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group of people pose in front of stage with Greek columns
Left to right, Associate Director of the Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere Sophia Accord, Executive Director of the Florida Humanities Council Steve Seibert (holding Hugh
Manatee), Associate Director of the Florida Humanities Council Patricia Putnam, Program Coordinator of the Florida Humanities Council Keith Simmons, Master Lecturer of History
Steve Noll, Professor of History Sean Adams, and Associate Professor of History Paul Ortiz. Hannah Pietrick/UF Photography

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National Institute for Justice funds psychology professor’s work to prevent bullying and sexual assault

“Boys will be boys” and “sticks and stones” don’t fly with Dorothy Espelage.
The University of Florida psychology professor and expert on bullying, sexual harassment and violence in schools knows the truth: “Not all bullies are rejected outcasts; many bully not just because they can, but also because they want to,” she said, “so, why are we not moving forward on bullying?”

For her part, Espelage is garnering national support to implement anti-bullying programs that work. Most recently, she is the principal investigator of a $1 million National Institute of Justice-funded project to implement a 36-month pilot anti-violence program for school resource officers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, in collaboration with UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning. The program incorporates contemporary research in child development, bullying and intervention techniques to offer a culturally competent, restorative approach to youth violence.

Previous approaches, such as zero-tolerance and penal policies, have not been backed up by research. Moreover, anti-bullying law has been in place in some states since 1999, yet bullying, and especially cyberbullying, have shown no signs of abating.

As a psychologist, Espelage studies bullying in the contexts of adolescent social navigation and school politics of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. She works on program development, not legislation, and she concurs with other bullying experts that zero-tolerance policies are ineffective and also disproportionately affect minorities. “Let’s focus on prevention, not reaction,” she said.

“[The approach] I publish quite a bit on is a social-emotional learning program that teaches kids effective communication,” she said.

Embracing prevention rather than reaction requires an emphasis on program development rather than lobbying, as well as an acknowledgement that bullies aren’t just “kids being kids” and that there is a verifiable social–emotional environment in which some youth behave badly — and with a purpose.

“My findings suggest that bullies are often motivated by sexist and homophobic attitudes,” she said.

With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice, Espelage conducted a six-year longitudinal study in Illinois middle and high schools that examined risk factors for bullying and discovered an intersection with sexual and dating violence. Her research shows that bullying is a predictor of sexual harassment and teen dating violence and that dismissive attitudes of sexual harassment are linked back to bullying. This correlation suggests that such behaviors are not really isolated to the schoolyard; they connect to more severe incidents of violence in the adult world. Research has shown that perpetrators of domestic violence often were bullies in grade school.

Bullies do so because they can and want to; the same is true for sexual aggressors. In light of recent news about politicians and entertainers engaging in abusive and bullying behavior, a similar apologism emerges to those heard when youth bring forward complaints.

“That’s just hormonal,” “she shouldn’t have dressed that way if she didn’t want attention,” or “it’s not that big a deal.” These attitudes start at a younger age than many adults would like to admit.

Although sexual assault is rare among middle-schoolers, sexual harassment (e.g., unwanted sexual commentary, sexual rumor spreading) stems from bullying and attitudes dismissive of harassment develop at that age, which is why Espelage’s lab has developed an intervention program for that age group. “If we do not intervene at an early age, we miss a crucial opportunity to discourage both bullying and sexual harassment,” said Espelage. “And with each step to stop bullying, we make a step towards stopping sexual harassment.”

It’s not just students who suffer.

In 2014, Espelage co-authored a paper analyzing survey data from an American Psychological Association study of more than 3,400 teachers and found that a vast majority of teachers endured harassment or bullying, especially based upon the teacher’s race, ethnicity, or gender. “That laundry list of psychological and demographic factors should make it clear that a one-size-fits-all ‘zero tolerance’ approach does not work,” said Espelage. However, teachers are often vilified in news articles about bullying, especially cases that resulted in suicide. While the bully is cast as a disturbed individual and the victim a martyr, the teacher is portrayed as a somewhat more insidious character: the uninterested or oblivious bystander who ignored pleas for help. In reality, it’s not so black and white, said Espelage.

