2020 at the U: The year in review

By News@TheU

2020 at the U: The year in review

By News@TheU
Take a look at a month-by-month recap of the biggest stories at the University of Miami during the past year.

From a pandemic that forced the migration of spring semester classes to an online environment, to a new dean for the College of Engineering, to a Super Bowl halftime performance by the Band of the Hour, to a record-breaking gift for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, 2020 proved to be a very unusual year  for the University of Miami.


The Planet Kreyol student organization and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs commemorate victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake with dance, song, poetry, and more on January 15.

With evidence mounting that climate change is worsening everything from wildfires to hurricanes, the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science hosts the three-day Miami Climate Symposium 2020: Predicting and Living with Extremes. The summit—held Jan. 22-24—explored how sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, extreme heat waves, and other conditions exacerbate tropical cyclones, storm surge, and coastal flooding, as well as analyzed adaptation policies and strategies.

A professor of jazz trumpet at the Frost School of Music and four alumni of the University of Miami receive Grammy Awards during the 62nd annual ceremony held Jan. 26 in Los Angeles. Brian Lynch, jazz trumpet professor, is honored in the category of Best Large Jazz Ensemble. Cristian Macelaru, B.M. ’03; Julio Reyes Copello, M.M. ’00; Carlos Fernando Lopez, B.M. ’12; and Natalia Ramirez, M.A. ’17, also win Grammy Awards.

Miami baseball alumnus Tommy Adams makes the largest gift in support of the baseball program by a former University baseball student-athlete, donating $1 million toward the University of Miami’s Baseball Facility Enhancement Campaign.


Five months after Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, students enrolled in the semester-long action project interdisciplinary class offered by the Miami Herbert Business School travel to Freeport for a three-day visit, meeting with Bahamian students and local businesses to share ideas and inspire hope.

Building on the immense resources and expanding the vision of the Center for Computational Science, the University establishes the Miami Institute for Data Science and Computing to catalyze data-intensive research that will solve real-world problems and enhance the understanding of data science among students and the public.

The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, announces that Felicia Marie Knaul, director of the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, will lead a new Lancet Commission examining gender-based violence and maltreatment of young people, two areas with a dearth of study and understanding.

Students from the University of Miami’s Frost Band of the Hour and the color guard, as well as the Hurricanettes dancers, perform in the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show at Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 2.

Redshirt senior David Dinsmore wins his fourth straight gold medal in the men’s platform on Feb. 21, capturing top honors at the 2020 ACC Swimming and Diving Championships.

At the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, Team Hurricanes—with 1,250 strong—joined thousands of others on Feb. 29 to run, walk, and ride to fight cancer and support the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.


For the health and well-being of the campus community, the University extends spring break for students through March 22, announcing that classes will resume on March 23 but strictly in online environments through at least April 4. Shortly thereafter, with COVID-19 cases surging across the nation, the University, in accordance with public health guidance to reduce density on campus, extends online instruction through the remainder of the spring semester and implements partial closing of on-campus housing.


An international team of scientists led by Dr. Camillo Ricordi, director of the Diabetes Research Institute and Cell Transplant Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is granted immediate FDA authorization for a 24-patient clinical trial to test the safety and exploratory efficacy of umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells to block the life-threatening lung inflammation that accompanies severe cases of COVID-19.

Joined by the Rapid Defense Network in New York, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and others, the School of Law’s Immigration Clinic files a lawsuit on April 13 accusing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities of ignoring COVID-19 guidelines in three Florida detention centers.

Debbie Ajagbe is named the 2020 ACC Indoor Track Scholar-Athlete of the Year on April 17, with five other Miami women joining her on the All-ACC Academic Team for Indoor Track and Field. Earlier in the year, Ajagbe, a mechanical engineering major, earned both ACC Women’s Field Performer of the Year and ACC Championship Field MVP honors, winning both the weight throw and shot put at the conference championships.


The 180 graduates of the Miller School of Medicine’s Class of 2020 celebrate their newly minted degrees during a virtual commencement on May 9.

Arva Moore Parks, a prominent historian and preservationist, who served on the University of Miami Board of Trustees for 26 years and wrote several books on Greater Miami, Coral Gables, and University history, passes away on May 10.

Nine University of Miami Athletics programs—men’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s diving, golf, rowing, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s track and field—are recognized for perfect single-year scores of 1,000 in the 2018-19 Academic Progress Report released May 19 by the NCAA.

UMTV’s first Black show, “The Culture,” is nominated by the Suncoast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for a student production award in the magazine program category.

Brian Van Belle and Chris McMahon, two of the Miami Hurricanes’ best pitchers, are named All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper on May 26. Both Van Belle and McMahon earned spots on the second team after posting brilliant performances in the abbreviated 2020 season that was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis and a pioneer in his field recognized for applying aerosol science and engineering to multiple areas, is named dean of the University of Miami College of Engineering.

The University of Miami Board of Trustees elects six new members to its ranks with expertise in business, finance, law, technology, and strategic planning. Patricia Menendez-Cambo, Adam E. Carlin, Jose R. Mas, Alice S. Vilma, Carolyn B. Lamm, and Jordan Rhodes were elected to the Board on June 19.

Dr. Judy Schaechter, chair of the Miller School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, is named a 2020-21 Health Policy Fellow by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Academy of Medicine. The prestigious one-year fellowship in Washington, D.C., will enable her to expand her longtime involvement in health policy and child policy at the local and state levels to the federal level.


