This geographer does it all.

Nick Dowhaniuk PhD’21 has a shaded illustration of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes in East Africa, tattooed on his forearm. “Ever since I went to Africa, I fell in love with it,” he says. He once lived at the base of the mountains and got the tattoo to remind himself of his second home even while stuck at a computer in an office an ocean away, he says.

“One thing I love about photography is I can give people a global sense, break down some misconceptions about sub-Saharan Africa, and tell stories that aren’t as easily told with just words.”

 

young man beams as he hangs from a round structure with a sign reading "Uganda" and "Equator"
Nick Dowhaniuk’s dissertation research is on Ugandans’ access to healthcare.

 

Pursuing both a PhD in geography and a Master of Health Science degree at UF means that Dowhaniuk indeed does quite a bit of office work, but he is no stranger to adventure. A National Geographic Explorer, Dowhaniuk studies the sociocultural and spatial effects of oil development in Uganda, as well as conservation issues there and in South Africa. His dissertation research on Ugandans’ access to healthcare serves his career goal of founding an NGO devoted to community-based health intervention.

“Having a statistics background has really helped me to work on a bunch of different projects,” he explains. His passion for a diversity of projects centers on his deep love for Africa, and “a big school like UF just fit my crazy interests going everywhere,” he says with a laugh.

He began with a BA in geography at the University of New Hampshire, adding a minor in intercultural communication for good measure, then continued at UNH for a master’s in environmental conservation and a graduate certificate in statistics. There, he met his adviser and mentor Joel Hartter ’07, who introduced him to both his Uganda work and the NatGeo Explorer program. Dowhaniuk says. “It wasn’t until I got involved on the Uganda project that I saw what I wanted to do. When I find something interesting, I gravitate toward it and see what happens.”

Recently, Dowhaniuk participated in NatGeo’s “Sciencetelling Bootcamp,” a weeklong intensive program designed to help researchers engage the public with their findings. As a self-taught photographer, Dowhaniuk embraced the opportunity, and he recently joined documentary filmmaker Dan McCabe on a hike through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, studying the fallout of the 2002 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in the context of civil strife. “One thing I love about photography is I can give people a global sense, break down some misconceptions about sub-Saharan Africa, and tell stories that aren’t as easily told with just words,” he says.

 


To support the people, program, or research featured in this story, please visit

Zoland Geography Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

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.

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.

Each spring, politically engaged students from Florida’s colleges and universities gather at the Future of Florida Summit to solve pressing issues facing the state. Sponsored by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, the summit aims to establish a tradition of statewide intercollegiate political activism, inspire students to champion solutions to difficult challenges, and promote the free and open exchange of ideas.

In its fourth year, the summit brought together more than 125 students, representing 25 of Florida’s higher education institutions, to discuss the approaching Florida Constitution Revision Commission and learn more about the role, scope, and direction of state government.

Twelve groups of students worked with state policy experts and leaders including former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Graham, former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Florida Supreme Court Justice James Perry, and UF Law Dean Emeritus Jon Mills to discuss possible changes to the constitution. Participants were then tasked with drafting proposed amendments and presenting their recommendations to a panel of six judges. At the conclusion of the summit, the following three proposals were sent to the commission for consideration:

 

  • Increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75;
  • Eliminate the write-in loophole in elections; and
  • Change elected constitutional officer positions in non-charter counties to nonpartisan.

 

The commission held a series of public hearings across the state, and student representatives from the summit publicly presented the proposals to members of the commission in Orlando, Tallahassee, and Gainesville.

While it remains unclear if the proposals submitted by the students will be placed on the ballot in 2018, participants left with a more thorough understanding of the revision process, the state’s biggest challenges and the opportunity to have a deliberative voice in democracy. Though a relatively young program, Future of Florida Summit has become a hallmark program for the Bob Graham Center and a premier nonpartisan gathering for students from around the state.

Steeped in grassroots advocacy, this triple major is Beltway bound.

By Gigi Marino

Chris Bell ’17 majors in political science. And history. And Spanish. And has a certificate in public affairs. If he could figure out how to warp time and add a fourth major, he would. “I was going to study political science as a default,” he says. “But I studied abroad in Spain and loved Spanish just as much as history. In fact, I loved them so much I didn’t want to relegate any of my majors to minors. I’d take a lot more classes if I had the money and resources. There’s just so much to learn, and UF offers so much.”

