What an extraordinary year this has been for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences! As most of you have heard by now, the University of Florida achieved a ranking among the U.S. News and World Report Top 10 public comprehensive universities for the first time in our history.
To maintain the momentum, the Board of Trustees and President Fuchs have committed to hiring 500 new faculty in the next few years. The college has been fortunate to be able to create more than 60 new faculty positions for the 2018–19 academic year alone, in addition to positions to replace faculty lost to retirement. The candidates who have accepted our offers are exceedingly talented and diverse in background and experience. They will be instrumental in helping us create a nationally acclaimed student experience and forefront scholarship that will ensure that UF remains among the top public research universities in the country.
In March, the university received more good news: UF is one of only five institutions to receive the 2018 Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, in recognition of our broad commitment to faculty excellence, research, and creating international opportunities for our students. Over 150 countries are represented in the UF community, including over 6,500 international students. The teaching and research in Liberal Arts and Sciences is truly global in scope, examining issues in nature, society, and humanity around the world.
Surveys have shown that more than 80 percent of our incoming students want to have an international experience while they are at UF. Unfortunately, most students will graduate without having gone abroad. Our goal in the years ahead is to expand our study-abroad and semester-exchange programs to meet the demand for cost-effective and meaningful time abroad for our students. Our alumni have been enthusiastic about assisting us in the effort to make these transformative experiences available to all students.
This issue’s cover story on the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research is a perfect example of the opportunities that we provide for our students to perform purposeful work here and around the world. I hope that you will find it as inspiring as I did. (More good news at press time: Jack Davis, featured here, received a Pulitzer!)
Go Gators and Go Greater,
David E. Richardson
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has seen major changes over the past two years, none more impactful than the hiring of 240 new faculty members. As the University of Florida continues to rise in the U.S. News and World Report Top Public Schools rankings — climbing to No. 7 this year — this infusion of expertise and talent will allow us to meet the evolving needs of our students and continue to enhance the national standing of the university.
While we look forward to the wonderful contributions these new faculty members will bring to our college, we’d be remiss if we didn’t honor the faculty who have propelled us to where we are today through their outstanding research, teaching and service. As you flip through the pages of this issue of Ytori, you’ll read about a number of programs our faculty have shaped into the difference makers they’ve become.
In the Intersections program, we see how the college’s humanities departments can combine their knowledge to answer “grand-challenge questions” facing the world today. Encouraging this spirit of collaboration across the college’s wide range of disciplines can only strengthen our curriculum and the exceptional opportunities we offer our students.
This issue also spotlights those who were honored at the college’s Evening of Excellence award ceremony earlier this year and how our experiential learning program, Beyond120, provides students with the tools they need to succeed after graduation.
Sadly, we mark the passing of David Colburn, former Bob Graham Center Director and former chair of the Department of History, known to many at UF as an invaluable friend, mentor and colleague. Click here to learn more about his dedication to the college and his fascinating life story.
Moving forward, I encourage you to check out the news section of our website (news.clas.ufl.edu) to stay up to date with the latest groundbreaking research conducted by our faculty, national awards won by our students and recent bestsellers published by our alumni.
Go Gators and Go Greater,
David E. Richardson Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Now in its second decade, the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere is bringing disciplines together to tackle grand-challenge questions
By Andrew Doerfler and Scott Rogers | Illustrations by Jim Harrison
Reimagining the Humanities
Now in its second decade, the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere is bringing disciplines together to tackle grand-challenge questions
By Andrew Doerfler and Scott Rogers | Illustrations by Jim Harrison
The humanities have a perception problem. Dogged by the recent sentiment that these disciplines favor ivory-tower indulgence over direct career paths, humanities scholars often feel the need to defend the value of their studies to the world. This won’t be the case for long. Today’s world faces unprecedented problems and questions — climate change, income inequality, racism and the role of technology in our lives — many of which can only be solved with help from the humanities.
At UF, the humanities find their home at the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere. The center celebrated the 10th anniversary of its launch in April 2019 and is looking ahead to initiatives that could break new ground for the humanities across the nation.
Thanks to a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the center has been able to create a unique program aimed at tackling today’s most urgent issues through the humanities. UF Intersections: Animating Conversations with the Humanities allows faculty, doctoral students and staff from all corners of the humanities to come together and gives undergraduate students the chance to consider the questions that will define their lives.
“There are these grand intractable problems facing our world that can only be addressed by combining multiple forms of knowledge,” SOPHIA KRZYS ACORD, associate director of the center, said.
Intersections addresses four grand-challenge questions formulated by professors — from disciplines spanning African American studies, classics, religion, history and more — who usually wouldn’t have an opportunity to work so closely together. Each UF Mellon Intersections Group is conducting research and designing a cluster of courses on the topic while also planning events like speaker series to give students an opportunity to learn beyond the confines of the classroom.
This setup is something new for the field. “Collaboration in the humanities is something that is not entirely clear — there’s not a blueprint like there is in the sciences,” said BARBARA MENNEL, the Robert and Margaret Rothman Chair in the Humanities and director of the center.
While the Intersections questions vary, each group has similar goals — to expose students to diverse perspectives as they take on real-world challenges. Read on to learn more about each Intersections Group and see how the humanities will play a crucial role in shaping our world.
If you feel like it’s harder than ever to talk with one another about the most pressing issues facing society, you’re not alone.
It’s a big reason why one Intersections Group is using ethical reflection to take on hot-button topics like climate change, the #MeToo movement and income inequality. As the country grows more politically divided, the Intersections Groupon Ethics in the Public Sphere, led by religion professor ANNA PETERSON and philosophy professor JAIME AHLBERG, wants to inspire more constructive conversations — and, hopefully, encourage meaningful action in the process.
