LYLE McALISTER, the late UF historian and Center for Latin American Studies director, was insistent about the value of international travel when it came to his graduate students’ research on colonial Spanish-American history.
“There was a vital point in his students’ dissertation work when they must go to Spain or Latin America,” recalled Allan Kuethe, a former McAlister student whose studies in the 1960s took him to Colombia and who went on to become a history professor at Texas Tech University.
McAlister, who died in 2002, spent 55 years on the faculty of UF not only as a leading historian, but also a beloved mentor. He steadfastly believed that his graduate students should experience the subject of their research firsthand by digging into important historical archives, which often contained resources that could not be otherwise accessed.
“You got to see what your work was really about,” said Paul Hoffman, another McAlister protégé and a professor emeritus of history at Louisiana State University. “And you’d come across things you never even imagined existed.”
Today, such experiences are far from guaranteed for graduate students in history, as the money for international research excursions has become increasingly scarce. It’s a far cry from McAlister’s day, when his students considered him a “Godfather”-like figure who always seemed able to come up with the necessary funds.
To help remedy the lack of the same opportunities today, a group of eleven of his former graduate students lead by Kuethe, Hoffman and Leon Campbell, a professor emeritus of Latin American history at University of California, Riverside — have banded together to create a new scholarship in McAlister’s name.
Each year, the fund will support one graduate student’s travel to Latin America or Europe to conduct hands-on archival research. This group of former students have committed over $34,000 to the effort, and hope to raise enough support for an ongoing goal of $50,000 and eventually $100,000 endowment to ensure the fund can support students in perpetuity.
The McAlister Fund will not only advance the late historian’s research ideals, but also stand as a tribute to someone who was more than a professor and adviser. “Mac,” who had no children with his wife Geraldine, frequently formed fatherly bonds with his students and continued correspondence with them long after they’d left Gainesville.
“His responsibilities did not stop when the bell rang at the end of History 101,” Campbell said.
His former students remember him as a disciplined historian with strong vision, high standards and unconventional way of looking at the world whose work on Latin American history was influential throughout the field.
“He could sense the significance where the significance lay,” Kuethe said. “I only met one or two teachers who cared as much he did. He was a giant of a man.”
While insistent about traveling in-person to archives, McAlister was also enthusiastic about the benefits that technology presented for scholarly work. Hoffman recalls McAlister encouraging experimentation with early computer programs used to sort through complex records.
Though further technological advances have made it easier than ever to access international records, the group behind the McAlister Fund believes that firsthand archival research still offers unparalleled opportunities for graduate students to make new discoveries.
What’s more, they believe the Fund and the experiences it fosters will help UF attract the very best graduate students in history — and encourage excellent undergraduates to continue their scholarly pursuits.
“We’re losing a lot of potential scholars just by the nature of the economy,” said Campbell, whose studies under McAlister took him to Peru.
The career path for historians is rarely certain these days, but it remains as important as ever to probe the past to inform people today. The fund’s support of aspiring historians is just one contribution toward enhancing our understanding of the world.
“The past provides incredible clues into the present,” Kuethe said. “The present is the living past.”
Sixty years ago, scientist and novelist C.P. Snow introduced the idea of the “Two Cultures” — science and art — and how practitioners of each discipline eschewed the other. During the last six decades, barriers between the two have broken down, although siloed thinking is more prevalent than not, and both the sciences and humanities are suffering in their own way in public discourse.
UF biology professor Jamie Gillooly is well aware of the divide. He began his academic life majoring in English literature at the University of Michigan, where he had one intro bio course that bored him. It wasn’t until his senior year when he discovered the transcendentalist writers such as David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller, whose relationships with nature figured heavily into their writing.
Gillooly took advantage of the University of Michigan’s New England Literature Program, joining his classmates in an eight-week exploration of the wilderness, beginning with a canoe trip down the Concord and Merrimack rivers, retracing Thoreau’s own journey. Gillooly then began his own journey as a scientist when he returned to school to get a PhD in zoology. Since then, he has developed a remarkable model for linking the metabolism of organisms to the ecology of populations and ecosystems — breakthrough thinking in biology.
