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School of Environment, Arts and Society

Year in Review

Our common future

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Creating our common future Computer engineering student Yordano Nicle views SEAS artist-inresidence Xavier Cortada’s artwork during the CLIMA art exhibit on sea level rise at the Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment in Hialeah, Fla. Photo courtesy of the City of Hialeah

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Message from the Dean FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education is dedicated to solving the grand challenges of our time in education, environment, and health care through research and engagement in the community, while also training the next generation of problem solvers. Our School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) is critical in realizing this vision. As you will see, our students and faculty are doing amazing things — developing and implementing solutions that will help ensure the survival of species, the vitality of ecosystems, and the sustainability and well-being of our communities throughout the world. From South Florida and beyond, SEAS is making a lasting impact on people and the environment while empowering and inspiring students and the public. We have our eyes on the future and are building our programs to maximize this impact. There is so much more we can do with additional resources, and our commitment is strong. I hope that you will be as inspired as I am by the work in SEAS and will get involved!

Michael R. Heithaus Dean, College of Arts, Sciences & Education

Message from the Director The School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) in FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education is dedicated to understanding the natural world, our place in it and addressing the challenges that arise from the interaction between humans and the environment. Unlike any other school in the country, SEAS understands the reciprocal relationship of humans with our constantly changing surroundings and the other species that populate this planet. Students and faculty in SEAS combine science and the humanities to understand, communicate and appreciate the world that feeds us, sustains us and gives us a home where we share our common stories. In 2015, SEAS embarked on many new adventures for scientific inquiry. Our efforts are meant to increase knowledge, educate and inspire all levels of society. Through three departments — Biological Sciences, Earth and Environment, and English — as well as through innovative, interdisciplinary centers, institutes and programs, our students and faculty hosted a wide variety of events to engage and educate our communities. This year, we launched the Tropical Conservation Institute and the Institute of Water and Environment to help advance solutions for the world around us. Our top scientists led the development of the Sea Level Solutions Center and continued to conduct pre-eminent research in the fields of water, agroecology, Everglades restoration, tropical botany and more. Students in FIU’s ecology club, GLADES, earned national recognition when the club was named the Ecological Society of America’s chapter of the year. We also celebrated the graduation of our first cohort of the professional science master’s program in Environmental Policy and Management. In the fall, art and science combined in a unique exhibit by SEAS artist-in-residence Xavier Cortada. CLIMA engaged the community through exhibits and plenary discussions led by FIU faculty and students, focusing on climate change and sea level rise. Presented at Hialeah’s Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment, CLIMA coincided with the United Nations’ climate conference in Paris, France. The Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment hosted events celebrating art, music, the aesthetics of science, the written word and much more. From innovative classroom programs for school children to innovative solutions in the biological, environmental and earth sciences, SEAS is contributing to a healthier, happier and sustainable world. For our students, 2015 was a year of hands-on learning, exploration and inspiration designed to transform their capabilities to help solve 21st century challenges.

Evelyn Gaiser Executive Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society

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on the rise Climate change takes center stage at FIU


ith rising seas threatening coastal communities locally and all across the world, FIU has launched the Sea Level Solutions Center to help people understand, adapt and persevere. South Florida is particularly vulnerable because of the large number of assets exposed to the effects of sea level rise. FIU’s Miami location will be key in advancing the center’s mission.

Brian Schriner, Patxi Pastor, Mike Heithaus, Rita Teutonico and Evelyn Gaiser of FIU met with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (center) to discuss how FIU is helping people understand, adapt and persevere in the face of sea level rise.

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The Sea Level Solutions Center combines expertise in the natural, physical and social sciences, along with architecture, engineering, computer sciences, law, journalism and communications, business, health, and tourism management to develop long-term strategies in the face of rising seas. It is dedicated to designing safe, resilient, prosperous and sustainable 22nd century coastal communities by focusing on the science behind the rising seas, preservation of governance systems, infrastructure challenges and solutions, business impacts, supply chain challenges, ecosystem dependencies and personal assets. While successful adaptation to sea level

