Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lent Q&A: Everything you were embarrassed to ask about Lent

This week marks the beginning of the Lent season, and in collaboration with STU’s Campus Ministry, we’ve developed the following questions and answers about Lent. After the Q&A, make sure to view our schedule of events for the Lent season.

Q: Getting fat on Fat Tuesday?
A: Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday. It is also known as Mardi Gras Day or Shrove Day. Mardi Gras, which is French for "Fat Tuesday," is a day when people eat all they want of everything and anything they want as the following day is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a long fasting period.

Q: What is Ash Wednesday?
A: Ash Wednesday celebrates the first day of Lent, and it always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday. On this day, observers attend worship services, where a priest or minister combines ashes with water, dips his or her thumb into the mixture, and uses it to make the sign of the cross on parishioner’s foreheads.

Q: What is Lent?
A: It’s the 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter, modeled after Christ's 40-day fast in the desert, and ends on Good Friday. During this fasting period people give up certain foods, habits, or indulgences. This is considered a season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Q: Why are we marked with ashes?
A: Ashes, applied in the shape of a cross, are a symbol of mortality and repentance, and represent the idea that "people came from ash, and to ash they will return." Most people wear them throughout the day as a public expression of their faith and penance.

Q: Where do the ashes come from?
A: The ashes are from the burning the palms used for the previous year’s Palm Sunday, which occurs on the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday marks Jesus' return to Jerusalem, when people waved palm branches to celebrate his arrival.

Q: Meatless Fridays?
A: Since Jesus sacrificed his body for us on Good Friday, we refrain from eating meat in his honor on the Fridays during lent.

Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays in between are considered “Days of Abstinence.” You will notice that over the next few weeks beginning from tomorrow March 1, until April 14, the Dining Hall and the Rathskeller will not be serving meat or any meat products on Fridays. This is part of our Catholic Tradition.

On these days, by sacrificing something we really enjoy, we reflect on God’s goodness to us in the abundance of not only food but of the many blessings in our lives. By not eating meat, and whatever else you may choose to give up, we also reflect on the many people in our own community and throughout the world who go to bed hungry each day. It is for these people that we should pray and offer whatever support we can. We invite our entire religiously diverse community to participate in this meaningful and personally fulfilling Lenten Discipline.

For a list of events and activities on campus during Lent, click here.

For a list of Holy Week events, click here.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

From Skin Cells to Stem Cells: How STU Students are Helping Advance Autism Research

Senior Leana Ramos studying neural stem cells.

Walk by professor Alexis Tapanes-Castillo’s lab at St. Thomas University, and you'll see gloved students dressed in lab coats and hunched over microscopes. What you won't know just from looking are that the students are trying to treat autism in a petri dish.
Under the watchful eye of Tapanes-Castillo, STU undergraduates are growing and manipulating stem cells. In collaboration with the University of Miami, these students are playing a key role in researching autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

 “In the labs at UM, a microscopic piece of skin is taken from participants with autism and reprogrammed into a stem cell,” Tapanes-Castillo explains. “Using different techniques and drugs, the stem cells are then turned into neural stem cells. At STU, we grow these neural stem cells from patients with autism, as well neural stem cells from patients who do not have autism.”

Under a microscope the cells look like sunbursts with branches. To the untrained eye, the only difference between the ASD cells and the control cells appears to be the number of branches (connections) they make, and how far they branch out. Many believe that having so many connections is what causes individuals with autism to easily become overwhelmed by the environment.

“One of the theories is that the cells of those with autism grow too quickly and make too many connections,” explained Tapanes-Castillo. “Ironically enough, genius is also thought to originate from cells making too many connections.”
Senior Carlos Canales makes is a daily routine to check in on the cells and make sure they are receiving the nutrition they require.

Since the stem cells are just a few weeks old when STU students receive them, they are responsible for culturing (growing) the cells. In other words, they are responsible for nurturing the cells to maturity, which can take 100 days.

