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‘Make a Career Out of Making a Difference’

Activist and community organizer Alicia Garza stresses the need for a richness of ideas to help solve society’s problems.  

By Megan Ondrizek
UM News

#BlackLivesMatter's Alicia Garza addresses students at the Shalala Student Center.

#BlackLivesMatter’s Alicia Garza addresses students at the Shalala Student Center.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 10, 2017)—In a visit originally planned for Black Awareness Month, Alicia Garza—social justice activist, community organizer and co-founder of Black Lives Matter—told the story about the movement and its impact on society Thursday evening at the University of Miami.

But she was focused on the future.

“It’s 2017… Four years since Black Lives Matter came onto the scene,” Garza said. “We’re at a different moment now. It’s time for us to pivot into ‘what are we going to do,’ not just how we got here.”

Introduced by student Gabrielle Hand, Garza addressed an audience of more than 150 students, faculty members, and staff gathered in the Donna E. Shalala Student Center grand ballroom.

“I understand blackness as a political language. The only identity politics moving through this country right now are the politics of white identity. Everything black is cool right now, except for black people,” Garza said, eliciting applause, snaps, and excitement from the crowd.

And while Garza hopes that society can eliminate the use of race as a political language, she doesn’t want to live in a color-blind world. “I do want to be seen,” she said.

Addressing the students in the room, Garza urged them to act.

“We need your minds to figure out the biggest problems that our society faces today—your wisdom, your talents, your skills. We need your brilliant minds with some sense of right and wrong,” she said. “Ask yourself: ‘What do I want my legacy to be?’ And know that you can make a career out of making a difference.”

Garza is currently the special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She has been named to the Politico50 Guide of Thinkers, Doers, and Visionaries Transforming American Politics, among other honors.

Earlier in the day, Garza spoke as a guest lecturer for the Black Lives Matter interdisciplinary course called “Race, Class, and Power: University Course on Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement,” taught at the Miami Law School by Professor Osamudia James.
The evening lecture was sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Division of Student Affairs, Student Life, Multicultural Student Affairs, and Housing and Residential Life.

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Sub-Second Seizures

UM physicist studies the unexpected consequences of sub-second delays on fast-moving data systems

By Andrew Boryga
Special to UM News


Physicist Neil Johnson’s research appears in the journal Science.

CORAL GABLES. Fla. (March 7, 2017)—Professor Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, is interested in complex networks. He studies how fast-moving packets of information spread and interact in large networks like stock markets and the human brain, and what makes the overall system then behave in ways that are unexpected.

He compares his research to understanding traffic. He wonders: How do traffic jams appear and why do they happen in the first place?

“It’s got to be more than just bad luck,” he said.

Johnson uses high-resolution data to analyze how extreme system behaviors sometimes surface that are not just freak accidents—like a sudden movement in the stock market or a seizure in the brain.

In a study published in the esteemed academic journal Science, Johnson used electronic stock exchange data to explore what happens when delays are added to parts of fast-moving networks that operate quicker than the blink of an eye.

The question is important, he says, because U.S. financial regulators recently decided to allow an exchange network to intentionally introduce a delay to their market in an effort to make the market fairer for participants.

Johnson said the idea is similar to adding a speed bump on a highway so that all cars—from the Ferraris to the Priuses—have the same delays. Except in the case of the stock market, the delay is 350 microseconds.

With one million microseconds in one second, you’d think that’s no big deal, right?

Johnson says that the data and analysis published in his paper prove otherwise.

“The fact is, there is still no scientific understanding of what the system-wide impact of such sub-second delays will be,” he said.

Returning to his traffic analogy, Johnson said the problem is that this lack of scientific understanding forces regulators to consider the impact, like speed bumps on a road.

Except, in that case, Johnson says, we are able to monitor traffic on the road and figure out whether the speed bumps work. Maybe we determine they need to be more spaced out, or that they make no change whatsoever. Point is, there is a way to stop and assess their impact.

But that is not the case with systems like the stock market that are moving a million times faster than the one second, or so, it typically takes a human to react.

“When things are moving that fast in a network system which is that complicated, there is no human intuition for how you should regulate the system,” said Johnson.

