Tag Archive | "college of arts and sciences"

‘Sinking City’ Showcases Diverse Voices

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‘Sinking City’ Showcases Diverse Voices

UM News


Chantel Acevedo, far left, faculty advisor for Sinking City, launched the literary magazine with students and contributors last week.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 2, 2016)—Miami’s vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise goes far beyond infrastructure and institutions; it threatens the future of its most valuable asset—its diverse multicultural and multilingual community. Sinking City, a new online literary journal published semi-annually by students in the UM Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, is committed to showcasing diverse, multilingual voices in works that drive conversations about the environment and other relevant topics.

“It’s very important for writers to also be good literary citizens, in other words, to give back to the community that they are a part of,” says Chantel Acevedo, A.B. ’97, M.F.A. ’99, associate professor of English and faculty advisor for Sinking City. “The work that putting together a literary journal takes can represent the best of that kind of citizenship.”

Sinking City hosted a launch party on Thursday at Tinta y Café in Coral Gables, where several contributors to the inaugural issue read their work, including UM poetry professor Maureen Seaton, who read her “Sonnet for Snapper Creek.”

Sinking City accepts poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and works of art.


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Researchers to Study Cancer Stress

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Researchers to Study Cancer Stress

UM research examines biological and psychological health mechanisms in cancer patients and their caregiving partners. 

By Deserae E. del Campo
Special to UM News


Youngmee Kim, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Psychology Department, is leading the study.

Cancer affects not only individuals suffering from the disease but their family members as well.

With the assistance of a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, University of Miami researchers hope to gain an understanding of the connection between cancer patients and their caregiver’s health in relation to mutual stress regulatory patterns.

“The research will study and find answers to why cancer patients and their family members’ health deteriorates both psychologically and biologically,” said Youngmee Kim, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Psychology Department and lead researcher of the study. “Currently, research is fragmented focusing on how the patient handles stress and how it affects their recovery. Yet, cancer caregivers also report high levels of anxiety and depression, sometimes at higher levels than the cancer patient, and their health is compromised by their elevated stress.”

UM researchers will study the stress regulation patterns between cancer patients and their caregivers, including coregulation (regulating the stress to mutually calm each other’s stress reactions and reduce negative affect and physiological arousal) and coagitation (mutual regulation increasing such reactions).

The coregulation and coagitation will be quantified by evaluating cardiovascular (heart rate variability), neuroendocrine (saliva), and self-reported affective reactivity and regulation in response to a stress situation that is relevant both to health and to close relationships; testing also includes how daily health, such as sleep and mood, as well as longer-term health, such as depression and cardiovascular health of both the cancer patient and caregiver, are affected.

“Findings of this project will help develop novel interventions pertaining to effective and mutual management of stress in daily life and dyadic influences on health promotion,” added Kim.

During a three-year period, UM researchers plan to gather data from 172 heterosexual colorectal cancer patients (86 female, 86 male) and their caregiving partners. Kim hopes to recruit patients living in South Florida.

“Colorectal cancer affects both genders, so we hope to investigate the role of gender in mutual stress regulatory patterns and their health outcomes by studying colorectal cancer patients and their heterosexual partners,” said Kim.

With the results, researchers hope to develop interventions to help cancer patients and caregivers find ways to curb adverse effects of stress and promote better health by using positive coregulation mechanisms. The interdisciplinary study will bring together Charles Carver and Barry Hurwitz, professors from the psychology department; Armando Mendez and Laurence Sands, from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine; and David Spiegel and Jamie Zeitzer, from Stanford University School of Medicine.







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Researcher Finds Engaged Citizens Can Help Combat Vector-Borne Diseases

Political science professor studies how civil engagement in Brazil helps abate mosquitos and improve local health care services

By Deserae E. del Campo
Special to UM News


Michael Touchton

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 22, 2016)—Long before the Zika virus made headlines in South Florida this summer, it had morphed into a public health emergency in Brazil and was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization in February.

According to Michael Touchton, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Political Science Department, Brazil reported 200,000 cases of Zika in the first half of 2016, which equates to 36 cases per municipality in the country.