In the lab, students are also testing molecular differences between the control cells and autistic cells. The testing of specific candidate molecules is based on data obtained by UM, who has sequenced the DNA of thousands of people with autism, and family members that don’t have autism. These differences are tested at STU using genetic engineering techniques.

“Since we grow the cells in the lab, we can control which molecules they make. We can turn genes on and off; and we can manipulate the levels of specific molecules using lab viruses,” said Tapanes-Castillo. “We can see if changing the levels of these molecules, which are different between autistic and non-autistic people, make the autistic cells look and behave more like the control cells.”

Last week the cells were infected with viruses, which the students helped create in the lab, and the experiment is under way to see how the cells will react to the virus. They should start understanding how the virus affects the biology of autistic cells over the next several months.

Leana Ramos, an STU undergraduate majoring in biology and chemistry, as well as completing specializations in research and English literature, says she feels very fortunate to be participating in such groundbreaking research.

“Research of this caliber isn’t available to undergraduate students at other universities,” Ramos said. “It’s exciting to work on something that could possibly help millions of people with autism.”

Ramos credits the University’s undergraduate research programs and its professors for the year-long fellowship she was recently awarded at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Tapanes-Castillo stresses a very important aspect of their research–they are not trying to completely eradicate autism. They’re trying to treat it, so that those with autism can manage it better.

“We want to understand the biology of autism so that we can help patients manage its challenges–the feelings of anxiety, the sensory overload. However, we would not want to eliminate the ability of autistic cells to make extra connections. This ability may be what gives autistic individuals special talents.”

Currently there are no medications for autism because not enough is understood about the biology of the disorder to suggest specific medications. ASD patients are usually prescribed medications that treat other conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder, epilepsy, anxiety, and so on. Although the symptoms range dramatically in type and severity, autism can be characterized by problems communicating, difficulties interacting with others, and repetitive behaviors.

Autism spectrum disorder is a disorder that affects the lives of millions around the world. In the United States, one in 68 children live with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Addressing Immigration Orders with Intellect, Faith and Action

St. Thomas University has decided to address President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration and refugees with a combination of intellect, faith, and action.

Shortly after the order - now on hold due to a federal court ruling - was issued, the university’s School of Law and Center for Community Engagement co-hosted a panel discussion titled, “Justice for All?: The Moral and Legal Implications of President Trump’s Executive Orders on Immigration.”

The event gathered Catholic immigration advocates including Randolph McGrorty, CEO of Catholic Legal Services of Miami; Christine Reis, director of St. Thomas’ Human Rights Institute; Lauren Gilbert, St. Thomas University professor of immigration law; and Diego Sanchez, a St. Thomas Law student who played an important role in efforts to pass the DREAM act and other legislation for undocumented youths.

At the event, McGrorty explained the details of a number of the orders, while also noting that they were being contested in the courts, leaving their future unclear. Reis and Gilbert echoed McGrorty’s sentiments, while noting the Catholic Church’s longtime support for immigrant rights.

They emphasized the important role Catholics have in expressing their concerns to their elected officials and advocating for more just policies toward immigrants and refugees.

Sanchez spoke about the numerous gifts that immigrants bring to the South Florida community, and the role that students can play in addressing policies as they are developed.

Following the panel discussion, St. Thomas University’s Campus Ministry sponsored a Mass and candlelight vigil in solidarity with immigrants titled “Welcoming the Stranger.”

Following the Mass, students made a “pilgrimage” around campus, with stops at various stations to pray and hear testimonies of fellow students who had fled violence in their own countries and come to the United States as refugees.

St. Thomas University will be transforming their study and prayer into action over the next weeks, with visits to legislators to advocate for more inclusive policies toward immigrants.

In an official statement, Msgr. Frankyln Casale, president of St. Thomas University, echoed the sentiment of Catholic university leaders throughout the country in expressing strong opposition to the executive orders.