Having taken such a diversity of courses, Bell is reluctant to admit that any one towers about the rest, but he says the History of the Holocaust taught by Professor Norman Goda was a favorite. “The class was very in-depth. We learned what it was like to live in the Nazi state as a German and as a Jew. Learning about an event of such horror, from the mechanics of the war to how Germans live with the legacy of their history, was both humanizing and personalizing.”

“Much of what I’ve been involved in on campus has been community building. I find it very rewarding to make people feel more comfortable, more themselves at UF.”

During his time at UF, Bell was secretary for the Student Honors Organization, a member of the Honors Program’s Student Advisory Board, assistant director of Chomp the Vote, campus ambassador for the Peace Corps, team leader for the Greater Gator Conference, member of UF Model UN, secretary for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Council, and director of programs for the Campus Diplomats, which is his main involvement.

Campus Diplomats, Bell explains, is a student volunteer organization whose main purpose is to make new students find their place on a campus of 53,000. “We represent the Dean of Students office and their outreach programs. I organize programs for different populations on campus, out-of-state students, Innovation Academy students, international students,” he says.

“Much of what I’ve been involved in on campus has been community building. I find it very rewarding to make people feel more comfortable at UF.”

A native Floridian from Tallahassee, Bell plans to relocate to Washington, D.C., after he graduates in May. He’s interned in the nation’s capital for three summers. This past year, he worked for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The previous summer, he worked for a law/lobbying firm. He says he prefers being more grounded in a grassroots advocacy organization. He first served as a legislative intern in the office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. “I want to work in the legislative policy arena, basically congressional affairs,” he says. “It’s really fulfilling to work in the nonprofit area. I want to make a difference in D.C.”

Aside from the abundance of governmental and non-governmental organizations in D.C., Bell is drawn to the restaurants (“a Michelin-star city”), festivals, museums, music, and international culture. “It’s very much a young professional city, an epicenter for all different walks of life, and there are a lot of Gators there.” (There are, in fact, 10,800 Liberal Arts and Sciences Gators in the D.C. area.)

Though only 22, Bell already knows his passion is for human rights and civil rights and that he wants to live a life of service. “It’s what keeps me going,” he says.

On April 21, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences launched an awards program to recognize the achievements and dedication of alumni, faculty, students, and staff in Emerson Alumni Hall.

By Gigi Marino
Photography by Hannah Pietrick

Company or Nonprofit Partner Award: Florida Humanities Council

The council has been promoting Florida culture since 1973 and has hosted a number of UF humanities faculty members for lectures and workshops across the state. Additionally, Steve Seibert, the council’s director, co-directs UF’s program Humanities and the Sunshine State for educators and high school students.

Superior Staff Award: Ikeade Akinyemi

As the administrative and financial coordinator for the Center for African Studies, Ikeade Akinyemi assists faculty members daily. The center’s director, Brenda Chalfin, says, “It is always a pleasure to work with Ike because I can trust her 110 percent to give me good advice, insight, and a sense of all the options and constraints of a problem.”

Volunteer of the Year Award: Gene Inman PhD’82

As the chair of the Chemistry Leadership Board, Gene Inman was the first board member to contribute to the new chemistry building, Joseph Hernandez Hall. He worked for Eli Lilly for 30 years, during which time he advocated for UF Liberal Arts and Sciences and hired a number of newly-minted PhDs to work at Lilly.

Student Excellence Award: Mar Angel Dominguez ’18, Sarah Pattison ’17, Caroline Nickerson ’17

A biology major, Mar Dominguez volunteers at Shands, the Mobile Outreach Clinic, the Center for Independent Living, and Gator Advance. Sarah Pattison doubled-majored in political science and Latin American Studies, studied in Brazil, and is working at Capital Partners for Education. Caroline Nickerson double majored in Chinese and history, volunteered at the Bob Graham Center, and is an editorial assistant for the UF Department of Psychiatry.

Faculty/Advisor Achievement Award: Professor Joann Mossa and Professor William Logan

Professor Joann Mossa recently finished a long tenure as undergraduate coordinator in the Department of Geography. According to Dean Joe Spillane, “With her help, the department has been a model of curricular innovation, adding a new track in medical geography, adapting the program to be part of the Innovation Academy, and creating an online version of the major within the UF Online program.” Professor of English William Logan was introduced at the ceremony by his advisee Zach Montague ’17, who said, “He recommended I take classes for professors who would inspire me rather than for subjects that interested me, advice I now pass on to my friends.”

