GAINESVILLE — The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced Tuesday, January 14, that two UF College of Liberal Arts faculty have received fellowships to pursue projects in history and anthropology.

Lillian Guerra

LILLIAN GUERRA, professor in the Department of History, was awarded $60,000 from the NEH to research youth education programs during the Cuban Revolution between 1961 and 1981. AMANDA CONCHA-HOLMES, courtesy faculty in the Department of Anthropology, received $50,000 to conduct a digital ethnography of the Silver River in Florida.

Guerra said she was thrilled by the news. Her project, which will become a book entitled Patriots and Traitors in Cuba: Political Pedagogy, Rehabilitation and Vanguard Youth, 1961-1981, uses oral history and archival research to explore how the Cuban state aimed to rid the country of those lacking “revolutionary genes” by framing children as either patriots or traitors. The book will be her fifth, following previous historical works about Puerto Rico and Cuba.

“Of all of the books I have researched on Cuba, this is surely the most personal and intimate in the questions it asks and the stories it tells,” she said. “The NEH has made it possible for me to take the time to make multiple generations of Cubans’ complex and often painful history come alive.”

Amanda Concha-Holmes

Concha-Holmes’ project is titled Who belongs? Evocative Ethnography to Interpret Being, Belonging and Becoming on the Borderlands of Florida’s Silver River. She is using a digital, interactive platform featuring documentary video, photography, audio and more to reveal “multifaceted historical, cross-cultural and multispecies layers” of the Silver River.

“The funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities Mellon Fellowship for Digital Publication will allow me to fully focus on crafting this multimodal manuscript, which looks at the Silver River as a protagonist through multiple temporal and cultural perspectives,” Concha-Holmes said. “It is ultimately about being, becoming and belonging, which is relevant to all of us.”

The awards were among $30.9 million in grants distributed by the NEH to 188 humanities projects, spanning 45 states and the District of Columbia.

GAINESVILLE — KENNETH D. WALD, UF Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science and the Samuel R. “Bud” Shorstein Professor Emeritus of American Jewish Culture & Society, has won a 2019 National Jewish Book Award, the Jewish Book Council announced Wednesday.

Kenneth D. Wald

Wald’s book, The Foundations of American Jewish Liberalism (Cambridge University Press), earned the Celebrate 350 Award, given to a nonfiction book about the Jewish experience in North America. The scholarly work examines how American Jews developed a distinct culture grounded in liberal values.

“It’s a tremendous, unexpected honor to be included among the distinguished authors recognized in this year’s National Jewish Book Awards,” Wald said. “The book itself owes much to the many UF and CLAS institutions that contributed to my work — the Department of Political Science, Center for Jewish Studies, Price Library of Judaica, among others.”

The Foundations of American Jewish Liberalism

Wald’s scholarship covers politics and religion in the United States, Great Britain and Israel. His previous books include Religion and Politics in the United States, which is in its eighth edition; The Politics of Cultural Differences: Social Change and Voter Mobilization Strategies in the Post-New Deal Period; and The Politics of Gay Rights.

Within UF’s Department of Political Science, Wald served as Chair from 1989 to 1994 and Graduate Coordinator from 1987 to 1989. He retired from teaching in 2016 after 33 years in the department.

The National Jewish Book Awards were first established in 1950 by the Jewish Book Council. Wald and the other 2019 winners will be honored at a ceremony and dinner in Manhattan on March 17, 2020.

Click here to see more faculty achievements. 

Thomas S. Bianchi, the Jon L. and the Beverly A. Thompson Endowed Chair of Geological Sciences, was honored at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in December 2019 as an AGU Fellow.

This award is given to AGU members who have made exceptional scientific contributions and gained prominence in their respective fields of Earth and space sciences. Established in 1962, the fellow program recognizes no more than 0.1 percent of total membership annually.

“It is very humbling to be awarded such an honor, which I share with students, postdocs, and other collaborators, who have been critical in allowing our work to be recognized by such an esteemed group of scientists,” Bianchi said.

Bianchi joined a diverse and distinguished group of AGU Fellows selected from 12 different countries.

Bianchi was honored at the Fall 2019 AGU meeting.

“The remarkable scholarship of the AGU 2019 Fellows is helping advance our understanding of our complex planet and the planetary space around us. Their discoveries are key foundations to the knowledge that will underpin our future sustainability on this planet and beyond,” said Robin Bell, AGU President. “The rich diversity of this year’s Fellows exemplifies the cutting-edge scholarship, deep knowledge and boundless scientific curiosity that characterizes AGU global membership or more than 60,000. We are honored to welcome these 62 scientists as AGU Fellows for their critical contributions to Earth and Space Science.”