“We celebrate the value of diversity within Catholic higher education," Msgr. Casale said, "(and) we reaffirm the commitment of our institutions to creating inclusive, welcoming campus environments that embrace people of all faiths and cultures. Catholic higher education was founded precisely to serve the children of Catholic immigrants who in their own time were excluded from higher education. This is a legacy that we proudly pledge to continue.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

Free Tax Services on Campus

For 22 years, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at St. Thomas University has helped community residents secure tax refunds. VITA is the oldest pro bono program at St. Thomas University School of Law. Founded by St. Thomas Law Professor Mark J. Wolff, the program has secured taxpayers in excess of $10,000,000 in refunds; student, faculty, and staff pro bono hours have exceeded 40,000.

Last year, St. Thomas Law’s VITA program assisted hundreds of taxpayers. St. Thomas Law School students and other volunteers will spend each Saturday until the end of tax season providing this important free service to the most needy and vulnerable members of our surrounding communities.

IRS Certified Volunteers are available at St. Thomas University every Saturday through April 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to prepare federal income tax returns, free of charge for individuals and families with a yearly income of $54,000 or less.

For more information, visit www.stu.edu/VITA, or 305-474-2415, vita@stu.edu.

For the flyer, click here.

Can't Make it on Saturdays?
No worries, STU’s Tax Clinic is now offering “Open Intake Thursdays,” a faster tax preparation experience, every Thursday through April 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All you have to do is bring the required documents (see below), fill out a form, and the clinic volunteers do the rest! And there's no need to wait around as they crunch numbers, they’ll schedule a later date for you to come in and review/file your returns.

STU’s Tax Clinic is located on the second floor of the Law School, Suite 205.

Items to bring to STU’s Tax Clinic’s Open Intake Thursdays & VITA Saturdays:
  • Government issued identification for you and your spouse (to prepare and file your taxes on a married-filing-joint return, both spouses must be present; for a married-filing-separate return the name of your spouse with social security number is required).
  • Original Social Security Cards for you, your spouse, and dependents. An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) assignment letter may be substituted for you, your spouse and your dependents if you do not have a Social Security number.
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents being listed on the
    tax return.
  • Wage and earning statement(s) Form W-2, W-2G, 1099s, from all employers, and/or Social Security benefits statement.
  • All Forms 1095-A, B or C, Affordable Health Care Statements or Health Insurance Exemption Certificate, if applicable.
  • Interest, brokerage, and dividend statement(s) (Form 1099s).
  • Form 1098-T Tuition Statement form an eligible education institution, such as a college or university or Form 1098-E Student Loan Interest Statement.
  • Any and all expenses (including business) must be accompanied by a receipt. Expenses must be organized and itemized.
  • Total paid for daycare provider and the daycare provider's tax identification number (provider’s Social Security number or the provider’s business Employer Identification Number.
  • Any other forms or documents necessary to complete your income tax return.
  • Proof of bank account routing numbers and account numbers for Direct Deposit, such as a blank check.
  • A copy of last year’s federal and state returns or copies of income transcripts from IRS, if applicable.


President's Day Schedule

On Monday, Feb. 20, the University is closed in observance of President’s Day. Please note the following scheduling changes:
  • The Law Library will be closed. The Law School’s South Reading Room will be open to use for study from 12 to 10 p.m.
  • The Main Library will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Law Students: your Monday classes will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Tuesday classes will not meet. Wednesday through Friday classes meet as regularly scheduled.
  • Students Enrolled in A1 Term: your classes will meet during the regularly hours.
  • Regular Spring Term Students (16-week semester): Enjoy your day off! No class session.
  • Dining Hall Hours:
    • Continental Breakfast: 9 – 11 a.m.
    • Brunch: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
    • Dinner: 4:30 – 6:30 p.m.
    • Einstein Bagels and Rathskeller will continue with regular operation hours.
  • Fernandez Family Center Hours: Open 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Imagining Humans on Mars

Dennis Chamberland, a bioengineer, scientist, writer, explorer and aquanaut, will be speaking to STU students, faculty and staff about the quest for the permanent human settlement of Mars. Chamberland’s career spans working as a nuclear engineer to developing advanced life support systems for Moon and Mars bases, as well as many scientific articles, papers and journal publications. He is a leading expert on undersea habitation, and has spent more than 30 days living and working undersea.

