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Professor Gets Galápagos Scoop, Imparts Lesson

By Maya Bell
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 26, 2016) — Shortly after arriving in the Galápagos Islands to lead his summer study-abroad course, School of Communication Professor Joseph B. Treaster dropped by the office of the Galápagos National Park and Galápagos Marine Reserve, hoping to catch the interim director at his desk.

Instead, the former New York Times reporter and foreign correspondent caught a whiff of a breaking news story and, with old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, nailed it down: Africa Berdonces, an energetic young woman who rides a beat-up bicycle and often wears flip-flops, was about to take charge of managing the Galápagos Islands, one of the world’s environmental treasures.

Photographer Thomas Rodriguez and writer Joseph P. Treaster checked out their story posted online.

Photographer Thomas Rodriguez, standing, and writer Joseph P. Treaster check out their story posted online.

Within 48 hours, Treaster’s story about Berdonces, complete with photographs of her, a blue-footed booby, and other iconic Galápagos animals taken by UM technical specialist Thomas Rodriguez, appeared in The Times, providing a real-life learning experience for the eight UM students who had come to the Galápagos to sharpen their critical thinking and writing skills by communing with nature.

During the three-week, six-credit course, “The Galápagos Islands: Environment and Culture, Writing, Research, Critical Thinking,” the students swim with sea lions and penguins, hike volcanoes, get within inches of giant Galápagos tortoises, and study Charles Darwin and climate change — all as a precursor to writing articles on Galápagos issues that will be published in the Miami Planet, the University’s online environmental magazine.

“We’re using the Times article as a model for the work the students are doing and to show them how reporters conduct interviews, seize opportunities, and turn their reporting into articles,’’ Treaster said.

That’s something Treaster knows inside out. He often draws on his 30-plus years of experience at The New York Times to inform his UM classes on the fundamentals of reporting and writing for mass audiences. And it was two of those fundamentals—keen observations and an inquisitive nature—that tipped Treaster to Berdonces’ appointment, which the Ecuadorean government had not planned to announce for a few days.

Thomas Rodriguez's photo of Africa Berdonces, the new director of Galapagos National Park, ran in The New York Times.

Thomas Rodriguez’s photo of Africa Berdonces, the new director of Galapagos National Park, ran in The New York Times.

Waiting near the director’s office late the Friday afternoon of May 20, Treaster said he “sensed excitement among the secretaries and other staff assistants,” and started asking questions. Pretty soon, someone mentioned Berdonces’ news. Nobody, however, would officially confirm her appointment, so Treaster set out to find out as much as he could about her and what her new role might mean for the Galápagos.

As luck would have it, he bumped into Berdonces at the park headquarters and learned that she grew up in the Galápagos, has a master’s degree in environmental studies from James Cook University in Australia, and felt quite prepared to take on one of the world’s most significant environmental posts. “This is my passion,” she told Treaster. “I studied for this. I’ve been a national park guide. I’m a dive master. I’m from a family in the tourism business. I know the business of the Galápagos from inside.”

Within a couple hours, Treaster interviewed half a dozen other people, including Berdonces’ father, a dive shop owner, and a physician who has known her since she was a teenager.

Working with government officials and others, Treaster put Berdonces’ appointment and the challenges she faces in context. As he noted in the Times article, she is taking charge just as the Ecuadorean government is taking steps to better protect the Galápagos.

“It is,” Treaster wrote, “banning all fishing in the northern third of the island chain and creating a sanctuary for sharks. A new port on the mainland will be the exclusive conduit for cargo bound for the islands, the better to keep nonnative animals and plants from reaching the islands and disturbing the ecological balance. The government has also imposed a 36-room limit on new hotels to limit crowds, and is bringing together the management of land and sea areas, which had been overseen separately.”

As fellow instructor Heidi Carr, a former Miami Herald editor who co-directs UM’s Galápagos program and teaches “The Galapagos Islands: Social Media and Global Strategic Communication,” noted, Treaster is a never-ending fount of such information because he never stops collecting it.

“He is continually talking to strangers and asking questions,” Carr wrote in an email from the Galápagos. “Just last night, all we wanted to do was grab dinner and buy water. He ended up interviewing the hostess of the restaurant, getting a tour of the hotel’s $380 rooms, interviewing the owner, and having a very in-depth discussion about the environment, ecology, the Galápagos government, getting permits, and what people who stay there do when they are there.”

While Treaster has had innumerable bylines in The Times over the decades and will have many more—he’ll be returning to the Galápagos next fall to work on a Times travel program called Times Journeys—it was the first time Rodriguez has had a photo published in any newspaper.

