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School of Environment, Arts and Society

Year in Review

Creating our common future The FIU Medina Aquarius Program houses the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only underwater research lab.

The School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) in FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences is dedicated to addressing the challenges that arise from the interaction between humans and the environment. The environment is about more than just the ecological function or our impact as humans on the earth. SEAS also addresses our place in it. Unlike any other school in the country, SEAS is dedicated to understanding the reciprocal nature humans share with our constantly changing surroundings and the other species that populate this planet. Students and faculty in SEAS combine the natural and social sciences and the humanities to understand, appreciate and communicate effectively the world that feeds us, sustains us and gives us a home where we can create our common future. In 2014, SEAS embarked on many new endeavors for scientific inquiry and to effect change. Our efforts are meant to educate and inspire all levels of society — from school children to seasoned scientists. Through three departments — Biological Sciences, Earth and Environment, and English — and interdisciplinary collaborations throughout FIU, our students and faculty hosted a wide variety of events to engage our communities. We launched initiatives, including the International Center for Tropical Botany and Tropical Conservation Institute, to help advance solutions for the world around us. Our Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment celebrated art, music, the aesthetics of science, the written word and much more through events on campus and throughout our community. Our top scientists directed projects in sea level rise, food security, marine science, Everglades restoration and policy development. Through the Medina Aquarius Program, Southeast Environmental Research Center and Agroecology Program, we researched, challenged and explored. From classroom programs for K-12 students to innovative solutions in the biological and earth sciences, SEAS is making contributions that help foster a healthier, happier and sustainable world. For students in the School of Environment, Arts and Society, 2014 was a year of hands-on learning, exploration and inspiration designed to transform their capabilities to help solve 21st century challenges.

Michael R. Heithaus Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

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


in Bloom International Center for Tropical Botany launches at FIU


he Yachang Orchid Nature Preserve is home to 2,400 vascular plants and at least 130 species of orchids. Rarest among those is the Geodorum eulophioides. Earth and Environment Professor Hong Liu will never forget the first time she laid eyes on it. For more than eight decades, it was believed to be extinct, a victim of human progress. But there it rested with its white and pink blooms in a remote corner of southwest China, not extinct but not exactly safe either. A few years ago, a local villager illegally cleared a portion of the preserve to plant eucalyptus, an economically lucrative plant in China. With just that single crop, the farmer claimed more than half of the land that hosted the only known viable population of Geodorums. Liu knew time was not on her side to save the rare orchid. She is among the many researchers at FIU seeking to preserve and protect the species that call the tropics and subtropics home.

China’s elusive Geodorum orchid

In 2014, FIU launched the International Center for Tropical Botany in partnership with the National Tropical Botanical Garden to address biodiversity, conservation and restoration of threatened and endangered plant species. Housed at The Kampong, the historic estate of plant explorer David Fairchild, the center is supported by a $2.5 million gift from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust and a matching $2.5 million gift from the Batchelor Foundation. Tropical biologist Chris Baraloto has joined FIU as the center’s founding director. For Liu, the center is a welcome addition to FIU. While she has successfully negotiated greater protection for the Geodorum, her efforts are far from finished. She hopes to leverage the resources of the center to advance her work and engage colleagues in the United States and abroad. FIU’s move to expand its botanical resources comes at a time when botany programs are shrinking and some are closing altogether. This reality leaves many of the planet’s most vulnerable species without advocates for their conservation. It’s a reality Mike Maunder discovered when he embarked on an exploration mission to South Sudan in the fall. The Arts & Sciences associate dean of research engagement has dedicated his career to habitat and species conservation. For war-torn South Sudan, 40 years of civil war have ravaged the country. But Maunder says there is hope. He and a team of researchers are working locally and internationally to help assess and protect what remains of South Sudan’s historically rich plant life. In the Amazon, biologist Kenneth Feeley is helping to arm policymakers, scientists and conservationists with the information they need to enact meaningful change in a region plagued by climate change and deforestation. Every research project conducted in his lab is designed to contribute to the body of knowledge about the Amazon’s vastly diverse species, their resiliency and their long-term needs. Like all of FIU’s conservationists, Feeley is hoping to give people the knowledge they need to better value the resources he already knows are irreplaceable. From South Florida’s lush botanical resources, throughout Latin America and all across the world, FIU botanists are leading the way in the management of tropical plant resources and protecting the biodiversity of our planet.

Chris Baraloto has been appointed director of FIU’s International Center for Tropical Botany at The Kampong.

