2021: The year in review

By Robert C. Jones Jr.

2021: The year in review

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
Here’s a look back at the biggest stories at the University of Miami during the past year.

If 2020 was a year of death and despair, then 2021 was a year of optimism and inspiration, when vaccine development and distribution offered hope that the world would begin to emerge from the depths of the pandemic.

At the University of Miami, optimism and inspiration in 2021 came in the form of groundbreaking research not only into the virus but in other areas such as climate change and Alzheimer’s. The launch of an ambitious $2.5 billion capital campaign, a historic basketball win, a homecoming for a native son, and newly minted degrees for thousands of graduates also provided momentum.

January

Miller School of Medicine researchers lead a unique and groundbreaking randomized controlled trial showing that umbilical-cord derived mesenchymal stem cell infusions safely reduce risk of death and quicken time to recovery for the severest COVID-19 patients.

The Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami Libraries acquires the works of award-winning Cuban-Jewish poet Jose Kozer, which includes his documents, papers, notebooks, journals, and published works.

A group of more than 60 scientists, led by Lisa Beal, professor of ocean sciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, provides recommendations to improve the Indian Ocean Observing System, a basin-wide monitoring system to better understand the impacts of human-caused climate change in a region that has been warming faster than any other ocean. 

Cindy Munro, dean of the School of Nursing and Health Studies, is appointed to a four-year term to the National Institute of Nursing Research’s National Advisory Council for Nursing Research. 

February

A team of genetics researchers with the Miller School of Medicine receives an $11.47 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, to lead a new collaborative study on Alzheimer’s disease risk in mixed-ancestry populations.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of President Joseph Biden’s COVID-19 response team, speaks to students and faculty members at the Miller School of Medicine as part of Grand Rounds.

A University of Miami-led team receives a two-year, $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how wastewater can be used to help predict coronavirus outbreaks.

Harold Long, founder of United Black Students, passes away on Feb. 24. He was 73. A double University of Miami alumnus, Long led a sit-in at then-President Henry King Stanford’s office in 1968 that helped pave the way for the admission of more Black students at the institution. 

March

Howard Schnellenberger, who led the Miami Hurricanes football program to its first national championship in 1983 and laid the foundation for an unprecedented run of success, passes away on March 27. He was 87.

A new study, led by scientists at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, provides evidence that humans are influencing wind and weather patterns across the eastern United States and western Europe by releasing CO₂ and other pollutants into Earth’s atmosphere.

To meet rising demand for complex surgeries, UHealth Tower opens three new operating rooms equipped with state-of-the-art robotic surgical technology. The new 500-square-foot operating rooms include remote-controlled robotic surgical technology for minimally invasive procedures, along with carefully designed anesthesiology equipment, nurse and physician stations, and large display monitors for observing procedures.

Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., center, and fellow riders cross the Hurricane Hundred finish line.
Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., center, and fellow riders cross the Hurricane Hundred finish line at the 11th annual Dolphins Challenge Cancer event in April.
April

Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau are selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, with Phillips going to the Miami Dolphins with the 18th overall pick, and Rousseau to the Buffalo Bills with the 30th overall pick. Their selections mark the first time in Miami’s storied history that two defensive ends were drafted in the first round.

More than 3,000 participants turn out to ride, walk, run, or volunteer at the 11th annual Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC) event, which raised more than $5.5 million for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. A total of 223 teams united as one to fundraise, including University of Miami employees, students, donors, and other proud members of the ’Canes family.

In a ceremony on the Foote University Green, Landon Coles, a Ronald A. Hammond Scholar majoring in political science; Ajiri Uzere, a political science and psychology double major; and Grace Tenke, a finance major, are sworn in as the University of Miami undergraduate Student Government president, vice president, and treasurer, respectively.

Two former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretaries and a range of influential leaders convene for the University’s 2021 The Business of Health Care virtual conference to address the sector’s recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

As part of President Julio Frenk’s ongoing commitment to combat institutionalized and systemic anti-Black racism on campus and in South Florida, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, Multicultural Student Affairs, and the Butler Center for Service and Leadership launch the Racial Justice Pilot Grant Program. Teams of grant recipients, led by undergraduate and graduate students, will collaborate with faculty, staff, and community partners to tackle a broad spectrum of issues in the Black community on campus and throughout South Florida.

