Tag Archive | "school of communication"

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Illuminating Moonlight: President Frenk and Tarell McCraney Discuss the Playwright’s Academy Award-Nominee

A screening at the Cosford gives UM President Julio Frenk an opportunity to talk to one of the creative forces behind the Academy Award-nominated ‘Moonlight’

By Robin Shear
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 30, 2017)—The evening after Moonlight received eight Academy Award nominations, the University of Miami hosted a special screening event at the Cosford Cinema, with a Q&A between UM President Julio Frenk and Tarell Alvin McCraney, the playwright and Miami native whose largely autobiographical work inspired the critically acclaimed film.

McCraney has been a professor of theater and civic engagement in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences since 2015. During that time he also launched an arts leadership project for young women of color at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City, one of the local resources that gave McCraney a rare refuge from the poverty, crime, and bullying he struggled with growing up in the neighborhood.

After last Wednesday’s screening of the 111-minute drama, currently slated to run at the Cosford through February 9,  a visibly affected audience paused briefly before breaking into applause.

Moonlight, already a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture-Drama, tells the story of Chiron, also nicknamed “Little” and “Black,” in three gripping acts. Chiron lives with his drug-addicted mother in Liberty City during the turbulent 1980s. With troubles at home and school, the quiet but intense Chiron (pronounced shy-rone) traverses dangerous terrain, buoyed by fleeting moments of sanctuary and support from a drug dealer named Juan, based on a significant figure in McCraney’s youth. Unlike Chiron, McCraney took another path and went on to become a renowned playwright, recognized in 2013 with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

“This is a stunning example of how artists can move us to new understandings of our world,” Frenk said during his introduction of McCraney, who has “story by” and executive producer credits on Moonlight. “Tarell is a son of Miami. He is an artist of Miami. And he is an advocate for Miami. The film we just saw is such a beautiful, poetic, loving portrait of our incredible city in all its dimensions.”

But it is a story that might never have been widely known. When McCraney was 22, his mother died of AIDS-related complications. Trying to make sense of his life up to that time, he wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Though never staged, almost a decade later the work came to the attention of director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins, also raised in Liberty City. Their collaboration has garnered a powerful response that has pushed the self-described “painfully shy” McCraney into a new kind of spotlight.

Among Moonlight’s eight Academy Award nominations are Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. At the Q&A on January 25, McCraney spoke openly and eloquently about what it was like to be part of such an intensely personal project and why he thinks it has resonated with audiences and critics as one of the best films of the year.

Crediting the authenticity Jenkins brought to the screen and a “one-of-a-kind” ensemble cast, McCraney said, “There hadn’t been this kind of storytelling in a while, specifically about people of color from this part of the world. I think there was an appetite for it.”

He also credited School of Communication lecturer Rafael Lima, who taught playwriting at McCraney’s high school, with the words of wisdom that helped him begin to share this poignant and intimate piece.

“I had tried to figure out ways to create the story before and didn’t really understand how to do that,” said McCraney. “He said, ‘If a story keeps coming to you visually, then it’s a film. If you hear it, then it’s a play.’”

Asked by Frenk what he would tell young people who live in a world where they, like Chiron, may face violence in terms of their race, sexual orientation, or any other dimension of their identity, McCraney replied, “I don’t know if I would tell them anything, to be fair. Having sat in that chair and having to listen to adults figure out how to fix an ill of society by telling you something feels counterintuitive. The thing I often try to do in those circumstances is show them where they actually belong. One of the initiatives I’ve appreciated since I’ve been here at the University is the Culture of Belonging because it’s a powerful tenet. We have work to do here, but that’s where it all starts. One of the things that Juan does in the film for Little is he says, ‘You belong somewhere, you’re a part of something.’ And that’s what I would try to show rather than say.”

Praising Moonlight, School of Communication Dean Gregory Shepherd asked McCraney to expand on the character of Juan, complexly portrayed by Academy Award nominee Mahershala Ali. McCraney started with an anecdote about walking up to Ali backstage after seeing the movie with an audience for the first time in Toronto. “My tie was askew and [Ali] started fixing it,” recounted McCraney, “and I burst into tears because for me he had just sort of transformed into this person I had not seen since I was 6 or 7 years old.”