The lecture titled “Surprising Advances in the Human Settlement of Mars” will take place in the Main Library Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 11 a.m. The lecture is part of STU’s Main Library’s Popular Culture Series, which explores diverse facets and features of pop culture.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Law School Welcomes New Advisory Board Chair and Members

St. Thomas University Law School has announced the appointment of its new chair and five prominent South Florida legal professionals to its esteemed board of advisors.

Dan Dolan, a founding partner of Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum, will serve as chairman of the board. In addition to Dolan, the following members were appointed to the law school’s 32-member board: Joni Armstrong Coffey, Tom Equels, Rene Murai, Antonio Roca, and Joseph Zumpano.

“We are pleased with the addition of these distinguished members of the profession from both the private and public sectors,” said School of Law Dean Alfredo Garcia. “They will undoubtedly enhance the stature of our law school.”

Dan Dolan, a ’96 STU Law School alumnus, spent the first several years of his 20 year legal career representing doctors, hospitals, corporations and insurance companies. Dolan's familiarity with the methods and strategies used by major corporations in assessing risk and defending lawsuits gives him a unique perspective in fighting against these same industries today. His firm’s national practice concentrates on civil trials and has recovered over $200 million on behalf of those catastrophically injured and the families of those suffering from the loss of preventable deaths caused by medical errors, inadequate security, product defects and motor vehicle accidents. Dolan was selected by his peers as one of the Best Lawyers in America and as a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). He has been recognized by the South Florida Legal Guide as one of the region's leading trial lawyers, and has been named in the list of Florida Super Lawyers and to Florida Trend Magazine's prestigious Florida Legal Elite every year since 2010. In both 2013 and 2015 he was voted one of the "Top 100 Lawyers in Miami."

Joni Armstrong Coffey has served as the County Attorney for Broward County since 2011. She has been a Florida Bar Board Certified city, county and local government lawyer since 1996, and is past chair of The Florida Bar’s Board of Legal Specialization and Education. Coffey is also past chair of the City, County and Local Government Law Section of The Florida Bar, and has been the recipient of numerous statewide awards for public law service. Coffey teaches as an adjunct professor at STU Law School, in the areas of land use law and Florida constitutional law, and has taught elections law, administrative law, and environmental law as well. She graduated with honors from the University of Florida Law School, where she served on the University of Florida Law Review, and was privileged to serve as judicial law clerk to Judge Peter T. Fay, United States Court of Appeals.

Tom Equels currently serves as the CEO of Hemispherx Biopharma, an advanced specialty pharmaceutical company engaged in the manufacture and clinical development of new drug entities for treatment of seriously debilitating disorders, and managing partner of The Equels Law Firm, a leading boutique legal practice focused on complex business litigation, including cases related to corporate finance and market issues. Equels received his Juris Doctor degree Magna Cum Laude from Florida State University School of Law, and he is a Bachelor of Science Summa Cum Laude graduate of Troy University, where he also received a management related Master of Science degree.

Rene Murai is a partner in the law firm of Murai Wald Biondo and Moreno P.A., specializing in business law. He serves as vice chairman of the Board of Directors of Premier American Bank, a bank he co-founded in 2001. Murai has been involved in numerous civic activities, having served as president of the Florida Bar Foundation, the University of Miami Citizens Board, Cuban American Bar Association and on the boards of the United Way, Dade Community Foundation, American Red Cross and the University of Miami. He has a bachelor of arts in economics from Brown University, and his juris doctorate degree from Columbia Law School.

Antonio Roca ’00, after working for several years in commercial litigation and government relations, Roca founded Roca Gonzalez, P.A. specializing in assisting clients across various fields, including tax, corporate and real estate law. Additionally, Roca serves as the President of Mater Academy, Inc., the largest charter school operator in Miami Dade County.