Students in science and engineering disciplines earn prestigious National Science Foundation scholarships that will help fund graduate research on a range of topics, from climate change to endangered species to wireless power transfer devices.

Students and faculty and staff members are honored for their impactful contributions to the University and local community during the Celebration of Involvement Awards hosted by the Division of Student Affairs and the Butler Center for Service and Leadership.

University of Miami Trustee Charles “Chuck” Cobb and Sofia Mesa, chair of Student Government’s ECO Agency, were named the winners of this year’s Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize, which recognizes members of the University community who have made a meaningful contribution to the beauty, significance, and future of the campus. 

May

Laurie Silvers, the two-time University alumna, successful attorney, media entrepreneur, and philanthropist who founded the SyFy channel, takes the reins as chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, becoming only the third woman to lead the entity that is responsible for governing one of the top private research institutions in the nation.

The Miami Hurricanes earn a berth in the 2021 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship, marking the program’s 47th trip to the postseason.

Nearly 3,800 students are awarded degrees during the University’s first in-person commencement ceremonies since 2019, with many participating in the events at Hard Rock Stadium.

June

Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine reported that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in fully vaccinated firefighters, health care workers, and other front-line/essential workers. In their research, conducted in collaboration with experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, they also found that the vaccines are 81 percent effective in partially vaccinated working-age adults.

The College of Engineering launches the Department of Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering, which houses aerosol science and technology, water quality, synthetic biology, and materials synthesis programs.

Three Miller School of Medicine physicians deploy to Surfside, Florida, to assist in the search and rescue efforts at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium. Brandon Parker, an assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, and pediatric critical care physician G. Patricia Cantwell work as members of the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue Team/Task Force 2, while trauma surgeon Howard Lieberman joins the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Urban Search and Rescue Team/Florida Task Force 1.

Apple Studios acquires the rights to history professor Donald Spivey’s nonfiction book “If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige” for drama development with an eye toward a series that will explore the epic story of Negro Leagues Baseball using the life of Paige as a backdrop.

University of Miami women’s tennis players Estela Perez-Somarriba and Isabella Pfennig earn 2021 ITA All-America status.

Pitcher Carson Palmquist is named a first-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Palmquist finished the 2021 season with an Atlantic Coast Conference-leading 14 saves. He wrapped up the season with a 2.22 ERA, allowing just 11 earned runs during 25 appearances.

Cuban-born composer Tania León, the 2021 Distinguished Composer-in-Residence for the Frost School of Music, wins the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her orchestral work “Stride,” which was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic.

Women’s tennis player Estela Perez-Somarriba is named the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in her sport, becoming the fourth women’s tennis player in league history to twice claim the honor. She also won the award in 2019.

As part of Global City Sampling Day, teams of University of Miami students fan out across Miami-Dade County to take microbial samples on surfaces at each of the 23 Metrorail stations. Their efforts will help create a map of the community of microorganisms that inhabit the city.

Neha Godbole, an M.D./M.P.H. student at the Miller School of Medicine, swabs the escalator at the Brickell Metrorail station as part of Global City Sampling Day 2021. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami
Neha Godbole, an M.D./M.P.H. student at the Miller School of Medicine, swabs the escalator at the Brickell Metrorail station as part of Global City Sampling Day 2021. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami
July

Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the UHealth–University of Miami Health System is ranked again as the nation’s best in ophthalmology by U.S. News & World Report. It marks the 20th time, and the 18th consecutive year, that Bascom Palmer has received the No. 1 ranking since the publication began surveying U.S. physicians for its annual “Best Hospitals” rankings 32 years ago.

Mary Beth Calhoon, associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development, is awarded a five-year, $3.8 million grant by the Institute of Education Sciences to study the impact and implementation of a middle school reading program for students with and at-risk for reading disabilities.

Historian Michael J. Bustamante, a specialist in modern Cuba and the Cuban American diaspora, joins the University of Miami as the Emilio Bacardí Moreau Chair in Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

August

The Biden administration appoints Caroline Bettinger-López, professor and director of the Human Rights Clinic at the School of Law, as a special advisor on the White House Gender Policy Council, charging her with assisting in the development of a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence in the United States.