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

Horizon Award: Mike Dalewitz ’00

A 2015 Outstanding Young Alumni Award winner, Mike Dalewitz is an attorney, entrepreneur, and founder of Inspired Review, a consistently top-rated legal document service. He supports UF’s Mock Trial Team and recently has started offering seminars on leadership and excellence.

two gentleman flank beaming woman with glass award
Dean Dave Richardson, Joan Forrest ’77, and AVP of Development and Alumni Affairs Ryan Marsh Hannah Pietrick/UF Photography

Outstanding Alumni Award: Joan Forrest ’77

The president and CEO of the Dawson Academy, a highly regarded post-graduate institute for dentists, Joan Forrest is a long-time donor to Liberal Arts and Sciences, member of the Dean’s Circle, and chair of the Dean’s Leadership Council and Bob Graham Center Council of Advisors.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Carter ’78 and Sherry Boydstun ’78, MA’80

Carter Boydstun recently retired from the UF Foundation as a fundraiser and continually advocated for Liberal Arts and Sciences. Both he and his wife, Sherry, who dedicated her career to helping special-needs students, have engaged in a lifetime of philanthropy, giving generously to UF for 33 years.

two distinguished people admire globe-shaped award while MC looks on
David ’60 and The Honorable Nan Rich ’61. Hannah Pietrick/UF Photography

Liberal Arts and Sciences Champion Award: The Honorable Nan ’61 and David Rich ’60

Nan Rich, a Broward County Commissioner and also a former Florida state senator, was the first woman to serve as the Florida Senate Democratic leader. She and her husband, David, who was the president of his fraternity Tau Espilon Phi and graduated with a business degree from Florida, were influential in establishing Holocaust Studies at UF and have given generously to the Center for Jewish Studies.

The Lasting Legacy Award: Dr. Howard ’65 and Brenda Sheridan ’65

Dr. Howard Sheridan graduated with a degree in chemistry, and his wife, Brenda, in journalism. Dr. Sheridan had a long career in interventional and diagnostic radiology. The Sheridans donated $1 million to the auditorium in Joseph Hernandez Hall, which includes a stunning gallery of Dr. Sheridan’s award-winning photography.

Civic Champion Award: The Honorable Bob Graham ’59

Bob Graham served as governor of and senator for Florida. He is a tireless advocate for the state of Florida and all of its people. Sen. Graham leaves a lasting legacy at the University of Florida in the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, which advances advocacy and civic duty. He also is the subject of the cover story for this issue of Ytori.

Skygazers

UF physicists and astrophysicists are making waves.

By Rachel Wayne

artwork of glowing blue donut-shape emitting giant white light beams
Computer rendering of two neutron stars colliding and producing a burst of gamma radiation. NASA/SkyWorks Digital

UF’s Departments of Physics and Astronomy are indeed working on a cosmic scale. The past two years have been remarkable times of international collaboration and interdisciplinary innovation. On Sept. 14, 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) heard its first “chirp” of gravitational waves from colliding black holes. The discovery, confirmed and announced six months later, was enabled by the UF LIGO team’s detection algorithm and the “input optics” for the interferometer. LIGO, currently in its “Advanced LIGO” stage, has had heavy involvement from UF since its inception two decades ago. Now, its demonstration of the viability of gravitational-wave astronomy to learn about the universe has launched a new era of “multi-messenger” astrophysics. Recently, on Aug. 14 and 17, LIGO and its European counterpart, Virgo, detected another chirp from a black hole merger and one from a kilonova — a neutron-star merger. The latter created a cosmic smorgasbord of signals that were picked up by telescopes and interferometers around the world, as well as satellites. UF Astronomy helped confirm the discovery through its FLAMINGOS2 infrared spectrograph.