To illustrate this point, Johnson studied raw data from the major electronic exchanges in the New York City area, a global financial hub. What he found was interesting: Even without delays added by humans natural sub-second delays already exist in these systems that can become correlated in such a way that they cause unexpected and extreme system behaviors from time to time.

“If delays already happen and we add more delays, are we sure we know what will happen?” he asked. The answer, he said, is unclear.

What is clear is that if something were to go wrong, the system would be operating so fast that humans wouldn’t be able to pull the plug. This could be potentially disastrous and result in an avalanche effect that could crash a market, cause a drone to misfire, or even cause a driverless car to suddenly veer off course.

At the same time, there is a lot to be gained from an improved understanding of how such microscopic delays impact behaviors at the system level. For example, it may help shed light on understanding neurological disorders, given that the onset of consciousness occurs on the scale of thousands of microseconds. Indeed, recent studies have shown that children with autism are slower to integrate stimuli from different senses.

“You wouldn’t think 350 microseconds is a big deal, but it can be,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s study, “To slow or not? Challenges in subsecond networks,” appears in the February 24 edition of Science. The study is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.


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UM Named a Best Workplace for Commuters

Special to UM News

GetMovingCORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 7, 2017)—For the first time, the University of Miami has been named among the Best Workplaces for Commuters for offering exceptional commuter benefits that meet the National Center for Transit Research’s National Standard of Excellence criteria.

“The University of Miami is on the cutting edge of a national movement,” said Julie Bond, program manager of the Best Workplaces for Commuters program, managed by the Center for Urban Transportation Research with support from the NCTR and the Florida Department of Transportation. “By offering a range of commuter benefits, such as subsidizing public transit fares, carpooling programs, and access to Emergency Ride Home programs, the University of Miami gives its employees the support they need to get to and from work so they can be at their best. These benefits are good for the company and its employees.”

UM is among only 228 workplaces in the United States and the first educational institution in South Florida that has committed to providing commuter benefits that result in many students, faculty, and staff not driving alone to campus. The University offers several commuter benefit options, including:

  • Up to 75 percent Metrorail/Metrobus/Tri-Rail subsidies to faculty and staff based on a salary scale
  • 50 percent Metrorail/Metrobus discounts to students in partnership with Miami-Dade Transit student discount program
  • Carpool matching program
  • Emergency Ride Home program
  • UBike registration and on-campus bike repair stations
  • Zipcars on campus
  • Hurry ’Cane shuttle bus program

“We are extremely proud of our progressive public transit benefit program and our mobility efforts that save our students, faculty, and staff time and money, with minimal environmental impact,” said Richard Sobaram, director of Parking and Transportation.

As Sobaram notes, UM is Miami-Dade Transit’s largest corporate partner, with approximately 3,300 students, faculty, and staff using the Metrorail or Metrobus monthly to get to the University’s three main campuses.

“This recognition is not about whether or not we have good public transit systems in South Florida, but more about the fact that the University of Miami has demonstrated a strong commitment to these efforts by offering programs and incentives to fully utilize alternate modes of transportation to the single occupant vehicle,” said Sobaram. “Promoting alternate transportation is a win-win for everyone as it helps in managing our resources by reducing parking demand and traffic congestion, and provides a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to the campus community.”

Learn more about the benefits of using Metrorail other mobility programs by visiting get2um.com. If you are thinking about trying one of the many alternate transportation options and would like a personal consultation, please contact the Parking and Transportation mobility manager at mxr1598@miami.edu or call 305-284-1547.


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Program Opens Door to World of Languages

By Andrew Boryga
Special to UM News


From left are undegraduate Chidera Nwosu, who is studying Yoruba; graduate student Sanchit Mehta, who as a program ‘partner’ teaches Hindi; and graduate student Fatma Ahmed, another partner who teaches Levantine Arabic.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 27, 2017)—What happens when a student wants to study a foreign language like Vietnamese or Dutch, but the university doesn’t offer courses in it? Where do they turn if Rosetta Stone doesn’t cut it for them?

The answer at most universities across the country isn’t always clear, but at the University of Miami, Maria Kosinski will point them to the Directed Independent Language Study (DILS) program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

DILS provides students of all majors and in any year of study with the opportunity to learn a language not offered in the course catalog. Each group of students, usually less than five, meet twice a week for an hour and are directed by native speakers known as Language Partners. Kosinski, director of DILS, said these partners are usually hired within the university or from the larger Miami community.

