavior can include closing its wings around a moth or extending a wing to scoop a moth into its mouth. But when trying to strike moths with longer tails, “they’d reach out for the tail ends, and the moths would escape almost every time.”

The power of these sensory illusions as evolutionary drivers is often underappreciated, she said.

“Prey might evolve in ways that exploit weaknesses in the armor of their predators’ perception,” Rubin said. “We think this is happening across different systems, not just in moths.”

Could bats figure out a way to bypass silk moths’ defense tactic? Rubin is skeptical. Even after facing the same types of hindwing shapes for months, bats did not improve their ability to discern a juicy moth body from a useless decoy.

“If these tail traits are altering or manipulating the information bats are receiving as they try to assess where the moth is and where to attack, that could be a hard strategy for bats to get around,” she said.

Science & Wellness

Physical therapy could lower need for opioids, but lack of money and time are hurdles

July 6, 2018
Mark Bishop

A UF researcher and expert on musculoskeletal pain management explains why one solution for those with chronic joint and back pain – physical therapy – is underutilized.

File 20180618 85825 3o79th.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Physical therapists Steven Hunter and Laura Hayes teach an unidentified patient lumbar stabilization exercises at the Equal Access Clinic in Gainesville, Florida. Maria Belen Farias, UF Health Photography, CC BY-SA

Physical therapists help people walk again after a stroke and recover after injury or surgery, but did you know they also prevent exposure to opioids? This is timely, given we are in a public health emergency related to an opioid crisis.

Many people addicted to opioids are first exposed through a medical prescription for pain. Opiate-based drugs provide relief for acute conditions, such as post-surgical pain.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of opioids decreases after time, requiring higher doses of the drug for the same effects and, perhaps counter-intuitively, worsening pain in some people. Many people progress from this prescription to other opiate derivatives, including heroin and fentanyl. As a result, a growing emphasis has been placed on nonpharmacological alternatives to opioids.

I am a physical therapist and I have studied non-pharmacological methods of preventing the transition from acute to chronic pain. It’s an exciting time for the field, because practice and research are showing that physical therapy could diminish the need for opioids, and thus lower the risk of addiction.

Reducing initial exposures to opioids

Part of the proposed solution to the opioid crisis is to limit new opioid exposures. Physical therapists are an important part of this process. And it is not just physical therapists who are saying this.

Mindy Miller/University of Florida Photography, CC BY-SA

A letter to the president from the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis stated, “individuals with acute or chronic pain must have access to non-opioid pain management options. Everything from physical therapy, to non-opioid medications, should be easily accessible as an alternative to opioids.” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams echoed this call for alternative treatments, including physical therapists.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued prescribing guidelines in 2016 that recommend physical therapists be considered a first-line treatment for people with chronic pain conditions.

Research supports these positions, including research papers studying opioid use for common musculoskeletal pain conditions like back, knee and neck pain.

These studies show quite convincingly that the probability of receiving a prescription for opioids is 89 percent lower for people seeing a physical therapist for pain. Seeing the physical therapist sooner, rather than later, makes this protective effect even greater.

Why don’t more people see a physical therapist?

People in pain can go directly to a physical therapist in every state. So why don’t more people to do this? The simple answer: time and money.

Steven George, the director of musculoskeletal research for the Duke Clinical Research Institute, recently wrote, “Our existing health care system is designed to treat pain through easily delivered products, like opioids, injections and surgery,” suggesting that alternatives are not as easily delivered.

Only about 10 percent of people who see a physician for back pain get referred to a physical therapist. Only 37 percent of those people actually go. The process to make an appointment can be lengthy and time-consuming, and insurance companies often slow down the process. Some HMO insurance plans require that physical therapy treatment be certified as medically necessary, or they will not pay. And, there’s another step: pre-authorization. This, too, delays the access to covered care even more. For a person in pain and in need of help, this is a deterrent. It’s much easier to ask for a pill.

Then there is the cost. Physical therapists are often classified as specialists, so co-payments may be as high as US$75 a visit. The average patient with back pain sees a physical therapist for seven visits. Even with insurance coverage, this episode of care still will cost the person over US$500 out of pocket compared to the cost of a single primary care visit and prescription. Several states, including Kentucky, have enacted laws limiting co-payment for many services. One of the recommendations from the President’s Commission was that alternatives to opioids, including physical therapy, should be adequately covered by payers. These recommendations have yet to be acted upon.