Candy, a two-year-old Dutch Shepherd, is one of several dogs certified for scent detection of Laurel wilt, a deadly plant disease attacking South Florida’s avocado industry. The detection program has been developed through FIU’s International Forensic Research Institute.


Sustenance Providing solutions for 21st century food security


early 805 million people worldwide were chronically undernourished in 2014, according to the United Nations.

Climate change, contamination and urbanization are threatening the availability, accessibility and proper utilization of food. It is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century. Researchers in the School of Environment, Arts and Society are contributing to solutions that could satisfy this most basic human need. Brian Machovina spent his doctoral career studying the effects of meat consumption by humans on the global ecosystem. Machovina believes replacing meat with soy protein could increase

Brian Machovina, who studies the impact of climate change on areas suitable for banana production, holds a banana sprout headed for a plantation in Costa Rica.

the number of calories available for human consumption by 70 percent — enough to feed an additional 4 billion people. He recently presented his research findings at the World Botany Conference at UNESCO. For biologist Eric Bishop von Wettberg, it’s about finding a balance between sustainable food supplies and protecting the environment. Among his many projects, he embarked on an effort in 2014 to breed climate-resilient chickpeas. This highly nutritious source of protein is one of the world’s most widely grown crops, largely concentrated in developing nations in the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa. Von Wettberg believes resource-poor farmers can be successful while reducing their carbon footprint, simply by growing genetically diverse chickpeas that aren’t reliant on applied fertilizers. While still in the early stages of this work, his findings are promising. In April, FIU joined an international team of researchers working to improve chickpea production in Ethiopia as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future Program. Biologist DeEtta Mills is working with a team of researchers investigating a highly lethal disease attacking South Florida’s avocado groves. Using a combination of specially trained canines and drones, the researchers are sniffing out a fungus that leads to Laurel Wilt disease. Their early detection methods are already proving effective and could lead to long-term solutions for a disease previously thought undetectable until it was too late. From our Agroecology Program to projects devoted to sanitation, water conservation and research management through our international water programs, the School of Environment, Arts and Society is advancing international dialogues focused on sustaining the world’s population from remote villages to the most urban communities.


Rising Tide From the shoreline to the Everglades, researchers focus on sea level rise


eneath the streets of Miami Beach, seeping up through the limestone, water

creeps into storm drains and pours into the streets. It happens once a year when the sun and moon align in such a way that gravity pulls at Earth’s water. The phenomenon is known as King Tide. It is the highest of high tides, and every year, it puts Miami Beach at risk of major flooding. In October 2014, FIU researchers were on-site to collect and assess data during the latest King Tide. The efforts are part of a universitywide initiative to study, better understand and develop solutions for sea level rise impacts. Plans are under way to create an institute dedicated to the interdisciplinary work being done at FIU. South Florida ranks as the world’s most vulnerable urban region in terms of assets exposed to the effects of sea level rise. FIU’s research is dedicated to developing and implementing solutions for the major environmental and economic challenges

created by the rising seas. When King Tide arrived

having. Gaiser along with other area scientists are

in October, all eyes were on Miami Beach and a

discovering pathways to combat the effects of

new pump system that helped to keep the water

sea level rise through Everglades restoration.

off the streets — this time. But the manner in which the water traditionally invades is a stark reminder that when it comes to sea level rise, there is more to be concerned about than just the shoreline. The hidden danger is largely the water within. In South Florida’s case, that means the Everglades. The main source of freshwater for South Florida’s primary water supply, the Everglades are also feeling the pressure of encroaching saltwater. Evelyn Gaiser, executive director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society, recently met with White House officials to advocate for greater collaboration with researchers and adaptation partners to mitigate the threat of sea level rise in South Florida.

One of the greatest uncertainties with sea level is just how high and how fast the seas will rise. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to plan for how South Florida should adapt. Conservative projections suggest sea levels could rise by almost a foot by 2100, but some scientists believe that number will be much higher. Earth and Environment Professor René Price, along with a team of international researchers, completed a study in 2014, based on historical data that identifies the timings at which accelerations might first be recognized. While she can’t say for sure today, Price knows a data-driven prediction about rate and height should be reality by 2030.

Gaiser, who also serves as lead principal

With a focus on helping people to respond,

investigator of FIU’s Florida Coastal Everglades

adapt and persevere, scientists in FIU’s School

Long Term Ecological Research Program, is

of Environment, Arts and Society believe South

an aquatic ecologist who spends much of her

Florida is positioning itself to prevail in the ever-

time in the Everglades. She knows, first-hand,

changing landscape and serve as a global model

the impacts that saltwater intrusion is already

for resiliency.