For example, many bullies are also victims of bullying. Espelage and her colleagues in the Lastinger Center are complementing the “trauma-informed” approach already used in Miami-Dade County Public Schools to better respond to violent incidents with the “Restorative Problem Solving” framework. This approach encourages dialogue among all parties rather than relying upon a juvenile justice or delinquency system, which research has shown to disproportionately punish students in marginalized groups.

Such social-emotional learning programs are a key part of Espelage’s activities and outreach. Bullying and harassment do not occur in a vacuum, Espelage said. Bullies are not merely unhappy kids who lash out at others, nor vicious predators who are beyond help. By examining and, perhaps, disrupting the bullying environment, anti-violence programs can actually produce results. The politically motivated “bully police” legislation, she said, does not.

Moonshine the dolphin is a special cetacean. Although a chronic liver problem has confined him to human care for the rest of his life, an interdisciplinary team that includes UF professor of psychology Nicole Dorey and alumna Barbara Perez ’14 has developed an enrichment program that includes several custom-made toys. The study, published on Oct. 25, 2017, in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, examines how socialization and environment help Moonshine feel happier in his artificial environment.

Perez, then an intern at Mote Marine Laboratory, where Moonshine resides, brought him to Dorey’s attention. Moonshine is the only pantropical spotted dolphin in captivity in the U.S. Perez, Dorey, and their collaborator Lindsay Mehrkam PhD’15 at Monmouth University saw an opportunity to study both the potential for enrichment of Moonshine’s habitat and daily experience— and provide guidance for other species captive for rehabilitation or long-term care — and the mental well-being of these intelligent creatures.

Members of the clade Cetacea, which includes dolphins, whales, and porpoises, have shown ample evidence of social–emotional intelligence, as well as problem-solving skills and a capacity for communication. The methods of psychological inquiry can illuminate how and why cetaceans interact with their environment and other creatures, including humans, and respond to stimuli, or lack thereof. “Since my background is in behavior analysis — and UF has one of the best behavior analysis departments — I love that we can use behavior analytic methodology, normally used with autistic children, to improve the welfare of animals in captivity,” says Dorey. Perez, now a lab manager at UC San Diego Comparative Cognition Lab, intends to pursue graduate work in applied cognitive science for animal care.

Enrichment is hypothesized to mitigate “stereotypic” behaviors, i.e. aberrant behaviors that among captive cetaceans include rubbing themselves across the bottom of the tank and popping their jaw — a normally aggressive act that, in isolation from conspecifics, denotes boredom and irritability.

Moonshine is the only permanent resident dolphin at Mote, which rehabilitates beached and injured marine life in its Dolphin and Whale Hospital. He arrived in June 2003 for physical therapy needed for his injuries from being stranded. During his otherwise successful rehabilitation, he continued to show elevated liver enzymes. Because the cause was never determined, the National Marine Fisheries Service deemed Moonshine unreleasable and Moonshine became Mote’s resident dolphin, sharing his tank with other patients on occasion. Mote researchers, including Moonshine’s trainer and the paper’s co-author Amanda Foltz, have tracked his behavior over the years. Mote interns designed three environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) that provided Moonshine with play and tactile opportunities. This study was the first time Moonshine’s responses to the EEDs were scientifically measured.

The researchers offered the EEDs to him in conjunction with “training,” i.e. when scientists were interacting with him. They measured Moonshine’s engagement with the EED, randomly chosen for each session, and whether it made a difference if the EED was tossed into the pool or presented to him by a trainer. They then observed whether or not Moonshine then engaged in stereotypic behaviors.

For Moonshine, playing with others made him feel better than playing alone. He interacted with the EEDs more when they were enticingly given to him, and he was less likely to start rubbing himself on the bottom of the pool when he had the opportunity to play, especially if a trainer enticed him with the EED.

The researchers note that much more research is still needed to design adaptive enrichment programs for captive cetaceans. In addition to its important contributions to the body of knowledge about their socialization and play needs, this research produced an optimal enrichment program for Moonshine, making him a happier, healthier dolphin.

See full photo story on Exposure.

