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CYBER warriors Educating a generation of digital defenders

A Community Mourns

In the face of unspeakable tragedy, FIU takes a moment to reflect

Florida Brain Gain

Turning out workforceready graduates to meet the demands of Florida industry


Meeting the needs of children and families FIU leads the nation in transformative research and support.

12 Digital dangers ON THE COVER:

FIU is educating new defenders of the cyber world.


Reviving a language An FIU professor gathers community members with an interest in Yiddish.

19 Focus on innovation

A prosthetic hand system restores the sense of feeling to amputees.

20 On the job in Florida

Employers statewide find highly qualified workers in FIU graduates.

25 A shot in the financial arm

Wertheim medical students receive scholarships from the school’s namesake.


Weighing their options More than a dozen freshmen baseball recruits had offers from pro teams.

32 The gift of generosity

Donor-supported scholarships go a long way toward setting students on a solid path.

“I had no idea the impact you would have on me when we first met. You have shown me how to fully live life and not worry about anything except the moment I’m in.” —student Sarah Wilensky, paying tribute to her late friend and sorority sister Alexa Duran Flowers and notes laid at a campus memorial site express the loss of a community in mourning. The March 15 collapse of a partially completed pedestrian bridge near an FIU entrance killed a construction worker and five motorists trapped beneath the fallen span, including a freshman. More than 1,000 students and employees a week later participated in a formal vigil service in the Graham Center before heading outdoors to pay their respects near the scene of the tragedy. Photo by Doug Garland ’10

In memoriam

Alberto Arias Navaro Brown Brandon Brownfield Alexa Duran Rolando Fraga Hernandez Oswald Gonzalez

Our hearts are saddened by our community’s loss.

Letter from the President Dear FIU family, As you know, in March our FIU experienced dark moments that will last. Today, the sadness lingers and our hearts continue to ache for the victims’ families and all those who are affected by the pedestrian bridge accident. We will carry their memory with us, forever. The bridge was about many things. It was about collaboration, hope, opportunity and determination. It was about strength and unity. It was about being a good neighbor. Most importantly, it was about goodness…not sadness. This tragedy has shaken us. While there has been much uncertainty, I am overwhelmed at the spirit this FIU family has shown. Each one of you has demonstrated that this is a caring community. In these moments, you’ve come together to be beacons of light. Our FIU doctors, nurses, medical students and first responders rushed to the scene as soon as they heard the collapse and offered life-saving aid before rescue crews arrived. Countless members of our community reached out to us in the hours and days after this tragedy with a simple message: We are hurting with you. We are here to help. What can we do? Thank you to everyone who reached out, and please know that your messages were a source of comfort and strength to all of us. Thank you also to those who participated in our efforts to start healing. Many of you joined us for our moment of silence, donated blood and attended the Student Government Association vigil and memorial walk for the victims and their families. Thank you for your compassion. Thank you for demonstrating that this has been — and always will be — a resilient community that rises, time and time again. Thank you for standing with us, mourning with us and showing the victims’ families support. Today and always, FIU strong.

Mark B. Rosenberg President

Whenever you see the play button, visit to get our digital content On the Cover: Leaping wizards: Graduate student Rene Balbuena, left, and senior Andrew Sanzetenea are studying computer science in pursuit of jobs that will put them on the front line of the war against cybertheft. The two are part of FIU’s Department of Defense Cyber Fellows program.

FIU MAGAZINE Editorial Advisory Board

FIU President

JoAnn Adkins Director of Communications College of Arts, Sciences & Education

FIU Board of Trustees

Mark B. Rosenberg

Atilda Alvarido Special Assistant to the Provost Office of the Provost Regina Bailey FIU Arts Senior Project Manager College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts Linda Curiel-Menage Assistant Vice President for Campaign Planning & Communications University Advancement Kerwin Lonzo Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Amy Ellis Communications Manager Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs Stephen Fain Professor Emeritus Faculty Administrator Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President

Claudia Puig (Chair) Cesar L. Alvarez Jose J. Armas Leonard Boord Dean C. Colson Gerald C. Grant Jr. ’78, MBA ’89 Michael G. Joseph Natasha Lowell Justo L. Pozo Marc D. Sarnoff Krista M. Schmidt Rogelio Tovar Kathleen L. Wilson FIU MAGAZINE

Division of External Relations Sandra B. Gonzalez-Levy Senior Vice President Terry Witherell Vice President Karen Cochrane Editor Alexandra Pecharich Managing Editor

Ellen Forman Associate Director Communications College of Business

Aileen Solá-Trautmann Art Director

Lazaro Gonzalez Associate Director Marketing & Communications Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management Millie Acebal Senior Account Manager College of Engineering & Computing Larry Lunsford Vice President for Student Affairs Steven Moll Vice Provost Biscayne Bay Campus

Graphic Designers Genesis Cajina Oscar Negret Barbarita Ramos Writers Millie Acebal JoAnn Adkins Ayleen Barbel Fattal ’06 Eric Barton Charles Crespo MA ’13 Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17 Clara-Meretan Kiah ’15 Photographers Ben Guzman ’11 Carl-Frederick Francois ’16, MS ’17 Doug Garland ’10 Samuel Lewis Ivan Santiago ’00

Galena Mosovich Account Manager Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work Maureen Pelham Director of Research Development Office of Research and Economic Development Duane Wiles Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations & Annual Giving Executive Director, Alumni Association

Copyright 2018, Florida International University. FIU Magazine is published by the Florida International University Division of External Relations and distributed free of charge to alumni, faculty and friends of the university. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. To reach us, call 305-348-7235. Alumni Office: Write to Office of Alumni Relations at MMC MARC 510, Miami, FL 33199, or call 305-348-3334 or toll-free at 800-FIU-ALUM. Visit Change of Address: Please send updated address information to FIU University Advancement, MARC 5th Floor, Miami, FL 33199 or by email to Letters to the Editor: FIU Magazine welcomes letters to the editor regarding magazine content. Send your letters via email to or mail to FIU Magazine, Division of External Relations, MMC PC 515, Miami, FL 33199. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. All letters should include the writer’s full name and daytime phone number. Alumni, please include your degree and year of graduation. 17396_04/2018 FIU Magazine is printed on 30 percent PCW recycled paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council


The Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work is creating a health disparities research center with $13.1 million from the National Institute

Research center to focus on underserved populations The Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work is creating a health disparities research center with $13.1 million from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The grant is the largest from the NIH in university history. The center will feature a multidisciplinary team focused on reducing substance abuse and HIV through partnerships with South Florida communities. Eric F. Wagner, director of FIU-BRIDGE and professor in the School

on Minority Health and

of Social Work, will lead the center. Since arriving at FIU in 1998, his work has focused on reducing substance use

Health Disparities. The

problems and HIV/sexually transmitted infections among teenagers and young adults through community research

grant is the largest from the NIH in university history.

partnerships in South Florida and across the country. “We have an extraordinary group of researchers and experts lined up for this effort because we know just how critical it is for the overall health of our Miami community,” said Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of Stempel College. “We are using our insight and research capabilities to solve a complex set of issues afflicting our fellow citizens, but with a decidedly cooperative approach.”

Philanthropists make ’keystone donation’ to The Wolfsonian-FIU Palm Beach philanthropist Jean S. Sharf and her late husband, collector and scholar Frederic A. Sharf, have gifted more than 650 items to The Wolfsonian–FIU. A longtime trustee and benefactor of museums across the United States, Fred Sharf initiated the donation in early fall 2017, just a few months before his death in late November. His final gift to The Wolfsonian caps nearly two decades of support and features rare material from the late 19th century through the Second World War relating to aviation, national fairs, the rise of the modern Japanese empire and colonialism in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. “The Sharfs’ latest gift is a keystone donation,” said Wolfsonian Director Tim Rodgers. “We’re saddened that Fred’s many years of fruitful collaborations with the Wolfsonian team have been cut short, but look forward to celebrating his legacy in the true spirit of the Sharfs — with endless curiosity, the heart of a scholar and a passion for the overlooked and unsung.” 4 | SPRING 2018


FIU earns Engaged Campus distinction In recognition of the university’s commitment to community engagement and public service, FIU was recognized as the Engaged Campus of the Year for 2017 at the Florida Campus Compact Annual Awards Gala last fall. This is the second time the university has won the award from the organization, which comprises more than 50 Florida college and university presidents. FIU’s nomination highlighted a number of community engagement initiatives led by numerous institutes and centers throughout FIU, including: •

Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP initiative — the nation’s first program in a college of medicine that provides health care and social services to underserved households in local communities.

ACCESS, the university’s partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The program has increased the number of students earning college credit through dual enrollment courses, improved support services for students with ADHD and other behavioral issues, and enhanced professional development for teachers in STEM subjects.

To honor the service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice, FIU has created a new veterans plaza at the Modesto A.

The Education Effect has dramatically improved student outcomes at Miami

Maidique Campus. At the center of the

Northwestern Senior High School in Liberty City. The partnership recently launched

space is a statue of Marine Michael Felsberg

at a third school, Jesse J. McCrary Elementary School in Little Haiti.

’03, who died in 2004 at the age of 27 in a

Global Learning for Global Citizenship was noted for helping students achieve

rocket-propelled attack in Iraq.

global awareness, perspective and engagement in addition to supporting faculty in creating more inclusive and creative learning environments. •

Veteran remembered with statue

FIU’s designation as an AshokaU Changemaker Campus — the initiative involves an “ecosystem” of support for social innovation and entrepreneurism available to every student.