Although these incredible observations were of events that occurred millions of years ago, UF Astronomy also went out in force to watch a contemporary cosmic event: 2017’s total solar eclipse, which occurred Aug. 21, and was the first eclipse visible across most of the contiguous U.S. in almost 100 years. Francisco Reyes, director of the UF Teaching Observatory, was part of a team stationed at 28 points along the path of totality to measure how atmospheric deionization due to the eclipse’s obscuration affects the galactic radio background. On the UF campus, which unfortunately was not in the path of totality, about 3,000 people gathered at the Teaching Observatory to witness the eclipse. Professors in religion, zoology, and psychology discussed the eclipse as a point of inquiry in their respective fields. People paused their daily business to share eclipse glasses on Turlington Plaza.


Enhancing the Undergraduate Experience

New program aims to take undergraduate career preparedness to the next level.

By Gigi Marino

The term “experiential education” is bandied around higher education quite a bit these days and begs the question, “Isn’t all education experiential?” Yes, of course … and no. A new program launched this fall, Beyond120, seeks to expand what experiential education means in the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As the name implies, the idea behind Beyond120 is to exceed the requirement of 120 credits for a baccalaureate degree — not literally, but in a larger sense, making learning experiences outside of the classroom an integral part of the overall undergraduate experience.

Originally conceived by Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Dave Richardson and Academic Advising Dean Joe Spillane, the program focuses on four major areas: internships, international exchange programs, career readiness and professional development, and alumni mentoring.

“Alumni participation will be critical to the program’s success,” says Richardson, “not just for the obvious networking, mentoring, and internship opportunities, but also for helping to build a robust program for years to come. Building and funding Beyond120 is one of our main campaign goals over the next five years.”

Although the program just launched at the beginning of the Fall semester, nine alumni businesses already have partnered to provide undergraduate internships, such as Infinite Energy in Gainesville started by DARIN COOK ’87.

Through structured classes and seminars, Beyond120 will offer opportunities for students to fill in gaps including speaking, writing, numerical literacy, and technical literacy. “It’s very important to us that our students leave UF knowing how to adapt quickly and nimbly to changing technologies,” says Richardson. Encouraging students to be involved with campus organizations and volunteer for off-campus nonprofits also is an aspect of the program. “We want to provide as much preparation as we can for our students to enter meaningful careers,” says Spillane.

Liberal Arts and Sciences has international exchange programs with five universities in the United Kingdom and Australia. Through the exchange program, students pay only what their UF tuition would normally be with all financial aid, fellowships and scholarships being applicable. Associate Dean Brian Harfe, who coordinates the exchange program, says, “We specifically chose world-class universities in English-speaking countries because we wanted to provide exchange opportunities for all our majors, including science majors who have traditionally had limited options to go abroad. During their time abroad, students are exposed to divergent viewpoints, experience a different culture, and make lifelong friends. The experience is life-changing for the students that go on these exchanges.”

Though the program just launched this fall, Spillane says that students are enthusiastic. “The curricular pieces of the program are under development, and will be handled by an expanded advising office. Some early pieces, like a yearlong Sophomore Leadership Seminar, have already brought Liberal Arts and Sciences alumni together with undergraduates eager to learn from their experiences. Watching students and alumni interact in the seminar setting has been an eye-opener,” says Spillane, “and has encouraged as to keep mentoring close to the heart of the journey Beyond120.”

“Ultimately, we want Beyond120 to encompass more than the idea of experiential education,” says Richardson, “but instead help students combine self-discovery, broadening of career option knowledge, and true professional development in a time that demands more knowledge of the world after graduation than ever.”

Learn more about Beyond120.

UF zoologists discover a mysterious disappearance of seabirds on a Florida key.

Contact: Mark Sandfoss
mrsandfo@ufl.edu
513-314-4125
Harvey Lillywhite
hblill@ufl.edu

Mysteriously vanished waterbirds. Cannibalistic snakes. An island with no freshwater except for rainfall. It may sound like a Crichton novel or SyFy original movie, but it’s the reality of Seahorse Key, part of the Gulf Coast Cedar Keys that University of Florida biologists have been researching since the 1930s, when the renowned late zoologist Archie Carr first began studying the unusually large cottonmouth population there.

Cottonmouths are the world’s only semi-aquatic viper and also one of the few snakes that eat carrion. Unlike many other Florida snakes that eagerly consume bird eggs and hatchlings, cottonmouths enjoy a more pescatarian diet, which made them a great neighbor for the birds that nested on the keys. Birds are notoriously messy eaters and, on Seahorse Key, pelicans, cormorants, and other waterbirds made a smorgasbord of fish scraps for the cottonmouths, that also ate the rats lurking around the nests in hopes of snatching an egg or two.