“Even when something is really polarized, you can find points of common ground,” Peterson said. “But you have to be clear about what values are at stake.”
The approach has been on full display at the “ethics cafés” the group hosts on campus, where students are invited to discuss some of the most charged questions of the day. Asked what a just system of immigration in the United States would look like, more than 30 participants at a meeting followed a series of guidelines — stay on topic, don’t monopolize the conversation — as they sought points of agreement acknowledged what information they lacked and dug into the moral dimensions at play.
By calling attention to the ethical underpinnings of issues that dominate the news, this group hopes to make sometimes abstract philosophical, religious and moral questions feel urgent and relevant to students.
“Students want to learn about theory, but they also want to know how that stuff applies to their real lives,” Ahlberg said.
Peterson and Ahlberg have brought these questions to life in a class they teach on ethics in the public sphere, the idea for which formed the initial inspiration for the Intersections Group. Instead of lecturing, the professors try to create an environment where students come to their own conclusions through discussion, reflection and hands-on experience.
“STUDENTS WANT TO LEARN ABOUT THEORY, BUT THEY ALSO WANT TO KNOW HOW THAT STUFF APPLIES TO THEIR REAL LIVES.”
“People have to buy in and feel like they’re part of coming up with these answers,” Peterson said.
A class excursion to the Harn Museum of Art, for example, gave students a chance to explore the question of displaying the work of artists accused of sexual misconduct, as the museum grappled over a piece in its own collection by prominent painter and photographer Chuck Close.
The most heated class discussion came when the students were split into groups and given vastly different shares of candy, meant to represent strata of wealth — and then tasked with proposing a just economic system. ALARA GÜVENLI, an undergraduate student who took the course in spring, found the course made her more open to different points of view.
“Students can get stuck in their own bubbles where people agree with them,” she said. “But in the class, we all had to listen to each other — and a lot of people had opposing ideas.”
Peterson and Ahlberg also invited journalism librarian (and fellow Intersections Group member) APRIL HINES to the class for a presentation about finding reliable sources.
“Thinking well about complicated moral problems as they’re unfolding requires not just theorizing about values, but also knowing how to find and process empirical data,” Ahlberg said. “Good ethics needs good facts.”
A constructive conversation, though, isn’t an end unto itself: The goal, ultimately, is to encourage students to act to address the issues that matter most to them personally. Beginning in the spring 2020 semester, the Intersections Group will invite community organizations to campus for panel discussions to make students aware of the service and advocacy opportunities available in Gainesville.
The student body at a top-tier public university, Peterson said, presents an opportunity for the impact of this work to extend far beyond campus. “We have a diverse student body, and many first-generation college students,” Peterson said. “But these are also the people who go on to be the next professionals and leaders.”
How do Black and Latinx People Shape Global and Local Cultures, Politics and Economics
“Our students win when they are forced to stretch,” MANOUCHEKA CELESTE said.
A professor in the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research and the African American Studies program, Celeste is also the convener for the Intersections Group on Global Blackness and Latinx Identity, which aims to help students broaden their worldview.
This group strives to answer a question far too often neglected in traditional curricula: How do Black and Latinx people shape our world?
To fill this gap, the Intersection Group has been working to expose students to histories and cultures they may not be familiar with through a mix of classroom experiences and events. “It’s about students really engaging with ideas and histories that they usually don’t encounter in other classes,” Celeste said.
“IT’S VERY EASY TO BE IN YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND TO BE WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE VERY SIMILAR TO YOU.”
“We need to prepare students to handle diversity,” said co-convener MARGARITA VARGAS-BETANCOURT, a librarian in the Latin American and Caribbean Special Collections. “Even students from underrepresented groups need to appreciate their cultural heritage.”
The Intersection Group’s year-long lecture series has brought speakers from varied backgrounds, including Nadève Ménard from the Université d’État d’Haïti, who examined Haiti’s complex linguistic landscape, and Aisha Durham from the University of South Florida, who discussed how artists like Erykah Badu and Missy Elliot are inviting us to reimagine hip-hop feminism.
For students from underrepresented groups, Celeste points to the power of seeing speakers and instructors who look like them and can speak to a shared life experience. “Students are hungry to see themselves represented and to talk about their experiences,” she said. “It makes them feel better about where they are at UF and also gives them a chance to imagine who they can be once they leave here.”
As the makeup of the country continues to become more diverse, this Intersections Group’s courses and events serve as an important touchpoint for a wide range of students.
“We want to explore in this time and era general aspects of immigration, of the diaspora of these groups to the U.S. but also the migration of these groups to Florida,” Vargas-Betancourt said.
In a globalized economy, students from all backgrounds need to know that after graduation they won’t necessarily be working with people who look exactly like them or who have had the same life experiences.
“It’s very easy to be in your comfort zone and to be with people who are very similar to you,” Vargas-Betancourt said. “It is challenging to be with people who are different from you.”
This Intersections Group offers complex experiences and encourages students to think broadly, finding connections across groups. These experiences can have a huge impact on not only their professional lives, but in their role as citizens of a rapidly changing world. “That’s how we equip all our students to go out in the world and do better, because they’re not shocked by reality,” Celeste said.
How do Technologies Influence Our Lives, Then and Now?
Students in the Intersections Group on Imagineering and the Technosphere will soon find themselves playing a board game — of sorts. At the start of the spring 2020 semester, they’ll receive a “game board,” essentially a satellite image of UF’s campus. This image will be broken down into grids, with several areas highlighted — Turlington Rock, Century Tower and a sculpture on display at the Harn Museum of Art are a few examples.
Students will then visit each location and, through their mobile devices, learn about items or buildings they have walked past a hundred times but likely never stopped to consider too deeply before.
What was the Century Tower used for in the past? How is it currently employed? And how might it be used in the future?
