Freeze Frame

A Celebration of All Things Haiti

UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 23, 2015) – Haitian flags lined the walkway leading to the University of Miami’s Ashe Administration Building. Students, faculty, and staff sampled Haitian delicacies and looked at beautiful and amazingly detailed Haitian art displayed on tables at UM’s Rock plaza. And Haitian music filled the air, providing an ideal opportunity to learn some of the traditional dance moves of that island nation.

UM celebrated Haitian Culture Week on the Coral Gables campus March 23-27, kicking off five days of activities with an opening day ceremony of all things Haiti. “The week represented an excellent opportunity for the UM community to learn more about one of the most prominent cultures in Miami,” said Guerdiana Thelomar, president of the Haitian student organization Planet Kreyol, which organized the week of activities. “Oftentimes, Haiti is seen in a negative light, so we hope that through programs such as Haitian Culture Week we can show the beautiful, mystical, and vibrant side that people don’t often get a chance to experience when learning about Haiti.”

Other events included a panel discussion on the role Haitian Americans play in keeping the Haitian culture alive in the United States, the Miss Planet Kreyol Cultural Pageant, a Haitian-style carnival, and a day of service in Little Haiti. View the slideshow of the kickoff event.




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Scholarships Propel UM’s Next Success Stories

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

Black Alumni Scholarship Reception

UM students, from left, Jesi Price, Chinonyelum Maduka, Alexis McDonald, and Chloe Harrison.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 19, 2015) – Alice Vilma can still recall the experience as if it were only yesterday. Representatives from Morgan Stanley were coming to the University of Miami campus to meet with students about summer internship opportunities, and Vilma, who was a freshman majoring in finance, knew that attending the session could help boost her career.

On the day of the meeting, Vilma arrived 45 minutes late, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. When she saw that other students were dressed to the nines, she decided to leave, only to have her hasty exit prevented by a Morgan Stanley analyst who convinced her to stay.

For Vilma, that turned out to be a “a life-changing moment,” she recalled Thursday evening inside UM’s Newman Alumni Center, where she delivered the keynote address at the UM Black Alumni Society and Woodson Williams Marshall Association Scholarship Reception, which honored and awarded funds to students for academic excellence. “I realized that I had a little bit more to learn about the real world,” Vilma said.

She was obviously a quick study, earning her degree in finance from UM and eventually an M.B.A. from Harvard. Today, she is an executive director in Morgan Stanley’s Global Capital Markets Division, working with companies in the power and utilities and MLP (master limited partnership) sectors.

UM alumna Alice Vilma challenged scholarship recipients to chart a course for success.

UM alumna Alice Vilma challenged scholarship recipients to chart a course for success.

At Thursday’s ceremony, Vilma, who is the sister of former Hurricanes linebacker and three-time NFL Pro Bowler Jonathan Vilma, told students she never envisioned she would achieve such success when she was “sitting where you are today.” But that doesn’t mean she’s stopped setting new goals. “Continue to push the bar higher,” she said, urging scholarship recipients to challenge themselves. “Your time at UM is a life-changing event…and will put you in a prime position to succeed.”

A scholarship recipient herself when she attended UM, Vilma also told students to grow their networks, use all the resources available to them, and to “run with a faster group,” her latter piece advice a pun on the fact that she’s been able to lower her marathon times by training regularly with an elite group of marathoners.

Scholarship recipient Alexis McDonald, a sophomore majoring in electronic media, took Vilma’s advice to heart. “It makes me want to invest in the students who will come after me,” she said.

A total of $64,500 in scholarships was awarded at the ceremony to 18 students majoring in fields as diverse as biology, biomedical engineering, art history, and microbiology and immunology. Five of the awards were Dr. Robert Moore Scholarships, named for the longtime School of Education and Human Development associate professor who has served as a role model for countless students.

Shelby Mays, a criminology and psychology major from Atlanta, had no idea she would be receiving a scholarship at the ceremony, but was ecstatic at the news because it brings her a step closer to achieving her career goal of counseling at-risk teenagers from underserved communities. The 18-year-old Mays recently participated in an alternative spring break program at Middle Way House in Bloomington, Indiana, helping children who are victims of domestic violence.

“You hear about the problems these kids have, but coming face to face with it, you come to realize how serious it is,” Mays said. “They are victims who end up falling behind, but many of them have a strong desire to succeed. Now, I’m more determined than ever to help them.”

Citing a new UM Alumni Association project honoring the first 500 black graduates in UM history, Provost Thomas J. Leblanc called Mays, McDonald, and the other students attending the ceremony “the next great success stories of the University.”


