UF convenes Early Childhood National Summit

February 14, 2017

Giving children a strong start in their first five years doesn’t just help children and their families. The benefits of their success radiate throughout their communities – as do the consequences when they struggle. But the many fields that help shape what happens for young children and their families during these critical years don’t always work together.
Collaborating across disciplines related to early childhood development and learning was one of the challenges posed to over 100 scholars, policy makers, advocates, philanthropists and practitioners who gathered in Orlando for the University of Florida’s Early Childhood National Summit Feb. 8-10. In the first five minutes, UF President Kent Fuchs made it clear that the summit was focused on creating actionable ideas and steps to move the field forward.
“It is crucial that our work on behalf of children is tangible, that it is scalable, and that it reaches the children who need it,” Fuchs said.
The summit, also attended by UF Provost Joseph Glover, professors from six UF colleges and the deans of UF’s College of Education, Levin College of Law, College of Medicine, and College of Public Health and Health Professions, brought together early-childhood leaders from around the country.
University of Kansas special-education professor Judith Carta, the interim director of early childhood research at KU’s Juniper Gardens Children’s Project and one of the summit’s expert panelists, lauded UF for recognizing the importance of the issue and taking action.
“We’re using the University of Florida as an example of what universities can do if they just get behind the right issues,” she said.
After a welcome from philanthropist and InterTech Group CEO Anita Zucker, a UF alumna who created the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at her alma mater, the group heard from keynote speaker Jacqueline Jones of the Foundation for Child Development. After her speech, Jones, who served as the U.S. Department of Education’s first deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning, stressed the importance of working to retain bipartisan support for early childhood initiatives.
“Where is the common ground, and how do we get to it and hold on to it?” Jones said. “We have to do that, or we’ve failed the children and families we work for.” 

Before summit attendees broke out into workgroups, panelists with expertise in psychiatry, pediatrics, psychology, law, education and advocacy shared perspectives to inform the discussions. Their presentations illustrated just how high the stakes are during early childhood, detailing chronic medical conditions with roots in early childhood and factors that influence children’s potential before they’re even born. Then the workgroups got down to the business of the summit: creating recommendations and actions on how to move forward.

By the afternoon, each workgroup had addressed three themes – discovering the keys to opening young minds, influencing the influencers to unlock children’s potential, and inspiring new initiatives for the next generation – drawing on the diverse backgrounds and expertise of participants such as New York University pediatrics professor Dr. Benard Dreyer, immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The summit’s multidisciplinary approach “is absolutely the only way we’ll make progress,” Dreyer said.
The day closed with talks by Glover, Zucker and early childhood advocate David Lawrence Jr., a UF alum, president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida. The next morning, Anita Zucker Center director Patricia Snyder, UF’s David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies, presented each workgroup’s recommendations for feedback and further development.
“The recommendations and action steps will compel us to continue to be a convener of early childhood activities and will help elevate this work to a broader level,” Snyder said.
After final input from the summit attendees and facilitators, the recommendations and action steps will be shared with the policy makers, practitioners and scholars who will shape the future of early childhood.
As Anita Zucker Center co-director Maureen Conroy put it: “We really want this summit to be the beginning, not the end.”

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Four state universities collaborate on $10 million center to address Zika and other diseases