“As human beings we understand something better when we can see and touch it,” said ELENI BOZIA, the convener for this Intersections Group and an Assistant Professor of Classics and Digital Humanities. “We’re trying to help the students grasp ideas.”
The ultimate goal of the game is to give students firsthand experience on how we use technology to alter ourselves and our physical world.
The group’s definition of technology, though, encompasses far more than the latest iPhone. While their work does cover the impact of “literal technology” like mobile devices, computers and cars, it also dives into what Bozia calls “cultural technology.” Cultural technologies consist of constructs like language, art, politics and religious traditions — all created by humans, just like literal technologies. Together, these combine to help us define and organize our lives.
At the heart of this Intersections Group is the desire to show students that we are all more connected across cultures and even time than we think.
For example, when students play the “UF Quest Game,” they’ll stop by the Harn Museum of Art to take a look at a 17th century Korean bodhisattva sculpture and be compelled to consider the piece on a variety of levels.
What technology was used to make it? What purpose did it serve? What does it mean to them, the students, sitting in front of them here in Florida, thousands of miles away from where it was originally created, hundreds of years later?
“WE CAN OPEN THE STUDENTS TO THE IDEA THAT THIS IS EVERYBODY’S WORLD OUT THERE.”
Bozia and the fellow professors who make up this Intersections Group hope to uncover what the lessons of past inventions can teach us about how to address the problems facing humanity today — especially when we consider our current rapid rate of technological advances.
“I want to show the students a sense of continuation,” Bozia said, pointing out that the labels we put on life and history are often arbitrary. Ultimately, Intersections on Imagineering and the Technosphere hopes to show that more connects us than divides us. “We can open the students to the idea that this is everybody’s world out there,” Bozia said.
UF Quest Game
After students visit a location on the UF Quest Game board, they’ll receive a 3D-printed model of that location’s most identifiable trademark. These models will then be placed on the board until all pieces have been collected.
What Would the World Look Like Without Mass Incarceration?
After years of skyrocketing detention rates made the U.S. prison population the largest in the world, the country’s decision makers have begun exploring ways to address mass incarceration. But despite the newfound attention to the issue, the Intersections Group on Mass Incarceration believes the conversation has been far too narrow. The team members aren’t just looking for ways to reduce prison populations, but to envision a society where justice doesn’t revolve around prison in the first place.
“A lot has been written about how we came to expand the prison system and develop the contemporary crisis of mass incarceration,” said English professor JODI SCHORB, the group’s convener. “But what’s next? That’s the bigger question. We have to transform how we think about those behind bars, who many think of as disposable and out of sight.”
The group believes there’s no single right way to address the issue. As an English professor, Schorb has explored the topic by teaching courses on convict writing and prison literature. A social scientist, meanwhile, will come at the issue another way — as will someone who has actually been incarcerated.
“Answering the question depends on researchers, activists and visionaries,” Schorb said. “You can’t undo the global entanglement of mass incarceration through policy changes alone. We have to imagine alternatives that don’t exist yet.”
But bringing together those invested in this issue from different disciplines and walks of life isn’t so easy. The resources provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have allowed the team to further a conversation that might have remained fragmented.
“WE HAVE TO TRANSFORM HOW WE THINK ABOUT THOSE BEHIND BARS, WHO MANY THINK OF AS DISPOSABLE AND OUT OF SIGHT.”
To truly have an impact, the Intersections Group knows that it needs to involve those most immediately affected by mass incarceration.
They’ve put a major emphasis on elevating the community work being done off-campus — and in Gainesville, there’s no shortage of it, with organizations like the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding and the Legal Empowerment Advocacy Hub making local strides.
“We are all tangled up in mass incarceration in different ways, but we often fail to see it and how it negatively impacts our communities,” said STEPHANIE BIRCH, UF’s African American Studies librarian and the group’s co-convener.
Engaging undergraduates on this topic demands a variety of approaches, in part because students’ experiences vary so drastically.
“Some undergrads don’t often think about how prison and mass incarceration impact them,” Schorb said. “Others feel this every day, firsthand, in their families, homes and communities.”
The Intersections Group has held roundtable discussions that invite undergraduate students from different majors to share their perspectives on and experiences with the U.S. prison system, and they’ve even asked the students directly for their visions of what society would look like without mass incarceration. The pervasiveness of the prison system means that the topics can be linked to so many other facets of society.
“One of the ways we make mass incarceration relevant to students is by connecting it to other issues they may be concerned about — gender, race, labor, immigration, the environment, medical care,” Birch said. However, many students are already interested — their fall keynote lecture drew undergraduates studying a wide array of fields including classics, health and human performance, sociology and business.
UF, Schorb said, is uniquely positioned to make a difference by increasing attention on this issue. Not only can its status as a hub of research and learning lead to better policy, but its students leave with the tools to make an impact.
“These students graduate and go out in to the world. They vote, they volunteer,” she said. “They will drive the conversation forward.”
Undergraduate students who engage with one of the grand-challenge questions are named Intersections Scholars. Students receive this designation by taking three courses that address the grand-challenge question of their interest. This experience helps prepare them for a range of diverse careers through the program’s emphasis on critical thinking, research, creative problem-solving and intellectual curiosity.
Award-winning professor has a productive partnership — and friendly rivalry — with TA-turned-colleague
By Andrew Doerfler
At the college’s Evening of Excellence in April, then-acting economics chair THOMAS KNIGHT presented a faculty award to his friend and mentor MARK RUSH. Knight hasn’t heard the end of it since.
Rush, an economics professor who has racked up more than 30 teaching awards since coming to UF in 1982, passes up no opportunity bring up his colleague’s flattering remarks. “The college was incredibly generous to give me that award — and so foolish. Thomas knows what it’s done for my ego,” Rush said.
