Lawyer, Gator, Policymaker

Ask any Floridian who survived the 2004 hurricane season, and you will get an earful about the epic quartet of storms that ravaged the state. Mark Kaplan ’88 rapid-fires, without a breath: “Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne — but who’s counting?” Kaplan, who had previously worked for several years as a lawyer in different government-facing roles and leading the state’s affordable housing agency, “returned to government to help lead the permanent housing response after the four hurricanes hit Florida and damaged 700,000 homes.” The Jeb Bush administration was focused on finding permanent, affordable housing for the 16,000 families living in FEMA trailers and the many others impacted by the storms.

Kaplan served as chief of staff for Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings, then chief of staff for Governor Bush. Kaplan stayed on until 2007. “The volume and velocity of issues could feel overwhelming at times, but you have the ability to change people’s lives for the better based on programs you are driving, policy decisions you are helping to make — that was incredibly gratifying.”

Mark Kaplan returned to work at his alma mater in June.

 

“I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”

Kaplan’s career has taken him from Gainesville to Atlanta to Tallahassee to Minneapolis to Tampa, and back to Gainesville again. His roles are many, among them, clerk to a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a lawyer in a statewide law firm, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and senior vice president for public affairs at the Mosaic Company.

In June, Kaplan became the university’s new vice president for government and community relations, and he is ready for the job. “There’s a real focus on creating excellence in everything we do across the university, and that’s pretty exciting,” he says. “I want to share that excitement and engage partners in Tallahassee, Washington, and here in Gainesville to help us become a Top 5 public university.”

Kaplan says he still uses tools he learned as an undergraduate in political science professor Michael Martinez’ and Father Michael Gannon’s history classes and wants to bring the understanding of political behavior and storytelling to his new position. “I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”

The Kaplans are a Gator family — both his wife, Sherry ’89, and his daughter, Mary Summers ’20, are Gators. In fact, Summers lived in the same dorm Kaplan did and also has a major in political science (and Spanish).
“What really drew me back” he says, “is doing something that really matters — to me, my family, my state. There’s a lot of enthusiasm here right now, and I want to be a part of that.”


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Speaking Out

Aaron Klein ’18 is very persuasive — in fact, he’s the top persuasive student in Florida, and the14th most persuasive student in the U.S. Klein is a member of the UF Speech and Debate Team, and this year, he placed at multiple competitions in the American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament (AFA-NIET) held in Colorado Springs, Colo. In the extemporaneous speaking finals, he placed fifth in the nation. For this event, participants are given three topics and choose one. They have 30 minutes to prepare a speech.

Klein got his start in persuasive speaking as a freshman and got hooked. “Being the loud and opinionated person that I am, having the opportunity to write my own speeches and travel across the country to perform them was too good to pass up,” he says. Now, he’s team captain and leads fellow persuasive speakers to their own national honors. This year, at the AFA-NIET, the team finished 19th in the nation, and at the National Speech Championship, the team finished 7th in the nation.

photo of man with fierce red beard in graduation regaliaAaron Klein ’18 is loud and proud and always up for a good debate!

 

“The Speech and Debate community is extremely robust and innovative. It provides everyone who is lucky enough to find it with opportunities to learn how to use their voice, and most importantly, to use it as loudly as they want to.”

In this nationwide community, Klein finds inspiration for his education and career. “The Speech and Debate community is extremely robust and innovative,” he says. “It provides everyone who is lucky enough to find it with opportunities to learn how to use their voice, and most importantly, to use it as loudly as they want to.” Klein’s skills have earned him the significant honor of being invited to speak at the Interstate Oratorical Association, the oldest public speaking competition in the country. “William Jennings Bryan competed there,” boasts his coach, Emily Butler of the Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication.

Klein notes that a liberal arts and sciences education didn’t hurt his chances. “Every job or internship I’ve applied to or held, in several different fields, have required the ability to think and write clearly about complex subjects,” he says.
As a double major in political science and philosophy, Klein has found his stride in Liberal Arts and Sciences, with its palette of critical thinking opportunities. “No matter what career I end up pursuing,” he says, “these skills will come in handy.”