Into the


Technology revolutionizes FIU marine science


uch of science is based on observation. So what happens when the very places scientists need to observe are not meant for people? Though it’s a challenge marine scientists face every day, it’s not an insurmountable one. It just takes some ingenuity and a lot of technology. Little is known about the daily lives of sea turtles because much of their time is spent underwater. So researchers are deploying small cameras on the backs of the turtles in Shark Bay, Australia to catch an intimate look at their day-to-day activities. The animalborne cameras have provided insight into the eating habits, diving behaviors, social interactions and playful side of turtles. Marine Biologist Jordan Thompson studies ecosystem health researchers like Jordan Thompson and Arts & Sciences Dean Mike from the perspective of a sea turtle outfitted with a Heithaus are using this knowledge to better understand the functions GoPro camera. of turtles in coastal ecosystems and improve conservation efforts. To date, more than 120 video tags yielding nearly 400 hours of footage have been deployed. Others, like biologist Kevin Boswell, are finding ways to penetrate dark and leaden waters. Deploying a uniquely outfitted unmanned surface vehicle (USV), researchers from FIU’s Acoustics and Fisheries Ecology Lab utilize four different types of sonar plus a live feed view to study fish populations from the Tropics to the Arctic. The monitoring techniques developed by Boswell’s team are safer for research teams yet more effective in data collection, where waters may be murky and conditions challenging. The USV, which was jointly developed by FIU and Florida-based SeaRobotics, is helping to define the future of scientific communication. But more importantly, it is contributing to global conservation efforts to protect and improve critical marine and coastal ecosystems. Perhaps the greatest advantage marine scientists at FIU have is the ability to reside underwater, thanks to the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research laboratory. Situated 60 feet below the surface in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Aquarius is the focal point of FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program. It enables scientists to live and work underwater for days and weeks at a time, providing unparalleled means to study the ocean, test and develop state-of-the-art undersea technology, train divers and astronauts, and engage the imaginations of people across the world. With each new endeavor, FIU scientists are pushing the limits, challenging technology and finding ways to study the unseeable. Through these efforts, they are providing solutions for much of the planet’s threatened, yet poorly understood species and their environments.

Marine sciences professor Kevin Boswell and his students Mark Barton and Hansani Mallikarachchi use a remotecontrolled autonomous survey vessel to characterize the water quality and habitats of coastal waters.



The School of Environment, Arts and Society is transforming the way we conduct research, educate our students and engage the community. The school’s mission is to ensure the long-term health and well-being of the planet and its societies through inspirational teaching and stimulating creative works, as well as groundbreaking research and global community engagement. To learn more about how you can help, contact Karen Wilkening at 305-348-7602 or by email at

Marine Education Research Initiative

International Center for Tropical Botany

Leading research, outreach and training efforts to study and preserve tropical plants for future generations with a focus on their economic uses, the products and services generated by tropical plants, and maintaining plant diversity, in collaboration with the National Tropical Botanical Garden

Creating innovative research, education, outreach and professional training opportunities throughout the Florida Keys, highlighting the region’s ecological significance and our responsibility as environmental stewards

Tropical Conservation Institute

Protecting some of the tropics’ most threatened animal species by developing education, research, outreach, applied training, and action programs for a global and meaningful impact, in collaboration with the Rare Species Conservatory

Southeast Environmental Research Center

Dedicated to research, education and restoration in the Everglades, Southeast United States and other threatened environments around the world

Institute for Water and Environment An interdisciplinary collaboration that serves as a source of new science and ideas to create novel solutions for emerging environmental, social and economic problems, particularly the risks associated with water scarcity, sea level rise and waterborne contaminants regionally, nationally and globally

Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment

Expanding the notion of the humanities beyond its traditional bounds and celebrating their contributions to our urban life in South Florida


