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The Launch Pad Celebrates Seven Years of Empowering Decision-Makers

By Maya Bell
UM News

Celebrating The Launch Pad’s anniversary are, from left, Adrian Alvarez, Sam Palmer Shields, Isabelle Martinez, Will Silverman, Elijah Kirkland-Andrews, Connor Masterson, and Robert Welbon.

Celebrating The Launch Pad’s anniversary are, from left, Adrian Alvarez, Sam Palmer-Shields, Isabelle Martinez, Will Silverman, Elijah Kirkland-Andrews, Connor Masterson, and Robert Welbon.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 26, 2015)—About one a day. That’s how many ideas walk into The Launch Pad at Toppel every year. Not by themselves, of course, but in the laptops, notebooks, sketchpads, hearts, and brains of University of Miami students and alumni yearning to start a new venture.

Over the past seven years, nearly 300 of those ideas have evolved into start-up companies and about 900 jobs, which by many measures would make the first-of-its kind resource center for budding entrepreneurs an unqualified success. But as The Launch Pad celebrated its seventh anniversary with an open house on Wednesday, co-founder William Scott Green, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and director Will Silverman said they measure success not by what The Launch Pad’s participants—or their businesses—make, but by what they learn.

And that’s incalculable.

“What we’re really doing is creating empowered decision-makers,’’ said Silverman, a former biomedical researcher who joined The Launch Pad as a Venture Coach at its inception in fall 2008 and became its director four years later. “We don’t tell people what to do. When they come in and say, ‘I want to sell cookies,’ we help them figure out what they mean by asking the right questions. Do they want to sell at farmer’s markets, or do they want to be the next Mrs. Fields?”’

And even though roughly 3,500 students and alumni have come to The Launch Pad hoping to start or strengthen their ventures, Green added, it is not a small business development corporation. “It is,” he said, “a fundamental exercise in experiential learning. The Launch Pad’s programs are co-curricular and voluntary, and each venture is unique. Students in The Launch Pad learn entrepreneurship individually, by trying it on, so to speak, to see if it fits them. That kind of learning tends to be durable, to stick with you.”

Lucy Calamari, who earned her business degree in 2013, knew she had to give it a try in 2011, when she heard about The Launch Pad, the first college center to promote entrepreneurship as a viable career option, at orientation.

“My first stop was here,” Calamari recalled, sitting inside The Launch Pad’s Whitten University Center office (it’s not really at the Toppel Career Center), while students lined up on the patio outside to learn about the guidance, encouragement, and networking opportunities Silverman and The Launch Pad staff and volunteers offer.

“I dropped in and said, ‘Hello, I’m Lucy, and you are going to see me a lot,’’ Calamari said. “I knew I wanted to make chocolates and I knew how to make my chocolates, but that’s all I knew. What my business was going to look like and how I was going to develop it, I had no clue.”

Three years later, Calamari’s Lucky Lucy Chocolates, with their distinctly South Florida flavors—including mango, key lime, mojito and café mocha—won the $10,000 grand prize in the alumni category of the University of Miami’s 2014 Business Plan Competition, hosted by the School of Business Administration.

That “seed money,” Calamari said, enabled her to learn another lesson and expand her line. “When you have more money to spend on raw materials, you spend less for it,” she said. “So I am doing well, making a living, and new products.”

LaunchPad1

The Launch Pad’s Sam Palmer-Shields hands out T-shirts to students at the open house celebrating the resource center’s seventh anniversary.

As Green enjoyed the sights and sounds of new students eager to learn more about The Launch Pad at the open house celebration, he noted there is no single recipe for entrepreneurial success, no set of skills, that once mastered, bestows a certificate in entrepreneurship. But on The Launch Pad’s seventh anniversary, he reflected on one key reason for its success:

“The Launch Pad is effective because all the businesses are authentic,” he said. “It’s not a theoretical exercise about a potential venture with a potential business plan. It’s for real.”

For more information about The Launch Pad, call 305-284-2789, visit The Launch Pad online, or drop by on the first floor of the Whitten University Center, room 1319.

 

 

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Premed Student Fights His Way into the Ring

By Maya Bell
UM News

2013USIBA

Coached by Mickey Demos, Jr., in green, Courtney ‘CJ’ Jackson won his first welterweight United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association Championship in 2013, and his second one the following year.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 7, 2015) —As he trains for his first professional hometown match, Courtney “CJ” Jackson is quick to say he’s not a typical boxer. A military veteran and premed biology major at the University of Miami, he won his first collegiate championship a year after he took up boxing as a hobby at UM. And his second championship the following year, which was only last year.

But as his trainer says, Jackson, now 27, was a natural from the moment he climbed into the ring. “He was strong and fast, and very athletic, and had great instincts. And he learned and picked it up quickly,’’ said UM boxing coach Mickey Demos Jr., also a titled boxer who, at age 8, followed his father, a UM boxing legend, into the ring. “It’s a rarity to start so late, but CJ could fight for a world title in two years. He’s got that much talent.”