When the program first began 2009, DILS offered only three language choices: Haitian Creole, Levantine Arabic, and Russian. Now, students can choose from more than 30 languages, including Cantonese, Punjabi, Yoruba, and Polish. Kosinski said she is always open to expanding the list.

“If there are at least two students interested in a language, I will do my best to make sure we can offer it,” she said.

To celebrate the diversity of the program’s languages and culture, DILS students gather for DILS’ Annual International Multicultural Night. Held last Friday at the Shalala Student Center, the event showcased the diversity of the languages through dance, food, pop-culture presentations, storytelling, poetry readings, travel narratives, and more.

Maria Kozinski

If two students are interested in a language, Maria Kosinski does her best to offer it.

Kosinski said students who benefit the most from DILS are disciplined and committed to investing time into a new language. After all, the program is self-directed and students do not receive academic credit for their work—although their participation is noted on their transcripts. But even so, Kosinski insists the potential rewards can have more impact on a student’s life than a GPA score. Many DILS students end up using their new language skills to travel abroad or even work in another country, she said.

Elena Chudnovskaya, a Russian language partner, is a graduate student who joined DILS in 2014. In her weekly sessions with students, she said she focuses on helping them learn phrases and building their capacity to have conversations with each other. As a supplement to language work, she also exposes students to Russian cartoons, traditions, and typical foods.

“The purpose is to immerse the students into the Russian language and culture as much as possible,” said Chudnovskaya. “It is a great pleasure to share my culture with them.”

Jeffrey Stewart, an undergraduate completing his fourth semester in DILS, initially studied Russian to communicate better with a friend from Kazakhstan. He is now studying Egyptian and Levantine Arabic because he hopes to pursue a career where these Arab dialects are spoken.

But until then, he says, he is content to have a “much deeper appreciation for other languages and cultures, as well as a desire to be a lifelong language learner.”

And that’s the goal, according to Kosinski. “We want to give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in a program where they can learn, study, and absorb languages from all over the world. The experience is rich and students always leave with skills and new ways of thinking that can have real, positive effects on their lives and future careers.”

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Can Dance Improve Your Mental Abilities?

A University of Miami study suggests that both aerobic and more sophisticated dancing can enhance mental capacity.

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

DanceCORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 23, 2017) — A study at the School of Education and Human Development showed mental improvements after 10 weeks of dance classes. The findings suggest that exercise might improve mental function by learning new movements, as well as improving aerobic capacity.

The study was conducted at UM’s Laboratory of Neuromuscular Research and Active Aging, in collaboration with Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Sean Nicolle, a graduate of UM’s Doctorate in Exercise Physiology program, led the study and used the findings and analysis as his doctoral thesis.

Forty volunteers, from 40 to 80 years old, participated in 10 weeks of either ballroom or aerobic dance classes. Subjects were tested for mental function, both on a computer and using a movement test in a physical environment at the beginning and at the end of the study.

Why compare aerobic to ballroom dance? The ballroom dance group was focused on learning new steps (movement patterns), while members of the aerobic dance group were busy trying to keep their heart rate up (aerobic capacity).

The researchers found that both groups improved mental functioning. Michela Laureti, of Arthur Murray Ballroom Studio, explained that the mental benefits of ballroom dance come from the process of learning new steps, as well as working with partners. Aerobic dance is thought to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, and the aerobic dancers might also have had to pay attention to quickly changing movements.

Nicolle explained that the goal wasn’t just to see what kind of dance improves mental function, but to understand how the brain and mind work.

He believes that “the brain adapts in specific ways to what is demanded of it. It doesn’t have to be dance. Everything with a mental demand will make the brain adapt. The mental benefits of dance classes are probably different than those of rock climbing.

“We would expect dance classes to improve mental functions related to rhythm and coordination, while learning something like rock climbing would probably challenge the brain to improve mental functions related to anticipation, planning, and problem solving,” he said.

The study is titled “Impact Of Dance Complexity on Computer-Based And Movement-Based Cognitive Performance.”



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