December 22, 2016

With a $10 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Florida will lead a highly collaborative research program focused on stopping diseases such as Zika before they spread farther into the United States.
The grant is part of nearly $184 million in funding the CDC announced Thursday to states, territories, local jurisdictions, and universities to support efforts to protect Americans from Zika virus infection and associated adverse health outcomes, including microcephaly and other serious birth defects. These awards are part of the $350 million in funding provided to CDC under the Zika Response and Preparedness Appropriations Act of 2016.  
“Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “States, territories, and communities need this CDC funding to fight Zika and protect the next generation of Americans.”   
The Southeast Regional Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease: The Gateway Program will be led by principal investigator Rhoel Dinglasan, an associate professor of infectious diseases in UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. Dinglasan has enlisted the University of Miami, Florida International University and the University of South Florida to collaborate on research to address the statewide and regional challenge of Zika and other diseases.
“While everyone is imagining the introduction of diseases like Zika into their states, we don’t need to imagine it,” Dinglasan said. “We have seen Zika, dengue and chikungunya, and it is our responsibility as scientists to do our part to stop them.”
Florida provides a unique environment to examine the biocomplexity of vector-borne diseases in real time. Miami-Dade is often an entry point for such diseases, adding to the urgency of the research and providing a real-world lab. Solutions that work in the densely populated urban environment of South Florida should work in other locations as well, Dinglasan said.
“Florida really is ground zero. We are the gateway for vector-borne diseases into the United States,” Dinglasan said. “But we have the research capability to stop them.”
State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser II and UF Vice President for Research David Norton noted the significance of the work.
“By leveraging the resources and expertise of multiple institutions, Florida is poised to make the next major breakthroughs on Zika and other vector-borne diseases,” Criser said. “This is an excellent example of how collaboration between higher-education institutions and businesses can lead to scientific advances that help us all live healthier, better lives.”
Norton added: “The research at this Center of Excellence is remarkably important to the state, nation and the world. By teaming with other universities within the state, we are able to deliver a unique array of talent that greatly enhances the impact of this work.”
Dinglasan, who was recruited under the state’s Preeminence Program, had only moved to UF from Johns Hopkins University a month before the call for proposals for the Center of Excellence went out in September. A globally recognized malaria researcher, he knew just where to turn to assemble a team quickly, and he called on international experts at UM, FIU and USF.
Each university has a particular expertise in diseases carried by vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, flies and fleas. Although Zika has dominated the news lately, the long list of vector-borne diseases includes malaria, dengue, Chagas, chikungunya and yellow fever. The World Health Organization estimates there are 1 billion infections a year from vector-borne diseases and 1 million deaths.
Dinglasan said he also looked for broad regional support for the Center of Excellence and found it in leading scientists at the Scripps Research Institute-Florida, the Naval Entomology Center of Excellence, the USDA Center for Medical, Agricultural & Veterinary Entomology, Florida A & M University, Georgia Southern University and the Florida departments of Health, and Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Center of Excellence also will leverage Florida’s 61 mosquito control programs as a sizable ground surveillance force that could report conditions and bring recommendations back to the labs.
“It was very important to engage the mosquito control people; they know those neighborhoods much better than those of us in the lab,” said Dinglasan, who is also a faculty member in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “They’re on the front line. They’re the ones who are going to tell us if there’s a problem with our strategy.”
Training is a huge component of the center, with a focus on tackling the shortage of workers in public health entomology and addressing an impending retirement wave among mosquito control managers. The UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will play a key role in training, partly through its Center for Leadership, Dinglasan said.
Each university brings a robust research program to the enterprise, Dinglasan said. FIU is conducting research on mosquito neural genetics, testing a bait that lures female mosquitoes to lay eggs in a trap that kills all the eggs.
UM has developed an attractive toxic sugar bait that has been tested in Africa but not in an urban environment in the United States. Mosquitoes use sugar for energy, so using a toxic sugar bait to attract and then kill mosquitoes could reduce the need for spraying.
At USF, researchers are working on a way to block transmission of eastern equine encephalitis by migratory birds, who winter in Florida and fly north in the spring. USF has identified locations where the birds contract the disease from mosquitoes and is working to target mosquito control in those areas to keep the migrating birds free of the disease.
One of UF’s contributions is in mathematical modeling, to quantify how well the research-based solutions work. Dinglasan said modeling will allow researchers to test predictions over the five-year research program, with the goal of stopping vector-borne diseases before they travel north.
“The powerhouse within UF is our mathematical modeling, and that is the linchpin for a data-driven project like this,” Dinglasan said. “Data modeling is the one thing that unites all the research.”
Key to that modeling ability and to the Gateway Program is UF’s supercomputer, HiPerGator 2.0, the most powerful university supercomputer in the Southern U.S. and one of the fastest university supercomputers in the country.
The collaboration on the Center of Excellence has already led the four universities to explore other research collaborations, Dinglasan said. Where one university had a need, another university has stepped in.
“We each have our own niche, our own expertise, but together we’re unstoppable,” Dinglasan said. “We’re a natural team.”

