The annual Evening of Excellence shines a spotlight on those who make the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences an essential part of the University of Florida. This year’s ceremony was held on April 12, 2019, at the Florida Museum of Natural History and celebrated the staff members, faculty, students, alumni and others who best exemplify the values inherent in a liberal arts and sciences education. Keep reading to learn more about all of our winners.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Partner Award: Disney Conservation Fund

The Disney Conservation Fund received the Partner Award for their long-term support of UF’s Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research to help save endangered sea turtles. Disney selected UF as one of only seven global organizations receiving these larger impact-focused “Saving Wildlife” grants. The goal is to increase awareness of threats to these species on a large scale and has provided more than $1 million in funding for the center to develop new research, community strategies and other conservation solutions to help protect  the world’s sea turtles, and to provide additional collaboration with Disney conservation staff.

“We recognize and appreciate Disney’s understanding of the urgency of not only preserving but also bringing back populations of sea turtles,” said Karen Bjorndal, Department of Biology professor and Director of the Archie Carr Center. “Those of us who have spent our lives trying to save these animals are grateful.”

Superior Staff Award: Marisa Gates

Research Administrator Marisa Gates was recognized for her outstanding work supporting the CLAS Research Office. “Whenever she serves a person through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Research Office, Marisa assures them it will be okay and that she will help them handle whatever might come along,” said Beth Eslick, Director of the CLAS Research Office.

Faculty Achievement Award: Mark Rush and Laura Guyer

Two faculty members were honored this year for their distinguished achievement in research, teaching and service. To learn more about Mark Rush, click here. To read about Laura Guyer, click here.

Volunteer of the Year: Linda Fischer Wells, Political Science ’61

Linda Fischer Wells ’61 was honored for her work as the chair of the Department of Religion’s Advisory Board.

Student Excellence Award: Emma Leone, Daniel Ally and Sujaya Rajguru

The three students recognized at this year’s event embody the spirit of a liberal arts and sciences education.

Emma Leone ’19 dual-majored in linguistics and psychology on a pre-med track. Along with receiving multiple scholarships, she volunteers at Shands Hospital and the Dance Alive National Ballet and Pofahl Studios, where she teaches dancers of all ages.

Daniel Ally ’19 majored in physics and mathematics and serves as the President of the UF chapter of the Society of Physics Students. He is known for going out of his way to help fellow students; in the spring 2019 semester, he was the main organizer behind the Women in Science Day Fair.

Sujaya Rajguru ’19 majored in history, served as a fellow in the Bob Graham Center and participated in a leadership role in the UF Band. As an intern at the Matheson History Museum, she was a researcher for an exhibit on the history of desegregation in Alachua County schools, which resulted in Rajguru publishing an article in The Gainesville Sun.

Horizon Award: Syed Balkhi, Anthropology ’11

Syed Balkhi was honored for his work supporting the Beyond120 program. At the age of 7, Balkhi started his first business in Pakistan. His entrepreneurial spirit has continued to this day, with his business OptinMonster ranking seventh in 2019’s Gator100, a list of the 100 fastest growing Gator-led companies. “We are inspired by Syed’s determination, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit as a student and beyond,” Kathryn Clark ’19 said.

Outstanding Alumna: Rhonda Holt, Computer and Information Science ’86

This award honors an alumna or alumnus who has made significant contributions to their field while exemplifying the breadth and depth of a liberal arts and sciences degree. Rhonda Holt, Vice President for Software Development and Operations at PBS, was honored this year for her long and distinguished career as a business and technology executive at a variety of organizations.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Tom Elligett, Mathematics ’75

Tom Elligett was recognized for providing both financial support and advocacy for the college. A partner at Buell & Elligett in Tampa, he is an appellate and trial lawyer who has participated in more than 500 appeals in the last 40 years. As an alumnus, he has given to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence every year since 1982, consistently supporting the greatest needs of the college.

From left, Dean David Richardson, Majorie Turnbull and David Mica.

Civic Champion: The Honorable Marjorie Turnbull, Political Science ’62

Marjorie Turnbull was honored for her dedication to serving the people of Florida since her graduation from UF. She began her political career in the Florida House of Representatives and has had a distinguished public career as a Leon County Commissioner, the Executive Director of Tallahassee Community College and a board member of many nonprofit organizations.