A platoon commander, Felsberg was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Purple Heart. At FIU, he was a member of the track team and was recognized at graduation as the athlete with the highest GPA. His support of fellow-athletes across all sports

Conversation about sexual assault heads to the classroom FIU is one of a few universities in the country offering an academic course on understanding and preventing campus sexual assault. It is

earned him FIU’s Athletic Spirit Award three times. The award has since been renamed for the war hero as have a playing field and softball tournament. In 2012 he received the university’s Torch Award posthumously, which recognizes alumni of distinction. Felsberg left his assets to FIU, which were used to establish the Michael Felsberg

taught through the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and cross-listed through the

Scholarship Endowment. The bronze statue

Department of Psychology in the College of Arts, Sciences and Education.

memorializing him was created with support

Professor Vicki Burns has been developing the course since 2015 and hopes it will

from the Miami-based law firm Genovese

provide a platform for students to be better educated about what sexual assault is and what

Joblove & Battista and former Marine

constitutes consent. As part of the curriculum, she will discuss the media, alcohol, parties

Burt Cabañas ’76.

and the role of consent and why it matters. SPRING 2018 | 5


#7 The undergraduate international business program’s ranking nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 list of education rankings. “Our international business degree is one of the most popular and dynamic degrees that

Do you have your season tickets yet? Riding the wave of an 8-5 season that included a bowl game and a recruiting class that’s

we offer,” said Joanne Li, dean of the

ranked No. 1 in Conference USA (a class that includes four-star recruits Teair Tart-Spencer

College of Business. “It is a testament

and Tayland Humphrey), the Panthers are back at it in anticipation of the Sept. 1 season

to all of our faculty and students

opener versus Indiana at Riccardo Silva Stadium. Call 305-FIU-GAME today to purchase

that we have been ranked in the top ten list eight times in the last nine years.” The College of Business is among only 5 percent of business schools worldwide accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

season tickets. SEPT. 1 vs. Indiana*

OCT. 20 vs. Rice*

SEPT. 8 at Old Dominion

OCT. 27 at Western Kentucky University

SEPT. 15 vs. University of Massachusetts*

NOV. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic*

SEPT. 22 at University of Miami

NOV. 10 at University of Texas-San Antonio

SEPT. 29 vs. Arkansas Pine Bluff*

NOV. 17 at Charlotte

OCT. 13 vs. Middle Tennessee*

NOV. 24 vs. Marshall*

*Home game at MMC’s Riccardo Silva Stadium.

Chef Jonathon Sawyer, left, oversees food prep by Jose Alvarado, a senior majoring in food and beverage management at the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. The Chaplin School joined forces in February with North America’s largest wine and spirits distributor and lead partner Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits to host the five-day Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which brings together visitors from around the world and has, over 17 years, raised more than $26 million in support of scholarships and state-ofthe-art learning facilities.

6 | SPRING 2018

Five Questions with the Dean of Business

Joanne Li first came to the United States from Hong Kong as an international student. She earned an undergraduate degree and a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in finance from Florida State University before embarking on a career as a faculty member, editor, financial executive and, most recently, the dean of the Raj Soin School of Business at Wright State University in Ohio. In May of 2017, Li returned to the state of Florida, her daughter and husband by her side, to serve as the dean of FIU’s College of Business, where she is also a professor of finance and the Ryder Eminent Scholar. What are your priorities for the College of Business? My top priority is to grow a strong sense of community within our large urban university. We at the College of Business want to take a holistic approach with regard to students’ academic, professional and social activities. Our soon-to-belaunched BizPASS will encourage their participation in events such as visiting lectures and career-building opportunities using a point system. Through calculated student engagement that rewards good habits and an openness to exploration, we hope to enhance students’ career skills, build their professional networks and foster a sense of loyalty and commitment to FIU and one another — all of which will follow and benefit them after graduation. Are there any specific goals you are shooting for in the coming years? We want to tell the story of the FIU College of Business to a wider audience. We have top national rankings — U.S. News & World Report ranks our undergraduate international business #7 in the country, the Real Estate Academic Leadership journal ranked our faculty’s real estate research #1 nationally and #2 globally, and ranks our human resources program #1. Soon enough all Fortune 500 companies will be actively recruiting our graduates. What are the college’s strengths and how do you plan to capitalize on them? With over 10,000 students, FIU Business has an economy of scope. This scale allows us to provide a wide array of programs, particularly in the graduate arena. We’re also moving forward into new programs, such as the Impact MBA in a partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and a new Doctor of Business Administration program that offers a next step to high-level executives seeking advanced insights into global business. You’re still new to FIU. What stands out to you? People at FIU are genuine and welcoming. I feel at home here. We have a diverse faculty and student body that are bilingual, even trilingual, and international. This leverages the mission of FIU in a unique way — seeing things from diverse perspectives is part of our DNA. What are you enjoying about life in South Florida? I love the coffee, the culture, and most of all the people here. Miamians are very warm. I love all the hugging and kissing. SPRING 2018 | 7

TURNING THE TIDE for families dealing with mental disorders

By Ayleen Barbel Fattal ’06 and JoAnn C. Adkins | Photos by Ben Guzman ’11

FIU has designated five university programs as “preeminent,” a recognition of high-caliber, collaborative work that generates unique learning opportunities, pioneering research and meaningful engagement with the external community while expanding the university’s financial base. This is the second in a series of articles that explores these programs in greater depth.

8 | SPRING 2018

For Kayla and Tim Riera-Gomez, the troubling phone calls from their son’s preschool started when he was only 3. Christopher was misbehaving. He yelled at teachers. He threw things. He had temper tantrums. His crying fits lasted as long as an hour. By the time he was 4, the school was threatening suspension. “At first, we thought it was willfulness, this kind of strength-of-personality that if we can get through it, he was going to do amazing things for the world,” Kayla said. “Then it progressed. We were receiving calls from the school, sometimes two and three a day.” The parents were left wondering how a 4-year-old could get kicked out of preschool. They realized something more than just willfulness was afflicting their young son. And they realized he wouldn’t just grow out of it. The parents were a happy couple that enjoyed professional success. Kayla is an attorney and Tim is a lobbyist. When Christopher was born, they thought they were starting a happy new chapter in their life. But the emotional fallout of Christopher’s daily challenges left them tired, confused and feeling helpless. It took a toll on their marriage. Christopher picked up on the stress, which only led to more behavioral issues. Kayla and Tim talked to Christopher’s pediatrician. They met with the principal at his school, who offered to work with the family to help Christopher. But they were still left wondering — why was Christopher so mad? They hired a behavioral aide that attended preschool every day with Christopher, but did so without a diagnosis since mental and behavior disorders are typically not diagnosed in children that young. Without a diagnosis, they could not bill the behavioral aide’s assistance to insurance. The expense was high, and they knew it could only serve as a temporary solution.

Since its founding in 2010, the FIU Center for Children and Families has helped nearly 10,000 families, 90 percent of which reside in Miami-Dade County. The center’s faculty has helped countless more around the world through research breakthroughs and the development of new treatments. “Your child is the only one with an adult shadow. That doesn’t make them feel any better among their peers,” Tim said. It was around that same time, Tim heard about FIU’s Center for Children and Families (CCF), a nationally recognized clinical center committed to improving the lives of children and families struggling with mental health concerns. Kayla didn’t want to hear it. She knew little of their programs but thought the center was for families with bigger problems than theirs. Tim persisted. He talked to co-workers who had participated in some of the center’s programs. They talked about the positive effects on their children and on them as parents. Kayla finally decided to test it out. She attended a seminar by psychology professor Katie Hart on early interventions for children with behavioral, social-emotional and learning challenges. Kayla walked into the room on FIU’s campus with an open mind. She was hoping for some tips, maybe even some convincing that they could help. As Hart began speaking, the stoic mother was reduced to tears. “It was like Dr. Hart was inside our house,” Kayla said. “She described everything happening in our house, every fear we have.” It was then that Kayla understood what CCF was offering her and her family. CCF’s psychologists understood the issues. They have seen it all before. They

have studied it. And they continue to study it today. In that moment, Kayla went from “this isn’t for us” to “we need your help.” Kayla and Tim enrolled Christopher in the center’s award-winning Summer Treatment Program. CCF was founded and is led by William E. Pelham Jr. — a pioneer in the field of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) research and treatment. He is the architect of the intensive Summer Treatment Program, where children receive 360 hours of treatment in just eight weeks — an equivalent of seven years worth of weekly one-hour sessions. The internationally lauded program has been replicated at many sites throughout the world. Treatment plans are focused on improving problem-solving, academic performance and social skills. Parents also attend weekly training sessions to help develop the skills they need to support their child’s progress and improve their child’s behavior at home. For Christopher, he started each day with the simple task of writing his name. It was part of a daily routine, along with classroom learning, peer interaction and recreation. The structure is similar for each of the age groups, which range from pre-schoolers to teenagers, and the format is based on evidence-based treatments developed by the center’s top researchers. The day-to-day activities seem like traditional Continues SPRING 2018 | 9


summer camp. But it’s the nuances of the behavioral therapy where change arises. Nationwide, 20 percent of children suffer from a mental health disorder. In Miami-Dade County alone, 1 in 4 children live in poverty and are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems. Early diagnosis and intervention can make the difference between healthy development and a life plagued with lingering challenges. Since its founding in 2010, the FIU Center for Children and Families has helped nearly 10,000 families. Ninety percent reside in Miami-Dade County. The center’s faculty has helped countless more around the world through research breakthroughs and the development of new treatments. In addition to the Summer Treatment Program, CCF offers infant and early childhood services, family and couples counseling, parent training, video teleconferencing therapy, schoolbased services and customized treatment for children.

