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Catalyst of Change


students enrolled in the School of Environment, Arts and Society

undergraduate students working in research labs

hours spent working underwater for scientific research


countries where SEAS faculty members currently conduct research

research expenditures

post-docs working in research labs

people attending SEAS community events

Message from the Dean Demands on land, water and other natural resources are growing significantly. Climate change and sea level rise continue to threaten our communities and ecosystems. Yet environmental policies are in flux in the United States. In 2016, students, faculty, and staff in our School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) — one of the three schools in FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education — conducted research that is providing the science to drive positive policy and management change while training the next generation. They are fighting to save species on the brink of extinction and finding new ways to get food and clean water to impoverished regions throughout the world. As storytellers, they are changing how we communicate to the public. They are even exploring the human condition through language. Our students and faculty worked with governments and communities on local management programs and engaged local schoolchildren in their work, helping to inspire future thought leaders. On more than one occasion, our scientific experts were called on by local, national and international media outlets to explain complex issues including the lingering effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, sea level rise, the Zika outbreak and more. It is incredible how much SEAS has accomplished, but our students, faculty and staff can do even more with your support! I hope you will be as inspired as I am by the work carried out in School of Environment, Arts and Society, and I invite you to 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 addresses the dynamic interactions that occur on a planet with limited resources but growing human population. We combine science and the humanities to foster greater understanding. Through three departments — Biological Sciences, Earth and Environment, and English — and numerous interdisciplinary programs, centers and institutes, SEAS faculty and students are collaborating on research throughout the world. For example, biologist Matthew DeGennaro is combating Zika by uncovering information that could lead to better repellents. Scientists in the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program are studying how tropical species adapt to extreme climate events. This year, the school’s Our Common Future lecture series welcomed Joshua Ginsberg, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, to talk about predator conservation. Heather Russell, chairperson of Department of English, was named one of Miami’s Top Black Educators by Legacy Magazine. Our students gained hands-on experience in internship programs, from the Deering Estate to Zoo Miami. The Institute of Water and Environment was recognized by FIU as a pre-eminent program for translating scientific discoveries into practical applications, creating jobs and helping the community. The EcoAcademy summer camp engaged K-8 students in the sciences and the arts. We also launched the Outdoor Adventure Camp with the YMCA for local youth to engage with the outdoors. Our Florida Coastal Everglades Schoolyard Program brought together K-12 students and teachers with SEAS scientists to explore the coastal Everglades. The Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment hosted events celebrating art, literature, music, the aesthetics of science and more. SEAS also deployed more than 1,050 volunteers for environmental restoration projects. For our school, 2016 was a year of learning and collaboration to inspire action and effect positive change.

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

Creating our common future

Sea Level Solutions Center Director Tiffany Troxler takes a tour of Virginia Key Beach Park with a team of FIU students.

Researchers shed light on post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico Though it has been six years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, FIU faculty and their students remain focused on the region’s recovery. Marine sciences assistant professor Kevin Boswell is investigating the system-wide changes that occurred as result of the spill. Heather BrackenGrissom, marine sciences assistant professor, and Ph.D. student Laura Timm are studying shrimp to determine their recovery. Ecotoxicology professor Gary Rand has taken a closer look at a chemical dispersant used to break up oil slicks which caused physical changes and deaths of gulf jellyfish. Their work continues as the long-term impacts of the catastrophic environmental event continue to be felt by the plants and animals that live in the gulf and the businesses and communities that rely on it. With their dedication, managers will be able to ensure the recovery of the gulf’s ecosystems and better respond to future events.

Researcher Kevin Boswell, right, is one of several FIU scientists studying the lingering effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Sea Level Solutions Center takes center stage

Student brings sustainable solutions to Nicaragua

November’s supermoon lit up the world’s skies, amplifying the annual king tide along Miami Beach and flooding low-lying neighborhoods with seawater. Sea Level Solutions Center Director Tiffany Troxler was called on to inform the public on how the additional gravitational pull from the supermoon caused high tides to be worse than normal. Through research linking the social, environmental and technical sciences, and by working closely with municipal and business leaders, the center is developing solutions to ensure the prosperity of South Florida.

Annette Dominguez is helping find sustainable solutions to some of the most complex problems affecting residents of Bluefields, Nicaragua. As an intern at blueEnergy, she hosted workshops for locals on how to become energy independent, use clean energy including solar power, filter water, and create household gardens for food. Dominguez, a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sustainability and the environment, aspires to work in the public sector or for a non-governmental organization where she can help shape policies related to sustainability, nutrition and public health.