“It’s one thing to post a picture to Facebook and receive  a lot of likes,” Rodriguez said, ‘but to have a photo published in a paper like The New York Times that is read by millions really is something else.”

To read Treaster’s story and view more of Rodriguez’s photos, visit The New York Times.

 

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Team UM Runs Past the Pack at Corporate Run

UM News

MIAMI, Fla. (April 29, 2016) — Turning off their computers and putting projects and other responsibilities on temporary hold, more than 1,900 University of Miami employees left work a little early last Thursday, descending on downtown Miami to show off their U pride in the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Miami Corporate Run.

In all, more than 26,500 employees from 860 companies participated in this year’s event. But it was Team UM, wearing bright orange T-shirts with the familiar split U logo on the back, which took top honors as the largest team at the event, surpassing longtime race leader Baptist Health.

“Largest team, that’s pretty significant,’’ Leah Harman, the small-boat manager for marine operations at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told The Miami Herald. “From the top down, this University always promotes health and well-being and brought that culture to all of us.”

The University funds a portion of the event entry fee for faculty and staff, provides Well ’Canes points toward health insurance reimbursements, and promotes a Corporate Run T-shirt design contest that awards the winner with a $100 gift certificate to the UM Bookstore and a framed T-shirt signed by UM President Julio Frenk.

Team Bascom Palmer, with 80 participants, won the President’s Cup Office Challenge, awarded to the UM sub-team with the most participants. View the slideshow.

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A Big Hug for a Big Cause

UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 22, 2016) — Google celebrated the day with a series of doodles designed to highlight our planet’s varied flora and fauna. In New York, world leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters to officially sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. And on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus, a community of students, faculty, administrators, staff, and guests encircled iconic Lake Osceola in a symbolic “hug” to show their appreciation for and increase awareness about the environment. Presented by Random Acts of Kindness, UM’s 10th annual Hug the Lake, one of the many worldwide activities held last Friday as part of Earth Day, also included Green Booths where reusable bags were made out of T-shirts. View the slideshow, and read UM’s in-depth Climate Change Special Report. Developed by University Communications, it 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 Spring into ’Canes Carnival

UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 21, 2016) — Call it an annual rite of spring. With classes officially over, a carnival-like atmosphere enveloped the University of Miami campus last Friday as students celebrated the end of spring-semester classes, enjoying a variety of activities at ’Canes Carnival. The daylong event, presented by Hurricane Productions, featured Patio Jams by popular student acts; Star Wars-themed laser tag; carnival rides, food trucks, and giveaways; a concert on the Foote University Green by Kid Ink; and more. View the slideshow.

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Marlins Family Day Serves Up Fun and Dollars for Scholars

UM News

MIAMI, Fla. (April 17, 2016) – Home runs, strikeouts, and stolen bases are usually the highlight of any Major League Baseball game. But on Saturday at Marlins Park in Little Havana, face painting, autograph sessions with players, and scholarship support for students stole the show, as another UM Family Night with the Miami Marlins showcased a multitude of festivities for employees, their family members, and guests.

Started 11 years ago to show the U’s appreciation for faculty and staff, Family Day is always a “hit” with employees, with pregame festivities at the ’Cane Zone on the West Plaza drawing hundreds of orange-clad ‘Canes. In addition to face painting and autograph sessions, employees and their families posed for photos with Sebastian the Ibis and Billy the Marlin and, at the InsideUM booth, received UM towels and foam U giveaways.

Prior to the Marlins’ 6-4 loss to Eastern Division rival Atlanta Braves, two UM employees—Steven Altschuler, the new senior vice president of health affairs at the University of Miami and chief executive officer of UHealth-University of Miami Health System, and alumnus Guillermo “Willy” Prado, the Leonard M. Miller Professor of Public Health Sciences and new dean of the Graduate School—threw out first pitches.

It was also a special day for former Marlins catcher, World Series champion, and Hurricanes baseball great Charles Johnson, who also took to the pitcher’s mound for a ceremonial first pitch and was honored when the first 5,000 fans through the gates received his bobblehead.

But it was UM students who were the biggest winners of the day, as the Miami Marlins Community Foundation awarded scholarships to three deserving ’Canes. Angel Albelo received a $7,500 scholarship to continue his studies in the School of Education and Human Development’s Sport Administration program, while School of Communication students Margot Woll and Erin Regan were awarded the $5,000 Suzanne Rayson Scholarship in Broadcast Journalism. Rayson, who served as the Marlins director of broadcasting from 2002 to 2008, passed away after a battle with cancer.

View the slideshow of the day’s activities.

 

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