Research remains at the heart of all they do. With more than 40 faculty — including psychologists, psychiatrists, linguists, public health experts, and education researchers — CCF is the largest center in Florida conducting child mental health research. Its researchers have secured more than $87 million since 2010 in grant funding and are currently addressing a number of questions for children with ADHD, anxiety and substance use. They continue to explore new methods of delivery for proven treatments, including whether parent training can be effectively conducted in families’ homes via the internet rather than in a clinic. The researchers continue to seek answers about what factors put children at the greatest risk for mental health problems. Pelham points out that while great strides have been made in understanding the adolescent mind and treatments for mental health disorders, there is still much to learn. The center’s faculty members are also preparing the next generation of child mental health providers. As part of a

partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and The Children’s Trust, they have provided professional development for more than 6,000 teachers and staff in nearly 400 schools. “Our goal at the center is to provide excellence in research, education and service regarding mental health in childhood,” Pelham said. “Not only serving and involving families in South Florida but also conducting research that informs the nation and the world about the nature, causes and treatment of mental health problems in childhood and adolescence.” In the case of the Riera-Gomezes, their experience with CCF transformed the dynamic of their family. The tantrums became fewer. Kinder words were used in their house. Christopher started opening doors for people. Tensions began to settle. A year ago Christopher was being shadowed by a behavioral aide in preschool. He is now thriving. “We’re happy. Christopher is happy,” Tim said. “We’re happy that he’s happy.” n

Clinic Director Erika Coles and Center Director William E. Pelham Jr. work with children during the Summer Treatment Program.

10 | SPRING 2018


A leader in the field and in the community The Center for Children and Families provides evidence-based services to the public that include individual and group therapy for children and teens, as well as parent training and family interventions. Unless otherwise noted, call 305-348-0477 for more information.

ADHD and behavioral challenges Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other behavioral problems may be regularly distracted, impulsive, disruptive and sometimes aggressive and oppositional. They may experience difficulties getting along with others or following directions. CCF’s evidence-based treatments target the source of the problematic behavior to help improve school performance as well as relationships with family and peers.

Developmental delays Some children experience a delay in reaching developmental milestones. These delays can cause lifelong social, emotional and learning difficulties. CCF offers low-cost psycho-educational evaluations that include rating scales, IQ and academic achievement testing along with a detailed report, diagnostic feedback and recommendations for further testing or intervention.

Mood and depression Long periods of sadness, withdrawal from social activities and fatigue may be signs of a major depressive disorder that may cause a decline in children’s and teens’ personal happiness, school performance, relationships and physical health. CCF offers individual and group therapy.

Academic and social skills


Children with difficulty staying focused, staying on task, following class rules or keeping track of tests and assignments may require additional support. CCF offers several programs and services designed for children at risk for attention, behavior and academic problems, including an after-school program for elementary students, a one-week organization skills program for middle schoolers and others tailored to teenagers. For information about the elementary afterschool program, call 305-552-7122 ext. 2142. For information about the organization skills program for middle schoolers call 305-348-4682.

Each year, approximately 5 million children experience a traumatic event in the United States. Abuse and neglect, witnessing domestic violence, natural disasters, mass shootings, car accidents, a serious illness, sudden death of a loved one — all can have a devastating impact on the child, altering their physical, emotional, cognitive and social development. These experiences can impair their ability to function at school and at home. CCF offers an evidencebased treatment program that includes caregiver intervention and training.

Anxiety and fears For some children, feelings of anxiety and fear are worse than or occur more frequently than the norm. Some may be so anxious that they avoid certain situations, or withdraw from activities they previously enjoyed. CCF can help children overcome their fears and learn to deal with anxiety in healthy ways. The center provides individualized treatment, in-clinic cognitive behavioral therapy and computer-based attention training programs as well as therapistled telehealth treatments delivered to families in their own homes. Programs focus on anxiety and phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette syndrome and related disorders. For information about telehealth treatments, call 305-348-7836. For information about the OCD program, call 305-348-1665.

Summer programs The Center for Children and Families offers effective summer programs for children struggling with various mental health problems. The programs can help reduce behavioral problems, lessen anxiety and promote physical health and school readiness. CCF’s flagship summer program is an eight-week comprehensive treatment program for children ages 5 to 12 with ADHD and related behavioral, emotional and learning challenges. The summer treatment programs include interventions for school readiness for pre-kindergarteners and elementary school-age children as well as children with selective mutism. For information about the summer treatment program for pre-kindergarteners, call 305-348-1833. For information about the summer treatment program for selective mutism, call 305-348-7836. n

Recognizing Excellence In late 2016 university leaders identified five standout research programs that they designated as “preeminent.” Another four with high potential are waiting in the wings. PREEMINENT Bridge Engineering Program A national leader in research related to accelerated bridge construction, an approach that minimizes bridge downtime Center for Children and Families A nationally regarded center revolutionizing treatments for childhood mental illness Extreme Events Institute A globally involved center for research, education and training in natural hazards and disaster risk reduction and management Institute for Water and Environment A collaborative of FIU’s top centers and programs focused on issues related to water and environmental threats around the world STEM Transformation Institute A multidisciplinary cooperative committed to improving educational practices that lead to more and better prepared professionals in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics EMERGING PREEMINENT Brain, Behavior and the Environment Program Health Inequalities and Disparities Program Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center Tropical Biodiversity, Sustainable Agriculture and Conservation Program

SPRING 2018 | 11

Cyber WARRIORS hen the USS John S. McCain collided with


an oil tanker off Malaysia in August of 2017,

it became the fourth naval ship in less than a year to suffer such an accident. A theory emerged that hackers were to blame. As an examination into the matter continues, Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, has indicated that investigators are considering the possibility of a “cyber intrusion or sabotage.” It’s the kind of scenario that will likely become all too common in the near future, and the need to plan for such situations is why FIU has become an international research and educational hub for cybersecurity, says Sundaraja Sitharama Iyengar, director and Ryder professor of the School of Computing and Information Sciences within the College of Engineering & Computing. Previously, concerns about cybersecurity were confined to those working in IT fields. But in recent years, a cybersecurity industry has evolved as those who need to worry about hacking run all the way from governments and corporate executives down to public utilities, mom-andpop businesses and ordinary individuals. In response, FIU has added new degree programs and expanded its cybersecurity courses across disciplines to bring in business and criminal justice students as well as the more traditional computing and engineering students. “We are creating cyber warriors,” Iyengar says. “These cyber warriors from FIU will learn to protect us Keisha Gamble, a junior information technology major and FIU cyber fellow

12 | SPRING 2018

from cyberattacks and then go on to train the world.” The need for cybersecurity and the industry being built around it is something Iyengar foresaw 26 years ago. In a series of academic papers long

Meet Robert Villanueva ’89, a former Secret Service agent-turned-private cyber sleuth

Students studying cybersecurity across several departments are learning how to take on tomorrow’s hackers. By Eric Barton | Photos by Carl-Frederick Francois ’16, MS ’17 before the internet became well known,

America and the Caribbean for more

says Vir V. Phoha, a national cybersecurity

Iyengar predicted computers would one day

than a decade. The OAS provides its top

expert and professor of electrical engineering

be connected and that those communications

cybersecurity specialists to help teach the

and computer science at Syracuse University.

would be susceptible to attacks.

course and contributed to the development of the curriculum.

“[FIU’s] faculty is world class, and at this point they are ranked among the top

Earlier this year, FIU became the first

cybersecurity universities in the nation, both

university in the nation to offer a bachelor’s

for funding and for the work they are doing,”

decade, and in the past few years several FIU

degree in the Internet of Things. The new

Phoha says. “This cybersecurity work will

departments have developed specialties in

degree addresses four major areas of IoT

bring FIU great national visibility.”

cybersecurity, says Brian Fonseca, director

— hardware, software, communication and

of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public

cybersecurity. Experts agree that in the next

Policy within the Steven J. Green School of

few years, billions of IoT devices (smart

International and Public Affairs. The institute

watches, smartphones, many home security

is necessary in government and business, few

has developed undergraduate and graduate

systems and autonomous vehicles) will be

individuals know how to protect themselves,

tracks in cybersecurity and organizes a

connected worldwide. What makes it possible

says Jerry Miller, associate director of

one-year cybersecurity fellowship program

for digitized applications to work remotely

robotics and wireless research and an adjunct

that pairs women with mentors and offers

opens the doors for attackers to inject malware

faculty member of FIU’s School of Computing

professional development.

or gain complete control of the devices.

and Information Sciences.

A multidisciplinary approach That’s come to be reality in the past

“There are cybersecurity policy implications in almost any field,” Fonseca says. In just one example of that recognition, the Green School has collaborated with

This new wave of technology is

At the micro-level While most agree bolstering cybersecurity

Before he retired as an Air Force colonel,

necessitating the need for highly trained

Miller worked to identify potential risks to

IoT specialists.

government computer systems. But he says

“We are focused on preparing our

the threat is often far more localized, down

the FIU College of Business to jointly offer

students with specialized skills to succeed

to the devices we all carry with us. Simply

a Cybersecurity Leadership & Strategy

in the operations that help prevent and

allowing a phone app to track our locations

Certificate geared to professionals in law,

respond to these particular cyberattacks and

or uploading a family picture to Facebook can

government, health care and other industries

the techniques required to strengthen the

create security risks.

as well as policymakers in national security

defense of vulnerable systems that employ

looking to defend their networks and

IoT devices,” says Keml Akkaya, program

we’ve opened ourselves up to by simply

secure their data against attack. Fonseca,

director of the IoT degree and associate

sharing our location or vacation photos,”

a former senior researcher at U.S. Southern

professor in the Department of Electrical and

Miller says.

Command, helped create the program.

Computer Engineering.

