Nobel Laureate Urges Graduates to Change the World

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

For full commencement coverage visit the Special Report: 2016 Commencement

UM President Julio Frenk shares a joyous moment with two graduates.

UM President Julio Frenk shares a joyous moment with two graduates.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 6, 2016)—Their final exams, research papers, and senior class projects were completed within the past few days, but now the nearly 800 University of Miami students who assembled in the BankUnited Center Friday morning for the first of three commencement ceremonies faced a more daunting challenge: solving the planet’s most pressing problems.

Oscar Arias, the former two-time president of Costa Rica and a Nobel laureate who received an honorary degree and gave advice to graduates at the ceremony, wasted little time in making sure UM’s newest daughters and sons were aware of the task at hand.

“This planet needs you to achieve the greatest impact you possibly can,” he told the students, all of them graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It is no exaggeration to say the world is depending on you.”

And it is a world in crisis, he said, reeling off some grim statistics: 664 million people without access to safe drinking water, more than 800 million living in substandard housing, 17,000 children dying each day from hunger-related causes, 2.8 billion people surviving on less than $2 a day, and prejudice reaching the mainstream of political discourse in the United States.

“You are the leaders who will determine whether little by little we change our course and find a better way,” he said.

If anyone is familiar with finding a better way, it is Arias. When he took office in 1986 as Costa Rica’s president, Central America was rife with civil unrest. From the outset, he met with the presidents of nine Latin American countries and proposed an alliance to defend democracy and liberty and promote free and fair elections. His Arias Peace Plan led to the Esquipulas II Accords, signed by five Central American presidents on August 7, 1987. That same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

During his address, Arias, who used the monetary award from his Nobel Peace Prize to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, urged students to “make a difference in the world.”

“It requires not more money or more time,” he explained, “but leaders willing to consider a new way of doing things.”

He reminded them of the powerful words spoken by John F. Kennedy in his stirring presidential inaugural address some 55 years ago—that “Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

“If that was true in 1961, it is true today,” said Arias, adding that the world possesses the resources to put an end to pressing problems such as hunger and disease.

From investing too much on military might and not enough in schools to expending too many words on racism instead of on reason and understanding, “We’re simply making bad choices,” he said.

He told students to be creative, to be innovators, and to think before they act, and act with tireless energy.

“Stand up against those who say it is unrealistic to resist poverty, inequality, and illiteracy,” he said. “You will reach the end of your days knowing you have truly lived.”

Ashley Dixon, who earned her Bachelor of Science in biology, called her graduation “a major accomplishment.”

“It feels like the beginning of the rest of my life,” she said. “It’s exciting but at the same time scary and daunting because there’s that feeling of the baby bird flying out of the nest.”

She plans to take a gap year, working as a scribe at a hospital. Inspired by her father, who is a physician, Dixon plans to go to medical school.

Mandory Exume is off to Japan, where he will teach English in a Japanese school. “I have a passion for languages,” said the English major, who visited Japan last year through UM’s Study Abroad program.

For Barbara Soto, her general studies degree with a concentration in business management “has been a journey.”

“I’m the first of four children in my family to earn a college degree,” said Soto, 48, shedding tears as she lined up with other students in the UM Field House prior to commencement. “I started a family right after I graduated from high school. College was a priority for me, but I thought it was more important to be with my kids.”

On Friday, her daughter, Jessica, and son, Daniel, were inside the BankUnited Center to see their mother accept her degree.

Said Soto, “Today, I’m an inspiration for them.”

At Friday’s midday commencement ceremony for the School of Architecture, School of Communication, School of Education and Human Development, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Frost School of Music, and School of Nursing and Health Studies, Stephen Lewis, the Canadian co-founder of AIDS-Free World who served the United Nations for two decades, urged students to see the “constant panorama of injustice and struggle” and create a more decent, civilized, and humane international society.

