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A New Place to Call Home: Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life Breaks Ground

Special to UM News


From left are Jeffrey Miller and Debra Braman Wechsler, Hillel at UM Capital Campaign co-chairs; UM President Donna E. Shalala; and Noreen Gordon Sablotsky, chair of UM Hillel’s Board of Directors.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 16, 2014)—On the final day of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, University of Miami Hillel held a groundbreaking ceremony to officially begin construction on the new Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life.

Thanks to a lead naming gift of $2.5 million from two of Miami’s most distinguished families, the Bramans and the Millers, who were on site for the groundbreaking, UM Hillel will be renovated to meet the needs of more than 2,000 Jewish and non-Jewish UM students alike. Plans include a new lobby, kosher café, dining room, multipurpose classroom space, and prayer sanctuary.

“Here at the University of Miami, Hillel gives Jewish students a place to call home—a place where they can connect with their culture, deepen their spirituality, energize their commitment to community service, and develop relationships that will last a lifetime,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala.

The event, which was attended by 80 UM students, trustees, donors, local and national Hillel leaders, and members of the local Jewish community, was held outside the current Hillel building and in front of a “sukkah,” or booth, made from branches and palms, following Jewish tradition.

“Hillel helps nurture and engage our community. Here, students find meaning and purpose. Yes, they find food, and many times, they find themselves,” said Jacob Solomon, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “Hillel is the best chance the Jewish community has to impact Jewish identity. Across continents, 18 time zones, and on 550 campuses in North America alone, this foundation helps build the future of the Jewish people.”

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel, said, “Our success in building Jewish life on campus depends greatly on our university partners. President Shalala, thank you for that partnership and for the good soil on which to grow and thrive here on campus.”

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Faculty and Staff Support the U: Associate Provost Keeps Her Alma Mater Moving Forward

Mary Sapp

Mary Sapp

Mary Sapp knows that financial support from faculty, employees, and alumni is a big reason the University of Miami is rising steadily in the national rankings. “These contributions play a major role in improving the quality of our educational and research programs, as well as our campus facilities,” says Sapp, M.S. ’86, associate provost for planning, institutional research, and assessment.

Sapp’s own generosity has earned her membership in UM’s Loyalty Society, which honors alumni donors who make gifts for two or more consecutive years. “On a personal level, I feel good about helping to keep our University moving forward by donating to my alma mater each year through the Annual Fund,” she says.

Sapp’s office conducts ongoing research on the University’s programs, studying such key indicators as the academic credentials of students and faculty, graduation rates, and research grants. “We analyze those data to help senior leadership with planning and strategic decisions,” she says. “It’s certainly a lot more rewarding to provide reports that show the great progress we’re making.”

A native of Ohio, Sapp came to Miami in the early 1980s with her husband, Stephen Sapp, professor of religious studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Sapps, who have two grown sons, Eric and David, spent several years living on campus when Stephen Sapp was the resident master at Eaton Residential College. “We really enjoyed being around students and found it to be a very energizing experience,” Mary Sapp says.

Sapp had earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in quantitative psychology before joining the University of Miami, initially as an IT consultant and then as associate director of planning and institutional research. While working and raising a family, she completed her master’s degree in computer science at UM.

“I believe strongly in the value of education, particularly at the university level,” she says. “Education can level the playing field so that minority, immigrant, and low-income students can succeed on their personal merits.”

With its cultural diversity, high academic standards, and beautiful campus, Sapp regards UM as a very special place to work. “When you believe in what you are doing, you can get involved with our University in so many ways, including athletics and cultural activities. There are so many opportunities for personal enjoyment and professional development, and becoming a donor at any level is one of the ways to show your support for our U.”

Read about other faculty and staff who support the U.



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Registration Opens for Inaugural Edna C. Shalala 5K Run/Walk; Discounts Available

EDNA-C-SHALALA-5K-RUN-WALK-FLYERRegister now for the inaugural Edna C. Shalala 5K Run/Walk and save $5 on the registration fee, which will benefit the Edna C. Shalala Women’s Athletics Fund. Can’t make it Saturday, December 13? Don’t fret. You can still support women’s athletics and honor President Shalala’s mother, a devoted former athlete and avid supporter of women’s sports, three different ways.

The run/walk, which will wind past atheltics facilities and showcase much of the Coral Gables campus, will begin at 10 a.m. and feature many student-athletes, coaches, administrators, the Spirit Squad, cheerleaders, and Band of the Hour. Race participants will receive a commemorative T-shirt, medal, entry into a post-race tailgate, and a complimentary season ticket to all remaining 2014-15 women’s basketball home games.

