Unstoppable Minds - University of Florida

Season 2

Unstoppable Minds

What if big breakthroughs weren’t a cause for a victory lap – they were just the beginning of paths to even bigger ones? That’s what we’re here to find out. Hosted by Dr. Kyla McMullen and Dr. Jeremy Waisome, from the University of Florida comes Unstoppable Minds: a podcast looking into the challenges and triumphs faced by those who are redefining what’s possible.

Unstoppable Minds features the real stories of students and faculty overcoming challenges to tackle the world’s greatest obstacles. Join us as we dive into the breakthroughs and backstories of the people powering real world change from the University of Florida.

A podcast from the University of Florida looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research.

Hosted by Dr. Kyla McMullen & Dr. Jeremy Waisome

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  • Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield
  • Steve Orlando

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February 15, 2021 21:30

Episode 7: Shedding New Light on a Lost Chapter of American History

Leading up to the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, Unstoppable Minds sat down again with Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist and research assistant at the University of Florida. Dr. Stubblefield sheds new light on one of the worst episodes of mass racial violence in U.S. history through the lens of her professional and personal experiences. The details of these events and the devastation of the Greenwood Community where Black residents were killed and many became homeless after Black-owned businesses and homes were destroyed is a lost chapter of American history which is being recovered, reclaimed and will now be remembered.

Transcript

Kyla McMullen (00:05): Welcome to season two of Unstoppable Minds, a University of Florida podcast that looks at the big challenges we face in the world and how members of the UF community boldly tackle them. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome (00:24): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a lecturer in the Engineering Education Department in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Big discoveries don't happen without overcoming formidable challenges. So, we're sitting down with some of our colleagues at UF who are leading the way in identifying creative solutions, and research student success, and academic exploration in their unstoppable quest for knowledge.

Steve Orlando (00:47): Hello, this is Steve Orlando, Assistant Vice President for Communications at the University of Florida and your guest host today on Unstoppable Minds. I am honored to be joining Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, a research assistant scientist at the University of Florida and forensic anthropologist.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (01:03): Oh, thank you. I'm pleased to be here. It's good to see you.

Steve Orlando (01:06): I wanted to start off by asking you if you would share with everybody a little bit of your background, just so people understand what it is you do exactly for people who may not be totally familiar with forensic anthropology, and what it's all about.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (01:20): I came to forensic anthropology in the nineties. What forensic anthropology is, is telling the story of the skeleton, usually human but not always, in the context of a legal question. And so, the legal question can be a criminal question. "How was the person killed?" if it's a person or, "What happened to the animal?" if it's an animal involved, like poaching or neglect.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (01:48): Here, in Florida, most of my activity involves criminal questions. How did the person die? Who are they? Can you confirm their identity or even give us a location to search or a clue where to search? And not so much the civil rights until the Tulsa investigation, except technically I was already involved in that.

Steve Orlando (02:10): Since you mentioned the Tulsa race massacre, I want to ask you if you would, for anyone who may not have heard the first episode where you were a guest, if you could just give a brief background of what the 1921 Tulsa race massacre was? And then, talk about the work that's currently being conducted at that site.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (02:30): So, the 1921 Tulsa race massacre is also known as the Greenwood Disaster or the Tulsa Disaster or the Greenwood Massacre. What happened in 1921, the nutshell version because... I do recommend reading a detailed history. There's a book called The Tulsa Disaster that's an eyewitness account. Mary Parrish is the author. It's a special collections type book, so you'd get a PDF, but I do recommend reading her version, but it's a common story, how it started.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (03:05): So, a Black man was accused of assaulting a White female teenager. She was an elevator operator. He was using the elevator. He gets arrested. The White male townspeople... I mean, not all of them. Because history is such a story of lumping, but there were enough White males that got together to say, "We're just going to lynch him." And keep in mind that at the time, lynching was a popular mode of addressing social outrages. It was very common and very popular. If you look, it's still not a federal crime. It's still handled on the state level, which is fatiguing to me, but that's the story.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (03:49): At any rate, there was a gathering outside the courthouse or sheriffs. Several Black  males heard about the plans to lynch and these were veterans from the First World War, and they had experienced what it meant to be citizens, actual citizens, of the US and then come back to Tulsa where they were not citizens. They said that they gathered to resist this lynching and things... It didn't happen right away, but eventually there was a confrontation, reportedly between an older White gentleman and one of the veterans and he said, "I'm taking your gun." And then the shot was fired and the rest was a...

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (04:35): That first night, May 31st, it was a gun campaign that mainly went against the White shooters because they were approaching the Greenwood area in the dark, and the Greenwood heroes had retreated to there, and were barricaded and set up to snipe, and were able to defend in the dark. But they could not defend against better numbers, aircraft, and daylight. And so, in the daylight, the White Tulsans came back and did the systematic program of entering Black  homes and the Greenwood area, seizing men, sending the women and children to one of the three internment camps in the area, and then robbing the house and setting it on fire.

Steve Orlando (05:22): Now, this was in a relatively affluent area, as I understand it?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (05:25): Yeah. Greenwood was an economic zone because Tulsa itself was an oil boomtown. That economy, the oil boom economy, affected Blacks and Whites and it's just the Whites had the more technological end of it, like the airplanes who probably [inaudible 00:05:43] airplanes.

Steve Orlando (05:44): Sure.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (05:46): Oil equipment and the money therefrom, while the Black s were providing a lot of the services. A lot of them were porters and house staff and as a result of that, but they were house staff that they lived... Their homes were in Greenwood because if you read Mary Parrish's account, a lot of the people got out of the internment counts because their White employer came and got them, and that was the only way they could get out. And Mary Parrish notes, "I'm an adult. When have I ever needed a White person to account for me? When?" It was that reversal of citizenship or even personhood to a degree that occurred in those three days.

Steve Orlando (06:27): So how many individuals died during those three days?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (06:30): Documented from the newspaper, we only have 39. A lot of them are White and the actual number of Black, they were all Black male deaths, 18 that we know about from the paper because they were buried. Or not because they were buried, but because their bodies ended up in two funeral homes in Tulsa. So, we know people were injured; a variety of people were injured, but we only have those first few recorded deaths and all through the funeral home. So, our estimate of the number of dead exceeds that based on Mary Parrish's account of just how many people she saw struggling to get out of town. And yet, there were planes flying overhead shooting. Her thought was the number that the number is higher.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (07:26): Tulsa also had systematic door to door destruction and with this reportedly machine gun and aircraft, and is flying overhead. But some arguing over what was coming out of the aircraft, but certainly bullets and so between men and women, and whole families were fleeing on foot. So, in that context I go, "Well, I think we're missing some dead."

Steve Orlando (07:55): So, at this point of your work now, what is your primary goal with your research going forward?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (08:04): Try to reconnect all of the remains to any of their descendants or at least get them placed again within their history because many of them were veterans and I want to remove that context as well. I mean, with my colleagues, I want to remove the context of them having been stashed as criminals because they were buried as criminals, not as a people defending their home, or defending the right of a suspect to have a fair trial, which is how this started.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (08:38): And literally, from the papers, they're buried in that context and that's just not appropriate. Part of telling that story, well, my analysis will go a long way to saying who they were from the stories of their skeleton, at least as I say that not knowing how well-preserved their skeletons will be, but even to, how did they die? We have a lot of reports of abdominal gunshot wounds. We'll see if that shows up on the skeleton. But there was also a lot of burning and we don't know if the remains were burned after the person had been shot, or if they were caught in a fire, or what the context was.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (09:17): There was even an image of one of the individuals burned thoroughly into the pugilistic pose, we call it, and that image survived. But I want to be able to tell all of that story for the people of Tulsa because we need to have the whole... especially because of the suppression, the whole story available in case another round of, "Oh, that didn't happen." I find it more important even now because it's just problematic the way truth is [crosstalk 00:09:55].

Steve Orlando (09:55): Well, I want to go down that road with you for just a minute. You, yourself, are a descendant of one of the survivors?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (10:03): Yeah. I'm a great-niece of Anna Woods. She was the wife of Ellis Walker Woods, who was the principal of Booker T. Washington High School and leader of part of the recovery. So, he was running the field hospital because it was his high school. The guy was an encourager.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (10:25): I learned of their loss. They lost their home. Aunt Anna lost her home in the riot, and I learned that when I first joined the, back then, race riot investigation in the late 1990s. So really, I think of it as 2000, but '99/'98, when the conversations first started about the investigation. And I said, "Hey," to my parents, "I'm going to help with this investigation and analyze the skeleton remains we find." My mother says, "Oh, your Aunt Anna lost her house."

Steve Orlando (11:01): So you didn't even know until you were an adult. You grew up in that you had no idea about the connection you had.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (11:07): It was not talked about.

Steve Orlando (11:07): Huh?.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (11:07): Yep. 

Steve Orlando (11:07): Huh. So, you have something in common with the other families then of the victims.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (11:14): Mm-hmm (affirmative). Learning about the history long after the fact.

Steve Orlando (11:16): Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean...

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (11:19): Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma went through a span some time after in the 60s and later where they're actively spinning that the race massacre had not occurred, so they didn't allow it to be taught. Well, they suppressed his instruction. So my colleague, Scott Ellsworth... he's an historian... in his research, he documented faculty that were told they be fired if they interviewed race massacre-

Steve Orlando (11:47): So that was the suppression you referenced?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (11:49): Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And so, it was not just saying, "Oh, we forgot this happened." It's not that simple because if it were that simple, it wouldn't have become this mission for the Black residents of Tulsa to keep the dream alive as one of the Public Oversight Committee members reminded me. They lived, grew up, with the history of knowing something happened and having to hear other people say, probably non-Black, but other Tulsans say it didn't happen or that it was Black on Black violence.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (12:27): If you look at the archive microfilm for the newspapers, I don't know if it's the Tribune or the World, but editorials reporting the race massacre were torn off before they microfilmed it, and then losing some of the vital records, like the cemetery map. Even at that time, the sheriff or police... so this historical thing... had collected as much of the negatives as he could at that time, seized them before people could keep that record and that's why we have so few images. We have the critical ones, but we have only a few images of home by home destruction. We just have mainly that panoramic and some decedents because the images were seized.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (13:17): And that context of... Not so much at first, even though it was in international papers and it was discussed in two dominant Tulsa papers, that as an issue so shameful and requiring reparations to the... "Let all the Oklahomans and Tulsa's get together to help repair Greenwood," and then that went away. Greenwood was reconstructed 11 months later, and so that helped in the concept of moving on, but not in the concept of the economic loss where the bills were never repaid; the insurance claims were not paid. And so, then the history kept going and then, by suppressing it, allowed for a lack of timely recourse for the insurance claims because that window has shut.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (14:13): That would have been a timely moment during the civil rights era to not bring up that, "Yeah, we have that race massacre." Who would want that any more conflict by reminding people that, "Yeah, yeah. We razed your neighborhood to the ground, killed some of you and some of you never came back and others"? Tulsa's a boom town, so there was room for turnover, but life changed forever. "Sorry, we're going to pretend it didn't happen."

Steve Orlando (14:44): Yeah. So, against that backdrop too, it seems to me that your work has been a major factor in returning this story to its rightful place arguably in people's minds and memories. Right?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (15:01): I think permanently. I know in this era that it is harder for people to accept a truth no matter what, but I'm looking forward to at least having this story told even down to what's left of the identity of the decedents based on their remains and what happened to them. I think we've learned enough so far to... Well, we found the first known mass grave. I don't think it's the only one, but the way the coffins are laid out are clearly indicative of having to pack coffins into a space. Some of them are only that far apart, head to foot, and we may have some stacking, which I'm not looking forward to excavating.

Steve Orlando (15:54): In a very human level, how does it make you feel to be the person who's unearthing, for lack of a better term, but bringing all of this history to light again with your own personal connection; but in the even broader sense against what's happening with race relations today in our country? At a very human, emotional level, how does that make you feel?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (16:22): I feel blessed. I feel like it's a grace that has brought me to this moment. Because I did not plan to become a forensic anthropologist, so I could be involved in Tulsa, but fortunately, I'm a forensic anthropologist involved in Tulsa. How do you plan that? This, the effect of the investigation, is causing connections and unity that I couldn't have predicted.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (16:52): Personally, I've gained the cousin as a result of this investigation and, technically, I've gained some half cousins. There needs to be a more formal recognition of the individuals and I think we'll have that. We'll have some minimum of that, but I'm hoping it'll be something more obvious to make the history very permanent because I think there'll be future... there'll be other events like this that have been hidden that'll be revealed.

Steve Orlando (17:30): What is the next phase of your work and what do you hope that will bring to light?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (17:34): The next timeline is 2021. We had hoped to have something... some remains analyzed in time for the anniversary, but when the skeletal material involved, we're still in the process, even now, finding out if we can get an exhumation order. Because the City of Tulsa needs to act like next of kin for the individuals in the mass grave because they're completely unidentified because we didn't even know there was a mass grave there until we found it. And so, there's no law yet there in Oklahoma about how to deal with excavations of that type. They're non-Native American and...

Steve Orlando (18:14): You mentioned next to year being the 100th anniversary of the massacre. Do you foresee this being a project that you might have involvement with for the rest of your life, for the rest of your career?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (18:27): My actual hope is literally that we can resolve our three known targets before anybody else dies, not that I have any control over that. But we still have an area called The Canes that's related to an area that we had identified earlier called Newblock Park. Both of those areas are near the river there and the railroad immediately located, as the narratives indicate...

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (18:53): You had real cars loaded with bodies that you had to unload downhill into a burial. We have an account from a gentleman who was ex-law enforcement. He said he saw in a training moment; he was shown a box of images from the riot. There was some secret collection. We can't confirm that collection, but his knowledge of the site is very clear because he had said at the training moment, he recognized it, and the officers showing him the images was like, "Don't talk about that." And so, he-

Steve Orlando (19:28): Really?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (19:29): Yeah. Yeah.

Steve Orlando (19:30): What has been the most surprising or unexpected aspect of this project so far?

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (19:36): Oh. It's a unity of those of us working it because people... We, the collection, we're focused on the goal. What's the goal? Our goal is to bring truth to the people of Tulsa now, not to pat our egos or get as much...

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (19:54): Will I try and milk some publications out of this? Of course, or whatever other status gains. I would love to see enough funding come in that we get a proper memorial, but I don't know. That's actually not my job. But my job is to keep telling the story and told it all the way down to the bones so that everyone who learns in their variety of ways can access this history in a permanent fashion.

Steve Orlando (20:20): I want to thank you again also for taking the time to join us.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (20:23): Oh, you're [crosstalk 00:20:23].

Steve Orlando (20:23): It was really fascinating. I've enjoyed it thoroughly.

Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield (20:25): Oh. Thank you.

Steve Orlando (20:27): I could sit here and ask you a whole lot more questions.

Kyla McMullen (20:32): This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Jeremy Waisome (20:38): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Jeremy Waisome (20:41): Unstoppable minds is a University of Florida podcast. Season Two was produced, developed and edited by Emily Cardinali and Patricia Vernon with many thanks to Matthew Abramson and James Sullivan from WUFT. We would also like to thank the UF Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing video team: Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen (21:03): If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome students, faculty and staff at the University of Florida by visiting our website at ufl.edu/unstoppable minds. Until next time, go Gators!

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Cast

Cast

  • Dr. Rodrigo Souza
  • Dr. Paul Benjamin
  • Dr. Kyla McMullen
  • Dr. Jeremy Waisome

Topics Covered

January 27, 2021 30:39

Episode 6: Overcoming the Odds and Realizing Dental Dreams

Foreign-trained dentists interested in seeking employment in the United States face numerous challenges including immigration barriers and cultural differences. The University of Florida offers a unique path to licensure in the state of Florida through the two-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD). Dr. Rodrigo Souza, the program director and clinical associate professor for the UF Health Hialeah Dental Center, leads the AEGD program where these dentists not only serve underrepresented populations but are also woven into the heart of the local community. 

Transcript

Kyla McMullen (00:05): Welcome to season two of Unstoppable Minds, a University of Florida podcast that looks at the big challenges we face in the world and how members of the UF community boldly tackle them. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome (00:24): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a lecturer in the engineering education department in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Big discoveries don't happen without overcoming formidable challenges. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues at UF who are leading the way in identifying creative solutions in research, student success and academic exploration in their unstoppable quest for knowledge.

Kyla McMullen (00:47): We are excited to introduce you to our next guest, who is Dr. Rodrigo Souza. He is the program director and clinical associate professor for the Hialeah Dental Center. Dr. Souza also leads the AEGD, or Advanced Education in General Dentistry, a program for dental residents who earned dental degrees in other countries who are seeking to earn Florida licensure. This is a unique program in the State of Florida because it provides access and opportunities for international students. Thank you so much for being here, Dr. Souza.

Dr. Souza (01:18): My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Jeremy Waisome (01:20): And we also have a special guest with us today, Dr. Paul Benjamin, who is currently a faculty member at the Hialeah Dental Center. And he is actually the first graduate of the University of Florida's dental school in the Class of 1976.

Dr. Benjamin (01:39): Charter class. Go Gators.

Jeremy Waisome (01:43): Go Gators. What's amazing to me is that you've been involved in this program since day one. And so you originated as a volunteer and now you're there full-time, is that correct?

Dr. Benjamin (01:56): That's correct.

Jeremy Waisome (01:57): That's amazing. So what does that look like? What exactly do you offer at that dental center?

Dr. Benjamin (02:05): It was a very innovative school when it started, it still is. And when it first started, it was a very unique dental school, much different than the others. And I'm just trying to bring some of that knowledge and some of that energy back to the clinic here. And thanks to Rod, I'm able to do it. I really appreciate it. Hopefully the residents appreciate it too.

Dr. Souza (02:25): I think we are a bit of Gainesville here in South Florida. So we have other faculty alongside with Dr. Benjamin that have recently graduated maybe a couple of years ago, three, four, five years ago. And some of them are in a paid capacity as part of our core faculty because they went to a specialty training and they come to teacher or residents, as specialists later and or volunteer as well. So I think we have a cross section of graduates of the college that participate in the program in some fashion.

Kyla McMullen (02:52): So one unique part of the school of dentistry is this advanced education and general dentistry program. Can you talk a bit about this and why it's so important and why you're leading this effort?

Dr. Souza (03:04): Yeah. The College of Dentistry has a few offsite programs and we are the only one in South Florida. So this program is an AEGD, Advanced Education in General Dentistry. And it has been here for 23 years. Started in 1997, same way. They didn't have a building the first year, they figured that out. And the program has changed its format over time. Was initially for domestic residents and then was for foreign training and domestic residents. When they were doing some training in Gainesville, and they come here for the second year. And then eventually, the program was changed and converted in its actual version, which is for foreign-trained dentists only. Now we have 24 residents, from all part of the globe, that come here and spend two years with us and they go into community to practice. That's basically what we do. In the process of training them, we also serve our community. So we provide dental services for the people here in Hialeah in South Florida, in Miami.

Jeremy Waisome (04:04): How does the program that you offer differ from the doctor of medicine and dentistry program that's offered at the university?

Dr. Souza (04:14): If you are a foreign-trained dentist and you come to the US and you want to practice, you have a few routes to be able to get a license. And each state has a different rule. In the state of Florida, they can either go back to dental school and do four years of dental school and they have to fulfill the prerequisites for college for that, or they can go through a program in general dentistry. That's the only two routes. For a program of general dentistry, a program like ours, is one of the routes that in two years, which is shorter than the four years for dental school, they can get their license after they finish and they take a couple of tests. So that's the only problem, through the College of Dentistry from UF that allows them through post-grad, get a license.

Kyla McMullen (05:05): That's really cool. My current dentist is actually a graduate of the AEGD program.

Dr. Souza (05:10): Is that right?

Kyla McMullen (05:11): Yeah. I saw it on his wall one day and I was like, "What in the world?" He has the plaque up. I'm like, "I wonder what that program is," and here we are.

Dr. Souza (05:19): That's nice. That's nice. Yeah. The program being here for so long, definitely a lot of people have gone through these walls, even before I came here, but we have a very diverse group right now and it's a cross-section of what you see across the globe. It's a very diverse group for people from Europe, from South America, from Central America. So I think from every continent we have had a resident at best.

Kyla McMullen (05:45): Why is this necessary? Why is it important to have these international, to give opportunities to foreign-trained dentists?

Dr. Souza (05:52): So I think it's very important because when they come here for them to be able to practice, they need to be calibrated. So we have residents that come here, they went to dental school in Japan or in Portugal or in South America, in Columbia. So they come with different levels of knowledge based on how good was the school, they had more clinical training, less clinical training. So we have to recalibrate them to the American standard, make sure that they can practice in a safe way, protecting the public when they're out there.

Two years is very short, but we're able to infuse them with a lot of knowledge, a lot of training, hands-on training, a lot of experience, and that will help them achieve those requirements. It's important for the community as well, because it provides also a cross-section of the community itself, where we are going to have a diverse group of people that is coming from all parts of the globe. We have 50% of the population not being from Miami. We have 76% of the population speaking Spanish. So we definitely want to have healthcare providers that represent that as well.

Jeremy Waisome (07:07):

What are some of the challenges that the international dentists face in getting licensed here in the United States?

Dr. Souza (07:14): Well, I'm an immigrant myself, as you can notice by my accent.

Dr. Benjamin (07:18): No way. I couldn't tell.

Dr. Souza (07:20): So being an immigrant, it's not easy. Being the first generation is not easy. So they face the challenges of every immigrant in this country, that's first generation. And the first of them is language. So we have requirements for acceptance to the University of Florida in regards to the proficiency of the English language. So they all have to have some domain of that first before they're able to apply. They have to be able to communicate with their patients and they have to be able to go through the program, the academic program, and be able to understand the content as well. The other challenge is that it's very competitive.

Dr. Souza (8:03): It's very difficult to get in. So the odds are against them. So they have to fight back and be able to be the best in the group, so they are selected to be here. When you get here, as an immigrant, life gets to you and it's very hard. You cannot practice or have the standards you had before. So it's not uncommon that when they first come here, you have lots of stories of success, where people they came and they were carrying luggage at the airport, they were driving trucks. One of our faculty, his first job, when he first came from Cuba, he was driving trucks. My first job here was as a waiter as well. So life is hard and if you want to do well, if you want to get better, you have to improve yourself, have to keep pushing. So those were the biggest challenges, life itself. And then dentistry is very competitive to get in.

Dr. Souza (08:56): There's not many programs like ours across the country. As a matter of fact, very few programs, they are two years and two years only that fulfill the requirement for the state of Florida for licensure. And very few programs that cater to the foreign-trained dentists like we do. Many programs will accept a foreign-trained dentist, but they don't cater to them specifically. So they have a mix of domestic and foreign-trained dentists in their group. So just to give some numbers on that, probably that's the boring part, you can cut that off.

Kyla McMullen (09:33): The numbers are good. We like numbers.

Dr. Souza (09:34): You have about 17,000 applicants, domestic and foreign training, for these types of positions each year across the country. Out of those, about 1,700 will get in, so 10 to one, that's the ratio to get in. In our program, it's around 15 to one. It's a little higher because the demand is higher for our program. And out of those 1,700, there are two kinds of programs, AEGD and GPR, general practice residency, for our kind about 700 positions across the nation each year. Out of those 700 positions, 150 are for foreign-trained dentists. So out of those 17,000 that I just mentioned, only around 150 each year are foreign-trained dentists getting access to these types of positions across the nation. So it's really hard to get in.

Jeremy Waisome (10:25): Wow. That's extremely competitive.

Kyla McMullen (10:27): I could imagine. Prior to this, I was reading up just on the diversity in dental programs. And we're in STEM fields and engineering and computer science, and we have a problem with lack of representation. And I see that that's the same, you all have a similar problem in dentistry. So how do you see this program helping to contribute to the overall diversity of the dental program at UF?

Dr. Souza (10:50): Yeah. So the University of Florida really committed with diversity. That's one of the great things about our college. And it is already one of the most diverse in the nation. So I think we are doing a good job about that, but there's more to be done. And a program like ours comes to fulfill that portion. And if you look at distribution of dentists in the sof Florida, there's still under-representation for African-Americans, for Latino dentists, for Asian dentists. If you looked at the same chart, the same distribution across dental students across the nation, there's also an under-representation. So I think there is a need there. We come to fill the void because all of our residents come from this diverse background. 

 

Dr. Souza (11:39): All of our residents, they come from different parts of the globe. So we just went through our selection process last month and we had over 25 different countries represented. We ended up with people from eight different countries. But there's people from all over the globe that comes here. Everybody has the same aspirations, everybody wants to do better in life. Everybody wants to do better for their kids. So what we see is in our program, that people come from those places. So historically, you can see a lot of people that come from Cuba because of the political problems that we have with Cuba. On the last few years, we see a lot of people applying that come from Venezuela because economical problems and political problems of Venezuela. We see recently, lots of people applying from Syria, from Iraq and some other Middle Eastern countries because of the problems in those countries as well. So that's kind of what we see applying coming in here.

Jeremy Waisome (12:37): So I'm thinking about this program, it being really accelerated in comparison to the traditional dental degree. And one of the things that stand out is your proximity to the community and your ability to kind of engage with patients from a much broader background because of where you're located. Do you do anything special with the community? Do you work with them for boards or anything like that to bring them in, to help train the students or the dentists in this case?

Dr. Souza (13:20): Absolutely. Being part of the community and being present within the community is really important. We're part of the fabric of the community and we've been here for 23 years and we try to spread the word as much as possible and developing partnerships with different groups of populations that we can help that also will help our residents to be trained. But we still hear that we are sometimes a hidden treasure because the University of Florida is mainly and mostly in Gainesville, even though we have a presence all across the state. So we do partner with some community health centers. We do partner with some foster kids’ agencies. We do partner with some mental health institutions close by. We are in health fairs and partner with some groups who are different initiatives. So we are trying to spread the word as much as possible.

Dr. Souza (14:15): With COVID, that has come to a pause a little bit. We are not as much in the community because we can't be. But we try to be as present as possible. And I think our patient visits kind of reflect that. If you look over time, how many patient visits we have had, it has increased tremendously. Right now, we go from 14,000 to 16,000 patient visits per year. And a number that we are very proud of is that almost half of the numbers, 7, 8,000 patient visits, they are for patients that fall under, below the 200 percentile of the poverty line. So those are the underserved, the neglected, the people that really need some help, and we are here for them.

Dr. Benjamin (15:03): And you'd be surprised by the way. It's always surprised me the reputation the University of Florida has. Not just that I'm a Gator. Okay, I get it. But I went to university. It's Miami Dade College. So, I didn't start at UF but we have an excellent reputation. People come from different places. A lot of far away just because they know it's the University of Florida and they feel comfortable. They know we're watching them and we do take special care of people. And that type of respect that we try to give and show it to our patients, I think they perceive it. So, it's kind of a neat feeling when people look up and think so highly of the University of Florida. It does make you feel good.

Jeremy Waisome (15:41): Definitely.

Kyla McMullen (15:44): Definitely. So Dr. Benjamin, you've been a part of this program forever. 

Dr. Benjamin (15:47): Yes.

Kyla McMullen (15:47): So when you initially started and then came back to teach, this is a two-parter, did you have the vision that this program would succeed at the levels that it has and that it would be, what it currently is now? And then for Dr. Souza, how do you see it even moving forward, in the next 10 or 20 years?

Dr. Benjamin: (16:09) What I liked best about this program is that different cultures. If you don't get a tear in your eye when you hear the stories that come through here from all the different dentists. What they went through. I didn't go through too much. I had to go to Shenandoah Elementary School here in Miami. That was kind of tough [inaudible 00:16:27] on the tray on me. My stories are like nothing. I had a great early child. Everything's fine. The stories these people tell you, oh my goodness, the hair raises on your back of your hand. They went through a lot to get here. It's very impressive. And then they watch them come into the clinic and try to get to learn the different cultures here. So yes, there are people from Colombia and Venezuela and Cuba and okay, I get it. But there's also other cultures.

 

Dr. Benjamin (16:55):  We got residents that come or dentists come from Haiti or from Egypt or from wherever they come from. But they have to mix with people from different cultures when they're here. And so, they watch them get the maneuver around different cultures and the patients get to know these dentists and see different cultures with our dentists. It's exciting and it's thrilling to see this intermix of cultures and that's America and you can't beat it. It's just fun to watch it, fun to watch the residents grow. And an insurance side level. Not that we did this on purpose, but the majority of our dental residents are female. Yes, exactly. I saw the face there. Exactly. And we have classes now, we have 12 in each class we've had. I think this year was 10 in two?

