Tag Archive | "college of arts and sciences"

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Rod Wellens, Longtime Chair of Psychology, Passes Away

UM News

UM's Department of Psychology experienced tremendous growth during Rod Wellens' tenure as chair.

Rod Wellens

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 19, 2014) — Albert Rodney “Rod” Wellens, professor and longtime chair of the Department of Psychology who left an indelible mark on the University, the community, and the people he mentored, passed away at home and surrounded by his family on December 17 after an illness. He was 68.

Wellens, who joined the University in 1972, became a full professor in 1988 and chair of the psychology department in 1992—a post he held with distinction until 2013. Read the full story

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VizUM Picks Up Where Places & Spaces Leaves Off

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VizUM Picks Up Where Places & Spaces Leaves Off

By Annette Gallagher
UM News

Places & Spaces: Mapping Science. Closing Reception: Juhong Park, Victor Milenkovic, & Alberto Cairo at the Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Hall at the University of Miami School of Architecture

Alberto Cairo, the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism and director of CCS’s Visualization Program, says VizUM will provide new ways to deal with “oceans of data.”

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 12, 2014)—Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, the extraordinary Indiana University exhibition of 100 artistic big-data visualizations that debuted on the University of Miami campus in September, held its capstone event last week. But it signaled a beginning, not an end.

“There are no endings,” said Sawsan Khuri, chair of the Places & Spaces committee and director of engagement for the Center for Computational Science (CCS), which joined with the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, School of Architecture, and Otto G. Richter Library to bring the exhibit to campus. “Places & Spaces may be leaving, but this is also the beginning of VizUM, a visualization project that will connect the visualization efforts already in place on the campus and initiate new efforts as well.” Read the full story

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Researchers Develop Novel Family Therapy for Schizophrenia

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Researchers Develop Novel Family Therapy for Schizophrenia

SchizophreniaCORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 11, 2014)—University researchers have developed a family-focused, culturally informed treatment for schizophrenia (CIT-S), one of first to incorporate elements of the patient’s cultural background as part of therapy. Their findings are published online ahead of print in the Journal of Family Psychology.

The novel treatment aimed to reduce patients’ symptoms and improve patient and caregiver emotional well-being, explains Amy Weisman de Mamani, associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of the study.

“We have developed a program for the treatment of schizophrenia that taps into the family’s cultural beliefs, values, traditions, and religious practices to help them come to terms with the illness and better manage the symptoms,” Weisman de Mamani said. “We found that adding culturally based segments to an already established family-focused treatment for schizophrenia reduced patients’ psychiatric symptoms above and beyond an intervention that focused solely on educating family members about the illness.”

For the study, patients diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and their caregivers participated in 15 weekly one-hour sessions. The treatment covered a range of topics and skills, including education about the illness, techniques to bolster family cohesion, and adaptive use of religious coping, communication training, and problem-solving. Homework also was assigned for family members to practice the skills learned during therapy. A control group received three sessions of psycho-education about the illness.

Participants who completed the study came from 46 separate families of different ethnic backgrounds. About half of the families were randomly assigned to the CIT-S program and the other half to the control program. Assessments occurred in either English or Spanish, depending on the individual family’s preference.

The findings indicated that patients who participated in the CIT-S program had significant reductions in their psychiatric symptoms (e.g., hallucinations, delusions, blunted affect) and their caregivers reported significantly lower levels of guilt, shame, and burden.

“The treatment is easy to administer and treatment manuals and materials are available in English and in Spanish,” Weisman de Mamani said. “We hope that the ease and accessibility of CIT-S will facilitate dissemination to hospitals and clinics that service individuals with schizophrenia and their loved ones.”

The study, “A Randomized Clinical Trial to Test the Efficacy of a Family-Focused, Culturally Informed Therapy for Schizophrenia,” was co-authored by Marc J. Weintraub,  Kayla Gurak, and Jessica Maura, who are PhD. students from the Department of Psychology.

The next step is for the researchers to test whether CIT-S can outperform a matched length control treatment that includes all of the ingredients of CIT-S, except those that directly tap into participants’ cultural beliefs, values, and behaviors. They also want to verify that changes in the use of adaptive cultural practices and belief systems are what account for the efficacy of CIT-S.



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‘Places & Spaces’ Capstone Seminar to Focus on the Future of Data Visualization at UM

Beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 11, three members of the UM faculty who are leaders in their respective fields—Alberto Cairo, assistant professor of the professional practice in the School of Communication; Ju Hong Park, assistant professor in the School of Architecture; and Victor Milenkovic, professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences—will discuss the importance of continued work in the field of big data visualization and its place at UM at the School of Architecture’s Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Hall.

Sawsan Khuri, director of engagement for the Center for Computational Science, also will speak, discussing further interdisciplinary efforts in data visualization at UM. A reception will follow the discussion, and the event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, click here.

This is the capstone event for the Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibit, which is on display at the University of Miami through December 11. To learn more about the project, visit the website at visualization.miami.edu.


