Update on the Problem-Based Interdisciplinary Inquiry Initiative

roadmap-updatesThrough the initiative on Problem-Based Interdisciplinary Inquiry, part of the Roadmap to Our New Century, the University of Miami is developing new structures, systems, and programs to expand multidisciplinary collaborations across the U to continue addressing the increasingly complex problems faced by our society in the 21st century.

Led by John Bixby, vice provost for research, the Problem-Based Interdisciplinary Inquiry action team initially has focused on planning the UM Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge (U-LINK), a university-wide platform for incubating ideas, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and providing funding to facilitate new approaches to difficult problems. Currently, the action team is designing U-LINK’s inaugural grant competition, which, set to launch later this year, will invite interdisciplinary groups to seek funding for novel, solution-oriented projects. In the longer term, U-LINK is envisioned as not only a funding source, but also a physical space where scholars from disparate disciplines can productively “collide” in an inspirational setting conducive to developing and pursuing their projects.

To further support the initiative, action team member Susan Morgan, the associate dean for research and former director of the Center for Communication, Culture and Change at the School of Communication, has been appointed associate provost for research development and strategy. In this new role, Morgan will serve as an integral component of the U’s research infrastructure and will play an important part in the development of U-LINK.

The action team is also planning an August retreat to further the initiative’s implementation and identify members of an advisory group who can counsel the action team on U-LINK’s structure and assist in the proposal review process for the grant competition.

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The Fine Art of Healing


Medical, nursing, and physical therapy graduate students come to the Lowe to observe and discuss art—and enhance patient safety.

Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (June 21, 2017)—Medical, nursing, and physical therapy graduate students gathered at the Lowe Art Museum last week as part of a unique study program that hones their observation and communication skills—while reflecting on art.

Part of the University of Miami’s annual Patient Safety Week, the Fine Art of Health Care program developed at the Lowe is based on Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a methodology that invites participants to enhance their sensitivity, empathy, communication, and teamwork, which in turn improves patient outcomes.

“Participants are always surprised at what they discover beyond their initial impressions of what they see,” said Hope Torrents, the Lowe’s director of the program, now in its fourth year. “Additionally, they learn to communicate about their observations with sensitivity and in collaboration with their peers, which can only benefit their patients.”

While many programs around the country incorporate visual art into medical education, the Lowe program is singular in that it convenes students from different medical disciplines who one day will need to work together.

More than 300 students spent part of last week in small groups, observing and discussing pieces of art in the museum’s galleries, and focusing on the connections between examining art and examining a patient. The exercise is valuable, Torrents says, because ambiguity in art is similar to the uncertainty of a patient’s illness. Different perspectives and interpretations can help to enhance the understanding of a work of art, just as multiple perspectives support a more accurate patient diagnosis.

Hierarchy doesn’t exist when the students walk into the museum. The playing field is leveled, and all interpretations and perspectives are welcomed.

Now a surgical resident in Chicago, Miller School of Medicine graduate Benjamin Lemelman was asked to share his thoughts about the Lowe program with the students who attended last week’s session. He applauds it for breathing arts into the sciences.

“As you focus on a painting or sculpture or photograph, you will: Observe. Listen. Communicate. Acknowledge. Connect. Substantiate. Lead. Affirm. Be silent. Disagree. And JUST BE,” Lemelman wrote in a message. “This is what’s missing from medicine. We get so focused; we get lost. We can lose sight of what matters. What is meaningful. Why we entered health care in the first place.”

In an age where insightful communication is compromised by social media and stimulation overload, VTS and the Lowe program are now recognized as a highly effective strategy to develop the empathic and observational skills fundamental to so many industries—from law enforcement to air traffic controllers to human resources.


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Generating the Next Generation of Leaders

By Michael R. Malone
UM News


The 38th Leadership Miami class, which graduated last week, included five emerging leaders sponsored by the University.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (June 8, 2017)—Helping veterans traumatized by war duty in Iraq and Afghanistan find solace and renewed purpose wasn’t Melissa Szaja’s first choice for her Leadership Miami service project. “I’m an animal lover through and through,” she says. But working with veterans as part of the leadership training program taught her about her own motives and passion to serve the city she now calls home.

“These were all people who had served their country, and they wanted to keep giving back. Many of us who have not served don’t do nearly what they do,” said Szaja, director of development and alumni relations in the Office of Advancement at the Miller School of Medicine.

Szaja was among 92 budding leaders, including four others from UM, selected for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s 2016-17 Leadership Miami (LM) class. Now in its 38th year, the program aims to groom and prepare the next generation of leaders to address vital county issues and meet future challenges.

Providing scholarships for UM participants, the University has been a consistent and major talent contributor to the program—90 students over the past 15 years, according to Mindy Herris, Community Relations manager. Among them was Sergio M. Gonzalez, outgoing senior vice president for advancement and external affairs.