Dr. Souza (17:45): 10 and two.

Kyla McMullen (17:46): Wow!

Dr. Benjamin (17:46): 10 and two.

Dr. Souza (17:48): Fun fact, Dr. Benjamin teaches an improv class because he believes that dentists need to improve their communication. We don't want our patients to come here, you need a root canal and that's it. Sit on the chair. So he really teaches an innovative course here. When our residents learn how to not improve the English, but improve the communication.

Dr. Benjamin (18:07): My daughter is the improv person, not me. She's the improv person up in Tennessee. She teaches it up there. But we're trying to steal Alan Alda's concept. I don't know if anybody's ever heard of Alan Alda, but he teaches an improv course. He used to be an actor, is an actor, not used to be, in New York. He did M*A*S*H, the TV series. Yes. He saw that he could teach physicians how to communicate better through improv, because you have to communicate, you have to be in the present. You have to listen to what the other person's saying so you can relate and talk on an improv level.

Dr. Benjamin (18:40): And so you can go to New York, take his courses, they're almost impossible to get into. And he teaches originally, he was just teaching physicians. So one of the things we try to stress here is sort of an improv technique. So when you go, listen and sit down with your dentist, they're listening to you, they're paying attention to you, they're empathetic. And I think that's so important that you want to feel that you're the most important person sitting in that chair, because most people go to dentists. Let's be honest, they're not looking forward to it. It's not like a spa. So they're a little nervous. So a dentist can be empathetic, can listen to you, talk to you, that goes a long way.

Jeremy Waisome (19:17): I'm one of those strange people who love going to the dentist.

Dr. Benjamin (19:21): Oh, you're not strange, you're normal. We like you. Send her a card now.

Jeremy Waisome (19:26): Whenever I meet people, they're always telling me they don't like it. And it's literally one of my favorite things. And I think it goes back to my childhood and the experiences that I had with my childhood dentist, who genuinely cared about me and my teeth, but also my family. And I can see how, what you are instilling in your dentists, really matters and how that's going to change communities, not just within the state of Florida, but across the world.

Kyla McMullen (19:55): I think one common theme that's come out of this podcast and other ones we've done here, is communication and the importance of communicating scientific concepts to people on a level that they can understand. And the fact that you all are actually focusing on making sure people understand what's going on, not just sit in this chair, get this procedure, goodbye, where's your copay. You all are actually caring about them and are understanding. That's extremely commendable.

Dr. Benjamin (20:22): And you have to talk the language people understand. If I say erythemic area in the left part of my cheek, what's erythemic? It's red. Oh, just say red. We talk a different language. Talk language we all understand. And sometimes we just don't do that, we're talking on a different level. And I think that's important too, is we need to, like you said, communicate with one another and listen. I think one of the things don't do enough is just sit and listen. People tell you stuff.

Dr. Souza (20:50): And I think that's where people from a diverse background can really be part of the community and understand the patient better than anybody else. You know the foods that they're eating, you know the problems they are having, you know navigating through the same ecosystem. So it helps a whole lot when you can be part of the fabric as a professional and help out improving their lives through their teeth.

Dr. Benjamin (21:12): Dentistry, what we're trying to do, we're still working on it, we're definitely 100% not there, is dentistry should look like the community. There should be dentists that look like the community. That's how you communicate too that you relate to people because you're part of the community. And that's something we struggle at. It's not easy to do. But yes, I think that's a real positive, is that a lot of our residents who leave the program look like and talk like and are part of the community. That's important.

Kyla McMullen (21:42): So, I wanted to circle back to something you said earlier. You mentioned that a lot of the people who come through the program have these really compelling stories. Can you share an anecdote of a student that particularly sparked you during your experience and their story?

Kyla McMullen (21:42): So, I wanted to circle back to something you said earlier. You mentioned that a lot of the people who come through the program have these really compelling stories. Can you share an anecdote of a student that particularly sparked you during your experience and their story?

Dr. Souza (21:58): Yeah, there's a few, I can mention one personal story that we had this resident here years ago. That her personal story was very compelling because she tried to leave Cuba three times and she was arrested two times. So, in the process of trying to try to leave by boat, she was unsuccessful, brought back to jail and stay the last time for as far as I remember, she stayed six months in jail just for attempting to leave the country. And on the third time she was successful, she came here and then time goes by. She was able to be reunited with her family and able to learn English, get the other documents and apply to this program. Now she's a practicing dentist in our community. So, our residents, they are older in life when they come here. Many of them have families. As our requirement to apply, they must have a Green Card or be citizen. So, it takes them a while to navigate to the immigration system. And life goes on, they get married, they have kids.

Dr. Souza (23:01): So, it's just harder for them. Imagine that you're a mom of two, you have two young kids and you have to study for your boards and you have to apply. And once you start, this is a very demanding program. You have to be here sometimes from seven to seven, and you're on call and you'll have lots of assignments. So, it's difficult to navigate for them and have young kids and having life on top of everything else. So, it's not like they put everything on pause and just study. So, you have to understand that. And with that, what we gained from that is of residence more mature. A resident that understands the patients. A resident that starts trying to push themselves and doing everything they can to succeed because that's the golden chance, the golden ticket to fulfill the American dream. So, from the residents, we have another success story, which is like I briefly mentioned is one of our faculty here, one of our paid faculty.

Dr. Souza (23:58): Like I said, he was a truck driver when he first came. He already had gotten a license in Cuba first and then he moved to Costa Rica, got a license in Costa Rica, and then eventually moved to the U.S. So, for the third time, he's starting again and that's not uncommon. We have several people with that background. And then he went to the program. He became a provider in the community. He wants to give back. He wants to be a faculty. He wants to pass it on the torch and teach others. And that's exactly what happened. And now actually his daughter is going through the same steps and following her dad's footsteps and trying to become a dentist here in the U.S.

Dr. Souza (24:37): So, that's another success story of the program. I think one of the reasons Jeremy, why you have such a positive attitude towards dentistry is the fact that you had a chance to have a dental home being brought up. And this is like what we try to teach and educate our community here as well. The importance of having a dentist that you can go to, and have easy access to. That really care about you. There'll be part of your community. There'll be involved with your family. And that's what we try to teach our residents to carry that through, not to have episodic procedures done, but to be a true dental home for all your needs. And most of the providers in the State of Florida, they still are solo practitioners. So, most of our community patients still have that one family dentist. So, we've got to make sure that we're able to cater to that as well.

Kyla McMullen (25:29): You know your Hialeah Dental Center was located right inside of a COVID hotspot earlier this year. And your clinic was one of the first groups to employ the UF screen, test, and protect program. So, did this pose any challenges for the international dentist entering your program?

Dr. Souza (25:48): It has posed a challenge to us to understand the disease. And now we know a little bit more, and we know as a [inaudible 00:25:55] we know that we have very little transmission between patients to providers or providers to patients in a dental office. So yes, it's possible to happen of course, but with all the precautions that we have in place, as long as you have enough supply of the PPE and you have those steps in place, it's fairly safe. So, the way that we've been practicing has been protecting both of our patients and our residents and our staff as well.

Jeremy Waisome (26:24): I always wonder how someone decides dentistry is it for me. That's what I'm going to pursue.

Dr. Souza (26:31): For me. I'm the first generation to go to college in my family so I always had an inclination for service for the healthcare. So, I was in between...

Dr. Benjamin (26:42): See how good that sounds. Come on. See how good that sounds. I want to help people. I want people to be healthy. What did I do? It sounds like a good job.

Dr. Souza (26:48): I was in between medicine and dentistry and I had the chance to choose between both and I went into dentistry. That's how I became a dentist, but I did an infusion at the time when you start your program, that I would become a faculty. So, I am as much of a dentist as I am a professor.

Dr. Benjamin (27:04): I think one of the things that Rod brings to this whole process is we are like a family. And it's a Gator nation, it's a Gator family, but it's like a family. And one of the things we strive very hard to do, and I think we've been very successful at it is even though it's very competitive to get into this program, once you're in the program, one of the things that I was taught first day of dental school is to look to your right, look to your left, to the student or resident that's there. That's not your competitor. That's your colleague. If you learn something, you teach them that. If they learn something, they'll teach you. So, I think one of the things I give total credit to Dr. Souza because he wasn't in that first class with me, but he did it -- is to make sure that we are not in competition, that we weren't together. We work together and we help each other out. And I think that's a very positive attitude.

Dr. Benjamin (27:55): One of the things I've heard over the years from this clinic before and now is that we treat each other with respect and dignity and with compassion and that we are a family. And I think that comes across, the patients pick that up and perceive that's happening here. And that's a good thing.

Dr. Souza (28:15): And last year we were named number one clinic with the highest satisfaction ratings from our patients.

Dr. Benjamin (28:23): And it's true. And I filled out 95 of those forms myself. Is that wrong to do?

Jeremy Waisome (28:29): Oh my goodness. All I see right now is like brothers. I don't know how you feel about each other, but it's coming across that you have this strong connection with each other. And it does feel a lot like family. And I think it's great to be able to come to work and feel at home. And I think that the University of Florida does a great job of doing that. And it's so great to see it happening, not just in Gainesville, but in other places where the University of Florida is located. So, that's great.

Kyla McMullen (29:05): I love it. I want to join dental school now.

Dr. Benjamin (29:08): Well, come on. We need more dentists. 

Kyla McMullen (29:11): It seems so amazing down there. I really like when there's just collegial faculty and you really enjoy what you're doing and it's just so fulfilling to do what you do.

Jeremy Waisome (29:19): I thought you were happy with us.

Dr. Souza (29:21): [crosstalk 00:29:21] Whenever you're in town, let us know. Come down here.

Dr. Benjamin (29:25): Come down, bring your Gator stuff on and we're ready to party. 

Dr. Souza (29:28) We’re going to smell the floss.

Kyla McMullen (29:30): I'll skip that part. That part is not necessary, but all the rest of it, yes.

Jeremy Waisome (29:35): Oh, my goodness.

Kyla McMullen (29:41): This is unstoppable minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Jeremy Waisome (29:46): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us. Unstoppable minds is a University of Florida podcast. Season two was produced, developed and edited by Emily Cardinale and Patricia Vernon with many thanks to Matthew Abramson and James Sullivan from WUFT. We would also like to thank the UF Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing Video Team, Brianne Leanne, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen (30:12): If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome students, faculty and staff at the University of Florida by visiting our website at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go Gators.

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Cast

Cast

  • Hygens Succes
  • Dr. Kyla McMullen
  • Dr. Jeremy Waisome

Topics Covered

January 13, 2021 31:08

Episode 5: Paying it Forward: Inspiring Middle School Students to be Unstoppable

A former linebacker for the Florida Gators who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Florida is now a passionate educator and middle school math teacher in his hometown of Belle Glade, Florida. Hygens Succes reinvests in the community that shaped him because his journey as a first-generation college student was supported by the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship (MFOS).  The MFOS program provides transformative access, comprehensive scholarships, and elite support programs that change the academic trajectories of first-generation students.

Transcript

Kyla McMullen (00:05): Welcome to season two of Unstoppable Minds, a University of Florida podcast that looks at the big challenges we face in the world. And how members of the UF community boldly tackle them. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullin, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome (00:24): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a lecturer in the engineering education department in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Big discoveries don't happen without overcoming formidable challenges. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues at UF who are leading the way in identifying creative solutions in research, student success, and academic exploration in their unstoppable quest for knowledge. 

Jeremy Waisome (00:47): We are so excited to welcome Hygens Success, a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship alum, and a former linebacker for the Florida Gators. Hey, how's it going? 

Hygens Succes (00:58): Oh it's going pretty well. Just at home on a typical Saturday, just enjoying some football today. 

Jeremy Waisome (01:04): Are you ready for the game? 

Hygens Succes (01:06): Oh yeah, definitely. 

Jeremy Waisome (01:09): So now you're a middle school math teacher in your hometown of Belle Glade, Florida. How did you end up back at home? 

Hygens Succes (01:20): That's a good question. I wanted to go back home to teach because I always felt like when I was in school, and it was not even me personally, but just seeing the way that some of my peers and some of my friends were treated by teachers, per se. I always wanted to be a difference maker, be a different teacher than some of the ones that you know I've had. And again, I was a pretty good student. I was an honor roll student, straight A type student. So I didn't have those issues. But some of my friends that were not as academically inclined, they did have a lot of issues where a teacher would, I don't want to say give up on them, but you could tell that the teacher was, "Okay, I'm going to get the most of my money right here with the kids that I know will pass, or get the most from the kids that I know are going to do well," and pretty much left the ones that weren't fend for themselves. So for me, that was big. And I felt like going back home, there's nowhere else that I would rather be that teacher than back home. So giving back to my community. I've been public school all my life. So pretty much, I'm a product of that system. I'm a product of the public school education growing up in Belle Glade. 

Kyla McMullen (02:46): So did you know before you went to UF, through your high school experience that you were like, "This whole teaching situation isn't the way it needs to be. I want to come back." Or was it something that sort of evolved over time? 

Hygens Succes (02:57): I think it evolved over time. You have your moments while you're in middle school or high school, but you really don't know what it should be until you're done. So looking back at it, when you get to college and you see, okay, this is how a professors should be. Or this is how someone who's leading the class should be. And then you think back on your career through high school or middle school, and you start making those comparisons and say, "Okay, did I ever have that in a teacher? Did I ever have a teacher that pulled me to the side and spoke to me after I did not pass a test?" Or, "Did I ever have a teacher that I came in one day and I just put my head down," which was not normal. Did that person take a couple of minutes to walk over and, "Hey, is everything okay? I noticed you're not yourself today." 

Jeremy Waisome (03:50): It sounds like your passion for education started when you were really young. Because you said you were a straight A student and you were really dedicated in the classroom. So is that from your parents, your family? 

Hygens Succes (04:03): Well, I was going to say, I don't know if it's passion or if it's just I don't want to get in trouble with mom and dad. 

Kyla McMullen (04:07): You sound like me. 

Hygens Succes (04:10): But either way, I knew bringing home Cs or Ds was unacceptable. So knowing that, knowing what I had to do and doing it, eventually it started becoming fun. Just like when you're playing sports. When you first start off and you don't know how to play, you're not having fun. It's not fun getting thrown to the ground, or it's not fun getting fouled in basketball, but as you learn the game and you get better, now you start having fun. You watch professional athletes, they're enjoying it. They're having fun because they know it. So for me, same thing with education. I started having fun in school when I started learning, when I started to say, "Okay, I could do this. Now I know I can play around with this math problem and solve it a different way." 

Jeremy Waisome (05:01): I like that analogy. That's a great analogy. 

Hygens Succes (05:03): Yeah, but it definitely was something that from home, knowing my parents and their value on education, that basically it just came down to me and my older brother and the rest of the siblings. 

Kyla McMullen (05:18): So it sounds like since your parents has such a strong emphasis on education, did you always know that you would be going to college or were there other options? 

Hygens Succes (05:27): It was pretty much college. Yeah, I didn't think of any other options. We never talked about other options. I know there are a lot of options and college is not for everyone. We have trade schools and we have the services and things like that. But for me, it was always, "OK, I'm going to go to college." I know mom didn't go, dad didn't go, but that's something that we've always stressed. We've always planned, even when I selecting my classes in high school. 

Jeremy Waisome (06:00): As a first-generation college student, how did you decide where you were going to go to college? How was that process? 

Hygens Succes (06:09): It was a long process for me.

Jeremy Waisome (06:10): Was it football or was it academics? 

Hygens Succes (06:12): Right. And that's what made it so long and hard of a process, because I had really had a lot of options. I had the football, I had a pretty good football career playing at Glade Central High School. It's one of the, probably, top 10 high school programs in the country. And I played three years of varsity football there, was a state champion. Was an all-state state player my senior year. But entering my senior year, I did not garner the offers or interest level that I thought I deserved. Like all players, we over estimate our ability sometimes. But I knew, okay, I always had my academics in place. I knew that my GPA was there. That summer leading into my junior year, I did not attend football camps. I was working on scholarships. I was working on making sure my packets were there, making sure I had reference letters from different people from the community or different people from school. So I was pretty much ensuring that, "You know what? If I don't get the offer that I want, I'm not just going to settle for a school. I'm going to attend whatever school I want academically." 

Hygens Succes (07:26): So I'm a south Florida kid, and I decided that I was going to either go to USF or Florida, so I had done ruled out the third school. And for me, the determining factor ... And I had never been to Gainesville. So it wasn't like I had some admiration or anything for Gainesville or the university. It was the fact that I was a recipient for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship. 

Jeremy Waisome (07:55): Oh. 

Hygens Succes (07:55): Right. And that was it. If I did not get that scholarship, I would not have been at Florida. 

Jeremy Waisome (08:01): Wow. 

Kyla McMullen (08:01): That's amazing. That's amazing. 

Hygens Succes (08:03): ... been at Florida. 

Kyla McMullen (08:03): Wow, that's amazing. That's amazing. 

Hygens Succes (08:04): So that's what led me to Florida. I received the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship, and I was like, "That's where I'm going." 

Kyla McMullen (08:13): Did you get a lot of support through the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship? What was that experience like, during your years in college? 

Hygens Succes (08:21): It was a great experience. I think receiving that scholarship allowed me to not just stay at UF, but actually thrive at UF. Being a first generation college student, I struggled a lot of things at the start of my college career. I joke around all the time, I remember I got my financial aid, and I ran up to the bookstore that's on campus, and I think I spend like $600 on books. I was excited. I had my own credit card, my own debit card. For the first time, I had money in my own account for the first time. 

Hygens Succes (08:57): I went to buy my books. I'm excited about starting school and college. And I got to my first class, the professor said, "Oh, we won't use the book." And I had this look on my face like... 

Kyla McMullen (09:09): Oh, man. 

Jeremy Waisome (09:09): What? 

Hygens Succes (09:12): I had this look on my face like, "We're not using the book? Okay." So I go to the next class, and it's like, "Oh, don't worry about purchasing the book." And I'm like, "Okay, so now that's two for two." So I go back to the bookstore, I think the next day, and because I had torn the label, the package from the textbook, they were now deemed used. 

Jeremy Waisome (09:36): Oh, gosh. 

Hygens Succes (09:36): So the textbook I spend $100 or $80 on, they were offering me $20 to buy it back. 

Kyla McMullen (09:46): That's the worst. 

Hygens Succes (09:46): And I'm like ... That was my first lesson of welcome to college, first generation, you don't know anything. And probably the last four years at my time at UF, I didn't spend $200 on textbooks. 

Jeremy Waisome (09:59): Yeah. 

Hygens Succes (10:00): I learned that I can rent them online. 

Jeremy Waisome (10:02): You learn quick. 

Hygens Succes (10:02): Right, you can rent them online, you can buy from other students. That was that. 

Jeremy Waisome (10:08): Yeah. I just wanted to mention, MFOS is what we call it on campus. They've supported over 5,000 scholars at this point, which I think is absolutely incredible. 

Hygens Succes (10:20): It's a blessing. 

Jeremy Waisome (10:21): Absolutely. 

Hygens Succes (10:22): I know that my graduating year, which is 2009, I think it's 11 or 12 or us from my graduating high school class that went to UF. And out of the 12, I think 9 or 10 received MFOS. And I can promise you, speaking for myself, like I said, that was my main reason for going. I can almost guarantee you that the other 8 or 9 had the same reason for going to UF. Because we're all raised in the same community, all our parents are pretty much in the same financial situation and the same bracket. So we all understood the importance of not having to actually pay for school, or not having to actually work two or three jobs. I had friends at UF that were working two or three jobs and working work-study. And for me, MFOS allowed me to just focus on my academics. 

Kyla McMullen (11:21): Which is the way it should be. 

Jeremy Waisome (11:22): Yeah, because it covers your full financial aid, right? 

Hygens Succes (11:26): Correct. 

Jeremy Waisome (11:26): So that's… 

Hygens Succes (11:26): It covers the full financial aid, and I think it was up to 10 semesters. I don't know if it's changed or not. But as long as you kept your GPA above, I want to say a 2.5 at the time, you would get 10 semesters covered. Even if you somehow messes up on a semester, it wasn't truly a punishment, almost. They allowed you to make a mistake, because it happens. Like I said, we're all first generation at the time, so we understood you're not going to come out the gate with a 4.0, or come out the gates just being the great student that you've always been, because it was a lot of adjustments. I definitely appreciate Dr. Machen for getting that scholarship started, along with, I think it was coach Billy Donovan with Gator Basketball, and the opportunities that it allowed me and my classmates to have. It's wonderful. 

Kyla McMullen (12:25): I think it's also important to point out, too, that it's not just a cool scholarship program to get people degrees. The alum to go really cool places like Google, GE, Amazon, the Peace Corps. Some people go to graduate school, they become lawyers, dentists, police officers, teachers, mental health counselors. They even go on to grad school, often times, at great places like UF, Harvard, Cornell, University of Chicago, Yale, U Penn. The list goes on. I think it's really cool to just show that students who may not have had that opportunity, literally just given money and support to go to college, go off and do great things. 

Jeremy Waisome (13:05): Yeah. But it's not just money, right? You have real mentors, and… 

Hygens Succes (13:07): Right, it's not just money. Your first year, you're assigned a mentor, and then you also take a first year Florida class. We had different activities with the group. I know when went to an etiquette dinner. It was basically this nice restaurant, nice fancy place, and they brought someone over just teaching us things that we probably ... Again, personally speaking, I never sat at a dinner table with Mom and Dad and family, and have dinner. For me, it's always grab as you go. Mom's probably working, Dad's working. You kind of just, you're with a neighbor or you're with a family member. For me, that was nice, just being able to enjoy a nice dinner, but also be around and be surrounded by students that you know come from the same situation, or similar situations. It brought a different level of comfort. It allowed you to be yourself. 

Hygens Succes (14:11): You're meeting kids from Miami, you're meeting kids from Florida, from Jacksonville, from Orlando. And we became friends. I know I ended up being roommates with two or three other guys because we met through the MFOS scholarship. 

Jeremy Waisome (14:27): I think Florida's really good at that. I participated in a program, and it was a summer bridge type of program for engineering students. And the community that it creates when you are starting out, and you don't really know anybody, but you have the change to network with people who are going to go through the same experiences as you in college, it's huge. And we're still friends today. And that was, for me, 15 years ago that I became connected with my community in engineering through the Step Up program. So yeah, it's a big deal, and I just love the fact that there are all these little communities across campus that you learn about slowly during your time on campus. 

Hygens Succes (15:15): That's true. 

Jeremy Waisome (15:15): You came to Florida for academics. 

Hygens Succes (15:16):Correct. 

Jeremy Waisome (15:16): Like a boss. And then did you walk-on? 

Kyla McMullen (15:18): You just took [crosstalk 00:15:18] football field. 

Jeremy Waisome (15:18): How does that go down? I need to know? 

Hygens Succes (15:31): I went to Florida for academics, and I spent my freshman year just being a normal student. Like I said, getting adjusted to college life, and learning campus, which seems like it took the entire year to only learn one half of campus. 

Jeremy Waisome (15:47):A little piece of it, right? 

Hygens Succes (15:49): [crosstalk 00:15:49] piece. "I know how to get from my dorm to Broward Dining. Good. I've made progress in the last month." 

Jeremy Waisome (15:55):That's a win. 

Hygens Succes (15:55): That's a win. All right, next month we'll go to Turlington. It was, for me, when I got there, you know... 

Hygens Succes (16:03): So, it was for me, when I got there, I had a conversation with a couple of guys from my hometown that had played football at Florida in the mid-'90s. Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony, Johnny Rutledge. So those guys were on the championship team for coach Spurrier, I think '96. 

Kyla McMullen (16:19): Yeah. 

Hygens Succes (16:20): So when they found out I was at Florida, but I wasn't playing ball, I don't remember which one of them started the conversation, but one of them called me and pretty much was like, "Hey man, you got to keep the tradition going. You're from Belle Glade, you played at Glades Central." So I was like, "I think about it." At the time, I'm enjoying this freedom. 

Jeremy Waisome (16:47): What a luxury. 

Hygens Succes (16:47): I found his new-found freedom I'm having. I get to set my classes. I wake up when I want. It's hard to give that up and go into a structured football life. 

Kyla McMullen (16:56): That's a good point. 

Hygens Succes (16:57): But I decided, after a while, I was, "Okay, I've had enough fun this first year." So I contacted one of the guys that was a part of the staff at the time under coach Urban Meyer. So I walked on the football team the fall of my sophomore year... 

Kyla McMullen (17:16):Okay, wow. 

Hygens Succes (17:16):... which happened to be the last year that Urban Meyer was our coach. 

Kyla McMullen (17:20): Uh-huh (affirmative). 

Hygens Succes (17:20): So my first year was his last year. I think I ran him out of Gainesville, but he said it was health issues. Maybe it was me. It was like, "Who's this little walk-on kid. Get out of here." 

Jeremy Waisome (17:32): Oh my gosh. 

Hygens Succes (17:32): It was a great experience. I would definitely do it all over again. I know even now when I speak to high school seniors and guys that may not have the offer that they want. That's something that I talk with them about now is making sure that your grades and academics are aligned, because now you can go to any school you want, if you feel like, "You know what? I didn't get an offer from Miami? Okay, I'm going to go to your arch rivalry, if I feel like it. Academically, and I'm going to walk on, I'm going to possibly earn a scholarship, and you will see me in a year or two." 

Kyla McMullen (18:06): Right, you're going to see this face.

Jeremy Waisome (18:09): At what point in your college career did you decide, "You know what, I'm going to do this teaching thing, and I'm going to go back home and I'm going to make a change in my community." 

Hygens Succes (18:23): After undergrad, I decided, "Okay, you know what, I want to do this teaching thing." And I knew I wanted to in undergrad, but it was really like starting to actually, "Okay, it's really what I want to do. I really want to go back home and do it." I could have went anywhere and teach. I wanted to be home. And I wanted to teach in my community because, even now I don't live in Belle Glade anymore. My mom and I would purchase the home over in West Palm about four years ago, a family home. 

Kyla McMullen (18:58): Nice. 

Hygens Succes (19:00): But I still teach in Belle Glade, in Pohokee. 

Kyla McMullen (19:04): So what's it like teaching students who are coming up in the same neighborhood? Do they not believe that your back or what is that like? So I can imagine that they probably relate to you a lot better than other teachers. 

Hygens Succes (19:17): It's a mix. It's a mixed feeling. For one, I teach math. So they hated math probably from the first day that they started school. So, automatically, each year, I know I'm probably top five, most hated person on campus just because of what I teach. 

Jeremy Waisome (19:40): Uh-huh (affirmative). 

Hygens Succes (19:41): Not because of me personally. 

Jeremy Waisome (19:42): They don't know you. They just know the subject. 

Hygens Succes (19:46): Right. So for me, go in there and say, "You know what? You know you're going to get a lot of pushback. You teach math. It's not going to be easy. You're dealing with kids that have under-performed in math for years, from maybe three or four years underachieved. It's gotten harder for them. Year by year is getting harder. So by the time they get to me in seventh grade, which I am now… 

Jeremy Waisome (20:09): Hmm. That's a pivotal time. 

Hygens Succes (20:11): It's four years of frustration. 

Kyla McMullen (20:11): Yeah. 

Hygens Succes (20:11): It's three, four years of frustration. Three, four years of feeling like you failed at it. And now here's Mr. Succes, all smiling like everything's supposed to be good. 

Jeremy Waisome (20:21): Mr. Succes. I love it. 

Kyla McMullen (20:21): I love it. 

Hygens Succes (20:25): I get that. But then, once they start to realize like, "Okay, he actually cares, he's actually going to take time to make sure that we understand what we need to understand." My teaching style is different. It's not perfect. It's not what everyone wants it to be or textbook, because kids are not textbook. It's not a one size fit all. 

Kyla McMullen (20:49): Right. 

Hygens Succes (20:50): So, I go to a lot of trainings, obviously, for teaching and you watch the videos and "This is how it's supposed to look in your classroom." And in my head, I'm like, " Oh yeah? It looks nothing like that in my classroom because my students are different." I relate to them in that way. They may be having a bad morning. If that student is four or five minutes late to class, you have to understand the situation. It's not an automatic, "Hey, you're late. You can't come in." Or, "Hey, you're late, go to the front office." 