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Merging neuroscience and education research to personalize multimedia and online learning

December 21, 2016

Setting the stage
Antonenko’s journey to UF started in the late 1990s when he was a high school teacher. He became fascinated with computers at a time when his hometown of Nizhyn, Ukraine had no internet connections and few computers. He began building and selling computers to supplement his income while he earned a master’s in linguistics in English and German languages.
“I was one of the first people in my hometown to get an internet connection, but it wasn’t very good. I started building websites even before I had internet, but they were just sitting on my computer,” he recalls.
His career path changed dramatically in 2002 when he traveled to Orlando to work as an interpreter at a conference on education technology, a discipline that wasn’t even recognized in Ukraine. But Antonenko had found his passion: exploring ways computer technology can improve education.
“Everything I heard there and the people I met, I said ‘wow, this is what I want to do as my graduate education and job,’” he says.
Within a few months, he and his wife, Yuliya, moved a half-world away to settle in Ames, Iowa, where he spent five years at Iowa State University earning a doctorate in curriculum and instructional technology and human-computer interaction.
Along the way, Antonenko worked with Iowa State neuroscientists on one of his personal research interests—the use of electroencephalography, or EEG, to monitor brain activity known as “cognitive load,” which is the amount of mental effort expended by the working memory during a learning task. EEG, which records the brain’s electrical activity, is most commonly used in medicine as a first-line, non-invasive method of diagnosing stroke and other brain disorders.
It would have been intriguing to monitor Antonenko’s own brain activity as he thought to himself, “Hmmm, I wonder if EEG might be a reliable way to study the mental processes underlying learning.” He wrote his dissertation on the topic and became one of the first education researchers to use EEG to measure the cognitive dynamics of learning.
The stars begin to align
After earning his doctorate and serving five years on the education technology faculty at Oklahoma State University, Antonenko joined UF’s ed. tech faculty in 2012. His appointment coincided with the education world’s identification of personalizing online learning as a global challenge and a top research priority of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.
UF administrators also targeted research of personalized e-learning for investment of state “preeminent university” funds, which enabled the College of Education in 2014 to recruit top ed. tech scholar Carole Beal from Arizona State University, where she was conducting her own pioneering neuro-education studies. Beal became the first director of UF’s new campuswide Online Learning Institute.
The College of Education made a priority of integrating neuroscience with education research to improve online learning at all levels. Pivotal developments during the 2015-16 academic year made that push a certainty.
Merging neuroscience and education research at UF
In 2015, Antonenko, Beal and UF education technology colleague Kara Dawson attracted vital grant funding to lead novel interdisciplinary research projects using wireless EEG brain monitoring and other neuro-technology to study how multimedia learning can be impoved for all students, not just those who test well on academic exams.  These studies focus on education in the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and math—areas in which the use of multimedia learning tools “has far outstripped the ability of research to keep pace with,” says Antonenko.
Their focus on custom-tailoring instructional design for individual learner differences, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach, is a distinctive feature of their studies.
“Virtually all research on multimedia learning methods has been performed on high-achieving students at elite research-intensive universities, where studies like this usually occur. We are evaluating these methods with more diverse student populations and those with special needs,” Antonenko says. 
NSF study focuses on community college students
Antonenko heads a team of highly specialized researchers drawn from multiple institutions on a three-year study, supported by a $765,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The researchers are gauging how effective technology-assisted learning practices are for a diverse group of community college students, which now constitute nearly half of all U.S. higher education students.