Joseph Zumpano, President and Managing Shareholder of Zumpano Patricios & Winker, P.A., focuses his practice on complex managed care litigation and international litigation. Representing hospitals and health care providers, Zumpano has architected and argued cases that have resulted in recovery of over $200 million dollars to the benefit of hospitals and healthcare providers. He has led a number of international litigation efforts, including the historic case of Weininger v. Castro, in which almost $24 million was collected in a lawsuit against Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and the Army of Cuba. Zumpano recently tried and obtained a $191.4 million ruling on behalf of the son of a former Colombian Senator and Ambassador to the United Nations for the nation of Colombia. Zumpano’s experience in recovering funds in cross border disputes also includes representation of a client in the successful piercing of a Bahamian trust. Zumpano led the multi-jurisdictional effort against the defendants and the court ordered the turnover of approximately $4 million in assets.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jigging to the beat

Victoria Molina
Jigs, reels, ghillies, hornpipes and feisanna. No, it’s not Urban Dictionary’s latest slang words; it’s Irish step dance.

For 22-year-old Victoria Molina, an STU communications major and education minor, these words have been part of her everyday vocabulary since the age of 4. She began Irish step dancing at her great-grandmother’s encouragement, competing and performing across Florida and the United States.

“My heritage has a lot to do with my passion for Irish step dancing, and dancing in general,” Victoria said. “I’m part Irish/Italian on my mother’s side, and part Cuban/Spaniard on my father’s side.”

Trying to balance a social life, school and work can be hard enough for most college students. But for Victoria that struggle is compounded by hours of dance training and practice, working at the Law Library, and teaching dance to elementary school children.

“More than anything else, my hectic schedule is a blessing,” she said. “Throughout high school I was very ill – battling two bouts of mononucleosis [mono], and an unknown virus – and I was bed ridden for months at a time. So I’m very thankful to be able to do all that I do.”

The health setbacks she suffered also affected her dance training, but in 2014 she got a clean bill of health and focused years of pent up dance energy into Irish step dancing.

Competing at the highest levels of Irish dance requires progression through a series of skill levels, from beginners to novice to prizewinner, then preliminary to open champion to world champions. The only way to move up is to do well in competitions, and in a short timeframe Victoria has exceeded expectations. Currently, she is considered an Open Champion, one level away from World Champion, and she is nationally ranked #2 in the United States.

An Irish step dancing competition is called a feis (pronounced fesh), or feisanna, if referring to more than one. During a feis Victoria is barely recognizable. She dons a wig with cascading jet black curls, wears elaborately bedazzled dresses called solo dresses, and high white socks called poodle socks. Depending on the dance routine, the shoes on her feet are soft shoes similar to ballet shoes (called ghillies) or hard shoes, which are similar to tap shoes.

“If you've seen an Irish step dance, you'll notice the dancers stiffen their upper body with no arm movement – the only thing moving is our lower body,” explained Victoria. “We’re judged on several things: the difficulty of our steps; control of our upper body; being up on your toes at all times; and having your feet turned out during the entire dance routine. It’s difficult and challenging, but it’s fun.”

Given the rigorous competition schedule lined up for this year, Victoria, who has been with the STU dance team since her freshmen year, decided to step down as team co-captain. It was a tough decision to make, but it was the best decision for the team. She has several local competitions throughout the year, as well as some in other cities. This month she has Nationals in Orlando, Fla. Then, in April, she has the Irish Step Dancing World Championships in Belfast, Ireland.

Victoria, second from the left standing, with her dance teammates.
“It’ll be my first time out of the country, so I’m really excited,” she said. “Shortly after I get back, I graduate! It’ll be bitter sweet - I’ll be leaving the school that’s helped me become the leader I am in and out of the dance studio.”

As to her future goals, she said she’ll be pursuing a master’s degree, and becoming a certified Irish step dancing teacher. She’s delaying the dance teacher certification because once she begins the process, she is no longer allowed to compete.