Touchton is not an epidemiologist, but a political scientist whose research on Zika and other vector-borne diseases focuses on citizen engagement in local health care policymaking to improve services and medical outcomes in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

At a recent event hosted by the University of Miami Institute for the Americas, Touchton discussed his research and addressed how a “thicker” version of democracy, including frequent, direct citizen engagement to improve local governance, helps to combat vector-borne diseases like Zika and dengue.

“Brazil designed policy reforms to bring local citizens into the democratic process who monitor and evaluate health care services and delivery in their municipalities, and this happened across the country,” said Touchton. “In my research, I show that there are big improvements in health care performance and service delivery when you bring regular people into oversite roles where they conduct neighborhood meetings to discuss how health care services are working—or not working—in their neighborhoods.”

Health care funding comes directly from Brazil’s federal government and is implemented at the local level, which according to Touchton, causes a wide gap in the quality of health care across many municipalities. Touchton says this is evident in wealthier areas of Brazil where health care policy is implemented effectively, yet there is a gap in health care services within the poorer areas, rural and urban alike.

“I’ve looked at data regarding local Zika contraction in Brazil, and local citizens are more engaged where environmental policy management councils exist,” he says. “These councils help direct mosquito abatement efforts, which include giving out education pamphlets, dumping out standing water, informing neighbors about installing screens, and even providing funds from the government for neighbors to put up the screens.”

Touchton says the next step in his research is to return to Brazil in the summer of 2017 and gather a comprehensive dataset on dengue and Zika in the country and eventually other countries—Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic—and incorporate the data into his existing research on the effectiveness of the local government councils and how they help prevent vector-borne disease transmission.

“The preliminary results of my research surrounding these councils gives me a reason to be optimistic that citizen engagement can work and that this idea can be extended to other cities in the Americas that, like Miami, are at risk of major Zika outbreaks,” Touchton said.

Touchton’s previous research shows how citizen engagement in local health care policymaking improves service delivery and medical outcomes such as infant mortality. His latest research will be published this winter in one of the top journals in political science, the American Political Science Review.

For more information about Touchton’s research, view his faculty page.








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Study Find Some Brain Networks More Agile Than Others

By Jessica M. Castillo
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 16, 2016)—Your brain is never really at rest. Neither is it in chaos. Even when not engaged in some task, the brain naturally cycles through identifiable patterns of neural connections—sort of like always practicing your favorite songs when learning to play the guitar.

Constantly cycling through brain region connections may make it easier to call to those networks when you need them for high-level cognitive processing, such as memory and attention. The network connections are not all equal, either. Some are more flexible and adaptable than others.

This is what Lucina Uddin and Jason Nomi, cognitive neuroscientists at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, found when collaborating with researchers at the University of New Mexico on a study they hope will lay the groundwork for helping children with autism adapt to change more easily. The scientists analyzed an extensive data set of brain region connectivity from the NIH-funded Human Connectome Project (HCP), which is mapping neural connections in the brain and makes its data publically available.

To better understand the human brain connectome, the HCP collected data from hundreds of people who underwent 56 minutes of resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A revolutionary tool in brain-mapping research, fMRIs measure brain activity by detecting changes in cerebral blood flow that are associated with brain activity and neural activation. The HCP also collected a number of other measurements, including the subjects’ ages, IQs, and results on various mental tasks.

Nomi, Uddin, and their fellow researchers analyzed the HCP’s resting-state fMRI data and, from potentially hundreds of configurations, teased apart five general brain patterns. They discovered that, most of the time, neural connections in the typical adult population are agile—alert yet fluid and flexible enough to take on whatever challenges or mental tasks are presented.

Less frequently, the brain cycles through more rigid connections where the regions are linked in a very specific, less flexible way, says Uddin, assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator in the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Laboratory (BCCL).

The researchers then correlated the frequency of these five brain patterns with performance on executive-function tasks—completed outside of the fMRI brain scanner—that tap high-level cognition, such as sorting a deck of cards by the printed image’s color and then by its shape. What they found was higher performers tend to have a natural propensity to be in the more flexible and fluid brain states.

“People who do better on these tasks tend to have more of the relaxed, flexible brain configuration states and less of the more rigid configuration states,” says Nomi, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology and the BCCL.

