Faculty Showcase Features Storytelling for Teaching Excellence

By Michael R. Malone
UM News


Visiting Assistant Professor Mónica Alexandra Durán  leads a learning circle at the Faculty Showcase.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 24, 2017)—Teaching teachers to weave stories using mind tools—rhythm and cadence, humor, a twist of the bizarre, or a taste of the familiar—that enhance learning was just one of the many novel techniques shared at Faculty Showcase 2017.

Promoting teaching excellence was the story at this full-day workshop held this month in the Donna E. Shalala Student Center. The third annual showcase, facilitated by University of Miami Information Technology’s Academic Technologies unit, attracted faculty from a range of disciplines across the University and included a potpourri of Faculty Spotlights, learning circles, and faculty exhibit opportunities.

“I’m always looking for new and better ways to get students engaged,” said Dan DiResta, a senior lecturer in the Department of Biology, when asked his motivation for attending. DiResta and colleague Jane Indorf, an assistant professor, both appreciated the emphasis on storytelling in teaching and said narrative techniques are used often in biology in the form of case studies.

“The students really enjoy the case studies for learning—they’re like investigative mysteries—and some of the cases are ‘told’ by some very good storytellers,” Indorf said.

In his Faculty Spotlight on “Promoting Retention of Information through Narrative Memory,” Matthew Kaeiser, an instructor in the Division of Continuing and International Education’s Intensive English Program, shared associative language learning techniques he developed when teaching in Honduras. Research shows that narrative presentations enhance learning and storytelling techniques can be especially helpful for students whose first language is not English.

“Teaching can become very siloed, so the showcase is geared to get people from different teaching areas to connect and to expand faculty awareness for the many opportunities that are there for them but often not talked about enough,” said Gemma Henderson, senior instructional designer with Academic Technologies. The showcase was mainly contextualized for University faculty, but was open to the public.

As part of his keynote address, “Developing Students’ Emerging ‘Story of Self’ as Citizens,” Scot Evans led participants in a storytelling exercise to identify the “ah ha” moments in their lives, a snippet in time where they became aware of their purpose and civic identity. Evans, an associate professor of educational and psychological studies in the School of Education and Human Development, uses the same exercise in his classes to connect students to the power of their own stories—and how their stories deepen connections to each other and to their learning.

In addition to the keynotes and a wide range of topics explored in learning circles, faculty toured tables with resource information about Learning Innovation and Faculty Development; the Faculty Learning Community (trans-disciplinary); Learning Platforms (online technologies for classroom teaching); Miller School of Medicine campus resources (curriculum development, mentoring and faculty development, Panopto lecture-capture); and the treasure chest of resources available for faculty and students at the library—Digital Media Lab, Geographic Information Systems Lab, Digital Humanities, the Learning Commons, and much more.


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UM Enhances Well-Being Through Laughter and Meditation

WOW-2017Between free massages, yoga sessions, and even a lesson on using humor to be healthier, faculty, staff, and students took the time to zen out during the University’s fifth annual Week of Well-Being. This year’s events, held April 3-7, encouraged the UM community across campuses and satellite locations to find their best selves through a number of activities designed to change the way they think about psychological health.

Isaac Prilleltensky, vice provost for institutional culture and dean of the School of Education and Human Development, led sessions sharing insight from his book, ‘The Laughing Guide to Well-Being,’ to show how humor and science can lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle. The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program helped participants explore the principles of mindfulness for everyday life. Other returning WOW favorites included yoga sessions led by the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center, and Wellness Fairs featuring giveaways, snacks, and a large ‘U’ installation presented by Fidelity Investments, inspiring employees to take steps towards their financial well-being.

View the slideshow below and take a survey to provide your feedback and improve next year’s WOW.