“It is a wonderful thing to immerse yourself in social change and to feel the sense of accomplishment of improving the human condition,” said Lewis, who is intimately familiar with that feeling. He has been improving the human condition for decades.

Before co-founding AIDS-Free World to expose the social ills—injustice, abuse, and inequality—that underpin and sustain HIV, he served as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, deputy executive director of UNICEF at the organization’s global headquarters in New York, and Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations. In that capacity, he chaired the first International Conference on Climate Change.

Gillian Tett, an award-winning British author and the U.S. managing editor at the Financial Times who is widely credited with issuing some of the first public warnings about the bubbling financial crisis that exploded into the headlines in 2008, addressed more than 600 graduates of the School of Business Administration and the College of Engineering at the evening ceremony.

A graduate of Cambridge University, where she earned her Ph.D. in social anthropology, Tett has reported on an eclectic range of financial topics from around the world. She speaks multiple languages and is the author of several books, including The New York Times best seller, Fool’s Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall St. Greed Corrupted Its Bold Dream and Created a Financial Catastrophe.

The School of Law and the Miller School of Medicine were set to hold their commencement exercises on Saturday, May 7.



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Not All Superheroes Wear Capes

By Charisse Lopez-Mason
Special to UM News

SuperheroesLisandra Afanador walked into the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute more than 11 years ago gripping her small son’s hand as tightly as she would at the edge of a cliff. Her head was spinning, and her heart was heavy with emotion. She was sad, hopeful, anxious, and afraid.

“My son suffered from everything,” she said. Then 9, Adriel Afanador was visiting Bascom Palmer to treat glaucoma and cataracts, among other diseases. He was small for his age, and hyperactive. “I was so afraid of how he would handle this,” Afanador recalled.

Soon after her first visit, Afanador met Vanessa Bello, manager of patient access at Bascom Palmer. “I knew she was special; she is someone you don’t forget.”

Twice a week for many years, Bello became Afanador’s confidant—putting her mind at ease during visits to Bascom Palmer with her son, helping them navigate through a very difficult situation, every step along the way. More than 1,100 visits, hand-holdings, and hide-and-seek games later for her son, Afanador speaks fondly about her experience at Bascom. “Vanessa was so warm and nice to my son throughout the years,” she said.

The Afanadors are one of countless families who have stories about their experiences at UHealth—the University of Miami Health System, and many involve one of the more than 500 on-site patient access representatives who serve thousands of patients each day.

Day in and day out, these representatives serve patients on the front lines, before they receive specialized care, and create a first impression that leaves a long-lasting impact.

On-site patient access representatives are hard to miss. Along with their bright smiles, they wear bright orange scarves or neckties dotted with the U.

“I can’t believe how popular the scarves have become,” says Enery Samlut, executive director of health system access. “We knew we wanted something that represented that we are all part of the U team.”

John Perez, senior patient access representative at Bascom Palmer for the past 18 years, knows the stories of each of his patients, who know him by name, or by his voice. “One of my patients was badly scarred in a fire,” he says of the woman he’s been greeting and helping several days a week for the past six years. “She knows I’m here by the sound of my voice,” Perez says.

But visiting a physician is not all smiles and friendly conversation. Wait times can be a challenge for both patients and staff, but patient access teams still strive to make sure the patient comes first. According to Perez, a lot of his job is ensuring that the patients are always kept informed and comfortable. “I try to make a connection with them to ensure that they have a good experience,” he says.

An integral part of providing that positive experience is integrating programs to help teams provide the best service they can despite roadblocks.

“The patient experience is the sum of all interactions but it all begins with a good first impression,” says Armando Carvajal, manager of IT and training operations, who subsequently implemented a new-hire orientation program for the on-site patient access team called Impressions. The five-hour course has one simple objective: to inspire and equip all front line, on-site patient access associates with the necessary skills to effectively and efficiently handle all types of customer interactions while providing a memorable and exceptional patient experience.

