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Mission to Employ the Full Spectrum is an ‘Upstander’

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Mission to Employ the Full Spectrum is an ‘Upstander’


By Deserae del Campo
UM News

Upstanders

Starbucks ‘Upstanders’ series includes a film about a South Florida family, who with UM’s help, founded a car wash company that employs people with autism.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 23, 2016)—What does it mean to be an “upstander?” According to Starbucks, upstanders make the kind of difference in their communities that the D’Eri family, who opened a car wash company that employs people with autism, is making in South Florida.

Debuting this month, Starbucks “Upstanders” series, a collection of 10 video stories about people from across the country who are engaging “in acts of compassion, citizenship, and civility,” includes the short film, “Employing the Full Spectrum.” The video, which explains  how and why John and Donna D’Eri founded Rising Tide Car Wash to give people like their son, Andrew, opportunities for employment and independence, includes an appearance by the autism expert they collaborated with: Michael Alessandri, clinical professor of psychology and executive director of the UM-NSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).

“CARD has been working with the D’Eri family since they came to Florida and were eager to open a business and employ adults with autism,” said Alessandri, who is opening a new CARD office in Broward County today. “Starbucks contacted the family and said they wanted to feature them and how they are changing the conversation about employing people with disabilities. The D’Eri family then reached out to me asking if I would be interested in sharing my thoughts about their journey with Starbucks, and of course, I was happy to.”

Written and produced by Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman and CEO, and Starbucks executive producer Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Upstanders series includes other inspiring stories that range from a former football player who helps wounded athletes heal to a community in Michigan collecting enough money to provide high-school students with college scholarships. The 10 videos, plus articles and audio podcasts, can be accessed on the Upstanders site.

Alessandri’s connection with the D’Eri family began five years ago when they arrived in South Florida from New York with a dream of opening a business where the majority of employees have autism. They joined Alessandri’s team in submitting a grant proposal designed to disseminate best practices in creating sustainable employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. Their initiative, “Awakening Autism Entrepreneurs,” promotes the competitive advantages of autism in the workplace, and they are hopeful it will contribute to changing the conversation about the capabilities of people with autism.

The grant, funded by a private foundation, is allowing UM and Rising Tide to bring this critical message, along with the autism expertise of Alessandri and the business expertise of the D’Eris, to families and entrepreneurs around the country.

For Alessandri the goal is not to provide charity for people with autism, but opportunities for them to be independent. “I really believe in what Rising Tide is doing and their commitment to creating a positive movement about people with autism and their employability,” he said.

Currently, 80 to 90 percent of people with autism are either unemployed or underemployed in the workplace. Clinical research has shown that many people with autism function well in highly regimental systems with clear expectations and systematic processes and procedures. Where the average person becomes bored with repetition, people with autism may be more comfortable with the predictable nature of such work.

Along with the new grant, CARD is expanding its services in Broward County by opening a new branch office at Nova Southeastern University’s campus in Miramar, which will house CARD’s Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Transition and Adult Programs. Currently, CARD has two main offices, one on UM’s Coral Gables campus and one at NSU in the Broward city of Davie. This Miramar branch brings CARD’s total branch offices to three, with additional sites in Homestead and Miami Lakes.

“It’s really important that we open this new office because it is situated in a location that will allow us to serve a more densely populated area where many of our families live,” said Alessandri. “The office will provide job training, social groups for adults and teenagers, and job clubs. It will also allow us to see more clients and expand our longstanding collaboration with NSU.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elvira Maria Restrepo Helps Colombia Heal

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Elvira Maria Restrepo Helps Colombia Heal


As Colombia votes on its historic agreement with FARC rebels, UM’s Elvira Maria Restrepo lays the foundation for societal reconciliation

By Maya Bell
UM News

elvira-restrepo

Elvira Maria Restrepo

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 22, 2016) —Born just a few years after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia launched its left-wing insurgency in 1964, Elvira Maria Restrepo has never known her homeland without war. But today, the University of Miami assistant professor of geography and regional studies, who is advising Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on his historic peace accord with the FARC, can already see the peace dividends.

“For the first time in my life, the main military hospital in Bogota has empty beds,” Restrepo says, as Colombia’s October 2 national referendum on the peace agreement approaches. “We have zero combat dead, zero kidnappings, zero towns taken over. The cease-fire has led to a negative peace—an absence of violence for many people who have lived with the conflict throughout their lives.”