The certificate program has the backing

These efforts coupled with the College of

“We have no idea the vulnerability that

Miller says his early-career experience as an Air Force helicopter rescue pilot helped

of the Organization of American States

Engineering & Computing’s strength in the

him understand the importance of keeping

(OAS), which has been working to build

field have made FIU a nationally recognized

information safe. Downed pilots who are

cybersecurity capacity throughout Latin

hub for cybersecurity study and research,

taken as prisoners of war are more vulnerable Continues SPRING 2018 | 13

”We have no idea the vulnerability that we’ve opened ourself up to by simply sharing our location or vacation photos.” – Jerry Miller, School of Computing and Information Services

“I had good exposure, good experience from school” says Fernandez, who is helping establish the infrastructure for future cybersecurity testing. As part of their training — and something that makes them so desirable to potential employers — students within the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, from which most of the fellows come, get a


lot of training and practice in how to hack

if they have uploaded photos of themselves

Fellows program), which provides hands-on

into systems and how to prevent others

to the internet, possibly allowing captors to

research experience to FIU students studying

from gaining access, says Shekhar Bhansali,

make specific threats against a pilot’s family.

computer science, computer engineering and

department chair.

This prospect is something that’s becoming

information technology.

a reality now with hackers who are gaining

A half-dozen STEM students are inducted

“The reality is, everything is hackable. It’s a very humbling thing to realize even the best-

access to computers and ransoming them

formally as cyber fellows each year. They

built system is not hack-proof,” Bhansali says.

back to their owners.

acquire work experience by conducting

“By teaching our students how to hack into

technology research and development at

another system, we are teaching them how to

studying new ways to protect phones and

FIU’s Applied Research Center (ARC), which

think like a hacker, and that’s how we can work

other devices from hackers. Two approaches

administers the program, and they participate

to prevent being hacked.”

now being studied at FIU, for example, could

in summer internships at Department of

remove the need for typical passwords,

Defense facilities across the country.

In response, Miller and others at FIU are

thereby making electronics more secure.

“The specialized training and excellent

Students interested more in policy issues surrounding cybersecurity, on the other hand, are enrolling in FIU’s Undergraduate National

One relies on a phone’s accelerometer,

education received at FIU makes our students

Security Studies Certificate Program within

which governs screen orientation, to monitor

extremely attractive to government agencies

the Steven J. Green School of International &

a user’s gait and confirm that the right

and government contractors,” says Leonel

Public Affairs. Martha Rivera, who earned an

individual is truly in control of the device. The

Lagos, director of research at ARC.

undergraduate degree in international relations

other, called Pixie, gives a user the option of

Jennifer M. Fernandez majored in computer

substituting a photo of a common object in

engineering and participated as a cyber

place of an alpha or numeric password.

fellow. She completed an internship at global

and poli-science in 2013 from FIU, returned to FIU to complete the program in 2017. As part of Rivera’s studies, she

defense and aerospace firm Lockheed

attended a gathering organized by FIU in

to keep even smaller devices like the Fitbit

Martin, where she was offered a full-time

Washington, D.C. There she met some of

and Apple Watch safe, again something

job and started within a few months of her

the top cybersecurity experts in business

individual users probably never think about.

graduation in May of 2016. With that position

and government from the United States,

Just like computers and phones, these can

in hand, Fernandez curtailed her job search

the Caribbean and Latin America. During

be susceptible to hackers, who could access

but nonetheless received another offer, from

workshops, Rivera recounts, the students

sensitive health and other information.

Boeing, and says interest from other recruiters

brainstormed ways to crack real-life cases

was likewise high. Currently four other FIU

with those who actually had a hand in

graduates work with her in the cybersecurity

their resolution.

There’s also research being done at FIU

Students on the front lines Over the past four years, the Department

area in Lockheed’s Orlando office, where the

of Defense has invested more than $4 million

tools and terminology she learned at FIU — in

table from the top trainer at Microsoft

in the university’s cyberspace test technology

courses such as malware reverse engineering

and people who are the top cybersecurity

research and development and STEM

and digital forensics, among others — have

experts in their countries and try to solve

workforce development program (Cyber

positioned her well.

some very difficult scenarios.”

14 | SPRING 2018

“It was exciting to sit there across the

The bigger picture The size and frequency of hacks in the

system would allow the federal government to run, for example, cyberattack test

past few years — breaches of online retailer

scenarios on defined Department of Defense

eBay in 2014 and at credit bureau Equifax in

missions and explore a variety of responses

2017 each impacted more than 140 million

to determine which ones work best. Says

consumers — suggest that they are getting

Upadhyay, “This will be a platform that allows

bigger and potentially more dangerous. FIU

us to model multiple scenarios that could

remains ready to play a role in foiling them.

happen in the real world.”

In December, in efforts to educate the

FIU is also working on ways to prevent

greater community, the university hosted

unauthorized access to smart grids, thanks

more than 300 attendees of the Florida

in part to the work of Osama A. Mohammed,

Cybersecurity Conference at the Modesto

associate dean of research in the College of

A. Maidique Campus. Recognizing that

Engineering & Computing. Smart grids control

cyberattacks are among the most urgent

the nation’s power system and could lead to

threats to national and economic security,

crippling blackouts. Students are collaborating

leaders from the Florida Small Business

on ways to build firewalls for patient records

Development Center Network, the Greater

stored at health facilities that could be held

Miami Chamber of Commerce and the U.S.

ransom against those who wouldn’t want their

Chamber of Commerce gathered with FIU

information shared publicly.

faculty and graduate students to discuss,

All of this research will help prevent such

among other topics, the role of Homeland

attacks by working to predict the way hackers

Security, how to secure the electronic data

work in the future. “We are taking steps

collection that is common today within so-

to become the preeminent cybersecurity

called “smart cities” and how, generally, to

research center and university, and we

manage all related risks.

already have several advantages, such as

Meanwhile, inside the Applied Research

cross-cultural awareness, which will help

Center’s Cyberspace Test Technology

us to become so,” says Miller, the former

laboratory, researchers are working with

Air Force colonel. But he recognizes that

cyber fellows to develop a cyber threat

cyberattackers never let their guard down —

automation and monitoring system to detect,

and neither should the university. “To be the

analyze and monitor malware behavior during

best, and maintain that position,” he says, “it

cyberattacks, says Himanshu Upadhyay,

will require us to be rapidly innovating to keep

a senior research scientist in ARC. Such a

one step ahead of the threat.” n

Andrew Sanzetenea, a senior computer science major and FIU cyber fellow

No business too small to be hacked To help smaller companies better protect themselves, FIU’s Small Business Development Center offers cybersecurity training. Activities can be as simple as a demo on installing anti-malware software to advanced lessons on how to prevent third parties from gaining access to complicated computer systems, says Brian Van Hook, the center’s associate director. Often times, the small business owners who come to him believe they’re too small to be susceptible to hackers. “But this is like going fishing,” Van Hook says. “They use the small businesses as bait to get to the large businesses.” Often that means hackers will get access to a contractor’s computer system, which will then get them in through a vendor portal into a larger company. Van Hook’s center offers training on how to safeguard those points of entry, right down to advice on how employee cell phones should or shouldn’t be used to access sensitive company information. Learn more at or call 305-779-9230. SPRING 2018 | 15

By JoAnn C. Adkins | Photo by Ben Guzman ’11

Professor joins forces with the owners of a Miami Beach hotel to revive an endangered ancient language


sher Milbauer has never been ashamed

reintroducing Yiddish into the lives of those

speak the language — many stopped, some

to speak aloud in Yiddish.

who dared not speak it for decades.

in fear of antisemitism and others because

The child of Holocaust survivors,

Milbauer was born in post-World War II

••• On a recent rainy Sunday morning, people

they chose to assimilate, conversing instead in the language of the countries where they

Soviet Union. He never met his

casually walk into The Betsy South Beach

found refuge. Over time, the number of

grandparents. They were all killed in

hotel for a conversation. They don’t speak

Yiddish speakers dwindled, and today fewer

concentration camps. Many of his aunts

Yiddish to one another. Many don’t speak

than 1 million people speak the language,

and uncles were too. He knows the life of

Yiddish very well, some not at all. Most are

about 250,000 in the United States.

exile. As a child, his parents taught him

eager, however, to say hello to Milbauer. The

Most of those are from Orthodox Jewish

and his two brothers Yiddish even though

soft-spoken English professor with a faded

communities. UNESCO currently defines the

it was suppressed in the Soviet Union.

Eastern European accent is not one to call

language as “definitely endangered.”

For them, it was a matter of pride, a matter

attention to himself. But those arriving at

of preservation.

The Betsy for the monthly Yiddish salon look

of FIU’s Exile Studies Program. Milbauer,

upon Milbauer with admiration and affection.

fluent in Yiddish, Hungarian, Russian,

language,” Milbauer said. “That love — as

After all, he is helping them regain something

Hebrew and English, founded the program

a language of resistance and language of

they once thought lost.

within the College of Arts, Sciences &

“They instilled in me a love for this

exile — has stayed with me all my life.”

Prior to World War II, approximately

The Yiddish salons at The Betsy are part

Education seven years ago. The owners of

11 million people spoke Yiddish worldwide.