Patient Access Representatives make up one of the largest enrollments in the University’s Essentials of Leadership program, which provides foundational training and coaching for University leaders, and are active in the University’s culture transformation, being trained on the new leadership traits, behaviors, and service standards.

“We train and track metrics around service and performance,” said Salmut. “But it takes special people to do this work. It comes from the heart.”

Now 20, Adriel Afanador still visits Bascom Palmer, though not as frequently. Life hasn’t been easy for the Afanadors, but they are still grateful for the people at UM who helped ease their long journey. “Everyone, all the people there, are awesome,” Afanador said.


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Heritage Society Welcomes New Members

By Pam Edward
Special to UM News

Ann House, associate vice president for Advancement Services, is among this year’s Heritage Society inductees.

Ann House, associate vice president for Advancement Services, is among this year’s Heritage Society inductees.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 22, 2016) — When someone travels outside his or her comfort zone—be it geographic, cultural, or academic—it can be a genuinely transformative experience. Just ask the four University of Miami students who spoke of their studies abroad at the 27th Annual Heritage Society Luncheon, held at the Newman Alumni Center last Thursday, to thank donors who have made planned gifts to the University and induct the Society’s newest members, including Ann House, associate vice president for Advancement Services, who will retire in May after a 39-year career at the University.

The students, who were featured in the luncheon’s keynote remarks by Devika Milner, director of Study Abroad, included Vinessa Burnett, ’16, who was inspired by her time in Sydney, Australia, to launch an organization that encourages African-American UM students to pursue study abroad.

Melissa Haun, ’16, called her stay at UBuenos Aires, Argentina, “an exercise in adaptation, humility, and changing the way I thought about the world.” Shelby Koos, ’16, who studied in Cusco, Peru, volunteered in the local community and learned to speak Quechua, the main indigenous language of the Andean region. And Danielle Ellis, A.B. ’15, currently a student in the School of Law, has traveled to Argentina and India, realizing along the way “how diverse the world is and how much I have to learn from others.”

The Heritage Society recognizes those who have included the University in their estate plan or who have used a planned giving vehicle to make a gift. Since the Society’s inception in 1988, more than 1,500 individuals, living and deceased, have been inducted. On this occasion, the Society welcomed its 61 newest members with 138 distinguished guests, including University leadership, trustees, and current Society members, looking on.

In his remarks at the luncheon, President Julio Frenk spoke about the vision for the University’s next ten years that he first articulated in his inaugural address. In particular, he highlighted the initiatives underway to ensure “Access with Excellence,” which means ensuring that students can complete their studies and graduate without undue financial burdens, and to develop a university-wide platform for educational innovation. He cited study abroad as a key effort in these areas, and saluted the Heritage Society for being vital to the University’s long-term success. He told the assembled members “you provide a lasting legacy of leadership in learning, discovery, and service.”

Thomas J. LeBlanc, the University’s executive vice president and provost, spoke eloquently about his own experiences as a high-school student studying in Brazil. He called it a truly life-changing opportunity, and so strongly does he believe in the power of study abroad that, in 2012, he and his wife Anne established the Tom and Anne LeBlanc Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide undergraduate students with financial need the opportunity to participate in one of UM’s Study Abroad Programs.

As associate vice president for Advancement Services, House, M.B.A. ’84, manages a team of 39 professionals who perform the critical functions—ranging from gift processing to talent management—that support fundraising, alumni relations, and donor communication.

As a proud donor, alumna, and parent of a former UM student, House is a big part of why employee giving is so ingrained in the culture of the University. Her journey at UM began in 1976, when she started as a file clerk in the controller’s office earning $2.68 an hour. As she moved up the ranks in advancement, her job at UM evolved into a career and, ultimately, a passion.

House has worked nationally to improve the advancement profession, and has spearheaded initiatives that have a positive impact on the whole University. She is passionate about giving back. “I believe there are enough good things being done at UM that everyone can find something they feel strongly about. My bequest is to support the Elysa K. Mestril Endowed Scholarship at the University, which was created in memory of the daughter of Ana Fernandez (formerly Mestril), one of my direct reports. I became a member of the Heritage Society because people give to people. So when my colleagues asked, I gave.”