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Illuminating Moonlight: President Frenk and Tarell McCraney Discuss the Playwright’s Academy Award-Nominee

A screening at the Cosford gives UM President Julio Frenk an opportunity to talk to one of the creative forces behind the Academy Award-nominated ‘Moonlight’

By Robin Shear
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 30, 2017)—The evening after Moonlight received eight Academy Award nominations, the University of Miami hosted a special screening event at the Cosford Cinema, with a Q&A between UM President Julio Frenk and Tarell Alvin McCraney, the playwright and Miami native whose largely autobiographical work inspired the critically acclaimed film.

McCraney has been a professor of theater and civic engagement in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences since 2015. During that time he also launched an arts leadership project for young women of color at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City, one of the local resources that gave McCraney a rare refuge from the poverty, crime, and bullying he struggled with growing up in the neighborhood.

After last Wednesday’s screening of the 111-minute drama, currently slated to run at the Cosford through February 9,  a visibly affected audience paused briefly before breaking into applause.

Moonlight, already a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture-Drama, tells the story of Chiron, also nicknamed “Little” and “Black,” in three gripping acts. Chiron lives with his drug-addicted mother in Liberty City during the turbulent 1980s. With troubles at home and school, the quiet but intense Chiron (pronounced shy-rone) traverses dangerous terrain, buoyed by fleeting moments of sanctuary and support from a drug dealer named Juan, based on a significant figure in McCraney’s youth. Unlike Chiron, McCraney took another path and went on to become a renowned playwright, recognized in 2013 with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

“This is a stunning example of how artists can move us to new understandings of our world,” Frenk said during his introduction of McCraney, who has “story by” and executive producer credits on Moonlight. “Tarell is a son of Miami. He is an artist of Miami. And he is an advocate for Miami. The film we just saw is such a beautiful, poetic, loving portrait of our incredible city in all its dimensions.”

But it is a story that might never have been widely known. When McCraney was 22, his mother died of AIDS-related complications. Trying to make sense of his life up to that time, he wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Though never staged, almost a decade later the work came to the attention of director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins, also raised in Liberty City. Their collaboration has garnered a powerful response that has pushed the self-described “painfully shy” McCraney into a new kind of spotlight.

Among Moonlight’s eight Academy Award nominations are Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. At the Q&A on January 25, McCraney spoke openly and eloquently about what it was like to be part of such an intensely personal project and why he thinks it has resonated with audiences and critics as one of the best films of the year.

Crediting the authenticity Jenkins brought to the screen and a “one-of-a-kind” ensemble cast, McCraney said, “There hadn’t been this kind of storytelling in a while, specifically about people of color from this part of the world. I think there was an appetite for it.”

He also credited School of Communication lecturer Rafael Lima, who taught playwriting at McCraney’s high school, with the words of wisdom that helped him begin to share this poignant and intimate piece.

“I had tried to figure out ways to create the story before and didn’t really understand how to do that,” said McCraney. “He said, ‘If a story keeps coming to you visually, then it’s a film. If you hear it, then it’s a play.’”

Asked by Frenk what he would tell young people who live in a world where they, like Chiron, may face violence in terms of their race, sexual orientation, or any other dimension of their identity, McCraney replied, “I don’t know if I would tell them anything, to be fair. Having sat in that chair and having to listen to adults figure out how to fix an ill of society by telling you something feels counterintuitive. The thing I often try to do in those circumstances is show them where they actually belong. One of the initiatives I’ve appreciated since I’ve been here at the University is the Culture of Belonging because it’s a powerful tenet. We have work to do here, but that’s where it all starts. One of the things that Juan does in the film for Little is he says, ‘You belong somewhere, you’re a part of something.’ And that’s what I would try to show rather than say.”

Praising Moonlight, School of Communication Dean Gregory Shepherd asked McCraney to expand on the character of Juan, complexly portrayed by Academy Award nominee Mahershala Ali. McCraney started with an anecdote about walking up to Ali backstage after seeing the movie with an audience for the first time in Toronto. “My tie was askew and [Ali] started fixing it,” recounted McCraney, “and I burst into tears because for me he had just sort of transformed into this person I had not seen since I was 6 or 7 years old.”