Bianchi, who also recently edited a volume in the Harte Research Institute’s series on the Gulf of Mexico — Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters, and Biota: Volume 5, Chemical Oceanography — specializes in biogeochemistry and the processing of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in coastal, oceanic, estuarine, and riverine environments. To learn more about his work and how it intersects with climate change, click here.

by Andrew Doerfler

Most textbooks are boring. Gillian Lord, UF Spanish professor and chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, is working to change that.

Gillian Lord
Spanish professor Gillian Lord

Lord and Amy Rossomondo, an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas, have developed an all-digital, low-cost Spanish language program called Contraseña (Spanish for “password”) that is bucking long-held norms for textbooks and language-learning curriculum.

Rather than simply adapting a printed textbook to a multimedia format, Lord and Rossomondo designed Contraseña from the ground up to embrace the digital age. Audio, video, text and other multimedia are seamlessly incorporated into the program’s instruction.

But its innovations go beyond the high-tech format: The curriculum also forgoes exams in favor of an emphasis on multimedia projects, in-class discussion and online interaction among students on a social network-like platform. Lord and Rossomondo believe the instruction will better resonate with students if they’re active participants rather than simply repeating back what they’ve memorized.

The new program builds on Lord’s past efforts to leverage technology to improve language instruction. Her online, open-access Spanish pronunciation program, Tal Como Suena (“How It Sounds”), launched in 2007 and has been used nationwide. To ensure its continued accessibility, she is currently updating Tal Como Suena with support from CLAS and the Office of the Provost.

Contraseña is already up and running at more than two dozen colleges and universities, with several more trying it out in the spring. UF has adopted it for online Spanish classes. Compared to more traditional classes, Contraseña students so far have had spent more time talking in class and are more confident about their language abilities while maintaining the same proficiency in assessments. Lord talked to us about how the program differs from what Spanish students are used to.

Q:  What was the goal in developing Contraseña?

A: We all know the things we’re supposed to be doing in language classes, but the textbooks we have make it difficult to actually do that. They’re so traditional and boring and straightforward. That’s why after four years of high school Spanish you’re able to say things like “the dog is in the wastebasket” and nothing else. We need to do better.

I have long thought that we need to be taking better advantage of what technology offers us. Even in 2002, we didn’t need to have a paper textbook for phonetics anymore. I was proposing to publishers to use a CD-ROM because that was cool at the time, and they were afraid students and faculty weren’t ready for it. But I kept in touch with one of the publishers, and in fall of 2011, we met at a conference. I said, “I think the world may now be ready for a digital textbook,” and he was like, “That’s funny, that’s why I wanted to meet with you.”

Contraseña aims to give Spanish students ownership over their own learning with more relevant material.

Q: What did you want to do differently?

A: We wanted to focus on multimedia, by integrating audio, video, text — everything.

From the pedagogical side, we wanted to use a “backward” design. Instead of saying, “In chapter two, we have to teach past tense because that’s what everyone does in chapter two,” you say, “What do I want the learner to get out of this chapter?” If I want the learner to be able to talk about what they did last summer, then what would they need?

Instead of taking tests or quizzes, at the end of each unit the students have a little project. They’re creating with the language in a way that’s meaningful to them so they can showcase what they learned.

Q: What do you see as the advantages of those approaches?

A: The students have a greater sense of ownership and agency over their own learning, because it’s not memorizing what we told them to memorize — it’s using what they want to use.

We can’t teach every vocabulary word ever, so we’re going to teach some basics and how to use dictionaries well. It’s more content-driven than grammar-driven, so that in turn is more motivational and engaging.

Contraseña Project
Each Contraseña unit includes a project where students showcase the material they’ve learned.

Q: How do students use the material?

A: Each unit begins with a model. For example, we have a chapter on health and wellness that starts off by showing infographics. They learn commands, like “wash your hands,” and there is a segment on mental health that details signs of depression and anxiety. At the end of the unit, the students have to create their own infographic that they could hang in their student health center.

In another unit, students start by watching a series of videos of people introducing themselves — a student in a dorm meeting his roommate, a student meeting a professor and two students on campus. They then have to do an interview with a Spanish speaker for their final project. One group made a video based off of “Reservoir Dogs.” The effort they put into it was so heartwarming. Another group made one called “Spanfeld,” based on Seinfeld.

Q: Why do you think we need to bring these concepts into the digital age?

A:  Everything else around us is digital, so there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be as well. But there are limits to that. It’s not cool to have your Spanish professor following your Facebook posts. We wanted to capitalize on the fact that students live in a digital world — but not invade their digital world.

For the project in each unit, they share it on a social network page and comment on each other’s. They actually develop a better sense of community than they do in other classes.

Q: Prior to developing Contraseña, you created an online multimedia Spanish pronunciation program called Tal Como Suena. How can technology help students master pronunciation? 