Also joining Szaja in this year’s class, which graduated June 7, were Ijeoma Adele, director of special projects in the Office of the President; Michael Baumhardt, associate director of student activities and organizations; Michelle Costa, manager of special events at the UM-NSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities; and Nikki Traylor-Knowles, assistant professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Over the year-long program, members of “LM38” attended Saturday focus sessions—on government; education; environment; economic development; arts, culture and sports—and professional development workshops to hone leadership skills. They also conducted fieldwork, then developed, implemented, and documented a community service project.

The experience no doubt left a mark on many illustrious alumni, who include former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, former Coral Gables Mayor Donald Slesnick, and Jayne Harris Abess, whose philanthropy established UM’s Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy.

Mary Young, executive director of career services at the School of Business Administration, was part of the UM cohort that graduated with the program in 1996. The experience, she said, anchored her career. “I was new to town, wanted to make an impact on the community, and didn’t know where to start,” she says.

Young sees the nexus between UM and the chamber as invaluable and supports it in many ways, including serving as chair of Leadership Programs, overseeing Helping Young Professionals Engage (HYPE) Miami, Leadership Miami and its younger sibling, Youth Leadership Miami, and Senior Executive Orientation.

In her position at the University, Young helps business and MBA students chart their career direction, and she’s an advocate of investing in more leadership opportunities that give students more access to training, connection to the community, and to established professionals. “Our hope at the U is not only to have a greater imprint on the community, but also to help our students engage,” said Young.

Like Young, Szaja, who grew up in Boca Raton and lived for 10 years in Central Florida, was new to Miami, new to the University, eager to make connections—and an impact.

Leadership Miami trips to the Everglades and to Miami’s diverse neighborhoods exposed her to the area’s rich tropical terrain and multi-ethnic landscape. Collaborating with her project team opened her eyes to new leadership challenges.

“Everyone was strong on the team, and there’s no hierarchy. You have to learn who’s reliable, who will do what they say they will, and what skills people have,” Szaja said. Her biggest challenge was synching the program’s schedule with an already bulging work calendar.

For her project,

For their project, Melissa Szaja’s team created a public service announcement exploring how veterans feel when someone acknowledges their service.

Szaja’s team, Team 38HOT (Helping Others Together), stumbled at first to find their focus and establish roles, but they persevered and regained their footing as their community project—supporting United Way Mission United, an initiative that helps veterans transition from active duty to civilian life—prospered. As part of their project, Team 38HOT crafted a public service announcement, “Veteran’s View,” to highlight the frustrations many veterans feel, particularly about the often well-intended but rote and cliché comments others make about them and their military service. The video offered an outlet—and a teaching tool.

“The project is the vehicle to accomplish the program,” said William Dukes, chair of the Leadership Miami committee and coordinator of the 92 budding leaders and 30 volunteers this past year. “The end goal is that all participants come through to the other side a better version of themselves and with a greater awareness of what’s going on in the city—and a greater empowerment of what it takes to bring together a group of people to get something done and make an impact.”

Today, Catherine Garrido, a 2015-16 Miami Leadership fellow, is an enthusiastic assistant director of admissions in the School of Business Administration. Last year, as she entered the leadership program, her outlook was far different. Garrido’s job of 23 years with another organization was being phased out. A single mother with two children, she took full advantage of the skill-building and networking opportunities the program afforded.

Her activism earned her the Carlos Arboleya Community Service Award, presented to the participant who demonstrates the strongest commitment to community service throughout the program year. The connections and relationships she forged were critical to helping her secure her new position at the University.

So grateful for how the program boosted her confidence and career, Garrido was eager to “pay it forward.” She’s become a hub at the University to facilitate student participation and stepped up to serve as chair for Leadership Miami alumni. In this capacity, she’s putting the finishing touches on a print yearbook for the LM38 class and organizing the first gathering of alumni planned for 2019—a volunteer day and social night—in celebration of LM’s 40th anniversary.

In addition to 38HOT, other UM leaders’ projects this year included: Adele’s Make It MYami, which developed educational workshops for under-served children and families; Costa’s MAD Miami, which worked with the nonprofit Guitars Over Guns to provide musical instruments as a creative outlet; Traylor-Knowles’ Evolve Miami, which partnered with Easter Seals to renovate a community garden, a mural, and recreation areas; and Baumhardt’s Voice Myami, which assisted children with autism by installing equipment and renovating a playground, providing teaching materials, and spreading awareness of autism.

“Each of us grew as a leader, contributed back to the community in a large way, and believe we represented UM very well,” Baumhardt said.

The program is open to college graduates of any age who are in the workforce and on their career paths. Applications for the next Leadership Miami class will be available later this summer; please check Veritas for notices. Students should request an application from Mindy Herris at mherris@miami.edu or call 305-284-5478. A limited number of scholarships are offered by the University.


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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.

For the last two years, the Faculty Showcase has been funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation.



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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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