Hygens Succes (21:24): They had to walk their third grade brother to school or they had to walk there to make sure they get there safely. It's not the nicest neighborhood or the nicest communities. So, just being understanding of what they come from and their situations at home, because, again, I'm from a similar situation. I have younger siblings that I had to make sure and help out to get ready for school because mom had to go to work. It's not like she had time to get everyone prepared. 

Kyla McMullen (21:54): And I think your presence there so important. I was on a dissertation committee for someone whose dissertation was about looking at identities for kids who play football and seeing how to also let them have an identity of "I'm also a scholar, I'm also a some other interest." I think at one point in 2015, it was stated that of the entire teaching population only 2% were black males. So they have no idea that they're literally seeing a unicorn in the classroom. 

Hygens Succes (22:25): Right. Like you said, I've read numerous places, I think first off about 10% of the teaching profession are males. And then, like you said, 2% are black male. So for me, I'm part of that 2%. And that's something that you can talk to the kids about. Once they have someone there to explain things and put things into perspective, they start seeing it a different way. I think for most of the kids, it's just a matter of no one having that tough conversation with them. There's a thin line between not supporting your goals and dreams, and giving you reality. I have a younger brother now, he's a sophomore at Alabama A & M University, and he's a football player. He earned a scholarship to Alabama A & M, but he did not earn that scholarship until the spring going into his senior year. So prior to that, we were doing what I was doing going into my senior year. We were making sure, "Hey, you're applying to Florida, right? If you want some assistance financially, do the right thing. No pressure, that's all." 

Jeremy Waisome (23:38): It sounds like you have a gift for mentoring. 

Kyla McMullen (23:41): I was about to say the same thing, Jeremy. 

Jeremy Waisome (23:44): And that's very uncommon, I think, to have a black male role model who's willing to give back in the way that you're giving back. 

Hygens Succes (23:54): It's not always easy. I'm not going to sit here and act like it's the easiest thing to do all the time because I… 

Hygens Succes (24:03): It's the easiest thing to do all the time, because like I say, you have to have those conversations. If you're going to expect the kids to respect you, they have to know that you're going to be honest. I coached high school basketball the last four years. And one thing you know about me, I may not be the best coach, but I'm going to be an honest coach. And I'm going to let you know what your strengths are and what some of the things that you could possibly hurt the team by doing. If you're not a shooter, hey man, you might be the best passer in the gym. Show that off. 

Kyla McMullen (24:44): That's what the coach tells me. 

Hygens Succes (24:44): Show off your skills. 

Jeremy Waisome (24:44): Kyla, you're tall but you can pass. 

Kyla McMullen (24:45): And that's why it's even more of a problem that I can't shoot. 

Hygens Succes (24:47): So for me, it's whether I'm in a classroom or I'm on the sidelines coaching, I want to make sure that they know, hey, he has my back, but he's going to be honest about it. 

Kyla McMullen (24:58): Yeah. So much of the research talks about how imagery and seeing people in a position who look like you, how important that is for kids at such a young age. And you're doing this by the hundreds at school. 

Hygens Succes (25:09): Definitely, like I said, coming from Belle Glade, we saw the football players. They came back home in the off season. They have camps for the youth in the summer. So you can see a real NFL player. They toss you the football. So that's why they have that love for football in the community. That's why everyone wants to be a football player because that's what they see. We have access to it. Their cousins play football. Their uncle played football so they can talk on the phone with a professional football player. They may never have conversation with a doctor. They may have never seen a real judge. They may have never seen a policemen unless he was coming to the neighborhood to do his job. And which often than not is in a negative way for them. So seeing teachers that look like them and things like that, I get kids. That's, "Oh yeah, I want to be a teacher too." I'm like, "Yay, one more math teacher." 

Kyla McMullen (26:14): Yay! Where do you see yourself in the future, 10 years from now? Where do you see this going? 

Hygens Succes (26:23): Well, see, this is weird because when I first started teaching, I told myself, "Okay, Hygens, you always wanted to teach. You're going to do five years." That was it. I was like, "I'm going to do five years. And then it's focusing on being a sports agent." And just doing that. 

Kyla McMullen (26:44): If I do the math though, your past five years, Right? 

Hygens Succes (26:48): Exactly. If you do the math, six is greater than five. So I'm past five years and I'm still here. And now I'm like, "Okay, 10 years." I mean, it's not that bad. It's teaching. You're making an impact. You're leaving a positive... But honestly, in the next 10 years, I still in the next five years, five to 10 years, I still see myself teaching. I still see myself giving back. I do plan on growing my agent business, growing as an agent. So I do eventually want to make the transition into being a full-time agent and focusing on that. But the thing is, as an agent, every day is not needed. As a teacher, every day is needed. You have 180 days in the school year. You can't waste one day. As an agent, once my client signs his contract in April or May, I'm pretty much done. 

Kyla McMullen (27:49): That is so powerful. 

Jeremy Waisome (27:52): It really is. 

Kyla McMullen (27:52): That is so powerful. I don't know if you heard what you said and how profound it is, but I wish every educator in our K-12 system had that mindset because we would change the world. We wouldn't just change that classroom, that student. We would change the world if all of our educators felt that way about every single day of their classrooms. 

Hygens Succes (28:18): All right. And yeah, I mean, for me, my kids get on me at times because I give them work during some of the holidays. We had a week off for Thanksgiving and I gave my advanced students work the first three days. I'm like, "You're not even cooking. It's not like... Even if you're traveling with mom and dad, you're not the driver. You can sit in the back and do a couple problems. 

Kyla McMullen (28:44): I'm so happy that we had a chance to learn about your story. 

Hygens Succes (28:49): Thank you. 

Kyla McMullen (28:49): I think it's amazing what you're doing. 

Jeremy Waisome (28:51): Yeah. But Hygens, it's been so great to meet you. It's been so great to just hear your story. I don't think I've ever heard a story like this in my life and just how you're still making a difference. You continue to make a difference. You're someone that students can relate to and you're passionate about the work. So thank you so much for being here, for sharing your story with us. We hope everyone is also inspired by your story. And they also think that, "Hmm, what can I do with my influence to be able to empower someone to do something they may not have thought that they could do?" 

Kyla McMullen (29:24): They can donate to MFOS. 

Jeremy Waisome (29:30): They can do that. That's right. 

Hygens Succes (29:30): Definitely donate to the MFOS. Again, I want to see this program continue to grow. That's just more kids that's leaving behind a situation and being afforded an opportunity to go to college. So I'm definitely, and like I said, I need more students from my hometown of Belle Glade, Florida, and Pahokee, Florida to attend the University of Florida and join the MFOS program. 

Jeremy Waisome (29:57): Go Gators! 

Hygens Succes (29:57): Go Gators! 

Jeremy Waisome (29:57): I've got... Kyla, I wore the shirt. 

Kyla McMullen (29:59): I saw you have on our shirt. 

Hygens Succes (30:02): I appreciate you all. 

Kyla McMullen (30:04): Thank you. 

Jeremy Waisome (30:05): Thanks so much. 

Kyla McMullen (30:10): This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMillan. 

Jeremy Waisome (30:16): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us. Unstoppable Minds is a university of Florida podcast. Season Two was produced, developed and edited by Emily Cardinale and Patricia Vernon with many thanks to Matthew Abramson and James Sullivan from WUFT. We would also like to thank the U.S. Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing video team, Brianne Leanne, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky. 

Kyla McMullen (30:41): If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome students, faculty and staff at the University of Florida by visiting our website at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, Go Gators!

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Cast

Cast

  • Dr. Sherrilene Classen, a professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions
  • Dr. Kyla McMullen
  • Dr. Jeremy Waisome

Topics Covered

December 16, 2020 21:29

Episode 4: Empowering Older Adults to Keep their Independence

Older adults will tell you that losing their driving license is like getting a death sentence. In her unstoppable journey to empower seniors, Dr. Sherrilene Classen, a professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, is getting older adults comfortable with autonomous vehicle technology as well as conducting research to develop autonomous transit resources to promote their independence and safety.

Transcript

Kyla McMullen (00:05): Welcome to season two of Unstoppable Minds, a University of Florida podcast that looks at the big challenges we face in the world and how members of the UF community boldly tackle them. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome (00:24): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a lecturer in the engineering education department in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Big discoveries don't happen without overcoming formidable challenges. We're sitting down with some of our colleagues at UF who are leading the way in identifying creative solutions in research, student success and academic exploration in their unstoppable quest for knowledge.

Kyla McMullen (00:47): On this episode, we have Dr. Sherrilene Classen, who is a full professor and the chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Public Health and Health Professions. Welcome Dr. Classen.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (00:58): Hello Kyla. Hello Jeremy.

Jeremy Waisome (01:00): Hi.

Kyla McMullen (01:01): Hi. Dr. Classen is looking at how she can help to empower other drivers who are in medically at-risk groups. We'd love to hear more about what you're doing in the Department of Occupational Therapy around this whole business of autonomous driving and autonomous vehicles.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (01:23): If we think about an autonomous vehicle, one of the first images that comes to mind is the Google self-driving car that we have seen ample images of, but there's actually a variety of forms that autonomous vehicles are presenting themselves, and there's six levels of autonomy.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (01:48): Level zero is where there's absolutely no autonomous features in the vehicle, and then level five, the highest form, means that the vehicle is fully automated or highly automated and it can essentially drive itself on any road and it's not dependent on any of the functions of the driver. The driver becomes a passenger who can turn its back on the road and take a nap. And of course, there are various levels in between with various characteristics that I'm happy to elaborate on if you want to know more about that.

Jeremy Waisome (02:25): I remember when we were originally talking about interviewing you, discussing how a lot of this work relates pretty significantly to the aging population and helping them feel comfortable on the road. And when I think about my parents in particular and how they are aging, I understand why people ultimately take away their parents' keys or try to encourage them to not be on the road as often. And your work is really trying to make sure that that's not even going to be a conversation that really needs to be had.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (03:10): Yeah. We are trying to empower people to be able to stay on the road as long as possible and as safe as possible, which is very consistent with the philosophy of occupational therapy. As an occupational therapist, I want to make sure that the challenges and the opportunities that the environment brings to the person are of such that their abilities can meet those challenges.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (03:40): If we take that example and we apply it to all the drivers, then we need to make sure that the challenges of the driving environment is still well within the capabilities and the ability levels of the older drivers. And so there's traditional ways in which we are doing that. Currently, for example, to do behind the wheel training or to do some thinking exercises or some reaction time exercises or helping folks to be able to compensate for a deficit, such as, for example, if they have an issue with loss of peripheral vision, which is the outer edges of your vision, we can help them to learn how to scan the environment by compensating with head and neck movements.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (04:33): And so those are some of the traditional approaches, but then what is exciting is that the advanced technology and the evolving technology is now spilling over into the area of vehicles, and that means that many of these technologies will be able to automatically compensate for some of the deficits of the older drivers. There's a lot of potential there, but it also means that we need to be very sure that folks can independently engage in these highly autonomous vehicles or different levels of autonomy.

Kyla McMullen (05:12): It sounds like you have two research tracks going on at the same time, one with the driving simulator to restore and help people to practice and then the other to allow autonomous vehicles to be able to help older adults. With both of these going together, I could imagine both of these efforts being very meaningful for older adults. Can you talk a bit more about anecdotal cases of people who you've experienced who may have a positive experience with this?

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (05:43): Sometimes we help older people and other people with disabilities to overcome some of these deficits by means of giving them adaptive equipment. For example, if somebody has got let's just say a right leg amputation or maybe a left arm that they can't use, we can provide them with hand controls. And so if they have hand controls, they don't have to worry about managing the brake or the gas.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (06:13): In this case, it's really helpful to train them on the driving simulator with these hand controls so that they can develop a level of competency as well as confidence and we can increase their capabilities before we actually implement it in the vehicle and take them on the road. As such, the simulator is a very, very useful assessment, but also training tool. And of course, it's also a very highly technologically advanced piece of equipment, so one needs to understand all of the dynamics of the simulator to use it appropriately, like with any other form of technology.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (06:50): Yeah, so you're right. That's one line of research. And then of course, the other line of research that's rapidly evolving is the autonomous vehicle. And it's not just the personal vehicle, but it's also public transportation such as, for example, the use of autonomous shuttles, autonomous taxis, autonomous limousines, autonomous ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, the whole deal. And then we've also got the traditional research where we are still taking people on the road in the vehicle and doing some behind the wheel training, so we're staying busy.

Jeremy Waisome (07:25): I just have a question. What would someone like me use the autonomous vehicle simulator for? How would that help me as a 30 something-year-old?

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (07:37): Okay. Let me ask you a few questions. On a scale of zero to 10, what is your level of trust and autonomous vehicles, 10 being it's totally trustworthy?

Jeremy Waisome (07:51): I think I would give it a solid seven.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (07:54): A solid seven.

Kyla McMullen (07:54): I think I'm around the same, too.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (07:56): You're about a seven, too. Okay. For both of you, in terms of your perception of safety in an autonomous vehicle where you hand over all control, right, how would you rate your perception of safety zero to 10, 10 being optimally safe?

Jeremy Waisome (08:12): I'd actually go up some honestly. I think they are safer because they think better than I do. Their logic is only as flawed as we are, as the top researchers in this area are, so I would give it an eight.

Kyla McMullen (08:28): See, I'm the other way around. I'm like, I know how computers work and I also know how you can't code every single possible situation or a sensor could have a problem, or it may not be the car itself, but its interaction with other cars, so I may go a little lower on that.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (08:48): You want to be brave and give me a number?

Kyla McMullen (08:50): Oh yeah. Maybe four.

Jeremy Waisome (08:52): Whoa, Kyla.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (08:56): And then my final question is, if you have to rate yourself in terms of your intention to use such a vehicle right now, what would be your number to signify your intention to use such a vehicle?

Jeremy Waisome (09:09): A fully automated one?

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (09:10): Yep.

Kyla McMullen (09:11): I would say nine or ten, because I can just set that thing like a Crock-Pot and go to sleep, wake up in Atlanta and see family.

Jeremy Waisome (09:18): But you don't trust it.

Kyla McMullen (09:20): No, I'm saying I intend to use it once it becomes trustworthy. That four, it's not a forever four. It could move up over time with more research.

Jeremy Waisome (09:32): Okay, because she said today, right?

Kyla McMullen (09:33): Oh, today. Oh, would I use it today? Maybe in certain scenarios. I think highway driving is less dynamic than street driving where there's lots of lights and turns and signals, but the highway is pretty much the highway. It's almost like cruise control, but with some lane changes as well.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (09:54): Okay, so I want your number, Kyla. Out of ten.

Kyla McMullen (09:57): For today, for using it today, man.

Jeremy Waisome (10:02): I'm a 10. I would use it today.

Kyla McMullen (10:04): I would need to see some proof of concepts first.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (10:08): I'm asking these questions because this is exactly the conversations that's going on with older drivers to be able to see how ready they are to adopt and accept or accept and adopt autonomous vehicle technology. The automated simulator, Jeremy, to come back to your question, is a fantastic tool to do exactly that because folks can experience in a virtual environment what it is to give the control up in the vehicle and to observe how the vehicle is negotiating its own path whilst there's other motorists and pedestrians and cyclists and whatnot on the roads and do so safely. It gives them a little bit more of a confidence to engage with the technology in a very, very low-risk environment.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (10:59): As such, the simulator in our studies have shown to be very useful. And as a matter of fact, some of our preliminary findings of a study that we just completed suggests that the perceptions of older adults in terms of trust, safety and intention to use increase after they are being exposed to an autonomous simulator compared to baseline without no exposure to any level of autonomy. That's very liberating. That's very good news and it opens up another avenue of how we can use the simulator.

Jeremy Waisome (11:33): I really enjoy the Tesla personally, and I love the technology. I've watched it grow from something that I would never purchase to something where I'm like, "I could have one of those." And for me it's more so I can be more productive. It frees me from, I don't know, the idea that I'm going to be stuck in something for a certain amount of time doing the same thing every day. And while I do believe that I would want to be present and focus on what I'm doing, once the technology ultimately gets to the place where we don't have to do that, I'm going to be so excited.

Kyla McMullen (12:21): I  would take a cross country trip at that point.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (12:26): No, I think that ... and that's exactly the wonderful possibilities and potential that we are very excited about. As a matter of fact, this technology is revolutionizing the transportation industry or the automotive industry, right? The last time that we saw change of this magnitude and on this level was in the early 1900s when Henry Ford introduced the Model T Ford car. And at that point in time, folks referred to that as the horseless carriage, right? That was the car. The automobile was referred to as the horseless carriage. Now we are referring to these vehicles or self-driving cars, who knows what the names are really going to be in a few years, how the lingo is going to change? But I think it's really, really interesting.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (13:15): And the other thing that is really interesting is that we are seeing that there's a paradigm shift. Right now, vehicles are being manufactured to make sure that if they are involved in a crash, that the impact is minimal, right? That's why we've got safety belt laws and why we've got airbags to deploy and certain parameters in the vehicle to reduce the impacts and there's route features such as rumble strips, for example, to keep people in their lanes and if they go out of their lane, the rumble strip would give a vibration to the vehicle. All of these features are there to minimize any kind of impact should the vehicle be in a crash.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (13:57): With the autonomous vehicle, the framework and the paradigm is totally changing. It's not to minimize the impact of a crash, it's to prevent a crash. All of these technologies will be working in such a way that most of ... Well, the hope is that all of the deaths will totally be prevented and that most of the crashes will also be prevented. But it's also important to understand that a crash is usually a cumulative effect of human error, environmental issues, as well as vehicle-related issues. Autonomy can take care and override some of the human error and some of the vehicle-related issues, but we can't fully control the environment, right? That's why we say that at least we want to move closer to zero deaths or when a crash occurs, but definitely a total decrease in crashes as well.

Kyla McMullen (14:50): I teach class on campus called computers and modern society. And we talk about autonomous vehicles and I have students think about things like how should a vehicle decide on ... Let's say two autonomous vehicles, there's no way getting around they're going to be in a collision. How did they decide the impact of said collision? How did they decide there's a person in the road? Do I swerve and perchance harm the driver or do I make a choice to hit this person, unfortunately? Can you talk about how these decisions are made in autonomous vehicles and some of these ethical implications?

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (15:27): If you can imagine a traffic scenario, let's just say Archer Road at 5:00 on a Friday afternoon, and let's just say there's a pedestrian that's jaywalking and it's a little bit risky and runs across the road, so exactly, what does the vehicle do if it is in automated mode? Does it come to the stop with the effect that it's going to be rear-ended by the vehicle behind it? Does it swerve out to the left lane and potentially hit the car in the left lane? Does it swerve out to the side of the road and hit the pedestrian that's standing there? What does it do?

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (16:03): These are not easy questions and it truly is of ethical concern. I don't have the answer for you in terms of exactly how the processes are being thought out, but I do have a great deal of interest in this, as well as a great deal of empathy for the folks who's doing it because it's incredibly important to write these algorithms in such a way that it benefits everybody on the road.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (16:32): I've mentioned a little bit about the education for the end-user, but also how does the end-user conceptualize what is going on with these vehicles, right? The end-user may have overuse of the vehicle, disuse of the vehicle, abuse of the vehicle, because they don't necessarily understand the technology, so over-reliance can happen. Let's just say, for example, if you have a backup camera in your vehicle. Over-reliance may happen if you're only looking at a backup camera and you don't do a shoulder check and you don't check your side view mirror as well as your rearview mirror. That's considered over-reliance. The camera's not there to replace your responsibilities as the driver. It's there to enhance your comfort and convenience and safety.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (17:22): Let me talk about an area that I'm comfortable with. It's people with Parkinson's disease. What we are seeing with folks with Parkinson's disease, especially in the middle and the later stages, is that they may veer towards oncoming traffic. They drift out of their lane. And so if we prescribe that they need to drive a vehicle with a lane-centering device or with a lane departure warning system on and I override that function and turn it off, that would be considered disuse, right? Because they need the technology to be able to be safe and to meet the expectations of driving. All of these things that I've mentioned are part of the ethical equation.

Jeremy Waisome (18:06): Yeah. I really am interested in the idea that the state of Florida is super progressive in terms of what we're doing to meet the needs for our aging population. I mean, when you think about Florida, you think about all the people who are moving here to live out the rest of their lives after they retire because of the beautiful weather and all of the things that this amazing state affords you, and I'm biased because I am a native Floridian. But when I think about that, I feel like part of the reason is because of the great work that we're doing here at the University of Florida. And so are there some research projects that are related to what we've been discussing that you could share more about that help maybe even beyond our aging population?

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (19:05): Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yes, yes, and yes to everything that you have said. This is very, very functional research and we are doing this research because we are passionate about people and making sure that we can enable them not only to drive, but to drive safely and to drive for as long as they possibly can. And that's not just for driving. That's also for community mobility or for alternative forms of transportation, because at some point in time, you and I are going to outlive our driving lifetime and it's because we understand driving to be not just the physical act of engaging with a steering wheel and with brakes and with gas and be in your car, but driving is really a way to be able to enhance your independence, your autonomy, your authority, your roles, as well as your participation in your community and in society. Hey, and you guys are invited to come participate in our research. We're enrolling people between the ages of 18 and 65 right now, so it seems to me that that's your age range.

Kyla McMullen (20:11): I can come do that. I can come do that.

Jeremy Waisome (20:14): Dr. Classen, thank you so much.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (20:16): Yeah, this is always fun talking to you, Jeremy.

Kyla McMullen (20:19): Yes, and I'm going to say my thank you as well. Thank you so much, Dr. Classen.

Dr. Sherrilene Classen (20:23): Kyla, it was very nice talking to you.

Kyla McMullen (20:31): This is Unstoppable Mind, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Jeremy Waisome (20:37): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us. Unstoppable Minds is a University of Florida podcast. Season two was produced, developed and edited by Emily Cardinale and Patricia Vernon with many thanks to Matthew Abramson and James Sullivan from WUFT. We would also like to thank the UF Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing video team, Brianne Leanne, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen (21:02): If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome students, faculty and staff at the University of Florida by visiting our website at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go Gators.

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Cast

Cast

  • Dr. Michael Bowie, clinical assistant professor and director of community engagement and diversity outreach for UF's College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Dr. Kyla McMullen
  • Dr. Jeremy Waisome

Topics Covered

November 12, 2020 45:17

Episode 3: Fostering Diversity & Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine

While owning pets is universal, there is a lack of diversity in the veterinary medicine field. Dr. Michael Bowie, clinical assistant professor and director of community engagement and diversity outreach for UF's College of Veterinary Medicine shares how he and his colleagues are engaging and mentoring African-American middle and high school students to encourage their interest in pursuing veterinary medicine as a career.

Transcript

Kyla McMullen (00:04): Welcome to season two of Unstoppable Minds, a University of Florida podcast that looks at the big challenges we face in the world, and how members of the UF community boldly tackle them. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome (00:23): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a lecturer in the engineering education department in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Big discoveries don't happen without overcoming formidable challenges, so we're sitting down with some of our colleagues at UF who are leading the way in identifying creative solutions in research, student success, and academic exploration in their unstoppable quest for knowledge.

Jeremy Waisome (00:46): Today, we have Dr. Michael Bowie, a clinical assistant professor and the director of community engagement and diversity outreach at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine. Okay. Dr. Bowie, let's start off by talking about the lack of representation of African Americans in the field of veterinary medicine. What are some of the steps that you're taking that are impacting the pipeline of underrepresented students in this discipline?

Dr. Michael Bowie (01:14): Well, one of the things that's quite important in the college ... excuse me, in the field of veterinary medicine is that people need to understand that the industry, the pet industry, the animal industry is huge, and the people who own pets are from diverse backgrounds. When they take their pets to a veterinarian, they want to see people who look like them. With veterinary medicine being identified as one of the widest professions in the United States, it is imperative that we change the population of veterinarians in the United States.

Dr. Michael Bowie (01:56): We're talking about less than 3% of the population are African American in veterinary medicine, and around 93% are white. That's not a very good number when you look at the overall numbers in the United States. The College of Veterinary Medicine here at the University of Florida is taking steps to do that. We, as the members of the College of Veterinary Medicine here, as well as colleges of veterinary medicine across the country have been discussing the lack of diversity in veterinary medicine, and have taken steps to increase the numbers. However, we do know that one of the things that we have to do is deal with the pipeline. We do know that at a very young age kids may be interested in veterinary medicine if they're exposed to the field.

Kyla McMullen (02:50): What are your first memories of being exposed to animals?

Dr. Michael Bowie (02:53): I myself watch Jac Cousteau and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Those were things that got me excited about animals. Would I have jumped in the water? Yes. However, sometimes you don't know what you see there, and so you might come across something that you might not be able to get away from. That's mem from my point of view, as a child growing up in Washington, DC.

Dr. Michael Bowie (03:20): However, I think that that exposure, the excitement of knowing something or seeing something different than yourself, is interesting. You find that young kids are either are attracted to animals or they are afraid of them, and a lot of that has to deal with the interaction that elders might have with it, or some type of some type of event that might've occurred. They may have been bit by a dog, or scratched by a cat, or something like that. And so they develop fears based on that. If somebody is not there to help them deal with that particular issue, then it could impact them. But that's not race driven. That's just a fact of life.

Jeremy Waisome (04:05): I have a question related to what you're saying right now. I grew up in a predominantly white community, and so it was really common for people to take their pets to the vet and have them cared for in that way. But I have a lot of friends who've said, "We wouldn't take our pet to a vet if there was an issue," and that's just how they grew up. If the animal had an issue, they couldn't afford to address it, or they didn't know any better to take the animal to get healthcare. Is that maybe something that contributes to this problem as well?

Dr. Michael Bowie (04:48): Well, you hit something right on the nose. You talked about healthcare. When we talk about the disparities in healthcare, human healthcare, we're going to see those very same characteristics in animal health care. If somebody's not going to go to the hospital to do their annual checkup, then if they see something happening to their pet, they're less likely to take them to the veterinarian. They may say, "Oh. Well, that's something. Maybe they'll heal from that process just like I can heal from a process. If I, if I fall and hurt my leg, after a while I'll shake it off, and things will be fine." They'll equate that in the same way to their pet.

Dr. Michael Bowie (05:28): And so you're absolutely right. That does happen. But oftentimes, that's also associated with a lack of visibility. If you don't see a doctor that looks like you in your community or a doctor who cares about you, it's almost that same concept with police officers. If you don't see somebody in your community from a particular profession, you don't see yourself becoming a part of that particular profession.

Jeremy Waisome (05:54): That makes sense.

Dr. Michael Bowie (05:54): I think that's what we see here. We do know that, like I said, individuals at a very young age are quite interested in veterinary medicine. We know that around middle school age, they tend to move a little bit away from that. Some of that has to deal with family. Some of that has to do with different exposures. Some family members say, "Well, if you're going to go into medicine, why not go in ... I mean, if you're going to go into the health profession, why not go into medicine? Why not go into dentistry? Why go into veterinary medicine?"

Dr. Michael Bowie (06:24): That happens a lot. That has an impact on the veterinary profession, especially the diversity in the veterinary profession. You see that some people see it as cattle, and sheep, and goats. Because from the community, we don't see ourselves working with cows, and horses, and sheep, and goats. Then we don't see veterinary medicine as the profession for us. Those kinds of things move people away from the profession as they get older. Our goal is to keep them excited about the field of veterinary medicine.

Dr. Michael Bowie (07:07): We have a program called Gator Vet Camp, and we bring high school students here during the summertime. Approximately 20 high school students per week for a residential program. Seeing those students come, and interact, and engage with the veterinarians, engage with the DVM students who participate as our counselors. But also take part in the clinical skills lab and learn how to provide shots, handle the animals that we give them an opportunity to handle, go out and see the various areas that veterinarians work in, going down to look at animals in the area of aquatic medicine, going out to look at wildlife and zoom in the areas like the White Oak where they have over 60 rhinos out there. And having an opportunity to feed giraffe, and just those wow moments I think are so important. But it's also important for us to keep reaching down lower and lower, middle school and elementary school, and giving them those experiences. And so we're developing programs that do that as early as possible.