This beneficial arrangement collapsed when the birds suddenly abandoned their nests. In the western part of Seahorse Key, where most of the rookeries were, cottonmouths have struggled ever since, limited to the occasional stranded fish or forced to eat each other. So discovered Mark Sandfoss, UF zoology doctoral student, who was two years into his research on waterbird–cottonmouth mutualism in the Cedar Keys, only to discover that one party was vanishing. In April 2015, the birds abandoned their rookeries on Seahorse Key for reasons still unknown, and as Sandfoss continued to capture, tag, and track the snakes, he found that many of them were small, weak, and dying. The research was published on Nov. 6, 2017, in the Journal of Zoology.

Sandfoss is a mentee of UF biology professor Harvey Lillywhite, who was director of Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory from 1998 to 2012 and who has studied the cottonmouths for almost two decades. “I knew, and was curious about, the dense population of cottonmouths on Seahorse Key for years,” said Lillywhite. “In 1998, I became the director of the Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory and decided to conduct a research program there to better familiarize myself with the island.”

Eleven years prior to Sandfoss beginning his research, Lillywhite and his student and eventual postdoc, Coleman Sheehy, published their observations of the island cottonmouths’ intense foraging behavior, especially below the rookeries. At that time, they noticed that drought was affecting the birds, and therefore the snakes. However, decades of literature showed that the Cedar Keys experienced natural cycles of inhabitation. The total abandonment of the Seahorse Key rookery was unprecedented, but presented what Sandfoss calls a “natural experiment.” What would become of the Seahorse Key cottonmouths?

Over the years, Lillywhite and Sheehy, now the herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, have continued their annual check-ups of the snakes. Sandfoss was intrigued by their work and cites Lillywhite’s lab as his primary reason for coming to UF.

Cottonmouths (genus Agkistrodon), also called water moccasins, have a broad geographic range, making them a common fright in 16 states. Despite their scare tactic— a threatening gape that shows the white interior of their mouth, hence their name — incidence of human bites is low, and they are not particularly aggressive. They present little danger to humans, said Sandfoss, and “they’re really cool — and nice.” They’re especially so in Seahorse Key, where many have become accustomed to being approached and handled. In Florida, all cottonmouths are the species A. conanti, recently upgraded from a subspecies. (Interestingly, the type specimen for the species description was found just seven miles outside Gainesville.) Fairly tolerant of saltwater, the cottonmouths were able to populate Florida’s barrier islands. Unfortunately, they are not strong oceanic swimmers, and although their island lifestyle is no longer as blissful as it was, they are not well equipped to migrate.

Many snakes are ovivoric (egg-eating) and especially so on islands, where resources are scarce, but the Cedar Keys featured a remarkable symbiotic relationship. Typically, in island ecosystems with both birds and snakes, snakes prey upon the birds, explained Lillywhite. However, at Seahorse Key, the birds feed the snakes in a different way — their table scraps, so to speak. Sandfoss was entranced by the research potential of the Cedar Keys’ denizens: “The behavior and biology of the cottonmouths that survive on these islands is fascinating. It is truly a unique system.”

Although snakes are generally evolved to handle long periods without sustenance, the nesting season had lasted March to November in Seahorse Key, providing a long-term source of energy for the cottonmouths. Despite A. conanti’s guts of steel and exploratory feeding, starvation is still a real possibility and, if not fatal, detrimental to reproductive efforts in a species that bears live young.

Those live young get a taste for their prey in the early days of life, and in the western part of Seahorse Key, where birds bestowed a regular rain of fish detritus upon them, the young quickly lived up to their scientific name, derived from Latin for “fish eater.” Previous research by Lillywhite and Sheehy shows that although cottonmouths won’t turn their nose up at unfamiliar prey, they do develop a palate. On the eastern part of Seahorse Key, where fewer birds roosted before the 2015 abandonment, cottonmouths seem to have adapted to a less fishy diet, and therefore were not as negatively affected by the birds’ departure.