For the past 10 years at UF, Gillooly has brought his own passion for science and the humanities to a class he developed, “Studiolab: Experiments in Art + Science.” Every other year, Gillooly co-teaches the class with a professor from the School of Art + Art History (SA + AH) in the UF College of the Arts. During the Spring 2019 semester, he taught the class with art professor Sean Miller, who also has a love for bringing science into his art. The class — cosponsored by SA + AH and the Department of Biology — comprised half art students and half science students. Their projects represent independent collaborations between art and science student teams.
Miller had previously previously taught the special topics course in 2014: Repurposing the Wunderkammer, which was a project that included a special topics course that met at at Florida Museum of Natural History and the SA + AH. This involved Miller’s own art and co-curating a 2015 exhibition of internationally acclaimed artists and scientists working with the collections at the UF Harn Museum of Art and the FLMNH, and a visiting speaker series. It was funded by Creative campus Catalyst Fund and supported by FLMNH and the Harn.
This year, Miller is showing an exhibit called Drifting Cabinets: A Curious Portable Collection of Gulf Biodiversity, which includes a collection of trunk-like cabinets. Each cabinet is lined with retrofitted wood collected after hurricanes in the Gulf and filled with specimens of regional biodiversity: horseshoe crabs, snakes, algae, butterflies, ferns, and more.
In 2016, Miller joined forces with Brandon Ballengée, an artist and biologist from Louisiana State University, to create The Crude Life Portable Biodiversity Museum for the Gulf of Mexico , which consists of trunk designed, constructed, and curated to relate to the ecology, culture, and audiences specific to Louisiana and Florida. By combining art and science they provide portable museum experiences that travel the country educating people on Gulf biodiversity and the environmental impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Their work was funded by the Nafki Keck Futures Initiative.
The photos below are from Gillooly and Miller’s 2019 “Studiolab” class. The students explored biodiversity, the environment, and the effects of the climate crisis in an exhibit that opened at the Gary R. Libbey Gallery on the University of Florida campus on April 26 and will be open throughout the summer for those who wish to visit this amazing exhibit. Below is but a sampling of the students’ artwork.
“Hindsight Bias” by Rebecca Matson, Dyuti Peddapuli, Sierra Scauzillo. Three sets of images illustrated with and without black lights reflect deforestation, acid rain, and invasive species.
“Forests have been plowed down with no regard to biodiversity or environmental cost; heavy machinery spews toxic fumes into the air and accumulates in our atmosphere. The mass importation of goods has introduced the opportunity for invasive species to invade, wreaking havoc on the natural order.”
“The interactivity of the piece, coupled with the vintage feel of the audio device, frames and lighting, suggest a bleak, post-apocalyptic future. With the flip of a switch, ‘everlasting’ forests and scenery are replaced with a scene of human-induced destruction. We hope the piece will leave the viewer with the realization that without immediate action, our forests’ fate is sealed—and it is grim indeed.”
“Mushroom Death Masks” by Palmer Crippen and Jenny McCloskey
“Death Masks have been used since ancient Egypt to recreate the likeness of powerful leaders. Later in history, most notably in medieval France and England, Death Masks took on ceremonial significance. We are piloting a new era of Death Masks using traditional and unconventional materials. Referencing the cultural consumer product Chia Pet, we seek to develop a mushroom planter that doubles as a homage to passed loved ones. Mushrooms are a symbol of decay, but also rebirth. We experimented with a variety of spawning methods (rye, oats, and manure) to grow the mushrooms, and sculpting materials (clay, and 3D modeled cardboard) to create our masks. Consumers will thus have a range of eco-friendly options to choose from in selecting a mask for themselves of their loves ones. “
“Genetic Alteration: Case Study #1” by Aimee Marcinko and Emmanuel Manu Opoku
“From beach goers to major museums, the wondrous diversity of the Conch shell has enchanted collectors across the globe, but what if scientists could change the Conch shell’s genetic code to make it even more captivating? Through the investigation of genetic engineering, the displayed translucent porcelain shells provide a glimpse into that inquiry: genetically manipulating the bioluminescent DNA of one species and adding it to another. With the organic layering of a shell, each mollusk species creates a secretion of calcium carbonate forming its backbone as a protective home. In the case of the Clusterwink snail, it has evolved to emit bioluminescent flashes for additional protection. When it senses a predator the creature inside the shell releases a chemical from the luciferin protein causing it to glow. This display renders the results of genetically engineered shell species spliced with light-producing enzymes. We are using science fiction to explore human kind’s capacity to alter nature’s beauty.”