It serves as an adviser to the Southeast Florida Climate Change Regional Compact, a coordinated effort to help Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties mitigate and adapt. The center hosted more than 10 events with community collaborators, including the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and city of Coral Gables. The center’s researchers also worked with FIU students to develop an analysis of historic Virginia Key Beach Park and create an architectural design that would help make it resilient to sea level rise.

Protecting the


FIU scientists race to save a national treasure under threat


Viviana Mazzei

iviana Mazzei spends her days with one of the Florida Everglades’ tiniest residents. The biology Ph.D. student uses microscopic algae to pinpoint areas of the Everglades most susceptible to sea level rise. Mazzei is one of two 2016 Everglades Foundation FIU ForEverglades scholars. Bradley Strickland is the other. He is investigating how the American alligator influences its environment through burrowing and moving through marshes. Their efforts, along with those of dozens of other FIU students, faculty and staff, are helping shape policy and conservation for one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America.

The Everglades is the most important freshwater source for people in Florida. According to FIU research, the ecosystem serves as a buffer against sea level rise by building peat soil and storing carbon. But the peat is disappearing under pressure from saltwater intrusion. With a long history of flood control that has altered water flow and now rising sea levels, the Everglades is at a tipping point. For three decades, FIU scientists have been studying the Everglades. They have been tracking these rapid changes and helping managers protect this critical resource. Our scientists lead the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, conducting some of the longest and largest studies on how climate change, biological functions and the actions of people interact to affect the ecosystem. All of these efforts are coordinated through the FIU Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC), a core component of the college’s Institute of Water and Environment. Fulfilling the need for scientific investigations in threatened environments, SERC researchers recently published their 800th research paper, a major achievement in a decades-long commitment to one of Florida’s most fragile natural resources. Their ultimate goal is simple — save the Everglades and the critical services it provides to people. To achieve this, FIU researchers continue to foster increased public participation and will continue their efforts to improve water quality and expand biodiversity monitoring.

FIU researchers are leading efforts to produce scientific predictions about possible realities for the Everglades, and enable actions that can slow, stop or reverse changes driven by decades of freshwater diversion and increasingly rapid sea level rise in South Florida. To learn how you can support these efforts, including our Everglades Foundation FIU ForEverglades scholars, contact | 305-348-4349.


under pressure Researchers fight to save an essential resource


iologist Jose M. Eirin-Lopez knows marine organisms can genetically adapt to pollutants, something that has implications for the health of marine species and the people who eat them. He conducts research to help develop new tools for monitoring marine pollution, including red tides and oil spills.

Jose M. Eirin-Lopez

Eirin-Lopez is a scientist with the Center for Aquatic Chemistry and the Environment, which brings together chemistry, ecology, engineering and public health researchers to inform water contamination science and remediation. It is a key component of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education’s Institute of Water and Environment, which unites the university’s top centers and programs focused on global water issues and broader environmental challenges.

Institute researchers are working locally and globally to investigate sources of water contamination including pesticides, oil spills, industrial contaminants, pharmaceuticals and more. Director Todd Crowl is currently studying the impacts of droughts, hurricanes and other disturbances on tropical stream ecosystems in Puerto Rico. It is just one of many research projects being conducted by the nearly 110 faculty and their students. Institute scientists are also working on the other side of the world to implement water supply and sanitation hygiene programs in West Africa. Todd Crowl

As pressures continue to mount on the environment, research is desperately needed on the threats plaguing the world’s water supplies. Capacity must also be expanded for programs that support clean drinking water and sanitation for water-challenged areas.

FIU researchers at the Institute of Water and Environment are working internationally and locally to tackle some of the most pressing threats of our time. The institute brings together an interdisciplinary team, including public health, chemistry and ecology to address critical environmental challenges including red tides, oil spills, toxic algae blooms, and chemical pollution. Support is needed to expand our reach and safeguard the global water supply. To learn more about how you can help these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349.

Diving deep Marine Sciences Program expands efforts to protect world’s oceans


ceans make up two-thirds of the planet, yet they are imperiled on a global scale.

