School of Integrated Science and Humanity
Year in Review
Seeking deeper understandings, advancing science for humanity
Academic Health Center 4, one of the newest buildings at FIU, is home to the School of Integrated Science and Humanity.
Unlike any other school in the nation, the School of Integrated Science and Humanity (SISH) in FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences is developing deeper understandings to advance scientific inquiry and discovery. Our efforts touch nearly every aspect of the human experience, from the most molecular level within our DNA to the far reaches of space. We research, challenge and explore. Our academic structure — encompassing Chemistry and Biochemistry, Mathematics and Statistics, Philosophy, Physics and Psychology — fosters interdisciplinary dialogues of the most pivotal issues facing society today. Our ultimate goal is to advance health for the human body, society and our greater existence. In 2014, we embarked on new endeavors that contribute to this core mission. We launched the Biomolecular Sciences Institute (BSI), a collaboration among many of the university’s top researchers. BSI is advancing nanotechnology and developing treatments for cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. We also launched the STEM Transformation Institute, dedicated to improving education within science, technology, engineering and math. Collaborators from Arts & Sciences, Education, and Engineering & Computing are taking evidence-based approaches that began in our Physics classrooms to scale. Efforts within the STEM Transformation Institute have led to redesigned classrooms on campus, new teacher training programs, and most importantly, improved test scores and retention among students. As a society, one of the greatest debates to grip our nation in 2014 was the rights of the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, and more specifically, marriage equality. Faculty within our Center for Women’s and Gender Studies advanced the debate in consideration of both the social and psychological effects of banning same-sex marriage. The tireless work of the 133 affiliate faculty members in Women’s and Gender Studies also led to the creation of the International Women, Gender and Violence Initiative. Through research and education, the initiative focuses on the prevention of physical and emotional abuse. The initiative’s international focus guides research centered on how to stop trends of violence and, in some cases, cultural acceptance. From the minds of children to technological discoveries in forensic science, SISH is making contributions that help foster a healthier, happier and safer society. For students in the School of Integrated Science and Humanity, 2014 was a year of hands-on learning, exploration and inspiration designed to transform their capabilities to help solve challenges of the 21st century.
Michael R. Heithaus Dean, College of Arts & Sciences
Suzanna Rose Executive Director, School of Integrated Science and Humanity
Yuk-Ching Tse-Dinh, director of the FIU Biomolecular Sciences Institute
Combatting life-threatening diseases,
one molecule at a time Biomolecular Sciences Institute launches
nder the gaze of a microscope, Yuk-Ching Tse-Dinh’s eyes focus on winding strands of DNA. For her, it’s the twist and turns of the DNA double helix that are most interesting. The theoretical chemist
believes the enzymes that regulate the overwinding or underwinding of DNA are potential keys to treating a variety of diseases. The complexity of her work — combatting diseases at the molecular level — is a growing scientific trend worldwide. FIU researchers, including Tse-Dinh, are advancing the science behind diseases, cancer biology and neurodegenerative disorders as part of the Biomolecular Sciences Institute (BSI) in the School of Integrated Science and Humanity. BSI researchers, a team that Tse-Dinh helped assemble as the institute’s founding director, come from all across the university. Their combined research could lead to cures for certain cancers, as well as treatments for obesity, infectious diseases and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. For her own research, Tse-Dinh hopes it will lead to the discovery of new drugs to treat bacteria that are currently drug-resistant. She has also partnered with other BSI researchers to develop a new, cellularlevel treatment for prostate cancer, a project supported by the Community Foundation of Broward. One of Tse-Dinh’s collaborators, biochemist Yuan Liu, also received a $1.6 million grant in 2014 from the National Institutes of Health for her work in DNA damage and repair. Earlier in the year, BSI chemist Joong Ho Moon was awarded the Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation. The award includes a nearly $490,000 grant to study gene therapy methods. And biochemist Fenfei Leng was awarded a $317,000 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in the National Institutes of Health for his efforts to develop new and more effective cancer treatment drugs and new ways to combat obesity. By studying the smallest particles of the human body, each of BSI’s faculty members are researching innovative solutions for some of our most complex health issues.
Unraveling the mysteries
of the human brain T
he brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It makes up 2 percent of a body’s mass yet uses 20 percent of its blood and oxygen supply. It controls the way we think. It controls our movements. It dictates the way we make decisions. And it determines how we recall memories. It is powerful yet fragile. In the past 50 years, technological advances have allowed us to use the science of neuroimaging to better understand the brain — not just its anatomy, but its psychology — leading to what we know as cognitive neuroscience.