“I’m paying the real price here,” Knight, a lecturer at UF since 2014, replied.
Beneath their repartee is a steadfast working relationship that began when Knight served as Rush’s teaching assistant while a PhD student. Today, they’re united by a common cause: teaching introductory economics courses to classes that exceed 1,000 students, most of whom watch the lectures online. While they bounce ideas off each other, the two also compete to out-score each other on student evaluations. Adding yet another layer to their relationship, Knight was recently appointed to a full term as department chair, effectively making him Rush’s “boss.”
Their massive audiences have meant that the two are often recognized on campus. In a joint interview, Rush and Knight talked about engaging students in large online classes, their local fame and what motivates them as teachers.
How do you engage students in such large classes, with most of them watching online?
Thomas Knight: From a content perspective, I don’t think it’s any different. My goal is to replicate the small section, face-to-face environment the best I can — to deliver the same high-quality, rigorous course.
Mark Rush: I don’t treat it any differently, either. I’m always begging the students for questions. Sometimes I’ve got to buy a question with a quarter. Thomas will never let me submit that as an expense request.
TK: Everyone needs a reason to hate their boss, Mark.
My husband (Horticultural Sciences Lecturer Gerardo Nuñez) teaches a lot of online courses, and he goes out of his way to be very poised and professional. I take the opposite approach: I go out of my way to use silly and self-deprecating examples, to make students feel they can relate to the material.
MR: If you can make the courses more humorous, the students are more likely to watch the courses, and if they watch the courses, they’re going to be learning.
Does teaching about a third of all incoming freshmen give you any extra sense of responsibility?
TK: We really go out of our way to connect students at UF with resources beyond economics: the career center, study abroad, master’s programs and entrepreneurship. We can bring in visitors to give short presentations to a huge audience, and both of us take huge advantage of that.
MR: If you teach these big classes, there are thousands of people who know who you are. It means you have to behave in public.
For four or five years my classes were on Cox cable, and everyone knew who I was. I was once in Sam’s Club — at the time I was in my mid-40s — and a woman significantly older than I was came running up and started hugging me and telling me that I was her favorite show on TV. I did not know this was my target audience.
Thomas, you’ve called Mark a mentor. What have you learned from him?
TK: I’ll say this: If you told any new PhD on the job market that they would be expected to teach 2,500 students in a large introductory class, they would be praying to get another offer. But after being Mark’s head grader, it never crossed my mind that this would be a problem.
MR: We were fortunate to be able to hire Thomas for these large classes. Frankly, that’s rebounded to my harm because he and I have competed twice for teaching awards, and he’s won both.
What motivates you to go above and beyond when it comes to teaching?
MR: For me, it’s comparably easy to make the class good or bad. And if I make it good, it frees up more time, because the chair doesn’t come by and yell at me.
I think it’s intrinsic in one’s personality. You could say, “Thomas, be a bad teacher,” and it’d be very difficult for him. You’d probably have to pay him something to make him into a bad teacher.
TK: We also both view the students as humans, who are paying a lot of money to go to college. They’re making some sacrifices to be here. Delivering a low-quality education seems like a pretty crappy thing to do them.
Mark, what was your reaction to winning the faculty award at the Evening of Excellence?
MR: I was very surprised and gratified. At first, I was dismayed because Thomas was going to be accompanying me. But then I learned he had to say nice things about me.
“Every 10 years my phone has rung with an offer to do something a little different,” she said.
One of these rings brought Guyer back to UF in 2011 after initially working within the university’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department from 1989 to 1999. Between her two stints at UF, Guyer was employed at a regional health education center and served in healthcare leadership roles throughout the state.
What drew Guyer back to campus? The chance to lead the development of the new Health Disparities in Society (HDS) minor and to help the next generation of healthcare professionals provide better care to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, economic class or education level. Since the program’s launch in 2011, it has become one of the fastest growing and most popular programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences by focusing on this crucial need. Guyer was recognized earlier this year at the college’s annual Evening of Excellence for her role as a faculty member and leader of this minor.
Inequality in healthcare is not a new issue. In 1985, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services convened a Task Force on Black and Minority Health to determine why minorities in particular experienced higher rates of disability, disease and death than white patients.
Although there has been increased awareness on health disparities in recent years, this issue still plagues the field. Guyer noted that you can see this at play in a startling statistic — according to a 2016 Johns Hopkins study, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
While it can be hard to disentangle what causes a medical error, Guyer said that many of these can be traced back to the failure to communicate with a patient, whether due to implicit biases or simply lacking the skill to do so effectively.
“If your physician isn’t communicating clearly from a cultural or language perspective, or perhaps you are a person who doesn’t read exceptionally well, how are you going to follow your doctors’ instructions at home?” Guyer said.
“Healthcare is changing,” she explained, noting that the United States is switching from a fee-based model to one that focuses on quality of care first. This switch demands the expertise and skills found in the social and behavioral sciences — skills that are critical to helping healthcare professionals better understand people and their differences.
For the students enrolled in the HDS minor, these skills offer a leg up when it comes to getting into medical school. They have a deeper understanding of the differences between patients and what it takes to provide exceptional care, Guyer said.
The minor also attracts a diverse student body. Each semester, up to 50–60 percent of its students speak another language, with Guyer cataloging up to 83 different languages spoken by the minor’s undergraduates over the course of the program’s existence.
Guyer feels strongly about undergraduates receiving this kind of exposure to other cultures and lifestyles before they go to medical school. The HDS minor, she believes, lays the foundation for a more inclusive, sensitive and overall better healthcare system.
“The reason I’m so passionate about undergraduate students is because of the place in life, the developmental milestones that are being reached during the undergraduate years,” she said. “You become an independent person and identify where you fit in the world.”