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Dauer Electron Microscopy Lab Provides Rare Opportunities


Dauer Electron Microscopy Lab Provides Rare Opportunities

By Melissa Peerless
Special to UM News

electron microscope lab

UM President Donna E. Shalala and Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely visited the lab to learn how the electron microscope is expanding the horizons of science, and the opportunities available to undergraduates.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 20, 2014) — Although he’s only in his third year of undergraduate studies at the University of Miami, Sumedh Shah, a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, is already conducting groundbreaking research on glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that killed his father.

Shah uses a powerful electron microscope —capable of magnifying objects up to 1.2 million times—to view the cancer cells up close, and see how their structures differ from normal cells.

“The electron microscope allows us to cut a single layer of cells into segments just 60 nanometers thick,” he said. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Shaw added that the technique requires extreme precision, eye-hand coordination and time.

Shah is honing these skills in the Techniques in Electron Microscopy course, taught by Jeffrey Prince, an associate professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Prince’s class is one of the most exclusive on campus. More than 40 students applied for just seven spots. Prince personally interviews each student, and acceptance is based upon their grades, courses taken and additional factors.

“This class is a reward for hard-working students,” he said, adding that the electron microscope is worth close to $1 million, and the lab work involves toxic, even explosive, chemicals. “They have to be responsible and willing to put in the time and effort. The intent of this class and laboratory from the beginning has been to provide UM students with a trait that allows them to be heads above all other applicants for a professional position.”

Prince and his students invited UM President Donna E. Shalala and Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely to the lab on November 17, to learn about their research and how the electron microscope is expanding the horizons of science.

Prince said, “This class is not a show and tell; it is hands-on. And for the last 30 years, students have stepped up and done it—with excellence.”

Shah—who serves as Prince’s teaching assistant—is enrolled in the Honors Program in Medicine (HPME), through which he will earn a B.S. in biology from the College of Arts and Sciences and an M.D. from the Miller School of Medicine in seven years.

He noted that all of Florida’s research institutions have electron microscopes on campus, but UM is the only institution that allows undergraduate students to use the equipment. “We are learning a skill that most do not get until graduate school,” he said.

Two more of Prince’s students are also working on innovative collaborative research projects.

Senior Neville Patel is investigating Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, an inherited neurological disorder that affects about 1 in 2,500 people in America. Involving both motor and sensory nerves, CMT causes weakness in the foot and lower leg muscles. Patel examines the affects of genes that cause CMT with the electron microscope. He is applying to medical schools for fall of 2015, and is an author on a paper that has been submitted to the journal Nature Genetics.

Senior Mateuzs Graca has been working with the electron microscope since he was a first-year student. He is studying retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease that causes blindness. Researchers at UM’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute identified the gene that causes retinitis pigmentosa in 2011; Graca is examining those cells with the electron microscope, seeking a cure.

Graca is currently interviewing for medical school for fall of 2015. “Just days ago, an interviewer asked about my background as an applicant,” he said. “I told her about this research. The interviewer was very impressed by this experience.”

Other current students are: pre-med sophomore Natalie Flores, who will be taking over Graca’s research when he graduates; junior Elizabeth Guirado, who plans to earn a joint D.M.D./Ph.D. in dentistry; junior Eric Keen, who received honorable mention for a 2014 Goldwater Scholarship; first-year student Kasey Markel, who said that the electron microscopy lab was a major factor in his decision to attend UM and will be helping Shah with his research next semester; junior Katelyn O’Neill, who will also be working on retinitis pigmentosa research; senior Dominika Swieboda, who is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology; and sophomore Mason Schecter, a third generation ’Cane majoring in biology, physics and chemistry.

“Our work is complementary with what is going on at the medical school,” Keen said. “What is unique is that we can look at cells directly. This is a piece of the puzzle that is very relevant today.”

He is interested in virology, and will be using the electron microscope for his ongoing research on viruses that attack bacteria. “Once you show that you are able to use the technology effectively and safely, Professor Prince gives you the freedom to pursue research that is meaningful to you,” he said.

Shalala congratulated the students on their work, adding, “I think you are all privileged to be able to participate in such a class.”

Shah concurred. “This class has made my time at UM worth it,” he said.

Electron microscopes are costly to procure, and expensive to maintain. The annual service contract for the scopes and other gear in the Dauer Lab is $60,000. This ensures that a technician will arrive within one to two days when problems occur with the delicate apparatus.

The grant funding the Dauer Lab service contract ends in March 2015, and the Department of Biology is unable to absorb the maintenance costs if other resources cannot be identified. The student research projects—and the Dauer Electron Microscopy Lab itself—risk closure. Prince said that 70 percent of the nation’s electron microscopes have been shut down due to lack of funding for service contracts.

“The electron microscope must be consistently available for effective teaching and research,” he said. “The initial images produced by the first-year students and the research conducted by the project students are remarkable.”

Melissa Peerless can be reached at 305-284-2485.

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