“Paralleled Destruction” by Erin Pascoe and Joanne Marquez
“Stress is one of the main causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in honey bees. Stress leads to exhaustion among worker bees, and ultimately their disappearance from the hive. This means the queen is left behind. Stress in bees is modulated by three hormones: octopamine, dopamine, and serotonin. Octopamine controls the fight or flight response while dopamine and serotonin make an appearance in both bees and humans in response to stress. Dead bees are used to create images of these three molecular structures to show the overlap in how we each deal with stress. These images are housed in hexagonal picture frames that tessellate, like that of a honeycomb. There is a fourth frame in which a single queen bee is left with a mirror background, so the viewer can insert themselves as the isolated queen bee; a literal reflection of how stress and exhaustion lead to collapse in both bees and humans.
“Dinner with the Stars” by Jennifer Cumbie and Devlin Caldwell
“Dinner with the Stars is an interactive installation in which guests are invited to sit at a five-pointed table, acting as both a place gathering and eating. The table features a fish tank in the middle, housing sea stars. The guests are brought an assortment of food (seaweed, shrimp, fish, squid) that is based on the diet composition of sea stars, ranked from most common (seaweed) to least common (squid). Each of the 5 “points” acts as a table top, with visual elements of sea stars in the form of an anatomical diagram. While guests are seated next to each other in a circle, guided toward the center, they will be sharing a meal with the sea stars.”
“TerrariTable” by Hannah Chelgren, Palmer Crippen, Jenny McCloskey, and Rikki Payne
“Outside of their toxic or psychedelic properties, society knows little about fungi. With our at-home cultivation table, TerrariTable, we aim to change this perception of one of Earth’s most misunderstood kingdoms. From the yeasts that ferment your beer to the portabellas served on your plate, these mysterious organisms have been essential to human, plant, and animal life. Our personal mushroom grower, which also serves as an elegant coffee table, brings mushroom propagation and biology into the home. The sterilized, aspen wood shavings, which have been inoculated with Golden Oyster mushroom spores, will bear edible fruiting bodies in approximately 2-4 weeks. The mycelium, which can be seen engraved on the tabletop, will spread to colonize the substrate in order to pass nutrients and information from mushroom to mushroom. On top of the table, we offer assorted handmade fungi paraphernalia for viewers to learn about the biology, uses, and wild habitat of mushrooms in a hands-on and engaging way. Items include: biological illustrations, mycelium engravings, a poem, stickers, preserved mushrooms, and a zine on edible Southeastern mushrooms. Through engagement, we hope viewers will leave the installation with a newfound fascination with mushrooms and an interest in growing them.”
“Acherontia” by Erin Jane Lapasaran and German Monetti
“The Acherontia genus is the fastest and one of the only predacious Lepidoptera species in the world. This piece aims to illustrate the parallels between the Greek myths after which Acherontia species were named, and the corresponding adaptations that have related these species to the myths. Here we portray the narrative from birth to death by using a single thread to represent the Thread of Life. This thread flows between the Greek myths symbolized through special Arduino motors, paralleled by the three moths themselves. The linear mounting of this piece contributes to the natural flow of the narrative, beginning with the dispensing of the thread, traveling to its death through the shears, and ending at the fictional River Styx.”
