Honors College Students Unveil Research Accomplishments at 2009 SRAI Conference

Nearly 90 FIU Honors College students unveiled their research accomplishments at the annual Student Research and Artistic Initiatives (SRAI) Conference, which was held recently at FIU.

The conference is a celebration of the quality and breadth of Honors College student research and creative activity. The goal of the conference is to promote excellence and provide students with opportunities to conduct research and make key contacts within their fields by pairing them for projects with faculty mentors.

This year, 55 students presented projects and 33 presented posters, covering an impressive array of topics in diverse fields such as biochemistry, business, economics, and politics. They were guided and supported by more than 50 faculty mentors drawn from schools and departments across the university.

"I was amazed at the level of professionalism of the students' presentations," said Dr. Juan Espinosa, associate dean of the Honors College. "This isn't just a learning experience for them or a line on their resumes: it's a deepening of their knowledge and an academic credential that will help them move forward into their chosen fields. This experience also gives students a competitive edge in admission to graduate and professional schools."

Participation in the SRAI conference can be a bridge to new research opportunities and achievements. Camilo Silva, a senior at the Honors College, presented a project focused on finding the different sequences of DNA that are present in an entire genome.

Guided by faculty mentors Dr. S. Masoud Sadjadi and Dr. Giri Narasimhan, professors at FIU School of Computing and Information Sciences, and Dr. Hector Duran, professor at the University of Guadalajara, Silva collaborated with students and researchers from the U.S., China, and Mexico.

After the SRAI conference, Silva and his team presented their project and won third place at the Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (FGLSAMP) 2009 Expo, an undergraduate research conference. They subsequently earned second place at the International Symposium on Bioinformatics Research and Applications (ISBRA) 2009.

"I never thought that so many research opportunities could arise from this experience," Silva said. "I learned to be a resourceful researcher and found a direction for my future graduate studies. I also discovered an interesting purpose in my life - the quest for knowledge in the innovative advancement of technology."

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Blind FIU Student Graduates and Plans to Pursue His Dream

When Norris Hardemon graduated from FIU in April, he raised his walking cane in one hand and held his diploma aloft in the other, celebrating his victory over the obstacles he had overcome.

Growing up in the projects in Miami with 14 brothers and sisters, a college education was the furthest thing from Hardemon's mind. He lived a hand-to-mouth existence, struggling just to get by.

When the 51-year-old African American man became blind 5 1/2 years ago from a bout with glaucoma, he realized that he needed to find a way to support his wife and three children. He decided to go to college.

"When a misfortune like that happens, some folks fall off the Richter scale, while others soar and do creative things with their lives," said Hardemon. "I've never been a quitter. I decided that there was life after blindness."

After earning an associate's degree at Miami Dade College, he enrolled at FIU, majoring in social work.

College was a daunting prospect for Hardemon, with books and assignments to read, papers to write, and exams to complete.

"It was exhausting," he admits. "People normally use their eyes for learning. With my ears as my learning element, I had to be focused all the time on listening and what I was doing."

Computer technology helped, including JAWS for Windows (JFW), a program that reads information from a computer display and speaks it to an individual through a speech synthesizer. Hardemon scanned his textbooks into his computer, which read the material back to him.

He credits the FIU Office of Disability Resources and several of his professors with consistently supporting and encouraging him.

Most helpful of all, he says, was "a beautiful device called my wife." When one of his professors announced a last-minute exam, there wasn't enough time to follow his usual procedure and scan the material into JAWS.

"I'd call my wife and say, "Honey, I'm having a little problem: can you help?"" he recalled. "And by the time I'd come home, she had scanned the text into the computer."

With determination and a positive attitude, Hardemon mastered the academic challenges. In the process, he inspired his children to pursue their education at FIU. His daughter recently enrolled as an undergraduate, and his son is pursuing a master's degree at the university.

Hardemon isn't resting on his laurels. He plans to pursue a master's degree in social work, aiming to help other people who have disabilities and those who have been ousted from their homes by the economic recession.

"I'm confident of achieving my goals because, despite the odds, I never let anything overcome me," he said. "I just keep hitting away at the obstacles."

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Outgoing Provost Ronald Berkman Earns National Award for International Leadership

Former FIU Executive Vice President and Provost Ronald M. Berkman has been named a winner of the Michael P. Malone International Leadership Award, sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (A-P-L-U).The award will be presented at the Commission on International Programs Summer Meeting in Colorado Springs, CO, on July 14.

The Malone Award was established in 2002 to provide national recognition for a career of outstanding contributions that furthers international education at public and land-grant universities.

"I was deeply moved when I learned that I had received the Malone award," Dr. Berkman said. "My commitment to promote international awareness and cross-cultural understanding was affirmed, and my conviction about the importance of international experience in higher education was reinforced."

Dr. Berkman, who has been at FIU since 1997, will take over the presidency of Cleveland State University in July.

During his tenure as FIU provost, Dr. Berkman was instrumental in the growth of the university's international endeavors. Under his leadership, FIU developed the curriculum framework draft for the university's Global Learning Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which outlines a global learning course sequence for all FIU undergraduate students.

Dr. Berkman had a large role in developing the "Future House" program, a partnership between the U.S. and countries including China, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Japan, to build a green and sustainable "House of the Future" alongside the site of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. FIU's College of Engineering and Computing partnered with the non-profit Alternative Energy Living to design and build U.S. Future House.

Under Dr. Berkman's stewardship, the university created the Marriott Tianjin China Program, which launched the first U.S. School of Hospitality and Tourism in China. Today, the $50 million joint hospitality management program, which is similar to FIU's top-ranked program in Miami, is fully funded by the Chinese government.

The provost, together with former FIU President Modesto A. Maidique, successfully hosted a geopolitical summit at FIU that brought together some of the foremost international scholars in the areas of foreign policy and international relations to discuss the relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world.

To help centralize FIU's international efforts, Dr. Berkman created the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), fulfilling FIU's promise to be an international institution of research, teaching, and public service.

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Musicologist Discovers and Records Historic Baroque Music

During the course of his dissertation research in Italy on the composer Bellerofonte Castaldi, David Dolata, director and associate professor of musicology, unexpectedly stumbled across several manuscripts containing previously unknown works of the composer.

Now, for the first time, 13 of the 15 songs that Dolata unearthed have been recorded on the CD, Il Furioso, a Toccata classics label, which is slated to be released in Europe and the U.S. on May 2.

The manuscripts, consisting of songs about the trials and tribulations of love, were compiled in the early to late 1600s by an individual who was collecting popular music of the day. Castaldi wrote the original words and music, which at the time was very rare.

Dolata was deeply moved the first time he heard the recording of the songs. "It was a hot in a medieval church when I heard the playback of the song O Clorida," he recalled. " I knew I'd been to heaven and back. Even today, I can hardly believe it."

Dolata will be going on tour and performing the Castaldi works with the co-director of Il Furioso, Victor Coehl, associate provost for undergraduate education at Boston University, at FIU and other venues including the Boston Baroque Society, Dickinson College, and the Vizcaya Museum in Miami.

His discovery of the manuscripts has stimulated academic discourse and impacted the music world. Dolata substantially expanded his previous article on Castaldi for the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and some of the Castaldi pieces are showing up on concert programs around the country.

This experience of bringing to light and performing the Baroque music shows that musicological research is not an "ivory tower" exercise, but has practical, real-life benefits, Dolata says.

"Bringing Castaldi to the world is a kind of mission for me. It's been a wonderful adventure. I'll never get tired of researching and writing about him."

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