Registered participants (with race bib) also will receive complimentary admission to the Hurricanes women’s basketball game against Coppin State University, which begins at 1 pm. at the BankUnited Center the same day.

Registration is $30 for University employees who sign up before November 3.  Use the code “Special” to receive the discount.  If you are unable to participate and wish to provide a financial donation, you may choose one of these options:

  • Send a check payable to the University of Miami, with the memo “Edna Shalala Fund for Women’s Athletics,” to:
    UM Athletics, Hecht Athletic Center, 5821 San Amaro Drive, Coral Gables, Florida 33146, Attention: Jenn Strawley.
  • Donate directly to the fund, which will benefit women’s athletics and count toward Momentum2: The Breakthrough Campaign for the University of Miami.
  • Designate a contribution to the “Edna C. Shalala Fund” through the United Way by signing on to your MyUM account, clicking on United Way on the left, then “Athletics” and “Edna C. Shalala Fund.”     

Established in 2011, the Edna C. Shalala Fund for Women’s Athletics was created on the occasion of her 100th birthday, and is used to enhance women’s athletics and support the continued success of the University’s women’s athletic teams.

Once a nationally ranked amateur tennis player, Ohio-born Edna Shalala graduated from college in 1933 and worked as a physical education teacher. During the summer, she won several big tennis tournaments and qualified for the national championships three years in a row. Ever the competitor, she played in her last national event just before going on her honeymoon.

Eleven years after her twin daughters Donna and Diane were born, Edna graduated from law school. She had a long and successful career as managing partner of a busy probate firm and practiced law well into her 90s. She also played competitively on the senior amateur circuit—earning a ranking of No. 1 in the Middle West—until 1996.

“Edna Shalala has been a tremendous proponent for women’s athletics both nationally and within the University of Miami athletics community,” said Jenn Strawley, deputy athletics director and senior women’s administrator. “The continued growth of women’s athletics at Miami requires the support of our fans and community. This event and the Edna C. Shalala Fund for Women’s Athletics make a difference in the lives of our student-athletes.”


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UM Dedicates Cutting-Edge Facility for Hurricane and Marine Life Research

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UM Dedicates Cutting-Edge Facility for Hurricane and Marine Life Research

The $50 million Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex will help improve coastal resiliency and hurricane forecasting and look to the oceans to shed new light on how to treat human diseases.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News


The Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. SUSTAIN Building is part of UM’s new Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex.

VIRGINIA KEY, Fla. (October 3, 2014) – It still astonishes meteorologists. In the span of just 24 hours, Hurricane Wilma, the 22nd named storm of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, intensified from a tropical cyclone to a Category 5 hurricane—its wind speed soaring from 70 to 175 mph.

But as remarkable as Wilma’s rapid intensification was, it isn’t the only case of a storm muscling up at warp speed. As Hurricane Charley approached Florida’s west coast in 2004, its sustained winds jumped from 110 to 150 mph in only three hours. And in 2007 Felix strengthened from a meager tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in 51 hours.

“We don’t know completely what causes hurricanes to rapidly intensify,” said Brian Haus, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “Track forecasting has gotten better and better, but intensity forecasts have not improved, and one of the possible reasons for that is we don’t fully understand what’s happening where the ocean and atmosphere meet in really high winds.”

That could all change soon now that the Rosenstiel School has opened its Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex, a $50 million facility that houses a 38,000-gallon, 75-foot-long tank into which researchers pump seawater to study how the ocean and atmosphere interact—the critical air-sea interface that could tell us why some storms intensify so quickly.

The SUSTAIN building's centerpiece is a 38,000-gallon, 95-foot-long tank  which researchers will use to study the rapid intensification of hurricanes--still a forecasting puzzle.

The centerpiece of the SUSTAIN Building is a 38,000-gallon, 75-foot-long tank, which will be used to study the rapid intensification of hurricanes—a phenomenon forecasters often cannot predict.

Under a brief rain shower, UM officially dedicated the facility Thursday, unveiling for guests what President Donna E. Shalala called “a game changer” that will address a multitude of research initiatives, including investigations of the ocean and atmosphere, marine life, human health, and disease.

The Glassell Family Foundation supported construction of the seawater tank in the research facility, which is now officially known as the Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. SUSTAIN (Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction) Building. A $15 million stimulus grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) got the ball rolling.

“I still remember the meeting I had with faculty from Engineering and Rosenstiel,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc. “They had a vision, and we started off wondering how we would eventually pay for this facility. But we never had any doubt that we needed it.”

Shalala said the new building “is about the future—what we discover here will shape our decisions and actions.”