In 2015, Antonenko became the first UF education faculty researcher to win 5 NSF grants in the same year.
The team, dubbed the Science of Learning Collaborative Network, includes top scholars in education technology, neuroscience, STEM education, neuropsychology, computer science and educational measurement. They hail from UF, the University of Massachusetts-Boston and Washington State University.
Some 120 students from three colleges—Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, N.Y.—are participating in the study. The students are screened for demographics and learning differences, such as working memory and visual attention levels, to ensure a varied test group.
Team specialists in cognitive neuroscience are employing EEG and other high-tech methods, including functional near infrared spectroscopy (to measure neural changes in blood oxygenation) and eye tracking (to understand visual attention) to assess the students’ attention and mental processes while they learn using multimedia materials that include text, images, videos, animations and audio.  
The researchers hope to land follow-up NSF grants by demonstrating the effectiveness of their network’s organization, infrastructure and integration of diverse research strategies, along with their unique approach to personalized learning.
“Working with scholars from other disciplines and other institutions is really exciting but it’s also challenging because each discipline and each person has a different way to work,” Antonenko says. “We have to make sure everyone is invested and feels valued and make sure we pull all of the expertise together in a way that makes sense.”
UF co-researchers are faculty members Dawson and Beal, and psychology professor Andreas Keil. Co-principal investigators are computer science and STEM education scholars Matthew Schneps from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Marc Pomplun from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and Richard Lamb of SUNY Buffalo State, who focuses on science education and measurement.
Adapting digital media for students with dyslexia
Professor Dawson heads an educational neuroscience study focused on multimedia learning for students with dyslexia, the most common language-based disability. People with dyslexia typically have difficulty reading and processing words.
Dawson was awarded $85,000 for the one-year project from UF’s Office of Research, which awards Research Opportunity Seed Fund grants to UF scholars for the merit and potential of their research proposals. Antonenko is a co-principal investigator.
The study involves 72 college students with dyslexia, each participating in one of four multimedia learning settings while wearing wireless EEG headsets to monitor and record brain activity during the multimedia exercise and comprehension assessment. The student volunteers are drawn from four institutions: Santa Fe Community College and the universities of Central Florida, North Florida and South Florida.
While neuroscience-based methods are central to the study, Dawson is quick to make one thing clear: “In no way am I a neuroscientist.”
“To me, this is not about neuroscience,” she says, “I am interested in what neuroscience techniques can tell us about the learning process. That is what it’s all about for me.”
Dawson and her team will use their findings to evaluate the validity of merging EEG and behavioral measures and, ultimately, to develop new instructional strategies and materials that teachers can personalize for individual students with varied learning traits and backgrounds.
Besides Dawon and Antonenko, the research team includes UF colleagues Beal and Albert Ritzhaupt, dyslexia diagnostic specialist Linda Lombardino from UF’s special education program, and UF neuropsychologist Keil. Doctoral students participating are Kendra Saunders from school pyschology and Nihan Dogan, Jiahui Wang, Li Cheng, Wenjing Luo and Robert Davis from the School of Teaching and Learning. Matthew Schneps from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysicists also is collaborating.
 “We all share this mutual goal of figuring out how technology can help all types of learners,” Dawson says. “We need to make technology work so everyone feels they can learn and be smart and successful.”
Much promise but not yet ready for prime time
The researchers describe both educational neuroscience studies as exploratory, but Antonenko says he expects them to yield solid preliminary findings that may lead to follow-up NSF research proposals.
 “EEG appears to be a great tool for educational research that can produce important implications for teaching and learning in education.” he says. “Our focus is on helping people who need additional support as they learn using 21st century online and multimedia tools in education.”
“That is what I find most rewarding.”