A: Imagine reading a description of a sound in a foreign language, with examples of words containing that sound, and even a drawing of what your tongue and your mouth should look like as you pronounce that sound… Now, imagine yourself listening to that sound and the words containing it, while watching a native speaker pronounce it, and interacting with a step-by-step animated diagram that shows you how your tongue, your lips and your teeth are moving and interacting in the process of making that sound. Which do you think would be easier to understand, and to imitate?

My goal with creating the Tal Como Suena modules was to provide Spanish learners with a place to learn the important aspects of Spanish pronunciation, on their own time and at their own pace, and to practice and get to feel comfortable with it. Technology makes both of those things possible.

Q: Some educators might be wary of the fact that Contraseña that doesn’t include exams. Why do you think it’s for the best?

A: We actually had to write a test bank because some people won’t adopt a program unless there are tests. But the idea is performance-based assessment. We want it to be personalized enough for the student to feel like they’re contributing something as opposed to memorizing and regurgitating.

The truth is, after two semesters of Spanish, 10 years later they’re probably not going to remember much of the detailed grammar and vocabulary words — so why not make it something that can at least resonate with their lives?

Interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Humans have two generations of teeth — baby teeth that are replaced by permanent ones — and that’s it. If you need a new tooth, a dentist will give you an implant made from a material that will likely degrade faster than a natural tooth.

But scientists are looking to sharks, which lose and regrow teeth their entire lives, to understand how we might be able to regenerate our own teeth.

New research published in Scientific Reports by GARETH FRASER, a biologist at UF, and colleagues at the University of Sheffield, UK, into human and shark teeth has found similarities in their dental stem cells that shows humans have more potential to regrow teeth than previously believed.

The team found a potential connection between shark and human teeth by examining a specialized layer of thin tissue formed in early development of the vertebrate mouth called the dental lamina.

X-Ray CT Scan of the Porbeagle Shark (Lamna nasus) head, showing the rows of regenerative teeth in the jaws. Credit: Charlie Underwood, Zerina Johanson, and Gareth Fraser; Scanned at the Image and Analysis Centre, Natural History Museum, London.

Once we develop our permanent teeth, the thin tissue of the lamina undergoes normal cell death and fragments, leaving bits and pieces of the lamina. At this stage, they’re known as dental lamina rests (DLR), which were previously thought to have low odds of growing more teeth. Fraser and team research looked at these DLRs and found they contain a number of dental stem cell markers found in vertebrates like sharks that have constant tooth regeneration throughout their lives.

The research also examined tumors that appear in the jaw, called ameloblastoma, to further understand how DLRs undergo change. Ameloblastoma are assumed to come from aberrant lamina rests. The scientists are working to understand how the trigger that causes DLRs to form these tumors could be linked to tooth development and if this could eventually lead to controlled tooth growth in humans.

To view the full study, click here.

On Nov. 14, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles will hold a free advance screening of the documentary “Cojot.” UF professor GAYLE ZACHMANN serves as a Producer and Historical consultant while y alumnus BOAZ DVIR is the Director and Producer.

Zachmann, a professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and the Center for Jewish Studies, collaborated with Dvir (’88, MA ’08, MFA ’14), to tell the story of the late Michel Cojot-Goldberg, a Holocaust survivor who sets out to kill the Nazi who imprisoned his father and ends up playing a key role in during the 1976 Entebbe hijacking crisis.

“Although the story of an individual, the life of Cojot-Goldberg spans the second half of the 20th century and speaks to a number of different histories,” Zachmann told UF News earlier this year. “From the resistance of individuals and families, hidden children, the rise of fascism and the plight of French Jews during the occupation, to those of post-war memory, justice and modern terror.”

Developed with the help of private support, the film tells the virtually unknown story of Cojot-Goldberg, who planned to kill the infamous Nazi Klaus Barbie. Known as the “Butcher of Lyon,” Barbie personally tortured French prisoners in Lyon and played a direct role in the Holocaust, sending 7,500 Jews to concentration camps.  Barbie also imprisoned Cojot-Goldberg’s father, who was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.

Cojot-Goldberg contacted Barbie in Bolivia posing as a journalist, but once seated with Barbie could not bring himself to pull the trigger. A year later, Cojot-Goldberg then played the improbable role as a translator onboard an Air France flight from Israel to France that was highjacked by terrorists and rerouted to Entebbe, Uganda.

Cojot is an exceptionally fine film concerning the trauma of Jewish identity in France during and after the Holocaust. Spanning major events from Lyon to La Paz to Entebbe, it is well-researched, wonderfully told, and deserves a wide audience.”  NORMAN J. W. GODA, Norman and Irma Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies, and Director, UF Center for Jewish Studies, said.

The screening at the Museum of Tolerance is free and open to the public and will be followed by a discussion with Dvir and Zachmann, along with special guest Olivier Cojot-Goldberg, the son of Michel Cojot-Goldberg.

To learn more about the event and to RSVP, click here.