Briefly Noted

Graduate School Dean M. Brian Blake to Step Down for New Post at Drexel University

UM News

M. Brian Blake

M. Brian Blake

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 17, 2015) – M. Brian Blake, Ph.D., who always had the best interests of students and faculty in mind during his three years as UM’s vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, is stepping down to become the next provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Drexel University beginning August 1.

“In his brief time at UM, Brian Blake has had a significant impact on several dimensions,” said UM Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc. “As dean of the Graduate School, he has been a prominent spokesperson for the role of graduate education, the quality of graduate programs, and for the interests of graduate students. As vice provost for academic affairs, he has led efforts to strengthen and diversify the faculty and train the next generation of academic leaders. He leaves the University of Miami stronger for his efforts, and we all wish him well in his new role as provost.”

Blake arrived at UM in the summer of 2012 from the University of Notre Dame, where he was a professor of computer science and engineering and associate dean of engineering, research, and graduate studies.

“Who could ask for more superb mentors and friends than President Shalala and Provost LeBlanc or a more exciting and rewarding community of students, faculty, and staff?” said Blake. “Our family will truly miss daily life at the U, but we do plan to keep our lifelong friendships. From a professional perspective, the decision to move is bittersweet and reflects my desire to help craft a narrative much like President Shalala at an institution like Drexel, for which I have natural affinities.”

As dean of UM’s Graduate School, he oversaw more than 160 graduate programs in 11 schools and colleges serving more than 5,700 students, with an overall tuition-based budget of approximately $73 million. Under his leadership, UM established first-of-their-kind interdisciplinary graduate programs across its three campuses and launched graduate initiatives in China, Italy, Jamaica, and Spain. Blake also led the development of the Distinction and Diversity initiative for graduate education and research, with goals including enhanced research outcomes for students and junior faculty, elevated visibility for graduate education, and leveraging the diversity of UM’s programs and community.

His UM position of vice provost for academic affairs involved University-wide faculty enhancement efforts. He set policy for research programs in many academic disciplines on the Coral Gables campus, including arts and sciences, business, communication, education, engineering, law, nursing, and more. Blake also led task forces that assessed faculty recruitment efforts and the University climate in regards to diversity for both students and faculty, and for tenured and non-tenure-track faculty. With support from a group of graduate student leaders, he oversaw the creation of the “Research Intersections” forum for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to share their work with each other and pursue interdisciplinary research.

At Drexel, Blake will be the institution’s highest-ranking academic officer.



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Harvard Dean Named UM’s Sixth President

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

Julio Frenk

President-elect Julio Frenk got plenty of practice throwing up the U after his appointment was announced.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 13, 2015) — Julio Frenk’s father and his family escaped the horrors of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, fleeing to a country, Mexico, which, while much poorer economically, was much richer in tolerance.

It was a decision that quite probably saved their lives. And to this day the 61-year-old Mexican-born physician who has led Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health for the past six years has always felt a sense of gratitude, making it his life’s duty to give something back as a global citizen.

With his worldview philosophy and strong belief in diversity on display, Frenk was introduced April 13 as the University of Miami’s president-elect, ending a six-month search process to find a successor to Donna E. Shalala, who announced last September that she was stepping down from the UM presidency.

Addressing a throng of media during a midday press conference held in UM’s Student Activities Center, Frenk said he is “honored” and “humbled” by UM’s decision to tab him as its next president. He noted that during the search process, he sensed the enormous optimism and ambition surrounding the University’s future, saying that the institution is on a “upward trajectory” to reach greater heights.

It was a search process that Stuart A. Miller, chairman of UM’s Board of Trustees, described as “comprehensive and inclusive” and reaching across all campuses. The process also “opened our eyes to just how much passion there is for the University,” said Richard Fain, who chaired the search committee.

Like Shalala, Frenk is a former secretary of health. As Mexico’s minister of health from 2000 to 2006, he reformed that nation’s health system, introducing comprehensive universal health insurance, which expanded access to health care for tens of millions of uninsured Mexicans.

When he takes the reins on September 1, Frenk will become the first Hispanic and only the sixth president in UM’s 90-year history. He will lead an institution that has experienced a period of unprecedented growth under his predecessor.