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UF awarded $10 million in grants to personalize virtual learning

December 7, 2016

The University of Florida is assembling researchers from multiple fields to seek solutions in two areas of 21st century education – personalizing online math instruction and adapting educational technology for students with visual impairments.
The studies are funded by two grants, worth more than $10 million combined, from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.
Nearly $9 million of the grant money supports a new project called Precision Education: Virtual Learning Lab, which brings together top experts in informatics, math education and professional development for teachers. Their charge is to advance a new approach for exploring massive sets of archived student data to update and personalize virtual instruction for future math students.
“With the increased use of computers in education, the large-scale mining of existing education data represents a big new opportunity for computers to help teachers adapt their practice for today’s digltal world and help their students to improve their virtual learning,” said UF education technology professor Carole R. Beal, the principal investigator of both studies (pictured above).
The new Virtual Learning Lab team comprises faculty researchers at UF and the University of Notre Dame, and experts from Study Edge, a Gainesville-based online tutoring company.
Over the next five years, the researchers will conduct studies in the emerging discipline of precision education, which uses large-scale education data from prior students — such as standardized test scores, administrative records from schools and universities, and teaching methods used — to personalize the learning experience for future individual students.
No more one-size-fits-all lesson plans geared to some “statistically average” student profile.
The researchers will focus on online or virtual learners in math using the new technology of “big data” learning analysis. The precision education approach has researchers using powerful supercomputers to rapidly scrutinize the massive education data, plus figures from students’ use of interactive or group learning tools.
“Our grand challenge is to improve the achievement of struggling online students,” said Beal, who was recruited to UF’s College of Education from the University of Arizona in 2014 to head the new UF Online Learning Institute. “We will design new teacher development programs on the use of learning analytics and personalizing instruction, and how to track student progress when every student is doing something unique.”
Researchers at the Virtual Learning Lab will develop and test their prototype personalized model of precision education on a popular online tutoring tool called Algebra Nation, which the UF Lastinger Center for Learning launched in 2013 in tandem with Study Edge. Algebra Nation has since been used by more than 3,000 teachers and 200,000 math students from all 67 Florida school districts—mostly ninth graders gearing up for the mandatory end-of-course exam in Algebra 1.
Near the end of the study, researchers will compare test results of students using the updated and personalized version of Algebra Nation with the scores of students using the regular version.
Beal said the Virtual Learning Lab also will serve as a national hub for researchers—forming a network for sharing findings and collaborating on new efforts to advance the fledgling field of precision education and personalized virtual learning.
The project’s co-principal investigator is Walter Leite, UF professor of research and evaluation methodology (REM) with expertise in big-data mining and learning analysis.
Other College of Education faculty researchers involved are: Corrine Huggins-Manley (REM), and Don Pemberton and Philip Poekert from the college’s Lastinger Center for Learning.
Two other participating UF faculty scholars are: George Michailidis, director of the UF Informatics Institute; and Juan Gilbert, chairman of computer and information sciences and engineering, and a pioneer in the field of human-centered computing.
Other key team members are psychology and computer science professor Sidney D’Mello of the University of Notre Dame and online tutoring specialist Ethan Fieldman of Study Edge.
Adapting education technology for math students with visual impairment
The theme of personalized online learning carries over to Beal’s second federal grant, a three-year, $1.4 million project to help solve the unique challenges that visually impaired students must overcome in learning online.
Think about it: How can students who can’t see the images on their computer screen solve algebra or geometry problems filled with line, bar and circle graphs, figures, geometric shapes and maps?
“In my investigations, I have found that students who appear disengaged in the traditional classroom are often among the most active learners in the online learning setting,” Beal said.
For this study, Beal has assembled a research team with colleagues from Arizona and Florida to explore how technology can make online learning more accessible to students with special needs. Nicholas Gage from UF’s special education program is co-principal investigator.
The researchers will develop and test an iPad-based instructional system to train students with visual impairments to locate and decipher targeted information in math graphics problems. The system includes audio, print and braille cues in accompanying books to point users to targeted graphics and word problems.
They plan to recruit up to 150 middle and high school students with visual impairments for the project from regular schools and specialized residential programs in Florida, Arizona and other states.
 

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UF awarded $10 million in grants to personalize virtual learning