The students not only have opportunities in the classroom, but they’re also immersed in the volunteer community. “I get the students out of the classroom because they need to see what this information means and how it’s valuable,” she said.
The minor receives support from a variety of community organizations dedicated to helping the next generation of healthcare professionals provide the care the public needs.
“Every semester, 37 safety net clinics, nonprofit health organizations, city government and state agencies mentor 55-60 undergraduate students,” Guyer said. “I greatly value those who give so generously to our students. The minor could not be successful without their generous input and support.”
Guyer was recognized at this year’s Evening of Excellence for her pivotal role in developing and guiding this minor. Introducing Guyer to the stage, BONNIE MORADI, Director of the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research, explained just how impressive this achievement is.
“Not only is HDS the fastest-growing minor in the college,” she said, “but it also is the only undergraduate academic program nationwide that introduces pre-professional students to the issues of health disparities, social determinants of health, cultural competence, health literacy and advocacy.”
Despite the praise she’s received since her return to UF, Guyer still has a hard time believing that she received this honor. “I’m still so stunned by the award,” she said. “There is no greater honor than to be recognized by your peers.”
Guyer, though, remains committed to her ultimate goal of improving healthcare for everyone. “I’m trying to build a better doctor, a better nurse,” she said. With this minor in place, she’s well on her way.
Eleven weeks at McLane Company presented new perspectives, valuable experience and job offers for two students
By Andrew Doerfler
Just a few months ago, NICOLAS TOMIELLO found himself at a crossroads. After three years as a philosophy major at UF, he valued what he had learned in his classes — but he didn’t know what his career path would be.
“I felt like I was building skills for life,” Tomiello said, but he was unsure how he could transfer them to a career. He had tried to explore job prospects by applying to internships but had found little luck. “I didn’t know what I was doing wrong,” Tomiello said.
As his junior year neared its end, though, he received an email about Beyond120, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences program that fosters and promotes experiences outside of the classroom. The message invited him to a session that would feature information about an exclusive internship opportunity. Although dispirited by his search up to that point, Tomiello decided to attend.
That decision would end up reshaping his post-college plans. Tomiello was selected for a summer internship at McLane Company, a national grocery distribution and supply chain leader with a facility in Kissimmee. Eventually, he would return to campus for his senior year reinvigorated with a sense of purpose and confidence in his major — not to mention a standing offer for a full-time job once he graduated.
Through the 11-week internship, Tomiello and fellow intern THOMAS MOORE, a UF economics major, rotated among departments at the McLane facility, seeing the ins and outs of different steps in the supply chain.
“I don’t know any other program that offers such a hands-on experience to help you develop.” — Nicolas Tomiello on Beyond120
But Tomiello and Moore weren’t silent observers: Each week, the interns presented what they’d learned to McLane executives — and offered their perspectives on what could be done differently. Having such a direct line to company leaders as a 21-year-old intern came as a pleasant surprise for Tomiello.
“I felt like they were stopping their whole world to meet with me,” he said. “They said, ‘We’ve been in the company for 10, 20, or even 30 years. We might be blind to mistakes we’re making.’”
For all their interest in his presentations, Tomiello could tell the higher-ups didn’t only want his advice: They were also trying to gauge his analytical and problem-solving skills to see if he fit a more permanent role in the company. Executives like Division President Jim Tidmore would offer advice on how to improve Tomiello’s presentations and welcomed questions on just about anything.
Tidmore said the original plan was for McLane to only hire one intern — but they were so impressed with Tomiello and Moore’s interviews that they decided to bring both on board. The students continued to impress as they acclimated to ever-changing hours and complicated processes.
“The work never scared them. There are a lot of moving parts within the four walls, but they never flinched,” Tidmore said.
For Moore’s part, he appreciated the chance to grow comfortable communicating with upper management. But he also had grander ambitions in mind. The now-senior hopes to start his own business, so he savored the firsthand look at the inner-workings of a major company.
“The work never scared them. There are a lot of moving parts within the four walls, but they never flinched.” — McLane Division President Jim Tidmore on the Beyond120 interns
For his presentations, Moore was assigned to come up with ideas to improve employee retention. He took the task seriously, reading research papers on what makes workers stay at a company.
“It was a unique challenge,” said Moore, who is weighing graduate school after he finishes his economics degree. “I didn’t really understand retention before.”
The Beyond120 class that accompanied the internship, meanwhile, gave Moore an opportunity to reflect on his experiences and note the areas where he can continue to grow. In addition to promoting internships, Beyond120 courses and other offerings give students the tools they need to succeed once they leave campus.
“I don’t know any other program that offers such a hands-on experience to help you develop,” Tomiello said.
Tomiello admitted that when he first learned about the internship, he wasn’t sure how working in supply chains and logistics would be relevant to him as a philosophy major. But Brittany Grubbs, the college’s internship and experiential learning coordinator, assured him that he would find value in the experience. It didn’t take long to see that she was right.
“The internship was predicated on me asking questions and seeing different perspectives,” Tomiello said. “These are exactly the skills I’ve been building with my philosophy degree.” This experience also spurred newfound aspirations in Tomiello. He noticed that those in the most influential roles at McLane often had been to graduate school — and he hopes to pursue a master’s degree focusing specifically on supply chain management.
He now has a full-time offer for a supervisor position at McLane awaiting him once he graduates. The stability and advancement opportunities in logistics appeal to him — but more importantly, he wants to work at a company where his perspective is valued. “Ever since I was a kid, I just wanted to have a voice,” he said. “At McLane, I felt like I had the opportunity to make a difference.”
Whether at small businesses or multinational companies, internships are an excellent recruitment tool for student talent in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information on how your organization can take part, please contact Internship and Experiential Learning Coordinator Brittany Grubbs at email@example.com.