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Classical Archaeologist

“People think of archaeology as going out and digging, but that’s a small part of it,” says classics professor and chair Mary Ann Eaverly. “Once things are dug up, someone has to figure them out.”

Eaverly, who also has background in art history, has spent a lifetime figuring out the intentions of early Greek, Egyptian, and Roman sculptures, friezes, frescoes, and other artworks. “I do my digging in museums and libraries,” she says.

two students excitedly engage with Mary Ann Eaverly, who is holding an Egyptian statue
Professor Mary Ann Eaverly says that ancient sculptures reveal social and cultural roles of men and women.

 

“When the Philadelphia Eagleswon the Superbowl, the parade they had reminded me so much of the Roman triumph.”

Her main focus is early Greek free-standing statues from the sixth BCE. She is comparing them with the frieze of the Parthenon. She sees similarities in the features of both and proposes that there is a continuity between the sixth- and fifth-century art, whereas other scholars see clear distinctions among the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods of Greek art. “I’m trying to make a connection between things that are standing still and things that are moving,” she says. “I want to study them in more of an art-historical way — how the form of the statues relates to function. I’m more interested in the why of it.”
For her latest book, Tan Men/Pale Women, Eaverly examined another aspect of statues: color. “In America, anything that has to do with color is about race, but in the Greek and Egyptian world, it has to do with the separation of the spheres of activity of men and women. You want to visually mark that they are different,” she says. “Men are dark and women are light. Men have outdoor lives, and women lead indoor household centered lives.”

Growing up, Eaverly was immersed in the classics. Her great-grandfather was a classics professor at a Historically Black College that no longer exists. He had a great influence on her father who passed his love of Latin, Greek, and the study of ancient cultures on to her. “We always had books about Tutankhamun in our house,” she says.

The modern world intrigues her as much as the ancient world. She co-teaches a class called the Impact of Materials in Society, a collaborative project with the College of Engineering. “The fabulous thing about UF is that you have opportunities like this,” she says, “to connect STEM and the humanities, to link a material to cultural significance.” She teaches the ways Romans used concrete.

“I also love pro football,” she says. “I was so excited when the Philadelphia Eagles won the Superbowl. “The parade they had reminded me so much of the Roman triumph.”


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For the first time, researchers have studied the effects of water stress on forests over a 20-year period. A team of biologists from the University of Florida has conducted systemic forest inventories of trees in the eastern United States from the 1980s to the 2000s. They looked specifically at forest biomass, tree species composition, and climate variability. The researchers found that decades of changes in water deficit have had a direct effect on forest biomass, causing an influx of trees that are more tolerant to drought but slower-growing. This shift results in significant changes in forest species composition with their accompanying ecological effects and, moreover, affects the capacity of the forest biomass (the mass of living trees) for carbon sequestration. Healthy forests play a key role in global ecosystems as they contain much of the terrestrial biodiversity on the planet and act as a net sink for capturing atmospheric carbon.

 

a photo of a lush green forest with vibrant colors
a photo of a drier forest with lighter colors

The contrast in the photos is between wetter and dry soil in the same climate zone.

Heat-induced water stress, an effect of hydrological drought, is caused by rising temperatures that, in turn, cause precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow in colder regions, as well as increased evaporation and transpiration. The researchers measured moisture levels in the soil through the Palmer drought severity index to examine average water availability and loss over each season of the study period. “Although climate change has been less dramatic in the eastern U.S. compared to some other regions, such as Alaska and the southwestern U.S., we were interested to see if there were signals in forest inventory data collected by the U.S. Forest Service that might indicate climate-induced changes in eastern U.S. forests over the last few decades,” says Jeremy Lichstein, senior author and UF assistant professor of biology.