Jeremy Waisome (08:29): I had the experience of getting that kind of exposure as a young child myself. I know when I was in middle school, I was super inquisitive. I still am. But my mom wanted me to try to help figure out what I was passionate about. I got to go to a veterinary camp at Tuskegee University, and I gave a cow a shot. That's pretty much my claim to fame in terms of my experience with veterinary medicine. But it also helped me realize I couldn't do it. I don't think that a lot of people really think about what it means to be in veterinary medicine, and how it's really similar to medicine period. You're going to be dealing with bodily fluids, and illnesses, and things. I don't think I ever really had that idea when I was thinking about it.

Kyla McMullen (09:32): Exactly.

Dr. Michael Bowie (09:33): But isn't that the importance of exposure? That's what you're talking about is that exposure is so important. You hear everyone's ... I mean, people talk about they want to do this. Imagine saying that you want to be a doctor, and you spend all this time studying, and then you walk into that room, and that cadaver's right there, and then you fall out.

Jeremy Waisome (09:50): Nope.

Dr. Michael Bowie (09:51): Well, you spent all your time studying. The earlier you can get exposure to this, the earlier you'll know that this is what you want to do. And I think that's so important for us to provide exposure and opportunities.

Kyla McMullen (10:09): You mentioned that exposure was one of the reasons why, and having bad experiences with animals may be reasons why people don't go into it. But can you talk a bit about what do the demographics look like?

Dr. Michael Bowie (10:21): We're talking about less than 3% of the population are African American in veterinary medicine, and around 93% are white. I mean, even with a school like Tuskegee University, which is a historically black college or historically black university that is producing a large number of black veterinarians, it is still not meeting the numbers that we need. In order for us to ensure that the communities that are continuously growing in the United States are being served, to be honest with you.

Dr. Michael Bowie (11:08): How do we go into a community like Gainesville where when you hit Main Street, there are no vet hospitals east of Main Street? Well, east of Main Street is primarily a predominantly African American community. If you take a look at East Gainesville and you talk about the fact that there are no veterinary hospitals over there, then we get back to what you talked about before where they're less likely to take their dog, or cat, or any whatever type of pet they might have to a veterinarian. It's not just about the health of those animals, but it also has an impact on family health or the household health. Because there are small little things that can be potentially transmitted between animals and the humans that most people don't realize. Those are things that are so important...

Jeremy Waisome (12:05): That is interesting.

Dr. Michael Bowie (12:06):... for people to understand. Pets are so important to families, to be honest with you. And I know families in the black community where the pet is family.

Jeremy Waisome (12:17): I was just going to say, she's family. My dog, Gracie is family.

Kyla McMullen (12:22): And I have a dog niece named Ella and she is such a person.

Jeremy Waisome (12:27): So I definitely identify with that 100%. She helped me get through my dissertation phase of my PhD. And I don't know if I would have made it through it without her, honestly.

Dr. Michael Bowie (12:39): That's right. And so neglecting that population of veterinarians, but they're not diverse enough, means that you're also dealing with the fact of finances, everything. You're neglecting the potential there. And so I think that what's extremely important is ensuring that you have diverse individuals who are diverse veterinarians plays a key role in how you provide the necessary health care.

Jeremy Waisome (13:07): Are you going out in the community and sharing with them the benefits of veterinary medicine?

Dr. Michael Bowie (13:14): Yes we are. And so, yes, and we have a community outreach component, an engagement component that goes out to the community and we talk about the field of veterinary medicine and the health components of that.

Kyla McMullen (13:27): So the fact that university of Florida has recognized this huge disparity in this field and provided resources, you're the director of diversity outreach community engagement. Does this position exist at other schools? Is this something that's unique?

Dr. Michael Bowie (13:42): So the difference here is that a lot of institutions... So we have two. So we have a diversity officer, and then this office, which is specifically focused on the pipeline building component, as well as community engagement. So that's what's so unique. So a lot of people may have a diversity office, but this one is separate from that. Now, I happen to be also the acting diversity officer because the diversity officer left. And so until we do a search for a diversity officer, I'm the acting diversity officer, but I still also run the community engagement and diversity outreach components of the college itself, so. And I've enjoyed it. This is year three. So in this period of time, we have, of course, the Gator Vet Camp, and we did our third year this year. This year, we did it in a virtual format and it was so cool. Doing things in a virtual format, you have to think outside the box because you can't bring the students here for a residence, a residential type camp.

Dr. Michael Bowie (14:57): And so what I will say is the faculty really stepped up to the plate and we were able to provide information on surgery and radiology in a virtual format. We sent kits and they were able to do suturing, and learn how to do suturing, and they had suturing kits, and they were able to practice that. They were able to go in behind the scenes. We couldn't take 20 kids into an operating room, but you could put a faculty member in large animal medicine, could take her camera into there, into the operating room, and be able to show them and talk to them about what was going on. So those students, they had exposure to something that they would not have had exposure, had they just been here for the camp. So it was a great opportunity, and we're looking at how we do that again, this upcoming year. We're also looking at how we can do it possibly in Spanish as well, so that we can reach out to places like Puerto Rico and do a presentation there as well.

Kyla McMullen (16:09): That's amazing.

Jeremy Waisome (16:09): I love that. So going back to our conversation about Tuskegee and really the need to diversify the field, are you establishing any programs with historically black colleges or universities to create a feeder program, for example?

Dr. Michael Bowie (16:28): Yes. In fact, we are doing some MOUs at this particular time.

Kyla McMullen (16:33): What's an MOU?

Dr. Michael Bowie (16:35): A memorandum of understanding. Memorandum of understanding with North Carolina A&T and Alabama A&M, and we have an articulation agreement with Florida A&M University. In addition to that, we are doing a memorandum of understanding with Tuskegee University. Now, people will say, well, what are you doing a memorandum of understanding with Tuskegee University? So we talked about the veterinary medicine and what we are looking for in reference to that, and the DVM students. Well, the DVM students, we want to make sure that we increase the number of black students that are coming into the profession. And so that's the actual professional program itself, but we also want to make sure that we increase the number of faculty members in the field of veterinary medicine. And there are two ways that you do that. One is through those who end up getting a PhD, and doing research, and they joined in that particular way.

Dr. Michael Bowie (17:38): And then the other way is for those who go through a residency program. So they go through a residency program, they become board certified, and then they joined the faculty in that particular route. Think about it that particular way. So you're looking at someone who might've gone to vet school, they finished their degree, and you're saying to them, " Okay, you got to go another four years to do your PhD, four to four plus years to do your PhD on top of that, when you've already graduated with your DVM, and you may have some loans out there that you have to pay off." And so, you know many of us, when we graduate, we're thinking about those loans, we're thinking about family, we've done four  years, we're going out there, and we're going to go, and we're going to start practicing as far as that is concerned. So that's going to be one of the things that people will think about.

Dr. Michael Bowie (18:37): The second side to it all is the residency program. And the residency program means you become board certified in surgery, you can become board certified in wildlife and zoo medicine. So all the things that you think about in residency when you think about medicine, many of those areas are also in veterinarian medicine, so anesthesiology, all of the areas that you might think about. And so one would have to go to a residency program in those particular areas. We are wanting to increase the number of blacks going through those residency programs. So that's why we're doing it with Tuskegee be we can, while those students are doing their DVM, they can come to UF for externships. That is a two or three week opportunity to come in and work with faculty in those particular areas, get some experiences here, and then if they say, "I want to come here for an internship or residency," then they can apply for those internship and residency programs because they know we have them.

Jeremy Waisome (19:38): That's great.

Kyla McMullen (19:39): So you mentioned a few interventions that UF has has going on. Can you tell us about a few more to solve this diversity problem in veterinary medicine?

Dr. Michael Bowie (19:48): I mentioned the fact that... Let me just deal with the K through 12 first, so we have a program called This Is How We Roll. And This Is How We Roll is something where we work with the K through fourth grade students, and basically, we engage them in veterinary medicine, but we use interactive ways. It's fun, there's coloring, there's activities, animal type activities, but it's all done in a classroom. We have vet students who serve as the mentors and the individuals who help them through that overall process. And so the kids have a wonderful time participating in This Is How We roll, it inspires them to become veterinarians. And so we do, we have programs at Girls Place and we have programs at Caring and Sharing Learning School.

Dr. Michael Bowie (20:44): So this is our second year, and so we've been very excited about that program, and it has been definitely a feather in our cap, and I will tell you that. We also have the Vet Smart Program. And that was... We received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, to have a mentoring program where our faculty members have agreed to mentor high school students, underrepresented high school students in Alachua County. And each one will be matched with a student from the high school, and they will, during their breaks, shadow them in the vet clinic. And throughout the year, the veterinarians and the DVM students will go to those schools and actually do show and tells with those students throughout the year. And so it is a great opportunity to, again, expose them to the field of veterinary medicine, so we are very excited about that.

Dr. Michael Bowie (21:59): The newest thing that I'm working on right now is really trying to do some things on the East side and making the connection of veterinary medicine to the people on the East side. I'm talking about why you provide your dog with pills for worm, and why it's important for them to take the necessary medication on a regular basis. And so showing the heart of a dog that has not been given the proper medication really will show, it is not the most beautiful picture to show, but that "ew" moment for the kids, really is... They like those gross things. Let's just be honest with you. They really enjoy those gross scenes, but it also says to them, when they go home, they're saying, "Did we give our dog their pill?" They're really into it because they really understand the impact.

Kyla McMullen (23:07): And it sticks with them probably, being grossed out. That's probably something that's at the forefront of their minds.

Dr. Michael Bowie (23:14): That's absolutely right. And so making sure that we educate them in the community about that is so important. And then making the connection between that and these other hospitals in Gainesville will be a way in which we can still do our community outreach, while not looking as though we're being competitive with the local vet hospitals.

Kyla McMullen (23:37): So since the University of Florida has lots of these initiatives, do you have any fun success stories of students who've participated in the program?

Dr. Michael Bowie (23:44): Yeah, so as you know, we're in just our third year, so we have not seen some of the overall outcomes of the program, i.e individuals who might have entered into the College of Veterinary Medicine. However, last year we had two twins... Well, with two twins. Who says two twins? We had twins that had attended programs at Auburn, Tuskegee, UGA. And then, this year, that year, they went to the University of Florida's program. Well, they loved our program and they actually rated it the best.

Kyla McMullen (24:25):Wow.

Dr. Michael Bowie (24:25): Afterwards, their mom continued to reach out to me and just was talking about how excited they were about what they learned in the program that we had here. They decided. They did get accepted to UF for their undergraduate program. However, they attended Yale-

Jeremy Waisome (24:46): Oh.

Dr. Michael Bowie (24:47):.. because they got accepted at Yale. But, they want to come to the University of Florida for vet school.

Jeremy Waisome (24:52): I love that. That's a great story.

Dr. Michael Bowie (24:54): And so, for me, that's exciting. We're going to look at ways in which we can engage them during the summertime so that if they're coming back home during the summertime, if they're wanting to come and do something here at the University of Florida, in the College of Veterinary Medicine, that we can give them those experiences.

Kyla McMullen (25:14): I like the fact that you mentioned that this is a consistent thing that needs to happen. People tend to think of diversity initiatives as, oh, I did my diversity homework for today and now we have no problems. But, you don't. Like you said, you're in your third year. This is something continual, in the case story of the twins you mentioned, how their mom keeps in contact with you to keep this exposure, to keep this relationship. It's not a quick fix here at UF and that you all have interventions in the veterinary medicine in every stage of the pipeline, just to attack it from all fronts. So, can you talk about why it's so important to have that consistency with this kind of issue?

Dr. Michael Bowie (25:52): Well, I think it's... Again, I talked about the fact that there's so much attraction and others, or distractions, let me say, where people are talking about why aren't you going into medicine or why aren't you going into some other area. We want to continue that excitement. These individuals that are interested in veterinary medicine, you have to continue to engage them in this particular field and develop them in that particular area. And so, for me, reaching out is a way of doing that. And so, I'm going to continue to reach out to them, to continue to excite them about veterinary medicine, allow them to have the connections that they need if they want to talk to somebody who's a surgeon and that's what they're interested in. I know one of the young ladies, she's interested in surgery. And so, we made a connection with her and one of the surgeons that is here. He's extremely excited. He continues to communicate with her.

Dr. Michael Bowie (26:55): And so, I think those are things that are what we are here to do. I think that's also about the mission when we talk about diversity and inclusion and equity here at the university. It's not just about me being that one person. One person can't really do it for a college or do it for the university, to be honest with you. What I recognized during this period of time is that everyone has stepped up to the plate. Everyone wants to learn. Everyone wants to help. And so, I have found that faculty and staff and students have continued to reach out to me and say, "How do I do this? I'm doing this. I need some assistance in this area." This is what makes it a great community, to be honest with you.

Dr. Michael Bowie (27:49): And so, I am so excited about how we're moving. It is so much growth that I've seen in the past three years that I'm overwhelmed with work. But at the same time, I'm happy because there's nothing more exciting than doing the work that you love doing and also working with people who get it or who want to get it, because there's something about trying to change the mind of somebody who doesn't want their mind changed.

Jeremy Waisome (28:27): Yeah. 

Kyla McMullen (28:27): Yeah. 

Jeremy Waisome (28:28): I was going to interject. I think, it sounds like a lot of your role is really dispelling the myths that people have around what it means to practice medicine in the veterinary settings. Right? And so, when I think of becoming a medical doctor, I might be thinking I'm going to become a surgeon or I might become a family practitioner. Those are very different jobs with very different salaries. And so, I feel like part of your job is the same thing where it's like, depending on what you choose within veterinary medicine, you could be a surgeon or you could be doing that day-to-day type of family type practice where you're like a local doctor for small animals, and then anything in between. Right? You could be an exotic animal doctor. You could be working with dentistry. You could be working with their eyes. There's all these different specializations.

Jeremy Waisome (29:32): But when I tell somebody that I'm a veterinarian, what is your mind automatically go to? It's the person down the street that you take your pet to. And so, your job is really just unpacking all of the opportunity that's there and the richness that exists in the discipline.

Dr. Michael Bowie (29:47): That's absolutely right. For me, that's very, very important and it's also breaking down barriers, and so understanding what are the barriers that are out there. So when we talk about the barriers, we're saying, "I can put all the pipeline. I can get everyone enthused about going into veterinary medicine. But, not only do you have to develop that pipeline, you also have to break down the barriers." So when you talk about admissions, what are some of the barriers that might be there that might impact or have an impact on diversity within the classroom? What are the barriers that exist in reference to students getting into internships and residencies? What are the barriers that exist in allowing people from diverse backgrounds to become faculty members in the college of veterinary medicine?

Dr. Michael Bowie (30:44): Those are the questions that now they're starting to ask. Can you review this job description? Can you review our residency program and what we're sending out there so that we can make sure that we don't have any item that's in here that can be a barrier? It was interesting. When I was an undergraduate, and we won't talk about how long ago that was, but it's amazing that back then, Johns Hopkins had decided that we would just not accept just 4.0 students any longer. They made that statement in reference to medical school because they said, "We're not going to just accept 4.0 only students." These students have to have some type of experience. They had to be involved in student... They had to be involved as students because they also realize that these would be the individuals that had to work with patients.

Dr. Michael Bowie (31:46): You could have all of the knowledge that one can provide. You can have everything up there in the brain that they can provide to you, but you still might not have the skills to work with people.

Jeremy Waisome (32:01): Yeah, it's so true.

Dr. Michael Bowie (32:01): You know?

Jeremy Waisome (32:02): It's so true.

Dr. Michael Bowie (32:04): In veterinary medicine, that's important because a dog or a cat can't tell you what's wrong with them.

Kyla McMullen (32:10): Very true.

Jeremy Waisome (32:11): I mean, they kind of can.

Dr. Michael Bowie (32:13): If you touch them where they hurt,-

Jeremy Waisome (32:16): Yeah.

Dr. Michael Bowie (32:16):..they're going to respond to you. But sometimes, it's about behavior. When somebody brings their animal and you might say, "Well, tell me a little bit about it. Well, they haven't been eating in the last three days." Talk a little bit about what did you notice, those types of things, about when you take them for a walk and they go to bathroom. I'm just going to be honest with you. Did you notice anything different? That's very, very critical information for the veterinarian to know because that helps her or him to make decisions that might be in the best interest of the animal. And so-

Jeremy Waisome (32:57): You're really attacking the problem from inside of the classroom and outside of the classroom. That's an amazing thing that it requires both this introspective approach and this also practical out there in the field, boots on the ground approach to address the barriers that exist within veterinary medicine.

Kyla McMullen (33:22): Yeah. Speaking of the barriers, I have a very naive question. In engineering, we also face similar demographic and representation issues. We have engineering education and different sub-field education to study why we have these disparities. Is there a medicine education, scholarly body of work where people study what are the barriers to students enrolling in these programs?

Dr. Michael Bowie (33:51): So, there is a journal that deals with veterinary medical education-

Kyla McMullen (33:56): Oh, wow.

Dr. Michael Bowie (33:57):.. and probably one that deals with medical education as well. I'm familiar with the one that deals with veterinary medical education. There are a variety of people who do research in that particular area. A lot of them are doing some great work in that area and a lot, more recently, has centered around diversity, to be honest with you, diversity and inclusion in that particular area. But, the education part is key. The classroom setting, how you learn, how students learn in the classroom is extremely important. And so, I think that as we're talking about even admissions, UF, over the last couple of years, has taken the GRE and removed it from admissions, and so because we've learned that it's not an important indicator of what makes a student a successful student in the field of veterinary medicine. Imagine that, that's a barrier. We all know that it is a barrier for just getting into college with the SAT and ACT.

Kyla McMullen (35:05): Right. 

Jeremy Waisome (35:06): Yeah. So, I know that different colleges have made it optional-

Kyla McMullen (35:11): Yeah. 

Jeremy Waisome (35:11):.. over the last few years. I think that that's a great move because we do know that it is something that is a barrier to underrepresented students who are applying to our programs. Side note, my dog, Gracie, has now entered the closet and her tail is wagging. Oh, there it is. Okay.

Kyla McMullen (35:29): There you go, Gracie.

Dr. Michael Bowie (35:30): She's taking down the closet.

Jeremy Waisome (35:33): She's not small and this closet is not big.

Kyla McMullen (35:36): You set the foundation for some really good work over the years. So for you, if you were to think 10 or 20 years into the future, what would you love to see all of this work, these efforts? What would you like to see the fruit of this look like?

Dr. Michael Bowie (35:52): I would like to see a class that's reflective of the state of Florida. I would like to see faculty that is a lot more diverse than it is at this particular time and moving towards it being reflective of the state of Florida. I'd like it to be reflective of the state of Florida in 10 years. But I do understand that the pipeline is just not there at this time. But if we can have the students there, then we'd know that the pipeline is moving in the right direction. So I think those are critical.

Dr. Michael Bowie (36:31): I would like to see more programs out there for students in this community and across the state, because we are the only vet school in the state of Florida. And so I think that we have an obligation as a land-grant institution and as the vet school in the state of Florida to ensure that we are reaching out and educating the community as a whole about the field of veterinary medicine.

Dr. Michael Bowie (36:57): Everyone does a great job of educating people about their profession. Law has just done it, I mean the TV shows-

Kyla McMullen (37:06): Right. 

Dr. Michael Bowie (37:07): Although, it's just amazing in reference to that. Medicine has done a very good job of it. In veterinary medicine you tend to learn about animals through Science or Nature or Animal Planet, and there are now more vet shows that are showing up on Animal Planet. There are, fortunately, two shows that have Black veterinarians and strange enough Black male veterinarians.

Jeremy Waisome (37:38): Wow. 

Dr. Michael Bowie (37:38): Because, to be honest with you, males in the field of veterinary medicine are very low going in at this particular time. Now it's still not overwhelmingly... It's not as big an overall issue, but that's just because you have a large number of people who, they were at the beginning. Meaning, they were a large population at the beginning of the veterinary profession and so some are still there from the early stages in the field of veterinary medicine. But currently, you're probably having somewhere in the area of about 70% of most classes across the country being women.

Jeremy Waisome (38:18): What are some of the challenges of getting young African-American students interested in the field of veterinary medicine?

Dr. Michael Bowie (38:25): Remember I talked about barriers?

Jeremy Waisome (38:26): Mm Hmm. 

Dr. Michael Bowie (38:27): One of the barriers is having experience. And you have to have experience in order to get into vet school and you have to have letters of recommendation. So in most cases you have to have two letters of recommendation from a veterinarian. Well, imagine somebody coming from a community or background where, like I said, you live on the East side of Gainesville. You're going to high school in the East side of Gainesville. You don't know anybody that's a veterinarian, but you want to be a veterinarian.

Dr. Michael Bowie (38:54): You know you want to be a veterinarian. You've always known you wanted to be a veterinarian. You're taking all the necessary courses. You're doing well in your STEM classes. You come to college, you go to college and you're doing all. You're taking all the necessary prerequisite courses for veterinary school, but you got to go out there and you got to get experience.

Dr. Michael Bowie (39:14): So you walk into the local veterinary hospitals and you say, "Hey, I would like to have some experience there." Well, remember, you're competing against everybody else who wants to be a veterinarian and who wants to go to vet school and get experience. And if you don't have the experience of, "How do I go about doing that?"

Dr. Michael Bowie (39:34): Remember how we talked about mentors and why mentors are so important? Same concept. How do I go in there and say, "I'm interested in working at a veterinary hospital?" And then a lot of times they want you to work 10 to 20 hours. And so if you're having the ability to work 10 hours or 20 hours, well, what if you're somebody from a low socioeconomic community and you got a job as well? When do you find the time?

Dr. Michael Bowie (40:02): Those are some things that are out there that have to be balanced in reference to that. And so having those experiences is so key, but how do you have that? And so, one of the things that I have is another program that's called Vet Smart Program for undergraduate students. And so, for undergraduate students, I want them to be able to reach out to me and make the connection starting during their freshman year. Or, if they're a transfer student when they transfer so that we can begin to make the necessary connections.

Kyla McMullen (40:36): So why is it important for students to get connected early?

Dr. Michael Bowie (40:38): I think it's, one, important that they know other students that are in their classes that are interested in veterinary medicine. So when they're taking those, what I call those "weed out" courses, chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, et cetera. When they're taking those courses there's a cohort of them that they could study with, that they can help and that they can help each other as they go through those courses.

Dr. Michael Bowie (41:03): But in addition to that, to be able to make those necessary connections with the various veterinary hospitals so that they can get experience at those veterinary hospitals. Sometimes somebody needs to knock on that door and say, "Hey, let me introduce you to this student who needs some experiences and would you be willing to allow that to happen?" Or at the hospital, if there are opportunities at the hospital, being able to say to them, " We have some opportunities at the hospital. Some of them are for pay. I need you to make sure you get your application in because this will be a job that you'll have and make your money while at the same time giving you those experiences. And making sure that you make the best of that because whoever you're working for, that's going to be one of those letters of recommendation that you're going to need."

Kyla McMullen (41:53): Yeah. I think it's so important too, this is an entry point for allies. If people are like, "I'm really passionate about this issue, but I don't know how I can help." If you're at a hospital or have access to this, making sure that these opportunities are out there for students to know, "Hey, you can come and get this experience that you may or may not know that you need to get to that next step."

Kyla McMullen (42:14): Sometimes you have to kind of lead students down the path that they need to go in. Some students are very headstrong and will go. But sometimes if you just make things open and say, "Hey, this is where you're trying to go. This is a step on the way, this is available to you." This is definitely a huge opportunity for allies to be able to step in and help.

Dr. Michael Bowie (42:31): Yeah. And I think that the other thing is that sometimes it's good to have a conversation because you also have to know that you need to open the net. Because, the reality is what is necessary for UF may not be the same thing as necessary for Tuskegee, may not be the same thing that's necessary for the University of Georgia, may not be the same thing that's necessary for Washington State University. So, understand that when we're talking about these prerequisite courses, make sure that you're taking the courses that you need so that when you apply to these schools that you meet the eligibility.

Dr. Michael Bowie (43:09): So I want you here at UF. I want you to hear that right now, I want you here at UF. But if you don't get accepted to UF do you have alternatives that are out there? And I think that's extremely important. Because if I can't get you now, maybe I can get you into a residency program.

Jeremy Waisome (43:26): Or on our faculty.

Kyla McMullen (43:27): Yep. 

Dr. Michael Bowie (43:28): And then on our faculty, that's absolutely right. Or an externship where you can come here and you could do a rotation here and spend some time at our hospital and meet some faculty here so that when you apply for the internship or residency, they already know you.

Jeremy Waisome (43:44): Dr. Bowie. It was so great talking with you about all of the challenges and innovative things that you're doing in the College of Medicine to address those challenges. So we really appreciate you sharing that with us today.

Kyla McMullen (43:57): I love your story, I love all the stuff you work on. When you mentioned that it's a lot to do and it's time consuming, but when you doing what you love, that makes it so much easier to make those sacrifices.

Dr. Michael Bowie (44:11): Yes, it does. It's a love of life, to be honest with you. Yes.

Kyla McMullen (44:22): This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Jeremy Waisome (44:28): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Jeremy Waisome (44:32): Unstoppable Minds is a University of Florida podcast. Season 2 was produced, developed and edited by Emily Cardinali and Patricia Vernon with many thanks to Matthew Abramson and James Sullivan from WUFT. We would also like to thank the UF Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing video team: Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen (44:54): If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome students, faculty and staff at the University of Floridan by visiting our website at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, Go Gators!

 

 

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Cast

Cast

  • Dr. Maya Israel, research director of the Creative Technology Research Lab and associate professor of educational technology at the UF College of Education
  • Dr. Kyla McMullen
  • Dr. Jeremy Waisome

Topics Covered

November 18, 2020 16:04 minutes

Episode 2: Creating Inclusive Education through Technology

How can educators help young learners find success - and equity - in the classroom through technology? The answers lie in providing access to computer science through an inclusive curriculum designed for a diversity of learners. Dr. Maya Israel, research director of the Creative Technology Research Lab and associate professor of educational technology at the College of Education, shares the importance of creating flexible instruction, how it's being done through removing barriers to inclusive education and demystifying computer science for future teachers.  

Transcript

Kyla McMullen (00:05): Welcome to season two of Unstoppable Minds, a University of Florida podcast that looks at the big challenges we face in the world and how members of the UF community boldly tackle them. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome (00:24): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a lecturer in the engineering education department in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Big discoveries don't happen without overcoming formidable challenges. So, we're sitting down with some of our colleagues at UF who are leading the way in identifying creative solutions in research, student success and academic exploration in their unstoppable quest for knowledge.

Jeremy Waisome (00:47): Today we welcome Dr. Maya Israel, an Associate Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Florida's College of Education. She is also the research director of the Creative Technology Research Lab and a member of the Institute for Advanced Learning Technologies. Maya, it's so great to have you on today.

Maya Israel (01:06): Thanks for having me.

Jeremy Waisome (01:07): I'm excited to kind of dive into the work that you're doing. It's really exciting work and I think between Kyla and I, the work you're doing kind of transcends both of us.

Kyla McMullen (01:19): Maya is incredibly humble about her whole position, about her journey, but she is a powerhouse in the college of education. Her research is leading the work on supporting academically diverse learners and making sure that they have meaningful engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math. And she specifically emphasizes computer science education along with UDL, which is Universal Design for Learning. So Maya, how did you even get into this? Why is this a thing for you?

 Maya Israel (01:50): I started off as a special education teacher. When folks look at me in my academic career in educational technology, that's not typically something that they know about me. I spent many years working with students with disabilities, specifically in math and science instruction. And so, thinking about learners who typically don't find a lot of success in school, what brought me into this was, what were the things that really engaged them? Where could students find success and how could we build upon that success? And so as a classroom teacher, I started to pay attention to the times when students had a chance to be creative, where they were doing projects that were personally meaningful to them, and then how we could use technology to leverage that.

Jeremy Waisome (02:41): That's really cool.

Kyla McMullen (02:47): It is really cool.

Jeremy Waisome (02:47): Can you explain UDL in a way that would help everyone listening understand what it really is.

Maya Israel (02:50): Sure, I'm going to try to.

Jeremy Waisome (02:52): I know. It's a lot.

 

Maya Israel (02:54): Universal Design for Learning, it's based on a whole lot of neuroscience. It's kind of an oversimplification, but I think for our purposes it's okay. So, the whole idea is that learner variability is the way it is. Like if we look at the way we all learn, it's just there's a lot of variability there. So, going into a classroom, the assumption is that there's going to be a whole lot of diversity in terms of our background knowledge, our interests, the way that we access information. And so UDL has these three different principles that essentially if you plan instruction proactively through them, you're creating a more inclusive environment.