The ConversationSo what does all of this mean for people in pain? First, seeing a physical therapist is effective for many pain conditions. Second, getting to a physical therapist sooner rather than later decreases the use of opioid medication. The current health care system must change in order for people in pain to access this safe and effective non-opioid alternative for pain management.

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

Science & Wellness

How Roe v Wade changed the lives of American women

July 9, 2018
Constance Shehan

A UF sociology professor discusses how the landmark decision in 1973 has affected women’s educational and occupational opportunities over the past 45 years.

The recent announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement has ignited widespread speculation about the future of Roe v. Wade. Some analysts believe that a new appointment to the Supreme Court would mean a conservative justice, particularly one who is against abortion rights, will threaten the status of the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted women an essential degree of reproductive freedom on on Jan. 22, 1973, by supporting the right to terminate a pregnancy under specific conditions.

As a sociologist who studies women, work and families, I’ve closely examined how the landmark ruling affected women’s educational and occupational opportunities over the past 45 years.

Then and now

Let’s go back to 1970, three years before the Roe decision.

In that year, the average age at first marriage for women in the U.S. was just under 21. Twenty-five percent of women high school graduates aged 18 to 24 were enrolled in college and about 8 percent of adult women had completed four years of college.

Childbearing was still closely tied to marriage. Those who conceived before marriage were likely to marry before the birth occurred. It wasn’t yet common for married women with young children under age 6 to be employed; about 37 percent were in the labor force. Then, as now, finding satisfactory child care was a challenge for employed mothers.

By 1980, the average age at marriage had increased to 22. Thirty percent of American women aged 18 to 24 who had graduated from high school were enrolled in college, and 13.6 percent had completed a four-year college degree. Forty-five percent of married mothers with young children were in the labor force.

While these changes may not be directly attributable to Roe v. Wade, they occurred shortly after its passage – and they’ve continued unabated since then.

Today, roughly two generations after Roe v. Wade, women are postponing marriage, marrying for the first time at about age 27 on average. Seventeen percent over age 25 have never been married. Some estimates suggest that 25 percent of today’s young adults may never marry.

Moreover, the majority of college students are now women, and participation in the paid labor force has become an expected part of many women’s lives.

Control over choices

If the Roe v. Wade decision were overturned – reducing or completely eradicating women’s control over their reproductive lives – would the average age at marriage, the educational attainment level and the labor force participation of women decrease again?

These questions are also difficult to answer. But we can see the effect that teen pregnancy, for example, has on a woman’s education. Thirty percent of all teenage girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy and parenthood as key reasons. Only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school. Fewer than 2 percent finish college by age 30.

Educational achievement, in turn, affects the lifetime income of teen mothers. Two-thirds of families started by teens are poor, and nearly 1 in 4 will depend on welfare within three years of a child’s birth. Many children will not escape this cycle of poverty. Only about two-thirds of children born to teen mothers earn a high school diploma, compared to 81 percent of their peers with older parents.

The future depends in large part on efforts at the state and federal level to protect or restrict access to contraception and abortion. Ongoing opposition to the legalization of abortion has succeeded in incrementally restricting women’s access to it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that studies reproductive policies, between 2011 and mid-2016, state legislatures enacted 334 restrictions on abortion rights, roughly 30 percent of all abortion restrictions enacted since Roe v. Wade.

In 2017, Kentucky enacted a new law banning abortion at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization. Arkansas banned the use of a safe method of abortion, referred to as dilation and evacuation, which is often used in second-trimester procedures.

New battles

Of course, medical abortion isn’t the only way in which women can exert control over reproduction.

Even before 1973, American women had access to a wide range of contraceptives, including the birth control pill, which came on the market in 1960. Five years later, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that married couples could not be denied access to contraceptives. In 1972, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the court extended this right to unmarried persons.

In 2017, a record number of states acted to advance reproductive health rights in response to actions by the federal government. In 2017, 645 proactive bills were introduced in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Eighty-six of those were enacted and an additional 121 passed at least one committee in a state legislature.

An ultrasound exam room at a Planned Parenthood in Boston. AP Photo/Steven Senne

How would the lives of American women in the last decades of the 20th century and early 21st century have unfolded if the court had made a different decision in Roe v. Wade? Would women be forced into compulsory pregnancies and denied the opportunity to make life plans that prioritized educational and employment pursuits? Would motherhood and marriage be the primary or exclusive roles of women in typical childbearing ages?