The character of Juan, he explained, was based on his mother’s boyfriend, a man named Blue. “He was a drug dealer, and he was every bit of a hero to me,” McCraney said. “He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to swim. He told me that I was good enough. He often stemmed my mother’s abuse from affecting me in many ways. I was the best-dressed kid in Liberty City for a long time. I always wanted to honor that memory but not expunge it of any of the things that, actually, he did.”

Thanking McCraney for coming to speak to one of his classes previously, UM student Jeremy Penn asked him to discuss the bullying and violence portrayed in the film and how the “school and police fail to address the systemic issues that are going on.”

McCraney said that in his own life the system didn’t fail him. “At some point the bullying stopped because I was led out of danger,” he explained. He was offered free classes at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center and attended the New World School of the Arts, “so I could be in a place that was just a little bit more accepting of who I was.”

But that’s not everyone’s story. McCraney notes that Chiron’s story doesn’t follow his own trajectory of success. “One of the reasons I wrote [the story] in that way was, what if I took that one missed step to the left? And both things cost. No matter what school I’m at, no matter what instructor I’m with, I still carry the scars of that time.”

President Frenk concluded by thanking McCraney—who will be returning to his alma mater, the Yale School of Drama, in July to serve as chair of the playwriting department—for his artistic creation, his work at UM, and his service to the greater Miami community.

“Obviously on Oscar night all your friends and family at the U are going to be rooting for Moonlight. We hope it does very, very well,” said Frenk. “We wish you well—and you know this will always be the home where you truly belong.”

The evening was sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Communication.

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Surveys Explore Sad State of Water in Cuba

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Surveys Explore Sad State of Water in Cuba

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

MIAMI, Fla. (January 17, 2017)—When Evaristo lived in his native Cuba, hardly a day went by where he wasn’t dealing with water-related problems such as contaminated drinking water, leaky pipes or streets flooded with raw sewage.

The 60-year-old emigrated to the United States two years ago, leaving those problems behind. But when he returned to Cuba recently to visit his daughter in Havana, he discovered matters hadn’t improved but worsened—he still had to drink bottled water, shower late at night when the water pressure was sufficient, and avoid swimming in dirty rivers and streams.

“Everything in the island needs refurbishing,” he told University of Miami student Nancy Mendoza while waiting for a friend at Miami International Airport (MIA). “Water is no different.”

His story is a recurring one for Mendoza, a Miami Law student who for the past year has been conducting surveys of newly arriving travelers from Cuba to document the water problems on the Communist island.

Her work is part of an interdisciplinary study by College of Engineering Professor Helena Solo-Gabriele, School of Communication Professor Joseph Treaster and Catholic University of America sociologist Enrique Pumar to determine the state of the water in Cuba.

“The information we have on Cuban water is old and the data that is available is not peer-reviewed,” said Solo-Gabriele, who is of Cuban descent but has not visited the island. “We wanted to know the state of the water on the island.”

Initially funded by the UM Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) and the School of Communication, the study hopes to quantifythe availability of water, its quality and the impact it may have on people’s health, said Solo-Gabriele.

So far Mendoza and other UM students participating in the study have logged 500 interviews through a 43-question questionnaire. They hope to finish 100 more for the study to be completed. The interviews are taking place at Miami International Airport so as to avoid the restrictions Cuba would impose on external scrutiny of thecountry’s infrastructure, said the scholars.

Cuba water issues stem from an obsolete and deteriorating infrastructure. The original water and sewage systems on the island were installed prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Very little maintenance has been done on the system in the five decades since, said Solo-Gabriele.

Daily water shortages, leaky pipes, non-working toilets and contaminated water is common. This may surprise many people, especially tourists who are visiting the island by the thousands since renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba were established in 2014, said Treaster, who has worked on other water-related projects and visited Cuba several times in the ‘80s as a reporter for the New York Times.

“First thing I thought was Cuba has a great reputation for public health, what water problems could there be,” said Treaster, but then he remembered that as a visiting journalist in the ‘80s he only drank bottled water.

Tourists who visit the island encounter a very different reality with water issues. Hot baths and potable water is available around the clock for those who visit Cuba and stay at hotels, said Solo-Gabriele. But for every day citizens the reality of dealing with water issues can be daunting.

A large part of the problem in Havana stems from the aquifer underneath the Almendares River, said Solo-Gabriele. “The river is receiving all of the sewage and river water infiltrates into the aquifer, putting the drinking water at risk.”