Maya Israel (03:36): So, for example, how can we engage kids who are coming into a classroom with different background knowledge and areas of interest. How can we present information to them in different ways so that they're able to access the information and then how can we assess their understanding and have them demonstrate their learning in ways that leverage their strengths? So, it's really about flexible instruction. So as compared to the way, when I was a new teacher, there was here was the main lesson plan and I was going to create another lesson plan for those kids. Now the idea is, can I create an instructional lesson that is flexible enough to include all learners?

Kyla McMullen (04:18): Why do you think it is that UDL is just now taking off? It seems like teachers should know and have lots of experience with students to know that everyone learns differently. Why is it just now becoming such a large thing?

 Maya Israel (04:32): That's a good question. I think UDL came out of the special ed world. It came out of accessibility. It was never designed to be something for special education though, it was designed to be something for inclusive classrooms. It did make its way to the general education legislation. So the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is our most recent, it was what No Child Left Behind turned into has universal design for learning in it. And so, the fact that it's in the gen ed legislation has put it out there as a framework in a way that is visible to a broader audience.

Jeremy Waisome (05:15): When you say accessibility, you're not just referring to the students actually being able to learn the content. You're also referring to the access to the resources for students to be able to learn computer science as well.

Maya Israel (05:32): Yeah. Exactly. I think we have to start the conversation around accessibility. Can a student engage with the material, engage with the technology? That's like the lowest bar, right? But that's honestly where we are in a lot of cases. Like if you don't design technology for a broad range of learners, you're leaving students out. I think that it's a wide range, but we have to start where people are. And so, I think accessibility is a super important conversation to start with. For example, if school districts are adapting curricula, are they thinking about accessibility.

Maya Israel (06:14): And accessibility, as you know, it's not a one thing, right? There's cognitive accessibility, there's sensory accessibility, there's physical accessibility. So, it's actually a much more complex issue than what we're currently describing, right? And the stars are kind of aligning to make us start to think about what it would mean for every child to have access to high quality computer science education. In the state of Florida, for example, there's now legislation that states that all middle and high schools need to have computer science offerings. Every single middle school and high school has to have this. That's exciting.

Kyla McMullen (06:58):Yeah. That's so important. I just feel like technology and especially computer science education has been taught in one way for so long. And if you're someone who has the propensity for it, but it's just not taught in your way, then you miss out on a career option. Whereas if you design it starting out being accessible, then you can engage lots more people. So that's really cool to me.

Jeremy Waisome (07:21): I think it's worth mentioning that the state of Florida has a strong commitment to improving computer science accessibility across the state. And I'm really excited to see what that does to transform our K-12 system. Computer science is one of those things that we see it applied in a lot of different domains, right? And so, when people think of a computer scientist, they're not thinking of someone who's using it for maybe a scientific purpose. And so I think that's really interesting that you've connected it to both math and science, but I can imagine that the teachers in the K-12 system, which is where your work primarily is focused, are a little intimidated to use the tool that computer science is in that space.

Maya Israel (08:18): We have a brand new computer science education program for in-service teachers that you probably know about because some of your colleagues, Christina Gardner-McCune and Kristy Boyer are a part of where we're developing courses for teachers who are not computer science teachers so that they can have both the technical knowledge and the pedagogical knowledge as well. So, these kinds of programs are happening here at UF, but they're now happening all over the state of Florida because that infrastructure is being built both around expectation for computer science to be available in school. And then for the infrastructure for school districts to provide the kind of supports that their teachers need.

Kyla McMullen (08:54): Yeah, that's really cool. I really think that focusing on and providing so many resources for teachers is really important. When I was in grad school, we had a similar grant in Michigan and I had to teach computer science, like literally just introduction to let sit in front of the computer and write a small program. So, I really like that you're focusing on first getting the teachers really comfortable because that is definitely key.

Jeremy Waisome (09:20): And I think it's worth mentioning too that Maya is not a computer scientist.

Maya Israel (09:26): Oh yeah, that's right. When we think about what computer science is used for and how it's used in different disciplinary areas, we're always challenged to think beyond what we typically think of, which is kind of software development. And so, when I work with teachers and I think about, especially in the context of math instruction, how can children demonstrate their mathematical understanding using computing in a creative way? That's when we often start the conversations with children. So, for example, can a student animate a mathematical story problem in the Scratch programming environment compared to doing math boxes, right? That is a way that a student could show that they understand something like number line or fractional parts, but do it in a personally relevant way.

Maya Israel (10:14): So, the amount of coding that a student does could be very variable. You have students who've done a lot of coding and students who've had very little experience with coding, but they can all create a scene in the Scratch programming environment. They can all create a story, for example, of how some sprite or character is moving along the number line. And so what we're doing is we're leveraging the computational tools to help teachers think about how they can integrate it to teach the content that they're responsible for teaching in a way that is super engaging to their learners.

Kyla McMullen (10:52): I think that's really creative just having all of these different kinds of ways to express yourself with math. This seems like it would help people beyond students with disabilities, right?

Maya Israel (11:03): That's a really good point. The work I do is primarily focused on students with disabilities because they've been ignored in this space. But the message that we have for teachers is that this is all about inclusive education, right? This is not an "intervention for kids with disabilities". This is the way I want my child to learn math. It happens to be more engaging and accessible and meaningful to a broader range of students beyond those that just wake up in the morning and say, "I'm so excited to learn math."

 Jeremy Waisome (11:34): Well, I think it's a really kind of unique way to kind of insert math into the curriculum. It's almost like you're tricking them into using math because people are really afraid of looking at algebra for example. It kind of gives people anxiety, everyone anxiety. Even people who really love math, if you see a complex enough problem it's, "Oh no, what do I do?" And I think computing and using tools that like gamify these really complex ideas is kind of a great equalizer in a lot of ways.

Maya Israel (12:17): That's what we hope, right? Our research studies are looking into that. It brings up a second point too. Math sometimes is difficult and computing sometimes is difficult, often it's difficult, right? So, this gives us a chance not only to help students access content that's difficult, but it also gives them a chance to practice working through difficult projects. Our hypothesis in what we're studying in part is when we're teaching students to engage in programming and we're teaching them explicitly those strategies for how to debug a program, how to deal with those complex emotions of frustration, that that persistence is something that's going to transcend beyond the small computational experiences into other academic content areas as well. So, we're looking at time on task and frustration and productive help seeking.

Kyla McMullen (13:17): Oh, that's really, really cool. The fact that they're learning how to have these life skills to stick with problems, to get this resilience at a young age so that they don't get discouraged whenever they're challenged with things, I think that is really, really important.

Maya Israel (13:34): The National Science Foundation has the CS for All Research-Practice Partnership grants. And so, we've been doing a lot of work in my lab with individual school districts who are committed to inclusion and access. And so, what this particular project is doing is it's bringing a lot of people to the table. So, New York City Public Schools, San Francisco Unified Schools, Broward County, our own P.K. Yonge, which is here at the University of Florida, to come together around this shared problem of practice, right?

Maya Israel (14:06): So, the problem of practice is that students with disabilities often are not included in computer science education. Not because teachers don't want to include them, but because they may not have the strategies to include all students. They may not know about accessibility. They may not know about kind of that balance of explicit instruction and open inquiry or Universal Design for Learning. And so, it's bringing people to the table to understand the problem of practice. So, to what extent are students included or not included? What are the barriers to inclusion? And then what are the supports that we can create together that school districts that have very different contexts can use and modify for their own district needs? So, I'm so excited about this project.

Kyla McMullen (14:54): Well, Maya, thank you so much for being here and talking with us today. We learned so much. Even though we're already in these fields and know some things, it was just incredible learning about the research that you're doing and how you're at the forefront of making sure that academically diverse learners feel like they have a place to meaningfully engage in computer science and education. So, thank you so much.

Maya Israel (15:18): Thanks for having me.

Kyla McMullen (15:23): This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Jeremy Waisome (15:29): And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us. Unstoppable Minds is a University of Florida podcast. Season two was produced, developed and edited by Emily Cardinali and Patricia Vernon with many thanks to Matthew Abramson and James Sullivan from WUFT. We would also like to thank the UF Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing video team: Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant, and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen (15:54): If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome students, faculty and staff at the University of Florida by visiting our website at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go Gators.

 

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  • Amy Vu, extension coordinator for the Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab 
  • Dr. Kyla McMullen
  • Dr. Jeremy Waisome

Topics Covered

November 12, 2020 16:04 minutes

Episode 1: Communicating the Impact of the Honey Bee

Bees pollinate a quarter of the food consumed by humans. With the rapid decline of the honeybee population, our ecosystem is impacted - which results in changes in what we eat. Amy Vu, extension coordinator of the UF/IFAS Honeybee Research and Extension Lab explains why communicating the importance of honey bees to the masses is critical for the survival of the bee species and the continuity of the food chain.

Transcript

Kyla McMullen: [00:00:00] Hi! Today, we have Amy Vu with us. She is the extension coordinator for the Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab, where she runs the University of Florida Master Beekeeper program, the University of Florida Bee College, the honey bee IFAS blog, and the lab's, social media pages among other projects. Amy, it's so good to have you here today.

Amy Vu: [00:00:24] Yeah, it's good to be here. Thanks for having me. 

Jeremy Waisome: [00:00:27] Absolutely. So, we're excited to talk about some of the things that you're doing over in the extension offices. And I want to start out by emphasizing the fact that IFAS is really is something that embodies the land grant mission of the University of Florida, and that involves instruction research and extension. And she's doing that through the work that she does to kind of expose different counties in the state of Florida to beekeeping, but also through educational training. Since UF IFAS has extension offices in every county, in the state of Florida, [00:01:00] what does that mean for Floridians?

Amy Vu: [00:01:02] I think that's something that people don't realize is that extension is just kind of a third part of the land grant university.

So, the extension is essentially taking all the research and all the instruction from those universities and bringing that to the general public. And so, you know, as you were saying, Jeremy, there are extension offices here in Florida. There are 67 counties in the state, just about every single county that we have in the state has a extension office.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:01:30] That's fantastic. That's amazing. I'm so happy to hear that's happening. It's like the translation of all of these really technical ideas into a format that anyone can understand and implement. And they're getting cutting edge information and research by being a part of that work.

Amy Vu: [00:01:50] A lot of people will say that extension is kind of their best-kept secret. Um, you know, and it, and it started out primarily because back when the land grant started, there were farmers that were out in the field doing work. And, you know, of course there were the college courses at the universities and then of course the research part of it, but then there wasn't that person to take that science to help the farmers. And so that's how extension was kind of made in that sense.

Kyla McMullen: [00:02:16] Can you talk about, like, how did you get there that you grow up? Like, you know, what I'm going to do when I grow up? Extension work. Like, how did you get there?

Amy Vu: [00:02:25] I actually got my degree in soil science, and I got a degree in food production, just emphasizing on soil science. And after I was kind of working in the lab for a little bit, I decided, you know, I really don't want to work in the lab. I would prefer to definitely work with people, and I want to educate and teach those people. And so, that's kind of how I found the extension world.

Kyla McMullen: [00:02:47] So, I don't consider myself someone who's very in touch with like agriculture and what's going on, but I do know the honey bees are endangered. So, can you talk a bit more about like how you all are doing research, to like, fight that decline of the honey bees?

Amy Vu: [00:03:01] Yeah. So, in 2006, actually commercial beekeepers started seeing honey bee declined. They were starting to see half of their colonies being lost. And you know, if you've ever taken any of my extension courses, when you first get into honey bees, even starting with two colonies, you know, you're spending about a thousand dollars.

So, you can imagine with the commercial industry, they've got thousands and thousands of honey bee colonies. So, to lose 40% of that is, is huge. And again, you know what we were talking about earlier with pollination, they are incredibly important for blueberries, melons, uh, cranberries, almonds, they're, you know, so many things. Again, I think that we could probably tie a lot of our produce back to honey bees. So, there were a lot of different reasons for this colony decline. Um, a lot of people, you know, kind of pointed their fingers at pesticides. The science actually shows and the beekeepers, the, they, they filled out this national survey and it showed that there was a mite, it's called Varroa destructor, and it's this mite, that basically feeds on the honey bees' blood. So, you can kind of imagine it's like, like a softball-sized tick on your body is the equivalent of this mite on a honeybee. (Note from UM Guest Amy Vu: Varroa destructor feeds primarily on honey bee fat. For more visit: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/5/1792)

Jeremy Waisome: [00:04:15] Oh, no. Wow.

Amy Vu: [00:04:15] Yeah. Yeah. So, it's really bad. Um, so especially in the honey bee world with researchers, the reason why UF is pretty well known for what we've done, uh, Dr. Jamie Ellis, who is my direct supervisor, he had an appointment in extension research and instruction. He had about 70% of his position that was dedicated to extension. And so, he was working with beekeepers of all different operation sizes. He had backyard beekeepers, he had big commercial, you know, large operations and going to do pollination and traveling across the United States. And, you know, he had really built a relationship with some of these people. And so, when they had asked him, you know, how can we help support your program? You know, he kind of jokes around and says that he had a relatively small laboratory as far as space. 

And so, what he decided to do, once he told them, you know, I really need some space. And so, there were two beekeepers that came together, and the story is just really great because these two beekeepers saw the need that he needed more space. And they said, we're going to go to the governor. We're going to see if we can build you a honeybee lab.

And so, what had happened was, the governor vetoed it the first time around. It was estimated to be an almost $3 million project and facility. And, um, you know, the governor vetoed it a couple of times. The third time they went, and they said, you know, can we do this honeybee lab? It'll be a state-of-the-art lab.

And the governor said, you know what? I will put in, um, I think it was $2 million. If the University of Florida can put in $1 million and beekeepers can raise $500,000. And that day, a commercial beekeeper wrote a check for $500,000, and set it down on the table. And so, there was a hashtag that started, and it was called, 'Build the Bee Lab.'

And so, beekeepers, yeah, beekeepers and people from all over the state and all over the country started contributing and donating money to this cause. And so, you know, it was made for research and for Bee College and just to provide educational content to beekeepers throughout the world. Um, and so the program actually, you know, continued, and the facilities and the almost $5 million facility that we have on campus and most of that was because of beekeepers donating money. And to this day, they're still doing it. And so, it's pretty cool to see because the lab is one of the only beekeeping labs like it in the entire world.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:06:42] So, one of the things that I think about as someone who's an engineering education is, how do I articulate the work that I'm doing to a lay person? And I think that's something that isn't really taught in science, unless you pursue a degree, like the one that you've pursued. So, how do you communicate some of the most significant science that's going on as it relates to our agriculture in an accessible way.

Amy Vu: [00:07:08] Yeah. I guess part of that is just trying to communicate the way that I would like to be communicated. So, I kind of put myself in someone else's shoes. Like, I probably have the simplest questions about engineering or can, you know, anything that has to do with computers or technology, you know? And so, I try to take the route of just asking myself, if I was a beginner, how would I be able to communicate this with someone? Um, you know, it definitely has to do with trying to be relatable and trying to tie it into the everyday world. And so, you know, with honeybees specifically, we do communicate a lot of biology and a lot of worlds, but we try to make it fun and we try to make it relatable for people. And I think that's really kind of the important part is, is understanding your audience and who you're speaking to.

Kyla McMullen: [00:07:52] Yeah. I think fun and relatable is definitely key because if you talk technical terms, people are going to be like, oh my gosh, what's happening? They'll have a reactionary response. Like even, with, uh, this summer with when 2020 was being 2020, when we had news of the murder Hornet coming out, you all were like the ones at the front lines telling the public about this. Like, no, they're not murdering people. So, you talk a bit about that experience.

Amy Vu: [00:08:17] Yeah, it was one of those things where as soon as that came out, we did have to do some research to figure out, you know, how are we going to tell everybody what this means. Whether they're actually here or not. Because there is that misinformation out there.

And so that is part of the extension position is just making sure that everyone knows the facts of what's going on.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:08:36] One of the things that I loved about your story is, you were really inspired by an experience where you decided to study abroad. So, could you tell us a little bit about that experience and what it was like for you?

Amy Vu: [00:08:49] Yeah, so, so I studied abroad my sophomore year of college undergrad. And when I was there, you know, that was when I had kind of decided I really wanted to help people. And so, I think that's kinda where the extension background started was that I wanted to help people, and I knew I wanted to start helping people.

And of course, I really love food. And, and I think that people who have food are happy people. I think that when you have food, that you're happy. Right? I, I mean, I get hangry on a pretty regular basis, but when I was in Ecuador, there was a lot of agriculture, there was a lot of ag land. And so, that was really inspiring for me to learn about the industry of just agriculture, where our food comes from. And that's kind of what, you know, sparked my interest in food production, to begin with.

Kyla McMullen: [00:09:32] You have mentioned that before, um, that it's important people to know where their food comes from. Can you talk a bit about why that's important?

Amy Vu: [00:09:38] You know, a lot of my friends, they're not in agriculture and you know, when you go to the grocery store, you kind of walk around and you see, let's say your orange juice, right? We see our almonds. We see blueberries. You go to the produce section; you see all of this stuff. There is a huge story behind how that product got to the grocery store. And sometimes I think we don't think about that. You know, almonds, for instance, almonds can't be produced without honeybees. And so, we have people moving honey bees throughout the nation out to almonds, just so we can have almond milk.

Kyla McMullen: [00:10:11] Yup. Wow.

Amy Vu: [00:10:12] Um, in Florida, we've got a couple of crops that people might be familiar with. Uh, one of them is watermelon, and we've got blueberries, cucumbers, there are lots of different crops, but those are pretty big ones. Um, as far as the Florida industry goes it is definitely melons berries and the cucurbit family. And I think that a lot of people miss that part when they think about where they get their food. 

Jeremy Waisome: [00:10:36] Yeah. And I definitely agree. I, most people, when they pick up a piece of fruit on the grocery aisle, have never thought about, and probably never will.

Kyla McMullen: [00:10:45] I'm most people. I walk in; it is there. That is where my food comes from.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:10:53] I think it's beautiful that, like, you, you went on this trip, and then you were so inspired by the experience that she had, that she came back and you were like, everyone learn one of your food came from.

Amy Vu: [00:11:05] Yeah. So, when I was in grad school, my colleagues and I, we came together and there were probably six or seven of us, and they all wanted to save the bees. They also were very interested in agriculture and local food and where our food comes from. And they said, you know, honey bees are really important. And of course, we had no idea what we were doing at the time, but, uh, we decided to go ahead and purchase bees anyway and believe it or not, our bees shipped to us through the post office through USPS.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:11:33] Isn't that a hazardous substance or someone?

Amy Vu: [00:11:36] No, it's totally hazardous

Jeremy Waisome: [00:11:38] Check all the boxes.

Amy Vu: [00:11:40] So I've been a beekeeper for probably six or seven years now, um, which has definitely helped with my position. You know, I, again, try to take myself back to when I had first started all the things I wish I knew.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:11:51] So you train people on how to become beekeepers and there's all these services that we offer through the extension offices, for people to have access to those resources. Right now, are you just working virtually to, to provide those resources to people? How, how do you, how have you had to adapt the work that you do given the current state of the world?

Amy Vu: [00:12:17] Sure. So, we have a couple of different programs. A lot of them are in-person. Because of course, with honey bees, it's the hands-on experience, you know, beats everything.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:12:30] Yeah, I can see that. 

Amy Vu: [00:12:31] Learning how to use tools, putting on equipment, learning how to handle equipment, learning how to handle bees. Um, so before COVID hit, we actually had a program called the Master Beekeeper program. The other thing that we run, which is a huge program that we have through us, is called Bee College. And it's basically just a two-day workshop where anyone and everyone can come, and it's essentially bee keeping conference. So, there are all these different classes going on at the same time. Hands-on stuff, classroom things, you know, tours of the lab that we have here on campus. And so that's kind of had to change a little bit. And we, we just recently had to do a virtual. Bee College, which, you know, wasn't so much fun in the sense of we couldn't get hands-on. However, we were able to reach people from around the world. I mean, we had people in New Zealand, and they woke up and set their alarms at two in the morning so that they could, yeah, so they could call into Bee College. So that was pretty neat to have that. And people from Japan, South Africa, Israel, just people from all around the world. So, we definitely took on that opportunity, and we're very grateful that, that we were able to do that. 

Jeremy Waisome: [00:13:36] So you have an international reputation then. 

Amy Vu: [00:13:39] We do. Yeah. Part of our job is to do a lot of outreach, to do a lot of education. And then again, to communicate the, the information from the University of Florida. And just this year, we've had two national extension awards provided to UF, the University of Florida. So, we are actually at the forefront of extension of communicating science through, you know, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. So, it's, it's pretty awesome to have two, you know, leaders in our industry that are really taking the forefront and are being recognized nationally, which, you know, it's very well deserved.

Kyla McMullen: [00:14:15] I feel like science is one of those topics where, like, people think they know, like they might hear a buzz word, or they might hear what their cousin told them. And then they form these opinions based on things that aren't even true. So, I really appreciate people who are science communicators, because you have to basically be excellent in two things in the science part, as well as the communication part. And usually people are, you know, one or the other. So, you have both skills.

Amy Vu: [00:14:37] Yeah, I think it's important to be able to communicate the science and to explain what science actually entails.

Jeremy Waisome: [00:14:44] I think it's interesting that people generally don't consider the fact that our jobs as academics are really to kind of put that information out there for other academics so that they can innovate on what we're doing. And so, it takes a lot of skill, and it takes a lot of time to be able to remove all of the technical wording and make it something that Kyla and I could understand, because we know nothing about beekeeping, right? Like, it's such an amazing skill and something that I know that we strive to do in our classrooms at the University of Florida is really kind of arm our students with the skills to be able to take what they're learning in the classroom and share it with the world. So, kudos to you for all that you're doing, not just on our campus, but all across the state of Florida and the world, 

Amy. It was so great having you be a part of our podcast. And we really look forward to hearing more about what the honey bee lab is doing. Hopefully, we get more beekeepers after this episode airs. So, thank you for joining us. 

Amy Vu: [00:15:55] Thanks for having me. 

 

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  • Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, research assistant scientist for the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory in the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s Department of Anthropology
  • Dr. Kyla McMullen
  • Dr. Jeremy Waisome

Topics Covered

October 29, 2020 14:29 minutes

Featured Re-release: Uncovering Buried History

Leading up to Season Two of Unstoppable Minds, we're re-releasing last season's interview with Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist who is involved in the work of searching and recovering remains from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. 

Recent national headlines announced the discovery of a new mass grave, placing the spotlight again on a long overlooked event that has recently gained more interest through documentaries and recognition in entertainment such as HBO's Emmy award-winning Watchmen and Lovecraft Country series. 

The interview with Dr. Stubblefield, a descendant of a survivor from the Tulsa Race Massacre, was originally aired in June 2020. You're invited to listen to her discuss the work of unearthing mass grave sites and how her family was impacted by the destruction.

Transcript

Intro: When we originally aired this story in the first season of Unstoppable Minds, Dr. Phoebe R. Stubblefield shared her research and work uncovering graves of victims from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. As we approached releasing season two, Phoebe and a team of researchers began a second excavation of a cemetery in Tulsa. Phoebe herself is a descendant of a survivor of the massacre, and we wanted to share her story again. 

Dr Jeremy Waisome [00:00:00] Before we get into this episode, we want to acknowledge that some of the content may be a bit heavy to hear, due to its discussion of violence, racially charged events and racial trauma. However, the work being conducted by researchers at the University of Florida contributes to uncovering the lost histories of these events.

Kyla McMullen [00:00:19]Welcome to Unstoppable Minds. A podcast out of the University of Florida, looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome [00:00:36]And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. A lecturer in the Engineering Education Department, also in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science, research, learning; it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF, who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Kyla McMullen [00:00:58]So, Jeremy, we're both traditionally trained in STEM fields.

Jeremy Waisome [00:01:02]Right. We don't really talk about what STEM means, but it's science, technology, engineering, mathematics. And within the sciences space, we’re really referring to the natural sciences. Things like chemistry, biology, geology, those types of disciplines.

Kyla McMullen [00:01:18]Right. And we definitely have to work hard to integrate social science into everything that we do. So when I talk about social sciences and talking about things like psychology, economics, archeology, history, anthropology, these are all things that involve people in society.

Kyla McMullen [00:01:37]And I think a lot of the innovation and the usefulness of things comes from considering both sides of that equation here.

Jeremy Waisome [00:01:43]The University of Florida actually has a very robust offering of courses in the social sciences as well as degree programs. We're actually going to hear from someone whose research exists at the intersection of natural sciences and the social sciences.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:02:01]I'm Dr. Phoebe R. Stubblefield. I'm a research assistant scientist at the University of Florida. My profession is forensic anthropology.

Kyla McMullen [00:02:09]Forensic anthropology is a subfield of physical anthropology, and it focuses on applying skeletal analysis and techniques in archeology to help identify individuals from bones when other physical characteristics no longer exist.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:02:22]Some measurements of the skull are associated with other features of the rest of the skeleton. We're interested in how body size is related to life.

Jeremy Waisome [00:02:33]Forensic anthropologists are charged with gathering and interpreting evidence to assist in the identification of human remains and to determine a cause of death. And this work is incredibly invaluable in documenting things like trauma to the body or estimating how long a corpse has been decomposing. I mean, along with things that we want to know, like age and sex and other unique characteristics of the corpse. But I think more importantly, this is how we uncover lost history. 

Kyla McMullen [00:03:02]And in this case, Dr. Stubblefield is uncovering the collective history of the Tulsa race massacre.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:03:10]I don't have recollection of it being discussed until I was an adult and maybe not until I did the first, I was active in the first round of investigation when we used to call it a Tulsa race riot. That was 20 years ago. 

Jeremy Waisome [00:03:27]For our listeners who haven't heard of the Tulsa race massacre, let me tell you about what happened. In 1921, a white elevator operator falsely accused a young black man of assaulting her while riding an elevator. At the time, there was a nearby affluent black neighborhood in Tulsa called Greenwood, which was often referred to as Black Wall Street because it was so prosperous. After the accusation, large groups of both white and black residents converged onto the neighborhood. Violence erupted for two days as rioters destroyed homes and businesses, leaving anywhere between 30 and 300 people dead. And most of these victims were black. The survivors made statements saying it seemed like bombs were being dropped from the sky. And there were even many stories of people seeing fire coming from the sky. Martial law set in and families of the dead could not get near the bodies or claim them, and they were never told what happened to these bodies. Just last year, two sites were identified at a local cemetery in Tulsa that could be mass graves from the massacre. Dr. Stubblefield is part of the team that was hired to examine the skulls and other remains that were found. 

Jeremy Waisome [00:04:41]Dr. Stubblefield. Where does your work come in? Should these sites turn out to be mass graves?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:04:47]I'll be on site for the excavation so I can examine the skeletal remains as they lie there. And I'll be looking for signs of violent death, so I hopefully, because we hope these will be our people, will determine if they're related to the, well, to a violent event. And for one side at least, we'll associate that with race massacre if there are signs of violence.

Jeremy Waisome [00:05:11]How has technology aided your ability to be able to identify where these graves are located?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:05:17]So we're using some of the same technology. Ground penetrating radar that's given us our best images of disturbances in the ground that resemble burials. So ground penetrating radar does a radar scan essentially of the ground and what it shows you is when the ground is not laying in the same pattern in different spots. And you have to interpret what that means. So thorough scanning and disturbed versus undisturbed locations. And you get results like, hey, there's a disturbance that measures about 10 by 30, that’s our sight on the Oaklawn. Or here's another disturbance that’s about five by five, those are our sites in the Canes area.

Kyla McMullen [00:06:01]The technology specifically that she's using here is really cool and we can definitely relate since we’re engineers. And this is also where this intersection of social science and forensic science in particular come in. 

Jeremy Waisome [00:06:16]I love the fact that they're leveraging kind of state-of-the-art techniques to be able to help aid in the identification of remains in these grave sites. I'm so glad that, you know, we're gonna live through the time where we're going to see the results of technologies, influence in forensics anthropology.

Kyla McMullen [00:06:38]I also think it's really fulfilling for other people who work on radar technology who may not have even thought that their work could be applied to something with such huge social impact.  

Jeremy Waisome [00:06:47]And Dr. Stubblefield is literally on the front lines of providing information that we've, we've been missing, like just gaps in history that will finally be filled because of her work.