With the availability of a greater range of contraception and abortion drugs other than medical procedures available today, along with a strong demand for women’s labor in the U.S. economy, it seems unlikely that women’s status will ever go back to where it was before 1973. But Americans shouldn’t forget the role that Roe v. Wade played in advancing the lives of women.

The ConversationThis story has been updated to correct the proportion of women enrolled in college in 1970 and 1980.

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

Society & Culture

Could human cancer treatments be the key to saving sea turtles from a disfiguring tumor disease?

July 12, 2018
Jessica Alice Farrell

A UF Ph.D. student of biology discusses how researchers are using genetic analysis to determine precision medicine-based treatment for turtles with a contagious disease that causes debilitating tumors.

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Soft tumors make life hard for sea turtles. Jessica Farrell, CC BY-ND

Sea turtles’ reality is very different than the fun-loving, playful way they’re depicted in popular movies such as “Finding Nemo.” Far from being carefree, sea turtles across the globe are heavily burdened by debilitating soft-tissue tumors. All seven species of sea turtle found in the Earth’s oceans are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered – and they’re all affected by these tumors. They inhibit the animals’ vision, feeding and movement. Combined with other human-caused environmental problems, the growths threaten sea turtles’ very existence.

My colleagues and I at the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory and Sea Turtle Hospital are turning to recent technological advances and novel genetic and therapeutic applications to try to untangle how this disease works. Some of our best insights are coming from using the tools of human oncology and precision medicine. Hopefully we’ll ultimately halt the disease’s global takeover and help the sea turtles afflicted in the wild.

A patient that’s gone through multiple rounds of surgery at the Whitney Sea Turtle Hospital. Jessica Farrell, CC BY-ND

Figuring out fibropapillomatosis

These sea turtle tumors are caused by a disease called fibropapillomatosis, first described by marine biologists in the Florida Keys in the 1930s. After decades of study, many questions remain about this contagious disease as it continues to spread.

Researchers have identified a turtle-specific herpes virus associated with the disease. But it seems that the virus alone is not sufficient to lead to tumor formation; it needs to be triggered by a localized environmental condition. Human-related factors such as water pollution and increased UV radiation exposure because of the depleted ozone layer may exacerbate fibropapillomatosis tumor growth, similar to how sun exposure increases the risk and severity of human skin cancers.

My colleagues and I are focusing first on better understanding how these incapacitating turtle tumors grow.

Are particular body locations more susceptible to tumor development? Body parts subject to the most prolific fibropapillomatosis tumor growth include the eyes – affecting turtles’ ability to see and survive in the wild – and the soft, vulnerable underside of the shell.

How quickly do tumors grow in different body parts? We’ve found that ocular tumors regrow significantly faster than tumors located on other parts of the turtle anatomy.

Remi preparing for his tumor removal surgery at the University of Florida’s Whitney Sea Turtle Hospital. David Duffy, CC BY-ND

How does surgical removal affect the turtle tumors? Even after multiple rounds of tumor-removal surgery using a cauterizing carbon dioxide laser, persistent tumor regrowth is a recurring problem in infected sea turtles. On average, 60 percent of rehabilitating turtle tumors regrow within 36 days. We’d expect true regrowth rates over a prolonged period in the wild, however, to be much more severe. Underlying genetic features could be part of what drives these tumors to grow back again and again.

Now that we’ve filled in some of this baseline data, we want to target the genetic factors that are responsible for accelerating tumor growth. The goal is to optimize targeted therapeutics that can be tested for effectiveness in sea turtles that end up in our hospital.

Turning to the human medicine cabinet

Fibropapillomatosis threatens marine turtle health in ways very similar to how skin cancers adversely affect human health. So why not tackle these turtle tumors with the techniques and approaches of human oncology and genetic medicine?

That’s just what my colleague David Duffy is doing by applying precision medicine-based approaches that combine an individual’s specific genes, environment and lifestyle to optimize the efficacy and therapeutic benefit of their medical care. He’s profiled fibropapillomatosis tumor tissue that’s been surgically removed by laser resection as part of rehabilitation. Then it’s possible to compare the genes that are expressed in tumor tissue to those in biopsies from non-tumor areas of the same turtle. By examining the viral genes in the herpes virus as well as the turtle genes associated with tumor growth, he’s gained vital insight into the nature and triggers of the disease.