Lasting Legacy Award: Herb ’55 and Catherine Yardley ’56

Herb and Catherine Yardley were recognized for their decades of providing support to the college. Catherine, who passed away in 2018 and was honored posthumously at the ceremony, captured the Yardley’s commitment to education in her quote engraved in the Plaza of the Americas — “The first step to a good life is a good education. It is here for you.”

The Yardleys have invested in diverse areas across the college including the Speech and Debate Team, the Bob Graham Center, Student Affairs and outdoor spaces on campus. The Yardley Garden outside of Ustler and Farrior halls is just one example of how the Yardleys have improved the campus grounds by providing students and faculty with space for relaxation and contemplation.

“I’ve known the Yardleys for years and I am continually amazed by their generosity and vision, particularly in curating and encouraging creative and beautiful spaces on UF’s campus,” said Carter Boydstun, retired senior philanthropic advisor at UF and inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.

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The English Language Institute helps foreign students adapt to their new environment

By Barbara Drake

Selom Ametepe felt ready for the next step in her academic life. There was only one holdup.

A biologist from Lomé, Togo, a country in West Africa, Ametepe had been selected by the Institute of International Education for the 2018–19 Fulbright Junior Staff Development Program, allowing her to pursue graduate studies in the United States. But, her acceptance letter came with a catch: Her English wasn’t yet as strong as it would need to be to succeed in the program.

Many similar graduate programs and fellowships expect that international participants show a firm command of English before heading to a U.S. university. That’s where the English Language Institute (ELI) comes in.

Founded in 1954 and overseen by the Department of Linguistics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the ELI is one of the oldest intensive English programs in the United States. Each semester, it welcomes hundreds of motivated students from around the world.

While some students are with the program for only one semester or six weeks, others intent on attending a U.S. college or university can spend half a year or longer studying with the ELI’s faculty and staff of language experts.

That was the case for Ametepe. With ELI’s training, she could pursue graduate studies in molecular biology and return to her home country with the necessary tools to address critical issues like food shortages and health issues. But first, she needed to prove that she had the English skills required by her preferred master’s degree program.

Selom Ametepe enrolled in the Engligh Language Institute to strengthen her English skills. (Allison Durham)

To do so, she would have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The exam is scored on a scale of 0 to 120, and Ametepe, who was already fluent in French and Éwé, would need an 80 or better — though a high score wouldn’t necessarily guarantee her future success.

“A TOEFL score of 100 does not mean a student has any idea how to negotiate the higher education system in the U.S. or has the language skills to do so,” said ELI director MEGAN FORBES. Lack of these skills can bar an international student from finding an internship or a position in the United States.

With the ELI’s instruction, though, Ametepe would receive intensive training in a proven environment. Class sizes are small (no more than 15 students), and the ELI’s faculty teach the core skills of academic English along with how to succeed in the U.S. classroom setting, whose norms are often different from those of international universities. Students learn how to make polite requests, interrupt respectfully, debate controversial topics and understand American sarcasm — skills that native speakers often take for granted.

As a complement to their daytime studies, students can participate in the ELI’s Cultural Immersion Program (CIP) — “the first and most extensive” of any such program in the United States, according to Forbes.

CIP activities give international students opportunities to practice their English skills in social settings. Scheduled weekday activities include mixers at the Reitz Union, soccer and volleyball; weekend events feature group outings to Blue Springs, St. Augustine Beach, Disney World and other attractions in North and Central Florida.

Ametepe, meanwhile, was more concerned with studying for the test than socializing. She adjusted to the demands of practicing English 25 hours a week, plus preparing for the TOEFL and Graduate Records Examinations (GRE). Hunched over her books and laptop, Ametepe would study late into the evenings in Matherly Hall, where a quiet classroom let her focus better than she could in the busy libraries.

“I can accomplish a lot of things to help my country,” Ametepe said, “but to do that, I need credibility. With the master’s degree I am going to obtain, my voice now will be heard.”