The Betsy hotel have long been supporters

once ashamed or afraid to speak in their

Of the 6 million Jews murdered during the

of the program. Jonathan Plutzik and

mother tongue. With the help of the owners

Holocaust, as many as 5 million were Yiddish

his sister Deborah Briggs are resolute

of The Betsy South Beach hotel, he is

speakers. After the war, some continued to

advocates for arts and culture. They are the

But Milbauer knows many Jews who were

Continues 16 | SPRING 2018

Asher Milbauer SPRING 2018 | 17


Few languages are born of exile, created out of existential and cultural necessity for people without a country. Yiddish is one of those. children of Tanya Roth Plutzik and the late

Some easily follow along with Milbauer’s

poet and Pulitzer finalist Hyam Plutzik, who

Yiddish, laughing at all the right moments

was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

and nodding in unison. Others lean in,

During a conversation in 2015, Milbauer shared with Plutzik and Briggs his love of all things Yiddish, a language the siblings often heard their parents speak to each other

listening intently, trying to learn. Lucy Felcher understands Yiddish but only speaks a little. She was born in Poland in 1946. Her

Hoffman later does her best to translate her Yiddish Hamlet back into English. “To be or not to be. That’s where the dog is buried. It’s a common way of saying in Yiddish, ‘that’s the problem,’” she said before a brief pause. “I didn’t say it was academic Shakespeare.”


but one they were never taught as children.

parents met while boarding a train bound for

Plutzik was quick to suggest they create the

Poland at the end of World War II — her father

Yiddish salon series at The Betsy.

was in the Polish Army and her mother spent

carry Yiddish into the 21st century. Two

part of the war in a Russian labor camp.

language conservationists recently published

the first one,” he said. “If only eight people

They hid their Jewish heritage even from their

an English-to-Yiddish dictionary, adding

show up, it doesn’t matter.” Ten showed up.

own children. When 7-year-old Lucy made

words for things like email and binge watch.

“I told them to just schedule it. Schedule

There are many efforts under way to

an offhand remark about Jews, her mother

Facebook is adding Yiddish translations to

in popularity and drawing 50 or more people,

revealed the truth. She was devastated. She

the social media platform. Some universities

sometimes as many as 90. While those

didn’t want to be a Jew.

are adding Yiddish to their language

Two years later, the gatherings are growing

attending still largely represent the older

Today, the Hollywood, Fla., resident feels

generations, Briggs says they are seeing

very differently. She is proud to be called a Jew.

more and more young faces in the crowd.

She is eager to learn more about her family’s

songs in Yiddish and publish new Yiddish

The gatherings celebrate Yiddish language

heritage. Felcher and others in attendance at

literary works. Earlier this year, a Yiddish-

and culture with artists and scholars who

the recent salon were there to listen to Miriam

language film, “Menashe,” was released in

frame the conversations.

Hoffman, a writer, Yiddish playwright and retired

the United States.

On the recent rainy morning, the audience is somewhat diverse. Seated in the front is

scholar of Germanic languages. She sometimes translates famous works

offerings. Efforts are being made to produce more

In South Florida, a member of Temple Menorah Miami is teaching Yiddish classes

David Schaecter, who at the age of 11 was

into Yiddish, including Neil Simon’s play

at the synagogue, an idea he got after

sent to Auschwitz and is the only member

“Sunshine Boys,” her translation of which

attending the salons at The Betsy. As for

of his family to survive the Holocaust. In the

earned the Israeli equivalent of a Tony.

the collaboration between FIU and The

back are a few young people. But most in

She also dabbles in Shakespeare and

Betsy, the popularity of the salons has led

attendance are from the generation born

offered a little “Hamlet” at the recent salon,

to the creation of an annual daylong Yiddish

after World War II, the children of families

first in English.

symposium dedicated to topics pertaining

who lived in exile. Milbauer begins the program by

“To be or not to be, that is the question …” Then she switched to Yiddish, which brings

to exile. Though the language nearly disappeared

welcoming everyone, alternating English and

out some giggles among the attendees and

in the last century, Yiddish is making a

Yiddish with great ease.

full-blown laughter by the time she’s done.

comeback, primarily in the United States,

“German is spoken in Germany. French is spoken in France. Yiddish is spoken all

“Ah, there’s the rub,” she says.

Israel and Russia. For the foreseeable

Yiddish is full of rich expressions and

future, the monthly Yiddish salons will

over the world,” Milbauer said. “That makes

terms of endearment. It also offers some

continue at The Betsy. For Milbauer, Plutzik

us one big people speaking a language that

very colorful complaints and even more

and Briggs, they are doing their part to

defies borders.”

colorful insults. Often metaphors are involved.

ignite a Yiddish renaissance. n

18 | SPRING 2018


Restoring independence to hand amputees Upper-extremity amputees may soon be using a prosthesis that is directly connected to their nervous system, thanks to new technology developed by Ranu Jung. She is the Wallace H. Coulter Eminent Scholar and the chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering within the College of Engineering & Computing. Jung holds six patents related to the development of neural-enabled prosthetic hand systems; some of these could enable direct neural control of a prosthesis and others are for restoring sensation. In recognition of these and other innovations, Jung was recently named fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Her team has developed the first fully implantable, wirelessly controlled device that can directly stimulate nerves to restore sensation to amputees. They have also developed computer algorithms to interpret recorded nerve signals for controlling a prosthesis. The technology will allow people who have lost an arm to be one step closer to successfully picking up everyday objects such as a cookie or an egg. Prostheses currently on the market don’t allow amputees to easily manipulate delicate and small objects “because they can’t feel them,” Jung explained. In contrast, her system for sensory stimulation — which has the potential to interface with several advanced prosthetic hands that are being developed — “is intended to restore the sense of touch, which would allow users to precisely differentiate the size and fragility of various objects.”

How this works When an individual thinks about reaching for an item, the motor areas of his or her brain produce signals that traverse through the spinal cord to the peripheral nerves that control the arm and hand movements. Some of Jung’s patents are for decoding these signals. In an amputee, the decoded signals could direct the prosthetic hand to open and subsequently grip the object. As the hand performs these activities, sensors on the prosthesis provide information about hand opening and grip force. The implanted stimulation device can deliver small electrical pulses along thin wires that have been embedded within nerve bundles in the arm to provide tactile sensation. The FDA has granted an investigational device exemption for the first-in-human trial of the sensory feedback device. Trial participants will be able to use it outside of a laboratory setting on a daily basis. If the current trial is successful, Jung and her team plan to continue testing through larger studies and eventually seek such approval for commercial distribution. “The sensory feedback system reflects an almost decade-long collaborative team effort,” Jung said. “For the first time, amputees will be able to use a fully implantable, sensory enabled prosthetic hand system at home for daily activities and researchers will be able to assess the long term clinical impact of its use in real-world environments.” n SPRING 2018 | 19


rian Castillo is the kind of young professional Florida Gov. Rick Scott

wants to see more of. With a BS in biomedical engineering in hand, the 2016 alumnus stepped immediately from the commencement stage into a job with the South Florida division of medical technologies firm Stryker. Today the 25-year-old robotics systems engineer is leading a team in the design, development and eventual market release of a robot for use in knee and hip replacement surgeries. That perfect example of a graduate’s transition from school to employment gets at the heart of the two-term governor’s ongoing demand that Florida’s 12 public universities do more to meet the needs of Florida’s companies. In response to Scott’s steady drumbeat on the subject, the State University System’s governing board in 2014 began measuring the institutions against a list of key performance indicators, among them: turning out holders of bachelor’s degrees ready to enter the workforce.

Brain Gain Florida’s

FIU is ensuring that Sunshine State employers find the talent they need in new graduates By Alexandra Pecharich | Photos by Ben Guzman ’11

At the same time South Florida’s economic development agency, The Beacon Council, has undertaken efforts to foster areas of potential growth within the region and ensure a corresponding talent pool. “What we recognize is that education is the foundation of the strategic plan that will create economic sustainability for all of Miami-Dade County,” says Joseph E. Hovancak, vice president of the organization’s One Community One Goal initiative, which strives to create an environment for significant job creation in target industries. His office has brought together the presidents of local colleges and universities and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent under the umbrella of the Academic Leaders Council, of which FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg served as chair from 2012-2016. The group meets quarterly to discuss skills gaps, and its members interact directly with executives looking to either expand their operations or move to South Florida. “Companies want to feel confident in the environment they’re in and that there is a prospect for long-term growth,” says Jaap Donath, the Beacon Council’s senior vice president for research and strategic planning. The willingness of higher education leaders to talk Robotics systems engineer Brian Castillo ’16 demonstrates a surgical device on which he is a lead designer in the South Florida office medical technologies firm Stryker. 20 | SPRING 2018

Nykeema Radway ’17 took her BA in public relations to a job as marketing coordinator at Miami Children's Health Foundation.


jobs added to Florida’s economy in 2017, an all-time high —Florida Chamber of Commerce

about workforce needs and engage executives

world in which computing devices and digital

“helps make the case that you don’t have to go

machinery can transfer data over networks

outside the area to grow your company.”

without requiring human action. (Think smart

universities in the nation that has achieved

FIU has embraced the challenge of getting

Researchers as teachers FIU is one of 81 public doctoral-granting

thermostats, medical “wearables” and driverless

the top Carnegie classification of “Highest

graduates into meaningful work that moves

cars.) FIU quickly recognized a need to prime a

Research Activity.” That ranking acknowledges

the economy forward and relies on a variety of

generation of professionals ready to lead in the

research productivity and a quality of output

approaches to guarantee they can contribute

arena, and students in January of 2018 began

commensurate with that of some of the oldest

what their employers need to stay competitive.

taking the initial courses.

and most renowned institutions of higher

Faculty in the Department of Electrical and

Responsive academic programming

education in the country. It means that FIU

Computer Engineering were the first to see

successfully competes with the best schools in

that no program in the country existed to turn

the country for grants from agencies such as

Executive Vice President Kenneth G. Furton,

out graduates with appropriate backgrounds

the National Institutes of Health and the U.S.