It turned out that although reptile in nature, the tumors share their underlying genomics with human cancer types – most closely resembling the human skin cancer basal cell carcinoma. Because of these similarities, specific human anti-cancer therapies should work successfully in sea turtles.

The Turtle Hospital on Marathon Key and the University of Florida’s Sea Turtle Hospital, working closely together, have used human anti-cancer drug treatments such as fluorouracil to decrease post-surgical recurrence of eye tumors in sea turtles.

This concept is not so far-fetched when you consider that most cancer drugs for dogs, for instance, were actually first developed for people. And thanks to the field of comparative oncology, the pipeline runs both ways – insights from canine cancer patients are informing human treatments.

A large fibropapillomatosis tumor mass on a juvenile green sea turtle. Carol Duffy, CC BY-ND

This is all good news for the heavily debilitated sea turtles that end up in animal rehab hospitals. But we still have a ways to go to help afflicted animals in the wild.

With continuing research into the nature and triggers of the disease, though, we hope to shed light on why this naturally occurring disease has spiraled out of control. The more we know about fibropapillomatosis – its genetics, how it’s transmitted, how it metastasizes throughout the body, and what environmental co-factors are exacerbating its spread and severity – the more we can put the pieces of the puzzle together to devise a solution for wild sea turtle populations.

The ConversationWith genomic and environmental analyses indicating that human-induced changes are driving disease emergence in sea turtles and other wildlife species, it’s only fair that human beings share some of their disease treatments with these animals.

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

Science & Wellness

7 reasons moths are amazing

July 23, 2018
Alisson Clark
Florida Museum of Natural History, biodiversity

Science & Wellness

Six Students Named to National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program

July 24, 2018
Dana Edwards

See article here.

Campus Life

Ilaria Capua: Collaborating for a healthier future

July 25, 2018
Jonathan Griffin

After years of conducting groundbreaking influenza research and advocating for science in Italian Parliament, Ilaria Capua is using her experience to bring University of Florida scientists together to tackle complex global health concerns.

As director of the One Health Center of Excellence at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, Capua is expanding the reach of the center beyond its traditional domain by using an interdisciplinary approach targeting a broad range of emerging health concerns.

The concept of One Health emphasizes that human health is largely connected to the health of animals, plants and the environment and identifies the need for multidisciplinary approaches in solving health issues.

Traditionally, most One Health efforts around the world have focused solely on zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between animals and humans, leaving many problem areas ignored, Capua says. But at UF, the center is looking to break tradition by using the One Health approach to help address other global issues like crop disease.

“We are looking into ways to address the big challenges in front of us by using big data, by using interdisciplinarity, and by pulling together areas of excellence here at UF,” Capua said.

Ilaria Capua poses next to a microscopic image of retina cells which is part of an art exhibit sponsored by the One Health Center titled "Pop Microscopy. Bridging Art and Science towards the Future."

Capua, who is a professor in UF’s College of Public Health & Health Professions, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine, has had an unconventional career that has given her a unique perspective on health concerns and science policy.

Although initially trained in veterinary medicine at the University of Perugia in Italy, Capua established herself in virology where she found success researching avian flu.

After many years in the lab, Capua sought to impact science policy and entered the world of politics. In 2013, she was elected as a member of Italian Parliament.

While the lone scientist in her respective house of Parliament, Capua managed to make important progress in areas such as antimicrobial resistance and epidemic threats. But her political tenure was cut short after accusations were made that she was involved in avian flu virus trafficking. Capua, at one point, faced criminal charges punishable by life imprisonment.

In 2016, these charges were dropped after a review of the case found the accusations to be unfounded. Even so, the hostile environment created by the charges led Capua to depart for the US where she joined UF to direct the One Health Center of Excellence.

During her time as a political figure, Capua noticed that One Health was often either poorly understood or completely overlooked.

“I realized that nobody knew anything about the One Health approach. So, it’s not on the radar screen of the decision makers and it should be,” Capua said.

The novel health issues the center has set out to address are multifaceted, and are not restricted to the realm of zoonotic disease. To provide solutions, expertise from many disciplines outside of medicine will be critical, Capua says.

The center is studying how social media could be used to gauge consumer acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A method to accurately measure public perception of GMOs could be an invaluable tool moving forward, as genetic modification may eventually offer a solution to citrus greening, a plant disease that has devastated the citrus industry. By sparking collaboration between agricultural economists, informatics engineers, and data miners, the center has initiated studies that may provide answers and bring international attention to this problem.