Whether for study abroad, student scholarships, or any of the many other areas where our institution benefits from donor generosity, planned giving is among the most powerful tools donors can use to support the University. As Sergio Gonzalez, UM’s senior vice president of advancement and external affairs remarked, “planned gifts have made a significant difference in our continued trajectory of excellence, and will continue to be the cornerstone of our institution’s growth for years to come.”

For more information about the various ways you can leave your legacy at the University of Miami, contact Cynthia L. Beamish, executive director of the Office of Estate and Gift Planning, at 305-284-2914 or visit www.miami.edu/plannedgiving.


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Special Report on Climate Change Highlights UM Research

Sunset3Debuting in advance of Earth Day, the University of Miami’s Climate Change Special Report, developed by University Communications, features more than 40 articles on science and research; dozens of interviews with UM faculty, alumni, and students; and social and interactive engagement with polls, graphics, and an opportunity for you to write your own haiku to the environment.

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Students Dress for Success with Sebastian’s Closet

By Renee Reneau
UM News

Sebastian's Closet

Senior Miles Holmes turned to Sebastian’s Closet to rent the suit he needed for a job interview and Peace Corps networking event.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 7, 2016) — Clothes don’t make the man or woman. But they can make the job candidate. And with the interview season upon us, the University of Miami’s Toppel Career Center is supporting students in all aspects of career preparation—right down to the threads they wear.

Sebastian’s Closet began as a Student Government initiative in 2015, renting professional clothes for free to degree-seeking students at UM (with the exception of M.B.A., M.D., and law students).

Clothing from Sebastian’s Closet can be rented for various purposes such as Greek events, class presentations, career fairs, and interviews. A wide variety of apparel, including suits and shirts for women and men, is available in just about every size.

“I’m 6’6” so the fact that they had something that fits me was impressive,” said Miles Holmes, a senior majoring in Spanish, who has used Sebastian’s Closet three times since it opened.

“I heard about it through Toppel’s newsletter, and I didn’t have a suit at the time,” said Holmes. “I used the suit I rented for a Peace Corps networking event and an informal interview with Protis Global in Miami.”

The physical experience of wearing clothes affects more than just one’s confidence. According to a 2015 joint study by Columbia University and California State University, professional dress is associated with enhanced conceptual processing.

“I felt confident and appropriately dressed,” said Holmes. “If I hadn’t had that suit, I wouldn’t have gone to any of the networking events.”

Holmes will enroll at Cornell University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in industrial and labor relations.

Since Sebastian’s Closet opened in September 2015, almost 100 student requests have been filled. Freshman Harrison Kudwitt was one of the first.

“When I bid for Alpha Epsilon Pi, I didn’t know I would need a jacket, so I used Sebastian’s Closet,” said Kudwitt. “It saved me money and stress. It was so quick and easy that a week later my roommate used it.”

Sebastian’s Closet requests can be submitted through the Toppel Career Center website. Students will receive a response within five business days, usually sooner.

Clothing from Sebastian’s Closet is rented at no cost to students. One can even return items unwashed, thanks to a partnership between Toppel and Liberty Cleaners and Laundry on campus.

“It’s a great partnership we have with Liberty Cleaners,” said Carly Smith, assistant director of career education at Toppel, who serves as the coordinator of Sebastian’s Closet. “Students know they have nothing to worry about, except performing their best at interviews.”

Clothing from Sebastian’s Closet is rented for a seven-day period. All items are donated from the greater UM community, and suits are distributed on a first-come first-served basis. Once a reservation is approved through email, students pick up their suits at Toppel, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We are always accepting professional clothing donations,” said Smith. “The Closet is only as good as the people who make it happen. I’m proud to be a part of it.”


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