FIU makes a priority of ensuring that degree

at a time when IOT technology had begun

Department of Transportation.

programs stay relevant. Only through constant

rapidly taking off. Consequently, says

review of courses and continuous content

Professor Kemal Akkaya, even companies

more than 60 patents. The kind of heavy-

updating — work that deans along with

with computer scientists or computer

duty research activity required to create new

department chairs and faculty make happen

engineers on staff had to send them out for

technology benefits not just students but the

— can young people expect to graduate with

additional training in areas such as wireless

companies that hire them after graduation.

the kind of skills and advanced knowledge

communication and cybersecurity.

Under the leadership of Provost and

Since 2015, FIU faculty have obtained

Aside from providing exciting, cutting-edge

“That’s why we developed the degree, so

classroom instruction, professors involved in

we can fill that gap,” says Akkaya, who points

high-level research often invite students into

responsiveness: the university’s brand-new

out that the need for such employees exists

the lab or on field excursions. Once reserved

bachelor’s degree in “the Internet of Things.”

across major sectors, among them energy,

exclusively for master’s and Ph.D. students,

Two years in the making, the first-in-the

transportation, health, agriculture, aviation

such opportunities are increasingly open to

nation program reflects the rapidly changing

and hospitality.

undergraduates — something that bodes well

employers look for. The most recent example of that

Continues SPRING 2018 | 21



FIU graduates live and work in Florida

Already Chaplin graduates are among the most quickly employed after graduation — in part because the school requires that students work in the field while earning degrees — and they can be found throughout the state in support of Florida’s $67 billion tourism industry as well as nationally and internationally in management positions.

Targeted workforce development Recognizing the value of getting young people “up and running” while still in their undergraduate careers, funding agencies increasingly provide grants in support of workforce development. One of the most successful programs is a collaboration between FIU’s Applied Research Sheila Lopez completed a liberal studies degree in the spring of 2017 and went straight into full-time employment as a program technician with the USDA Farm Service Agency in Florida City.

Center and the Department of Energy. It serves as a pipeline of highly qualified minority engineers trained to enter the DOE workforce mostly

for tech and engineering industries that rely heavily on innovation.

who represent the fields graduates are entering. The Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism

outside of the state or to take positions at energy and related companies within the state. The grant

Management has nurtured important relationships

covers paid internships at sites such as Los

agrees that his hands-on campus lab

with such advisors and relies heavily on their

Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and

experience made him workforce ready.

guidance to craft curricula and adjust courses so

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Interested in prosthetics-related projects being

that students graduate with an understanding of

Castillo, the robotics systems engineer,

run by multi-patent holder Ranu Jung, who is the Wallace H. Coulter Eminent Scholar, a

the landscape they are entering. Jerry Montgomery, chief human resources

The program is a boon for companies such as Florida Power & Light that look for engineers ready to go. Former DOE fellow John Conley ’17

fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

officer at cruise-industry leader Carnival

graduated with a bachelor’s degree in

and chair of the Department of Biomedical

Corporation, serves on the dean’s advisory board.

mechanical engineering and now works as a

Engineering, Castillo asked if he could

“The Chaplin School is actively seeking advice,

power distribution engineer (redesigning circuitry

participate in the work.

counsel and direction from the board to ensure

to reduce momentary losses in service) for

that young men and women get an education that

the utility. The three internships he completed

allowed me into her lab,” Castillo recalls of

drives their ability to walk out with a diploma and

with the DOE — primarily in nuclear-waste

what turned out to be a career-impacting move.

be as employable as possible,” he says.

management — bear little direct relation to

“She was more than willing to help me and

“That early exposure helps me still with research

To that end, Chaplin’s academic leaders have

the substance of his current job. He says,

and concept development. I also got exposure

spent the last year with Montgomery and more

however, the high-level training he received from

working on a team and presenting concepts and

than a dozen other board members in regularly

supervisors and mentors at the DOE sites, as

accepting feedback. All that was critical and

scheduled meetings and informal conversations

well as the rigors of strict deadlines and high

really helped shape me as a young professional.”

to discuss a potential restructuring of the

expectations, quickly launched him into a career

curriculum. There is talk of strategically

after graduation.

Industry-academy synergy

revamping educational offerings that will result

“DOE showed me the workforce side. I no

in graduates who are qualified to lead not only

longer felt like a child,” he said of how the real-

to ensuring that up-to-the-minute trends, topics

in the hospitality industry but in other growing

world assignments empowered him and later

and practices make their way into the classroom.

sectors — such as finance and healthcare —

resonated with potential employers. “If you show

To ensure valuable input, all of FIU’s colleges and

that likewise rely heavily on a high quality of

them that you’re a critical thinker, you can solve

schools convene advisory boards of executives

consumer or customer experiences.

problems, you can manage your workload and

Regularly taking the pulse of industry is crucial

22 | SPRING 2018

Read about graduates taking great jobs out of state

manage a team, that’s what they want to see.

On his own he completed an eight-hour online

business ideas — be they students, faculty,

They don’t want inexperienced workers. They

Bloomberg certification program that the College

alumni or others within the community — to run

want you to be a superstar.”

of Business makes available at no charge to

with them. Competitions such as FIU’s home-

students, plus he participated in a student

grown GOJA Social Innovation Challenge as well

organization designed to further develop his

as campus versions of the national Hult Prize

financial and investment skills and a business

have students competing to establish social

graduates with the specific knowledge

fraternity that provides interviewing tips and

enterprises. Startup Weekend (a program initiated

associated with a given field of study, employers

networking events.

by the global organization of the same name)

A focus on universally valued skills Conley’s experience is telling. Aside from

are looking for job candidates who possess a

“All of that really stood out to the recruiter,”

brings young people together to build teams

quiver full of so-called soft skills. These include

says Dwyer, who believes his record of

that collaborate for 48 hours to conceptualize

a proficiency in oral and written communication,

undergraduate activities confirmed a level of

products and jumpstart companies. The on-your-

competency in critical thinking and leadership

“intellectual curiosity” that his now-employer saw

feet thinking fostered by such activities makes

potential, among others.

as fitting with the company’s culture.

young graduates attractive to some of today’s newest and most innovative companies.

At FIU, emphasis on written communication includes required composition courses, with one-on-one help through campus writing centers available at no charge to students. The Honors College requires that students attend “design

We are passionate about preparing our students to take or create good jobs and to take responsibility for personal, family and community well-being.

thinking” workshops that spark creativity and encourage innovative approaches to problems. The Center for Leadership and Service

—FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg

provides opportunities for personal growth and advancement to build leadership qualities while also teaching the value of teamwork. The Career and Talent Development department runs workshops to improve public speaking and analytical skills. These are but a few of the ways

Emphasis on nimbleness For all its push to give students the knowledge

••••• For all the promise and potential that young

FIU helps mold students to contribute in whatever

and training so vital in today’s fast-paced

grads take with them as they exit the university,

professional setting they land.

marketplace, academic leaders understand that

diplomas in hand, staying relevant and growing

even the latest information will likely become

into leadership roles will demand ongoing

and found that, on top of the strong curriculum

outdated in a relatively short time and skills

education. At FIU, as across the nation, the

that undergirded his twin degrees in international

likewise will need adjusting. They speak of the

number of those seeking master’s degrees is

business and finance, his taking advantage of

Fourth Industrial Revolution, described as an era

on the rise, and the university offers year-round

a host of experiences offered by the university

of new technologies that are fusing the physical,

professional development, continuing education

helped him secure a highly competitive internship

digital and biological worlds, and impacting

and a wide array of both credit and non-credit

and a subsequent full-time job as a data analyst

— disrupting, some say — all disciplines,

certificate programs, among them human

with Citigroup in Tampa.

economies and industries.

resources management, project management

Andrew Dwyer graduated in December of 2017

As an undergraduate, Dwyer spent a semester

Key to helping young people maintain the

and business-oriented language instruction, to

studying in New Zealand — study abroad often

kind of adaptability sought by employers in

signifying to employers an ability to move out of

the 21st century are the related traits of an

“An undergraduate education is one step

one’s comfort zone — and earned recognition

entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to

to preparing young people to excel in a world

at graduation for having taken four designated

lifelong learning.

of continuous change,” says Furton, the FIU

courses as part of Global Learning, an FIU

FIU supports entrepreneurial thinking in a

name a few.

provost. “A four-year degree is a springboard to

initiative that fosters multi-perspective analyses

variety of ways. For example, it has unveiled

nonstop learning and the catalyst for a lifetime

of problems and promotes engagement in local,

business accelerators and incubators through

of acquiring and creating knowledge that serves

global, international and intercultural issues.

StartUP FIU, a path for those with scalable

both the individual and society.” n SPRING 2018 | 23



Tell us FIU is your alma mater and see how much more you could save. Some discounts, coverages, payment plans and features are not available in all states, in all GEICO companies, or in all situations. GEICO contracts with various membership entities and other organizations, but these entities do not underwrite the offered insurance products. Discount amount varies in some states. One group discount applicable per policy. Coverage is individual. In New York a premium reduction may be available. GEICO may not be involved in a formal relationship with each organization; however, you still may qualify for a special discount based on your membership, employment or affiliation with those organizations. GEICO is a registered service mark of Government Employees Insurance Company, Washington, D.C. 20076; a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary. Š 2018 GEICO


for medical student debt: Scholarships

“The value of not having to worry about money as we complete our medical school journey cannot be overestimated. With this scholarship, we have the ability to truly focus on our studies.” — Logan Garfield Coral Springs, Florida First year

By Ileana Varela | Photos by Doug Garland ’10

Herbert and Nicole Wertheim are supporting students who attend the medical school they established By his own admission, Daniel Lumpuy is

free ride through medical school. Seventy-three

Association of American Medical Colleges

percent of respondents to the 2017 AAMC

(AAMC), 84 percent of medical students

Medical School Graduation Questionnaire

have debt. And of those who do, the median

reported graduating with some debt. Bianca

amount owed is $190,000. Lumpuy, a fourth-

Alvarez is one of them. A member of the

year student at Herbert Wertheim College of

HWCOM Class of 2018, Alvarez estimates she

Medicine, graduates this spring.

will owe about $250,000 when she graduates.