The character of Juan, he explained, was based on his mother’s boyfriend, a man named Blue. “He was a drug dealer, and he was every bit of a hero to me,” McCraney said. “He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to swim. He told me that I was good enough. He often stemmed my mother’s abuse from affecting me in many ways. I was the best-dressed kid in Liberty City for a long time. I always wanted to honor that memory but not expunge it of any of the things that, actually, he did.”

Thanking McCraney for coming to speak to one of his classes previously, UM student Jeremy Penn asked him to discuss the bullying and violence portrayed in the film and how the “school and police fail to address the systemic issues that are going on.”

McCraney said that in his own life the system didn’t fail him. “At some point the bullying stopped because I was led out of danger,” he explained. He was offered free classes at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center and attended the New World School of the Arts, “so I could be in a place that was just a little bit more accepting of who I was.”

But that’s not everyone’s story. McCraney notes that Chiron’s story doesn’t follow his own trajectory of success. “One of the reasons I wrote [the story] in that way was, what if I took that one missed step to the left? And both things cost. No matter what school I’m at, no matter what instructor I’m with, I still carry the scars of that time.”

President Frenk concluded by thanking McCraney—who will be returning to his alma mater, the Yale School of Drama, in July to serve as chair of the playwriting department—for his artistic creation, his work at UM, and his service to the greater Miami community.

“Obviously on Oscar night all your friends and family at the U are going to be rooting for Moonlight. We hope it does very, very well,” said Frenk. “We wish you well—and you know this will always be the home where you truly belong.”

The evening was sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Communication.

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New Employees Begin Their Journey at I Am the U

By Charisse Lopez-Mason
Special to UM News

One by one, the University of Miami’s newest faculty and staff—physicians, patient access representatives, researchers, IT professionals, and more—gathered on an early Monday morning at the Newman Alumni Center for their first day of work.

After a ceremonial ribbon cutting to mark the occasion, the group of 50 participated in I Am the U, UM’s reimagined new-employee orientation program. Inspired by feedback from University faculty and staff and several months of planning and hard work from the Building a Better U Together’s Global Orientation work team, the new program introduces employees to the University’s common purpose, DIRECCT values, service standards, structure and operations, history, and more.

“The experience was invigorating,” said participant Tamara Long, a patient navigator for Clinical Access.

The highlight for her, was when alumnus Ray Bellamy, a UM trailblazer, popped in to talk to the group.

Bellamy is the first African-American to sign a football scholarship to play for the University of Miami, and the first African-American football athlete given a scholarship to a major university in the Southeastern part of the United States.

“When I listened to his story, it brought tears to my eyes,” said Long. “He said one thing that stood out to me, he said the University of Miami had his back.”

Bellamy, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the School of Education and Human Development, spoke to the group about his UM experience, saying, “You cannot find a better place. UM made a difference in my life, and I promise it will make a difference in yours.”

Throughout the day, a team of facilitators, UM employees who volunteered, auditioned, and trained to lead the program, led the group through a series of hands-on interactive activities that focused on the University’s past, present, and future.

Kesha Grayson, a supervisor of systems and technology at the Shalala Student Center and an I Am the U facilitator, said that participating in the program was a no-brainer. “As an alumna, I innately know what it means when we say, ‘It’s great to be a Miami Hurricane.’ I wanted to share that and be a part of welcoming new employees to their new roles,” she said.

Grayson has worked for UM for 13 years and says the best part of the experience has been finding 25 new “besties,” co-facilitators whom she now considers friends.

“I always knew I was a part of a bigger picture,” said I am the U facilitator Sergio Pintado, a patient access supervisor. “But being a part of this program showed me just how bright the future is at the U.”

The new program runs up to three times per week on the Coral Gables campus. It closes with a graduation ceremony and special visit from Sebastian the Ibis, who teaches the group the Miami Hurricanes C-A-N-E-S chant.