Change Scientists inform global policy


eagrass meadows are not just lush, flowering marine plants — they are massive carbon reservoirs that can store as much greenhouse gas emissions as terrestrial forests. The oceans’ best-kept secret plays an important role in the global carbon cycle and has the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. Championing the preservation of this precious resource is marine scientist James Fourqurean, who has devoted his career to seagrass research and helped provide the first global analysis of carbon stored in them. He and FIU wetland ecologist Tiffany Troxler have presented their body of work to a United Nations (UN) panel on climate change. It’s the first step in convincing the UN to incorporate the management of seagrasses, mangroves and tidal marshes into its international environmental treaty. Fourqurean, who also serves as director of FIU’s Marine Education and Research Initiative, has presented to policymakers throughout North America, Australia, Asia, South America, and Europe, including the European Union Parliament. But the mission to inform policy in the Blue Carbon marketplace does not end with Fourqurean. His students Justin Campbell and Elizabeth Lacey published research on carbon accumulation in the Arabian Gulf in March. After meeting with policymakers from the United Arab Emirates, the researchers convinced them to implement programs to aggressively build their mangrove ecosystems with plans to adopt similar programs for their native seagrass ecosystems. Fourqurean conducts his research as part of FIU’s National Science Foundation-funded Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program (FCE LTER), which studies how hydrology, climate and human activities interact with ecosystem and population dynamics in the Florida Everglades. In the face of natural and man-made environmental stressors, FCE LTER stands ready to leverage its research strengths and existing federal partnerships to bring about change locally and nationally. On a local level, environmental studies student Danielle Goveia found high concentrations of lead in the nonedible roots of spinach grown in urban soil from Liberty City. Together with Earth and Environment Professor Krish Jayachandran and the FIU Office of Engagement, she presented her findings to the Florida Department of Health. Officials responded immediately to remediate areas of concern and follow-up testing showed no signs of contamination. FIU is not only making its mark on the global community through expert faculty, but it is preparing our planet’s next generation of scientists to be sharp critical thinkers and effective communicators. Through the newly launched Professional Science Masters in Environmental Policy and Management Program, graduates will play valuable roles as planners, managers, analysts and consultants for the betterment of our environment.

Marine scientist James Fourqurean has studied carbon accumulation in seagrasses, mangroves and tidal marshes.

The Agroecology Program hosts the annual “Kindergarten Cultivation in Agroecology Day� at the FIU Organic Garden.

Inspiring the

next generation FIU helps communities through research and engagement


y taking science beyond the lab, the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) is sharing what we learn, fostering dialogues and teaching members of our community how to be better stewards of our environment. Through its Marine Education and Research Initiative (MERI), scientists are advancing research in the Florida Keys and captivating people all across the world through K-12 programming, a public seminar series, citizen science programs, public eco-tours and more. The Medina Aquarius Program is at the heart of these efforts, hosting more than 12,000 school children worldwide in the past year for virtual field trips, interactive classes and chat sessions with scientists during missions at the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only underwater research laboratory.

Earth and Environment faculty work with local high school students at Miami Northwestern to teach them about aquaponics.

SEAS offers Family Science Nights for children, their parents and all members of the South Florida community. Featuring hands-on activities, the events encourage science-learning at home. And reaching more than 2,000 residents annually, MERI’s Ocean Life Public Seminar Series showcases work being conducted in the Florida Keys by FIU faculty and their students. The Agroecology Program hosts the annual “Kindergarten Cultivation in Agroecology Day.” FIU students enrolled in the program work side-by-side with the youngsters to teach them food systems concepts, including seed germination, transplanting herbs and fruits and pollination. The program features hands-on activities at the FIU Organic Garden and Nature Preserve. As part of FIU’s partnership with Miami Northwestern Senior High School and Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Earth and Environment faculty work with students to teach them about aquaponics, the self-sustaining agricultural process that involves growing fish and using waste nutrients to fertilize edible plants. Outfitted with a new aquaponics lab, the students have grown tomatoes and basil and reared tilapia at their Liberty City campus. Dubbed “The Education Effect,” the partnership, supported by the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, exposes students to careers in the food and hospitality industries and builds a pipeline of students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. Throughout Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and all across the world, our faculty members take what they know beyond our campuses and help educate our communities to inspire the next generation.

Environmental studies graduate student Jessica Lee launched the Coastal Angler Science Team.


Communities E

arth and Environment student Jessica Lee embarked on a research endeavor to find out where largemouth bass are migrating from the Everglades. The problem is she’s only one person.

The School of Environment, Arts and Society teamed up with the Miami Heat for NBA Green Week.

Recognizing she could do more by making this project a community effort, Lee called on all South Florida anglers to help. Using a tiny microchip, the anglers, recreational fishermen and fishing guides became the main data collectors for her research project. Through this collaboration, and with support from the Everglades Foundation, a simple device supplied her with a year’s worth of research on a viral predator in the coastal Everglades that is a major economic contributor to South Florida’s fishing industry.

