Alumni CLASnotes Spring 2006
In This Issue:

CLAS News in Brief

Making Parkinson’s Easier to Swallow

Christine Sapienza displays the strength training device she helped design.
Christine Sapienza displays the
strength training device she helped
Lodging near campus in 1990 while filming Doc Hollywood, actor Michael J. Fox experienced his first symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Now, more than 15 years later, he has enlisted UF researchers in his fight against the illness.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has awarded Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor and Chair Christine Sapienza a $280,000 clinical discovery grant to examine the outcome of a strength-training program on the swallowing muscles of Parkinson’s patients.

“Patients with Parkinson’s have difficulty swallowing and, as the disease progresses, the dysfunction gets worse and worse,” Sapienza says. “When you can’t swallow, you can aspirate—which can lead to a lung infection.”

Aspiration pneumonia is the number one cause of death among patients with Parkinson’s, and while medications can help alleviate other symptoms of the illness, they do not substantially improve the muscles involved with swallow function. Sapienza and colleagues in the College of Medicine have developed a handheld device that trains muscles used for breathing and swallowing.

It has already proven to tone the muscles used for exhaling, and now the Fox grant will determine whether the device can also train those used for swallowing.

In addition to Parkinson’s, it is hoped the invention will be found applicable to a number of illnesses, including voice disorders and multiple sclerosis. “It’s Parkinson’s today, other neurological disorders tomorrow,” says Sapienza.

The project was one of three featured on NBC’s Dateline segment on Michael J. Fox in April. Read the full transcript at

Are You in the Circle?

The CLAS Dean’s Circle is an elite group of generous alumni, friends, faculty and staff who annually give $1,000 or more to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence—helping the college provide funding to promising students, offer faculty seed grants for exciting new research, purchase cutting-edge computer equipment for classrooms and research labs, and much more. Supporters ages 39 and younger can join for just $500.

As a member of the Dean’s Circle, you will be recognized in the program’s annual honor roll and get invited to special events hosted by the dean, as well as regional events, exclusive Dean’s Circle events and on-campus lecture series and symposiums featuring national and international dignitaries.

Can’t afford to join the Dean’s Circle at this time? We still need your help, even if you only have a few dollars to share. CLAS depends on gifts from our alumni and friends to fund student travel, provide scholarships and fellowships, present lecture series and purchase supplies. A donation of any amount would be greatly appreciated, and is tax deductible.

For more information about the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Circle membership, please contact Associate Director of
Development Mary Matlock in the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs at (352) 392-5412 or

To make a gift, go to the University of Florida Online Giving page at

Going Up!

Kathryn Chicone Ustler and the building she helped save.
Kathryn Chicone Ustler and the
building she helped save.
The campus skyline will be looking even better soon, thanks to two major building projects CLAS has spearheaded to revitalize the university’s historic district.

The dedication ceremony for the newly restored Kathryn Chicone Ustler Hall was held September 29. Formerly known as the Women’s Gym, the building was the first permanent structure at UF intended for campus-wide use. It reopened for classes this fall after sitting vacant for nearly 27 years and is the new home to the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research.

The 87-year-old facility has been transformed into a state-of-the-art academic structure. Built in 1919, the building fell into disuse in 1979 but was saved from demolition in 1988 when it was granted protection under the National Register of Historic Places. A generous donation from 1961 sociology alumna Kathryn Chicone Ustler in 2000 allowed for the vacant gym to be transformed into a 14,700 square-foot academic treasure. The restoration process began in 2004, and women’s studies moved into the facility in July 2006.

“There is a symmetry about Kathryn Chicone Ustler Hall that is striking,” UF President Bernie Machen said during the dedication. “It is the former Women’s Gym. Its restoration is sponsored by a woman. It is UF’s first academic center to be named exclusively after a woman. And, of course, Kathryn Chicone Ustler Hall will serve as home to the university’s women’s studies programs. In that capacity, this building so vital to our history will also remain central to this university’s future.”

Jim and Alexis Pugh break ground on the future home of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service
Jim & Alexis Pugh break ground on
the future home of the Bob
Graham Center for Public Service.
Just one day following the dedication of Ustler Hall, CLAS broke ground on Jim and Alexis Pugh Hall in the heart of the UF historic district between Newell and Dauer Halls. The 40,000-square-foot facility will house the new Bob Graham Center for Public Service.
Established by former Florida governor and retired U.S. Senator Bob Graham, the center will provide students with opportunities to train for future leadership positions, meet current policy-makers and take courses in critical thinking, language learning and studies of world cultures.

On September 30, a groundbreaking celebration was held on campus for Jim and Alexis Pugh Hall shortly before the UF vs. Alabama football game. The Pugh and Graham families, UF faculty and administrators, and the design and construction teams came together to formally kick off the exciting new project.

"We desperately need to raise the profile of public service as a desirable career choice for our students and we must also do our part to make available education that encompasses the complexities of our global era,” President Machen said at the event. “That’s exactly what the Graham Center for Public Service, to be based at the University of Florida and the University of Miami, will do. And I know Jim and Alexis Pugh Hall will be the perfect home to the center here at UF.”

Construction is slated for completion in December 2007. Stay up-to-date on the progress of the effort through the Pugh Hall webcam,

Cultivating the Seeds of Knowledge

UF undergraduates will soon have access to a massive science laboratory where they can obtain real world lab skills, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

UF undergraduates will soon have access to a massive science laboratory where they can obtain real world lab skills, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“The HHMI award will bring together early undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members campus wide to teach and learn from each other in a way no other facility in the state does now,” says Randy Duran, the grant’s lead researcher and an associate professor of chemistry. “UF has a very talented freshman class, and we want to make stimulating opportunities available to these students.”