“We compared forests in the 1980s of a given age to forests of the same age in the 2000s,” says Lichstein. “In areas where the climate got wetter, our analysis showed increases in biomass over the two decades, whereas in the areas that got drier, there were decreases in biomass. When we look at the eastern U.S. as a whole, there was an overall trend towards a drier climate from the 1980s to the 2000s, and therefore the overall effect of climate over the two decades was to reduce forest biomass.”

Overall, the study shows that forest biomass and tree species composition and their combined impact on carbon storage are affected by climatic variability on a sensitive and short timeline — just a few decades. “It is premature to say whether or not the amplification effect that we documented is a widespread phenomenon,” says Lichstein. “We hope that our findings will stimulate further research into relationships between species composition, ecosystem function, and climate variability.”


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UF professor receives Guggenheim Fellowship for work in Africa.

Professor of History Nancy Rose Hunt crosses disciplinary boundaries in her work, which includes medical and cultural histories of the African continent. A visual anthropologist, Hunt fuses her creative sense with her professional background as an archivist. “It is always vital to speak to Africans in accomplishing vivid histories and ethnographies of Africa,” says Hunt. “Observation is important too. But my project privileges vernacular — African-made ­— image-based archives and African dialogues.”

Hunt played an instrumental role in preserving and securing an archive of the work of Congolese street artist Papa Mfumu’eto, whose comics and illustrations were immensely popular in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The archive, comprising hundreds of images reflecting African myth, culture, and politics, is now being catalogued at UF’s Smathers Libraries — the only collection of its kind in the world.

Hunt’s contributions to African history caught the attention of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation selection committee. In April, the foundation named Hunt a 2018 Guggenheim fellow to continue her image-based work in Kinshasa, taking the Papa Mfumu’eto archive and an archive of drawings produced by Kinshasa children in 1968 back to the Congo for reflexive dialogue on the collections. “The great thing about a Guggenheim is the utter freedom to do what you want with a generous sum of monies, whether in creative research or in making art,” says Hunt.

Recipients were selected from a group of almost 3,000 applicants in the Guggenheim Foundation’s 94th competition. The Guggenheim Fellowship honors exceptional contributions to and creativity in one’s chosen field. Only one other professor from UF, Professor Charlie Hailey from the School of Architecture, received a Guggenheim this year.

Hunt’s previous accolades include the Herskovits Book Prize for her first book, A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Work, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (1999) and numerous fellowships for archival and ethnographic research in Africa and Europe. For example, her book A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo, for which she received the Martin A. Klein Prize in 2016, integrates politics, history, and medical investigations. A Nervous State focuses on the effects of colonial rule of Congo on social, reproductive, and mental health and discusses at length women’s healing and dance therapies that formed in response.

“My first reaction [to receiving the Guggenheim] was to feel I live a blessed life filled with gratitude.”

 

A Nervous State focuses on the effects of colonial rule of the Congo on social, reproductive, and mental health and introduces into the literature the healing cults that were formed in response.

Hunt also discusses the Belgian Congo’s postwar push for development and the injustices layered in its infrastructure, examining, for example, an infertility clinic set down near a penal colony and atrocious early imperial violence. She explores the rise of dreams, songs, and expressive dance among Congolese healing from wounds left in the wake of King Leopold’s rule, challenging the typical catastrophe narrative of the Belgian Congo in favor of an ethnography of recovery from harm.

“My method is to create dialogues with different categories of Kinshasa persons today,” says Hunt. “How do they interpret and contextualize this counterpart in visual imaging? Historians have worked with oral history for generations now. But asking one’s research subjects to suggest a historical trajectory, and to comment on the significance of visual messages in a context where mental heath and madness may enter into conversations, this is new.”

For more on Hunt’s acquisition of the Mfumu’eto comic collection, see the Spring 2018 issue of Ytori magazine.


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New study shows that certain books can increase infant learning.

Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

“When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit,” says Lisa Scott, UF psychology professor, who co-authored the study published in Child Development with graduate student Arjun Iyer. Parents brought their babies to Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab twice: once at six months old and again at age nine months. While in the lab, eye-tracking and electroencephalogram, or EEG, methods were used to measure attention and learning at both ages.