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The Sea Level Solutions Center is working with local communities to devise strategies for adapting and creating opportunities for growth and sustainability in the face of the challenges posed by sea level rise. To learn how you can support these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349

rise is local in nature, it will take international, national, regional and local cooperation to develop and implement the necessary policies and strategies to address this global threat. Center researchers are working with local government, business and community leaders to accelerate adaption planning. In the fall, the Sea Level Solutions Center and the Southeast Environmental Research Center partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to host a multi-day training program in Miami for community leaders, including representatives from Doral, Surfside, Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management, Florida Power & Light, OHL Arellano Construction, and U.S. Southern Command. Because every dollar spent to reduce disaster losses saves the nation $4 in damages, the symposium was designed to improve communities’ capabilities to prevent, mitigate, respond to and recover from climate impacts, including sea level rise, drought, wildfires and other hazards.

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Just a few weeks later, 1,200 climate leaders including FIU faculty, staff and students representing more than 80 countries throughout the world attended the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The workshop, hosted by The Climate Reality Project, offered training in climate science, communications and grassroots organizing to inspire action. Leading into the United Nations’ 21st Conference of the Parties in December — a convention of 194 countries working together to mitigate the impacts of climate change — FIU joined a national pledge to do our part. FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg and student Salome Garcia joined U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy in Washington D.C. to call for action on climate change. As of today, more than 200 universities — representing 3.3 million students throughout the U.S. — including FIU have signed the American Campuses Act on Climate pledge.

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Solving global water crises through research and communication


ater is essential for life. It is necessary for industries including agriculture, textiles and tourism. Water also plays a key role in the planet’s weather and climate systems. With such great demand and vulnerability, water crises are among the top risks societies face throughout the world. In 2015, the College of Arts, Sciences & Education launched the Institute of Water and Environment, a hub for local and global wetland, coastal and aquatic research. It is home to the Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research Program, Marine Education and Research Initiative, International Water Group, Center for Aquatic Chemistry and the Environment, and the Sea Level Solutions Center. Reduced to less than half of what it once was by urban development and agriculture, the Florida Everglades is a

top priority for Floridians who enjoy the various benefits it offers, including water purification, storm protection, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. FIU researchers have long been producing the science necessary for making decisions about the future of the Everglades and the resources on which we depend. Environmental Studies student Mustafa Kamal Sikder launched a research project in 2015 that is evaluating public opinion about the Everglades as a natural and recreational resource. He hopes his work will guide efforts and generate increased support for restoration. His work is funded by the FIU ForEverglades Scholarship, a collaboration with Everglades Foundation for advanced research in support of Everglades restoration. Sean Charles, a Ph.D. student in biology, also received an FIU ForEverglades Scholarship. He is studying how Everglades mangroves are impacting the environment around them as they move inland to keep up with sea level rise. These and related efforts at FIU

FIU is working to leverage its expertise and capabilities in coastal wetland research and training to establish the Everglades Observatory. This collaborative hub will create solutions through academic and public agency collaboration that increase the resilience of South Florida’s natural resources to threats posed by climate change, rising seas and development, ensuring a viable future for the Everglades. To learn how you can support these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349

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recently caught the attention of former U.S. Senator and former Florida Gov. Bob Graham who hosted a workshop on Everglades advocacy for students, faculty and community members with the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS). Globally, one of the regions most affected by water crises is Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the United Nations, 60 percent of people there live in a water-scarce environment. FIU’s International Water Group is working with stakeholders on integrated water resources management to tackle water supply, sanitation and hygiene problems plaguing countries including Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Niger.

Research Networks (SRN), the urban water network creates technological, institutional and management solutions to help communities increase freshwater resiliency. FIU was awarded a second SRN grant to study infrastructure resiliency in the face of weather extremes as part of the Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather-Related Events Network. SEAS researchers and students are at the forefront of restoring, protecting and preserving some of the world’s most vulnerable aquatic ecosystems and ensuring freshwater sustainability for society.

Our own country’s freshwater resources have also been impacted by climate change, urbanization and other pressures. In 2015, FIU was named a partner in the Urban Water Innovation Network. Funded by the National Science Foundation’s Sustainability

Rafael Travieso, a researcher in the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research Program, services an automated water sampler in Everglades National Park.