In April, Liberal Arts and Sciences celebrated alumni, students, faculty, and staff with our first awards ceremony, Evening of Excellence. The ceremony concluded with the presentation of the Civic Champion award given to The Honorable Bob Graham ’59, who has fought for better schools, a healthy environment, economic opportunity, racial and ethnic diversity, and Florida’s natural resources. After eight years as governor, he served 18 years as U.S. senator. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated the events of 9/11, rallied for 9/11 families, and encouraged bipartisanship in Washington. He has represented the nation and UF with distinction, honor, and integrity. At 81, Sen. Graham continues to be a tireless advocate and civil servant. Learn more about him and his UF legacy, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service — which encourages and promotes political involvement and service for all Floridians — in this issue’s cover story.

In October, UF launched a $3 billion campaign, Go Greater, with a campus-wide extravaganza. We will be working diligently over the next five years to raise funds that will benefit our students, faculty, and staff, our college, and the university. One of the major campaign initiatives for Liberal Arts and Sciences is a new program we call Beyond120, which focuses on career readiness for our undergraduates. We want all of our students to be prepared to navigate an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world economy in the 21st century. You can read about this exciting new project here.

We featured the first observation of gravitational waves in the Fall 2016 issue, and the article described the “multi-messenger” potential for combining gravitational-wave detection with telescopic imagery. In this issue, we commend the UF physicists and astronomers who contributed to the first simultaneous detection of a collision of two neutron stars using all these methods, which The Washington Post said is “sparking a new era of astronomy.”

Each issue of Ytori opens with a quote about liberal arts and sciences education. We are particularly pleased to feature Zora Neale Hurston in this issue as her papers are here at the University of Florida. Her quote reminds us that progress comes from curiosity and that we humans are driven by purpose.

Go Gators and Go Greater,


David E. Richardson
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Two UF alumni archaeologists unearth the home and legend of a freed African Muslim slave who became a financier in Georgetown at the turn of the 19th century.

By Rachel Wayne

Among the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of 19th-century oil portraits of esteemed men, one stands out. Painted by Charles Willson Peale, who also captured luminaries such as George Washington, it is an 1819 portrait of an older gentleman with a traditional Muslim kufi and a worn but triumphant gaze hinting at an unusual piece of Washington, D.C., history. The painting is of Yarrow Mamout, a financier who sat for two such portraits and owned a sizable property in the Georgetown neighborhood. His remarkable success might be unexpected, as he spent 44 years a slave.

oil painting of kindly elderly man with brown skin and kufi capPortrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), Charles Willson Peale

 

Archaeology has a way of fleshing out what written records have not. The excavations brought a physical reality to the legend of Mamout.

Despite his accomplishments as a freed African Muslim, Mamout faded from history, relegated to the two portraits and local lore. In 2004, his biographer, James H. Johnston, spotted Mamout’s second portrait, a James Alexander Simpson work at the Georgetown Public Library, and he wanted to know more about the man in the picture. Two blocks away, at 3324 Dent Place NW, a small lot is a mystery of rubble, its Reconstruction-era house crushed by a tree as Johnston was finishing his research. Although the legend of Mamout permeated the area, the link between the smiling man in the Peale portrait and the decrepit lot was unconfirmed until Johnston completed his work. The D.C. Historic Preservation Office began excavating the former site of Mamout’s home in June 2015, following several years of research by the office’s interns.

For one graduate student at UF, the excavation was an extraordinary opportunity, and in the face of persistent racial and religious tensions in America, a chance to flex archaeology’s muscles to tackle a pressing social problem. Mia Carey PhD’17 initially came to UF on a McKnight Fellowship to pursue zooarchaeology under the mentorship of Professor Susan deFrance. As she moved forward in her studies, she began volunteering with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office in 2011, with internships in 2014 and 2015. The district archaeologist, Ruth Trocolli PhD’06, invited Carey to join the dig on Dent Place. “We didn’t really know what to expect. Nobody had ever excavated a known African Muslim site in the U.S.,” says Carey, who served as a field director on the dig. Trocolli told The Washington Post that in lieu of time travel or written records, archaeology illuminates the stories of slaves’ lives.

19th century etched map of city of Washington
Georgetown, a historic neighborhood in Washington, D.C., lies adjacent to the Potomac River. 3324 Dent Place NW, marked in red, was the residence of Yarrow Mamout.