Although the center is expanding its reach, zoonotic disease still remains an important focus. As part of an extensive collaboration with the Florida Department of Health, the center is helping to build an understanding of the characteristics of the Zika epidemic in Florida.                                                                         

The One Health Center is also striving to predict where the jobs of tomorrow might emerge and prepare students to one day take them on, Capua said.

In the future, it may be increasingly important for experts to apply their skills to work outside traditional job markets, Capua said. Veterinary medicine, for example, could have major impacts in areas such as the food industry and expansion in developing countries.

To train students in the One Health approach and for the future job market, the center has developed a certificate program which will kick off in 2019. Through this program, students from diverse academic backgrounds will be exposed to a variety of topics such as big data, health communications and international regulations.

The ability to anticipate health issues before they arrive is critical for healthcare research. Capua says she has put this ability to use throughout her career, most notably when she recognized the need for public sharing of influenza data between researchers.

“It’s a little bit a story of my life. I can see things way before they arrive,” Capua said.

At the One Health Center, Capua and her team will continue to identify emerging health problems and by establishing collaboration between UF researchers, the center will facilitate studies to meet these issues head-on and help lay the foundation for a healthier future.

Global Impact

Space Squid: The power of crowdfunding science

July 27, 2018
Jonathan Griffin

Space squid

Science & Wellness

Why the Democrats’ new ‘debt free’ college plan won’t really make college debt-free

July 30, 2018
Dennis A. Kramer II

A UF professor of education policy and a higher education researcher from Seton Hall University team up to take a closer look at House Democrats’ ‘debt-free’ college plan and conclude the plan fails to live up to its name.

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A new ‘debt-free’ college plan has little chance of success. ARENA Creative/www.shutterstock.com

Rising student loan debt and concerns about college affordability got considerable attention from Democrats in the 2016 presidential campaign. Those issues are bound to get renewed attention since House Democrats recently introduced the Aim Higher Act – an effort to update the Higher Education Act, the federal law that governs federal higher education programs.

The bill promises “debt-free” college to students. As scholars who focus on higher education finance and student aid, we believe the bill actually falls well short of that promise.

What ‘free’ really means

In its current form, the bill guarantees two years of tuition-free community college to students. However, the Democratic bill does not address the fact that tuition is only about one-fifth of the total cost of attending community college. Rent, food, books and transportation make up the rest of the cost of attendance and are not covered by this plan.

The “debt-free” label is problematic for other reasons. For instance, the maximum Pell Grant – US$6,095 for the 2018-2019 school year – already covers community college tuition in nearly all states. This means the neediest students likely already have access to federal grant funds to cover tuition. Although the bill would increase Pell awards by $500 each year and reduce debt somewhat for the neediest students, many needy students will still need to take out loans to attend college.

States may not cooperate

Another reason the Democrats’ “debt-free” college plan does not live up to its name is the fact that its tuition-free provision requires states to maintain their funding for public colleges in order qualify for more federal funds under the proposed bill. This approach is similar to the state-federal partnership that was part of the recent Medicaid expansion, which led 16 conservative states to decline to expand Medicaid. Many conservative-leaning states might push back against the Aim Higher Act’s tuition-free provision because it restricts states’ ability to cut higher education spending.

Slim chance of becoming law

The ConversationIt is unlikely that either the PROSPER Act or the Aim Higher Act become law in the near future given the lack of comprehensive support within the Republican Party and Democrats’ minority status in Congress. But there are a few parts of both bills that could get bipartisan support, such as simplifying the process for applying for federal financial aid, creating better data systems to help track students’ outcomes, and allowing Pell Grants to be used for shorter-term training programs. Although neither the Republican nor the Democratic bills appear likely to pass, expect both parties to use their proposals in the upcoming midterm elections.

Robert Kelchen, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, Seton Hall University and Dennis A. Kramer II, Assistant Professor of Education Policy, University of Florida

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

Society & Culture

Florida consumer sentiment rises in July

July 31, 2018
Mark Girson

Consumer sentiment among Floridians increased in July 2.1 points to 99.8 from June’s revised figure of 97.7.

After a consistent decline across all five components that make up the index in June, four increased and one decreased in July.