Yet, as Colombians in the Andean nation, and across the world, including those in South Florida, gear up for the unprecedented ballot measure, Restrepo is troubled by the absence of celebrations on August 24, the day when, after nearly four years of negotiations, the government and the FARC pre-signed the final agreement to end the bloodshed that has claimed an estimated 220,000 lives over the past half century.

“It’s the most remarkable achievement in the recent history of Colombia and we already have seen some of the benefits of peace, but people did not celebrate,” Restrepo says. “Which tells me how completely polarized Colombia is, and where my work is and where my work will start even if we win the plebiscite. This is the fourth and only successful negotiation with the FARC in 30 years.”

(Learn more about the plebiscite at Storer Auditorium on Wednesday, September 28, from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m., when International Studies Professor Bruce Bagley moderates a discussion on Colombia’s Peace Process with Restrepo and seven other panelists.)

An expert in Colombia’s politics and justice system who holds a Master of Laws from Harvard and a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford, Restrepo does not expect the plebiscite to fail. But should it, her advisory role will intensify, not cease.

Driven as much by her scholarship as her passion, she knows that building a lasting peace through any mechanism will depend on societal reconciliation—on opening the minds of a people deeply divided by their interests and over deeply emotional issues, including allowing FARC members into the political mainstream.

As such, she is spending her year of public service leave from the University developing interactive public forums and a virtual platform to help Colombians reduce long-held prejudices by debating, deliberating, and understanding the conflict from different perspectives. “Maybe they don’t want the FARC in Congress, but maybe the way to accomplish that is not to vote for them. Isn’t a demobilized FARC aspiring to Congress better than FARC using violence to reach their political ends?” Restrepo asks.

She is just as certain that the nearly 8 million Colombians who have registered as victims of the half-century civil conflict between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and the Colombian government seek truth, not revenge.

“They want to know: Where are my daughter’s remains? How did you recruit my son—was he coerced, or did he volunteer?”’ she says. “The great majority of conflict victims, not only in Colombia but across the world, prefer truth over retribution. Truth helps healing and allows them to move forward.”

In 2014, hoping to move the peace process forward, Restrepo and some UM colleagues wrote an open letter that, signed by 130 scholars around the world, urged support for the ongoing negotiations with the FARC. In what would prove ironic, the letter noted that Santos’ immediate predecessor as president, Alvaro Uribe, established the “route to peace” in 2005 when he negotiated the demobilization of the country’s paramilitary groups—“under great secrecy, few rules and, ultimately, no democratic approval process.”

Today, that agreement, which was revised, enhanced, and enacted into law by Colombia’s Congress, courts, and civil society, has produced what Restrepo calls undeniable gains: a dramatic decrease in violence, the revelation of key truths about the country’s bloody conflicts, and significant economic growth.

Yet, contributing to the nation’s polarization and confusion, Uribe and his predecessor, Andres Pastrana, who conducted three years of failed negotiations with the FARC, are among the most vocal critics of Santos’s agreement. They argue, in part, that the accord rewards FARC leaders with impunity.

Restrepo disagrees, and hopes Colombians will be able to learn the truths and ignore “the noise.”

In addition to collecting and sharing the truth about the 220,000 deaths and other crimes against humanity, the agreement gives survivors the right to reparations and to a special justice, the goal of which is to repair wrongdoings through community service. For example, she says, rebel leaders who destroyed villages or laid land mines can avoid prison by confessing their crimes and reconstructing the villages, or retrieving the explosives.

And that, Restrepo says, makes Colombian’s innovative peace accord a model for the world, one as uniquely challenging to implement as it is unprecedented.

“The question remains: Can the Colombian state redress the lives of 8 million victims, or approximately 15 percent of the population? Probably not,” she says. “This is why civil society needs to be involved. No peace agreement on its own could reconcile a society that is so deeply divided that it is still debating whether to approve an agreement aimed at ending the longest conflict in this hemisphere.”

 

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Photographer Chases His Dream to Sevilla’s Holy Week


By Jessica M. Castillo
UM News

holyweekCORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 18, 2016)—For a visual artist who has photographed religious rituals and processions across the globe from Mexico to Jerusalem, capturing Semana Santa, or Holy Week, in Sevilla, Spain, has been J. Tomas (Tom) Lopez’s holy grail. Pun intended.

Lopez, professor of art and art history in the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences, fulfilled a 20-year-old dream of photographing what is world renowned as one of the most baroque, elaborate, and solemn Holy Week festivals. He spent 10 days in late March capturing the unique celebration in Sevilla.