Rosenstiel School Dean Roni Avissar said that “it takes literally a village to build the kind of facility we’re opening here today.” He recognized some of the many individuals who played key roles in making the facility possible, including Haus, who designed the seawater tank and helped spearhead the $15 million NIST grant that partly funded the building’s construction. Generous gifts from the Marta Weeks Family and the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation also made the building possible.

Haus is ecstatic about its opening. Among the storm-related research he said it will foster are studies on designing coastal structures to survive hurricanes, improving coastal resiliency and wave modeling, and the transfer of carbon dioxide across the air-sea interface.

“I was just at the Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit in Miami Beach, and White House chief scientist John Holdren and several other people said that facing the issue of mitigation and adaptation to climate change is the grand challenge for going forward in science and policy,” said Haus. “It’s the greatest threat humanity is facing. So it’s very timely that on the day of that summit, we are opening this facility, which is focused directly on research related to improving our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

After the ribbon cutting, guests streamed into the facility by the dozens, observing the giant waves inside the SUSTAIN tank, which had been filled to almost half its 38,000-gallon capacity with a mixture of fresh and seawater. They also toured the other major component of the complex, the Marine Life Science Center, which is home to a number of labs, including the National Institutes of Health-funded Aplysia lab, billed as the only facility in the world that cultures and raises sea hares for scientific research on aging, memory, and learning.

In another lab, Ph.D. student Molly Broome briefed tour groups on how she is studying the effect of Prozac on the cardiovascular system of toadfish. She has discovered that oxygen consumption in fish treated with the drug declined, while fish that were not exposed to the drug were able to regulate and maintain stable oxygen levels. Broome said the lab is always a site of scientific discovery, noting that its principal investigator, Danielle McDonald, is investigating how oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill affects the physiology of toadfish.

In Rosenstiel School researcher Michael Schmale’s lab, Kirstie Tandberg, an undergraduate marine science and microbiology and immunology major, directed the attention of one tour group to a row of aquariums containing small damselfish, explaining that the colorful marine organisms may hold the key to understanding a disease in humans once known as Elephant Man’s Disease for its disfiguring tumors. Tandberg told the group that damselfish develop tumors similar to how humans are affected by the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis.

In still another lab, grad student Merly Ovares explained how she and other researchers are injecting artificial DNA into zebrafish to detect harmful algae blooms in aquatic environments. “It’s important work, because algae blooms can sometimes get into the drinking water,” she said, noting a recent toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie that prompted a tap water ban in Toledo, Ohio.

The complex is one of only a handful of proposals funded by NIST. “We picked only the best of the best,” said Mary Saunders, NIST associate director for management resources.

Saunders recalled that NIST led a technology team to the devastated regions in the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to examine and better understand just what caused buildings and bridges to fail. “In the coastal regions and in New Orleans, we would have benefited from the data and measurements that will result from this research facility,” she said. “I firmly believe it was money well spent.”


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Faculty and Staff Support the U: Filmmaker’s Talents Shine on the Silver Screen and on the University

Talavera.croppedThrough his award-winning documentaries, outreach to local non-profits, and wide-ranging teaching activities, Professor Edmund Talavera strives to make the world a better place.  As chair of the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media in the School of Communication, Talavera enjoys creating promotional videos for the University of Miami, organizing alumni fundraising events, and making personal donations to the Momentum2 campaign.

“Our University is doing great things,” he says. “As faculty and employees, we all need to show the world that we care about the future of UM.”

Talavera’s charitable spirit is shared with his wife, Konstantia Kontaxis, who is also a professor in the School of Communication, and their two children. “Every year, my wife and I create videos for local health and social organizations, such as the Transplant House,” he says. “I also bring our alumni and film students together for networking and fundraising events in Hollywood, like our Los Angeles Showcase. It’s a great way to build those personal and professional connections.”

A graduate of New York University’s film program, Talavera joined the faculty in 1999. Over the past 15 years, he has taken UM film students to such locations as Peru, Guatemala, and Greece, producing narrative and documentary feature films on social and health issues. His most recent documentary, Finding Gaston, was an official selection of film festivals in Spain, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. His 2011 documentary, Mistura – The Power of Food, was named the best short foreign documentary at the International Family Film Festival and won the Golden Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival. His films have shown in theaters worldwide and aired on HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax.

Closer to home, Talavera puts his talents to work to promote the University. He was the cinematographer for At the U, and recently completed a new video about the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center on the Coral Gables campus. He also serves as director of the ’Canes Film Festival, an annual showcase of student films.

“I really appreciate the support our film program has received through the years,” he says. “It’s a pleasure for my wife and I to give back to our University.”

Read about other faculty and staff who support the U.


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