Shalala, who became UM president in 2001 after serving eight years as secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration, leaves the University at the end of May to head the Clinton Foundation. It will mark the end of a 14-year tenure during which the university entered the top 50 of the U.S. News & World Report’s prestigious college rankings, opened new facilities, hired renowned scholars, and raised more than $3 billion as part of two highly successful capital campaigns. The first, called Momentum: The Campaign for the University of Miami, marked the first time in Florida that any school had raised $1 billion.

Frenk, who first met Shalala almost 20 years ago while working at the World Health Organization, has followed her career over the years and is aware of the legacy and strong foundation she leaves at UM, which, he said, should make his job a lot easier.

The opportunity to continue the upward momentum started by Shalala, UM’s strategic location as the gateway to Latin America, and the institution’s potential to spearhead and lead positive changes of the 21st century were among the key factors that made the UM job attractive to him, he said.

UM’s Miller School of Medicine and the UHealth System, along with the University’s research enterprise also made the job attractive to him.

Frenk said that he intends to start a process of immersion, listening and learning everything he can about the University from now through the initial months of his tenure.

His expertise in public health, he said, will be a tremendous benefit because the essence of that field—a “be ready” approach aimed at addressing issues before they become problems—applies to many other areas.

A basketball player and soccer goalie in his younger days, Frenk said he views athletics as “an integral part of a comprehensive education” and would be meeting with UM coaches later in the day. As a Ph.D. Student for five years at Michigan, he said he became a big football fan, especially when, year after year, his seats in venerable Michigan Stadium moved closer and closer to the 50-yard line.

Shalala, who introduced Frenk at Monday’s press conference, noted that the “Miami es el Mundo (Miami is the world)” theme she spoke of in her UM inauguration address nearly 14 years ago has today come true with the selection of Frenk.

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Faculty Senate Honors ‘Change Agents’ at Annual Awards Ceremony

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

From left, Jay Skyler, Mary E. McKay, and René Sacasas.

From left, Jay S. Skyler, Mary E. McKay, and René Sacasas.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 15, 2015) – René Sacasas was a curious eight-year-old the first time he ever set foot on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. That was 60 years ago, and Sacasas’ family had come to get a close-up look at the school to which his older sister had just been accepted. Read the full story

Posted in Briefly Noted, Features, Honors, NewsComments (0)

Graduate School Honors Students, Faculty, and Staff

Graduate students from the College of Engineering join M. Brian Blake, (second from right) vice provost of academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, as he presents the College of Engineering's Nurcin Celick with the 2014-2015 Faculty Mentor of the Year Award.

Graduate students from the College of Engineering join M. Brian Blake, (second from right) vice provost of academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, as he presents the College of Engineering’s Nurcin Celik with the 2014-2015 Faculty Mentor of the Year Award.

Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 14, 2015)— The Graduate School recognized its top graduate students, faculty, and staff at the 2014-2015 Graduate Awards Ceremony, including the Miller School’s Sandra Lemmon as the Outstanding Graduate Program Director and the College of Engineering’s Nurcin Celik as Faculty Mentor of the Year.

Noting that the ceremony, held April 10 on the Moss Terrace at the Student Activities Center, allows the UM community to celebrate the work of all of its graduate students, faculty, and staff, M. Brian Blake, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, congratulated all of the 60-plus nominees “for their accomplishments that continually enhance graduate education at the University.”

In addition to Lemmon, professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology and director of the M.D./Ph.D. Program, and Celik, assistant professor of industrial engineering, seven other individuals from multiple disciplines and all three campuses were honored in the categories of Graduate Student Exemplar, Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant, and Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant. They are:

Qinghua Yang, School of Communication
Outstanding Research Assistant

Aristotelis E. Thanos, College of Engineering
Outstanding Research Assistant

Youaraj Uprety, College of Arts and Sciences
Outstanding Teaching Assistant

Patrice E. Fenton, School of Education and Human Development
Outstanding Teaching Assistant

Alisa Be, College of Arts and Sciences
Outstanding Teaching Assistant

Xiaoran Shi, College of Engineering
Graduate Student Exemplar

Raul Velarde, College of Engineering
Graduate Student Exemplar

View more pictures from the ceremony on Facebook.