Among the initial findings of the study:

  • Water scarcity affects Cuban citizens almost daily.
  • The outdated pipes are so corroded that often the water is contaminated.
  • Most Cubans have cisterns or water tanks in their yards to store water because official water systems usually provide running water for a few hours a day.
  • Water pressure is an issue in many buildings, requiring residents to use buckets to bathe themselves.
  • Disposal of garbage is spotty. Often, the trash ends up in the water, causing health problems.

Pumar, who was born in Cuba, and has visited the island in the ‘70s and ’80s, said that he was surprised by the extent of the water problems, noting that their interviews of newly arrived visitors cover folks who have come from several cities on the island.

“We have even heard of people getting sick from bottled water that they bought on the black market,” he said. “One journalist got sick because he ordered ice in a restaurant.”

Often, water bottles sold on street are filled with tap water and sometimes ice cubes are made with purified water, but they become contaminated by bartenders and waiters who failed to wash their hands after using the bathroom, said Treaster.

The scholars have an invitation to present at the Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at UM in the spring. Their study will be published in the journal Cuba in Transition, and they will write an article on the study for the journal Cuban Affairs.

Pumar said the scholars presented their findings at the July 2016 conference of the Study of the Cuban Economy in Miami.

They plan to launch a website with all the data to help organizations and businesses interested in investing in the island to become acquainted with the challenges.

On the practical side, the researchers want the website to be useful to the Cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans who visit their families and friends. Pumar believes that a push to educate both populations with tips such as how they should boil water and store it and the use of water filters would be very beneficial.

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School of Communication Opens Two State-of-the-Art Centers


School of Communication Opens Two State-of-the-Art Centers

By Karina Valdes
Special to UM News

broadcastcenterUniversity of Miami School of Communication ushered in the interactive age with the dedication of two new centers on Friday, December 2.

The school officially opened the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center and the Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center in a unique ceremony emphasizing interaction and technology. UM trustees, donors, guests, and friends watched the ribbon cutting on two flat screen TVs in the school’s courtyard before touring the new facilities.

Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, opened the ceremony by thanking the university’s Board of Trustees, donors, faculty, students, staff, parents, and friends. He then told a story about “a space over here that we called the Reading Room.” The underutilized space would be transformed into the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center, but before “it was your typical small library that people of a certain generation remember well.”

“It was sort of dark and quiet, full of old dusty journals and hardly any students. It wasn’t a great place to be the front of the school. It wasn’t a great place for our students, as was obvious by their absence,” said Shepherd.

He “wanted a space that would encourage interactivity among our students.”

In the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center, students will gain hands-on experience in a professional setting by providing a multitude of digital and traditional creative services to clients.

Shepherd first approached Koenigsberg about four years ago with his vision for a new interactive space. Koenigsberg along with Miles Nadal, both parents of School of Communication students, lead the effort to build the interactive media center, and also encouraged other parents to become involved with the project.

“As you will see when you see the donor wall, you will note how many of our donors were parents,” said Shepherd.

With blueprints for the IMC showing a modern, high-tech space, it quickly became apparent the area adjacent to the IMC and the Robert Corley Groves Studio needed to be upgraded as well. Shepherd also, for a very long time, wanted to “put the Mann name up in this school.”

“Bob Mann has been a supporter of this school before it was a school,” said Shepherd. He also called him an adviser and a friend.

Mann was co-founder and first general manager of WVUM, UM’s student-run radio station. He is a member of the university’s Board of Trustees and chairs the School of Communication’s Visiting Committee. For more than 30 years, he has supported the university in numerous efforts including gifts to construct the Communication International Building and the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center. He established the Robert A. Mann Endowed Fund for the Department of Athletics, and the Samuel and Grace Mann Endowed Scholarship Fund in his parents’ honor to benefit undergraduate students majoring in broadcast journalism.

“And we now have the opportunity to put their names on this broadcast center. The Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center,” said Shepherd.

The Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center includes two HDTV broadcast studios, a sound stage for film production, an equipment room providing students with the latest technology, two control rooms, and editing suites with multiple functions.

“We have to keep on improving and we have to stay up with our peer schools and make sure we offer students the best equipment and the best facilities to learn in,” said Mann.