Lopez’s grandparents left Spain in the 1930s to settle in Cuba, only to have his parents emigrate once again to New Orleans in 1954 and eventually to Long Island, New York, in 1960. Lopez, who still has family in Oviedo, Spain, was educated in parochial schools through college and has always had an interest in the participation and communality that are created by religious orthodoxy.

That sense of communal belonging is potently clear during Sevilla’s Semana Santa. Hundreds of thousands flock to the city for this ritual of six to seven processions a day, and the entire city is closed off to traffic during Holy Week. Pilgrims, party-goers, and everyone in between fill the crowded streets of the capital of the autonomous region of Andalusia. The main churches in Sevilla send out large hermanadas, or brotherhoods, in processions with routes throughout the city, ranging from three hours to nine or 10 hours long. The processions can last all night, from late afternoon to very early morning.

The order of those in the procession may differ slightly, but the same groups are always represented: Nazarenos, priests, Costaleros, or the carriers of the altars, and Penitentes, who are almost always carrying heavy crosses and the Virgin Mary. In the past few years, breaking with a long tradition, women and girls have been allowed full participation in the Semana Santa processions as either Nazarenas or Penitentes.

The culmination and greatest celebration is at midnight on Good Friday at the Basilica of La Macarena, patron saint of matadors and gypsies. The 1990’s song by the same name, by an Andalusian pop band, draws reference to Mary Magdalene’s reportedly sensuous past.

There were 5,000 Nazarenos and 5,000 Penitentes during the procession of La Macarena’s 12-hour route. Nazarenos don colorful robes and pointy, hooded caps and Penitentes are also hooded, but, says Lopez, these groups shouldn’t be confused with the Klu Klux Klan, which they pre-date by centuries and have no ties to.

“The original intent [of the dressage] is not related to racism at all but actually for the pious churchgoers to pray in private and only God would know who was actually praying.”

The processions have different altars or depictions of Jesus, from his time of entering Jerusalem on a mule to his crucifixion and death. The bigger altars require more than 20 Costaleros to carry the float and these carriers often have to alternate because the altar is so heavy, some weighing thousands of pounds.

Topping off the celebratory procession is usually a large marching band with anywhere from 20 to 100 musicians. Somewhere along the procession there is an emotional song to the Virgin Mary known as a saeta. A saeta is an acapella homage, usually sung by a gitana, or gypsy, and is very powerful and soulful. The singing is in reverence for the Virgin Mary and her biblical plight.

The processions were halting and impressive, recounts Lopez, especially before the depiction of Jesus.

“Even though there may be hundreds of thousands of people, for some it’s a pilgrimage, for others it’s just a big party,” he says. “When the altar of Jesus comes by, everyone goes silent and some even fall to their knees. It was very moving.”

Over the 10 days in Sevilla, Lopez shot more than 5,000 photos of the famous annual rituals and processions. The work was done under the prestigious Cooper Fellowship.

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Zika Won’t Be Last Threat to Emerge

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Zika Won’t Be Last Threat to Emerge


Globalization, increased travel, and climate change are all contributing to the spread of vector-borne diseases.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

zika2A plane flies over Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, spraying pesticides. A pregnant woman decides to work full-time from home, secluding herself to her Miami apartment—whenever she does venture outside, she dons long pants and a hooded sweatshirt, even with daily temperatures in the 90s. And Miami Police officers give away cans of mosquito repellent to the homeless.

Such are the measures being taken to contain the spread of the Zika virus in Miami. Eventually such tactics, combined with education, counseling, and vaccine development, could very well prove successful in wiping out the disease.

But as sure as death and taxes, another virus, spread by a mosquito or other vector, will emerge and begin to spread, prompting health professionals to take action to contain and eradicate it. A group of experts at the University of Miami, which will host a special panel discussion on the Zika virus this Thursday on its Miller School of Medicine campus, are in agreement on that.

“Throughout human history pathogens have always co-evolved with us, and despite our best efforts to suppress either the pathogens themselves or the vectors that transmit them, most bugs have been very successful at evading control,” explains Justin Stoler, an assistant professor of geography and regional studies in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences, whose research explores the geographic patterns of urban health disparities, particularly in the developing world.

Could climate change, or more specifically warming temperatures, fuel the spread of disease-carrying vectors? The conditions must be right.

“Mosquitoes don’t like extreme weather either. If it just gets warmer and precipitation declines, things will dry out, and that’s not good for mosquitoes,” said Larry Kalkstein, a bioclimatololgist in the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, who studies the impact of weather on all things living. “Basically what we’re talking about is a potential shifting of the range [of vectors], rather than just an expansion.”