Footnotes:Photography by Robert Landry and Brandon McKinley. Story by Gigi Marino
Dr. Vincent Adejumo Receoves Teacher of the Year Award
Dr. Vincent Adejumo won a Teacher of the Year Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences during the spring 2018 semester. Dr. Adejumo has been a Lecturer in the UF African American Studies Program since 2015 and had served as a graduate teaching assistant since 2011. He teaches a number of courses including the online version of Introduction to African American Studies, Black Masculinity, Black Wall Street, and The Wire. Congratulations Dr. Vince!
AFA Students Present Research at Academic Conferences
In the fall of 2017, Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn took three African American Studies students, – Kayla O’Neal, DeAunte Fox, and Syleena Powell—to the Annual Meeting of the Association of African American Life and History (ASALH) Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio to present their research on a panel entitled “The Implications of Gender and Race in Three Dimensions”. The title of O’Neal’s paper was “Black Children and Zero Tolerance Policies in Florida’s Schools. Fox’s paper was entitled “A Content Analysis of Black Male Relationships in the films Get Out, Moonlight, and Fences.” Finally, the title of Powell’s paper was “The Strong Black Woman Stereotype and Black Female Coping Strategies.”
In March 2018, Tiara Telfair and Jasmyn Sullivan presented research at the National Conference of Black Political Scientists Meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Pictured below in the photo on the left are Dr. Robert Brown of Spelman College, Tiara Telfair, Allison Austin, and Dr. Sharon Austin. Pictured in the photo on the right are Dr. Robert Brown, Dr. Sharon Austin, Allison Austin, Jasmyn Sullivan, and Tiara Telfair.
African Americans in Paris Spring Break Class
During the 2018 spring break in March, Dr. Sharon Austin accompanied 13 students to Paris for the African Americans in Paris class. This was the fifth consecutive year the class was offered. The students watched online lectures, read materials, completed papers, and took an exam before traveling to France. While there, they listened to lectures and visited several historic sites of significance to African American ex-patriates who fled the U.S. and lived in France to escape American discrimination and injustices. The students visited the suburban home of the late entertainer Josephine Baker, Versailles Palace, and the Louvre Museum. They also took a cruise of the River Seine and visited the Eiffel Tower as well as several of the cities’ neighborhoods such as Montmarte and Goutte D’Or. Many visited Amsterdam, Barcelona, London, and Rome on their free day. The course will be offered every year during spring break. For more information,visit our website, YouTube page, or contact Dr. Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Below is a photo of them after hearing a lecture by Professor and Scholar/Activist Louis-Georges Tin.
Dr. Manoucheka Celeste Wins A Second Book Award!
Dr. Manoucheka Celeste, Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Gender, Women’s Studies, and Sexualities Research, recently won the Diamond Anniversary Book Award from the National Communication Association for her book, Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the African Diaspora: Travelling Blackness (Routledge 2017). This Award is given to “the most outstanding scholarly book published during the previous two years.” For more information, see 2018 NCA Award Winners. This book also won the 2017 National Communication Association Outstanding Book Award from the African American Communication & Culture Division and the Black Caucus. Congratulations Dr. Celeste!
AFA Faculty Win Grants!
Several of the African American Studies core faculty members, affiliate faculty members, and advisory board members are members of research teams that have been awarded Intersections Grants from the Mellon Foundation (organized by the Center for the Humanities and Public Sphere). See the information below and information about each of the four grants
The African American Studies faculty, affiliates, and advisory board members involved in these grants are:
Tanya Saunders, Manoucheka Celeste, Bryce Henson, Ben Hebblethwaite, Paul Ortiz, Nick Vargas, Chris Busey, Agnes Leslie, Stephanie Birch, Katheryn Russell-Brown, Lauren Pearlman, and Sharon Austin. Sophia Acord and Barbara Mennel of the Center for the Humanities also assisted with these grants.