Jackson knows he’s good, too. Why else would superstar Guillermo Rigondeaux—the Cuban Olympic gold medalist —tap the quiet and studious 145-pounder as his sparring partner? But Jackson would rather his 3-0 record, with two knockouts since turning pro a few months ago, speak louder than his words.

“I have extremely high standards for myself,” the former U.S. Navy medic said last week, in between his grueling thrice-a-day sparring sessions and a six-mile run. “So I work hard at being good, but I wouldn’t talk about me like that.”

He’d rather show you, and he’ll have his chance on Saturday, August 15. That’s when he faces Puerto Rican southpaw Moises Carasquillo at the WBC Fight Night at Mana Wynwood stadium in Miami, where despite three world title bouts on the card, Jackson is the big draw.

After all, Jackson, the son of Jamaican immigrants, grew up in Kendall, played football for Felix Varela Senior High School, and wears UM orange and green in the ring. So Demos is confident the upcoming bout will place the soft-spoken, clean-cut, clean-living Jackson on the Miami map, drawing sponsors and launching his boxing career.

“It’s a massive bout because this is where he will build a hometown following,” Demos said. “You can build a whole career around a hometown following, just like Ali did. He won his first world title here.”

That would, of course, be Muhammad Ali, who was still known as Cassius Clay when he trained on Miami Beach and stunned the world in 1964 by dethroning Sonny Liston as the reigning world heavyweight champion at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Like Demos, who back in his boxing days, claimed seven straight state championships and four junior Olympic gold medals, Ali started boxing as a boy. Most professional boxers do. As Demos notes, it’s almost unheard of for professional boxers to start as late and become as good as Jackson is.

But then, it’s almost unheard of, Demos said, for boxers to have and to make so many good choices in life. “I’ve trained a couple of boxers with CJ’s talent level, but never anyone like CJ, and who he is outside the ring. He doesn’t smoke; he doesn’t do drugs, and he rarely drinks. He works ridiculously hard—never missed a workout since I met him—and he does good in school. Even being in school is odd in boxing.’’

He’s also unflappable. Nothing, Demos says, rattles Jackson, or makes him nervous. Not going toe-to-toe with five-time national champion Hurricane Sonny Valentin, who had 200 amateur fights under his belt to Jackson’s eight when the pair met at the Florida Golden semi-finals last year. And not the panic that reigned when a trainer collapsed ringside recently and quit breathing while Jackson was sparring at a Liberty City gym.

“It was incredible to watch,’’ Demos recalled. “CJ climbed out of the ring, took off his gloves, calmed the crowd, cleared the guy’s throat, performed CPR, got him breathing again, and was back in the ring before the ambulance arrived. For him, it was like another day at the office.’’

Jackson credits his military service for his discipline and ability to deal with high-pressure situations. He spent five years as a medic, including 10 months in Afghanistan, where level heads and rapid responses were essential to saving lives. Back then, the Marines called him “Doc,” turning his boyhood dream of being a doctor into a calling—but perhaps after he attempts to win a world boxing title.

“I am very competitive so, just to know I was the best at something, that’s priceless,” Jackson said. “But I know not to put all your eggs in one basket, not to draw yourself too thin. You may have A, B, and C on your plan, but life may give you D and E.”

If anyone can succeed at both boxing and medicine, Demos believes it’s CJ. If so, he will be following the fancy footwork of Demos’ late father, Mickey Demos Sr., whose boxing prowess brought national attention to the U in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

After twice making it to the NCAA boxing championships, the senior Demos joined the University’s inaugural medical school class, later serving as the U.S. Olympic boxing team physician in the 1980 Summer Olympics.

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On UM, Global Connectivity, and the Future

UM’s new president, Julio Frenk, discusses the uniqueness of UM, his views on diversity, and the challenges ahead.

UM News

Julio FrenkCORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 6, 2015) – When the University of Miami’s newest ’Canes begin arriving on the Coral Gables campus in just a few days, it will mark the first time in 14 years that an incoming freshman class will be welcomed by a new UM president.

Julio Frenk, the Harvard dean and physician introduced in April as the successor to Donna E. Shalala, takes the reins as the University’s sixth president on August 16, inaugurating an era that undoubtedly has the entire UM community buzzing. Read the full story

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At UM, Breakthrough Miami Primes Teens for High School Success

Julissa Tello, left, and Wedley Valenbraum learn about anatomy by building skeletons form marshmallows and spaghetti.

Julissa Tello, left, and Wedley Valenbraum learn about anatomy by building skeletons from marshmallows and spaghetti.