In Togo, she had taken the TOEFL twice and missed by more than 10 points, largely because of the speaking portion. At the time, Ametepe had spoken English the way it was written in her textbooks — formally. She reminded herself, “I am learning to speak daily English, not book English.”

When it came to writing, some of her instruction at ELI conflicted with the standards she had learned in Togo. A teacher, for instance, insisted that the students state their main ideas directly: “No beating around the bush.” That went against the grain of French academic writing, which favored long, ornate phrases.

After studying nonstop for almost three months, Ametepe took the TOEFL for the third time. Her nerves were wracked. So much was riding on this.

The results devastated her: 75. Five points short. “Maybe the Fulbright Program will not continue to fund me,” she worried to herself. “I will have to go back to Togo with no master’s degree.”

For the first time, though, her score on the TOEFL essay portion went up — significantly. She resolved to hold strong and try again.

Finally, after her fourth try, Ametepe received an 81, surpassing her target of 80 and allowing her to pursue her next degree at the University of Arkansas.

Ametepe plans to research how to maintain food safely and convert food waste into fertilizer — both useful for issues her country faces, as Togo produces abundant crops only to see much of it spoil quickly.

“I can accomplish a lot of things to help my country,” Ametepe said, “but to do that, I need credibility. With the master’s degree I am going to obtain, my voice now will be heard.”

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UF linguist studies why we bicker with those closest to us

By Andrew Doerfler

At a typical Thanksgiving dinner, you can expect to find a few hallmarks: A golden brown roast turkey, globs of cranberry sauce and, of course, plenty of squabbling among family members.

Professor of Linguistics DIANA BOXER has put those holiday quarrels to good use in a new study focused on bickering. To collect data for the paper, students in her sociolinguistics course received an unusual assignment: Before they set off for Thanksgiving break in 2016, Boxer instructed them to take notes when they noticed anyone bickering — and when they participated in bickering themselves.

Bickering, by the Numbers

After repeating the assignment over the following semester’s spring break, Boxer ended up with 100 transcripts that detailed roommates spatting about unwashed dishes, siblings at odds over directions while driving, parents chiding their children for laziness and much more.

Bickering is usually defined as small, petty quarreling over trivial matters, but Boxer wanted to understand these arguments on a deeper level. The recorded exchanges offer a window into how these disputes crop up and play out between family members, romantic partners and close friends.

The subject of bickering is well within Boxer’s area of expertise: She often studies negative speech behaviors, previously taking on nagging, complaining, commiserating and boasting. By identifying the attributes that define each of these behaviors, she hopes to help people recognize them and head them off in their own lives.

“We can’t control much about what’s going on in the world around us,” she said. “But we can control what’s going on in our immediate environment by not participating in negative speech behaviors.”

Bickering, while usually short-lived and not very serious in the short-term, can end up eroding relationships when it accumulates.

“Over time, bickering can make people feel like a family member is a negative person who’s always picking on them,” Boxer said. “If we build more harmonious relationships we can be happier people.”

The Dance of Negotiation

In addition to analyzing her students’ field notes from their breaks, Boxer conducted a series of open-ended interviews with couples, pairs of coworkers and other subjects about their experiences with bickering. The aim of both parts of the study was to find what makes bickering distinct from similarly negative behaviors like complaining and arguing.

The resulting article was published in a special issue of the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict, co-edited by Boxer, that focused specifically on conflict in close personal relationships. In the paper, Boxer determines that bickering relies on “close social distance” — the participants need to know each other well enough that they abandon the niceties that hold back snide remarks.

“You don’t usually bicker with someone you don’t know very well because you’re trying to build solidarity,” she said. “But with family members you don’t bother to do that dance of negotiation, that back and forth to establish a relationship. I’m advocating that we should.”

The study, which Boxer co-authored with graduate student JOSEPH RADICE, also identified common subjects that people bicker over (disputes over “household concerns,” such as cleaning the kitchen, made up over half of the examples), which relationships are most prone to bickering (perhaps unsurprisingly, romantic partners dominated at 38 percent), and the speech behaviors involved in bickering (accusations abounded, initiating 30 percent of the examples).

Boxer found that bickering has no benefits, as opposed to complaining, which can build solidarity among people in shared circumstances. People use bickering to air out “minor disagreements about relatively trivial topics,” the study concludes, but, unlike arguing, it “rarely escalates into verbal or physical violence.”