With an abundance of marine habitats at our doorstep, from the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, FIU scientists are using the living laboratories around us to study the problems plaguing the oceans. They are coupling these efforts with global studies from the cold waters of the Arctic to the warm and remote waters off the coast of Australia. In the past year alone, the School of Environment, Arts and Society has assembled a marine predator hub featuring some of the most prominent shark and ray researchers in the world, along with top up-andcomers in the field. This team has made international headlines in the past year with the launch of

Global FinPrint, a key project in the FIU Tropical Conservation Institute that received core funding from Microsoft Co-Founder Paul G. Allen. FinPrint is a global survey of shark and ray populations of coral reefs, trying to identify their last remaining strongholds and areas in need of urgent conservation action. But support is needed to expand FinPrint’s reach to include more endangered species and reefs. The researchers are also studying the behavior of sharks, whales, dolphins and rays; predator-prey interactions; illegal fishing; conservation planning and policy; and more. Advances in technology allow the scientists to get to the core of what’s plaguing predators. Video cameras attached to the animals provide information on where they are and what they are doing. Baited remote underwater video capture sharks, rays and others on camera in their natural

From left, researchers Yannis Papastamatiou, Kevin Boswell, Mark Bond, Demian Chapman, Jeremy Kiszka, Yuying Zhang and Mike Heithaus form the core of FIU’s marine predator research team.

habitats. Tracking tags and sensors reveal details about shark behavior and physiology, including swim speed, direction and digestive processes. These are just some of the emerging technologies and novel approaches used by FIU researchers to inform and advance meaningful conservation. Our marine scientists have also expanded research to coral reef and seagrass conservation, launched initiatives focused on eliminating pollution, and established partnerships in Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys, Naples and throughout our local communities to advance research and education initiatives. A unique resource is the Medina Aquarius Program, which houses Aquarius, the world’s only underwater research laboratory. Aquarius is an unparalleled asset that is critical for studying the world’s oceans

and what plagues them. It is a core component of the school’s Marine Education and Research Initiative, a program focused on marine conservation in the Florida Keys. Through higher education, research, K-12 educational programming and community outreach, FIU’s Marine Sciences Program is pushing the capabilities of what can be achieved underwater to protect the world’s oceans.

FIU marine scientists are driving conservation projects that will measurably improve global ocean health. To support our ocean research, contact | 305-348-4349.



Scientists accelerate marine research with world’s only undersea research lab


he oceans are one of the greatest mysteries on Earth. A human body is simply not designed to live and work underwater. It is a challenge faced by every scientist who has ever sought answers to what lies beneath the surface of our oceans. There was a time when underwater research habitats populated key regions of the oceans, particularly along coral reefs. But decades of budget cuts and shifting priorities saw these science facilities plucked from the water one at a time. Today, only Aquarius remains. Off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. and 60 feet below the ocean’s surface along Conch Reef resides the FIU Aquarius Reef Base, the centerpiece of the College of Arts, Science & Education’s Medina Aquarius Program. Coral reefs have the highest biological diversity of any ecosystem on the planet, but they are struggling to adapt to disturbances caused by people and climate change. In partnership with the Coral Restoration Foundation, FIU researchers recently established the world’s deepest coral nursery, a feat made possible by Aquarius. The team is trying to determine if corals from deep waters, which largely appear to be healthy, can be used to help repopulate imperiled shallow water reefs. Other research teams use Aquarius as a base of operations to study predators and their prey, ocean acidification, coral disease and other mysteries and problems of the marine world. The science teams hail from FIU and institutions all across the world. The research conducted at Aquarius is being done at a critical time. Throughout the years, Aquarius has hosted 130 missions resulting in more than 800 scientific research papers. Last year, Aquarius hosted members from the U.S. Navy, NASA and FIU for five training and research missions. The Teaching Under the Sea Program welcomed Roy Bartnick, a fifth grade teacher from Oklahoma as an aquanaut in FIU’s research mission studying the impacts of sharks on coral reefs. Bartnick worked as a science translation specialist and conducted virtual field trips. Throughout 2016, Aquarius engaged nearly 2,400 schoolchildren across the world with live programming via video conferencing. Research from Aquarius has helped shape some of today’s conservation policies for oceans. But the work at Aquarius must continue because threats to our oceans continue. We are at a critical time in history to understand, restore and protect the world’s marine environments. FIU is dedicated to maintaining the operations and research capabilities of the world’s only underwater research laboratory.

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 where scientists are 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.