By Robin Shear
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (July 30, 2015) —“I want to see big. I want to see three dimensions. Make it spacious.” Those were the instructions College Bound teaching fellow Robert Harriss gave students in his vertebrate anatomy class as he handed out boxes of raw spaghetti and bags of marshmallows. The youngsters paired up and then dug into the materials, creating everything from human skeletons to fish skeletons.

In its second year at the School of Education and Human Development, the Breakthrough Miami College Bound summer institute brought more than 100 high-achieving students from schools throughout Miami-Dade County to the Coral Gables campus for six weeks of academic enrichment. With participants heading into ninth grade in the fall, College Bound is intended to keep their minds actively engaged and primed for high school success during the break with daily core classes in literature, history, and math, along with electives selected from the majors of their teaching fellow instructors. The teaching fellows are college students from around the nation, and this summer the electives they taught ranged from psychology and anatomy to broadcast journalism.

“It’s a privilege to attend,” said Cameryn Johnson, 16, a former College Bound participant who served as a volunteer for teaching fellow Jessica Ramos this summer. A University of Illinois student, Ramos taught literature and broadcast journalism. Students in her journalism elective had the chance to create a movie trailer, from conception to acting to editing, for a drama about “a nerd and a bully” who ultimately work through their differences and become friends.

The College Bound experience likely had as great an impact on Ramos as it did on her students, several of whom wrote  her letters of appreciation that brought tears to her eyes. “I’m meant to be here,” she said.

The College Bound summer institute is part of Breakthrough Miami’s tuition-free academic program that starts with 5th grade and continues through high school graduation. During the school year, Breakthrough Miami serves over 1,000 highly motivated students from under-resourced communities all over Miami-Dade County at five sites, including the University of Miami.

 

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New Media Workshop Attracts—and Nurtures—New Talent

UM News

Camille Von Simson, rising senior at LaSalle High School in Coconut Grove, focuses on the Everglades for the climate change project.

Camille Von Simson, rising senior at LaSalle High School in Coconut Grove, focuses on the Everglades for the climate change project.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (July 17, 2015)—Within an hour of arriving on campus July 5, the students in this year’s Peace Sullivan/James Ansin High School Journalism and New Media Workshop settled on the issue that would consume them for the next three weeks: how climate change will affect South Florida.

Now more than half way through the residential summer program, many of the students are as passionate about educating their peers about the threat rising seas pose to their futures as they are about pursuing careers in journalism.

“Our research showed that by 2060 sea levels in South Florida could rise 3 to 6 feet, which will affect all of us profoundly,” said Dayany Sotolongo, an incoming senior at SLAM!, the Sports Leadership & Management Charter Middle/High School near Marlins Park in Miami. “I’ve learned more about climate change and the conservation efforts we can take part in to reverse it in these few days than I ever learned in school, and I’m really proud of that.”

Media.Workshop3

Tsitsi Wakhisi, associate professor of professional practice, reviews the photos high school students Alissandra Enriquez and Daniel Saiz took during a photojournalism bootcamp.

Sotolongo is among the 20 students from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties selected for this year’s highly competitive workshop, which enables students with a strong interest in journalism to live on campus and work with faculty and staff to produce a printed newspaper, Miami Montage, a website, and videos dedicated to a topic of interest to South Florida youth.

In past years, students have explored issues related to homeless and undocumented youth, but this year there was almost immediate consensus about the issue that could have the greatest impact on their futures.

“They were brainstorming about different topics that are relevant to youth in Florida, and climate change quickly emerged as the most relevant,’’ said workshop administrator Steve Pierre, who credits his own workshop experience seven years ago for fueling his passion for journalism and for his current job as a communications specialist in UM’s Department of Human Resources.

“I would not be where I am today without everything I learned during those three weeks,” Pierre said. “Thinking back on it now, I was shy. I had never conducted an interview. I was a decent writer, but I didn’t have much experience or practical skills. I had never even seen some of the equipment we used. I did more in those three weeks than I had done in my entire life.”

Media.Workshop5

Students Phillip Bootsma and Ciro Salcedo, on a simulated photo assignment, collect information about their subject, Mariah Schuemann, Intensive English Program professor.

Now in its 32nd year, the workshop, which is sponsored in part by the James Ansin and the Ansin Family Foundation, WSVN-Channel 7, Peace Sullivan, the Dow Jones News Fund, the Miami New Times, the John T. Bills Scholarship in Journalism Fund at The Miami Foundation, and the Jeanne Bellamy Scholarship in Print Journalism Fund at the Miami Foundation, concludes Saturday with a celebratory luncheon where the students will share their work with their families.

But their opportunities are just beginning. In addition to gaining valuable skills, workshop participants also compete for internships at local newspapers, a $1,000 Dow Jones scholarship, and, through special funding from the Ansin Family Foundation, a four-year scholarship to the University of Miami.

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