Conflict Begins at Home

So why study a type of conflict that is, by its very definition, trivial? While bickering might be insignificant on its own, minor conflicts in our close personal relationships set patterns for larger disputes throughout our lives.

“Conflict begins at home,” Boxer said. “If we are learning to be conflictive people with our families, that can translate into other spheres of life.”

Increasingly, she said, major conflicts with wide-ranging consequences — wars between nations, urgent political clashes or societal tensions — take precedence in research over studies about more intimate conflicts. Boxer thinks we shouldn’t overlook the small stuff.

“Family conflict has always interested me, and very little has been done about it,” she said.

The lack of such work motivated her to propose the special issue of the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict, which featured several articles about family conflict.

Not being a psychologist, Boxer is hesitant to give others advice about how to avoid bickering — but she hopes her findings offer researchers in other disciplines a starting point to build upon. She has already found the research useful in her own life. “With everything I study,” she said, “I learn what I shouldn’t do.”

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The 2020 College Teaching/Advising Awards honor the exceptional teachers and advisors in each college for the difference they make in students’ lives. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is proud to announce this year’s recipients.


Teaching Awards

Terry Harpold, English
Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, African American Studies
Stephen Eikenberry, Astronomy
Brian Cahill, Psychology
Jennifer Wooten, Spanish & Portuguese

Advising Awards

Professional Advising:

Nigel Richardson, Academic Advising

Faculty Mentoring/Advising:

Teresa Mutahi, Biology
Alyssa Zucker, Center for Gender, Sexualities, & Women’s Studies

Congratulations to all of the honorees. The University-wide 2020 Teacher/Adviser of the Year Awards will be announced later in the spring semester.

By Peyton McElaney

UF professor RICHARD YOST was inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame on September 20, 2019, for his outstanding achievements in mass spectrometry and analytical chemistry. Yost is head of the Analytical Division of the Department of Chemistry at UF as well as the director of the Southeast Center for Integrated Metabolomics.

Yost was recognized primarily for his most prominent invention: the triple quadrupole mass spectrometer.

By measuring the weight of molecules, the tool provides crucial information used in research settings, medical procedures and more. It has been employed in everything from environmental research to Olympic drug testing. Medical applications, including testing for diseases in newborns, have been instrumental in saving lives around the world.

A quadrupole itself consists of four metal poles arranged in a square. As the name suggests, the triple quadrupole mass spectrometer comprises three quadrupoles linked together. After voltages are applied, creating an electric field, ions move through the center of the arrangement toward the device. This is like a filter, allowing the parts of the molecule to be separated and analyzed.

The triple quadrupole mass spectrometer was officially invented in 1978, but work began several years prior. Yost, a graduate student at the time, worked with a professor at Michigan State University, Christie Enke, to create the device.

Yost’s primary goal when joining the project was to streamline processes that were previously done manually and required painstaking precision. “At this time, mass spectrometers were large, clunky instruments that were not computerized, and were typically not used for analytical chemistry,” he said. “But the quadrupole mass filter offered solutions to these problems.”

“It is a great honor to be recognized alongside these other great inventors. And it’s a remarkable opportunity for celebrating the tools that advance science.” — Richard Yost

After their proposal for the project was rejected by the National Science Foundation, Yost and Enke needed to find a new source of funding.

“Fortunately, the Office of Naval Research funded the grant,” Yost said, “and I bought a couple thousand pounds of stainless steel and electronics and started building. It’s become the world’s most common mass spectrometer. Not bad for an instrument that ‘wouldn’t work.’”

The instrument was promptly put on the market and is now sold around the world, with an annual yield of over $1 billion. In the decades since its invention, it has remained an important part of the research process in multiple fields.

Today, Yost is recognized as a world leader in analytical chemistry and a pioneer in the field of mass spectrometry. With 13 U.S. patents under his belt, Yost continues to push the boundaries for what is possible in the field of chemistry.

“It is a great honor to be recognized alongside these other great inventors,” Yost said, “And it’s a remarkable opportunity for celebrating the tools that advance science.”

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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.