 

These stories are not well documented in history, and those of African Muslims taken as slaves even less so. Mamout was well educated, which afforded him some reprieve from harsh conditions, although he was kept in servitude for most of his adult life as a brick-maker and butler. In 1800, a few years after gaining his freedom at age 60, he purchased 3324 Dent Place NW. After his death, the house was eventually replaced by another, which sat empty until an oak crushed it in 2011, trapping artifacts of a fascinating life in the ground below. The Historic Preservation Office prevented the permanent obscuring in the face of potential development; a common role for contemporary archaeologists is to uncover secrets in the soil before new construction covers them up. This case was indeed a chance to give voice to the voiceless, as Trocolli put it.

According to Johnston’s research, it was likely that Mamout had been buried on the property; his remarks on this possibility at a development board hearing helped secure the stay on renovations. The dig commenced with mixed feelings about the potential discovery of human remains on the property, reported The Post, but none were found, likely due to the acidity of the clay-based soil. Moreover, the archaeologists found no evidence of burial.

Archaeology has a way of fleshing out what written records have not. The excavations brought a physical reality to the legend of Mamout. However, “the sometimes overemphasis on artifacts, data, and reports is what limits our ability to connect the past to the present in real and meaningful ways,” says Carey. Importantly, the excavation allowed the team to conduct public outreach that challenged the often reductive and sanitized narrative about both slaves and Muslims in American history. The researchers hosted “fence talks” with passersby during the dig and launched a Facebook page, the Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project, to share their findings and tell Mamout’s story in an innovative way.

According to the dissertation Carey wrote from her Georgetown fieldwork, the excavation was much more than digging holes. There now was an opening to “puncture the silences” created by “white privilege” in society — the “common thread through literacy tests, immigration, South Asian religious movements, the Nation of Islam, and the racialization of Islam,” she says. Excavating Mamout’s residence brought material culture into conversation with oral history and ethnography, filling in the many blanks that speckle America’s convoluted and brutal history of slavery. Although Mamout’s story was unusual, it illustrates that freed slaves did not vanish from society, and their threads of history are crucial to understanding the artifacts, both material and ideological, of race relations in the United States.

filtered photo of walkway on UF campus
Hannah Pietrick/UF Photography

Rachel Dorman ’10, MS’12 on deferred giving

What is a bequest?
A bequest is a deferred revocable gift typically given through a will or living trust.

How does a bequest differ from other gifts to the college?
Like immediate cash gifts, bequests can be made today. However, the college will not receive the funding until the donor passes.

How are bequests made?
If you know you would like to include the University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in your estate plans, there are three main ways to accomplish this within a will or living trust. You can state a set dollar amount, name a percentage or residue of your estate, or name a specific item of property (such as jewelry or real estate) in your estate plans. You can also name UF as a beneficiary on your retirement plan, bank account, brokerage account, or life insurance policy. This can easily be accomplished through a change of beneficiary form with your account administrator, without changing your will or trust.

What is the benefit of establishing a bequest?
A bequest is a wonderful way to create a lasting legacy at the University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Through estate planning, individuals often make the largest and most impactful philanthropic contribution of their lifetime. These types of gifts can truly be transformative. There can also be tax advantages for the donor and their heirs.

How can my gift best benefit UF?

A bequest might not be received by UF for many years — so there’s a delay in funding the gifted purpose. As a result, restrictions placed on the usage of your gift should be as minimal as possible, providing UF with maximum flexibility, as priorities and programs change over time. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Development and Alumni Affairs team can work with you to find gift proposals that meet your philanthropic goals.

Rachel Dorman ’10, MS’12 is associate director of development and can be reached at via email. For suggested bequest language, visit the the UF Foundation website or call UF’s Office of Gift Planning at 866-317-4143.

What is the History of the F Book?

University Archivist Peggy McBride explains the origins of a UF tradition.

“Greetings: The University of Florida swings wide its doors and welcomes into the college circle you young men who enter here as students for the first time. A hardy welcome is extended you to the ideals, traditions, and opportunities of the college world.”