Jeremy Waisome [00:07:02]So now the work that you're going to be doing is likely going to be under a lot of public scrutiny. And I mean, this is understandably so because it's a very emotionally charged situation and people want answers despite not talking about them. And there's likely political pressure around that. How challenging is that for you as a researcher?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:07:27]Traditionally, in Oklahoma and Tulsa, the knowledge of the Tulsa, of the race massacre was suppressed. Historically, if you look at the microfilm of the newspaper from those days in June, you'll see that the headline for the newspaper was removed before the paper was filmed. And the editorial pages also edited so that whatever editorial was, it was not saved. Most of the information for the event occurs in international newspapers, in fact, just because of that degree of not documenting the event internally. But after 100 years, I can say we're in a window where at least I'm not getting public threats or public attempts at suppression in that way. With my colleagues on the physical evidence committee, we are trying hard to be as transparent as possible, even to the point where we're working with the city of Tulsa. The mayor's office is fully on board and developing a way for the Public Oversight Committee to have either members on site as observers or to observe with the media, we have a media observation area plan. But this whole process has been with monthly meetings with the general public and the Public Oversight Committee just to reverse that history of, you know, masking the truth.

Jeremy Waisome [00:08:49]Back at the University of Florida, Dr. Stubblefield continues to teach her students about the crucial role of forensic anthropology in solving some of our country's mysteries. And she's recently been delving into another example that's similar to the Tulsa massacre.

Kyla McMullen [00:09:07]In 1923, not too far from us, in Gainesville, a white mob destroyed the predominantly black town of Rosewood, Florida. This was just two years after Tulsa, and it was sparked by claims from a white woman that a black man had assaulted her. After a week of violence, the town was burnt completely to the ground, leaving six black people and two white people dead.

Jeremy Waisome [00:09:30]So what are your thoughts on making sure that our students are fully aware of the history of places like Tulsa and Rosewood.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:09:40]So there are political issues, but my goal still is having my grad students here participate in the recovery. If we confirm that these are our individuals, this recovery is about helping the people of Tulsa, the black people of Tulsa, recover from having this event being hidden for so many years by their government. And so part of that recovery involves their activity in this excavation. And so it's a wrap together process. So you have students involved, Tulsa residents involved, in keeping it transparent.

Jeremy Waisome [00:10:19]How do you ensure that the students understand the history?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:10:26]There are two things I tell them to do. I've given them access to my colleague Scott Ellsworth, his book, Death in a Promised Land, and it’s a very concise and complete history of the event. So but the other aspect is having them watch some of the Public Oversight Committee response to our monthly meetings. And because, you know, there is a view of how we, the city of Tulsa, the Physical Evidence Committee, Public Oversight Committee, our interactions, how we're helping bring, I'd say, closure, but it's really the transparency. My students need that exposure to that public element, because in the forensics, in forensic anthropology, who are we serving? You know, technically, we're serving the families of the deceased. And those people are often invisible because we work with skeletal elements, but there’s still a family there and there’s still a public. So events like this Tulsa race massacre recovery keeps the public right there and it speaks to our ability to behave well with human remains, how we treat living individuals associated with a death event and they'll get real time training in that that they won't get in many a current forensic case here in Florida.

Jeremy Waisome [00:11:47]Thank you so much, Dr. Stubblefield, for sharing your story and your research with us. 

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:11:50]You're welcome.

Kyla McMullen [00:11:55]Dr. Stubblefield work is such a unique example of natural and social sciences working together through forensic science. She's potentially providing answers to questions that have caused anguish in Tulsa’s black community for nearly 100 years. And Rosewood is just an hour away from us here at the University of Florida.

Jeremy Waisome [00:12:13]Yeah, it's pretty incredible that her work is going to be something that, you know, really changes the the narrative of history in our country.

Kyla McMullen [00:12:24]Yeah, absolutely. I think, like, it also is really cool because the students get to, and all of us actually, get to change from being consumers of history to being people who can be a part of creating history so they can kind of change the model of being told to saying “actually, our research shows this is what happened.” And these are the factors. And this is what went on in an area.

Jeremy Waisome [00:12:47]Yeah. I think what's key in what you're saying is, they’re in some ways are kind of dispelling the myth that, you know, you can't be a scientist in the social sciences. Right.

Kyla McMullen [00:12:58]You absolutely can. And UF is kind of spearheading that movement. 

Kyla McMullen [00:13:07]This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen. 

Jeremy Waisome: [00:13:10]And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Kyla McMullen [00:13:21]Unstoppable Minds, is produced by Endeavor Content and Catherine Welch, managing producer Samantha Alisson, Creative Development by 160over90 with Benjamin Riskin. Engineering and post-production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Jeremy Waisome [00:13:37]Unstoppable Minds, owned by the University of Florida, is created with many thanks to the towns of Alisson Cark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant, and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen [00:13:51]If you like what you're hearing, please rate review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, you can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at the University of Florida by visiting our Web site at UT failed at ITI use flash unstoppable minds. Until next time go gators.

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Season 1Stories from June 2020

Episode 1: Unpacking Bias in Healthcare

May 12, 2020 17:51 minutes

Unpacking Bias in Healthcare

May 12, 2020 17:51 minutes

Do you think everyone receives the same quality of care when they visit the doctor? According to professor Laura Guyer from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, not always. Hear how she leads the only undergraduate academic program in the country designed to teach students across disciplines how to address barriers and take on unseen bias in healthcare.

Transcript

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:01] Welcome to Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida, looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:11] I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:18] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a postdoctoral associate also here in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science research, learning, it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:39] So this corona virus is really taxing our health care industry like nothing that's ever come before it. And I think it's something that we just were not prepared for as a country, as a world, honestly. And it makes me wonder what communities are most susceptible to the virus as a result of not really having access to the understanding of the impacts of what it can actually do. Like, I've learn things about viruses that, you know, I didn't learn in high school or college. It's super important that we expose people to health literacy so that they can make informed decisions about their health care.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:01:24] Thank goodness we have a UF faculty member here who has dedicated her research to making sure that people are educated and they know what's going on in the health care industry and they're filling these gaps of understanding.

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:01:37] My name is Dr. Laura Guyer and I'm a master lecturer in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Center for Gender Sexualities and Women's Studies Research. I'm also an adjunct associate professor in the College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:01:59] So Jeremy, Laura actually leads a minor in health disparities in society, and it's the only program in the nation for undergraduates to learn about health disparities, cultural competency, health literacy. The overall goal for the program is for students to think about and consider the lives of people in marginalized communities and figure out a way to just help them and meet them where they are, explaining things in a healthcare setting so that people aren't just relying on information that they get from uncredible sources. You know, they're able to actually have information in an accessible way.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:02:36] I think it's interesting that there aren't more programs like this available to students across the country, because we know that there's marginalized communities all over the United States.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:02:49] And I would even think, too, that having this kind of minor, like since we're the only ones on an undergrad level, it probably encourages people who are from underserved populations to want to pursue health care background. That probably didn't consider it before. Yeah, absolutely. So, Laura. Who exactly are we talking about when we say marginalized communities?

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:03:16] So we're talking about populations that we don't often think about when we're setting the table: who are the people who are missing, perhaps people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community. We could think about those who practice minority religions. We can think about those from minority racial and ethnic communities. Also think about those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, disadvantaged communities.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:03:48] So what are the challenges that these groups face when it comes to health care?

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:03:52] Part of the difficulty is that as marginalized people, they're on the outskirts of society. They don't often understand their health. They may not have a strong background in science. They may not have strong literacy skills.

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:04:09] The other part of that is that we as health professionals aren't always trained to provide inclusive care. We don't learn how to provide health care for people with disabilities or members of the LGBTQ community.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:27] That's really interesting. I'm someone who's very educated and have my PHD engineering, but I'm a new mom. And as a black woman, you're probably very aware of the health disparities that exist with black maternal mortality rate. Absolutely. And I personally felt like I needed to advocate for myself because that disparity doesn't even have socioeconomic status or education level related to it. It's just a racial bias that exists. I can't imagine not knowing how to advocate for myself, what language to use and all of those things.

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:05:05] Well, and like you said, you're an educated person. The unfortunate reality is that we assume that educated people understand health. I can look at you. I can see you're an educated and intelligent person. You're nodding your head appropriately. I'm assuming that you're understanding the two questions that we ask that we should never ask. Number one, do you understand what I'm saying or what I've told you? Because adults will nod and say yes, even if they don't understand. The other terrible question that we often ask is, do you have any questions? The reason that's a terrible question is because if you don't understand your health well enough, you can't formulate a question. And when I ask you if you have a question and you say no. My assumption is I've done a good job when in fact, that's not at all the case. I'm the expert. I should be asking you the questions to verify that you understand.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:59] That's amazing. Yeah. That's something that I've ever thought about.

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:06:03] Well, the other point that you brought up that was really excellent - you said you had to learn to be an advocate for yourself. All of us need to be advocates for ourselves, even those of us like myself, who's a health professional. I need to be an advocate when I visit my physician, because my position is my position, the expert in medicine. But I'm the expert in my life. Right. And so I have information that if I don't know to advocate and share, my physician won't have time in the 15, 20 minutes dedicated to my appointment to think, to ask me everything that's important. So for me to learn how to be an effective advocate, that's something that I try to talk to my students about. I teach through the lens of the patient's experience because in medical school and dental school, pharmacy school, we will learn how to provide care for a variety of patients.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:58] It seems like part of the issue with patients' ability to advocate for themselves is whether or not they feel they can trust their doctors. There have been so many documented times in history where medicine has used black bodies, you know, for its own investment, like the Tuskegee experiment.

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:07:14] Absolutely.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:07:15] I know personally as a black woman, you know, my parents and their brothers and sisters to go to the doctor can be so challenging. What are some ways where you think we can start to rebuild that trust between minority groups and their doctors?

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:07:30] That is a terrific question. You know, we talk about implicit biases, those unconscious biases that all of us have. So health professionals have biases.

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:07:42] Patients also have biases. I do an activity with my students in class where I show them a picture of 16 random people and then I ask them to work in groups and tell me who do they think makes the highest income and who do they think lives in a rural community? And then when we finish the activity, finish talking about who we put where. And finish laughing. I remind them that every patient there going to see has had some kind of experience with health professionals. And it's good to ask, I think, if you want to build trust: tell me about the kinds of relationships you've had with your other physicians or other dentists.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:24] Right. That's so great.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:27] So it sounds like better communication between the patient and the doctor is the first step to rebuilding that trust, which makes so much sense. I can also imagine that language and language barriers are a huge issue there. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Dr. Laura Guyer [00:08:41] That is such an interesting and current problem in health care. If you accept federal dollars ie. Medicare, Medicaid for payment, you must provide access to health care in the first language of the patient. Well, how do we do that in this country? We speak more than three hundred seventy five different languages besides English.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:09:02] Wow.

Jeremy Waisome [00:09:03] So what about like a percentage of the students who are enrolled who speak another language? Do you know what that is?\

Laura Guyer [00:09:09] I do. About sixty seven percent of the students speak a language other than English at home. We are 22 percent black and African-American. We are about a third first generation of college students. We are about a third immigrant. About a third first generation Americans. The students who self-select for the minor in health disparities are a very different group from the traditional undergraduate student at UF.

Jeremy Waisome [00:09:37] It sounds like it's hitting really close to home for those students.

Laura Guyer [00:09:40] Very close to home. Yes.

Jeremy Waisome [00:09:42] So even if the students are speaking English or the patients are speaking English. Medical instructions and health information aren't always written in the most accessible manner. So you have students who are enrolled in the minor and they're learning to write medical handouts. Is that right?

Laura Guyer [00:10:00] Yes. We're learning how to simplify medical concepts. We don't in health care often think about literacy as being something we should be concerned about. Right. With regard to the handouts that you were talking about, most are written at maybe the 12th grade level. Well, people don't read the same level of formal education. So if we have handouts that are written at the 12th grade level, that would require more than college education to read and understand. And again, remember, people don't understand their health. Right. So learning how to simplify handouts and take complex concepts and make them easy is really important.

Jeremy Waisome [00:10:40] So your career has really been balanced between academia and the health care system. That brings a really interesting perspective to this, like real world experiences that you can take into the classroom with you. How does your work in these two arenas influence each other?

Laura Guyer [00:10:58] So I teach the two courses that are the bookends for the minor in health disparities in society. I teach the cornerstone that you build everything on. And then the capstone is what holds everything together at the top of the arch right over the door.

Jeremy Waisome [00:11:13] You're speaking my language. I'm a civil engineer over here.

Laura Guyer [00:11:16] You shouldn't be talking about corner stones and caps. So in the capstone experience, I place students in 37 different community agencies locally that serve different populations with health disparities. We have some clinics that serve people who have low incomes who are uninsured or underinsured. Some agencies serve people in rural areas, some people with disabilities. It's really terrific that my work in the community has been able to inform my teaching because I've been fortunate to work in clinical care in a hospital. I have worked in public health and I've worked in academia. So being aware and having those relationships is what enables me to have a robust practicum program. I know those students are going to get an outstanding learning experience. And because I know the students, I know I'm sending to the agency students who are going to meet the needs of their agency.

Kyla McMullen [00:12:18] So speaking of your students, it it sounds like your program offers its students really robust training across all areas of health care. What kind of career paths have your students chosen after graduation?

Laura Guyer [00:12:29] It's really exciting to see where they're going. The majority of those who enroll in the minor and or take my courses are interested either in a health care profession or public health. Some are interested in health care administration. There are, again, several who are working in the community at the Latrobe County Health Department in different positions. Other students go into medicine. They go into pharmacy, dentistry. Some students have been interested in journalism and communications. I have about 5 percent who have gone to law school, so they go in all different directions.

Jeremy Waisome [00:13:08] What are you hearing not just from your current students, but also from past students? That gives you hope that this minor is having an impact or having the impact that you wanted to have.

Laura Guyer [00:13:18] They have names to explain what they've lived. Number one. Number two, all of them are going to be participating and receiving health care. So they are learning to become more effective advocates for themselves. And on behalf of their family members, those who do go into health professions do enter with a more solid foundation. They really are more advanced. They've only learned concepts as undergraduates, but they've had experience working with the communities that are underserved. And I'm seeing more students gravitate toward areas of medicine that are related to primary care, such as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, maybe emergency medicine, OBGYN, dentistry. So I'm I'm seeing students move into areas where they can use the information that really influenced the direction of their careers in their undergraduate years.

Kyla McMullen [00:14:21] So, Laura, right now, U.S. is the only institution offering this kind of program to undergraduates, teaching them how to close the gap around health disparities, cultural competencies, and health literacy. So what would be the impact of health care for marginalized communities if this was offered at most colleges and universities?

Laura Guyer [00:14:38] We would build a better medical student, a better dental student, a better graduate student, and they in turn would go on to be better professionals. And the idea is that if we can lay a stronger foundation at the undergraduate years in social and behavioral sciences, like we do in basic science, why don't we prescribe learning about the social determinants of health and about cultural competence and about literacy and health literacy, like we prescribe learning about chemistry and biology and anatomy and physiology.

Jeremy Waisome [00:15:16] That's so great.

Kyla McMullen [00:15:17] I love that. Dr. Laura Guyer, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you.

Jeremy Waisome [00:15:34] I don't know that as a student, you know, you choose your major, you decide like, I want to pursue this. And oftentimes, it can be one course that changes the trajectory of your future, and my expectation is that, of course, like health disparities in society might do just that. These students who are coming from disciplines all over our campus are now deciding to join that frontline and to really make a difference for marginalized communities.

Kyla McMullen [00:16:08] Yeah, that's so true. You get these classes that open your eyes to something that you had no idea even existed or was an issue. A lot of times we just learn the what in undergrad and not the who and the why and who this impacts and why it's important for society and the broader picture.

Jeremy Waisome [00:16:24] Yeah. And right now the who is really apparent. Right. Because all of us are so deeply impacted by what's going on beyond the confines of our campuses. And I mean, most of us aren't even on our campuses anymore.

Kyla McMullen [00:16:36] Yeah, that's one of the real values of the program.

Kyla McMullen [00:16:41] This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen. And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Kyla McMullen [00:16:55] Unstoppable Minds is produced by Endeavor Content and Catherine Welch, managing producer Samantha Allison, creative development by 160 Over 90 with Benjamin Riskin, engineering and post-production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Jeremy Waisome [00:17:11] Unstoppable Mines owned by the University of Florida is created with many thanks to the towns of Alisson Clark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen [00:17:25] If you like what you're hearing, please rate review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at University of Florida by visiting our web site at UFL.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go gators.

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Episode 2: Undeterred by Disease

May 19, 2020 18:11 minutes

Undeterred by Disease

May 19, 2020 18:11 minutes

Five out of a million people are diagnosed every year. She was one of them. Mariel White talks about her diagnosis with Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA)—formerly known as Churg Strauss syndrome—and the lengths UF went to help her return when it left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Transcript

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:01] Welcome to Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. Looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:18] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a postdoctoral associate also here in Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science research, learning, it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:39] In this podcast, we've primarily focused on talking to professors. But in this episode, we'll be talking to an extraordinary student and when I say extraordinary, which is a word I don't use often, I really mean it in this instance. I actually know this student personally. And so we're going to hear a little bit about her story.

Mariel White [00:01:04] Hi, I'm Mariel. I am a junior here at the University of Florida. I'm studying sports management. I'm hoping to graduate in the fall of ‘21.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:14] So everything went well for the first year of her being here in Gainesville and she assimilated. She joined a sorority. She was living a normal college life and out of nowhere, she just started exhibiting these crazy symptoms. And ultimately, you know, we didn't know if she was going to make it. And by, in my opinion, the grace of God, she was able to make it through this experience and come out of it, but not unscathed. I mean, it changed her life forever. And the story of how she's persevered and overcome all of the challenges that she's faced is remarkable.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:02:08] So Mariel, I know Jeremy is already very familiar with your story, but if you don't mind, I'd love for you to recount a bit of what you were experiencing going into your fall semester of 2017. What happened?

Mariel White [00:02:20] So at the beginning of my sophomore year, I started having neck pain and I wasn't really sure what caused it, but it just kept getting worse and worse. And then I started having flu like symptoms, started feeling really sick. They found that I had two strains of the flu and viral meningitis. I developed blood clots in my legs that were so bad that I couldn't walk. At that time around November/December, I decided I wasn't going to be able to return to UF for the spring semester. And then that's when it really took a turn for the worse.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:02:54] Yeah, we were all kind of concerned that you wouldn't make it at that point.

Mariel White [00:02:59] So I remember going into the E.R.. I remember being checked in, taken to my hospital room, and then I don't remember anything after that for the next two weeks.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:03:09] Wow.

Mariel White [00:03:10] Yeah. So at that time, I first had the three strokes in my brain and when they were trying to stop the bleeding, that's when it caused the fourth stroke in my spine. So all of that caused paralysis, vision loss and gave me trouble with words and numbers.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:03:30] So with everything that happened to you, it sounds like you lost the ability to do a lot of things that, you know, you were just used to doing without thinking about. What tasks became challenging and like, how did you start to recover?

Mariel White [00:03:44] Yes, so I lost the ability to do pretty much everything. So I had to learn simple things when it came to the paralysis from sitting up in bed, getting dressed, getting into my wheelchair, getting around in my wheelchair. So all of those steps took a very long time to like kind of build up. But then on top of that, when I first had my strokes, I couldn't read at all. So I had to completely learn how to read again, do simple math. I would look at numbers and wasn't sure what they were, so I had to learn those simple things and also had to adjust to my field of vision.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:25] I mean, you lost a lot of things and it was really sudden, but you never lost the ability to work hard. And that's what I admire so much about you.

Mariel White [00:04:34] Thank you.

Mariel White [00:04:37] Yeah. That's something that I've always been like that, but when you go through something like that, it really pulls it out of you. You just kind of have to take it one day at a time and work to kind of get back to where you were.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:04:52] I could imagine you thinking about, "Okay, I was a college student before this happened." Did you ever wonder about your return?

Mariel White [00:05:00] Yes. That was something I was really worried about. As soon as they brought me into the Shepherd Center, they told me that I wanted to be able to return to school for two years until the fall of 2020. So at that time it was January 2018, that felt like forever away. And in my mind, I didn't really know how severe my situation was. I didn't really realize the limitations that I had and how rocky my health still was. So in my mind, I just had to learn how to get around and I'd be able to go back. But it was a really long transition of learning simple things and getting ahold of my health and all of that to be able to get back to the University of Florida. But that's really something that encouraged me to work hard and get back to being myself again so that I could return.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:56] So as Mariel was working on her recovery, there was an entire team back at UF that was cheering her on, including like her sorority who raised money for her and even helping her install like different stuff in her house back in Georgia so that she could have mobility.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:16] Yeah, that is so supportive. Like that's so important to have as your recovering, you know, to have that support system.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:23] By the way, so after everything happened and she was able to recover, she re-enrolled in fall 2019.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:32] Oh, wow. She is persistent.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:34] Can you imagine?

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:36] Not at all.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:37] Just a few years later! And I think what really helped her do that is that UF has so much support for students with disabilities. So our Disabilities Resource Center is something that supports over 3000 students across our campus.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:53] Oh, yeah, absolutely. I use them for some in my classes, like for if you're a student who needs someone to do something as much as taking notes for you in class or giving accommodations for exams. You know, they have their own private testing rooms, whatever it is you need, D.R.C. will figure out a way to accommodate you. And I've been so amazed in just how much support they offer to students, like it's really good.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:07:19] And another piece of the puzzle that helped Mariel get back to life on campus is the incomparable Cyprus Hall.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:07:28] Oh, yeah. That place is nice. It was opened in 2015 and as part of the reason why U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Florida 6th for inclusion of students with disabilities. Mariel and her service dog Molasses, a.k.a. Lassie, were kind enough to take us on a tour of Cypress Hall to show us how the facility helps her tackle day to day activities.

Mariel White [00:08:00] This is Cypress Hall. It's one of the most successful dorms in the United States, which is really incredible. The mailboxes are lowered so that everyone could get into them. Even the paying mechanisms on the vending machines are at a different height so that everyone can use them. All the accessible dorms are on the first floor. So that's where my room is.

Mariel White [00:08:25] So this is my room and I use the bang bar to open the door. It's like the circular accessible door buttons that you push, but it's vertical so that people who don't have very much function in their hands can just bump into it and then it opens. Most of the rooms have these lift systems to help people get out of bed or into the bathroom. So it goes all throughout the room and the bathroom. It's at the ceiling and there is like the motor, I guess, and then you can attach different things to it. You can attach like a sling kind of thing. So I have my own room and then I share this adjoining bathroom with a suitemate.

Mariel White [00:09:12] So the toilet has handrails next to it that you can move up and down so you can use them if you need to or if not, it also has a bidet, if that's something that you like to use and it flushes just when you close the toilet seat so you don't have to actively push something to flush it. And then in the shower, it's a nice wide stall. There's a shower bench and the faucet is handheld so that you can take it off and use that as you need to. And then the sink is adjustable so it's a good height for me.

Mariel White [00:09:52] I'm not really sure how I would kind of take care of myself independently without having an accessible dorm like this. It's more accessible than I need it to be, but that's great because it means that people who need that level of kind of accessibility and inclusion are able to get it. So and it's great for me because I'm able to benefit from all these resources while I'm here.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:10:23] Mariel, what were you most worried about when you returned to the University of Florida?

Mariel White [00:10:28] So as kind of shallow as it sounds, I was most worried about, kind of, what people were going to think when they looked at me. I was used to just kind of blending in, being just an ordinary student. So that was something that I really kind of had to conquer coming back. Kind of ignoring the stairs and trying to not think bad thoughts when I would notice people looking at me. But one thing that I'm thankful for is when people look at me, they see my dog Lassie more than they see the wheelchair so that kind of helps because it gives them a more positive response to, kind of, when they see us. So, yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:11:12] So what would you say has been the biggest challenge then?

Mariel White [00:11:16] Other than that, it's really been my energy level. That was something I was really worried about coming back because I still have pretty bad fatigue. So learning to kind of balance my classes and just kind of my life outside of that, along with completely taking care of myself and getting around by myself, that's been difficult, but it's gone more smoothly than I thought.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:11:42] Yeah, and I know, like in your classes with your professors, you're not asking for additional accommodations.

Mariel White [00:11:49] I do have accommodations, but I kind of try not to use them, which is good and bad. It kind of pushes me to do it on my own. But I also kind of need to be careful not to overdo it. So sometimes it does really come in handy that I do have those accommodations, but I do try really hard to be just a normal student doing everything that everyone else is doing.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:12:12] It's there for the bad days.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:12:15] So Mariel, I know you found a mentor in Randy Wright at the College of Journalism and Communication as you explore your passion in sports. Can you talk about how that's going and what you've been working on in that world?

Mariel White [00:12:26] Yeah. So I've had some really great opportunities this semester and I'm really thankful for the help that he's given me. So I've interviewed almost all of the seniors from the gymnastics team and have been able to write features on them that have been published in the programs of the gymnastics meets. And one of them was actually put up on Twitter the other day because they were posting something about Sierra Alexander and kind of mentioned me in it to read the feature that I did. So that was really cool.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:12:58] That's exciting!

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:12:59] That is really cool. Are there other things that you're working on?

Mariel White [00:13:03] I volunteered with the Pro Bowl in January, so I actually did that trip totally on my own. I took a bus to Orlando because I can't drive because of my vision. But I booked a bus ticket, booked a hotel room, worked there two days and got some good experience before coming back to Gainesville, so that was cool. My main goal right now is focusing on my career path and what I kind of want to get involved with to see where I want my future to be, so that's a lot of what I'm working on right now.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:13:37] Well, we don't know what we're made of until we're tested and nobody knows better than you that it's our ability to handle what life throws at us that defines who we are. Did you know that you were this strong Mariel?

Mariel White [00:13:51] I always knew I was strong, but not this strong. It felt, kind of, easier because it wasn't thrown at me all at once. It was also, kind of, a slow transition from leaving school to being at home and being sick and trying to figure out what was going on. So in that time, I was able to kind of come to terms with my situation and realize that I was going to have to fight this no matter if I wanted to or not. It's something that you really have to take one day at a time because if you look ahead to the future, it's too overwhelming. You think this is gonna be the rest of my life, how am I going to do this? But if you take it one day at a time, like I just have to wake up tomorrow, I have to do this and this and then the day will be over, we'll move on to the next day.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:14:44] Well, Mariel, I have enjoyed getting to know you and just hearing your story and you are such an inspiration. So what would you say to other students who are facing challenges in their lives as well?

Mariel White [00:14:55] I encourage people to focus on what they're passionate about and work to be able to do that again. I realize over the months of getting back to who I am was that with each new thing that I learned, it made the next thing easier to do. Once I was able to sit up, it made it easier to get dressed and then once I was able to do that, it made it easier to do the next thing. So kind of built that momentum.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:15:23] Mariel White, thank you so much for joining us. You are truly an inspiration.

Mariel White [00:15:29] Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:15:36] Now that we know a lot more about her health and how she's overcome this, it's amazing to see her. We ran into each other on campus the other day, you know, and so to see her back on campus thriving and doing well and really not taking her diagnosis as a death sentence, because that's really what it could have been, it's outstanding. Her spirit, her ability to overcome, her willingness to share her story... It's beautiful. And it's a story of redemption.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:17] Yeah. I'm also super inspired by how she holds herself accountable and how she really stresses just being treated like any other student. And, you know, she's someone who has very visible disabilities as well as some that are invisible, like cognitive challenges and energy levels. So she's truly remarkable.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:16:36] I think it's amazing how you can approach challenges and have like a certain mindset that will help you accomplish things that most people might see as impossible.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:47] The same way that the sports world embodies perseverance and accountability, having these exact same qualities are going to take her a long way as she moves into her career in sports communication.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:16:57] I think so, too.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:17:01] This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:17:06] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:17:16] Unstoppable Minds is produced by Endeavor Content and Catherine Welch. Managing Producer Samantha Allison, Creative Development by 160over90 and Benjamin Riskin. Engineering and Post-Production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:17:32] Unstoppable Minds, owned by the University of Florida, is created with many thanks to the talents of Alisson Cark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:17:45] If you like what you're hearing, please rate review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at University of Florida by visiting our web site at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go gators!