Floridians’ opinions about their current financial situation increased. Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago increased 2.2 points in this month’s reading from 91.2 to 93.4. Similarly, opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket household item like an appliance increased 1.9 points from 103.0 to 104.9.

While each overall component increased, changes varied across the two components for demographic groups with most showing no discernable pattern. For example, those with an income of $50,000 and over were more pessimistic regarding their personal financial situation, but this group reported the highest increase in confidence when asked about whether now is a good time to buy a major household item.  

Changes in the three components that compose future expectations were mixed. Expectations of personal financial situation a year from now went up 3.5 points from 102.9 to 106.4. Meanwhile, expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year went down three-tenths of a point from 97.4 to 97.1. Finally, expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years increased 3.5 points from 93.7 to 97.2.

“Despite the slight decline in the expectations about the national economy in the short-run, Floridians’ future expectations improved greatly in this month’s reading. Similarly, perceptions of current economic conditions improved in July. Notably, the gain in overall expectations and perceptions of the economy is shared by all Floridians, with the exception of those aged 60 and older,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.      

Economic indicators in Florida have remained largely positive. Florida’s labor market continued strengthening with monthly statewide job gains. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida had the largest net gain of private sector jobs of any state in the last quarter of 2017. In June, 170,500 jobs were added statewide compared with a year ago, an increase of 2 percent.

Among all industries, leisure and hospitality gained the most jobs, followed by construction, professional and business services, and education and health services. The unemployment rate in Florida remained unchanged at 3.8 percent in June. Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Florida’s gross domestic product increased 2.5 percentage points in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the fourth quarter of 2017, and ranked 11th in the nation when compared with a year ago.

“Despite the ups and downs experienced by the index over the last 12 months, consumer sentiment has followed a slightly upward trajectory. The average consumer sentiment in the first six months of 2018 is 2.3 points higher than the average of the last six months of 2017, and 2.7 points higher than the average of the first six months of 2017. Considering the positive economic climate in Florida, we anticipate consumer confidence to continue this upward trend in the following months, although more fluctuations are expected as a result of the uncertainty that might arise as the midterm elections approach,” Sandoval said.

Conducted July 1-26, the UF study reflects the responses of 390 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

Nancy E. Paton appointed UF’s vice president for strategic communications and marketing

July 31, 2018
Margot Winick

Nancy E. Paton, a national leader in higher education marketing and communications, has been named vice president for strategic communications and marketing at the University of Florida.

She will be responsible for leading the communication of UF’s accomplishments and goals within the university community, nationally and globally and guiding UF’s strategic initiatives to build its stature and reputation.

Named the Higher Education Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association in 2017, Paton will assume her role effective Oct. 1.

“Nancy is a strategic communications leader who brings exceptional knowledge and experience to this position,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “She understands the challenges facing higher education, has a proven track record of effective leadership and offers a refreshing new perspective on traditional and social media, as well as marketing. She will be a thoughtful and innovative addition to our leadership team.”

Her appointment concludes a national search.

“We had an excellent pool of candidates, but Nancy’s experience as an accomplished communications strategist, achievements at the University at Buffalo and unmistakable talent and energy made her the clear choice,” said Diane McFarlin, dean of the College of Journalism and Communications and the chair of the search committee that conducted the search to fill the position. “I’m confident she will advance UF’s reputational excellence while serving as an inspirational leader and colleague.”

Paton (pronounced “Payton”) will head UF’s central communications and marketing operations, overseeing marketing and branding, media relations and news, issues management and public affairs, campus outreach, creative services, video and photography services, and social and digital media.

“I feel honored to be chosen to lead the University of Florida’s strategic communications, marketing and public affairs efforts,” Paton said. “UF’s distinctive excellence in academic, research and societal engagement, combined with a bold vision to achieve even greater impact, creates an unparalleled communications opportunity to propel the institution as a statewide, national and international thought leader.

“Telling the story of this renowned public research university through its academic excellence, research advancements and societal impact – in collaboration with the Board of Trustees, academic and administrative leadership, faculty, staff and supporters – is a rare opportunity,” she said.

“I very much look forward to building relationships across the university and within the communities that UF serves to advance the university’s vision.”

The University at Buffalo, where Paton serves as the inaugural vice president for communications, is the largest research university in the State University of New York System and, like UF, a member of the Association of American Universities. There, Paton oversaw the university’s first comprehensive brand and identity strategy, co-led by a committee of more than 60 faculty, administrators, students, alumni leaders and volunteers, and elevated the university’s presence in the national and international media.