“At the end of the day,” said Long, “I realized I was now part of a new and growing family.”

To learn more, visit firstdays.miami.edu.


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UM’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Sees Rapid Growth

OLLI offers more than 50 classes to seniors who want to remain active in mind and body.

By Bárbara Gutiérrez
UM News

 Leslie Gross gives fellow Osher classmate Jenny Zanzurri some tips on using her iPhone.

Leslie Gross gives fellow Osher classmate Jenny Zanzuri some tips on using her iPhone.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 26, 2017)—Jenny Zanzuri is a living example that one can master new technology at any age. The 97-year-old is the oldest student at the University of Miami Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), but her spirit and determination are forever young.

The retired United Nations staffer, who worked for the assistant secretary of economics and social affairs, Ubers every Wednesday to join 20 students taking the iPhone and iPad Basics Class.

“I am stupid when it comes to these devices,” she said, tapping her iPhone. “But this class will help me.” Zanzuri wants to use her new knowledge to keep in touch with her daughter and friends.

The class, offered at Founders Hall on the Coral Gables campus, is one of more than 50 classes offered per week at the institute for anyone over the age of 50 who has an active mind and the willingness to be a student again. Many of the students are doctors, lawyers, professors, and others whose lives and personal experiences enrich the everyday curriculum. At the center, students enjoy a variety of programs, from tai chi and yoga to watercolor and classes on investments and current events.

Keeping active and feeling a sense of purpose is what attracts many OLLI members, who pay $40 to join the institute. These days the numbers of students are increasing in great part thanks to an explosion of baby boomers who are retiring, said Julia Cayuso, OLLI director. OLLI has seen close to a 140 percent rise in enrollment numbers in the past four years.

“It has been truly remarkable,” said Cayuso. “Our numbers are going through the roof.”

Fortunately, OLLI recently received a second $1 million endowment grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation, which will support the center’s operations so it can continue providing classes and activities for seniors. About 10 percent of the faculty are UM professors, said Cayuso.


For his class Triumph and Tragedy: the Lives of Great Men, historian Richard Dawson dresses as his subjects, in this case Marco Polo, would have dressed.

There seems to be a class for every interest. But among the most popular is Robert Dawson’s class Triumph and Tragedy: the Lives of Great Men. At the inaugural class this year, Dawson, a historian, wore a turban and red frock and proudly introduced himself: “My name is Marco Polo.”

Each week he dons another costume and identity. He believes teaching in costumes makes the lessons more memorable.

That resonates with 70-year-old history buff Tom Brown, a retired Miami-Dade County Fire Department battalion chief, who has been a member of OLLI for four years and has taken all of Dawson’s classes.

“I like coming here because I find that I learn a lot and it keeps me active,” said Brown, who also volunteers as a tour guide at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and teaches Sunday school at his church.

Another popular offering is Global Viewpoints, taught by Mitra Raheb, a former St. Thomas University professor whose candid style kept her nearly 100 students in awe as she taught the politics of the Middle East.

“What I most enjoy is the students,” said Raheb, who also teaches at FIU’s OLLI. “Their diverse educational, cultural, and political background keeps the class lively and informative.”

For Chris Weinberg, 67, who has been taking classes at OLLI for two and half years, that energy is what keeps her coming and volunteering for several committees.

“It’s a very special place,” said Weinberg, who worked in advertising for many years. “It draws the intellectually curious, and we feel that we are part of a family.”

Like Weinberg, many members donate their time and energy to the member institute. That is the motor that keeps OLLI running, said Cayuso.

A caring committee keeps tabs on members who may be hospitalized or have suffered a loss. A recently organized choral group provides another outlet for those with musical talents.

“It is truly a volunteer-driven place,” Cayuso said. “Many of the members serve on committees that determine the curriculum, plan the social events, and focus on growth and retention of membership.”

For more information, visit the OLLI website or the class catalogue.


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