FIU has also taken the lead in preserving and restoring mangroves in South Florida. Mangroves are a critical barrier for storm surge and help prevent soil erosion — something of particular significance in the face of sea level rise. Through the Adopt a Mangrove Program, more than 1,000 volunteers from local schools and organizations have planted more than 3,000 red mangrove seedlings in preserves and state parks in an effort to restore mangrove ecosystems throughout Miami-Dade County. School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) also partners with the Miami Heat for the annual NBA Green Week to help raise awareness about environmental preservation. Through inspirational teaching and stimulating creative works, SEAS researchers translate science empowering people to engage and act. Recognizing the impact of the humanities in shaping our perceptions and responses to the world around us, SEAS also has established a series of programs and events encouraging inquiry and activism. This year, the Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment hosted a panel on Immigration Reform that was broadcast on C-SPAN, convening community members to advance dialogue about an important issue in our community and the nation. The center also co-hosted the annual Life of the Mind Lecture Series featuring author Richard Florida who discussed the opportunities and challenges of the creative economy. The approach to connect our communities and make them a part of FIU’s conservation, restoration and innovation efforts is the essence of the SEAS mission — to ensure the long-term health and well-being of the planet and its societies.


Stories Above: A photo from the exhibit “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges.”


he power of a story can be one of the most influential aspects of society, preserving history, celebrating cultures and helping us to understand our place in the world.

Storytelling comes in many forms, through the written word, oral traditions, pictures and art. The School of Environment, Arts and Society leverages these avenues to help advance its mission to improve the lives of people and effect positive change for the environment in which we live. In the fall, the Exile Studies Program, Department of English and Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment presented “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges” in collaboration with the Coral Gables Museum. In the era of World War II, many Jewish scholars who had been cast out of Germany unexpectedly found positions in historically black colleges in the American South. There, they came face-to-face with the absurdities of a rigidly segregated Jim Crow society. The exhibit took visitors on a visual journey of their experiences.

“I’m often asked where my creativity comes from... It’s a journey of documenting thoughts.” —Amy Tan

Amy Tan receives the fifth annual Lawrence A. Sanders Award for Fiction.

In the spring, FIU welcomed photographer Annie Griffiths to deliver the 2014 Our Common Future lecture, “Alternative Energy: Invest in a Girl, Change the World.” Griffiths is documenting aid programs that are empowering girls and women in the developing world who are dealing with the effects of climate change. Griffiths was one of the first female photographers to work for National Geographic and has photographed nearly 150 countries in her career. She has published two books: A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel and Simply Beautiful Photographs.

The Creative Writing Program delved into the mind of critically acclaimed author Amy Tan during the fifth annual Lawrence A. Sanders Award ceremony also in the spring. The author of The Joy Luck Club opened her talk with the journeys of the grandmother she never met and her mother with whom she shared a lifelong tumultuous relationship. Though her writings are largely fiction, Tan draws from her own family’s experiences, where life was often stranger than fiction. “I’m often asked where my creativity comes from,” Tan said during her talk at FIU. “I wrote something down about my family history thinking that was the origin of my creative experiences. But I think it has more to do with observation. It’s a journey of documenting thoughts.” Perhaps no storyteller in history is more famous than the man who asked the question, “to be or not to be.” William Shakespeare, whose final work was written more than 400 years ago, has advanced narratives on issues that still resonate in modern society, and his work helps shape our thinking today. In 2014, English faculty announced FIU would become the only site in Florida to host an exclusive exhibit showcasing the first folio — the first collection of works ever published of the bard’s works. Coming in February 2016, the folio will go on display at FIU’s Frost Art Museum along with an accompanying exhibit celebrating Shakespeare’s career. For authors like Shakespeare, the link between their stories and the natural world are forever linked. Sometimes, nature is the backdrop. Other times, it is the refuge for its characters. But inevitably for all storytellers, as with Shakespeare, all the world’s a stage.

SEAS by the numbers 7,223 153



13,816 3




Interdisciplinary centers, institutes and research facilities



lion Research Expenditures



Degree programs

Certificate programs

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


212 Undergraduate students working on research labs

People reached through SEAS events

145 Outreach events

55 Countries where SEAS faculty members currently conduct research

FIU is one of the top 100 universities less than 50 years old — Times Higher Education


SEAS Year in Review 2014  

Florida International University College of Arts & Sciences School of Environment, Arts and Society Year in Review 2014

SEAS Year in Review 2014  

Florida International University College of Arts & Sciences School of Environment, Arts and Society Year in Review 2014