Working with UF’s College of Education, the program will also establish a new undergraduate minor in science education to provide future high school science teachers with top-notch lab experience. Postdoctoral fellows will receive additional training in teaching from the dean of UF’s College of Education, Catherine Emihovich, while mentoring undergraduates in the lab.

Founded by famed industrialist Howard Hughes, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education and has awarded more than $1 billion in grants since 1988. UF is one of six universities to receive the grant this year out of 160 applications.

UF’s new grant comes on the heels of another HHMI award. In April, Distinguished Professor of Zoology Lou Guillette was named an HHMI Professor and was awarded $1 million to support undergraduate science research efforts at UF. He plans to build a multi-generational mentoring program involving high school and college students and UF faculty.

Eye on the Sky

Model of the GTCUF Astronomy recently gave Gainesville a first look at the world’s largest telescope, set to open in early 2007 in the Canary Islands, through a free public event, “Voyage with the Gran Telescopio Canarias,” on November 9 at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“We think it’s important to give the community the opportunity to learn more about the exciting scientific projects and investigations we have planned with this new telescope,” says Astronomy Professor and event organizer Stephen Eikenberry. “The university’s partnership with Spain and Mexico to construct this world-class facility will have a major impact on our international reputation, which is a big boon not only for UF, but also for Gainesville and the state of Florida.”

The Gran Telescopio Canarias, or “Great Telescope Canary Islands,” is a high-performance, segmented 10.4-meter mirror telescope being installed on one of the best sites in the Northern Hemisphere for astronomical viewing, the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma, Canary Islands. The project is a partnership between the government of Spain, several institutions in Mexico and the University of Florida. Construction is in the final stages and the first light ceremony is tentatively planned for July 2007.

Muddy Facts

Collecting soli samples from the deepest lake in Lowland Central AmericaAlthough gathering lake mud is not the kind of activity that evokes excitement from most people, UF geologists David Hodell, Jason Curtis and Mark Brenner spent more than a month in spring 2006 doing just that in northern Guatemala.

These three faculty—hailing from the UF Department of Geological Sciences and the Land Use and Environmental Change Institute—joined hands with fellow international researchers, students and professional drillers to collect soil samples from the deepest lake in lowland Central America, Lake Petén Itzá. The team retrieved more than 1300 meters of core material and will use these “natural archives” of earth history to study climate variability and environmental changes since the last Ice Age.

“An understanding of the past climate and environmental conditions will shed light on the evolution of contemporary climate and the recent distribution and abundance of flora and fauna in the region,” says Brenner, who serves as lead investigator on the endeavor. Tropical regions such as Lake Petén Itzá play a pivotal role in global climate dynamics, but little is known about their climate conditions during the glacial period more than 10,000 years ago. The area has drawn UF researchers for more than 30 years, where they have used lake sediment cores to investigate long-term interactions among the climate, environment and ancient Mayan civilization.

The Lake Petén Itzá Drilling Project—funded by the U.S. and Swiss National Science Foundations and the International Continental Drilling Program—is one of only nine lake drilling projects worldwide. The collected sediment cores are stored at the University of Minnesota, where they are available to the broader scientific community.

—Yelena Moroz

Library West Gets a Facelift

For nearly 50 years UF students have napped, studied and frolicked in the shadow of Library West overlooking the Plaza of the Americas. But these days, the campus mainstay is hardly recognizable. Two years and a $30 million facelift later, the library recently reopened much to the delight of faculty and students. There is now shelving space for 750,000 additional books and seating for 1,400 booklovers. Built in 1967 next to Smathers Library East, the facility is home to the university’s social science and humanities research materials. The library’s prize collection is the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica, one of the premiere sets of Jewish studies works in the Southeast. With more than 85,000 volumes, the Judaica collection is used by the UF Center for Jewish Studies, advanced students, visiting scholars and casual readers alike. For more information on the Price Library’s holdings, visit

Speaking of UF’s history . . .

Gator Tales Compiled by Julian Pleasants, director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Gator Tales weaves together the recollections of faculty, administrators, students and athletes into an entertaining and fascinating read for Gators everywhere. This lively, anecdotal new book provides an intimate glimpse into the University of Florida’s past 100 years—following its evolution from small provincial campus to major university. University Press of Florida, 2006

"This splendid book offers us a sampling of the rich contents of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida. From the collection's many thousands of interviews on tape, program director Julian M. Pleasants has culled nine recordings that illuminate the history of the University during what may be described as its modern period. Included are two presidents, one dean, three sports figures, and three graduates. I found the interview with president John Lombardi (1990-99) to be particularly revealing. But the reader will be enlightened by all of these selections, as well as by the editor's thoughtful introductory essay."--Michael Gannon

Debate Team Hosts 2006 National Tournament

Competing in the nation’s largest college forensics competition this year from UF were, from left to right: Colin Rawls, April Roam, Scott Stewart, LaToya Edwards, Eric White, Idania Herrera and Raju Vyas.

Competing in the nation’s largest college forensics competition this year from UF were, from left to right: Colin Rawls, April Roam, Scott Stewart, LaToya Edwards, Eric White, Idania Herrera and Raju Vyas.

The nation’s top student speakers from 92 colleges and universities converged on the UF campus for the 29th annual American Forensics Association-National Individual Events Tournament in the spring, hosted by the UF Debate Team in the Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication. The event is the largest in college forensics, and 2006 marked the second time UF was selected to host the major tournament since 1996. The UF team placed 17th nationally.

— "— Unless otherwise noted, written by Buffy Lockette
Duran photo courtesy Randy Duran, Petén Itzá by Mark Brenner;
debate team by Buffy Lockette, all others by Jane Dominguez

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