On a crisp November day in 2003, Bob Graham ’59 stood on what remained of Lincoln High School’s track in Tallahassee, Fla., telling supporters and TV cameras that after almost 40 years in elected office — first as a state legislator, then as a two-term Florida governor, and finally as a three-term U.S. senator — he would not be seeking re-election to a fourth term in Congress. In his speech, Graham spoke of his intention to remain active in public life and his desire to create a nonpartisan policy institute that would focus on preparing the next generation of citizen leaders.
“My decision should in no way be viewed as a statement that I have completed all that I want to accomplish,” he said on the dismantled track, which he had been refurbishing during one of his iconic workdays. “I intend to continue to make a difference, albeit in a different way after January 2005.”
David Hedge, a political science professor at the University of Florida, listened intently as Graham announced his retirement on C-SPAN. Hedge was intrigued. He knew that Graham’s UF roots ran deep. Graham graduated with high honors from the university with a degree in political science. He was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and, even more importantly, met his wife of nearly 60 years, Adele, on the steps of Tigert Hall.
“I immediately contacted the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, then-Dean Neil Sullivan, about the possibility of creating a center at UF,” Hedge recalls. “This was something a number of us thought universities should be doing, particularly in terms of public leadership.”
Sullivan and then-UF Provost David Colburn subsequently met with Graham and pledged to commit the necessary administrative support and funds needed to bring Graham’s vision to fruition at UF. In summer 2005, Graham announced the creation of his namesake, the Bob Graham Center. UF made it official in 2006.
A Vision and Mission
Graham hoped to create a center that would encourage the active participation of citizens and increase understanding of democratic institutions. A Harvard University law graduate, Graham’s vision for the Bob Graham Center was shaped by the work of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
“After retiring from the Senate, I spent a year as a senior fellow at the Kennedy School,” Graham says. “Because of my experience there, and because there were quite a few centers that were already doing public policy well, I wanted to focus on what I thought was missing — centers dedicated to developing human potential for public and civic leadership.”
From the outset, the Graham Center’s mission was to provide students with the broad training necessary for careers in public leadership and to provide a forum for the public discussion of state, national, and global issues — a calling that remains central to the center’s programming today.
In its earliest days, the center established a public lecture series, for which it remains well known on campus, in the Gainesville community, and beyond. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough served as the center’s inaugural keynote speaker. Former President Jimmy Carter, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and journalist Nicholas Kristof are just a few of the other renowned guests that the center has hosted.
Gov. Bob Graham made a case for the Everglades — and the cover of Newsweek, ca. 1980. D. Robert “Bob” Graham Political Papers, University of Florida.
“Persuading decision makers, building coalitions, and researching facts in order to support your position from a level of greater understanding are the skills that we are equipping students with.”
The undergraduate certificate program (now a minor in public leadership), the Tallahassee Internship Program, and the Policy Scholars Program (now the Askew Scholars) became the first few of many opportunities offered by the Graham Center to enhance the undergraduate academic experience by providing hands-on civic engagement.
Ann Henderson joined the center as director in July 2009. Henderson brought with her an extensive background in state, national, and international issue management and had overseen a number of nonprofit organizations before arriving on campus. Under her leadership, the center received a $3 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in fall 2010. The grant proved critical to the center’s development, funding numerous programs including the development of an online civics course and the Fellows-in-Residence program.
The fellows program brings state leaders to the university to share their expertise and experience with UF faculty and students. Fellows are individuals who have a record of professional distinction but have also been recognized for their civic leadership. Past fellows have included Martha Barnett JD’73, former president of the American Bar Association; Nancy Hardt, M.D., professor emerita, UF College of Medicine; Preston Haskell, founder of the Haskell Company; and Hyatt Brown ’59, former CEO of Brown & Brown Insurance and former Speaker of the Florida House.
Reflecting on his experience as a fellow-in-residence, Brown says he was most impressed by students’ eagerness and the diversity reflected in those he interacted with at the center.