These are a few of the words of UF President and mathematician A.A. Murphree in the 1925–26 Volume I of the F Book, a handbook presented to students as they registered for classes. The volume contained the constitution and laws for the student body and various university organizations, the university calendar, and a list of student officers. Also included was information about social fraternities, a list of honorary fraternities, and the words to spirit songs and yells. The editors added a letter to freshmen giving suggestions about handling money matters, finding a place to live, and registering for classes — “Registration under present conditions, dear Freshman, is an endurance test at best.”

colorful small books spread out over table
Volume II of the 1925–26 F Book (on the lower right) is the only copy left in existence. Kristen Bartlett Grace

The 1925–26 F Book was a two-volume set with Volume II being the official directory of faculty and students. It also contained ads for cafés, laundry services, boarding houses, car dealerships, flower shops, drug stores, hardware stores, newsstands, and churches. One enterprising clothier, advertising sport apparel for college men, recommended purchasing “A tie that will blaze in a hectic haze, down where the vest begins.”

Inspired by Dean of Students Robert C. Beaty, the handbook usually was published as a paperback that would fit neatly in a student’s pocket for easy access. While the 1925–26 F Book established the basic facts needed by UF students, over the years information was added about a list of traditions, which included freshmen wearing “rat caps,” Homecoming, Gator Growl, and the requirement that the entire freshman class had to attend all football games and athletic events held in Gainesville.

In the 1930s, the editors divided Volume I into four books: General Information, Student Government, Organizations, and Athletics. The “President’s Welcome” was reduced to a short paragraph stating the university was hospitable and democratic with a congenial atmosphere. Generous amounts of sports information and a fold-out campus map were included during these years.

Publication was suspended in 1960, but in 2006, the Cicerones and the Student Alumni Association resurrected the F Book to strengthen the undergraduate experience. Today, the University of Florida Alumni Association publishes the F Book as a photographic scrapbook chronicling university traditions that will never change.

“Where palm and pine are blowing, where Southern seas are flowing, shine forth thy noble Gothic walls, thy lovely vine-clad halls. ’Neath the Orange and Blue victorious, our love shall never fail. There’s no other name so glorious — all hail, Florida, hail!”

In a globalized world full of nation-states, the use of natural resources is drastically varied. Forests provide lumber for buildings hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Many cease to exist. Power structures ostensibly representing millions of people govern the use of the planet’s resources.

Who, then, is responsible for saving the trees? It takes a village — but a bigger one this time, with people from all walks of life. Among these people are academics of multiple disciplines, NGO workers, and community organizers. At the University of Florida, a village meeting center has emerged as faculty from a half dozen disciplines cross the garden walls to meet in the forest — both metaphorically and literally.

Twenty-seven professors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences serve as affiliate faculty of UF’s Tropical Conservation and Development (TCD) program. TCD emerged in the 1970s and gained momentum over the next couple of decades, with significant leadership by UF professor Marianne Schmink, who served as its co-director from 1993 to 1995 and director from 1996 to 2010. The program offers an interdisciplinary hub that extends its roots beyond the UF sphere; this broad network becomes increasingly crucial to solving the challenging problems of deforestation, damming, and loss of culture and biodiversity — much of which occurs between 23 degrees north and 23 degrees south.

“My perception is that the wicked problems of the world, the ones that have no easy solution, ultimately lead us to do this kind of thing,” says Stephen Perz, professor of sociology and author of Crossing Boundaries for Collaboration: Conservation and Development Projects in the Amazon. “The challenges of working with the ‘other’ — people in other disciplines, other countries, other kinds of organizations — I ended up learning by doing.” Trained as a demographer, Perz’ research into frontier migration ultimately led him from sociological inquiry into land use, road-building and conservation in the Amazon.

illustration of hand made to look wooden, holding sapling between fingers
These topics revolve around the worsening problem of drastic deforestation, and the human element cannot be ignored, nor confined to state-level interventions. Indeed, a familiarity with the people within the forest is crucial to this kind of work, especially as conservation scientists work towards community-oriented natural resource management. Local institutions and power dynamics of land ownership and use must be considered. Schmink, professor of Latin American Studies and affiliate professor of anthropology, studies gender politics in conservation.

“Development and conservation tend to be viewed as political and ideological issues. Often people in technical fields don’t understand how gender division of labor and different forms of knowledge and other key gender differences might affect what to them don’t seem to be related,” she says. “After 40 years in this field, I usually have to start from zero in explaining to people how gender impacts the field.” For example, many land-use decisions are made by women in forest communities around the world, so imposing state hegemony of male-oriented nations is harmful.