Prior to the University at Buffalo, Paton worked until 2013 as Kaiser Permanente’s chief public affairs officer for the Ohio region, where she was the executive leader for consumer and business-to-business marketing, strategic communications, brand management and governmental relations.

Also in Ohio, she developed a consulting firm after serving as University Hospitals’ chief marketing and communications officer from 2007 to 2010. Before that, she served in the top communications role of Oakwood Healthcare, in Dearborn, Michigan, from 2000 to 2007.

A nationally recognized speaker and presenter in her field, Paton earned her bachelor’s degree in mass media and communications from the University of Akron and her master of science in management degree from Purdue University.

Paton is the first to serve as UF’s vice president for strategic communications and marketing, one of two new positions created following the retirement of Jane Adams this spring.  Mark E. Kaplan was earlier named to the other position, vice president for government and community relations.

Campus Life

University of Florida smashes research awards record with $837.6 million in fiscal year 2018

July 31, 2018
Joseph Kays

The University of Florida received a record $837.6 million in research funding in fiscal year 2018, surpassing the previous record set in fiscal 2016 by $113.6 million, or nearly 16 percent.

This significant increase was largely due to increased funding from the federal government, reaching a record high of $560.6 million, a nearly 23 percent increase over last year. The university realized substantial increases in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, up 12.3 percent to $283 million. About two-thirds of the HHS funding, $188 million, came from the National Institutes of Health. The university secured increased funding from most of the federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, up 34.1 percent to $59.5 million; and the Department of Defense, up 128.3 percent to $49.2 million.

Funding from foundations and non-profits also surpassed all previous years with $128.6 million in funding. Industry provided $61 million and the state of Florida awarded $45.9 million.

Funding to the College of Medicine accounted for 42 percent of UF’s total with a record $348.9 million, up 14.5 percent over last year. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences received a record $166.2 million, a 54 percent increase over last year and 20 percent of the total; the College of Engineering was up 20 percent to a record $85.3 million, 10 percent of the total; and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, up nearly 7 percent to $39.9 million, 5 percent of the total. The total for the rest of the colleges was $197.3 million.

“These record-shattering numbers reflect the growing prestige and reputation of the University of Florida as a research powerhouse,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “Each award represents targeted funding for UF faculty to advance the boundaries of discovery and knowledge in fields ranging from health care to engineering to understanding the fundamental nature of our universe. The record amount of total funding is also testament to the significant investment the state has made in UF over the past decade, which has enabled us to attract, retain and support outstanding research faculty across the institution.”

Norton estimated that the more than 120 research faculty hired since 2014 have brought nearly $200 million in awards to the university in that period.

UF had more than 100 awards of $1 million or more in 2018. Examples of the impactful research funded this year include:

  • An $11.5 million award from the nonprofit Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI, to a team led by Dr. Nancy Mendenhall, medical director of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Mendenhall is comparing the effectiveness of traditional radiation treatment and proton therapy for prostate cancer, a leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States. The project will compare 1,500 patients treated with proton therapy with 1,500 patients treated with traditional radiation therapy at 42 treatment centers across the United States.

  • An $8.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to animal science professor Adegbola Adesogan, director of UF/IFAS’ Feed the Future Innovation Lab, to fund research aimed at tackling global hunger by helping small farmers more effectively manage livestock in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. Another component of the research in Ethiopia will focus on helping children under the age of 2 avoid chronic gut inflammation by limiting exposure to chicken droppings. An estimated 40 percent of all children under 5 in Ethiopia suffer from malnutrition and stunting that is likely related to the gut inflammation.

  • A $6 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA-E, to electrical and computer engineering Professor Alina Zare to research ways to use backscatter X-rays to more efficiently analyze switchgrass roots for carbon sequestration traits. Zare is collaborating with materials science and engineering professor Jim Baciak to adapt a backscatter X-ray technology he developed for the railroad industry to be used on farm equipment to enable high-resolution imaging of plant roots – without disrupting plants or soil.

  • A $1 million grant from the National Institute of Justice to psychology professor Dorothy Espelage to implement a pilot anti-violence program for school resource officers in Miami-Dade Public Schools. Over the next three years, the team will work with at least 140 school resource officers who will, in turn, positively impact over 133,000 students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Campus Life