With the help of digital technology, UF professor plans to bring the history of a devastated town to the present
By Scott Rogers
On September 29, 1896, the island of Atsena Otie Key was struck by a powerful hurricane. Located just off the coast of Cedar Key in the Gulf of Mexico, Atsena Otie Key was home to a world-renowned cedar mill and 50 families — until the resulting storm surge destroyed the mill, prompting a steady exodus from the island.
While devastating to industry in the area, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Just 54 years prior (and 26 years before the construction of the mill), the island, then serving as a U.S. Army headquarters, was struck by another hurricane. The damage was so severe that the government abandoned the post, considering it unsalvageable.
It raises the question: If there was recent evidence that a location was especially prone to strong hurricanes, why build a center of industry there? How could everyone forget so quickly?
This is an all-too-common problem that UF anthropologist and Hyatt and Cici Brown Professor of Florida Archaeology KENNETH E. SASSAMAN is trying to solve — with the help of some innovative technology.
A specialist in the Archaic (8,000 to 1,000 BC) and Woodland (1,000 BC to 1000 AD) periods of the American Southeast, Sassaman has always been interested in how he can use history as a tool to guide policy and decision-making in the present.
Specifically, Sassaman wondered if he could use a historical precedent to show how climate change might affect Florida. To find out, he dug into Florida’s history of indigenous coastal dwelling going back more than 13,000 years, when sea-level was down 80 meters and the Gulf Coast lay more than 200 kilometers from its current position.
Sassaman hoped to offer insights on how indigenous groups adapted over thousands of years to drastic environmental changes that resembled present-day issues.
Unfortunately, this early history presented one huge problem he couldn’t work around.
“No matter how I spin it, no matter what the narrative is, if it’s that old, it doesn’t resonate with the present,” he said. “It’s too foreign. And the further back in time we go, the less empathy and connection people have to it.”
“We turn storms into the boogeyman.”
While venting these frustrations to a colleague one day, Sassaman happened to share the tale of Atsena Otie Key. Riveted, his colleague pointed out that Sassaman had the answer right in front of him.
Here was a wealth of recent information, including oral histories from those that lived through the 1896 hurricane, that would feel much more immediate to a modern audience. Yet there was still a major issue Sassaman knew he would have to contend with: presentation. A book or exhibit on the island’s unique past just wouldn’t have the impact Sassaman knew he’d need to get his argument across.
“History is not always accessible to people outside of academia,” he said. “It doesn’t appeal to their emotions or their visceral sense of personal connection.”
To address this, Sassaman formed a partnership with Digital Heritage Interactive, a studio run by UF alumni that specializes in applying digital technologies to cultural resources, to create an interactive walkthrough of Atsena Otie Key. Sassaman ultimately hopes users will be able to navigate the town in virtual reality as it appeared in 1896, talk to real people who lived there before the hurricane and see the devastation the storm reaped for themselves.
“Part of this project is to make history sensory, emotional, personal and biographical,” Sassaman said. “It’s going to be the story of Velma Crevasse at age 11, living on Atsena Otie Key, waking up to the eye of the hurricane thinking the storm was over, only to turn around and see a wall of water approaching her and her house.”
The team is planning to have multiple time periods on the island built out, allowing viewers to move through different eras in a non-linear fashion to show how vulnerable this location was to storm surges and erosion. One minute a user could be in 1896, then suddenly jump to 1842, 1935 or 1950 — all years a hurricane struck the area.
“We turn storms into the boogeyman,” Sassaman explained, when, in reality, an at-risk area like Atsena Otie Key is what happens when a large storm and a human-made vulnerability crash into each other. Long before 1896, the cedar in the area had been overharvested, increasing the odds a storm surge could wreak havoc on the island. Sassaman hopes that being able to see the firsthand consequences of development in an area that has been destroyed by natural occurrences multiple times might encourage people to think harder before building in such an environment.
His partner, Digital Heritage Interactive, is based in Orlando and run by two like-minded UF alumni with degrees in anthropology, DIANA GONZÁLEZ-TENNANT ’11, MA, and her husband EDWARD GONZÁLEZ-TENNANT ’11, PhD, who have previously developed digital walkthroughs of historic settlements. One of their previous projects, Rosewood, allowed users to explore an African American town in Florida that was destroyed during a 1923 race riot.
“Atsena Otie Key and similar projects provide an engaging and interactive method for communicating two things with the public,” Edward said. “The first is an accurate picture of the incredible heritage resources located on the island. Second, the virtual reconstruction reveals the growing danger climate change poses for such resources. Once these resources are gone, they’re lost forever. This project lets us retrieve them from the dustbin of history.”
“The hope is to incite discussions about climate change, both past and present,” Diana said. “What made Atsena Otie Key vulnerable was not that the storm wiped it out, but that the storm drove industry away — that’s why the town no longer exists.”
“Part of this project is to make history sensory, emotional, personal
While this project is still in its early stages, some important early steps have already been completed. To re-create Atsena Otie Key, Sassaman and team began by working with the GatorEye Unmanned Flying Laboratory (GatorEye UFL), a drone program run by the Spatial Ecology and Conservation Lab at UF. GatorEye UFL scanned the island, uncovering the original foundations of buildings and allowing the team to match up what remains with historic maps of the town. This high-resolution mapping managed to accomplish in 40 minutes what previously might have taken Sassaman months.
From here, Sassaman’s team will move forward with building out the digital re-creation of the island over these various time periods. The plan is to house the initial digital headset that will allow users to navigate the town in the Cedar Key Historical Society’s museum, while remote users will be able to access a website to experience the walkthrough themselves.
Sassaman sees the potential for expanding the team’s use of technology to make this re-creation of Atsena Otie Key even more interactive, with an augmented reality version of the town built out so that visitors to the island can actually walk around and see what used to be there by just holding up their mobile devices.