The 28-year-old is one of 10 HWCOM students whose tuition is being paid for by the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation Scholarship. “I am eternally grateful to the Wertheims,” says Lumpuy. Herbert Wertheim, a long-time FIU benefactor and the college’s namesake, personally assists

“Believe it or not, I got my acceptance into HWCOM and my scholarship in the same phone call. Can you imagine? Simultaneous excitement, disbelief, gratitude and eagerness to prove Dr. Wertheim's choice a good one.” — Robert Cole Schmidt Tallahassee, Florida Second year

Not everyone is fortunate enough to get a

“ridiculously fortunate.” According to the

That is to cover her academic as well as housing and other personal expenses. “I feel better about it now because I’ve been reading a lot about financial planning and investment, but I try to live very frugally. It’s been a constant stress any time I had to spend money on anything,” she says. Alvarez, who wants to specialize in emergency

in selecting the Wertheim scholarship recipients.

medicine because it fits her personality, says

A man of humble beginnings who received

despite the financial challenges, the high cost

the 2011 International Horatio Alger Award in

of medical school was never a deterrent to

recognition of his personal and professional

pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor.

accomplishments, Wertheim knows first-hand what it’s like to be a student struggling to make

“I just couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” she says.

ends meet. He, too, won a scholarship, to Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, which helped with his tuition even as he worked to pay for his living expenses.

Beyond financial costs The issue of medical school debt is complex.

“We pick out the best of the best because

A 2016 study published in the Journal of

we believe it will help them go out and practice

the American Board of Family Medicine found

maybe in areas they might not have the same

that high education debt exacts a human cost,

financial success,” says Wertheim.

including stress, suicidal thoughts, licensing Continues SPRING 2018 | 25


“This scholarship takes off a lot of pressure regarding supporting my future family financially, especially with me getting married at the end of this year. Not having to worry about the vast amount of debt I was anticipating has taken away a good portion of the stress associated with training to be a doctor.” — Imran Sehgal London, England/Orlando, Florida First year

exam failures and voluntary withdrawal or

funds available as do older, more established

22 percent allowed that debt had either a

dismissal from medical school. A recent

medical schools. That’s why donors like the

“strong” (6.2 percent) or “moderate” (15.3

national survey conducted by the AAMC

Wertheims are so critical.

percent) influence. By contrast, in 2013 nearly

indicated that the cost of a medical education

“Scholarships are a recruitment tool

28 percent of graduates said debt had a

was the top reason minority students choose

that allows us to compete with older, more

strong (8.8 percent) or moderate (19 percent)

not to pursue a medical degree.

established institutions with significant

influence on their specialty choice.

This is particularly challenging for schools

endowments to entice students,” says

The strongest influence on specialty choice,

like HWCOM which are committed to a

Dr. John A. Rock, HWCOM’s founding dean

according to 2017 medical school graduates,

diverse student population.

and FIU senior vice president for health affairs.

was “fit with personality, interests and skills.”

Loan debt and specialty choice

in the way of her goal. Since she was a little

Juanita Melau isn’t one to let finances stand

“We are admitting over 20 percent of a disadvantaged or underrepresented population of students, compared to 9 percent nationally,”

According to the 2017 AAMC Graduation

girl, she’s wanted to be a doctor. The high

says Marissa Miles, HWCOM director of

Questionnaire, the percentage of medical

cost of medical school hasn’t dissuaded her.

financial assistance and alumni relations. All

school graduates who say their education

She has taken out loans and will owe about

of the College of Medicine’s disadvantaged

debt affected their choice of medical

$200,000 when she graduates from HWCOM

students are receiving some scholarship aid.

specialty has decreased continuously the

in May 2018. She wants to go into family

past five years. In 2017, nearly 55 percent of

medicine. While not the most lucrative of

students was admitted in 2009 — HWCOM

respondents to the GQ said that debt had

specialties, it holds great appeal for her.

doesn’t have the same level of scholarship

“no influence” on specialty choice. Less than

As a young college — the first class of

26 | SPRING 2018

“I like the idea of being able to take care

of any patient,” she says. “The children, the

minority and disadvantaged students, may

parents, the abuelas, the whole family.”

still have about medical school. It wants

Although at times overwhelmed at the

prospective students to know that despite the

thought of owing so much money, Melau looks

cost, medical school is affordable for everyone.

at her debt as an investment in a career with a

In fact, only 1 percent of medical school

lot of job security. “I know I’ll be able to pay it

graduates default on their loans.

back eventually,” she says.

“This is doable, this is possible, no matter what,” says Miles, who as part of her job gives

True value Physician tops the 2018 Forbes list of highestpaying jobs in America. It is also the one in

the students financial advice on how to handle their debt. “We want them to feel confident about their

highest demand as the United States continues

choices. Medicine is a calling as well as a

to experience a shortage of doctors.

profession, and doctors are compensated well

Physicians working outside of the most

executive associate dean for student affairs.

cardiology commanding the best pay — make

And it’s not just money she is talking about.

an average $187,000 a year.

“The true reward is the great feeling you get

the perception many students, especially

— Kaushik Ravipati Palm City, Florida First year

in all fields,” says Dr. Karin Esposito, interim

lucrative specialties — orthopedic surgery and

The College of Medicine is trying to change

“Whenever I hear my classmates talking about their loans, I think of the enormous gift that the Wertheims have given me and become more thankful each time. I realize how lucky I am and it drives me even more.”

when you are able to help others.” For many doctors, it’s priceless. n SPRING 2018 | 27

s e s a B

ED D A O L More than a dozen baseball recruits had


“Getting drafted was really special and having the chance to play professional baseball is a oncein-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Allen, a criminal justice major. “But I felt that getting an education first was important for me and my family.” The chance not only to develop at the college level, but to pursue a degree as well played a role in their decision. Santana is studying sports management with the hope of one day becoming a physical therapist after he is done with baseball. “It’s a huge opportunity,” says Santana. “I’ve only been here for one semester, but I already feel like I’ve matured a lot as a player and as a person. College really comes at you and helps

to choose between FIU and going pro

push that process.”

By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17 | Photo by Doug Garland ’10

Youth movement While they put their professional dreams on

he first day of the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft came and went. So did the second. By the third day, recent high

school graduate Christian Santana had almost stopped paying attention altogether.

Choosing a path For most players and their families, the decision comes down to how much the team offers them to sign. Outfielder Heliot Ramos was the highest

hold, they will have a chance to continue building on what Melendez is doing at FIU. He was a key reason they signed on to become Panthers. “I used to play for him before coming here and fell in love with the way he coaches,” says

Panther recruit drafted, taken by the San

Allen, who played on youth summer teams and

FIU recruit had expected to get an offer from one

Francisco Giants with the No. 19 overall pick

academies headed by Melendez. “Playing under

of 30 MLB teams in the early rounds of the draft.

and signing a $3.1 million deal. MJ Melendez, a

him makes you feel like part of the family.”

It became apparent that wasn’t going to happen.

6-foot-1, 175-pound catcher, opted to sign with

The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher and

While fans coming out to FIU’s newly named

the Royals for $2.1 million days after he was

Infinity Insurance Park early in the 2018 season

and Santana ran to his computer to confirm the

drafted. In the end, 10 of the Panther recruits

likely didn’t recognize many of the names on

big news: the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in

decided to sign with the teams that drafted them.

this year’s roster — with 14 incoming freshmen

But then a friend called to congratulate him,

the 15th round.

“Every player has a number the family

and five transfers, half the team wasn’t here a

comes up with. If they don’t get that number

year ago — the Panthers promise to be a young

that opportunity,” Santana says. “But I was

they go to school, if they get it they go pro.

team loaded with talent from the pitching staff

unsure what was going to happen — if I was

It comes down to making a decision they will

to the outfield.

going to end up in the pros or at FIU. It was just

be happy with not just now, but 10 years from

waiting to see what would happen.”

now,” Melendez says. “In my son’s case, he

sophomore Javier Valdes and is among the

“I was extremely grateful and happy to have

Garcia has shared catching duties with

had a number in mind that was met, he made

offensive leaders for the Panthers in home runs

Coach Mervyl Melendez’s 2017 recruiting class

a decision and as a family we helped him

and RBIs.

— the No. 1 recruiting class in the country —

through that decision.”

Santana was one of 14 recruits in FIU Head

who were drafted. Each recruit had to make the

For several of the Panther recruits drafted, the

Allen leads the team in wins and has become one of the top starting pitchers as the Friday

decision hundreds of ballplayers make each year

numbers did not add up. Four of the draftees

starter. Allen has also played first base and hit

right out of high school: go to college or go the

elected to go the college route, including

near the top of the lineup.

professional route.

Santana, left-handed pitchers Logan Allen (16th

Santana has started and relieved. The

round, Baltimore Orioles) and Joe Sanchez (39th

right-hander has a save and has one of the

FIU, it was no surprise that many of the players

round, Atlanta Braves), and catcher Jose Garcia

best strikeout rates per nine innings on the

he recruited in his first class were going to be

(38th round, Boston Red Sox).

pitching staff.