Scientists in FIU’s Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging Center (CNIC) have dedicated their careers to understanding mental processes in healthy and diseased human brains. They study brain activity, including language, cognition, emotion, action, sensory perception and mental health, while working to develop new technologies in cognitive neuroimaging. CNIC Director Angela Laird
CNIC Director and physicist Angela Laird was named one of the world’s most highly cited researchers by Thomson Reuters in its “The World’s Most Inﬂuential Scientific Minds of 2014” report. Laird is one of only 15 Florida researchers on the list and ranks among the top 1 percent most cited for the field of neuroscience and behavior. She led the Miami Brainhack Eastern Daylight Time event hosted by CNIC in October. This unique conference convened researchers from across the globe to work together on innovative projects related to neuroscience. Laird is currently leading a research project funded by the National Science Foundation to determine how college STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors learn reasoning and problem-solving skills during an introductory physics course. This study is the first of its kind to examine physics reasoning and learning using advanced neuroimaging techniques. Understanding this could help educators better craft the way these courses are taught to promote student success in STEM gateway courses. CNIC researchers and psychology faculty are also studying the impact of drug abuse on human brain function. They are conducting research with emphasis on improving the health of minority populations and reducing health disparities, and in particular the epidemics of HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. CNIC-affiliated scientists received funding from the National Institutes of Health to characterize the long-term impact of marijuana use on brain function of patients living with HIV/AIDS — specifically, how these alterations in brain function can affect medication adherence and tendency for risky behaviors. CNIC’s mission is to act as a catalyst for the research programs at FIU, enabling deeper understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying brain development, adaptation and learning, and response to disease.
Psychologists Anthony Dick, left, and Matthew Sutherland, right, conduct brain mapping research at an MRI facility in Miami.
In the minds
Center revolutionizes treatments for child mental health
early 20 percent of children in the United States suffer from a mental or behavior disorder, with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) being the most common. The cost to American society is in the tens of billions of dollars. FIUâ€™s Center for Children and Families (CCF) is an international leader in treatment for child mental health, serving approximately 3,000 children and families annually for ADHD, autism, child anxiety, aggression, other behavior disorders, classroom interventions and parent trainings. This includes 1,600 children currently registered in community or clinicbased summer readiness programs, 800 enrolled in clinical research trials and 600 children and their parents participating in clinical treatment at the center. Ninety percent of the centerâ€™s clients reside in Miami-Dade County, 8 percent in Broward and the remaining 2 percent live in nearby areas. CCF partners with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, working with more than 300 schools to provide effective care for children struggling with mental health issues. As the nationâ€™s leader in research related to the treatment of ADHD in youth, CCF has more government research grants and publications than any other group of ADHD researchers in the nation. The center was founded and is led by William E. Pelham, Jr., a pioneer in the field of ADHD research and treatment to develop deeper understandings and improve the quality of life for children and their families. Pelham, who has been awarded the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, is the architect of the award-winning Summer Treatment Program, an intensive, 8-week program for children with behavior problems and learning disorders. Nearly 900 South Florida children have participated in the program since its 2010 launch in Miami. Collectively, the center has more than $40 million in federal funding to advance the science behind treatment programs. The center has amassed a team of nearly 40 researchers and clinical experts across multiple areas of study. In addition to ADHD, autism, anxiety and behavioral interventions, CCF faculty members are also studying use of spatial language, cognitive and social development, and impacts of drug use on youth. The center is also training the next generation of child mental health providers, offering counselor opportunities, training sessions and mentoring for FIU undergraduate, graduate and medical students. In 2014 alone, 225 FIU students received training at the center, and more than 100 journal articles were published by CCF staff and graduate students.
Taking STEM to scale
New institute leverages data to improve student education
oday’s students are the building blocks of tomorrow’s work force. Many of the fastest-growing industries require significant know-how in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Yet Americans continue to under-perform in those fields, and under-represented minorities are a growing concern. Florida International University, which celebrated the launch of its STEM Transformation Institute in 2014, is a national model for education reform in these critical areas. The university is the top producer of STEM degrees for Hispanics and one of the top producers of STEM degrees for all minorities. The institute serves as a national laboratory to develop and implement evidence-based models for multicultural, urban communities.
John Holdren, left, visits an active learning classroom at FIU. Holdren is the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
When Academic Health Center 5 opened for classes in the fall of 2014, students in six STEM courses welcomed two active learning classrooms in the new building. Here, students put the textbooks away and tackle scientific challenges with a hands-on approach. The classrooms are the first of several designed to house active learning for large groups of students at a financially sustainable scale. Research shows that students’ attitudes toward introductory physics classes improve when active learning is engaged. The classrooms even caught the attention of John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He was on campus in October for a STEM education workshop and made a stop at one of the active learning classrooms to learn more from the students being taught there. In December, FIU Provost and Executive Vice President Kenneth G. Furton and SISH alumna Idaykis Rodriguez joined President Barack Obama, along with hundreds of higher education leaders to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college. Rodriguez, who works as a post-doctoral fellow in the STEM Transformation Institute, introduced Vice President Joe Biden during the event. As part of the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, FIU announced three initiatives of its own including one to increase STEM graduation rates by taking evidence-based models of learning to scale.