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Clintons, Shalala Inspire CGI U Students to ‘Give Flight to the Possible’

By Robert C. Jones
UM News

CGIU Panel

President Clinton moderates the panel with, from left, Yale university student Paul Lorem, actress America Ferrera, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and Yemeni journalist and Nobel Lauerate Tawakkol Karman.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 6, 2015) – Bottles may not seem essential to improving the lives of the impoverished, but when it comes to the multi-function urn being developed by three University of Miami students, they could provide residents of one African nation both clean drinking water and renewable energy.

With a miniature filtration system, photovoltaic panels, LED lights, and a magnetic inductor, the so-called Oasys bottle now being designed by Owen Berry, Kevin Weaver, and Jules Romier from the UM School of Architecture will remove impurities from water and furnish up to four hours of light for some residents of Nigeria. While these three students seem the type destined to lead the health care, finance, or educational sectors of tomorrow, there are far too many whose talents are impeded by lack of opportunity.

“Accelerating Opportunity for All” was the topic of discussion Friday evening, as the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative University got underway at UM’s BankUnited Center with an opening plenary session moderated by the former U.S. president who established the annual conference in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world.

“The empowering comes from doing what you can,” President Clinton told students.


Chelsea Clinton urges CGI U participants to stay connected.

He was introduced by his daughter, Chelsea, who told students that she wanted CGI U to be “as rich an experience” for them as possible. Earlier in the day, the former first daughter, who now serves as vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, judged a CFI U Code-a-thon. She praised UM’s Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development for being a leader in social entrepreneurship and problem-solving for sustainable development.

More than 1,100 students from 80 countries and 300 universities were set to join innovators, thought-leaders, and civically engaged celebrities for three days of sessions, networking, and service aimed at making a difference in CGI U’s five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health.

And during the opening plenary, the students got just the kind of advice they were seeking from four people who know about breaking barriers that impede success: U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who as a Harvard freshman, started an NGO to address the problem of HIV and AIDS in his native India; actress and activist America Ferrera, who Time magazine named one of 2007’s most influential artists and entertainers, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist and politician who co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains, and Yale University student Paul Lorem, an orphan who grew up in a South Sudanese refugee camp.

Murthy, the youngest surgeon general is U.S. history and the first of Indian descent, reminded students about the importance of being good citizens—a lesson taught to him by his parents. Murthy urged students to “step up, say something, and take action” to correct problems they identify, adding that the most important ingredients for success are “passion and perseverance.”

President Clinton noted the “astonishing” accomplishments of Murthy and the other panelists, most notably that “they have rendered public service as private citizens.”

The panelists’ insights came after UM President Donna E. Shalala, who was Clinton’s U.S. secretary of health and human services for eight years, gave the students some guidance of her own.

Noting the hundreds of Commitments to Action—measurable plans to address global challenges—blossomed out of the first CGI U meeting UM hosted in 2010, Shalala told the students that such initiative “starts with the desire to make a difference.”

“Next comes the idea: ‘I can do this.’ Then comes the a-ha moment: ‘I will do this,’ ” she said. “You’ve all had it. That’s why you’re here. You’re here to give flight to the possible…and perhaps even to the impossible. What you set in motion here will soar if you not only work hard but if you work hard together.”

President Clinton recognized four CGI U students for their Commitments to Action, including Kimberly Roland, a graduate student at Arizona State University who started a school pantry program aimed at reducing child hunger in rural parts of northern Arizona.

Guerdiana Thelomar, a UM senior double majoring in human and social development and visual journalism, sat among the hundreds in attendance and took Shalala’s remarks to heart. The 22-year-old attended last year’s CGI U at Arizona State University, unveiling her idea for a summer camp in Saint Marc, Haiti, that inspired youth through leadership and team building exercises and strategy sessions to map out plans for their success.

Thelomar, whose parents were born in the Haitian seaport village, considered the camp a success, but felt it could be improved. For the 2015 CGI U, she augmented her Commitment to Action with a photography component, calling it Gade Li, which in Haitian Creole means “Look at this.” Camp participants will use disposable and digital cameras to document pressing problems in their community. Thelomar is not certain yet what the youths will see through their lenses, but she said Saint Marc’s polluted coastline and lack of opportunities for young people are among the possibilities. Their pictures will be displayed in Saint Marc in hopes of raising awareness and spurring people to action.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with youth to help them become their own change agents and to realize that they have the potential and resources to help themselves,” said Thelomar.