“I’ve got a lot more dance competitions in me, and for the time being I’m happy teaching and mentoring my elementary dance students,” she said.

Victoria takes the stage at the 2017 World Irish Dancing Championships April 9 – 16.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

‘Responsibility & Vigilance’ Art Exhibit to Open

An examination of domestic servitude, forced labor and human trafficking in the United States

Artwork from "Responsibility & Vigilance" exhibit.
Artist Susan S. Buzzi sheds light on the dark world of human trafficking in the United States in her exhibit titled “Responsibility & Vigilance.” Buzzi hopes the exhibit helps generate awareness about a topic that is still rarely known across our nation. Reports of domestic human trafficking continued to increase in 2016, jumping 35 percent over 2015, according to recent data released by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the Polaris Project.

“Responsibility & Vigilance” was first created to complement the Human Trafficking Academy at STU’s School of Law with a series of posters comprised of original imagery. During the past several years, the collection has evolved to include approximately 40 works accompanied by a film by the same title.

Buzzi, a former law enforcement officer, is now an educator, coach practitioner and victim advocate. Her counseling work is directed specifically towards at-risk youth and victims of domestic violence, abuse and human trafficking through healing art techniques and expressive therapies. She’s also involved with outpatient care for both victims and offenders, and numerous violence prevention and re-entry initiatives in urban metropolitan localities throughout South Florida.

“For me, the combination of law, faith, art therapy and wellness flow together, and, is without a doubt, perhaps one of the most important responsibilities I have as an advocate,” she said. “And I am especially grateful for the opportunity the exhibition gives me to engage our communities in this critical conversation.”

Buzzi’s award-winning work has been exhibited at a national and international forums and is included in numerous corporate and private collections throughout the United States. In addition to human trafficking, her documentary work has addressed a number of other sensitive issues such as homelessness; at-risk youth and violence prevention; and extensive studies focusing on women’s wellness and their cancer journey.

Buzzi’s award-winning work has been exhibited at a national and international forums and is included in numerous corporate and private collections throughout the United States. In addition to human trafficking, her documentary work has addressed a number of other sensitive issues such as homelessness; at-risk youth and violence prevention; and extensive studies focusing on women’s wellness and their cancer journey.

The exhibit opens Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m., in STU's Archbishop John C. Favalora Archive & Museum (located in the Main Library).

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

STU Undergraduate Research Recognized in the Southeast

Six undergraduate researchers from St. Thomas University participated in the 49th Southeast Undergraduate Research Conference (SURC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 28, where STU chemistry majors Brandon Gamboa and Amanda Penton garnered Best Poster Honorable Mention.

Their research poster presentation looked at the effect of magnetic fields on oscillatory reactions. The oscillatory reaction studied, Belousov-Zhabotinsky, can be used as a model for biological oscillatory processes, such as circadian rhythm.

Students were prepared and confident thanks to the guidance of their mentors STU professors Luis Fernandez and David Quesada from the School of Science.

“The confidence exhibited by our students, along with the acquired knowledge, when presenting their posters is a valuable lesson that cannot be taught in any lecture hall or online environment,” said professors Fernandez and Quesada. “Meetings such as SURC really open our students’ eyes. They find out that they are not alone, that their peers also conduct research, and that the quality of STU research is at the same level of much larger research institutions.”

This was the first time STU participated in SURC; and the student’s posters and research content was on par with those of much larger research institutions participating, such as University of Georgia, University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Ole Miss. It is at conferences like SURC where the effort of our students and faculty, and the quality of their research is rewarded with the recognition and praise from their peers.

The work was sponsored by the St. Thomas University Summer Research Institute and, in part, by U.S. Department of Education grant awards STEM-TRAC, STEM Ladder, STEP Up, and SPARC with our partners from Miami-Dade College.

Congratulations to all STU participants: Brandon Gamboa, Amanda Penton, Luis Castellar, Ana Figuereo, Christine Curiac, and Marrisa Lee.