Cultivating a

botanical balance

Scientists search for solutions to save plant life, foster sustainable use


he world’s rarest species contribute disproportionally to the ecosystems where they reside. Losing a rare type of tree species could be catastrophic for a forest struggling to adapt to climate change. Christopher Baraloto, director of the International Center for Tropical Botany (ICTB), is part of an international team that has conducted an assessment on the role of rare species in fragile ecosystems. By highlighting their importance, the team’s findings are changing how scientists view rare species, many of which are on the brink of extinction. Throughout the world, ICTB scientists are balancing the preservation of imperiled species with continued research on sustainable use of plants. After all, plants offer a variety of benefits to people including healthy ecosystems, food, medicines, and oxygen. Emily Warschefsky knows genetic diversification can help plants adapt to the changing world and, in turn, preserve food sources for people. The biology Ph.D. student is studying the evolution of wild mangoes. She hopes to help crop breeders identify genetic traits that enable the fruit to tolerate harsh conditions and resist disease. ICTB researcher Eric von Wettberg has spent much of his career studying the genetic diversity of plants. Recently, he identified the gene responsible for giving white chickpeas their light color. It may seem insignificant except the color of a chickpea is often what drives its value on the market. Though dark chickpeas tend to be more resistant to disease and yield higher numbers of seeds, light chickpeas are usually preferred in developing countries for their appearance and thinner seed coats, which makes them easier to cook. Von Wettberg’s genetic finding means breeders can now focus on creating varieties of chickpea that appeal to consumers, are more disease-resistant and yield more product. Housed at The Kampong in Coconut Grove, Fla., ICTB is a collaboration with the National Tropical Botanical Garden. With nearly 40 core faculty members along with research scientists and students, ICTB is advancing conservation science in South Florida and across the world to protect botanical resources from land use and climate change. Support is needed to expand ICTB’s facilities, fund new postdoctoral researchers, and develop the next generation of plant-derived products and medicines.

The tropics are the most diverse regions on Earth, rich with resources. FIU has one of the largest teams of tropical scientists in the country working to discover and preserve species and their habitats. Our experts have been working for more than half a century on issues critical to the tropics including habitat restoration, tropical diseases such as Zika virus, food security for our growing population and climate change. To learn how you can support its efforts, contact | 305-348-4349.

Fight or Flight In race against extinction, Tropical Conservation Institute offers hope for survival


pecies are being driven to extinction by habitat loss, wildlife trade, climate change, and competition over water and land. If these threats continue unchecked, the world’s wild animal populations could suffer devastating losses.

Scientists with the FIU Tropical Conservation Institute (TCI) are working to ensure emblematic species are not lost forever. The institute, a partnership with the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, recently took in seven tiny Florida Grasshopper Sparrows in a desperate attempt to save one of the world’s most endangered birds. Less than 100 remain in the wild. In the spring of 2016, two of the little songbirds successfully mated and welcomed four hatchlings into the world, the first time the species has bred in captivity. It was the first step in implementing a captive breeding program that could buy scientists time to develop recovery options and find solutions to the problems plaguing these sparrows in the wild. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow captive breeding program is just one of many projects currently under way at TCI. The repatriation of the East African Bongo antelope is another. Poaching and habitat destruction have led to catastrophic population declines of this flagship species. Our scientists are working across international boundaries to save the bongo and with it, the ecosystem that supplies 80 percent of Kenya’s people with clean, fresh water. With partners throughout the United States and Kenya, TCI is managing a bongo breeding program using stock from U.S. zoos to help restore wild populations. To date, 18 bongos have been repatriated in East Africa and the team is planning to repatriate another generation in the near future. From the rare Imperial Parrot of Dominica to the crocodile of West Africa, the team at TCI is working with animals from the air, on land and under water. They are assisting with species conservation programs, helping to build sustainable economic opportunities in the local communities where these animals naturally reside, and working with local governments. Support is needed to expand TCI’s captive breeding facilities, fund additional species for conservation, and train the next generation of conservation professionals.

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.

FIU’s Elizabeth Anderson (far left) talks to local women about the value of local water sources in Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Veilleux

Mobilizing communities SEAS makes an impact through international programs


hroughout the tropics, people depend on natural resources to meet their basic needs and make a living. But freshwater resources are threatened by development, agriculture and climate change. The Serengeti-Lake Victoria Sustainable Water Initiative is addressing water security challenges in the Mara River Basin in Africa. The basin is shared by Kenya and Tanzania, but research has traditionally focused on the upper portion in Kenya. Scientists in the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) are working to understand the ecological, economic and cultural value of freshwater sources for the Kuria people of Tanzania. Led by Assistant Professor and Tropical Conservation Institute Co-Director Elizabeth Anderson, they are also deploying monitoring devices to generate real-time data on the amount, accessibility and quality of freshwater needed to effectively manage the Mara River basin in Tanzania. Using lessons learned in Africa, our researchers are expanding their work to the tropical Andes. There, they will also study the quantity, quality and timing of river flows. With numerous regional partners, FIU will build upon decades of collaborations and train local professionals on how to design, install and maintain the water monitoring networks, and how to interpret data for sustainable water management in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Because the tropics are among the most rapidly changing areas in the world, water security is key for local communities and biodiversity to endure. Expanding our work and impacting policy throughout the tropics will help millions of people. By working with communities and leveraging partnerships, SEAS is mobilizing the strengths and assets of locals to inform management and ensure that any solutions put in place are enduring.