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East African bongo antelope Photo by Paul Reillo

Recognizing the important mission of the Tropical Conservation Institute, the Batchelor Foundation has generously awarded FIU a $5 million challenge grant to match philanthropic contributions supporting TCI programs. We are seeking donations to save species and help train the next generation of conservation professionals. To learn how you can support these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349

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All species,

great and small Conservationists race to stop extinctions


even of the world’s most endangered birds have a second chance at survival in the care of researchers working to save threatened species across the planet.

The team is part of the Tropical Conservation Institute (TCI), a partnership between FIU and the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF) supported by a $5 million challenge grant from the Batchelor Foundation. Fewer than 100 male Florida grasshopper sparrows are accounted for in Central Florida, their only known habitat. The seven tiny songbirds currently under the care of TCI researchers are the first of their kind to be raised in a captive setting. The Tropical Conservation Institute is designed to address the critical issues driving wildlife to extinction and causing declines in biodiversity-rich ecosystems, according to TCI Co-Director Paul Reillo, who is also RSCF’s founding president and a faculty fellow in FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society. For more than 20 years, Reillo has led a variety of programs that are helping to stop extinctions throughout the tropics. TCI brings together conservation leaders, practitioners, students and researchers to benefit threatened species. Conservation projects are currently under way for the East African bongo antelope, reef sharks, a variety of parrots, small Amazonian primates and many others. The philosophy is simple — protect and recover flagship species, which helps ecosystems and helps other species and people that live within those ecosystems. The millions of species of plants, animals and micro-organisms inhabiting the planet’s ecosystems — and the enormous diversity of genes in these species — make up the variety of life on Earth. This variety of life is one of the most striking qualities of our planet, creating greater opportunities for research, education, economic development, medical discoveries, recreation, tourism, and adaptive responses to new challenges including urbanization, species invasion and climate change. The Tropical Conservation Institute joins conservation efforts under way in the International Center for Tropical Botany, a partnership between FIU and the National Tropical Botanical Garden. FIU’s geographic expertise in conservation extends from South Florida to the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, the Pacific and Asia. These regions comprise the top global biodiversity hotspots, meaning areas of exceptional species richness facing extraordinary threats. Together, FIU’s conservationists are working to prepare the next generation that will carry the charge of balancing a natural world with increasing human demand.

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

Tropical plants are essential to the well-being, health and livelihood of humankind, yet tropical plant communities are threatened by climate change, habitat loss and overharvesting. The International Center for Tropical Botany, a partnership between FIU and the National Tropical Botanical Garden, works to preserve and sustainably use tropical plants, and to foster programs that will educate future generations of tropical botanists. To learn how you can support these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349

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Eur North America Caribbean Detail

South America

Historic shark census

reaches 100 reefs in first year Three-year project to aid conservation efforts


esearchers have embarked on the largest-ever attempt to survey the world’s shark populations. Predators are disappearing from the oceans in alarming numbers with nearly a quarter of shark, ray and skate species threatened with extinction. The lack of comprehensive and up-to-date data on species abundance and distribution is hindering efforts to protect and replenish these ecologically important marine animals. Deploying baited underwater video equipment, researchers hope to catch the ocean’s top predators on camera in their natural habitats. The project, dubbed Global FinPrint, is focusing on three key geographic regions where data gaps exist — Indo-Pacific, tropical western Atlantic, and southern and eastern Africa and Indian Ocean islands. Mike Heithaus, FIU marine biologist and dean of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, and members of his lab are part of the international research team. To date, researchers have surveyed 5,000 locations across more than 100 reefs from Australia to the Bahamas, Belize, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea. The researchers hope to reach 10,000 deployments by the end of 2016. The project calls for 400 reefs across the world to be surveyed during the three-year project. The new data will be consolidated with thousands of hours of existing video data to form a single dataset for analysis, producing the first global standardized survey of shark, ray and skates in coral reef environments.

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Europe Asia



With funding from Paul G. Allen, Global FinPrint is one of several initiatives within Allen’s portfolio of ocean health programs. A recent International Union for Conservation of Nature report indicated that we don’t have the data we need to accurately assess the current population status for almost half of shark and ray species, according to Dune Ives, senior director of philanthropy at Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. Results from Global FinPrint will provide critical trend analyses and establish baselines in places that have never before been systematically assessed. This information will help inform more effective conservation efforts. Survey data will be made available in 2018 through an openaccess database platform created by Vulcan’s technology development team and will include information on species density, habitats and diversity trends. Researchers, policymakers, governments and others will be able use this database to help inform conservation priorities, such as identifying and protecting areas with large or important shark populations, and to better understand the importance of sharks for coral reef health.