“I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Young people bring great energy and new ideas. They are enthusiastic because their outlook is toward a positive future,” he said. “We are bringing people together from different courses of life — places, cultures, backgrounds, ideological beliefs — everyone coming together to learn from one another. That in itself is a super contribution to their overall educational experience.”
Haskell too was impressed with his interactions with students, but what stood out to him was the great social benefit that the center provides in teaching students how to work cooperatively with others and encouraging interdisciplinary research.
“It’s important to have the skills necessary to build consensus — to see the value in compromise, the ability to lead when necessary and to understand when it’s appropriate to let others lead,” he said. “Working collaboratively and having a broad base of knowledge across many disciplines is the key to success.”
Today, the fellow in-residence program continues thanks to the Knight Foundation’s generous support. Gainesville real estate developers and philanthropists Ken ’72, MBA’73, PhD’81 and Linda McGurn ’73, JD’78 will serve as joint fellows this spring.
Colburn, provost and senior vice president emeritus, took the helm of the center in 2012. With funding support from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost, Colburn added several programs to the already impressive catalogue of opportunities for students. The Graham Civic Scholars program, which commissions students to conduct county-level research on statewide issues; the Healthy Civic Campus and Community initiative, a social entrepreneurship grant program; and the Future of Florida Summit, a gathering of students from Florida’s colleges and universities to propose solutions to problems facing Florida, all have been established in the last five years.
“Active involvement is the only way to effectively master the skills needed to create change,” Graham says. “Persuading decision makers, building coalitions, and researching facts in order to support your position from a level of greater understanding are the skills that we are equipping students with.”
Of recent note is the center’s success in providing civic engagement opportunities through student internships. The center has placed more than 200 interns throughout Florida. Past internships have included positions with local and state government offices and agencies, the media, professional associations, and nonprofit organizations.
Last fall’s introduction of an innovative virtual internship program opened the door for UF students who previously were unable to take advantage of the traditional internship experience because of financial constraints. This program will serve as a vehicle for expanding internships significantly over the next few years.
The center’s newest internship venture is a partnership with the City of Gainesville that provides four fellowships each fall as part of the university wide town-and-gown effort. Fellows will work with the city manager’s office to provide a more citizen-centered approach to local government.
Centered on Students
Few roles the Graham Center and the university serve are as important as shaping and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders. “Every time I am at the center, I am impressed with the quality of students who have been drawn to the idea of active civic engagement,” Graham says. “They are smart, personable, and enthusiastic — exactly what our democracy needs for the next generation.”
Graham’s commitment to students is apparent to those who interact with him while he is on campus and is reflected in the center’s work.
“The center is a place you can tell he really cares about,” says Graham Center alumna Liana Guerra ’15. “He is always there — interacting with students, listening to them. He believed in me. He believes in students.”
Before graduating from UF, Guerra, now the deputy chief of staff to U.S. Congressman Darren Soto, completed a Tallahassee internship through the center and was an Askew Scholar. The Askew Scholars program — named for former Gov. Reubin Askew who passed away in 2014— provides distinguished undergraduates the opportunity to develop their civic understanding and skills under the direction of a faculty mentor.
Guerra credits her public service trajectory to her involvement with the center. “Without the Bob Graham Center, I firmly believe I would not be where I am today,” she says. “The funding I was provided as an Askew Scholar allowed me to take an unpaid internship in Washington D.C., which led to my first job after graduation.”
As a Tallahassee intern in 2013, Guerra was placed in the office of then-state Sen. Darren Soto. Guerra kept in touch with Soto and his team throughout his 2016 congressional campaign, and when Soto won the Central Florida seat, he hired Guerra to serve on his team permanently.
“The center opened that door for me and will continue to do the same for other students,” Guerra adds.
A Home in Pugh Hall
Located in the heart of the UF campus in Pugh Hall, the Bob Graham Center stands at the cornerstone of the university’s academic, intellectual, and civic life. A $5 million gift from Jim Pugh ’63 and his wife, Alexis, made possible the construction of Pugh Hall in 2008. The couple later pledged an additional $1 million to name the building’s teaching auditorium in honor of another former Florida governor, Buddy Mackay JD’61 and his wife, Anne.