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Listening, Learning and Teaching Peer-mentoring program revolutionizes the classroom
rowing up in Jamaica, Garfield Jugar was never a “math person.” Actually, he hated math. Tired of his mother always taking his radio away as punishment for his bad math grades, Jugar buckled down and tried to teach himself. An auditory learner, Jugar would wait for his family to go to sleep late at night and turn off the television. He would then talk through the process to solve the problems. He would talk to the door, the garbage can and other things around the house. Over time, the self-teaching method started to produce results. While the garbage can never learned to do math, Jugar’s test scores started to improve — first with a 71 on his midterms, then a 92 on his finals in his junior year. From that point on, math stopped being a problem. Actually, Jugar started to enjoy it. By the time he was ready for college, he decided to major in it. He first earned an associate’s degree in mathematics and then enrolled at FIU to pursue a bachelor’s degree in math education. Today, the autodidactic student is a Learning Assistant (LA) in FIU’s Mastery Math Lab, a hightech, high-touch approach to improving student performance through evidence-based teaching techniques including peer mentoring. The Mastery Math Lab, where students attend weekly tutoring sessions, is designed for students in intermediate and college algebra courses. It is predominantly staffed by Learning Assistants, like Jugar, who are there to help their peers navigate the rigors of math. This approach is an alternative to traditional lecture learning and, for many, makes classwork more relatable. The LA program at FIU was pioneered in the Department of Physics as a teacher preparation program at a time when enrollment numbers were steadily dropping for physics majors. In recent years, the trend has reversed, thanks in large part to Learning Assistants and other classroom transformations. Today, the Learning Assistant program is being implemented at a much greater scale. In addition to math and physics, FIU has also deployed LAs in chemistry, earth sciences and biological sciences. FIU currently has the largest Learning Assistant program in the country, with 168 LAs supporting more than 6,200 students in 98 courses. For Jugar, being an LA has allowed him to teach others, while also providing an opportunity for self-reﬂection and improvement. With his college graduation on the horizon, the student who once couldn’t pass a math test is now poised to become the teacher.
Garfield Jugar is one of 168 Learning Assistants at FIU helping other students in peer mentoring. Jugar works in FIUâ€™s Mastery Math Lab.
FIU alumnae Cathy Pareto ’95, MBA ’06 and Karla Arguello ’03, MBA ’07 became the first lesbian couple to marry in Florida. Together since 2000, the pair had been part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Tolerance. Freedom. And most of all, equality. Researchers inﬂuence society, one stereotype at a time
ocial justice is about more than guaranteeing rights. It is about creating opportunities. The School of Integrated Science and Humanity serves as a catalyst for change, providing a forum for greater understanding among all levels of society. Perhaps the greatest social justice debate to grip the nation in recent history is the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. From state-to-state, couples have been fighting for marriage equality. Asia Eaton, assistant professor Cori Flam Meltzer discusses gender stereotypes. of psychology and researcher in FIU’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, offered insight on marriage equality during an appearance on WPBT’s Issues with host Helen Ferré. Eaton argued marriage equality serves to strengthen society. Aside from the practical benefits of marriage, including shared health care, tax breaks and family rights, Eaton said marriage equality will help reduce depression, anxiety and other psychological effects of discrimination among same-sex couples. While marriage equality has become a very public debate, SISH also delves into societal matters that can be less visible. In 2014, the school launched an initiative focused on preventing violence against women. FIU’s International Women, Gender and Violence Initiative leverages South Florida’s diverse population to create better understandings about fear, cultures and barriers to reporting violence locally, nationally and globally. The issues for women don’t stop there. The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies welcomed mediation expert Cori Flam Meltzer to campus in February to explore traditional gender stereotypes, and ways women can better represent themselves. Promoting gender equality across the world is a constant theme for the center, which seeks to empower those who have long been restrained by societal stereotypes. And then there are the children. In 2014, SISH faculty made news on two fronts — improving access to mental health care and protecting the legal rights of children. Psychologist Jonathan Comer in the Center for Children and Families is leading the way in telemedicine — the use of electronic media to provide health care services. Because in-person treatment can be costly, time-consuming and not always available in convenient locations, many can’t seek help. With the use of technology, Comer is helping to put treatment within reach for families at all income levels throughout the United States. In the criminal justice sphere, psychologist Lindsay Malloy is tackling the issue of false confessions among juveniles. Her research indicates juveniles are particularly vulnerable to falsely admitting guilt. Malloy says a critical need for reform exists in the procedures used for questioning juveniles and calls for an end to high-pressure questioning and lengthy interrogations. Throughout SISH, faculty and students are studying cognitive and social development among children, the effects of social policy among individuals and families, and the issues that inﬂuence all aspects of society including tolerance, freedom and equality.