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Funded sites Future sites

With support from Paul G. Allen and technical experts at Vulcan Inc., Global FinPrint will make data available via an open-access database. Global FinPrint is seeking funds and partnerships to support additional surveying locations, as well as K-12 and outreach programming. To make a gift, visit or contact | 305-348-4349

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Food Security through diversity and sustainability


or more than 10 years, Garfield Jarrett wore a U.S. Marine uniform. Military service was his passion and career. But injuries sustained during a roadside attack in Iraq ended it all. Granted a medical discharge, he returned to South Florida. Driven to help others, he enrolled at FIU to pursue a degree in social work but still felt adrift in his new reality. One day on campus, a flier caught his attention. It announced the new Veteran and Small Farmers Outreach Program. His aimlessness suddenly gave way to fond memories of growing up on a sugarcane plantation in Jamaica. Jarrett enrolled. As part of FIU’s Agroecology Program, the Veteran and Small Farmers Outreach Program offers military veterans, socially disadvantaged and beginner farmers technical and business training, as well as assistance with gaining access to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants to launch their own farming operations. Within the first nine months of launching in 2015, the program has served more than 90 new farmers. In a region with a growing population of veterans and large numbers of minority, migrant and new farmers, the Agroecology Program is committed to changing the perception of agroecology. Through a diversified and talented workforce, it aims to create sustainable practices that ensure food security, protect the environment and provide a catalyst for economic growth.

Mike Heithaus testified before U.S. Congress on FIU’s research and capacity-building efforts as one of the USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities.

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Housed in the Department of Earth and Environment and affiliated with the International Center for Tropical Botany, a partnership between FIU and the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the Agroecology Program offers experiential learning, research and engagement opportunities for students who want to pursue careers at the USDA and related businesses. Since its launch a decade ago, the Agroecology Program has awarded more than 150 scholarships to students. Recognizing the importance of tapping into untapped potential, Arts, Sciences & Education Dean Mike Heithaus recently testified before U.S. Congress on the importance of agricultural research and capacity-building at Hispanic-serving institutions. Thanks to the efforts of FIU’s Agroecology Program directors Mahadev Bhat and Krish Jayachandran, FIU was among the first universities in the nation to receive the USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities (HSACUs) designation to diversify the agency’s education and research networks.

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The Agroecology Program is preparing students for careers in sustainable agriculture with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and related industries. Efforts are now expanding in Homestead, Fla. and Miami’s Redland agricultural district, building partnerships with local growers, Miami-Dade County and community organizations to train minorities and new farmers. To learn how you can support these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349

Garfield Jarrett cultivates star fruit and other tropical crops on his farm in Homestead, Fla.

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Writers and linguists shape

the language of identity


anguage is used to understand thoughts, express feelings, establish rules and maintain society. Whether written or spoken, the impact of language on society depends on how it is wielded. Language can hurt and divide. It can also heal and unite. As English alumnus Richard Blanco took to the podium at the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Cuba, he personally experienced this reality. A child of exile, Blanco came to the United States with his Cuban parents. He earned national acclaim as the poet for President Obama’s second inauguration. Feeling like his heart had forever been split between two countries, Blanco credits poetry with allowing him to emotionally reconcile his national identity. So when he was asked to write and deliver an original poem for the historic reopening of the embassy, he seized the opportunity, putting into words what many hope for — reconciliation and healing.

Ashley Jones is among six writers in the country selected to receive a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award.