Yelena Yesha is appointed the first Knight Chair of the Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC) at the University of Miami. Yesha directs the artificial intelligence and machine learning program at IDSC and continues to serve as its innovation officer—a role she began in January 2020, when she joined IDSC as a distinguished visiting professor from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Seven Miller School of Medicine students receive Dean’s Research Excellence Award in Medicine (DREAM) scholarships to engage in groundbreaking clinical research during the academic year. The program integrates the Miller School’s outstanding preclinical and clinical training, rigorous research training, and professional development elements to enhance the physician-scientist training experience.

The University holds a series of town halls with the University community to discuss the state of the pandemic, emerging variants of the COVID-19 virus, the importance of getting vaccinated to protect oneself and others, and steps the institution is taking to ensure a safe and fruitful fall semester.

September

In his third State of the University Town Hall, President Julio Frenk touted the University’s successes in dealing with the pandemic, honored “unsung heroes’’ on the front lines who helped manage the crisis, and outlined major endeavors that will fuel the future.

The 12-acre student housing complex Lakeside Village becomes one of the recipients of the coveted International Architecture Awards. Presented by the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and the European Center for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies, the award honors new and cutting-edge architecture designs from around the world.

Ali Habashi, award-winning filmmaker and assistant professor of professional practice at the School of Communication, receives second place at the 2021 PIEoneer Awards in London for his Ocean Health Voyage project—a global online educational platform dedicated to oceans and marine conservation that he produced, above and underwater, in 10 international locations around the world.

Two faculty members affiliated with the School of Nursing and Health Studies are selected for induction by the American Academy of Nursing (Academy). Internationally renowned health economist Felicia Marie Knaul is recognized as an Honorary Fellow of the Academy, and Mary E. Mckay, associate professor of clinical and Wallace Gilroy Endowed Chair, is inducted as a Fellow of the Academy.

President Julio Frenk delivers his third State of the University address. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
President Julio Frenk delivers his third State of the University address in September 2021. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
October

NewsVision, UMTV’s half-hour live campus news show, wins Best All-Around Television News Magazine within the television category of the prestigious Mark of Excellence Awards. The award-winning show covers local, state, national, and international news with materials produced by University of Miami students.

Forbes ranks the University of Miami among the top employers in Florida for 2021, marking the third time the University has been included on the list, which is based on independent surveys of employees. 

During Zeta Tau Alpha’s annual pink fountain lighting in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Felicia Marie Knaul, a member of the Cancer Control Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, director of the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, and breast cancer survivor, is welcomed into the sorority as an alumna initiate.

Guillermo “Willy” Prado, professor of nursing and health studies, public health sciences, and psychology, is elected to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine for his scholarship in prevention science, and for his effective youth- and family-focused HIV and substance-use prevention interventions, which have been scaled throughout school systems and clinical settings in the United States and Latin America.

Scientists at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Shedd Aquarium publish the results of a first-of-its-kind study that shows which of Florida’s critically endangered staghorn corals can better withstand future heatwaves in the ocean. The collaborative study helps organizations that are working to restore climate-resilient reefs in Florida and provides a blueprint for the success of restoration projects globally.

Wrongfully convicted of armed robbery in a court of law eight years ago, Dustin Duty walks out of prison a free man, thanks to the efforts of the University of Miami School of Law’s Innocence Clinic.

November

The University of Miami publicly announces its most ambitious fundraising campaign, the $2.5 billion Ever Brighter: The Campaign for Our Next Century. The largest of any private institution in Florida, the campaign is already accelerating the University’s drive to shape a brighter future for students, the community, and the health of the planet. It will conclude in 2025 when the University celebrates its centennial.

With the theme of “Bring the Beat Back,” the University returns to a traditional homecoming scene with fully in-person events from Nov. 1 to Nov. 6.

In an effort to further position the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine as a global leader in the field of urology, the Desai Sethi Family Foundation makes an extraordinary commitment of $20 million to the Miller School’s Department of Urology. The Foundation’s generosity will help establish a premier Urology Institute within the Miller School, which will accelerate breakthrough advances in research, expand clinical care, and train future generations of urologists.