December 7, 2016

The University of Florida is assembling researchers from multiple fields to seek solutions in two areas of 21st century education – personalizing online math instruction and adapting educational technology for students with visual impairments.
The studies are funded by two grants, worth more than $10 million combined, from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.
Nearly $9 million of the grant money supports a new project called Precision Education: Virtual Learning Lab, which brings together top experts in informatics, math education and professional development for teachers. Their charge is to advance a new approach for exploring massive sets of archived student data to update and personalize virtual instruction for future math students.
“With the increased use of computers in education, the large-scale mining of existing education data represents a big new opportunity for computers to help teachers adapt their practice for today’s digltal world and help their students to improve their virtual learning,” said UF education technology professor Carole R. Beal, the principal investigator of both studies (pictured above).
The new Virtual Learning Lab team comprises faculty researchers at UF and the University of Notre Dame, and experts from Study Edge, a Gainesville-based online tutoring company.
Over the next five years, the researchers will conduct studies in the emerging discipline of precision education, which uses large-scale education data from prior students — such as standardized test scores, administrative records from schools and universities, and teaching methods used — to personalize the learning experience for future individual students.
No more one-size-fits-all lesson plans geared to some “statistically average” student profile.
The researchers will focus on online or virtual learners in math using the new technology of “big data” learning analysis. The precision education approach has researchers using powerful supercomputers to rapidly scrutinize the massive education data, plus figures from students’ use of interactive or group learning tools.
“Our grand challenge is to improve the achievement of struggling online students,” said Beal, who was recruited to UF’s College of Education from the University of Arizona in 2014 to head the new UF Online Learning Institute. “We will design new teacher development programs on the use of learning analytics and personalizing instruction, and how to track student progress when every student is doing something unique.”
Researchers at the Virtual Learning Lab will develop and test their prototype personalized model of precision education on a popular online tutoring tool called Algebra Nation, which the UF Lastinger Center for Learning launched in 2013 in tandem with Study Edge. Algebra Nation has since been used by more than 3,000 teachers and 200,000 math students from all 67 Florida school districts—mostly ninth graders gearing up for the mandatory end-of-course exam in Algebra 1.
Near the end of the study, researchers will compare test results of students using the updated and personalized version of Algebra Nation with the scores of students using the regular version.
Beal said the Virtual Learning Lab also will serve as a national hub for researchers—forming a network for sharing findings and collaborating on new efforts to advance the fledgling field of precision education and personalized virtual learning.
The project’s co-principal investigator is Walter Leite, UF professor of research and evaluation methodology (REM) with expertise in big-data mining and learning analysis.
Other College of Education faculty researchers involved are: Corrine Huggins-Manley (REM), and Don Pemberton and Philip Poekert from the college’s Lastinger Center for Learning.
Two other participating UF faculty scholars are: George Michailidis, director of the UF Informatics Institute; and Juan Gilbert, chairman of computer and information sciences and engineering, and a pioneer in the field of human-centered computing.
Other key team members are psychology and computer science professor Sidney D’Mello of the University of Notre Dame and online tutoring specialist Ethan Fieldman of Study Edge.
Adapting education technology for math students with visual impairment
The theme of personalized online learning carries over to Beal’s second federal grant, a three-year, $1.4 million project to help solve the unique challenges that visually impaired students must overcome in learning online.
Think about it: How can students who can’t see the images on their computer screen solve algebra or geometry problems filled with line, bar and circle graphs, figures, geometric shapes and maps?
“In my investigations, I have found that students who appear disengaged in the traditional classroom are often among the most active learners in the online learning setting,” Beal said.
For this study, Beal has assembled a research team with colleagues from Arizona and Florida to explore how technology can make online learning more accessible to students with special needs. Nicholas Gage from UF’s special education program is co-principal investigator.
The researchers will develop and test an iPad-based instructional system to train students with visual impairments to locate and decipher targeted information in math graphics problems. The system includes audio, print and braille cues in accompanying books to point users to targeted graphics and word problems.
They plan to recruit up to 150 middle and high school students with visual impairments for the project from regular schools and specialized residential programs in Florida, Arizona and other states.
 

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UF reveals Strategic Development Plan

November 10, 2016

After hundreds of interviews with local residents, the University of Florida took the next step toward forging a shared vision with the Gainesville community when it revealed the findings of its strategic development process.
“The future of the university hinges on the future of the surrounding community, and vice versa,” said Charles Lane, UF’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, who oversaw the nine-month process. Lane described the results at a meeting at Emerson Alumni Hall on Thursday.
In December, UF’s Board of Trustees asked the university to put its campus master plan in context of the surrounding community, kicking off the strategic planning effort. UF partnered with Boston-based firms Dumont Janks and Elkus Manfredi on the process, which began in February and included 97 interviews with community members, 114 interviews with UF stakeholders, eight public meetings and a symposium drawing on the experiences of universities and towns from Ohio State to the University of Virginia.
Some of the plan’s recommendations will be put into action immediately, while others might not be fully realized for decades.
“Significant changes don’t just need a plan, they need a vision,” Lane said. “We’re not planning for the people in this room, but for generations yet to come.”