Globalization of travel and trade coupled with unplanned urbanization quite probably plays a much larger role in the proliferation of vector-borne diseases.

“Anything that’s anywhere can easily get everywhere,” said Chris Cosner, a professor of mathematics who has investigated outbreaks of Rift Valley fever in Egypt. “When there was much less global travel, Zika was an isolated, obscure disease in an African forest. But once everybody can get anywhere, it [the disease] is out there trying to be pandemic. And it’s not the only disease out there waiting to do that.”

Cosner states a sobering fact, one with which other experts agree.

“There are many arboviruses (any of a group of viruses that are transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, or other arthropods) and other pathogens that are obscure in the tropics, but with increased global connectivity and travel, it is likely that these neglected pathogens will potentially move from isolated areas to more populated places outside their restricted ranges,” said Doug Fuller, a professor of geography and regional studies who examines the distribution patterns of mosquitoes around the world.

“Zika is not currently in Wynwood and Miami Beach because of climate change. Zika is here because of globalization and increased air travel and because lower-resource countries are now rapidly developing,” said Stoler. “There are all these other pathogens lurking in tropical forests waiting to emerge, and there are additional superbugs emerging out of livestock populations. But climate change will, to varying degrees, shape how long some of these pathogens disperse and persist.”

It is likely that in the not-too-distant future, physicians and health officials, much like they are doing now with Zika, will be forced to react to a new outbreak of an unheard of virus, searching to find ways to wipe it out. Their efforts could be hampered by a system that merely reacts to crises rather than investigate their root causes and form action plans that can be implemented whenever there’s an outbreak.

“Zika, Ebola, Chikungunya—these are not new pathogens. The clinical community has known about these viruses for decades, but our knowledge of each is still limited. This is because there has not been a great effort to really understand what is making people sick in the Global South (those regions of the world made up of Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia including the Middle East) beyond the major diseases of malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis—all of which have been on the decline,” explains Stoler.

“High-income countries, for all their best intentions in fighting emerging pathogens, haven’t really done their due diligence to find out what exactly is circulating, and where,” said Stoler, who is collaborating with the University of Ghana’s West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens on a project to improve diagnosis, prevention, and control of febrile illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa.

“I like the metaphor of the United States healthcare system where we don’t emphasize preventive care and take a more reactive approach to medicine in our fee-for-service system,” Stoler said. “Our Zika control efforts are a similar band-aid, as they do not address the root causes of infectious outbreaks. We need to diagnose and study emerging diseases in their place of origin, and learn about how they transmit so that when something like Zika inevitably jumps across the continent, we can say, ‘Hey, we’ve seen that before. We know what it does. Here’s what we need to do.’ ”


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’Cane Talk: Combating Terrorism with Data

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’Cane Talk: Combating Terrorism with Data


Fifteen years after the twin towers fell, Physics Professor Neil Johnson is changing the way the world looks at how future attacks could be prevented.

By Jennifer Palma
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 9, 2016) – Not one seat remained open during Neil Johnson’s ’Cane Talk last week, as the University of Miami physics professor shared how he and his research team are harnessing big data to uncover, monitor, and perhaps stop future terrorist attacks.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Johnson said during his presentation, referring to the large amount of terrorist activity that occurs online and in social media groups.

For a study published in the journal Science in June, Johnson and his research team monitored pro-ISIS groups on VKontakte, the largest online social networking service in Europe, which, based in Russia, has more than 350 million users from multiple cultures who speak multiple languages.

Applying a mathematical formula to measure social media activity, the research revealed complexities and patterns within the formation of terrorist groups that could be used to predict real-world attacks—findings that have captivated audiences around the world. Johnson’s research has been recognized by defense and securities agencies worldwide.

Before welcoming Johnson to the ’Cane Talks stage at the Shalala Student Center, UM President Julio Frenk invited the audience to continue transcending boundaries and taking an interdisciplinary approach to research.

“The University of Miami is truly a magnet for talent,” Frenk said. “We are home to scholars who are world-class—and whose research is crucial to understand and transform our world.”

Following Johnson’s presentation, Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, fielded questions from engaged audience members who echoed the need to continue such impactful research.

Johnson’s ’Cane Talk is the first of the 2016-2017 academic year. The inaugural 10 ’Cane Talks are available for viewing at canetalks.miami.edu.

 

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