Even entering these vulnerable areas as a researcher has its challenges, agrees Perz. “When you’re crossing boundaries, usually those boundaries are there for [societal] reasons and then they map on inequalities. When the white male PhD from a big North American university comes down into a small country where they don’t have as many PhDs and the people speak a different language and the skin colors are different, that has to be navigated because it can come up in various different ways and can cause all kinds of misunderstandings and confusion,” he says.


On the other side of the world in Indonesia, biology professor Jack Putz studies logging and natural resource management by examining the trees themselves. His education in applied plant ecology kicks into gear when working in an area with forests that will inevitably be logged. Who better than such an expert to protect the forest despite the loss of its trees? “Outside of protected areas in landscapes from which people need to earn livings, I often find myself doing conservation with chainsaws, bulldozers, herbicides, and drip torches,” he says. Saving the trees is a family thing, he says, starting with a threatened patch of trees behind his house. “To my great embarrassment, [my mother] chained herself to a tree and dared the dozer drivers to plow her under. They didn’t and the trees stand, testimony to her determination.”

illustration of human foot with labyrinthine pattern
The family tradition continues as Putz and Claudia Romero, his research partner and wife, each tackle deforestation and forest degradation. Assistant Professor of Biology Romero focuses on mitigating the effects of climate change, bringing her dual perspectives in ecology and economics to the table. The pair’s most recent paper for the Center for International Forestry Research reviews the efficacy of methods such as Reduced-Impact Logging (RIL) and silvicultural (tree care) treatment and addresses the climate change effects of such methods. Written with their former student Ruslandi PhD’15, the paper explores the timber, carbon, and financial tradeoffs that result from RIL and other tree-growth enhancing treatments in Indonesia. Moreover, there is the question of economic effects, exemplified by the misunderstanding of RIL to mean “reduced-income logging.” Conservation science often walks a web of fine lines among saving the trees, reducing the greenhouse effect, supporting local economies, and protecting biodiversity, any of which can come at the expense of another.

While Putz works outside government-sanctioned “Protected Areas,” historically, such zones have had the unfortunate side effect of asserting state control with little parity with the locals. In light of this, many conservation efforts seek to integrate silvicultural and culturally competent measures. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature thus identifies and encourages the creation of Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). Many ICCAs are so because of a web of customs, traditions, and principles that encourage conservation. In Brazil, indigenous reserves comprise a significant portion of the country’s 145 million hectares of Amazonia.

Understanding humans, no matter their type of society or culture, as geomorphic agents better allows for tree-saving.

The new approach to conservation remembers the forest’s people, yet sheds the myth of the “noble savage” living in perfect harmony with nature. Understanding humans, no matter their type of society or culture, as geomorphic agents better allows for tree-saving. “Beginning in 1988 or ’89, we had two training courses in Brazil that were focused on an approach developed by Peter Hildebrand, UF professor emeritus, that offered solutions for small farmers and forest managers,” says Schmink. The program, PESACRE, brought professionals into collaboration with small agricultural producers in Brazil. Supported by a major USAID grant for 13 years, PESACRE addressed economic vitality and natural-resource conservation as two sides of the same coin.

whimsical painting of rolling countryside
Perz seeks to connect all these dots with intricacy to match that of the forest ecosystem. It starts with a decision, such as to build a road. “What happens when you pave a road in the Amazon? Socially, economically and ecologically? As it turns out, there is a large literature on all those topics, and they draw very different conclusions as to whether the roads are a good or a bad thing.” In the end, conservation does not necessarily equate to preservation.
For these researchers, the seeds of conservation science started with the trees. “In graduate school in the 1970s — the beginnings of the women’s movement — I was able to do some traveling as an undergraduate in Nicaragua and Mexico,” recalls Schmink. “It got me interested in Latin America, in human–nature interactions and how people adapt to their environment.”

“I grew up on the edge of an extensive wilderness area, at least extensive from the perspective of a little kid growing up in suburban New Jersey,” says Putz. “Plenty of trees to climb, underground forts to dig, squirrels to harass, and a lot of the same things I continue to do as an adult, but now I get paid for it.”

UF researcher Calistus Ngonghala uses math to understand the spread — and prevention — of disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

By Terri Peterson

For UF mathematical biology professor Calistus Ngonghala, researching the relationship between poverty and disease is more than an academic endeavor. Ngonghala grew up in rural Cameroon in central Africa in the 1980s, with friends and family living a subsistence lifestyle. He witnessed the devastating social impact infectious diseases such as HIV and malaria can inflict, recognizing that disease and poverty can reinforce one another and force a community into a poverty trap.