With this better understanding of brain activity in a typical population, the researchers are now moving to the next step of their research: testing children with autism to see whether their brains have a natural propensity to spend more time in the more rigid network configurations, making it harder for them to adapt to change as they experience life.

“The final step is determining what can we do to help them do better,” Uddin says. “Is there a way to induce a brain state that helps children with autism more flexibly adapt? Are there training programs or behavioral therapies that help them become more flexible? And if there are, do they also help their brains become more flexible?”

Uddin, Nomi, and their fellow researchers who study the connection between neuroscience and behavior are excited about the direction neuroimaging has taken their field.

“In the field of neuroimaging, before, we would have a snapshot of the brain. Now, we have a movie,” says Uddin.

Neuroscientists are also making more data publically available, and building interdisciplinary collaborations to analyze big data. Uddin, Nomi, and their collaborators were able to analyze more than 80 gigabytes of data for the connectome study in weeks, rather than months, by using the supercomputing resources at UM’s Center for Computational Science (CCS).

For the follow up study on children with autism, Uddin and Nomi have been working closely with UM’s Michael Alessandri, clinical professor of psychology and executive director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD); Melissa Hale, clinical assistant professor of psychology and UM-NSU-CARD’s associate director; and Meaghan Parlade, a licensed psychologist at the Autism Spectrum Assessment Clinic (ASAC) in the Department of Psychology as well as the coordinator of research and training for UM-NSU CARD.

The team’s UMiami Brain Development Lab is looking for children ages 7 to 12, who are typically developing or who have autism, to help them understand more about how the brain functions in both populations. Parents can learn more by viewing this video.

For their research study, “Chronnectomic Patterns and Neural Flexibility Underlie Executive Function,” Nomi and Uddin worked with Shruti Gopal Vij, a biomedical engineer and postdoctoral researcher in the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Lab and The Mind Research Network in Albuquerque; Dina Dajani, a graduate student in psychology at UM’s College of Arts and Sciences; Rosa Steimke, a visiting postdoctoral researcher in psychology in the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Lab; Eswar Damaraju and Srinivas Rachakonda, of The Mind Research Network; and Vince Calhoun, of The Mind Research Network and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of New Mexico.

Their study is published online in NeuroImage.

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Tarell McCraney Nurtures Talent in the 305


Tarell McCraney Nurtures Talent in the 305

By Meredith Camel
UM News

mccraneyCORAL GABLES, Fla. (November  7, 2016)—Identity, intimacy, and trust are topics Tarell Alvin McCraney was wrestling with in the summer of 2003, when he wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the gritty but tender coming-of-age story about a bullied gay black boy in the projects—his story.

A recent graduate of DePaul University in Chicago at the time, McCraney was headed to grad school at Yale when he got the news his mother had died from AIDS. The piece was an outlet to “figure out my life now that I was missing the one person who could tell me who I was, beyond my memory,” he recalls.

Subsequent works—The Brother/Sister PlaysHead of PassesChoir Boy, and Wig Out!—as well as two years in London as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s International Playwright in Residence catapulted McCraney into the theatrical limelight, but lately the MacArthur Fellow is captivating moviegoers with Moonlight, the film adaptation of his never-produced autobiographical script. A mutual connection forwarded the script a few years ago to filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who grew up three blocks from McCraney and whose mother also battled crack cocaine addiction, though the two had never previously met. Moonlight captures Jenkins’ and McCraney’s collective experience of survival in a reality that left them bruised yet aching to make sense of it through art.

Moonlight is, as described by The New York Times critic A.O. Scott, “so richly evocative of South Florida that it raises the humidity in the theatre.” It places its lens on Liberty City in a way few films have ever done, and for McCraney, that exposure is key to preserving the neighborhood and nourishing the voices that emerge from it. Cultivating Miami’s “homegrown talent” is the reason he foregoes life in New York, L.A., London, or Chicago, choosing instead to come back home.

“If I leave, who’s gonna make sure somebody’s picking up the 305?” he says, a nod to the Miami area code.

A faculty member in the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences since 2015, McCraney also teaches theatre at Liberty City’s African Heritage Cultural Arts Center (AHCAC), his childhood safe haven. He is passionate about preventing the “brain drain” that occurs when talented students think they have to leave Miami to pursue a career in the arts.

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