For Melendez, now in his second season at

swooped up before stepping onto a campus.

With guidance from their parents and

All three have become a big part of an

coaches, they weighed the pros and cons of

incoming wave of talent that Melendez hopes

was picked by the Kansas City Royals in the

both options and decided that spending a few

will make the Panthers perennial contenders in

second round during the first day of the draft,

years at FIU under Melendez and growing as

Conference USA for years to come while they

adding a new wrinkle to the process.

baseball players was the wisest choice.

boost their draft value. n

One of those recruits was his son, MJ, who

28 | SPRING 2018

Freshmen (left to right) Logan Allen, Jose Garcia and Christian Santana were drafted by MLB teams last year but opted to pursue degrees and help build a powerhouse baseball program at FIU.

SPRING 2018 | 29

16 T H A N N UA L



hosted by the FIU Alumni Association




CLASS NOTES 1990s Gabriel Rincón-Mora ’92, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. He is also a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and of the Institution of Engineering and Technology for contributions to energy and power integrated circuits.

Mabel Morales ’94, MS ’97 received the United States Southeastern Region Supervision/Administration Art Educator Award from the National Association of Art Education. Monique Bedasse ’99, an assistant professor of art history at Washington University, celebrated the publication of her book Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization by The University of North Carolina Press.

2000s Daniel Alfonso ’01, MS ’02 was appointed vice president of facilities management at Nova Southeastern University. Alfonso previously served as city manager for the City of Miami.

Jonathan Simoens ’03, MIB ’06 was named commercial banking director at Florida Community Bank and is based in Weston.

Monica Balda ’04, MIB ’17 was recognized as an emerging professional within the field of supply chain management and given a scholarship from Capital One. She received the award at the Institute for Supply Management’s annual conference. Edward Dabdoub MBA ’04, a Coral Gables attorney, was featured in an article by Daily Business Review for his work in disability insurance law. Dabdoub represented NFL offensive lineman Darryl Ashmore in a federal suit against the NFL Player Disability & Neurocognitive Benefit Plan. Ruben Reinis ’06, MBA ’14 , administrative director of the Miami Children's Hospital Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC), was named one of 23 ASC leaders under 40 by Becker's ASC Review. The annual list highlights young leaders who have made a significant impact in the ambulatory surgery industry.

Lourdes C. CortizoAcevedo ’07 served as interim deputy chief of staff at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She is a recent recipient of the Principal Legal Advisor’s “One OPLA Award,” the acting ICE director’s “DHS Partner Award” and the “I AM ICE” award.

2010s Cameron Sisser MPA ’11 was promoted to vice president for external relations at Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, where he represents and advocates for the organization at the local, state and national levels.

Juan Carlos Gallegos ’11, MS ’15, a product manager for CareCloud, spoke at HxRefactored 2017 in Boston, a conference focusing on improving health experiences through human-centered design and technology. Lawanda Green MS ’11 was promoted to manager of system analysis at Ultimate Software.

Ryan Benson MBA ’12, principal with A. Vernon Allen Builder in Naples, was appointed to serve as a delegate on the board of directors of the Florida Home Builders Association for 2018. Benson is involved in a number of organizations, including serving as a board member and chairman of government affairs for the Collier Building Industry Association, past president of Naples Gulfshore Sunset Rotary, vice chairman of the Boys and Girls Club of Collier County and a past trustee for Canterbury School.

Luis Rodriguez ’17 was hired as a network producer at Univision.

Approximately 400 alumni returned to campus during Panther Alumni Week in February, a celebration of graduates who are making their mark in the world. Collectively, they spoke to as many 4,000 students over the course of the five days. Pictured here are several alumni who participated on an Honors College panel offering career and industry insights: from left, Nadine Matas ’17, Niurca Marquez ’97, Jorge Zurita ’96 and Rebecca Shumway ’17.

SPRING 2018 | 31

The Power of Philanthropy By Charles Crespo MA ’13, FIU Foundation

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “the power of philanthropy” in relation to student success? One of the first things likely to come to mind is scholarships. Scholarships keep students from having to work long hours to support their education or drop out of school entirely. They provide the financial support needed to help students stay in school and complete their degrees on time. Additionally, scholarships help students avoid debt, which can hobble them financially, just when their careers are taking off. Student loan debt is an ever-growing problem. According to the most recent data from Forbes, 2016 graduates in the United States carry an average of $37,172 in student loan debt. While the average amount of student loan debt is significantly lower for FIU students, approximately 50 percent of 2016-17 FIU graduates had student loan debt, and the average amount owed at graduation was just below $20,000. At current student loan interest rates and standard repayment periods, an FIU college graduate will carry that debt for a decade and pay more than $7,640 in interest. For these reasons, donors who want to invest in student success often choose to do so through scholarships. And while the variety of scholarship options at a university like FIU rivals the menu at a sushi bar/wings joint, one 32 | SPRING 2018

choice is increasingly popular with donors: first-generation scholarships. First-generation scholarships provide support to qualified undergraduate students who are the first in their families to attend college. Because private donations to first-generation scholarships are matched by the State of Florida, donors’ gifts have greater impact. At FIU, nearly 50 percent of the undergraduate student population is comprised of first-generation students, and 93 percent of those first-generation scholarship recipients are minorities. For donors like Rajiv Jain, chairman and chief investment officer of GQG Partners, firstgeneration scholarships are appealing due to their incredible impact. After initially working with FIU’s Department of Religious Studies to create the Bhagwan Mahavir Professorship in Jain Studies in 2010, he began to hear about first-generation scholarships and immediately saw the value. Through the Latika and Rajiv Jain Charitable Foundation, Jain and his wife donated to the First Generation Scholarship Fund and created the Latika and Rajiv Jain First Generation Scholarship. The gift supports first-generation students who are pursuing majors from the STEM disciplines. “It has a tremendous impact on a group who really needs it the most, and for [a]

relatively small amount,” Rajiv Jain explains. “It’s a great return on investment.” And just as the Jains and donors like them can see the impact of their investment in firstgeneration scholarships, students like Ashley Diaz feel that power. “The first-generation scholarship helped a lot,” Diaz says. “I have absolutely no debt post-graduation.” Diaz graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and received special recognition as a Worlds Ahead Graduate. She is now working as an administrative assistant for FIU Online before continuing her education and attending medical school. Diaz was able to meet Rajiv Jain. This not only allowed her to thank him, it also reinforced her commitment to giving back, just as he had done for her. “I want to be [like] one of the sponsors who helped me while I was in school,” she says. “Because Rajiv donated to my academics and helped me graduate a lot sooner, I now want to give back. It was very rewarding to get to know him.” So the next time you hear the phrase “the power of philanthropy,” think of student success. Think of Diaz and students like her. Do the math. Philanthropy is more powerful when it multiplies. n


Very Important Panther

Myrna Soto • Senior Vice President, Global Chief Information Security Officer, Comcast Corporation • Bachelor of Science in Psychology, 1993 Q: Comcast Corporation is a global media and technology company, and you are responsible for the huge job of developing cyber and data security strategies and managing technology risks. How have you seen these areas grow in critical importance? A: This has been an area of exponential growth, mainly as a result of the evolving threat to critical infrastructure like energy, telecommunications and finance. There are many new technologies to support defenses, but the greatest area of growth has been in predictive intelligence and analytics. Artificial intelligence will continue to see tremendous growth. Q: You have held senior leadership positions with several other large corporations, among them American Express and Royal Caribbean Cruises. What has been your key to success? A: I believe it is the ability to adapt to different environments and industries. It is critical for leaders to understand corporate cultures and understand how a leadership style may need to adapt. Q: What advice do you have for others looking to make an impact in their chosen fields? A: One of the most important things for future leaders to do is to constantly stretch their comfort zones. If you are comfortable in a particular skill set or function, push yourself further. Leaders need to grow in order to lead, and teams will always respect a leader willing to say he or she has something to learn. I also feel strongly that it is important to have a very strong appreciation for the business you are supporting. A high degree of business acumen is critical in order to be seen as more than just a specialist but an asset to the organization. Lastly, give back. I am big supporter of the “push up pull up” philosophy. We have to help the next generation behind us to succeed. Q: You earned two advanced degrees and a certification from other institutions, but you launched your education with a bachelor’s of psychology from FIU. How has that base served you in the business world? A: My psychology degree has served as an incredible platform for my leadership journey. It has allowed me to apply motivational theories for my teams, and it has allowed me to understand the human psyche as it relates to how technology is adopted and utilized. It has also provided me the competency to lead organizational change. I use that psychology degree every day! #Pawsup Q: What do you do for fun? A: I have many passions, but in my personal time you will find me either on a golf course, on the beach or at a winery. I’m also a bit of a real estate junkie — I love exploring properties, new developments and potential investments.


Division of External Relations Modesto A. Maidique Campus, MARC 5th Floor Miami, FL 33199-0001 Change Service Requested

The odd-looking but beloved Sunblazer served as FIU’s mascot from 1973 until his retirement in 1987. The unique icon had its genesis in a university committee assembled for the express purpose of deciding upon a sports nickname and an accompanying mascot. The group had initially come up with a list that included the Ambassadors, Diplomats, Amigos, Suns and Trailblazers before someone combined the last two to make “Sunblazers,” the name voted for by students. The look of the imaginative creature came out of a design contest won by an art major. Follow the evolution of FIU's mascot through the years

Sunblazer Photo courte

sy of FIU Spe

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Profile for FIU

FIU Magazine Spring 2018 - 17396  

FIU Magazine Spring 2018 - 17396

FIU Magazine Spring 2018 - 17396  

FIU Magazine Spring 2018 - 17396