Thomas J. LeBlanc, executive vice president and provost, thanked the donors who supported the project and noted that in “higher education, and particularly in private higher education, things don’t happen without the support of philanthropists.”

“All of the great work that will take place within these centers…would not be possible without Bill, Miles, Bob, and Lauren. Thank you for your leadership and generosity in shaping the School of Communication,” said LeBlanc.

He also thanked the university’s trustees for supporting the vision to construct these centers.

“Today we celebrate a vision of what the School of Communication can be and how the facilities can impact undergraduate student learning,” said LeBlanc. “We are no longer in the medieval age and we need to make sure our university stays at the forefront, and this new project represents that commitment,” he added.

Margot Woll, School of Communication student and executive producer of UMTV’s SportsDesk, then asked guests of the ceremony to turn their attention to the TV screens to take a virtual tour of the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center and the Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center.

Oliver Redsten, School of Communication student and UMTV’s NewsVision anchor, lead the audience on the virtual tour and detailed what guests would soon have a chance to experience in person. He also explained how students would benefit from the spaces.

“As students, we will not only be learning about communication, but also how to implement communication plans and tactics, making us more confident when we enter the workforce,” said Redsten.

The TV screens then cut to the donor wall where Rebekah Chung, School of Communication student and executive producer of UMTV’s Pulse, interviewed Koenigsberg.

Koenigsberg expressed how we are living in a digitally connected world. “The currency of the future is digital currency,” he said, and he expressed how he hopes students who experience the IMC are provided with “digital currency so when they get out into the world they are richer than students from other schools because of this incredible space and atmosphere we’ve been able to develop for them.”

He also thanked Shepherd, and Donna Arbide, associate vice president of advancement, for inspiring him to want to help with this project.

“We are going to create the best students in the world through this interactive media center,” said Koenigsberg.

Nadal could not attend the dedication ceremony, but he was present through a videoconference from Ottawa, Canada.

“What excited me about this opportunity was that the University of Miami was taking a leadership role in creating the interactive media center of the future as part of its integrated communications program,” said Nadal.

He also added how “the amount of invention and investment that the university was making” made it apparent he wanted to “support and to invest behind the future digital interactive leaders of the future.”

After the ribbon cutting ceremonies, guests toured the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center and the Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center. Students of the school were on hand to demonstrate the facilities and how they plan to use the spaces.

After touring the facility, Joseph B. Treaster, professor at the School of Communication, noted how “this center has got everything we need to really move on to the next stage.”

“I don’t think any other university has got something as powerful or as sweeping as this. All the greatest, neatest tools you want are here,” he added.

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DiCaprio Screens Climate Change Epic at UM


DiCaprio Screens Climate Change Epic at UM

During a Q&A moderated by the actor, a panel that included UM scientist Kenny Broad warned of the disastrous consequences from climate change.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News
dicaprioCORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 5, 2016)–From the White House on one day to a college campus cinema the next, Academy Award-winning actor and eco-activist Leonardo DiCaprio screened his powerful new documentary about the damaging effects of climate change at the University of Miami on Tuesday, moderating a subsequent panel discussion in which he told an audience of hundreds that climate change is “too important” a topic to ignore.
“So many of these issues are going to affect your state directly,” DiCaprio said at UM’s Cosford Cinema, referring to sea level rise, the destruction of coral reef ecosystems, and other climate change-induced conditions that especially imperil Florida and its coastal cities and are highlighted in his 96-minute film Before the Flood.
A day removed from its screening on the White House South Lawn, where DiCaprio talked environmental issues with President Barack Obama, one of the prominent world leaders featured in the film, the documentary will air in 171 countries on the National Geographic channel on October 30, bringing its important message to more than 450 million people.At Cosford on Tuesday, DiCaprio, who picked up the 2016 Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Revenant and has been designated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change, shared the stage with the documentary’s director, Fisher Stevens, and two scientists who study how climate change is impacting our planet and its people.
“I’m afraid very much for the people as much as for the ecosystems,” said Kenny Broad, a UM environmental anthropologist, veteran cave diver, and former National Geographic Explorer of the Year, when asked by DiCaprio what frightens him most about climate change.“We think of dramatic flooding, the melting of ice, and losing [the] polar bears, but it’s the ground water beneath our feet” that should be studied more closely, said Broad. “More than 95 percent of the world’s drinking water is from aquifers. It’s out of sight, out of mind, and we tend not to take the steps to protect it. It just takes a tiny bit of sea level rise to really [impact] our groundwater. And who gets affected is gong to be the more vulnerable populations.”
With Florida atop the list of states that will be impacted the most in coming years should sea levels continue to rise at their current clip, Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, said the state’s critical infrastructure, including nuclear power plants along the coastline, are at particular risk.“We have the most built environment in the world here in Miami-Dade County at risk to sea level rise and not a silver bullet to deal with it,” explained Silverstein, an alumna of UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine Atmospheric Science. “What we need are new solutions, and we can find those new solutions through research and applying things that we already know work.”

