Tag Archive | "college of arts and sciences"

Finding a Solution Against Violence


Finding a Solution Against Violence

UM professor wins ACLS grant to continue his studies on violence and the human condition.

By Betty Chinea
Special to UM News

Louis Herns Marcelin

Louis Herns Marcelin

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 17, 2017)—Dr. Louis Herns Marcelin, associate professor of anthropology at the University Miami College of Arts and Sciences, has focused most of his research on understanding violence as essential to social life.

As he notes, most scholars see forms of violence in society as discrete phenomena with clear determinants, while others shed light on their (im)morality and their destructive power. “While these approaches are important in helping us make sense of identifiable acts of violence, their randomness, and epidemiology,” Marcelin says, his work “takes a holistic perspective on the topic, a view that goes beyond thinking of violence as belonging to the realm of the absurd.”

Violence, he says, is not an anonomy or outside of what make us humans.

“Instead, violence is foundational of social life and quintessential to power relations among humans. Violence is constitutive of the human condition.”

Starting this summer, Marcelin will take a full academic year of research leave to further explore this theme as a recipient of an American Council of Learned Studies (ACLS) fellowship for his proposal, Democratization Process, Violence, and Peacebuilding in Contemporary Haiti.

As an ACLS fellow, he will work on a book that focuses on violence and human insecurity in post-dictatorship and post-disaster Haiti. The book builds on a series of transdisciplinary, multistage, ethnographic, and sociological studies he has conducted in Haiti, where he was born, over the course of 25 years.

His research interrogates the standard categorization and analysis of and community responses to violence. It highlights the unique value of ethnography as a distinctive means to investigate the principles at work in the production and reproduction of violence in sociocultural contexts like Haiti.

Marcelin is aware that this award was not simply for his own work, but the result of thought-provoking collaborations and reflections with UM colleagues and students, as well as other scholars from other parts of the world, including Haiti, South Africa, Brazil, France, and Canada.

“When I found out about this, I was humbled by it,” he said. “What it means is that it pays off to think in collaborative terms. It’s a product of what other people have helped me become. I am saying this because there is more reward in academia when we work collaboratively.”

For this fellowship, Marcelin will work through the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED), a Haiti-based institute he co-founded to better integrate various disciplinary tools and perspectives in an effort to assist the people of Haiti.

Marcelin has continued to conduct research in Haiti over the past three decades, more recently expanding the scope of his work to explore how natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, affect communities, as these are prolonged moments of crises, when violence in all forms is most prevalent.

Despite his focus on the darkest dimensions of the human condition, Marcelin remains an optimist. He says he is able to stomach years of research on violence because of his obligation to understand it and communicate his findings to others through his research.

“Sometimes you cannot sanitize it, ” he said. “It is the ugliness of abject human suffering that I cannot stomach; however, it forces me to look at what people living in these circumstances have in terms of resources and how these resources can be channeled in order to reverse their condition.”

Marcelin’s research goes beyond focusing on victims and/or offenders by exploring unjust structures that enable violence to erupt in the first place.

In addition to his ACLS fellowship, Marcelin also has been awarded the Residency Program at Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) in South Africa, a four-month program in South Africa, where he will write several chapters of his book based on a comparative account of the nexus between violence and democracy in two shantytowns, one in Haiti and the other in South Africa.

These two fellowships will allow Marcelin the opportunity to examine sociocultural variations between democratization processes and violence.

“Everything humans do, humans can undo,” he said. “That’s where the philosophy of hope comes into play, the possibility of you overcoming the ugliest phases and conditions in life.”




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Sub-Second Seizures

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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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Program Opens Door to World of Languages

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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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Chemistry Professor Awarded Science Fellowship in Japan


Chemistry Professor Awarded Science Fellowship in Japan

By Betty Chinea
Special to UM News


Rajeev Prabhakar

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 15, 2017)—Rajeev Prabhakar, a chemist at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, is no stranger to spending time in a foreign country.

Originally from India, he earned his Ph.D. in Sweden and is accustomed to discovering and acclimating himself in different cultures, which is why Prabhakar had no reservations about visiting Japan—for the second time in his career. But this excursion is more business than pleasure.

Recently, Prabhakar received news that he was awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) as a visiting professor.

Selection for this coveted fellowship is an honor not lost on Prabhakar. Only 25 percent of applicants are accepted and each must have a host professor in Japan who applies for them.