“Adele and I are grateful for Jim and Alexis’ gift, which made possible the building that the Graham Center calls home,” Graham says. “Their generosity has its signature in many places across our great state. They have done many fabulous philanthropic things together.”
Graham and Pugh met as Sigma Nu fraternity brothers at UF in the late 1950s and have remained friends since. The two maintained a shared love for UF and a commitment to education and public service.
While Graham went on to an illustrious career in politics, Pugh, a building construction major, became a nationally recognized developer. Pugh is considered one of the nation’s most prominent homebuilders, and his real estate development firm, Epoch Properties, is annually ranked as one of the top multifamily housing developers in the U.S. Fittingly, the building that bears his name is an architectural focal point in the historic district of the UF campus.
“Bob Graham and I have been friends for 60 years,” Pugh says. “Alexis and I have carefully followed his career and witnessed his extraordinary leadership and character. He’s the real deal.”
Pugh always wanted to find a way to give back to his alma mater, and he and his wife were exploring philanthropic opportunities at UF when they learned that Graham was planning to establish a public service center at UF.
“Bob was convinced that the center would enrich the lives of students and provide valuable civic engagement opportunities,” says Pugh. “My wife and I were looking for an appropriate financial contribution to our beloved university, so the connection of donor support to the university and a place to house the Graham Center was a natural fit.”
A Legacy of Leadership
2016 was a milestone year for both Graham and his eponymous center. The center celebrated 10 years on the UF campus, and Graham celebrated his 80th birthday. While the center will surely be part of Graham’s lasting legacy of leadership and service to the state of Florida, Graham himself dismisses the idea of legacy building.
“I don’t believe in shaping your own legacy. That is the work of historians. You do what you think is right and important and hope that the benefits of your actions stand up to scrutiny over time,” Graham says. “I believe it is important for college-aged young people to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a citizen in our democracy.”
In Graham’s view, providing students with an understanding of their rights and responsibilities and arming them with the skills needed to operate effectively as citizens is the best antidote for the decline in civic engagement.
“If the beginning of the 21st century has shown us anything, it is that our democracy is under assault,” he says. “This assault is evidenced by the decline in citizen involvement in public affairs, lack of participation in community problem solving, and a waning in voter turnout among our country’s youngest voters.”
Graham believes the center has a role to play — not only in changing this disturbing trend but also in fostering civil discourse and encouraging other universities to follow suit.
“The increasingly partisan and polarized political climate has frustrated the ability of our democracy to create policies that benefit all citizens,” Graham says. “The center hopes to stand as a source of enlightenment and as a beacon for other institutions to do the same.”
What’s next for the Graham Center? Colburn says an expansion of internships and undergraduate research opportunities. Greater faculty engagement and an elevation of the center’s statewide and national presence also are on the horizon.
“Establishing an endowment to underwrite the center’s programs will be essential,” says Colburn. “The center fosters the intellectual enrichment and public engagement of our students. We want them to prosper professionally, but we also want them to give back to their communities. They will be the better for it, and so will we.”
As for Graham, he will continue to tout his message of engaged and informed citizenship and champion issues of importance to Florida and the nation.
In October, Graham was recognized by the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for his continued contribution to the state and the university. During the college’s Evening of Excellence, Dean David Richardson presented Graham with the inaugural Civic Champion Award. “Of our many alumni who commit their lives to public service, the first person who comes to mind is Sen. Bob Graham,” Richardson said at the ceremony. “Bob Graham is the epitome of what it means to be a Civic Champion.”
Graham remains a civic champion. Throughout his public service career, he has advocated for better schools, economic opportunity for all citizens, government transparency, the preservation of natural resources, and a strong, participatory democracy. He has represented the nation and UF with distinction, honor, and integrity. The Graham Center will ensure that legacy by nurturing the next generation of state and national leaders.