Quick Talks Pack a Powerful Punch

By Robin Shear

Quick Talks Pack a Powerful Punch

By Robin Shear
’Cane Talks presenters share their exciting visions for a brighter, bolder future through scholarship in action.

From the professor who dives into pitch-black caves seeking answers to vital environmental challenges to the architecture dean exploring ways to embed transformative technology into everything from blankets to bridges to the student who sees our biggest hope for the future in life’s unexpected intersections, the inaugural slate of ’Cane Talks speakers held last Friday illuminated the path to the U's next century.

University of Miami President Julio Frenk kicked off the set of ten presentations on January 29 by noting the proximity of his installation as the University’s sixth president.

“I know many of you are wondering what am I doing here since my own installation is in a few hours. Shouldn’t I be rehearsing my speech or resting my voice?” he joked. “But there’s no way I would miss the launch of ’Cane Talks. The idea behind this is to showcase the enormous breadth and depth of talent in our faculty, the great amazing students that we have, and the success and devotion of some of our alumni.”

Audience members shifted between the Shalala Student Center’s east and west ballrooms, where each presenter had ten minutes to tackle topics ranging from the journey that turned HIV/AIDS into a treatable disease to methods of “training” the brain to perform better in combat and other extreme-stress conditions, to how the Frost School of Music is teaching students to see music in a whole new light.

Dean Rodolphe el-Khoury explained that we are in the midst of a digital technology revolution that he, his students, and faculty at the School of Architecture are helping to advance by working on such projects as a ceiling that would use the detoxifying capacities of moss "to condition the stuffy atmosphere of your hermetically sealed offices."

At the same time, el-Khoury said, embedded sensors would upload data about air quality, sending an alert about the existence of a pollutant or contaminant, such as an airborne virus, via text message.

“This gives you an idea of what is possible, what will happen when the functionality we now cram into smart devices starts to overflow out into the built environment and to really engage us  with our surroundings,” said el-Khoury, who also devised a blanket that senses motion to assist in diagnosing and managing sleep disorders, which affect 40 million people in the United States alone.

UM School of Law professor Osamudia James delivered a powerful talk entitled, “How I Became Comfortable as That Lady: Racial Identity, Silence, and Equality in American Public Schools.” She used a personal story of her 6-year-old daughter’s observations about Miami’s “white” and “black” neighborhoods to dive into an explanation of the deep racial inequality entrenched in our society.

“By some measures, American public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968,” she said, in part as a result of the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court Case Milliken v. Bradley, which “reaffirmed the distinction between ‘unintentional’ and ‘intentional’ segregation.” Detailing significant ramifications of segregation throughout society and, in particular, in the lives of black children—the lives of her own children—she said, “As a lawyer, as a citizen, as a mother, I refuse to pay the price of silence.”

For Mateus Lima, a member of UM’s Class of 2017, moving to the United States as a teen represented a path of promise in education. He talked about his journey from Brazil to America, his exploration of interdisciplinary study as a UM DaVinci Scholar, and his devotion to soccer despite a rigorous academic schedule that includes majors in economics and biology and fulfilling his pre-med requirements.

“These seemingly unconnected influences and interests have led me further than I would have gone if I had chosen one path or the other,” he said.

This is just the beginning of  ’Cane Talks. The University hopes to present 100 ’Cane Talks on a variety of pressing global issues during the next decade leading up to UM’s centennial.

“We might be able to create a tradition so that ’Cane Talks becomes an ongoing event,” said Thomas J. LeBlanc, UM’s executive vice president and provost. “That’s my hope, because there are so many fascinating and wonderful things going on here at the University that people don’t know about. They don’t have time to read about all of it, so if you can attend a ten-minute talk, and it causes you to follow up with some additional readings, or maybe come to some additional lectures, we can get more people engaged in the intellectual work at the University.”

For more information about the presenters and their topics, as well as future links to their video presentations, visit www.canetalks.miami.edu.