The University becomes one of 89 locations around the nation, and one of only six in Florida, to enroll volunteers for the first Phase 3 clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine. The trial, part of the National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network, tested a vaccine developed by scientists at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and collaborators at biotechnology company Moderna, Inc. Vice President Mike Pence visited the Miller School of Medicine along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 27 to thank the University for its participation in the trial.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration selects the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science to host the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, which will bring together the research and educational resources of 11 partner universities to increase scientific understanding of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere within the context of NOAA’s mission. The selection—made through an open, competitive evaluation—comes with an award of up to $310 million over the course of five years, with the potential for renewal for another five years based on successful performance.

Amid ongoing nationwide protests against police brutality sparked by the tragic death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd in May, President Julio Frenk reaffirms his commitment to racial and ethnic equality, outlining in a letter sent to all students, faculty, and staff a 15-point plan the University will implement to support racial equality, inclusion, and justice across the institution and in the greater South Florida community.

Patti Herberta longtime University of Miami alumna and benefactor who, along with her husband Allan, donated millions of dollars to the institution, helping to transform academics and student life—passed away on Monday, July 27. She was 84.

University of Miami Libraries launches Documenting COVID-19: South Florida’s Pandemic Experience. Through community-generated and community-contributed content that will be made available through digital collections and by visiting the library, the initiative will chronicle how local communities are dealing with the crisis.


In a move to support a safe learning and working environment for students, faculty, and employees, the Butler Center for Service and Leadership establishes a new team of public health ambassadors to support the University’s COVID-19 reopening and operating plan. The 75 students who made up the new Public Health Ambassadors Program during the fall semester enforced guidelines on the Coral Gables Campus by offering support and utilizing peer-to-peer influence to encourage members of the campus community to engage in the healthy behaviors of physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and hand washing/sanitizing.

Lakeside Village, a 12-acre facility on the shores of Lake Osceola in the heart of the Coral Gables Campus, officially opens its doors on Aug. 13 to greet the inaugural class of students to the transformative housing complex.

Featuring a mix of virtual and in-person instruction, the first day of fall semester classes begins on Aug. 17. On the Coral Gables Campus, a number of safety protocols—from mandatory mask-wearing to social distancing—help ensure the well-being of students, faculty, and staff.

The Miller School of Medicine Class of 2024 launches the innovative NextGenMD Curriculum, which focuses on health system science and features an enhanced emphasis on mentorships. The students will be significantly better prepared to respond to COVID-19 and to the public health challenges that will follow.

The Miller School of Medicine becomes one of a few medical schools across the nation selected by the National Institutes of Health to test the effectiveness of treating COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma.

Following a limited opening in April 2020, ’Canes Central, a new student-centered, service-oriented department, fully opens. It  offers both in-person and online undergraduate and graduate students assistance on matters relating to registration and records, billing and payment, financial aid, and ’Cane Cards.

Legendary Miami Hurricanes baseball coach Jim Morris—who in his 25 seasons at the University of Miami won 1,090 games, made the NCAA postseason 23 straight years, reached the College World Series 13 times, and won national championships in 1999 and 2001—is voted into the 2020 induction class of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.


Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine receives a landmark gift of $126 million. The groundbreaking donation—the single largest in the University of Miami’s 95-year history—will accelerate breakthrough advances in finding cures for cancer and expand innovative treatment options for cancer patients.

The University of Miami jumps eight spots to No. 49 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 “Best Colleges” issue, placing the institution back among the 50 top-tier colleges and universities. “This jump in the rankings reflects our commitment—even in these unprecedented times—to comprehensive excellence and selective preeminence,” said President Julio Frenk.

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System, opens the Dwoskin Proton Therapy Center on Sept. 15. The new state-of-the-art facility treats patients with proton therapy, an advanced type of low-dose radiation that is extremely precise and two-thirds the speed of light.

Physician-researchers with the Miller School of Medicine begin a new Phase 3 clinical trial to test another investigational vaccine for COVID-19. Part of a large-scale international trial in partnership with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the clinical trial to test the Janssen vaccine is the Miller School’s second human study of its kind.


The University of Miami becomes the first college testing site for a quick, easy, and cost-effective Israeli-produced COVID-19 breath analyzer that could revolutionize coronavirus testing if approved by the FDA.

In a Miami Herbert Business School webinar held Oct. 8, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar highlights the administration’s effort to restructure the health care system to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and support countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.


Taking their dedication to fighting cancer to a new level, the Miami Dolphins pledge a transformational $75 million gift to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, South Florida’s only NCI-designated cancer center.

Musicians from the Frost School of Music join Dean Shelly Berg and celebrity musicians to participate in a benefit concert on Thanksgiving Day in support of nurses. The livestreamed “Nurse Heroes Live!” concert raises funds for the Nurse Heroes Foundation, an initiative working to support and honor nurses.


Four extraordinary University of Miami alumni—Jose R. Mas, Jackie Nespral, Hilarie Bass, and Jaret L. Davis—share their advice with more than 5,000 students at four virtual commencement ceremonies held Dec. 10 and 11.

Cheered on by friends and colleagues, about 90 UHealth frontline health care workers receive the first does of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administered on the University of Miami’s medical campus on Dec. 15.

Coming on the heels of a successful 8-2 regular season, the Miami Hurricanes football program signs one of the nation’s top 2021 recruiting classes on the first day of the Early Signing Period on Dec. 16, landing 21 players including a top-5 QB prospect, a trio of four-star wide receivers, and the nation’s top defensive tackle.