In the hands
Advances in forensics provide solutions for society
rom law enforcement to education and even food security, scientists at the International Forensic Research Institute (IFRI) are advancing science for the betterment of humanity. Through the application of scientific principles, faculty and students are researching new methods, developing new tools and innovating best practices for the administration of justice.
Recent Ph.D. graduate Kelley Peters and IFRI chemist Bruce McCord are revolutionizing on-site explosives detection techniques with a new technology for first responders. Peters has developed a paper chip as a simple and inexpensive way to identify exactly what type of explosive may be present at a crime scene. Alternative methods currently are expensive and often too bulky to handle at crime scenes. Other methods can alert to a potentially dangerous substance but can’t identify the substance. Peters’ chip makes explosives detection more informative and more cost-effective. In addition, scientists are finding new applications for research and technology originally developed for law enforcement. Most recently, proven methods in scent detection are now being used to help Florida’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry. FIU Provost and forensic chemist Kenneth G. Furton and Biological Sciences Professor DeEtta Mills, both researchers within IFRI, have created a program to train canines in the early detection of a fungus carried by an invasive beetle that is proving deadly to South Florida’s avocado trees. The fungus, which causes a vascular disease called laurel wilt, spreads quickly and is highly lethal, killing 90 percent of trees within six weeks of infection. South Florida has lost nearly 10 percent of its avocado trees to date, as detection is difficult. But Furton, who has spent his career studying scent detection for law enforcement purposes, decided to try a dog’s nose at detecting laurel wilt. Recently, canines that underwent a year of training were able to identify three infected trees though they were not yet showing symptoms. The promising find is currently the earliest known detection of laurel wilt available. To expand educational opportunities for forensic science professionals, the institute launched a professional degree program in the fall that focuses more on management skills for practicing professionals who hope to advance their careers as lab directors and other senior positions. It is only one of six professional science master’s in forensic science programs in the country and the only offering online opportunities in an accelerated program format.
Conquering new frontiers in astrophysics
Researchers celebrate opening of new observatory
ince Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon 46 years ago, our view of the universe has dramatically changed. More than 1,000 planets have been discovered orbiting distant stars. Black holes are now known to be present at the center of most galaxies, including the Milky Way. Most of the universe’s matter is dark and invisible. Yet, the fundamental questions remain. What is out there? How big is the universe? Are we alone? The excitement in these questions, and the fact they have gone unanswered for centuries, is what drives FIU’s astrophysicists. Now, for the first time in FIU’s history, researchers have a permanent home for observing beyond Earth’s sky. In 2014, FIU opened the Stocker AstroScience Center, a fully equipped, modern observatory and research center. The facility, which has been a 20-year endeavor for physicist James Webb, was made possible by a gift from retired educator Dr. Carl Stocker. The four-story building features classrooms and research labs, along with its signature silver dome housing the main telescope. To operate that telescope, as well as partner telescopes in New Mexico, Chile and the Canary Islands, the Stocker center features a control room that is inspired as much by Hollywood as NASA. Its design might remind fans of the bridge on the popular TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” It should come as no surprise that Webb is a fan of “Star Trek.” But that’s not where his fascination with space began. His passion is rooted in a childhood memory of seeing Saturn for the first time. Then, he was using a cheap telescope he bought at Kmart with money he earned mowing lawns. Today, in addition to the international array of telescopes at his fingertips, the main viewer in Stocker is a 24-inch telescope capable of observing the moon, asteroids, comets and, yes, Saturn.
In a field where the areas of study are described with words like stellar and extragalactic, it’s easy to see why students such as Daniella Roberts have chosen astrophysics for their careers. The Ecuador-native is studying telescopic images of quasars. These compact regions in the center of galaxies are known to serve as sources for electromagnetic energy including radio waves. Throughout humanity, people have sought to understand what the universe is, what role we play in it, where we come from and where we are going. This relentless search for how we fit into a universe that reaches far beyond our imaginations is why astronomy has a new home at FIU.
Student Daniella Roberts studies telescopic images of quasars using the new telescope housed in the dome of FIUâ€™s Stocker AstroScience Center.
SISH by the numbers 7,222
of families served by SISH clinical programs are from Miami-Dade County
Interdisciplinary centers, institutes and research facilities
Research expenditures in 2014
71% of faculty members are tenured
FIU is the largest producer of STEM degrees for Hispanics in the U.S.
Graduates in 2014
133 Affiliate faculty from across FIU working with the Center for Womenâ€™s and Gender Studies
168 Learning assistants
FIU is one of the top 100 universities less than 50 years old â€” Times Higher Education