“If you were sick, you walked many miles or squeezed into a compact car to ride ill-kept roads to see a doctor, or suffered with the illness,” says Ngonghala. All of these options degrade an individual’s ability to support oneself, whether due to the incursion of medical expenses, or by lost work time and attendant lost wages. In turn, this degradation exacerbates the problems of poverty, creating a deeper trap from which to climb. “I knew this was the problem I wanted to solve when I left for college. It’s grown up inside me.”

Ngonghala points out that not all poverty is the same, and not all relief efforts achieve desired goals. “We can apply a patch to a poverty-stricken area. For example, we can send in food. And that might be what one community needs to survive, but another area may be in need of something else, like medical supplies. There’s no one Band-aid that works everywhere.” Also, one-time relief efforts might work for some cases, but can be problematic in other situations. For example, sending food to an area enduring persistent extreme poverty may temporarily elevate an individual’s well-being within that state of poverty, but it won’t eliminate it. Eventually, the food is eaten or the supplies are depleted, and the relief recipient is back to square one.

In order for relief efforts to be considered a “sustainable good,” they require coordination of resources and oversight. While this may sound like an enormous task, Ngonghala points to the east African country Rwanda as an example of poverty, disease, and recovery. After the brutal Rwandan genocide in 1994, the country descended into extreme poverty. Minimal resources were available, human capital was unskilled, and most of the population was undernourished and demoralized. The Rwandan government used its relief funds to strategically implement systemic overall changes, initially providing broad access to health care. Healthier people made for more efficient workers more readily able to contribute to the economy. Today, Rwanda is growing in health, education and income, with disease rates that have dropped by as much as 80 percent and a life span that has doubled.

To allow other communities or countries to experience this sort of recovery, Ngonghala has built and is testing a mathematical framework that can be modified to accommodate a wide range of environments and positively impact future policy measures. “Initially we think of the extreme examples of poverty, where many people are unhealthy and have limited access to food, water and other basic resources. But poverty is also a problem in wealthy countries, even if much of the population is generally healthy. Once the framework is ready, we plan to take this to every government that will listen.”

Seeds of Success

Russell Anderson M’17 has set a record for graduate certificates earned by one student, including four in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that he added to his master’s in sustainable development and practice. Yet, he has still found time to launch his own enterprises in sustainable gardening, including a new vertical gardening product, Annual Explosion.

young man in blue stands next to wall of foliage
Russell Anderson M’17 has worked with local businesses, including Boca Fiesta restaurant in downtown Gainesville, Fla., to implement vertical gardening. Robert Landry

What’s your interdisciplinary education experience been like?
I started in the master’s program in summer 2015 and quickly was pulled into the Tropical Conservation and Development grad certificate. Getting into the climate science side of it, I realized what I wanted to do long-term: multinational consultancy. That gave me an opportunity to look at other schools at UF. Although, it’s been 18 hours a semester. I don’t recommend people doing that and also working full time. But that time is going to pass regardless, so you should capitalize on the resources and space you have when you have it. You never know what tomorrow brings.

What do graduate certificates provide beyond a standard degree?
It wasn’t until I got those certificates that I realized how much more I needed to know to get a holistic understanding of sustainability. For some of my graduating peers, they’re having trouble finding offers because they don’t have as much of a well-rounded experience. I’m feeling confident that I can go out there and if I don’t have the skills, I can network and coordinate to make things happen. There are a lot of opportunities coming down the pipe that are now in the realm of possibility.

How did you conceive your latest project?
I am working with Natalia Pegg, a local teacher. We were discussing horticulture and vertical gardening and lots of things about current products we didn’t like — material, expense, inefficiency. We developed a design that is lightweight, ergonomic, and easily transportable. It’s really cool to be working with a school teacher and refining those connections and capitalizing on our respective skill sets to make this thing work. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Why the name Annual Explosion?
This is a modular gardening system, so it is best used with annuals, replaced on a seasonal basis. So, you’ll have your fall splash and your spring splash — an explosion of color on your fence line or handrail. We can turn any grey thumb green. I think the market’s right for it.