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Students Earn Distinguished National Awards and Fellowships

By Melissa Peerless
Special to UM News


Nicolas Rongione, who conducted aerospace engineering research in Germany, participates in the Q&A portion of the Prestigious Awards and Fellowships Reception and Recognition Ceremony.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 16, 2015) — “Finding the right fellowship is like finding true love. You don’t have to be perfect, just perfect for each other.”

Kefryn Reese, director of the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships, shared these amusing but accurate words last week with more than 150 students, faculty, and alumni at UM’s annual Prestigious Awards and Fellowships Reception and Recognition Ceremony.

William Scott Green, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, encouraged students to find their strengths and passions, and take advantage of opportunities to enhance their educational experiences.

“It is fine to be modest, but there is nothing wrong with pursuing academic excellence,” he said, adding that participating “enhances the quality of UM, enhances the quality of your life, and enhances the quality of other people’s lives.”

More than 30 UM students have received or been nominated for nationally competitive scholarships so far this year, proving the truth in Green’s statement.

College of Arts & Sciences junior Eric Keen has been named a 2015 Goldwater Scholar, one of only 260 recipients nationwide.

The Goldwater program aims to provide a steady source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding tuition and fees scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in STEM fields.

Keen focuses on viruses that attack bacteria, and how these organisms—called phages—affect bacterial DNA. For his experiment, Keen collected phages at 30 locations around campus, and introduced them to drug-resistant E. coli bacteria.

His goal is to see if the phages destroy structures within the E. coli DNA called plasmids, which cause the bacteria to resist antibiotics.

“People have known about plasmids since the 1950s, but this is the first time that anyone is examining which phages affect them and how,” Keen said, adding that his work has environmental and medical applications.

Jim Klaus, associate professor of geological science in the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “Eric has demonstrated a true commitment to pursuing a research career in microbial ecology. The motivation that drives this commitment is his genuine fascination with the natural microbial world, and the desire to use microbes to make the world a safe, cleaner, and healthier place.”

Other UM students have received Fulbright scholarships to travel to Argentina, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, and Spain; National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships to support research projects; and a National Institutes of Health Oxford Cambridge Fellowship to pursue a doctoral degree in biomedical research.

Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Engineering Helena Solo-Gabriele received the Award for Distinguished Faculty Service.

Passion and persistence were common themes among the six distinguished alumni and students who discussed how their fellowship experiences shaped their lives and careers.

Natalie Cain spent a year in Ecuador through the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange. Now a first-year M.D./M.P.H. student at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, Cain studied the insect-borne Chagas disease in Ecuador’s coastal region. She encouraged students to “latch on to a mentor,” and recognized Senior Lecturer of International Studies Sherri Porcelain, who continues to guide her today.

Dina Dajani, a 2013 Goldwater Scholarship recipient, discovered her passion for research early in her college career. “I jumped right in in my first year,” she said. Dajani is now a doctoral student in the College of Arts and Sciences’ behavioral neuroscience program, where she is doing research on autism.

Xinning Shirley Liu studied in China through the Boren and Fulbright programs. Liu, who was born in a small village in China and moved to Miami at age nine, picked a personal topic for her Fulbright application. “I was deeply concerned about the impacts of China’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial society,” she said, adding, “Be really persistent, even if it is a very obscure topic.”

Nicolas Rongione, an actor-turned-scholar who conducted aerospace engineering research in Germany, called living and learning abroad “a challenge mentally, physically and financially.” He said, “You will learn to navigate it, and it will make you a better person.”

Kristina Rosales Kostrukova flew in from São Paulo, where she is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. She received a Boren Scholarship, a Pickering Fellowship and a Fulbright, allowing her an opportunity to spend significant time in Brazil as a student. She urged, “Envision where the fellowship will take you.”

Frost School of Music lecturer Cliff Sutton received a Fulbright to Uruguay, where he intensively studied Candombe, an Afro-Uruguayan drum music tradition he discovered while a student at UM. “I was supposed to have a semester-long experience and it ended up taking over my life,” Sutton said adding that he uses Candombe methods to teach his classes. Sutton and his Candombe performance group presented three songs to end the event on a lively note.

The Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships helps undergraduate students maximize their candidacies for nationally competitive awards, fellowships and scholarships – providing information about opportunities, and guidance through the application process. For more information, please click here.

Posted in Briefly Noted, Honors, NewsComments (0)

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