A New Place to Call Home: Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life Breaks Ground

Special to UM News


From left are Jeffrey Miller and Debra Braman Wechsler, Hillel at UM Capital Campaign co-chairs; UM President Donna E. Shalala; and Noreen Gordon Sablotsky, chair of UM Hillel’s Board of Directors.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 16, 2014)—On the final day of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, University of Miami Hillel held a groundbreaking ceremony to officially begin construction on the new Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life.

Thanks to a lead naming gift of $2.5 million from two of Miami’s most distinguished families, the Bramans and the Millers, who were on site for the groundbreaking, UM Hillel will be renovated to meet the needs of more than 2,000 Jewish and non-Jewish UM students alike. Plans include a new lobby, kosher café, dining room, multipurpose classroom space, and prayer sanctuary.

“Here at the University of Miami, Hillel gives Jewish students a place to call home—a place where they can connect with their culture, deepen their spirituality, energize their commitment to community service, and develop relationships that will last a lifetime,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala.

The event, which was attended by 80 UM students, trustees, donors, local and national Hillel leaders, and members of the local Jewish community, was held outside the current Hillel building and in front of a “sukkah,” or booth, made from branches and palms, following Jewish tradition.

“Hillel helps nurture and engage our community. Here, students find meaning and purpose. Yes, they find food, and many times, they find themselves,” said Jacob Solomon, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “Hillel is the best chance the Jewish community has to impact Jewish identity. Across continents, 18 time zones, and on 550 campuses in North America alone, this foundation helps build the future of the Jewish people.”

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel, said, “Our success in building Jewish life on campus depends greatly on our university partners. President Shalala, thank you for that partnership and for the good soil on which to grow and thrive here on campus.”

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Faculty and Staff Support the U: Associate Provost Keeps Her Alma Mater Moving Forward

Mary Sapp

Mary Sapp

Mary Sapp knows that financial support from faculty, employees, and alumni is a big reason the University of Miami is rising steadily in the national rankings. “These contributions play a major role in improving the quality of our educational and research programs, as well as our campus facilities,” says Sapp, M.S. ’86, associate provost for planning, institutional research, and assessment.

Sapp’s own generosity has earned her membership in UM’s Loyalty Society, which honors alumni donors who make gifts for two or more consecutive years. “On a personal level, I feel good about helping to keep our University moving forward by donating to my alma mater each year through the Annual Fund,” she says.

Sapp’s office conducts ongoing research on the University’s programs, studying such key indicators as the academic credentials of students and faculty, graduation rates, and research grants. “We analyze those data to help senior leadership with planning and strategic decisions,” she says. “It’s certainly a lot more rewarding to provide reports that show the great progress we’re making.”

A native of Ohio, Sapp came to Miami in the early 1980s with her husband, Stephen Sapp, professor of religious studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Sapps, who have two grown sons, Eric and David, spent several years living on campus when Stephen Sapp was the resident master at Eaton Residential College. “We really enjoyed being around students and found it to be a very energizing experience,” Mary Sapp says.

Sapp had earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in quantitative psychology before joining the University of Miami, initially as an IT consultant and then as associate director of planning and institutional research. While working and raising a family, she completed her master’s degree in computer science at UM.

“I believe strongly in the value of education, particularly at the university level,” she says. “Education can level the playing field so that minority, immigrant, and low-income students can succeed on their personal merits.”

With its cultural diversity, high academic standards, and beautiful campus, Sapp regards UM as a very special place to work. “When you believe in what you are doing, you can get involved with our University in so many ways, including athletics and cultural activities. There are so many opportunities for personal enjoyment and professional development, and becoming a donor at any level is one of the ways to show your support for our U.”

Read about other faculty and staff who support the U.



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See a Smoker? Gently Remind Them That UM Is Smoke Free

Be.Smoke.FreeCORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 9, 2014)—Sixteen months after the University of Miami joined the ever-growing list of institutions of higher learning to prohibit smoking anywhere on their campuses, the U is, for the most part, smoke free. There may, however, be occasions when you encounter a student, visitor, or fellow employee lighting up, which raises the question: What should I do?

The answer lies in UM’s smoke-free campus policy, which places the collective responsibility of enforcing the smoking ban on faculty, staff, and students, who “are encouraged to directly and politely inform those unaware of the policy, or remind those in disregard of it.”

“Every member of our campus community should feel comfortable in gently reminding individuals who are smoking on campus that smoking is not permitted anywhere,’’ said Ricardo Hall, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “Our experience shows that the vast majority of individuals quickly comply.”

Faculty and staff also are encouraged to make smokers aware of the University resources available to help them, their families and friends, and the broader community kick their highly addictive habit, which is exceedingly difficult to accomplish alone.

“Quitting is hard. It may be the hardest thing smokers ever do, but in keeping with the University’s commitment to wellness and the creation of the healthiest workplace possible, the University makes it easy for smokers to take the first step,” said Nerissa Morris, vice president for human resources and chair of the UM Wellness Advisory Council. “We continue to offer free resources to help smokers quit.”

Among them is UM’s award-winning Be Smoke Free smoking cessation program, which offers free Quit Smoking Now classes to UM students, employees, their family members, and the community at large. The six-week program includes group session counseling, education, and quit-smoking aids—such as nicotine replacement therapies—that together can help smokers minimize cravings, bolster resolve, and build a new sense of self free from the grip of nicotine addiction.