“It is very exciting,” said Prabhakar. “The Japanese are very advanced in science and they have a strong research culture.”

Prabhakar, who began his journey February 15, will visit multiple universities in Japan through March 9, including the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Fukui Institute for Fundamental Chemistry, Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules, Nagoya University, and Hokkaido University.

The purpose of the fellowship is to establish research collaborations with Japanese scientists from the institutes and universities, and help advance and expand Prabhakar’s current research at UM, which is primed to fundamentally advance the design of artificial enzymes, biomaterials, antimicrobial peptides, and drugs for neurological disorders.

“It will be very beneficial to interact with some of the leading researchers in these areas and explore innovative ideas of mutual interest,” said Prabhakar.

The importance of Prabhakar’s research is underscored by JSPS’s full support of his visit. Along with collaborating and forming new connections with Japanese researchers, he will be presenting research seminars as a visiting professor.

For more than 80 years, the JSPS has initiated and carried out a vast array of programs that are essential to promoting scientific research. The organization has developed as a research and support organization designed to advance research and foster talented researchers for generations to come.

The fellowship also supports UM President Julio Frenk’s vision for UM as an innovation hub, connecting, collaborating, and building knowledge with organizations and researchers beyond our borders.

“I am hopeful that the JSPS fellowship will help me to expand the research we are already doing here and start something new and interesting while building ties between UM and leading Japanese universities,” said Prabhakar.


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History Professors Win NEH Fellowships

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History Professors Win NEH Fellowships

By Alex Bassil
UM News

Bernath- Lindemann-NEHAwards

Michael Bernath and Mary Lindemann

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 1, 2017) — Michael Bernath and Mary Lindemann, College of Arts and Sciences faculty members and colleagues in the Department of History, have been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowships for 2017.

Bernath is the Charlton W. Tebeau Associate Professor of 19th Century American history, and Lindemann the chair and professor of early modern German, Dutch, and Flemish history and medical history in the early modern world. They will use their awards for book projects on, respectively, Northern Teachers in the Old South and the aftermath of the German Thirty Years War.

“We are proud and excited that two of our distinguished history professors in the College of Arts and Sciences were awarded NEH fellowships, a tremendously respected award in the humanities,” said Leonidas Bachas, dean of the college. “Awards such as these not only promote scholarship in the humanities, but also lead to knowledge shared with our students seeking a deeper understanding of the human experience. The UM Center for the Humanities provides funding to enable these research ideas to reach the stage of NEH support.”

The UM fellowships were among $16.3 million in grants awarded nationwide by the NEH for 290 projects. The Fellowship for University Teachers’ program supports college and university teachers pursuing advanced research. This year the NEH received 1,298 applications and funded 86 of the total, approximately 6.6 percent of the proposals, making the fellowships among the most competitive humanities awards in the country.

Bernath’s project, “In a Land of Strangers: Northern Teachers in the Old South, 1790-1865,” looks at the experiences, reception, and perception of thousands of Northerners, both men and women, who came to teach throughout the Southern states. Bernath argues that the presence of these Northern teachers represented the most intimate, sustained, and widespread contact point between Northerners and Southerners during the antebellum period. He begins here to examine when, how, and where ideas of Northern and Southern identity emerged.

“Given how difficult it is to win an NEH award, I’m honored to be one of two faculty members in the same department and university, a highly unusual occurrence,” Bernath said. “The NEH plays an essential role in facilitating groundbreaking research and the exploration of vital issues that benefit us, not only as scholars and universities, but also as a society.”

Lindemann’s project, “Fractured Lands: Northern Germany in an Age of Unending War, 1627-1721,” analyzes the effects of the Thirty Years War on Germany for a century after the conclusion of peace. The project is innovative in the sense that it looks not only at political and social development but also considers the impact of the war on the environment.

“Such NEH grants have been critical in my career,” said Lindemann, who credited two previous NEH grants for the publication of two books, the first with Johns Hopkins University Press in 2006 and the second with Cambridge University Press in 2015.

“The time needed to do deep archival research and write is absolutely critical for scholars employed at major universities,” she continued. “I’m grateful for the support of the NEH and UM’s College of Arts & Sciences. In a political climate where the NEH is in danger of being either eviscerated or eliminated it is important to emphasize how valuable it is for sustaining and nurturing high-quality scholarship throughout the U.S.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency and one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.


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