The nearby Snake Key seems to have fared better, although less research has been done there. “Now that bird nesting is occurring on Snake Key and not Seahorse Key we are interested to see how Snake Key cottonmouths will fare as a population,” said Sandfoss. “We suspect that the Snake Key population will receive some positive benefits from the presence of the nesting waterbirds.” The team plans to continue monitoring the keys and tracking the cottonmouth population. Meanwhile, Sandfoss, who received the 2017–18 Seahorse Key Fellowship, is tackling the question of how snakes subsist in an environment virtually free of freshwater — another characteristic of these unusual, island-dwelling snakes. Clearly, life finds a way in the Cedar Keys.

See photos and more on Exposure.

Francesc Morales Gigi Marino

Francesc’s dissertation project offers an original blend of historical and literary analysis —within the broader framework of cultural studies — with the purpose of exploring the role played by fictional representations of archaeologists and archaeological work in the development of modern Spanish national identity. Spanish nationalism(s), either in singular or plural, is presently a highly debated topic in the context of Spain’s economic and political crisis as well as that of Europe’s identity crisis. In this regard, Francesc’s research promises to have an important impact in the field of Spanish studies and that of nationalism at large.

Francesc Morales was born in 1980 in Girona, a small city in Catalonia situated in the northeast corner of Spain, between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. His parents had migrated from Andalusia in the 1970s, as had hundreds of thousands of others since the 1960s. As a consequence, Francesc grew up speaking Spanish at home and with relatives, while Catalan was the primary language at school and in the streets.

Francesc has always been curious. “Knowing stuff was very important to me,” he recalls … and he absorbed much of that “stuff” through reading a diverse array of works — Lazarillo de Tormes, The Hobbit (Catalan translation), Hungarian folk tales in Spanish, and so on — but also through movies and TV shows, especially British series that were translated into Catalan.

Francesc moved to Florida after spending two years between England and Algeria, where he had his first experience teaching Spanish as a foreign language. Francesc arrived in the United States in 2009 and was accepted into UF’s Spanish and Portuguese Studies Graduate Program in 2010. When he first entered the academic world, he found the traditional definitions of “literature,” especially those based on political, geographical, cultural, linguistic, and generic boundaries, to be somewhat restrictive. Instead, he prefers to think of “literature” as synonymous with “humanities,” or “visually represented knowledge.” Francesc thus pays special attention to the overlaps between literature and the social sciences, the natural sciences, and the visual arts.

This view has led to the interdisciplinary work that is his dissertation, which is titled “Translatio Imperii: Archeology and Nationalism in Spanish Fiction (1868–1935).” It combines almost all of his academic interests: archaeology, politics, biography, cultural history, literature, and philosophy. Francesc plans to graduate with his PhD in May of 2018.

Oxford Bound

To study something as complex as the human brain, one certainly needs a well-rounded education, and Phillip Dmitriev ’17, has immersed himself in an interdisciplinary program at UF to do just that. A budding physician-scientist majoring in microbiology and neurobiological sciences in Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dmitriev’s research interests revolve around cognitive disorders, particularly schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease, and this passion for research has taken him all over campus.

“I don’t want to limit myself to one state or country.”

He completed his microbiological research and internships under the guidance of Professor Monika Oli in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He crossed over to the College of Engineering to complete his thesis, which examined how brain volume affects cognitive symptoms in Parkinson’s, and worked in the lab of Mingzhou Ding, professor of biomedical engineering. As an exemplar of student research, he served on the Center for Undergraduate Research Board of Students.

Armed with this robust interdisciplinary background, Dmitriev has been awarded a Frost Scholarship, a program that offers exceptional Floridian students an opportunity for Masters study at the University of Oxford. Starting October 2017, he will spend a year at Oxford studying in its renowned pharmacology program, a great asset to his research interests. He then intends to apply to the competitive Oxford-Cambridge Scholars program offered by the National Institutes of Health. The “Oxcam” program emphasizes the development of physician-scientists through four years of study in the US and four years in Oxford. Dmitriev hopes the Frost program will make him a more competitive candidate for Oxcam.

Dmitriev is the eighth student in UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be named a Frost Scholar. He’s also looking forward to the cross-cultural experience. “I’m really interested in having the opportunity to go abroad and experience how different science is elsewhere,” says the Russian-born Dmitriev. “Sometimes we’re in a bubble thinking of the U.S. only.” He pursued the program largely for the international aspect. “It will be a good thing for my career,” he says. “I don’t want to limit myself to one state or country.” Nor, apparently, to one discipline.


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