In between visits, parents were asked to read with their infants at home according to a schedule that included 10 minutes of parent–infant shared book reading every day for the first two weeks, every other day for the second two weeks and then continued to decrease until infants returned at nine months. Twenty-three families were randomly assigned storybooks. One set contained individual-level names, and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling.

The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled all of the eight individuals, with names such as “Jamar,” “Boris,” and “Fiona.” The category-level books included two made-up labels (“hitchel,” “wadgen”) for all images. The infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing on and paying attention to the images, and their brain activity clearly differentiated the individual characters after book reading. This was not found in either group at six months.

Scott has been studying how the specificity of labels affects infant learning and brain development since 2006. This study is the third in a series and was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The harmless eye-tracking and EEG results are consistent with her other studies showing that name specificity improves cognition in infants.

Says Scott, “Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life.”


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UF bullying expert puts her research to work in Miami-Dade schools.

“Boys will be boys” and “sticks and stones” don’t fly with UF Professor of Psychology Dorothy Espelage. As an expert on bullying, sexual harassment, and violence in schools, Espelage knows the truth: “Not all bullies are rejected outcasts; many bully not just because they can, but also because they want to. 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 for Justice grant-funded project to create a 36-month pilot anti-violence program for school resource officers in Miami-Dade 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.

Restorative Problem Solving framework encourages dialogue among all parties rather than relying upon a juvenile-justice or delinquency system.

As a psychologist, Espelage studies bullying in the contexts of adolescent social navigation and school politics of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, 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 says. This approach 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,” says Espelage.

Moreover, 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 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 says. 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 says, does not.


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UF professor mentors high schoolers.

UF Professor of Astronomy Jian Ge wanted to give high school students a different summer camp experience: the opportunity to learn about astronomy with the help of UF’s 50-inch telescope at Mt. Lemmon Observatory in Arizona. This summer, he did just that, and in October, 14 students placed at the Siemens Foundation’s annual Competition in Math, Science & Technology.

The students formed several teams who worked with Ge’s research group over the summer. Ge, the creator of the KeckET planet-hunting and the latest planet survey tools, has been sharing his knowledge with high schools since 2010 and guided four students to Siemens over the past two years. Now, through the astronomy summer research camp, that number jumped to 14 — and all of them won. “Nationally, a total of about 400 high school students won this competition,” says Ge. “About 3 percent came from my single Science Talent Training Program.”

Ge has led budding astronomers to not only Siemens, but also top universities. “Sixteen graduated high school students are attending top-tier colleges, such as Yale, MIT, Caltech, Duke, and of course UF,” he says.

Ge mentors the campers even beyond the summer, guiding them through further research at Mt. Lemmon and elsewhere. They learn the basics of astronomical imaging and spectroscopy, especially as it applies to discovering new worlds, of which Ge has found two planets, 16 brown dwarfs, and 400 binary systems. However, Ge sets aside time from his busy schedule to keep nurturing young scientific minds. He hopes to secure a private endowment to support Science Talent Training Program fellowships for graduate students and postdocs. “I want to make this outreach program a permanent program at UF to help train young generations in science talents,” he says.

Postscript: Two of Ge’s summer scholars, Bill Zhu from California and Carrie Li from New Jersey, were named 2018 Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars based on research papers written for Ge’s group. Another, Brian Wu, in 2017 gave a TEDxJacksonville
talk on Oct. 20, 2018.

To learn how you can support the Science Talent Training Program, contact the Liberal Arts and Sciences Office of Advancement at 352-294-1971 or alumni@clas.ufl.edu.


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A Compelling Advocate

Even during his childhood, Chip Kunde ’87 had a love of politics, government, and history. “But little kids don’t think about becoming lobbyists when they grow up,” he says. “Actually, I wanted to be an architect, then I realized it required math.”