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Episode 3: Unearthing Life in the Antarctic

May 23, 2020 17:39 minutes

Unearthing Life in the Antarctic

May 23, 2020 17:39 minutes
Transcript

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:02] Welcome to Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida, looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:19] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a postdoctoral associate also here in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science, research, learning, it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:39] Kyla, I have a question.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:41] All right, shoot.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:42] What kind of life is underneath Antarctic ice? We're about to hear the answer to that in this episode.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:51] I guess I've always kind of wondered like what's down there because Antarctica is like one of the less inhabited places, so I know that has to be super fascinating. Like anything they find is news.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:03] It's like deep space, but we can actually access it, though it's still treacherous to do so. And the faculty member that we're about to introduce to everyone...

Dr. Brent Christner [00:01:16] ...Brent Christner...

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:18] ...is super passionate about the work he's doing and then has the, I don't know, gall to actually go to Antarctica to investigate it.

Dr. Brent Christner [00:01:31] I am an associate professor of microbiology and cell science and I am a microbiologist.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:41] So, Brent, before we get into the important research, could you tell me a little bit about some of the wildlife you encountered? Please tell me there were penguins.

Dr. Brent Christner [00:01:54] Of course there were penguins. That's that is the life form that we think of when we think of Antarctica. In fact, the first people who traveled to Antarctica well over a century ago, that was the life that they saw. Most of the continent, though, is been viewed for many years as being uninhabitable and this is because it's extremely cold. And 97% of it is covered in up to 2 miles of ice. And those were conditions that were just not thought to support any kind of life. What we're interested in are the kinds of life forms that sort of bucked that trend. And we are interested in microbes that actually live in aquatic environments under the ice. And when I say aquatic environments, I mean environments like lakes.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:02:43] That's super cool.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:02:44] Cool. That sounds like a massive research project, because you had to transport a million pounds of equipment, a whole team of researchers... You had to battle weather and surface conditions and it costs millions of dollars to set everything up. So how fragile was this whole operation? Like could it have all just collapsed while you're there?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:03:06] It very easily could not as worked out as well as it did. And really, the challenges you mentioned, they even extend before we make it in the field. But there's a lot of other scientists that are interested in that question. Not just biologists and ecologists, but chemists, glaciologist... That are interested in how putting water under a slab of ice will affect the way it moves into the ocean. So one big challenge is just getting those scientists to actually speak the same language, planning to get all this and coordinated and getting out to the field took years.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:03:45] So one thing that Brent mentioned was that in 2013, when there was that huge government shut down, his entire research got shut down for a year, like everything had to halt, including this trip that they had been planning and just funding for so long. There's people in his research lab that also depend on this, you know, graduate students who may be relying on what they find as part of their dissertation, like that's, that's a lot.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:09] Yeah, no, I was a graduate student in 2013 and I can't imagine.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:04:15] Eventually he did make it to Antarctica, but as you'll hear next, that's not where the challenges end.

Dr. Brent Christner [00:04:23] You're subject to the weather and there could be two weeks when there's not a plane that leaves because there isn't any visibility. You could have all the planning that you could possibly do and still get there and the weather shut you down. But luckily, that was something that we didn't experience. I'll just mention some other challenges involve, to actually access these environments we have to drill through ice. So that means we bore a hole through the ice sheet and that hole is our conduit to studying life in these lakes. So we could put an instrument down there and they actually get stuck in the hole and that would close down the operation. Luckily, that didn't happen. And we could even have very successful field campaign and yet we still have to get all these samples back to the United States. That sounds trivial, but it is not! Simple things like not keeping things from freezing. That is actually one of the big challenges we face. We can keep things frozen well but keeping them liquid can sometimes be difficult.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:22] Can you talk about some of the equipment that you use? And also even just like the lodging accommodations that you have when you go to a place like Antarctica?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:05:32] Yes. Well, you're camping in tents. Sounds awful. I know.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:37] My goodness.

Dr. Brent Christner [00:05:39] I know. Everyone's surprised how comfortable it is actually to sleep in a tent in some places of Antarctica. Now we're in a place that in the summertime, so the austral summer, you know, I was able to keep beer in my tent because sun's hitting your tent and heating it up. So actually, there'd be nights when I wake up hot and have to open vents on my tent. There are also other days you wake up and the wind is blowing 50 mile an hour and you can barely see, you know, 20 feet ahead of you. And that can change in minutes.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:07] A side note here. Brent and his work are part of a larger research team called the Subglacial Antarctic Scientific Access Project, also known as SALSA. It's made up of researchers at universities across the country and involves U.S. and international partnerships.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:25] Did you find what you were looking for down there in that Antarctic ice?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:06:29] Yes, we did find what we were looking for. We hypothesized that there would be life in the lakes, but it would be probably microbial, because I do mention that the conditions we thought are maybe too extreme for life, but they're probably too extreme for anything more complex than a bacterium. The question of how these bacteria can even exist there revolves around, "where do they get their energy from?" If this was a lake on the surface, the answer to that question is they would be getting their energy from sunlight. This is not an option in these systems, so there has to be an alternate source of energy. An ecosystem is kind of like an engine. It needs fuel and one of the main questions we're trying to address is, "what is that source of energy for these organisms?" and the short answer is those are chemicals; chemicals which are actually liberated from sediments that are in the lake and chemicals that are liberated from rock. So essentially, we're talking about organisms that eat rock. Very cool.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:07:34] Very cool. So it's really fortunate that you were able to find so many living organisms, but it seems like success wasn't always a given. Isn't it true that during the 20 years that your team spent putting this expedition together, there was actually a passionate debate as to whether or not these lakes could even support life?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:07:53] Yeah, that's right. There was a very active debate between a group of researchers, which I was part of and other researchers who actually claimed that the lakes were too extreme to support life. And that debate really wasn't solved until we at first were able to drill into these systems and understand them in a holistic way.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:14] Wow. So you're going to have to prove everyone wrong basically?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:08:17] It sounds like that. But I guess I might say that it was a minority opinion that a lake underneath the ice sheet would be completely sterile. In fact, if we had drilled into these lakes and found that there was no life there, it might be a bigger story. It would mean we drilled outside the biosphere and no one's ever done that before. So it would have been certainly interesting and I would have been surprised by that, but I would say that what we found is not only what I hoped we would find, but also what I expected we would find.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:50] I can't believe he actually proved his hypothesis.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:53] Also, like the fact that you can previous hypothesis and bring students there...

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:57] The students, I'm sure, came back with more than just water. I guarantee not only did they have some pretty amazing stories about their time in Antarctica, they had some pretty cool skills that most students in the world don't have.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:09:14] Yep. And they also have research that nobody's gonna scoop because you would literally need to plan your own expedition there so they know they're the only people studying this.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:09:24] How cool. So it's not every day that you hear about students having the opportunity to contribute to research with such broad implications. And we asked Brent about what some of those implications might be for the rest of society.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:09:43] All right. But now that the debate is settled, polar lakes do support life. What does that mean?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:09:50] Yeah, why does it matter? Why do we care about these ecosystems that are so far from our reality? Compare them to a system that we're much more familiar with in Florida. We know that water that runs off of Florida into the marine ecosystem around it affects the biology of those systems. So those are biological phenomena which are accelerated by nutrients that humans add to water that runs off into the ocean. The same thing happens in Antarctica, but we don't directly observe it. So those kinds of nutrients and outflow that come off Antarctica end up in a place called the Southern Ocean, probably not the ocean that you pick to go to on your vacations, but globally, a very important ocean. That ocean absorbs a billion tons of CO2 per year. It absorbs that through processes of little organisms that live in that water and fix CO2 and those organisms receive nutrients from somewhere. So these rock eating organisms that I'm speaking of, part of what they do is they take these nutrients which are in rock and they liberate it into water. And that could be very important for seeding one of most important marine environments on the planet. Another thing is that these could actually be ecosystems which could influence global climate. And an example from this I'll give you is the ice sheet is a protective layer that sort of seals anything that's beneath it. That includes a bunch of organic carbon which is buried, buried underneath the ice sheet from millions of years ago when there wasn't ice cover there. Well, what happens when you bury that organic carbon and you add microbes is the same thing that happens in our swamps. You might know about swamp gas. Those bubbles are in part methane, and that's a very important greenhouse gas. So there's been a lot of speculation that when you remove the ice sheet from Antarctica, that this methane will be released in the atmosphere, which will warm the planet, which will melt more ice, which will release more methane.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:11:57] So did you find anything in your research that might help control the amount of methane released into the atmosphere?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:12:05] In our studies of these lakes, we've actually found microorganisms that eat that methane. So they use that energy as the source of fuel and carbon. So when I was talking about alternate ways that we have to think about organisms that live in the dark and how they have to generate energy, this is one of those examples. But more importantly, by actually eating that methane, there are attenuating the release of that methane from the ice sheet. So they could be really important in mitigating release of greenhouse gases as the ice sheet retreats. The third reason that we might be interested in studying these systems is that they're the closest earthly analog to the kinds of environments that have been described in our own solar system where there are large bodies of water under thick ice shelves. Examples of this include Europa, which is a moon of Jupiter and there are about a dozen other places in our solar system where we know these large oceans exist. You know, Earth does not only have the only ocean in the solar system, it doesn't have the biggest one. And so if we want to understand how life could operate in an environment like this, you should be in Antarctica studying those systems. Those are the closest we can get to on our planet.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:13:19] So I can imagine, you know, with all of this research, you must have a massive team. Can you tell us some about the students that help you with this research and that work on your projects?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:13:29] Our team consists of graduate students and undergraduate students as well. And in some cases, not in this case, undergraduates have actually accompanied me in the field to Antarctica, to Alaska, Greenland and other places. So students are the mechanism by which that we do the research so they're extremely important, maybe even more important than I am.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:13:53] How unique of an opportunity of this for them to be able to go to Antarctica?

Dr. Brent Christner [00:13:57] I have been to Antarctica eight times and I still haven't gotten over the uniqueness. Every time I go, it feels almost like the first time again. So I would agree with you, I mean.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:14:06] Yeah, tell me about it. I feel like this is something that is a once in a lifetime thing. You've done it eight times. How incredible of a career opportunity that is.

Dr. Brent Christner [00:14:19] It is. And it's something I never really thought you can make a career out of this. As a graduate student, when I was working in icy systems, I was like, you know, this is very interesting, but eventually I'll have to find a real job. There's no way that I can actually support this research, but one thing climate change has done is focus attention on polar systems and the area that I study is wide open because we know almost nothing about the life forms that live in most places that are associated with ice, which is typically underneath it.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:14:51] Well, thank you, Brent, for sharing your story and your research with us.

Dr. Brent Christner [00:14:56] Well, thank you. It's my pleasure.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:15:00] So I don't know about you, but I am thoroughly impressed. The fact that he was able to go and just lead this research expedition to Antarctica under just super uncertain terms and then actually come out with a proven hypothesis that impacts things like climate change. People think of climate change as being like this super far off thing that is going to impact people, you know, not in our lifetime, but the fact that he can do research today that can impact the future like that's so transformative to me.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:15:34] I agree, like he's clearly incredibly passionate about the work that he's doing and to spend 20 years of your life devoted to something that you don't know is going to work out is... Wow. Like, I am entirely too nervous about, like, what's gonna happen a month from now.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:15:57] Yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:15:58] 20 years from now? I don't have that kind of patience, steadfastness... Faith, maybe? I don't.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:07] Yeah and imagine being like one of his PhD students and you're like, "my advisor has been working on this thing for 20 years"... So I feel like he's like a really good, like mentor for his students because they're able to just see perseverance modeled in the lab like in real time.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:16:23] It's admirable that students are willing to sign on for a project that took 20 years to reach completion and I love that, you know, that kind of defines who we are here at the University of Florida.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:38] Absolutely.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:41] This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:16:46] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, thanks for joining us.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:56] Unstoppable Minds is produced by Endeavor Content and Catherine Welch. Managing Producer Samantha Allison, creative development by 160over90 and Benjamin Riskin. Engineering and Post-Production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:17:12] Unstoppable Minds, owned by the University of Florida, is created with many thanks to the talents of Alisson Cark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:17:25] If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at University of Florida by visiting our website at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go gators!

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Episode 4: Understanding Brain Trauma

June 2, 2020 19:27 minutes

Understanding Brain Trauma

June 2, 2020 19:27 minutes

How does a question about woodpeckers lead to groundbreaking research on neurological disease? In this episode, associate professor Lakiesha Williams talks about her work to understand traumatic brain injury and the culture of mentorship she created along the way.

Transcript

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:01] Welcome to Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida, looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:18] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a postdoctoral associate also here in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science, research, learning, it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:39] So we're at the University of Florida and when I was an undergraduate student here, we were referred to as "Titletown USA" because we won so many national championships.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:51] And when I say that I'm a fan of football and Florida football... I don't know anyone else who is as crazy as I am about that sport and this institution.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:01:03] These are facts, like literally.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:06] And ironically, Lakiesha, who we're interviewing today, is a football fan too. But Lakiesha isn't just a fan of the sport, she actually is conducting research, which is around concussions, that could change the game forever.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:01:24] I'm Dr. Lakiesha Williams. I am an associate professor in the J. Creighton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering here at the University of Florida.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:01:35] So Lakiesha's research definitely has broad implications that impact football, but it could also benefit soldiers in war zones who might be at risk for head injury while they're defending the country.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:47] Yeah. We've seen the news articles and all the information come out about concussions, especially as it's related to football, but I don't think a lot of people know about how concussions are plaguing our military.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:02:01] Another thing that really sets her apart is the fact that she has such a passion for students and when you talk to her, all of her passion and drive for her students really, really comes through.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:02:13] Yeah. We as researchers are often really removed from the students. And Lakiesha is an example of someone who is committed to ensuring that she doesn't get too far away from her connection to the students that she works with. And the insight from that that we'll gain from this interview is pretty, pretty amazing.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:02:36] So, Lakiesha, what does your research focus on?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:02:39] I study mild traumatic brain injury, so I evaluate how the brain is damaged specifically at the cellular and fiber level. So oftentimes in the clinic, specifically in the hospital, when someone has a head impact, they go in the hospital and they're evaluated through MRI or C.T. scans or some other clinical modality. Some things we notice is that there are limitations to these scans. These scans are not going to the depths of what's possibly happening in the brain. You know, like in a car, if an engine goes out, the mechanic can remove the engine and dissect it fully? Well, that's not the case with the brain so what we are doing is developing very novel tools to be able to look into the brain at the cellular level to see if there's bleeding or any other trauma that's not captured while the patient is in the hospital.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:03:28] It sounds like you are leveraging technologies from all across campus, not just things that you would find in like the bio med labs.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:03:39] So I'm heavily involved in McKnight Brain Institute. I use their MRIs. My students are training and being prepared to use those. We use the Nanoscience Research Facility, NRF. We use their transmission microscopy, whether it's SEM or TEM, those types of things. Several other core facilities that's giving us microscopy abilities as well.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:02] And all of those things are here on our campus that you can access readily and the students have the ability to be trained on them too?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:04:09] Absolutely. That's that's... They're running it.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:12] That's amazing.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:04:13] Absolutely and they love it.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:14] And those skills can be translated from here into an industry really easily or into another academic position once they're done. And my little baby is here in the studio, so if you hear any little coos in the background, that's what it's coming from.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:30] I'm sure in your courses that you have students that come up with some of the craziest questions that you could think of.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:04:38] Oh yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:38] And sometimes they're really good. There's something about having like this fresh vision of what is going on with the problem.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:04:46] So I had a student freshly into her PhD, just finishing her undergraduate degree, her name is Nayeon Lee. She would ask me very deep questions all the time. For example, one question was, "Dr. Williams, what is life?" So, of course, I didn't answer that question, but she came to a question of research. When she was developing her research question, she said "Dr. Williams, do woodpeckers get concussions?" Upon asking that question, I knew we were going to dive in deep and I asked her, I said, "let's find out." So we spent seven years of Nayeon's career looking into that question. And as we looked into that, we found that there are unique features in the woodpecker skull and in the woodpeckers beak that we can utilize to understand and design energy mitigating materials. We found that the beak had very, very unique keratin, bone and foam, and we also found that there's a hyoid bone that's wrapped around the brain of the woodpecker that serves as potentially what we believe and others have since recorded years prior to us that serves as a potential seatbelt-like feature that protects the brain as well.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:49] Did you ever think about woodpeckers and their brains?

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:05:53] Not at all.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:55] Wow, like, graduate students are amazing. Our graduate students are amazing.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:00] Absolutely. I think it's just really cool how you can ask these, you know, just seemingly trivial questions and then they inform a whole line of research.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:10] Yeah and in this case, the woodpecker question ended up playing a huge role in Lakiesha's work.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:16] Yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:16] And it's helping her address chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:23] What would your research and work building a better helmet do to address CTE?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:06:28] We know from research that it comes on through repetitive impacts to the head. The impact goes to the head, rattles the brain and causes repetitive injury. And we have an interest in developing helmets based on what we know from nature. So what we know from woodpeckers, ram's horns, and other natural systems and we want to develop padding and other unique features inside of the helmet to be able to stop this or mitigate this energy that's going through the helmet, through the skull, through the brain. And so hopefully that the players and the soldiers brains won't experience as much, quote unquote, rattling when they're hit.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:07:08] So what are the long term implications of this work?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:07:11] I mean, we want to see less of this, right? Unfortunately, there's no markers or very few things out there that are clinically approved to be able to treat this. What we can do now is from the helmet, being able to in a sense, catch it or to be able to stop--

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:07:30] Prevent.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:07:30] Right, prevent it or even lessen the prevalence of what we see these days. So hopefully, there'll be tools developed and microscopes developed and other things developed that we can see it and ultimately treat it, but right now we're just trying to prevent it through the design of helmets.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:07:48] We've talked mostly about how Lakiesha's work has lots of overlap with sports and specifically football. She also has worked with the military in ensuring that CTE isn't a prevalent issue there.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:00] Yeah, and those are two very male dominated fields.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:05] Yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:05] Like if engineering itself weren't enough.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:08] Right.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:09] And we're also like not even discussing the fact that she's an African-American woman.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:14] Right.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:15] And a younger one at that.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:16] Yeah. She's definitely someone who a lot of folks aren't used to seeing in those kinds of spaces.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:23] They're not used to seeing them and they're not used to seeing them as the expert.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:27] Yes, the expert in the room.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:28] So we asked Lakiesha what it's like when she goes to conferences and other work related events where she's basically in a room with 99% men.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:08:39] It's not always easy. There are times when I feel like a fish out of water being in a very male dominated area. I'm proud to say that in the field of biomedical engineering, we have a large representation of females, which we are very proud of, and even my department here at UF is over 40% women. However, there are experiences when I go to other conferences and meetings. For example, one time I was invited to a meeting last year to talk. A heavily male dominated field, I went to their national meeting, and as I was walking the halls, I felt the looks and I felt the tension. I had to almost close my eyes or just envision I was in a different space on a runway and tell myself "You were invited here. You belong here." Until I got to that speaker room and that made my talk so much better. So there are still times when I have to talk to myself and let myself know that I belong here. I don't know if that will ever go away.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:09:35] Yeah. People don't know what it feels like to just be out there and you're the only one like you.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:09:41] Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:09:44] Wow. I can definitely relate to this. Like, I wish I could say that I was shocked. You know, similar to her being a black woman and you're in male dominated spaces and you have to just basically, you know, talk yourself out of that.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:09:59] Yes, I feel that too and to hear someone, you know, who's... She's an associate professor, right?

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:10:08] Yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:10:08] Like to, to have tenure at a university and still be experiencing that... I mean, there's a term imposter syndrome and we like to like throw it around, but it's real. And she just so eloquently deals with that.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:10:24] Yeah and I think it's so important to have a mentor like someone who can just build your confidence in what you're doing.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:10:31] Well, recently, the National Academies commissioned a consensus study around the science of effective mentoring and science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. I mean we're talking about some of the things that they found, which is that with mentorship, you are much more likely to complete your degree, that having role models matter, that having someone that you can confide in a safe space is important.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:10:58] Absolutely.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:10:59] We asked Lakiesha about her journey and how she found her way into engineering because we know she had help along the way. And her story actually supports the findings that we were talking about in that National Academies report.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:11:14] Initially, I started off as a microbiology major, but I realized I was having such a hard time remembering these biological terms. It was just coming... It wasn't... But the math, I was practically teaching my calculus class as a freshman. So it was clear to me, like switch, go to something math. And I realized biology and math-- bioengineering. My mentor, Dr. Mary Beth Lema, um she really encouraged me as soon as I got in, I believe this is a large reason why I stayed in this field, as soon as I came in as a freshman she was a new assistant professor, new to a lot of things, learning herself. And I went into her office one day, she's a white female, and I go into her office and she had an Oprah Winfrey picture on her wall. And me seeing that, I was like, I just felt at home. I felt like I'm welcome here. I did, I don't know.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:12:02] Because of Oprah.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:12:03] Because of the picture of the black woman. I'm like, OK.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:12:09] This is a safe space, right? I'm from, in my background from inner city, majority black schools and all, this is my first time in an environment outside of my norm and having this woman have this picture on her wall. So then we talked and she invited to hire me and then from there, I worked with her through my masters and she's definitely one who I admire and attempt to model a lot of what I do after.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:12:33] So I could imagine when you then went on to get your PhD, how was that? Like, like were you... Did you did you see more representation? Were there more Oprah posters?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:12:43] As soon as I got in, I joined a bridge program, a "bridge to the doctorate", and that was where I found my community. It was an NSF sponsored program and it was a lot of underrepresented students who were headed towards the PhD program. Most of us were in science or engineering and we just stuck together for a very long time. I was the first underrepresented minority, actually African-American, to graduate with the PhD from the biomedical engineering program at Mississippi State University.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:13:10] And weren't you also the first black faculty member too, in the department?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:13:13] Yes, first black faculty and first female faculty in the department for several years.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:13:19] Wow, so what types of things do you do to just make sure that no one else has that same isolating experience?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:13:25] I feel like I walk around aware, looking for students who are seeking support or have questions. Just letting them know that, you know, in a sense that invisible Oprah poster's on my wall. Like just walk in and you can come in and have a conversation with me at any time. I intentionally reach out to the black females in my department, undergraduate specifically, and invite them to shadow, invite them to visit with my students. I believe representation and exposure, they're both key to asking the right questions and so, it's working. I see students who are now interested in PhDs who when I first invited had no interest. I think just getting them in there and having that person that Mary Beth Lema was for me. Answering those questions or even giving them questions to ask... That has been critical. Also working across the country with other universities. We have an NSF funded program between myself and several other PI's where we're training PhDs and post-docs in engineering, women and minorities, to be prepared for the job market when it's their turn.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:14:27] That is amazing. So having this heart to just reach back out to, to students, PhD students, grad students, this has to carry over into your classes as well. So how do you intentionally make sure that your students here at UF feel like they're included?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:14:42] So I think students need to understand that they have a voice and their voice is valued in the space that they're in. And it's not just me reflecting everything I know on them, but I need them to teach me and so part of my philosophy is, you know, give ideas, contribute to your peers, and let this be a collaborative environment. And that's one of the things that I foster in the classroom. Just a community in the classroom, even if it's just for a semester.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:15:06] What types of implications do you think that these conversations have on the actual science that the students are conducting in your labs?

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:15:15] Confidence is key. I didn't get it overnight and I'm still learning. I still walk the halls, as I said, like and pretend it's a runway and tell myself I belong. I think students need to know when they're right and when they're wrong. They need to be celebrated when they make some achievement. If they submit an abstract, that's 200 words, you know, let the whole lab know this person's putting our work on the map. To answer your question, Jeremy, it makes a huge impact. I see it on a regular basis, sometimes as scientists we can get bogged down on the day to day, but being intentional about letting our students know that I know you may feel intimidated, especially our underrepresented females or just underrepresented students, you feel alone and isolated, but you belong here and you are contributing to this place. And if it wasn't for you, this would not get done.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:01] Well, Lakiesha, thank you so much for joining us here. We learned a lot. Your research is so fascinating.

Dr. Lakiesha Williams [00:16:07] Thank you. It has been a pleasure to be with you all.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:16:14] I love how Lakiesha's story is just one more example of how with support early on in your career, you can be incredibly successful. And then you can turn around and reciprocate that help and change the trajectory of so many other people.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:16:33] Yeah. Mentorship at all levels, like what Lakiesha is doing here, is so important because you have no idea how you can change people's lives.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:16:41] I mean, literally, it can be as simple as affirming a seemingly stupid question. Like, the woodpecker question is seemingly benign, right? But it had so many implications on the work that she's doing. And then for Lakiesha to turn around and affirm her and encourage her to ask more questions like that?

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:17:05] Yeah. Yeah. We have to teach students that it's okay to have questions and to actually pursue those questions. A lot of times students are used to being told what to think vs. raising their own questions and being inquisitive about what they're reading, so hats off to her.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:17:23] In addition, like, just her presence on our campus is something that encourages other students. Like, role modeling is a form of mentoring and in the sciences and engineering, representation is really low and to have so many faculty who are from diverse backgrounds in our faculty ranks at UF is amazing. Like, we are nationally ranked in the number of diverse faculty that we have in engineering and it's why the university has been really focused on bringing in diverse scholars all across our campus. And we're promoting it, like we're doing what we can to let people know, like, hey, you can come here, and you can feel supported to feel like you belong at the University of Florida.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:18:19] This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:18:24] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:18:34] Unstoppable Minds is produced by Endeavor Content and Catherine Welch. Managing Producer Samantha Allison, creative development by 160over90 with Benjamin Riskin. Engineering and Post-Production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:18:50] Unstoppable Minds, owned by the University of Florida, is created with many thanks to the talents of Alisson Clark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:19:04] If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at University of Florida by visiting our web site at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go Gators!

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Episode 5: Unraveling Genetic Mutations

June 9, 2020 15:22 minutes

Unraveling Genetic Mutations

June 9, 2020 15:22 minutes

Shannon Boye is the associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida here to talk about her journey in academia and what led her to try gene therapy in the fight against a mutation causing babies to be born blind.

Transcript

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:05] Welcome to Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:22] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a post-doctoral associate also here in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science, research, learning, it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:42] I recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and it's been so interesting watching her develop all of the skills that she needs to be a functioning human. One of the things that is really surprising is how quickly she recognized who I was. It was almost like she was looking at me, like tracking me is what they call it with her eyes.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:01:07] I'm really surprised that she can actually track you at such a young age. I thought that, like recognizing and being able to see things and know what they are is like a pretty advanced skill.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:19] Yeah, apparently they can see about 12 inches from their face to whatever object is in front of them. But I didn't realize that, you know, not seeing that is a sign that your baby is struggling.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:01:31] I couldn't imagine like if you weren't able to see the things in front of you. How in the world would you try to restore that? Like in a human.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:41] Well, funny enough…

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:01:44] Dr. Shannon Boye

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:41] Is associate professor of pediatrics here at the University of Florida who has made it her life's work to answer that exact question.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:01:52] The focus of my research is gene therapy.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:01:55] It was UF's research program that attracted Shannon to UF.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:02:00] Yeah, UF is definitely a powerhouse in the area of gene therapy.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:02:03] Shannon's story also highlights how important it is to have really good mentorship, especially in research, because it also leads to better research teams. But the more you mentor and the more you train, you're able to increase your capacity. This is a large part of Shannon's story and a UF quality in general.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:02:25] So, Shannon, right now you're working on research that you started when you were a grad student here at UF. What exactly are you working on?

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:02:33] So typically within the first few months of life, moms or dads notice that their babies aren't tracking objects or looking at them. Or maybe they have a roving eye movement, but that usually catalyzes mom or dad to bring their baby into the ophthalmologist. And then they often will receive the unfortunate news that their child carries an inherited genetic mutation that causes this blindness. So most of these kids presents with either severe blindness from birth or they progressively lose their vision early on in childhood. So what we do is we develop gene therapies to correct that loss of vision.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:03:04] Wow. That seems incredibly impactful. So can you take us through what you mean by gene therapy?