The plan recommends four initiatives for UF and the community to focus on when crafting the future of the university and city:
New American City
Aligning the city and university could turn Gainesville into a proving ground for solutions to challenges facing cities nationwide. The plan calls for creating a joint planning group and a “Smart City Lab” to gather and analyze data to inform future decisions. It also suggests leveraging the expertise of UF researchers to address local issues and establishing an investment strategy to translate UF research and ideas into local start-ups. Finally, the plan recommends evaluating ways to establish a presence in downtown Gainesville for some of the university’s programs, especially its cultural amenities.
To support this initiative, UF is providing $250,000 in community research awards to help connect UF’s talent to community issues.
Proximity
To enhance collaboration and innovation, the university will concentrate future development in the eastern third of campus and coordinate with the city to encourage development between downtown and campus. Increasing density in these areas will foster interdisciplinary discovery as well as sustainable growth. The plan recommends studying transportation and parking, the best uses for existing space, facilities maintenance and growth, and ways to make Newell Drive a core connection between UF’s academic core and medical center. Because living on campus supports student success, the plan also calls for re-evaluating the current student housing situation with a residential life plan that includes a strategy for the city’s student housing stock. The housing discussion will extend to creating a strong urban core that enhances neighborhoods, attracts talent and investment and makes it feasible for faculty and staff to live close to campus. 
Immediate plans to support this initiative include renovating the Plaza of the Americas and redesigning Newell Drive, which will open up the road as a main artery to further unite the UF campus with Gainesville.
Strong Neighborhoods
The plan recommends that the university and city collaborate to preserve historic neighborhoods, creating a diverse housing stock and improving amenities while defending them from gentrification. The city-university collaboration would also examine the east-west corridors connecting downtown and campus, University Avenue, Second Avenue, Fourth Avenue and Archer Road/Depot Avenue, investigating fixed-route transit options and revisiting the master plan for Innovation Square with the goal of promoting interaction, connection and future development. The plan also calls for improving the identity of Southwest 13th Street as a gateway to campus and the city, evaluating existing regulations with an eye toward defining appropriate height and density for development, and promoting better relations between student and other residents of neighborhoods near campus by catalyzing housing diversity between campus and downtown.
In support of this initiative, UF will enrich neighborhoods with a $50,000 College of the Arts/city arts initiative. UF will also earmark a portion of the $250,000 community research awards and explore further monetary and talent resources to help preserve and strengthen neighborhoods.
Stewardship
When the consultants studied what people like about Gainesville, outdoor spaces emerged as some of its greatest attractions. It’s also part of UF’s land-grant mission to be a good steward of the environment on and around campus. With that in mind, the plan recommends studying open space, landscaping, street and utility networks, stormwater and other infrastructure, and partnering with the city on large-scale open spaces, bike-pedestrian trails and stream-corridor restoration to advance the region’s ecological health and outdoor amenities. Recommended collaboration with the community extends to energy, water, waste and recycling issues as well as healthy food initiatives with the local agricultural community.
Immediate plans to support this initiative include the creation of a UF landscape master plan and providing $50,000 to identify solutions that will address a UF/city/county environmental issue.
The next step is to form a group of city and campus representatives to begin creating a shared future for Gainesville and UF.
“This process is not going to stop when our consultants leave,” Lane said, “it’s going to begin.”

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Biomarker breakthrough could improve Parkinson’s treatment