Chip Kunde urges students to be involved outside of the classroom. Joshua Mills

“The business touches government frequently, and it’s my job to make sure we have folks we can talk to when we have an issue that needs to be addressed.”

For the last 25 years, Kunde has worked in governmental relations, lobbying for the food and restaurant industry. Since April 2015, he’s been at Sysco Corporation, where he is the Vice President for Governmental Relations in Washington, D.C. “I’ve lobbied at the state level, at the national level. I’ve done work internationally,” he says. “All are different because of different processes and cultures. This work is perfect for me.”

Some of the issues Kunde negotiates include transportation, trade, tariffs, and taxes. “Many aspects of our business are regulated by the local, state, and federal government — everything from the trucks we drive, the employees we have, the buildings we operate,” he says. “The business touches government frequently, and it’s my job to make sure we have folks we can talk to when we have an issue that needs to be addressed.”

As an advocate for Sysco, it is Kunde’s responsibility to position himself as a knowledge partner to deal with ever-changing legislation. “The really neat thing about it is that there is not any one day that is exactly the same as the day before,” he says. He may spend days researching a piece of legislation, only to come to Congress and discover that the issue has been completely upended or dissolved. “There are definitely times that we may not see eye-to-eye on an issue, or you are dealing with a very emotional issue,” he says. His personal strategy for resolving conflict is “finding the way to ‘yes.’”

Maintaining balance and alacrity in policy negotiations requires Kunde to be both an apt communicator and conciliator. He credits UF with serving as a “launching pad” for his career. In addition to majoring in political science and government, he also actively participated in student government and Phi Kappa Psi.

Kunde says communication skills hold the utmost importance. “Also, get involved in organizations outside of your field,” he says. “What I do is about issues, but it’s really about relationships. Learning the skills to develop relationships and being able to engage one-on-one in groups is important to becoming a compelling advocate.”


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Global Citizen

Nicole Wang ’21 just completed her first semester at UF and is committed to the pre-med track, even though she knows it’s not going to be easy. “During our preview session, we were asked how many people wanted to be doctors, and half of the room raised their hand. It was very intimidating,” she says. “But if I am going to spend so much time doing one thing, I want it to be something I completely love. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else but being in the medical field. I am extremely passionate about it and women’s health.” She is correct in her estimation — each year, 2,000 incoming freshmen indicate that they want to be pre-med, and only 425 to 450 actually matriculate to medical school.

Born in Canada, Wang moved with her family to China when she was seven before relocating to the United States. She spends summers doing mission work in Brazil and has volunteered in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. She also regularly volunteered at Tampa General Hospital. She is fluent in Portuguese and speaks Spanish and French — and she accomplished all this before graduating from high school.

portrait of friendly young womanNicole Wang played with med kits when other girls played with dolls. Gigi Marino

“Coming to UF has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Shands is such a great teaching hospital, and the med school is competitive and amazing.”

Wang, who is half Chinese and half Brazilian, travels each summer to her mother’s home city, Porto Alegre, south of São Paulo. She says that she noticed conditions becoming worse, especially for poor children. “So, my mom and I found an orphanage to help,” she says. “We taught them hygiene and English. Knowing English is the way out of poverty for a lot of children.” When they travel, they bring suitcases filled with educational materials that they leave behind. Even after becoming a doctor, Wang intends to make philanthropy a part of her repertoire. “It has always been a part of my routine,” she says. “I can’t imagine my life without it.”

Wang has wanted to be a doctor since she was seven. She says that while most other girls her age were playing with Barbie dolls, she was playing with medical kits. “My mom would pretend to have an injury so I could fix her up,” she says.

Here in Gainesville, Wang volunteers for internal medicine at Shands Hospital. “Coming to UF has been the best decision I’ve ever made,” she says. “Shands is such a great teaching hospital, and the med school is competitive and amazing.” She also pledged Delta Zeta. “My high school graduating class had 56 people in it. UF is more like a little city than a school. Joining a sorority makes it smaller.”


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