While this augmented reality stage is still a while off, the creativity and willingness to engage with the public in such an innovate manner speaks to how important Sassaman feels this history is to our present times.
“History is the archive of human experiences that we use to shape our perception of where we are and where we’re going,” Sassaman said. “We need to mobilize these experiences and make them available — now.”
ARI LUXENBERG was seven when Gator football coach Galen Hall awarded him a little orange whistle for doing the most push-ups for his age at a UF summer football camp. While that whistle has since been lost to history, Luxenberg’s Gator Pride has only grown.
“I always knew I wanted to be a Gator,” Luxenberg said. “It’s something that has always felt a part of me.”
Today, Luxenberg credits his education at UF with providing him the foundation he needed to pursue his dream job in Hollywood, where Luxenberg works as a Senior Vice President of Business Affairs at Paramount Television, negotiating deals (such as hiring actors, writers and directors) for the studio’s TV projects, including “Jack Ryan” on Amazon and “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix. He was previously employed at Warner Bros. Television, where he worked on shows such as “The Leftovers” on HBO and “The Middle” on ABC.
Luxenberg learned how to be a leader at UF, especially while serving as the president of Florida Cicerones, UF’s official student ambassadors. “Running that organization and feeling I’d been able to make an impact at UF was a constant reminder that through determination and hard work there’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish — including achieving my dreams in Hollywood,” he said.
At UF he strategically chose English as his major following the advice of his academic advisor who believed it would provide a great foundation for law school, a key step in his plan to move into the business side of the entertainment industry.
After his 2006 graduation from the Emory University School of Law, Luxenberg accepted a position with a large law firm in Atlanta focusing on corporate law. Although he was getting valuable experience and making a good salary, Luxenberg still felt the pull of Hollywood.
So, he arranged a short vacation to Los Angeles and lined up some informational interviews at talent agencies. A month later, an agency called and offered him a position — in their mail room. Although this meant a significantly smaller salary, Luxenberg accepted and began planning his move to Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, the 2007 WGA strike spurred a hiring freeze, eliminating his opportunity. Undeterred, Luxenberg still moved out West, landing an assistant position in the business affairs department of the William Morris Agency’s music division.
After a few years in LA working as an assistant and trying to break into the executive ranks, Luxenberg was considering a move back to Atlanta to work for a big firm again. “I was waiting on my California bar results, and was just at the point where I had to start paying down my law school loans. I’d really given it my best shot, but was being realistic that it just might not work out in Hollywood.”
“Then suddenly, everything seemed to click into place. Just as I got the news I passed the California bar, I landed a dream job at Warner Bros. Television, which was the big break to join the studio executive ranks and finally make my way into the television side of the business,” he said.
“When leaving my law firm and setting off to LA on this journey, I knew in my heart that I had to pursue my dream regardless of the risk. It was a long difficult road, but truly my experiences at UF were invaluable in helping me see it through and reach the position I’m at today.”
The annual Evening of Excellence shines a spotlight on those who make the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences an essential part of the University of Florida. This year’s ceremony was held on April 12, 2019, at the Florida Museum of Natural History and celebrated the staff members, faculty, students, alumni and others who best exemplify the values inherent in a liberal arts and sciences education. Keep reading to learn more about all of our winners.
Liberal Arts and Sciences Partner Award: Disney Conservation Fund
The Disney Conservation Fund received the Partner Award for their long-term support of UF’s Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research to help save endangered sea turtles. Disney selected UF as one of only seven global organizations receiving these larger impact-focused “Saving Wildlife” grants. The goal is to increase awareness of threats to these species on a large scale and has provided more than $1 million in funding for the center to develop new research, community strategies and other conservation solutions to help protect the world’s sea turtles, and to provide additional collaboration with Disney conservation staff.
“We recognize and appreciate Disney’s understanding of the urgency of not only preserving but also bringing back populations of sea turtles,” said Karen Bjorndal, Department of Biology professor and Director of the Archie Carr Center. “Those of us who have spent our lives trying to save these animals are grateful.”
Superior Staff Award: Marisa Gates
Research Administrator Marisa Gates was recognized for her outstanding work supporting the CLAS Research Office. “Whenever she serves a person through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Research Office, Marisa assures them it will be okay and that she will help them handle whatever might come along,” said Beth Eslick, Director of the CLAS Research Office.
Faculty Achievement Award: Mark Rush and Laura Guyer
Two faculty members were honored this year for their distinguished achievement in research, teaching and service. To learn more about Mark Rush, click here. To read about Laura Guyer, click here.
Volunteer of the Year: Linda Fischer Wells, Political Science ’61
Linda Fischer Wells ’61 was honored for her work as the chair of the Department of Religion’s Advisory Board.
Student Excellence Award: Emma Leone, Daniel Ally and Sujaya Rajguru
The three students recognized at this year’s event embody the spirit of a liberal arts and sciences education.
Syed Balkhi was honored for his work supporting the Beyond120 program. At the age of 7, Balkhi started his first business in Pakistan. His entrepreneurial spirit has continued to this day, with his business OptinMonster ranking seventh in 2019’s Gator100, a list of the 100 fastest growing Gator-led companies. “We are inspired by Syed’s determination, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit as a student and beyond,” Kathryn Clark ’19 said.
Outstanding Alumna: Rhonda Holt, Computer and Information Science ’86
This award honors an alumna or alumnus who has made significant contributions to their field while exemplifying the breadth and depth of a liberal arts and sciences degree. Rhonda Holt, Vice President for Software Development and Operations at PBS, was honored this year for her long and distinguished career as a business and technology executive at a variety of organizations.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Tom Elligett, Mathematics ’75
Tom Elligett was recognized for providing both financial support and advocacy for the college. A partner at Buell & Elligett in Tampa, he is an appellate and trial lawyer who has participated in more than 500 appeals in the last 40 years. As an alumnus, he has given to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence every year since 1982, consistently supporting the greatest needs of the college.