“Because nicotine is highly addictive, willpower and knowledge about the health hazards of using tobacco are not enough to help most people quit,” says Mohammad Asad, coordinator of the Be Smoke Free program. “Your cessation group can support you throughout your quitting process.”

The support group was key for Steven Peace, a senior manager at the Miller School of Medicine-based Florida Cancer Data System who began smoking in high school and vowed he’d stop at age 50—but failed every attempt. Six years later, he turned to the Be Smoke Free program to help him keep his promise, and succeeded.

“I feel so much better, and the Be Smoke Free program was a great way to help me quit. It was convenient, friendly, and supportive,” Peace says. “If you haven’t quit, it’s a good time to do so. You’ll be happier and healthier, and you will be able to breathe—and smell—so much better once you do.”

In addition to feeling (and smelling) better, Peace notes another benefit. He’ll no longer have to pay the smoker’s surcharge, which will double to $100 a month, for his UM health insurance.

The Quit Smoking Now classes are held at the Herbert Wellness Center on the Coral Gables campus and the UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center on the Miller School campus, but wellness center membership is not required to attend. For a complete schedule and more information, visit miami.edu/besmokefree. To register, call 305-243-7606 or email Asad at MAsad@med.miami.edu.

The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program is another resource available to help employees and their dependents engage in conversations about the importance of quitting through free and confidential consultations.

Initiated by students who overwhelmingly supported a smoke-free Coral Gables campus, the smoke-free policy originated on the Miller School of Medicine campus in 2010. The Gables campus began phasing in its own policy the following year, initially restricting smoking to designated areas and prohibiting smoking everywhere as of August 1, 2013.

The policy specifically prohibits inhaling, exhaling, burning, or carrying any lighted cigarette or electronic cigarette, cigar, pipe, or other such device that contains tobacco or other smoke-producing products anywhere on campus, including University-owned or leased property, facilities, buildings, passageways, or parking garages.

So faculty and staff who see smokers anywhere on campus should gently remind them to extinguish their products, and encourage them to consider kicking their habit. As President Donna E. Shalala said in August 2013, when the Coral Gables campus joined the medical campus in becoming 100-percent smoke free, “We can all contribute to the success of the initiative by letting others know about the new policy and pitching in to help them comply.”


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Faculty and Staff Support the U: Filmmaker’s Talents Shine on the Silver Screen and on the University

Talavera.croppedThrough his award-winning documentaries, outreach to local non-profits, and wide-ranging teaching activities, Professor Edmund Talavera strives to make the world a better place.  As chair of the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media in the School of Communication, Talavera enjoys creating promotional videos for the University of Miami, organizing alumni fundraising events, and making personal donations to the Momentum2 campaign.

“Our University is doing great things,” he says. “As faculty and employees, we all need to show the world that we care about the future of UM.”

Talavera’s charitable spirit is shared with his wife, Konstantia Kontaxis, who is also a professor in the School of Communication, and their two children. “Every year, my wife and I create videos for local health and social organizations, such as the Transplant House,” he says. “I also bring our alumni and film students together for networking and fundraising events in Hollywood, like our Los Angeles Showcase. It’s a great way to build those personal and professional connections.”

A graduate of New York University’s film program, Talavera joined the faculty in 1999. Over the past 15 years, he has taken UM film students to such locations as Peru, Guatemala, and Greece, producing narrative and documentary feature films on social and health issues. His most recent documentary, Finding Gaston, was an official selection of film festivals in Spain, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. His 2011 documentary, Mistura – The Power of Food, was named the best short foreign documentary at the International Family Film Festival and won the Golden Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival. His films have shown in theaters worldwide and aired on HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax.

Closer to home, Talavera puts his talents to work to promote the University. He was the cinematographer for At the U, and recently completed a new video about the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center on the Coral Gables campus. He also serves as director of the ’Canes Film Festival, an annual showcase of student films.

“I really appreciate the support our film program has received through the years,” he says. “It’s a pleasure for my wife and I to give back to our University.”

Read about other faculty and staff who support the U.


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Miller Center Named Permanent Home for Groundbreaking Holocaust Theater Catalog

UM News

Greg Mullavey as Milton Saltzman and Andi Potamkin as Annie Blumberg, from the New York City live stage and filmed production of “The Soap Myth,” by Jeff Cohen, directed by Arnold Mittelman, and produced by NJTF. The filmed play will screen at Cosford Cinema on October 7 as part of the launch of the Holocaust Theater Catalog. Photo credit: Richard Termine.

Greg Mullavey as Milton Saltzman and Andi Potamkin as Annie Blumberg, from the New York City live stage and filmed production of “The Soap Myth,” by Jeff Cohen, directed by Arnold Mittelman, and produced by NJTF. The filmed play will screen at Cosford Cinema on October 7 as part of the launch of the Holocaust Theater Catalog. Photo credit: Richard Termine.

CORAL GABLES, FL (September 26, 2014) – The University of Miami Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, the George Feldenkreis Program in Judaic Studies and The National Jewish Theater Foundation (NJTF) will launch the ground-breaking digital Holocaust Theater Catalog (HTC) on October 7. The event will include a special screening of the acclaimed NJTF filmed play “The Soap Myth” from 6 to 9 p.m. that evening at the Cosford Cinema on UM’s Coral Gables campus.

The National Jewish Theater Foundation has designated the Miller Center at the University of Miami as the permanent home for its digital Holocaust Theater Catalog—a website project of the NJTF Holocaust Theater International Initiative (HTII). Read the full story

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