August 15, 2016

A new, non-invasive way to track the progression of Parkinson’s disease could help evaluate experimental treatments to slow or stop the disease’s progression.
University of Florida researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to reveal areas where Parkinson’s disease and related conditions cause progressive decline in brain activity.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the journal Neurology.
While current treatments focus on controlling symptoms, biomarkers provide a quantifiable way to measure how medications address not just symptoms, but the neurological changes behind them.
Previous studies have used imaging techniques that require the injection of a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier.
“Our technique does not rely upon the injection of a drug. Not only is it non-invasive, it’s much less expensive,” said David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., a professor in UF’s Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology and the study’s senior author.
The study’s authors – which included researchers from UF’s College of Health and Human Performance and College of Medicine as well as the Medical University of South Carolina – used functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate five areas of the brain that are key to movement and balance. A year after the baseline study, the 46 Parkinson’s patients in the study showed declining function in two areas: the primary motor cortex and putamen. Parkinson’s-related disorders evaluated in the study also showed declines: The 13 subjects with multiple system atrophy had reduced activity in three of the five areas, while the 19 with progressive supranuclear palsy showed declines in all five areas. The brain activity of the 34 healthy control subjects did not change.
“For decades, the field has been searching for an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease,” said Debra Babcock, M.D., Ph.D., program director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “This study is an example of how brain imaging biomarkers can be used to monitor the progression of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.”
The finding builds on a 2015 UF study that was the first to document progressive deterioration from Parkinson’s via MRI, showing an increase in unconstrained fluid in an area of the brain called the substania nigra. An NIH-funded study beginning in November will use both biomarkers to test if a drug approved for symptom relief can slow or stop progressive degeneration.
Katrina Gwinn, M.D., also a program director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, described the effort to identify biomarkers as “an essential part of moving towards the development of treatments that impact the causes, and not just the symptoms, of Parkinson’s disease.” 

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Business grad lends marketing might to Hyperloop team

August 8, 2016

Grace Everitt is helping University of Florida engineering students participate in SpaceX’s Hyperloop competition. She isn’t doing it for course credit or because it will look good on her résumé.
She believes she’s a part of something special.
Said Everitt: “It’s human history in the making.”
Everitt, who received a bachelor’s degree in marketing (Magna Cum Laude) from Warrington at Saturday’s Commencement, serves as the Marketing, Public Relations and Sponsorship Lead for Gatorloop, UF’s entry in Hyperloop. Out of a field of more than 1,500 teams worldwide, Gatorloop is one of only 29 entrants to advance to the final round.
Hyperloop is the brainchild of SpaceX and Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, whose vision is to build a high-speed, ground transportation system run almost entirely on solar power. Passengers and cargo would travel in pods at transonic velocities. The speeds are so great it would, for example, reduce a six-hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles to 30 minutes.

Everitt heard about Gatorloop in the fall, but her studies and other commitments kept her from participating. She came aboard in the spring when she noticed the team’s GoFundMe page had stalled around $1,200. Fortuitously, Everitt was enrolled in Professor Dennis DiPasquale’s Sales Management course, which centers on a semester-long fundraising project, and believed she could apply some of the tactics she learned to help Gatorloop.

Since Everitt took over Gatorloop’s fundraising duties, donations have quintupled and have reached $6,000-plus. But costs to purchase parts and manufacture the pod are steep, so Everitt’s new goal is to raise $20,000 before the competition scheduled for January 2017.
Relying on the tactics she learned in Sales Management, Everitt sought out smaller donations from a large pool of supporters to give an immediate boost to the fund. But with the competition a few months away and approximately $14,000 still to be raised, Everitt is shifting her focus to the corporate sector in hopes of attaining larger-size gifts.
“This has been a great opportunity to flex my skills, and practically apply what I’ve learned,” Everitt said.
Everitt’s enthusiasm for Gatorloop and space transport and exploration is palpable. While some may view ideas like Hyperloop as lofty and unattainable, Everitt said these types of projects are closer to becoming reality than most might think. She also has an affinity for Musk, not only for his grandiose vision but because he comes from the South African province of Transvaal, where Everitt’s family has roots.
“When you go see a movie like ‘The Martian’ with Matt Damon, that’s not fantasy,” Everitt said. “We’re definitely moving in a direction where that’s a real possibility.”
Everitt said her work with the Gatorloop team has impacted her career aspirations as well.
“I always assumed that there wasn’t room for me in the space exploration industry because I wasn’t a STEM person, but that’s simply not true, and I want to share this awareness with other business students who also might have varied interests,” Everitt said.

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Deadly fungus threatens African frogs

May 17, 2016 Sustainability

Misty mountains, glistening forests and blue-green lakes make Cameroon, the wettest part of Africa, a…

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