Working with regional partners, FIU researchers are working to improve water supply, hygiene and sanitation in the most vulnerable communities around the world. Building on decades of research, we are engaging regional partners to help design and implement water monitoring networks and inform policy and management globally to increase access to and quality of freshwater where it is most needed. To learn how you can support these efforts, contact | 305-348-4349.

People from all across Florida visited FIU in February to see the First Folio, a first edition of William Shakespeare’s collected works.

Words matter

Language preservation is critical in modern society


lexandria Pipitone had a bunch of ideas about what she wanted to do when she completed her English degree. She was not sure which path she would follow. Then she interned with Pearson, an education publishing company. Pipitone now knows she wants to work in the world of book publishing, a field where words matter and are celebrated. Globalization and modern communications are changing how the world views languages. Regional dialects are becoming rare, and minority languages are dying out. English Professor Phillip Carter warns the world could lose more than half of its languages in the next 100 years. His research is focused on linguistics and the importance of languages in modern society. Carter says education gives us the greatest chance at saving the world’s languages. That is why FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) is committed to what is spoken and what is written. The school’s Department of English pursued one of the most coveted traveling museum exhibits of 2016, becoming the only site in the state of Florida to host the Folger Shakespeare Library’s First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare. A first edition of William Shakespeare’s collected works spent a month at FIU, bringing more than 7,000 visitors to campus. The book, printed shortly after the bard’s death, preserved many of his greatest plays. It features 18 works, including As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and The Tempest, that had never been released before and likely would have been lost to history if not for the folio. Through exhibits like First Folio!, research by our professors, and the efforts of our students, we are working to preserve languages and maximize the impact of the humanities. Through its Department of English, Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment and Exile Studies Program, SEAS continues to develop outreach programming that brings people together.

Alexandria Pipitone

FIU’s work in the arts and humanities is as diverse as its student body. We are enriching the lives of women, helping to save dying languages, addressing sea level rise and engaging our youth in interactive music and arts programming with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legends. Our efforts explore and help preserve our stories. To help expand the impact of the Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment, contact 305-348-4349.



Expanding outreach and engagement through partnerships

Aerial view of Deering Estate


orking together is better than working alone, which is why community and municipal partnerships are a key endeavor within the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. In 2016, the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) added to a growing list of community partners, including Deering Estate and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve. The Deering Estate, a 450-plus-acre preserve along Biscayne Bay, is home to marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats, archaeological sites and cultural collections. It has become a living laboratory for FIU conservation scientists. The FIUDeering Cultural Ecological Field Station Fellowship Program was launched to support graduate students whose research in ecology, environmental science and policy, and the liberal arts will benefit conservation efforts at the estate and in the region. In southwest Florida, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve is home to many threatened and endangered animals, and it is one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. FIU and Rookery Bay have created joint staff positions to advance the environmental understanding needed to manage the reserve’s 110,000 acres. A joint support facility in Naples, Fla. is being planned to attract new research and create education programs for local students. Through partnerships, SEAS is making collaboration and access to information and facilities possible for those who want to impact their communities. Because greater awareness leads to more informed decision-making and leadership, these partnerships help ensure the long-term well-being of South Florida’s natural resources.

At FIU, faculty, staff and students work closely with our partners addressing the relevant issues of our time. Focused on student learning, innovation, and collaboration, it is our belief that uniting the people and organizations that are working to make a difference significantly strengthens both our impact and the communities we serve. To learn more about how you can get involved, contact | 305-348-4349. Students take water samples at Deering Estate as part of the school’s Florida Coastal Everglades Schoolyard Program.


On the cover: Viviana Mazzei is one of the 2016 Everglades Foundation FIU ForEverglades scholars. You can read more about her Everglades research in this School of Environment, Arts and Society Year in Review.

Profile for FIU

School of Environment, Arts and Society Year in Review 2016  

Florida International University: College of Arts, Sciences & Education

School of Environment, Arts and Society Year in Review 2016  

Florida International University: College of Arts, Sciences & Education