Recognizing Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s enduring commitment to addressing the inequities that perpetuate cervical cancer in South Florida and beyond, the World Health Organization (WHO) designates the University of Miami institution as the first WHO Collaborating Centre for Cervical Cancer Elimination.

Dr. C. Ola Landgren—chief of the Myeloma Program and Riney Family Multiple Myeloma Research Program, leader of the Experimental Therapies Program, and co-leader of the Tumor Biology Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Miller School of Medicine—is awarded the Paul J. DiMare Endowed Chair in Immunotherapy, which will allow him to continue his groundbreaking research.

Scott C. Brown, research associate professor; José Szapocznik, professor and chair emeritus, both of the Department of Public Health Sciences; and Tatjana Rundek, professor and vice chair of clinical research in the Department of Neurology, receive a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to determine if a high degree of block-level greenness slows the age-related cognitive decline and risk for stroke and other vascular outcomes.

The Carmen and Joe Unanue Family Foundation, led by alumnus Andy Unanue, donates $3.3 million to the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School in honor of Unanue’s late parents, who led philanthropic initiatives in education and health care through the foundation that carries their names. The donation, matched by the Herbert Challenge Endowment Gift Match for a total of $5 million, will strengthen the school’s capabilities to prepare graduate students to successfully enter the workforce or advance their careers upon graduation.

The women’s basketball team defeats the Jackson State Tigers 72-67 on Nov. 9 at the Watsco Center to give Katie Meier her 304th win as the head coach of the Hurricanes and making her the all-time winningest coach in Miami basketball history.

The University of Miami volleyball team earns a berth in the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship, marking the program’s 10th appearance, and the first since 2017, in the tournament.

Nelson Dellis, a double alumnus and lecturer in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, breaks the world record for the fastest time to arrange a deck of playing cards memorized underwater. Dellis accomplished feat at the University Center Pool on Nov. 13.

The Donna E. Shalala Student Center on the Coral Gables Campus was aglow with decorative lighting during Alumni Weekend and Homecoming celebrations on Friday, Nov. 5. Photos: Mike Montero/University of Miami
The Donna E. Shalala Student Center on the Coral Gables Campus was aglow with decorative lighting during Alumni Weekend and Homecoming celebrations on Friday, Nov. 5. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
December

Mario Cristobal, a double University of Miami alumnus who helped lead the Hurricanes football team to two national championships as a standout offensive lineman, is named the University’s 26th football head coach. A second-generation Cuban American, Cristobal comes to the University after four years as head coach at the University of Oregon, where he led the Ducks to back-to-back Pac-12 Conference Championships and a Rose Bowl victory. 

Laurie Silvers, a double University of Miami alumna and chair of the Board of Trustees, and her husband, Mitchell Rubenstein, donate $2.5 million to the School of Law, continuing their long history of philanthropy to the institution. The gift is part of the new fundraising initiative Ever Brighter: The Campaign for Our Next Century

Dan Radakovich, who excelled as director of athletics at Clemson University for nine years and is one of the nation’s most well-respected athletics administrators, is named vice president and director of athletics at the University of Miami. President Julio Frenk said Radakovich’s “proven success, and the success that Dan has helped enable for student-athletes in the classroom and in competition, is reflective of our values.” 

Erin Kobetz, vice provost for research and scholarship, professor of medicine and public health sciences, and associate director for population sciences and cancer disparity at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is named the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. The endowment will allow Kobetz to continue her research, which has dramatically reduced cancer disparities in Miami’s underserved communities and led to Sylvester being named the first World Health Organization collaborating Centre for Cervical Cancer Elimination. 

Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who stepped up amid adversity to deliver a standout freshman season for the Hurricanes, is voted the 2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Rookie of the Year. He is also voted the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. Van Dyke appeared in 10 games overall, completing 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns. 

Gerard Schwarz, an internationally acclaimed composer and conductor who joined the University faculty in 2019; Marilyn Holifield, a trailblazing attorney who has spent her life paving the path to equality, tolerance, and opportunity for all; and John Sexton, president emeritus of New York University, whose bold leadership expanded the institution’s stature and reach across the globe, each share their advice at the University of Miami’s fall commencement ceremonies on Dec. 17, when more than 1,100 students were conferred degrees at three ceremonies at the Watsco Center.