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:03:13] To understand gene therapy, we first need to go back to sort of high school level biology. All of us are made up of DNA and there's subunits of our DNA called genes. Your genes are different from mine. Mine are different from yours. That's what makes all of us individuals. But what genes do is something very important. They make proteins and you can think of proteins like the building blocks of life. So there are proteins operating in the cells of our body at every second of the day to perform essential functions that allow us to survive and thrive. So genes make proteins and proteins perform really important functions. So in our retina, the photoreceptors in our eye, we have a bunch of proteins that are acting together in order to convert a photon of light into a signal that can be sent to the brain and process there as vision. What happens sometimes is a patient will have a mutation in their genes. And as a result of that mutation, that gene can't make the protein it was supposed to make. And without that protein, that function goes away. It sounds complicated, but it's actually pretty simple when you boil it down. Gene therapy is essentially delivering a healthy copy of the gene to a patient's cell. That gene would go on to make the protein it's supposed to make and then restore function to the photoreceptor and ultimately restore vision.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:31] That's really interesting.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:04:33] So how do we get these genes to the patient's cells? Therein lies the science. What you need in order to get a gene into a patient's cell is something called a vector. And you can think of a vector like a taxicab. And the gene as the passenger inside. And it's my job as a gene therapist to tell that taxicab where to go and to drop off its passenger. So in my lab, we're sending that taxi cab to the photoreceptors.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:04:58] OK, so, Kyla, let's take a moment and run through Shannon's process. The goal is to get a gene to a patient's cell through a vector, which Shannon equates to a taxicab. The taxicab carries the gene, or passenger, to the damaged area of the eye. And in this case, it's where vision loss has occurred, and the damaged areas are where photoreceptors are located in the eye.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:05:24] That's pretty cool.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:26] What's even more cool is that Shannon and her team are the ones who are directing the taxicab to these photo receptors.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:05:34] Oh, wow. So it's almost like she's creating G.P.S. for these taxi cabs to get to the photoreceptor. Is that what you're saying?

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:05:41] Either G.P.S. or she's a cab driver.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:05:47] So taxicabs, or vectors, come in a variety of shapes and sizes and flavors: some drive faster, some can hold multiple passengers. But it's the work that was done in the 1980s here at the University of Florida that identified perhaps the best taxicab to do this job.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:06:02] The name of that taxicab is Adeno-Associated Virus or AAV for short. It's pretty exciting.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:10] Shannon mentioned that the taxicab itself is a virus which usually has a negative connotation, especially right now. It's not something someone generally wants to inject into their body to do something good.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:06:22] But actually, what we're doing is taking advantage of nature. We're harnessing nature because what a virus normally does is it infects our nose. It releases its genetic information and makes us sick. Right. But what we can do is take that AAV virus and gut it of all of its native genetic information and replace it with the healthy gene that we're trying to deliver to that patient.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:42] So you all hack the virus basically. That's what that sounds like.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:06:46] Yes, we hack the virus. So we replace its native genes with our gene of interest to hopefully make that patient be able to see and then we deliver that virus or that AAV to the patient's photoreceptors. But before we get to the patients, we need to test these vectors or these taxicabs in animal models that exhibit the same types of retinal problems that the patients do. So the animal model has to mimic the patient condition, essentially.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:07:11] And were you able to successfully do that?

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:07:13] Yes, I've been fortunate because there are a lot of animal models that actually mimic the patient phenotype. So we've been very fortunate in that regard.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:07:21] And now you're in the human clinical trial phase off this research, which is huge. Congratulations.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:07:27] Yes, thank you.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:07:30] Before we hear Shannon's very modest response to this, I want to hit pause and acknowledge how big of a deal it is to get your research into the clinical trial phase. If you're a researcher, you probably have a general understanding of this.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:07:45] Yeah, she's actually delivering treatment to humans that could potentially change their lives.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:07:50] It's huge and the stakes are really high. And in fact, the National Institute of Health calls this gap between getting results in the lab and actually providing treatment to patients the valley of death. I'm so glad we don't have that in our field. So it's really one thing to experiment on animals, but it's an entirely different thing to experiment on human beings.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:17] And of course, anytime you're experimenting, especially with humans, it takes a ton of money. UF is so well known for their work in this kind of research, and that definitely helped to bolster Shannon's case and getting approved.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:31] Yeah, to have like one of the leading hospitals on our campus is amazing. That must be something that she can leverage when she writes these proposals.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:08:43] When you hit the valley of death, you really have to get out there, interact with pharmaceutical partners, introduce them to what you've been working on, and hope to attract an industry partner. That's where that capital comes from. So in March of 2014, my team was really fortunate to align with a company called Genzyme, which was focused on developing gene therapies for rare disease. And of course, I'm focused on rare disease. And we worked with them for about five years before we submitted what's called the investigational new drug application to the FDA to officially move this forward.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:09:14] So how many people on the planet right now have your gene therapy inside of them and they're just literally waiting to see if it's going to work?

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:09:23] So we were super excited last November, when the first patient was treated and two patients have been treated subsequently. Most recently, in the early part of February. But what's important to understand about these gene therapies is, remember, you're delivering a gene to a patient's cell. It's going to take a little while for that taxicab to drop off the passenger.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:09:44] So there's a very good chance that any therapy that we see may take nine months to show up because the brain needs to be able to accommodate the change that we've made in the eye. So that's why we're all kind of sitting around patiently waiting for a therapy to emerge and to show itself.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:10:00] So is it like an all or nothing, you know, the person just wakes up one day and they can see, or is it more of like a gradual transition?

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:10:07] So it depends on the underlying biochemistry of the disease. There are other clinical trials in this area where the improvements were almost immediate in the sensitivity of the patient's retina. But again, there's a lot of science behind that and it depends on exactly what biochemical step you're sort of intervening with. But in this case, in this disease, I do think it's going to be a more gradual improvement. And again, um these patients are profoundly visually impaired when they're born. And so if you can imagine someone that's been blind from birth, their brain sort of doesn't know how to interpret that input from the eye.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:10:42] And so I really do think, especially in this disease, that it's going to take the brain a little bit longer to understand that it's actually receiving signals from the eye.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:10:50] How nerve racking is it for you to be waiting?

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:10:54] Very.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:10:56] I can imagine.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:10:58] My mom calls me every day. Have you heard anything? Have you heard anything?

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:11:02] As moms do.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:11:03] Yes.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:11:05] So beyond bringing sight to thousands of people, you're project must advance gene therapy in general. Right?

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:11:12] Yeah. So every time you address a specific disease, you're doing it with a specific set of tools. And those tools may be applicable to many other inherited retinal diseases. So put simply, we had to identify the best kind of taxicab to deliver genes to photoreceptors. And so that information will come in handy for any other researcher or clinician that wants to deliver a gene to another form of photoreceptor mediated disease. Same thing for, you know, the dosing of the vector. So there's lots of generalized information that we glean. Even though it's for this specific disease.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:11:47] We mentioned that the University of Florida is a powerhouse in research, but research takes people and the people who are conducting that research have students that they're mentoring.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:11:58] And if our work is going to actually impact people's lives, then we need great mentors on our campus.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:12:04] Especially in research, because it's really hard to walk into research and just know exactly what to do on the first day.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:12:15] My style has always been sort of open, maternal, inviting. I share a lot of things with my students and my postdocs and my staff. I mean, they're all in the lab because they love translational research. They're motivated by doing science that actually might wind up in a person one day. So having a boss that has taken something from graduate school into the clinic, I think motivates them to try and do the same with their own projects.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:12:40] Shannon, I do research that's related to mentoring underrepresented students in engineering, and I was wondering what types of models that you might use to help support the students in your lab or the researchers in your lab.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:12:56] I don't know if any of the models are official. It's just sort of my personality. But I make sure I check in with them very routinely, not just on a professional basis, but also on just like, hey, how was your weekend basis? You know, I maintain a personal relationship with every single one of them. And I think that's been very helpful.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:13:15] Thank you so much, Shannon, for sharing your story with us and your research with us.

Dr. Shannon Boye [00:13:19] No problem.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:13:25] So I think in Shannon's story, she is definitely demonstrating persistence in research and she has an incredible problem that she is solving. She's literally restoring sight to the blind. She got all the way to the clinical trial phase, and she could have given up in that valley of death.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:13:40] And she still has more work to do. Which, you know, when you spend a decade of your life working on solving a problem, you know you're truly committed to seeing the solution. It's also amazing how the students get to model that in their lab by supporting kind of different generations of students in the lab. So you've got undergraduate students and graduate students working together. And those graduate students are using the skills that they're picking up from Shannon to teach and educate these, this next generation of scientists.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:14:15] This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:14:20] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:14:30] Unstoppable Minds is produced by Endeavor Content and Catherine Welch. Managing Producer Samantha Allison, Creative Development by 160over90 with Benjamin Riskin. Engineering and post-production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:14:46] Unstoppable Minds, owned by the University of Florida, is created with many thanks to the talents of Alisson Clark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant and Brian Sandusky.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:14:59] If you like what you're hearing, please rate review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at University of Florida by visiting our Web site at UFL.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time - Go Gators!

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Episode 6: Underlining a Need for Diversity

June 16, 2020 13:55 minutes

Underlining a Need for Diversity

June 16, 2020 13:55 minutes

What happens when civil engineering and behavioral sciences overlap? According to associate professor Denise R. Simmons—we get answers. Hear how her perspective as a black woman in a male dominated field has taught her some hard truths about diversity.

Transcript

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:02] Welcome to Unstoppable Minds. A podcast out of the University of Florida looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:00:19] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a lecturer in the Engineering and Education Department, also in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science research, learning, it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF, who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:00:43] I brought my drop slip in to this one professor, and I had not attended the class yet. And as I presented him the drop slip, he looked up at me, and he said,
“I knew you were going to drop this class. You're not going to make a great engineer.”

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:00:59] That was Dr. Denise Simmons, an associate professor in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering here at the University of Florida. Unfortunately, Denise’s experience is pretty common for women and minorities who are in the sciences. Denise is also a first-generation college student, which can make it even more difficult for you to feel like you belong in an academic setting.

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:01:21] My specialty is in project management. But my research looks at workforce sustainability and evaluation with aspects of inclusive culture.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:01:32] Denise specializes in the intersection of civil engineering and the behavioral sciences. We all have our own stories to tell, and our experiences are unique to ourselves. And it really does influence how we show up at work every single day.

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:01:49] When there's a lack of diversity there is a failure to stakeholders, employers and society in general.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:02:00] Denise began her research looking at two different kinds of success found in the workplace.

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:02:06] There was the organization's perspective and then the employees perspective. The organization's perspective included things like productivity and profitability and then create an environment that's safe and inclusive. And where these two things, I think, overlap is that people or companies are just looking for the right people. And when companies began to task me with the thing of looking for where we’re losing money, I almost always found it wasn't really about a technical failure. It was about maybe a human or person related failure. And so, it began to help me think about if we have these two competing but overlapping things about success, and the Venn diagram there was, it was really about people, what they understood, how they were able to perform, if they felt valued. I felt like if we could solve that problem first, both sides of that equation of success could be satisfied.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:03:14] These two viewpoints of success are important because it's not just about how the company views success based on metrics in performance measures that they want to see achieved. It really also depends on how you, as an employee, are thriving in that environment. And oftentimes, we don't really talk about that.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:03:36] Yeah, that's really stifling to be someone in a place where you can’t show up as your whole self to work because you're also limiting your ideas. It's our different life experiences that drive creativity and have novel solutions like that come out of it.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:03:52] It's really the company and ultimately the customer that's losing out on the best product that they could receive. The University of Florida has already kind of established some best practices that support our faculty and staff who are people of color, but also faculty and staff who aren’t to help them engage in conversations that, you know, may be difficult to talk about. We have a group that's trained in crucial conversations and that helps those who participate develop communication skills, that allows people to be their authentic selves and discuss inclusivity, diversity, equity and access. The other piece is, we have these affinity groups and they are for underrepresented people on our campus to kind of connect with each other, to connect with like-minded individuals. We see them in an industry environment, and we don't often see them in academic environments.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:04:51] Yeah, and it's such a relief to be here at the University of Florida that actually recognizes and has resources that are specifically geared towards this kind of diversity and inclusion efforts. But not all companies are current with the times and ready to change and make these kinds of things as well.

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:05:09] I believe what I'm seeing are companies who desire an end state and are beginning to make real changes to move towards that end state. But I believe what sort of prevents them is hearing that bad news. The bad news that maybe what they're doing isn't so helpful or it runs counter to their own narrative that makes them feel good. I think cultures that are fairly monolithic or mostly one demographic are operating under normal conditions. So, it is a right for that particular demographic, and they want to see that demographic shift, except they then become maybe over sensitized to say to include this other demographic. And so, I think it takes courage. It takes commitment. I think it also takes patience, though.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:06:10] Yeah. And, you know, we're talking about diversifying, but inclusion is a whole other piece.

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:06:16] Correct. So, because diversity just gives you the numbers across the demographics, inclusion really invites the voices and full participation of those groups in all areas of that particular organization.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:06:32] What happens when there isn't diversity like in teams and in companies?

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:06:39] When we have homogeneous teams, we can only benefit from the experience, knowledge, values that those people hold. If we think about this just from a design lens, we've all heard about the experience of seat belts that were designed or air bags that were designed that well supported males but had detrimental effects for women. And in particularly, pregnant women. So, I believe when there's a lack of diversity, your stakeholders aren't served well. Employees certainly are not served well, and society in general is also not served.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:07:24] So as a consumer, you would definitely want a diverse team of people creating any product that you get. So what role does diversity play in engineering?

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:07:33] I think with diversity and particularly diverse teams, it equals a better product every time. I don't know any other stronger or direct way to sort of say that homogeneous teams tend to have and overlook certain other perspectives. And so, diversity equals a better product every time.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome 00:07:56] So what Denise is saying makes a lot of sense, including many different perspectives will give you a better product or solution every single time.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:05] Exactly. Forbes even did a whole analysis where I think they took like 200 different businesses and they looked at them for over two years and looked at the business decisions they made. And they found that when they had inclusive teams that they made better business decisions up to 87 percent of the time. The whole process of making decisions was twice as fast, with half the meeting, sign me up for that. And then the decisions that were made and executed by diverse teams, you know, delivered 60 percent better results. So with all of that data, you know, this is the proof in the pudding.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:42] It's very compelling.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:08:43] This kind of just really constructive change. It definitely does not happen overnight. It takes time, and it actually has to happen from the top down.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:08:53] I think along with that is this is really a culture change. It really requires us to do kind of a deep inventory of where we're at and then make incremental changes over time. UF is actually taking strides to address some of these opportunities that are available on our campus. We have an Office of Academic Support. And through that office, Florida Match and Opportunity Scholars program helps so many students of various different backgrounds who all come from this first-generation status to feel like they belong. There's also the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs Office, which offers trainings for classrooms and for teams. And at the graduate student level, we have the Office of Graduate Diversity Initiatives, which works to provide support for underrepresented students and all students on our campus. Really. We've built a network of administrators and faculty and staff who are focused on diversity efforts. And that's so important for us to be able to see this institutional change because we have people at all levels committed to doing it.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:10:06] Absolutely. Change happens at all levels. It’s not just the job of one person at one particular level.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:10:14] So having the ability to work on diverse teams and have inclusion, employers we know are looking for these professional skills. Sometimes people like to erroneously call them soft skills, but they are life skills, for example, like communication and the ability to work on teams. How do you convey the importance of developing these skills to your students?

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:10:34] So first of all, I want to thank you for calling them life skills. We need to be careful about how we're describing this to students. If we use the word, “soft’ skills, I want to imagine what are the thoughts of every male in the classroom. Soft skills? Is that the kind of skill I want to develop? So, I like that you call them life skills. I say they must be the hard skills because these are the things that companies for decades have told us students are not developing.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:11:06] If you could redesign like the entire engineering student experience to make this well-rounded engineer, what would you do?

Dr. Denise Simmons [00:11:15] I think there's a long history of us telling engineers that engineers solve problems and we put a period there. Engineers solve problems for people. And so,we have these ways of, okay, gravity equals zero. And that helps us, help students develop fundamental concepts. But at some point, we have to layer back in that you're solving it for people. There's a societal sort of context for this fundamental concept. And if we teach them separate, they're never going to couple or value this.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:11:50] Well, Denise, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Dr. Denise R. Simmons [00:11:53] You're welcome. Thanks for inviting me.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:11:58] People may not realize the role of diversity or the lack thereof has on product design and their business at large. And I think that speaks to the role of the university because it's our job to really train students, to have these diverse perspectives and to be able to bring those to their employer.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:12:19] Absolutely. If they've already been taught that an inclusive culture welcomes them and their ideas and their full experience, they’ll be even more competent in the workplace, and they can also contribute better solutions.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:12:31] And I know personally that Denise is fully committed to this in her laboratory, but also well beyond that. And she is taking her scholarship into a wide variety of communities so that they understand the importance of workforce development and how having diverse perspectives can really, positively impact our society.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:12:57] This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:13:02] And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:13:12] Unstoppable Minds is produced by Endeavor Content. And Catherine Welch, managing producer Samantha Alisson Creative Development by 160over90 with Benjamin Riskin, engineering and post-production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome [00:13:28] Unstoppable Minds, owned by the University of Florida, is created with many thanks to the towns of Alisson Clark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lee-Anne, Wise Clairvoyant, and Brian Sandusky.

Dr. Kyla McMullen [00:13:42] If you like what you're hearing, please rate review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at University of Florida by visiting our web site at ufl.edu/unstoppableminds. Until next time, go Gators!

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Episode 7: Uncovering Buried History

June 23, 2020 14:29 minutes

Uncovering Buried History

June 23, 2020 14:29 minutes

When ground scans in Oklahoma showed unusual markings, something hidden below the surface came to light. Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield discusses unearthing mass grave sites attributed to the long overlooked 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and shares how her family was impacted by the destruction.

Transcript

Intro: When we originally aired this story in the first season of Unstoppable Minds, Dr. Phoebe R. Stubblefield shared her research and work uncovering graves of victims from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. As we approached releasing season two, Phoebe and a team of researchers began a second excavation of a cemetery in Tulsa. Phoebe herself is a descendant of a survivor of the massacre, and we wanted to share her story again. 

Dr Jeremy Waisome [00:00:00] Before we get into this episode, we want to acknowledge that some of the content may be a bit heavy to hear, due to its discussion of violence, racially charged events and racial trauma. However, the work being conducted by researchers at the University of Florida contributes to uncovering the lost histories of these events.

Kyla McMullen [00:00:19]Welcome to Unstoppable Minds. A podcast out of the University of Florida, looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen, an Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Jeremy Waisome [00:00:36]And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. A lecturer in the Engineering Education Department, also in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. We know quite well that science, research, learning; it's all about trial and error. So we're sitting down with some of our colleagues here at UF, who've stared down some pretty big challenges in the quest for knowledge.

Kyla McMullen [00:00:58]So, Jeremy, we're both traditionally trained in STEM fields.

Jeremy Waisome [00:01:02]Right. We don't really talk about what STEM means, but it's science, technology, engineering, mathematics. And within the sciences space, we’re really referring to the natural sciences. Things like chemistry, biology, geology, those types of disciplines.

Kyla McMullen [00:01:18]Right. And we definitely have to work hard to integrate social science into everything that we do. So when I talk about social sciences and talking about things like psychology, economics, archeology, history, anthropology, these are all things that involve people in society.

Kyla McMullen [00:01:37]And I think a lot of the innovation and the usefulness of things comes from considering both sides of that equation here.

Jeremy Waisome [00:01:43]The University of Florida actually has a very robust offering of courses in the social sciences as well as degree programs. We're actually going to hear from someone whose research exists at the intersection of natural sciences and the social sciences.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:02:01]I'm Dr. Phoebe R. Stubblefield. I'm a research assistant scientist at the University of Florida. My profession is forensic anthropology.

Kyla McMullen [00:02:09]Forensic anthropology is a subfield of physical anthropology, and it focuses on applying skeletal analysis and techniques in archeology to help identify individuals from bones when other physical characteristics no longer exist.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:02:22]Some measurements of the skull are associated with other features of the rest of the skeleton. We're interested in how body size is related to life.

Jeremy Waisome [00:02:33]Forensic anthropologists are charged with gathering and interpreting evidence to assist in the identification of human remains and to determine a cause of death. And this work is incredibly invaluable in documenting things like trauma to the body or estimating how long a corpse has been decomposing. I mean, along with things that we want to know, like age and sex and other unique characteristics of the corpse. But I think more importantly, this is how we uncover lost history. 

Kyla McMullen [00:03:02]And in this case, Dr. Stubblefield is uncovering the collective history of the Tulsa race massacre.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:03:10]I don't have recollection of it being discussed until I was an adult and maybe not until I did the first, I was active in the first round of investigation when we used to call it a Tulsa race riot. That was 20 years ago. 

Jeremy Waisome [00:03:27]For our listeners who haven't heard of the Tulsa race massacre, let me tell you about what happened. In 1921, a white elevator operator falsely accused a young black man of assaulting her while riding an elevator. At the time, there was a nearby affluent black neighborhood in Tulsa called Greenwood, which was often referred to as Black Wall Street because it was so prosperous. After the accusation, large groups of both white and black residents converged onto the neighborhood. Violence erupted for two days as rioters destroyed homes and businesses, leaving anywhere between 30 and 300 people dead. And most of these victims were black. The survivors made statements saying it seemed like bombs were being dropped from the sky. And there were even many stories of people seeing fire coming from the sky. Martial law set in and families of the dead could not get near the bodies or claim them, and they were never told what happened to these bodies. Just last year, two sites were identified at a local cemetery in Tulsa that could be mass graves from the massacre. Dr. Stubblefield is part of the team that was hired to examine the skulls and other remains that were found. 

Jeremy Waisome [00:04:41]Dr. Stubblefield. Where does your work come in? Should these sites turn out to be mass graves?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:04:47]I'll be on site for the excavation so I can examine the skeletal remains as they lie there. And I'll be looking for signs of violent death, so I hopefully, because we hope these will be our people, will determine if they're related to the, well, to a violent event. And for one side at least, we'll associate that with race massacre if there are signs of violence.

Jeremy Waisome [00:05:11]How has technology aided your ability to be able to identify where these graves are located?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:05:17]So we're using some of the same technology. Ground penetrating radar that's given us our best images of disturbances in the ground that resemble burials. So ground penetrating radar does a radar scan essentially of the ground and what it shows you is when the ground is not laying in the same pattern in different spots. And you have to interpret what that means. So thorough scanning and disturbed versus undisturbed locations. And you get results like, hey, there's a disturbance that measures about 10 by 30, that’s our sight on the Oaklawn. Or here's another disturbance that’s about five by five, those are our sites in the Canes area.

Kyla McMullen [00:06:01]The technology specifically that she's using here is really cool and we can definitely relate since we’re engineers. And this is also where this intersection of social science and forensic science in particular come in. 

Jeremy Waisome [00:06:16]I love the fact that they're leveraging kind of state-of-the-art techniques to be able to help aid in the identification of remains in these grave sites. I'm so glad that, you know, we're gonna live through the time where we're going to see the results of technologies, influence in forensics anthropology.

Kyla McMullen [00:06:38]I also think it's really fulfilling for other people who work on radar technology who may not have even thought that their work could be applied to something with such huge social impact.  

Jeremy Waisome [00:06:47]And Dr. Stubblefield is literally on the front lines of providing information that we've, we've been missing, like just gaps in history that will finally be filled because of her work.

Jeremy Waisome [00:07:02]So now the work that you're going to be doing is likely going to be under a lot of public scrutiny. And I mean, this is understandably so because it's a very emotionally charged situation and people want answers despite not talking about them. And there's likely political pressure around that. How challenging is that for you as a researcher?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:07:27]Traditionally, in Oklahoma and Tulsa, the knowledge of the Tulsa, of the race massacre was suppressed. Historically, if you look at the microfilm of the newspaper from those days in June, you'll see that the headline for the newspaper was removed before the paper was filmed. And the editorial pages also edited so that whatever editorial was, it was not saved. Most of the information for the event occurs in international newspapers, in fact, just because of that degree of not documenting the event internally. But after 100 years, I can say we're in a window where at least I'm not getting public threats or public attempts at suppression in that way. With my colleagues on the physical evidence committee, we are trying hard to be as transparent as possible, even to the point where we're working with the city of Tulsa. The mayor's office is fully on board and developing a way for the Public Oversight Committee to have either members on site as observers or to observe with the media, we have a media observation area plan. But this whole process has been with monthly meetings with the general public and the Public Oversight Committee just to reverse that history of, you know, masking the truth.

Jeremy Waisome [00:08:49]Back at the University of Florida, Dr. Stubblefield continues to teach her students about the crucial role of forensic anthropology in solving some of our country's mysteries. And she's recently been delving into another example that's similar to the Tulsa massacre.

Kyla McMullen [00:09:07]In 1923, not too far from us, in Gainesville, a white mob destroyed the predominantly black town of Rosewood, Florida. This was just two years after Tulsa, and it was sparked by claims from a white woman that a black man had assaulted her. After a week of violence, the town was burnt completely to the ground, leaving six black people and two white people dead.

Jeremy Waisome [00:09:30]So what are your thoughts on making sure that our students are fully aware of the history of places like Tulsa and Rosewood.

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:09:40]So there are political issues, but my goal still is having my grad students here participate in the recovery. If we confirm that these are our individuals, this recovery is about helping the people of Tulsa, the black people of Tulsa, recover from having this event being hidden for so many years by their government. And so part of that recovery involves their activity in this excavation. And so it's a wrap together process. So you have students involved, Tulsa residents involved, in keeping it transparent.

Jeremy Waisome [00:10:19]How do you ensure that the students understand the history?

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:10:26]There are two things I tell them to do. I've given them access to my colleague Scott Ellsworth, his book, Death in a Promised Land, and it’s a very concise and complete history of the event. So but the other aspect is having them watch some of the Public Oversight Committee response to our monthly meetings. And because, you know, there is a view of how we, the city of Tulsa, the Physical Evidence Committee, Public Oversight Committee, our interactions, how we're helping bring, I'd say, closure, but it's really the transparency. My students need that exposure to that public element, because in the forensics, in forensic anthropology, who are we serving? You know, technically, we're serving the families of the deceased. And those people are often invisible because we work with skeletal elements, but there’s still a family there and there’s still a public. So events like this Tulsa race massacre recovery keeps the public right there and it speaks to our ability to behave well with human remains, how we treat living individuals associated with a death event and they'll get real time training in that that they won't get in many a current forensic case here in Florida.

Jeremy Waisome [00:11:47]Thank you so much, Dr. Stubblefield, for sharing your story and your research with us. 

Phoebe Stubblefield [00:11:50]You're welcome.

Kyla McMullen [00:11:55]Dr. Stubblefield work is such a unique example of natural and social sciences working together through forensic science. She's potentially providing answers to questions that have caused anguish in Tulsa’s black community for nearly 100 years. And Rosewood is just an hour away from us here at the University of Florida.

Jeremy Waisome [00:12:13]Yeah, it's pretty incredible that her work is going to be something that, you know, really changes the the narrative of history in our country.

Kyla McMullen [00:12:24]Yeah, absolutely. I think, like, it also is really cool because the students get to, and all of us actually, get to change from being consumers of history to being people who can be a part of creating history so they can kind of change the model of being told to saying “actually, our research shows this is what happened.” And these are the factors. And this is what went on in an area.

Jeremy Waisome [00:12:47]Yeah. I think what's key in what you're saying is, they’re in some ways are kind of dispelling the myth that, you know, you can't be a scientist in the social sciences. Right.

Kyla McMullen [00:12:58]You absolutely can. And UF is kind of spearheading that movement. 

Kyla McMullen [00:13:07]This is Unstoppable Minds, a podcast out of the University of Florida. I'm Dr. Kyla McMullen. 

Jeremy Waisome: [00:13:10]And I'm Dr. Jeremy Waisome. Thanks for joining us.

Kyla McMullen [00:13:21]Unstoppable Minds, is produced by Endeavor Content and Catherine Welch, managing producer Samantha Alisson, Creative Development by 160over90 with Benjamin Riskin. Engineering and post-production by Ameeta Ganatra and Adam Allison.

Jeremy Waisome [00:13:37]Unstoppable Minds, owned by the University of Florida, is created with many thanks to the towns of Alisson Cark, Emily Cardinali, Matthew Abramson, Brianne Lehan, Wise Clairvoyant, and Brian Sandusky.

Kyla McMullen [00:13:51]If you like what you're hearing, please rate review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, you can find out more information about our show and the awesome professors at the University of Florida by visiting our Web site at UT failed at ITI use flash unstoppable minds. Until next time go gators.

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