She called for increased awareness of the importance and plight of coral reefs, noting that in Florida over 80 percent of the diverse underwater ecosystems have perished since the 1970s due to the effects of ocean acidification and other climate change-related factors.

As the nation approaches another presidential election, DiCaprio said Florida once again will play a key role as a swing state in the race for the White House. “We can no longer afford to have political leaders out there who do not believe in the science of climate change,” he said.

His statement was an obvious dig at the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China.

What frustrates Broad more is not convincing the doubters, but getting people to sustain actions to reverse the effects of climate change.

“But that’s not surprising,” said Broad. “From an anthropological and evolutionary standpoint, we worry about short-term things. We’ve never had this sort of experience. We’ve never had a collapse of our climate system. We don’t need more scientists to convince people—we need more people who know how to touch upon emotions and morals. We need more people working more creatively.”

Still there is hope, Silverstein believes. In Miami-Dade County, political leaders have ramped up their efforts to take action on climate change, rethinking future infrastructure plans with a cautious eye toward sea-level rise. “I think that’s a big victory,” she said.

It will also take the nation’s youth to solve the problem. “I really believe in fighting for certain causes and certain issues, and climate change has been something I’ve been obsessed with for the past eight or nine years, not nearly as long as Leonardo,” said Before the Flood director Stevens. “But we’re here because we believe that the youth, universities, and high schools are the future. We want to try to get people to understand at a very young age that this is important.”

The screening was sponsored by the School of Communication, and the film, financed by the documentary division of Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment, has “already been picking up some Oscar buzz,” said Dean Gregory J. Shepherd, who invited Ratner to the stage to comment on the project.

UM senior Savannah Geary, an ecosystem science and policy major, was one of the students in the audience who plans to take action through the making of documentaries like DiCaprio’s that address the problem.

Said Geary, “I would love to make something that would have even half the benefit that this [Before the Flood] is going to have.”

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Search Begins for Medical School Dean

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Search Begins for Medical School Dean

School of Communication Dean Gregory J. Shepherd is charing the search committee.

School of Communication Dean Gregory J. Shepherd is chairing the search committee.

Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, has been appointed chair of the committee that will conduct the University of Miami’s historic search for a new dean of the Miller School of Medicine. As Shepherd noted in a recent message to the medical school community, “Recruiting a new dean is not just about the Miller School of Medicine and UHealth — it is critically important to the wider University of Miami community and indeed to all of South Florida.”

In his message, Shepherd committed to conducting a fair, open, and appropriately transparent national and international search “to find a deep and diverse pool of candidates.”

President Julio Frenk has charged the search committee with forwarding top candidates to Steven M. Altschuler, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs and CEO of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System, and UM Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc.

The other members of the search committee are:

  • Lilian M. Abbo, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine and chief of Jackson Health System Infection Prevention and Antimicrobial Stewardship
  • Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., chair, Department of Ophthalmology and director, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
  • Marie-Denise Gervais, M.D., assistant dean for admissions and diversity
  • Noor Joudi, Student Government executive president
  • Mahendra Kumar, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences
  • Karl L. Magleby, Ph.D., chair, Department of Physiology and Biophysics
  • JoNell Potter, ARNP, Ph.D., professor and director of research and special projects, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Matthias Salathe, M.D., professor of medicine and chief of Pulmonary Critical Care
  • Judith L. Schaechter, M.D., M.B.A., chair, Department of Pediatrics
  • Carl Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., professor of surgery and director of the William Lehman Injury Research Center
  • Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., chair, Department of Surgery
  • Stephan Züchner, M.D., Ph.D., chair, Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics

This distinguished group will be working with Phillips DiPisa, an executive search firm serving health care and life sciences organizations.

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