She hopes to operate the camp this summer and has already received $1,000 in funding for it. It is one of the 13 Commitments to Action—from providing Ugandans with affordable eye glasses, to building low-cost, energy-efficient computers for Detroit high schoolers, to convincing fellow students to give up bottled water—that are receiving UM seed funding at the 2015 CGI U.

Perhaps inspired by the passion and worldview of President Shalala, eight of the Commitments to Action chosen to share $10,000 provided by UM address public health issues. The grants range from $500 to $1,250 per project.

The Commitments to Action are a hallmark of CGI U, which since its inaugural meeting has generated more than 4,800 commitments from thousands of University students to address challenges in the five focus areas.

UM hosted the third CGI U in April 2010, and is the first university to host two CGI Us. Over the years, 309 UM students have made or partnered on 177 Commitments to Action.

In all, this year’s CGI U has more than $900,000 available through the CGI University Network, the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge, and other opportunities to help select CGI U students turn their ideas into action.


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Sweat Has Its Rewards: Giving Back to the Community

More than 100 faculty and staff from all campuses left their desks and labs Friday and headed to Liberty City’s Charles R. Drew K-8 Center, where they primed, painted, hammered, drilled, and sweated their way through a rewarding UM Day of Service, which was held in advance of Sunday’s Clinton Foundation Day of Action for students attending the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting on the UM campus.

“It’s great to get out of the office and contribute to the community for a good cause,’’ said Human Resources’ Jackie Henderson, who spruced up a garbage enclosure with the Office of the Controller’s Karen Bonner.

UM volunteers worked with the Miami Children’s Initiative, a non-profit organization focused on transforming Liberty City into a prosperous community. They helped community residents paint murals, trash bins, and garden borders, refurbish clothes lines, power wash residences, and build and paint shade structures.

“The response from UM employees was tremendous, and fully reflected the spirit of the U,” said Nerissa Morris, vice president of human resources. “Working with MCI and CGI U, we are making a positive difference in this community, which is part of our common purpose to transform lives through teaching, research, and service. Today we helped transform a neighborhood.”

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At UM, Girls See Engineering Isn’t Just For Boys

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News


Kelsey Kleinhans, a Ph.D. biomedical engineering student, explains her research to a group of high school girls attending UM’s Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 26, 2015) – For Dasia Gibson it was the banana that shattered into more than a dozen pieces after being dipped in liquid nitrogen. For Danica Forestal it was watching her uncle delete a virus from a PC. And for Saige Drecksler it was the memorial service she attended for the astronauts of the doomed Challenger and Columbia space shuttle missions.

While each high school girl had a different story to tell of what ignited their passion for engineering, it was the common goal of learning more about the field’s many academic and career opportunities that brought them together Thursday for Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day on the University of Miami campus.

More than 220 teenage girls from 18 Miami-Dade public and private high schools attended the daylong event, touring UM College of Engineering labs, learning about the research being conducted by some of UM’s female engineering students, and putting their problem-solving skills to the test in a series of brain-twisting exercises.

“Engineering is still a male-dominated field,” said UM biomedical engineering major Stacie Arechavala, who, as the high school outreach coordinator for the UM chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, organized Thursday’s event. “We’re helping these girls learn about a fascinating field that can positively affect lives and change the world.”

Arechavala, who became interested in biomedical engineering after two of her friends suffered traumatic brain injuries in high school, noted that the College of Engineering’s 28 percent female enrollment rate is far above the national average of 15 percent. But she would still like to see those numbers grow.

“Girls need role models,” she said.

The youngsters at UM’s Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day had plenty of role models on Thursday. Doctoral student Kelsey Kleinhans gave groups of high school girls a tour of her biomedical engineering lab, explaining how she is conducting experiments with pig tissue to learn more about the repair and prevention of injuries in humans.

Ann Zapala, a sophomore biomedical engineering major from Chicago, taught the girls about the efficiency of assembly line production, having them perform an experiment that showed they could produce more origami-style figurines by using the widely used manufacturing process as opposed to one worker assembling the figures alone.

The high school students also competed in a contest to see which team could build the longest and strongest bridge out of K’NEX construction toys.

Drecksler, a student at Coral Park Senior High School, came away from the event even more determined to achieve her dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. Said the high schooler: “My goal is to make space travel a reality for everyone.”

Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day was part of Engineers Week at the College of Engineering, with other events including a Simulation Boot Camp, concrete canoe demonstration, entrepreneurs forum, and more.



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