Civic Champion: The Honorable Marjorie Turnbull, Political Science ’62
Marjorie Turnbull was honored for her dedication to serving the people of Florida since her graduation from UF. She began her political career in the Florida House of Representatives and has had a distinguished public career as a Leon County Commissioner, the Executive Director of Tallahassee Community College and a board member of many nonprofit organizations.
Lasting Legacy Award: Herb ’55 and Catherine Yardley ’56
Herb and Catherine Yardley were recognized for their decades of providing support to the college. Catherine, who passed away in 2018 and was honored posthumously at the ceremony, captured the Yardley’s commitment to education in her quote engraved in the Plaza of the Americas — “The first step to a good life is a good education. It is here for you.”
The Yardleys have invested in diverse areas across the college including the Speech and Debate Team, the Bob Graham Center, Student Affairs and outdoor spaces on campus. The Yardley Garden outside of Ustler and Farrior halls is just one example of how the Yardleys have improved the campus grounds by providing students and faculty with space for relaxation and contemplation.
“I’ve known the Yardleys for years and I am continually amazed by their generosity and vision, particularly in curating and encouraging creative and beautiful spaces on UF’s campus,” said Carter Boydstun, retired senior philanthropic advisor at UF and inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.
The English Language Institute helps foreign students adapt to their new environment
By Barbara Drake
Selom Ametepe felt ready for the next step in her academic life. There was only one holdup.
A biologist from Lomé, Togo, a country in West Africa, Ametepe had been selected by the Institute of International Education for the 2018–19 Fulbright Junior Staff Development Program, allowing her to pursue graduate studies in the United States. But, her acceptance letter came with a catch: Her English wasn’t yet as strong as it would need to be to succeed in the program.
Many similar graduate programs and fellowships expect that international participants show a firm command of English before heading to a U.S. university. That’s where the English Language Institute (ELI) comes in.
Founded in 1954 and overseen by the Department of Linguistics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the ELI is one of the oldest intensive English programs in the United States. Each semester, it welcomes hundreds of motivated students from around the world.
While some students are with the program for only one semester or six weeks, others intent on attending a U.S. college or university can spend half a year or longer studying with the ELI’s faculty and staff of language experts.
That was the case for Ametepe. With ELI’s training, she could pursue graduate studies in molecular biology and return to her home country with the necessary tools to address critical issues like food shortages and health issues. But first, she needed to prove that she had the English skills required by her preferred master’s degree program.
To do so, she would have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The exam is scored on a scale of 0 to 120, and Ametepe, who was already fluent in French and Éwé, would need an 80 or better — though a high score wouldn’t necessarily guarantee her future success.
“A TOEFL score of 100 does not mean a student has any idea how to negotiate the higher education system in the U.S. or has the language skills to do so,” said ELI director MEGAN FORBES. Lack of these skills can bar an international student from finding an internship or a position in the United States.
With the ELI’s instruction, though, Ametepe would receive intensive training in a proven environment. Class sizes are small (no more than 15 students), and the ELI’s faculty teach the core skills of academic English along with how to succeed in the U.S. classroom setting, whose norms are often different from those of international universities. Students learn how to make polite requests, interrupt respectfully, debate controversial topics and understand American sarcasm — skills that native speakers often take for granted.
As a complement to their daytime studies, students can participate in the ELI’s Cultural Immersion Program (CIP) — “the first and most extensive” of any such program in the United States, according to Forbes.
CIP activities give international students opportunities to practice their English skills in social settings. Scheduled weekday activities include mixers at the Reitz Union, soccer and volleyball; weekend events feature group outings to Blue Springs, St. Augustine Beach, Disney World and other attractions in North and Central Florida.
Ametepe, meanwhile, was more concerned with studying for the test than socializing. She adjusted to the demands of practicing English 25 hours a week, plus preparing for the TOEFL and Graduate Records Examinations (GRE). Hunched over her books and laptop, Ametepe would study late into the evenings in Matherly Hall, where a quiet classroom let her focus better than she could in the busy libraries.
“I can accomplish a lot of things to help my country,” Ametepe said, “but to do that, I need credibility. With the master’s degree I am going to obtain, my voice now will be heard.”
In Togo, she had taken the TOEFL twice and missed by more than 10 points, largely because of the speaking portion. At the time, Ametepe had spoken English the way it was written in her textbooks — formally. She reminded herself, “I am learning to speak daily English, not book English.”
When it came to writing, some of her instruction at ELI conflicted with the standards she had learned in Togo. A teacher, for instance, insisted that the students state their main ideas directly: “No beating around the bush.” That went against the grain of French academic writing, which favored long, ornate phrases.
After studying nonstop for almost three months, Ametepe took the TOEFL for the third time. Her nerves were wracked. So much was riding on this.
The results devastated her: 75. Five points short. “Maybe the Fulbright Program will not continue to fund me,” she worried to herself. “I will have to go back to Togo with no master’s degree.”
For the first time, though, her score on the TOEFL essay portion went up — significantly. She resolved to hold strong and try again.
Finally, after her fourth try, Ametepe received an 81, surpassing her target of 80 and allowing her to pursue her next degree at the University of Arkansas.
Ametepe plans to research how to maintain food safely and convert food waste into fertilizer — both useful for issues her country faces, as Togo produces abundant crops only to see much of it spoil quickly.
“I can accomplish a lot of things to help my country,” Ametepe said, “but to do that, I need credibility. With the master’s degree I am going to obtain, my voice now will be heard.”