Recent graduate Ashley Jones also uses words to give hope and inspire others, dealing with complicated topics in America’s fractured past and the challenges of today. Jones, who says she writes poetry to explore her identity, was recently recognized as one of the country’s outstanding, emerging women writers by the Rona Jaffe Foundation. Sometimes, influences are found in the written word. Other times, they are the actual language we speak. Linguistics Professor Phillip Carter has dedicated his career to studying culture and language in U.S. Latino communities, including regional speech patterns and language perception. His body of work has propelled him to the national media stage where he has offered insight on bilingualism, the Miami English dialect, and the use of Spanish in American politics. The Department of English also hosts the annual Barbara Gordon Memorial Lecture and Linguistics Festival, bringing together top linguists to advance the study of linguistics locally and internationally. By engaging and teaching the art of language, the School of Environment, Arts and Society is helping to ensure our thoughts, feelings and hopes help us connect thoughtfully to the world around us.

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Richard Blanco and his quilt of family memories | Photo by Joyce Tenneson

The Department of English provides a foundation for students across FIU to be versed in the art of language as writers, linguists, business leaders, health professionals or whatever their passions may be. The Richard Blanco Fellowship in Creative Writing was established to support master’s-level graduate students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines in the Creative Writing Program. To learn how you can help, contact | 305-348-4349

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FIU’s Marine Education and Research Initiative provides higher education, scientific research, K-12 educational outreach and community engagement programming. At its heart is the Medina Aquarius Program and the Aquarius Reef Base — the world’s only undersea research laboratory — where FIU is pushing the capabilities of what can be achieved underwater and putting students at the forefront of marine research, while inspiring the next generation of scientists and explorers. To learn how you can support these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349

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Inspiring the

next generation

FIU engages through research and outreach


s our society becomes increasingly interconnected, our challenges become more complex. The School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) seeks to inspire a sense of curiosity and exploration within the next generation of problem solvers and equip them with the analytical and communication skills needed to create sustainable solutions to these challenges. The keys are hands-on learning, research and engagement. As college freshmen, Odaimy Ayala and Bryant Estadella were given the chance to participate in microbiology research under the direction of biology professors FIU students were dolphin researchers for a day at a research Mauricio Rodriguez-Lannetty and John Makemson. The and encounter facility in Key Largo, Fla. students were part of the team that discovered viruses that only infect bacteria, which could have implications for treating bacteria-borne illnesses in people. Their research was recently awarded first place at a Howard Hughes Medical Institute conference in Washington D.C. Biologist Jeremy Kiszka gave students in his marine mammals class the chance to be dolphin researchers for a day in Key Largo, Fla. SEAS faculty members provide opportunities like these with the hope they will both inform and inspire students who could develop future environmental policy and conservation efforts. Connecting the community with work conducted locally is another priority. SEAS leverages its premier location in a living laboratory to conduct critical research on the coastal marine ecosystems that provide billions of dollars in services to South Florida, including storm protection, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. Led by Jennifer Rehage of the Southeast Environmental Research Center, researchers are studying bonefish catch declines in Florida Bay and the Florida Keys by examining water quality, climate and prey. The scientists are calling upon local anglers and fishing guides for real-time data on the quality of their fishing experiences, involving them directly with research in the field and on campus. The school also engages the community through public lectures, K-12 educational programming, citizen science programs and more, including the Marine Education and Research Initiative and the Medina Aquarius Program in the Florida Keys. Left page: Bill Gorton (left) poses with his first bonefish and Captain Earl Gentry (right) in Islamorada, Fla. in 1958. Gorton is one of the citizen scientists engaged in bonefish research, providing FIU researchers with data and personal accounts on the quality of his fishing experience in South Florida. Photo courtesy of Bill Gorton

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SEAS by the numbers 6,103 137



16,038 3




Interdisciplinary centers, institutes and research facilities



Research expenditures


Degree programs


Certificate programs

FIU is the largest producer of STEM degrees for Hispanics in the U.S.

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55 Countries where SEAS faculty members currently conduct research


Outreach events


Undergraduate students working in research labs

8,088 People attending SEAS community events


Hours spent working underwater for scientific research

FIU is ranked 17th out of 277 higher education institutions in terms of social mobility, research and service. — Washington Monthly

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SEAS artist-in-residence Xavier Cortada’s digital rendition of the marine diatom Biddulphia pulchella — part of the CLIMA art exhibit at the Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment in Hialeah, Fla.

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Xavier Cortada, Luster, digital art/archival ink on aluminum, 20” diameter, 2015

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15409 SEAS Year in Review 2015