In April, Liberal Arts and Sciences celebrated alumni, students, faculty, and staff with our first awards ceremony, Evening of Excellence. The ceremony concluded with the presentation of the Civic Champion award given to The Honorable Bob Graham ’59, who has fought for better schools, a healthy environment, economic opportunity, racial and ethnic diversity, and Florida’s natural resources. After eight years as governor, he served 18 years as U.S. senator. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated the events of 9/11, rallied for 9/11 families, and encouraged bipartisanship in Washington. He has represented the nation and UF with distinction, honor, and integrity. At 81, Sen. Graham continues to be a tireless advocate and civil servant. Learn more about him and his UF legacy, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service — which encourages and promotes political involvement and service for all Floridians — in this issue’s cover story.

In October, UF launched a $3 billion campaign, Go Greater, with a campus-wide extravaganza. We will be working diligently over the next five years to raise funds that will benefit our students, faculty, and staff, our college, and the university. One of the major campaign initiatives for Liberal Arts and Sciences is a new program we call Beyond120, which focuses on career readiness for our undergraduates. We want all of our students to be prepared to navigate an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world economy in the 21st century. You can read about this exciting new project here.

We featured the first observation of gravitational waves in the Fall 2016 issue, and the article described the “multi-messenger” potential for combining gravitational-wave detection with telescopic imagery. In this issue, we commend the UF physicists and astronomers who contributed to the first simultaneous detection of a collision of two neutron stars using all these methods, which The Washington Post said is “sparking a new era of astronomy.”

Each issue of Ytori opens with a quote about liberal arts and sciences education. We are particularly pleased to feature Zora Neale Hurston in this issue as her papers are here at the University of Florida. Her quote reminds us that progress comes from curiosity and that we humans are driven by purpose.

Go Gators and Go Greater,

David E. Richardson
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Two UF alumni archaeologists unearth the home and legend of a freed African Muslim slave who became a financier in Georgetown at the turn of the 19th century.

By Rachel Wayne

Among the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of 19th-century oil portraits of esteemed men, one stands out. Painted by Charles Willson Peale, who also captured luminaries such as George Washington, it is an 1819 portrait of an older gentleman with a traditional Muslim kufi and a worn but triumphant gaze hinting at an unusual piece of Washington, D.C., history. The painting is of Yarrow Mamout, a financier who sat for two such portraits and owned a sizable property in the Georgetown neighborhood. His remarkable success might be unexpected, as he spent 44 years a slave.

oil painting of kindly elderly man with brown skin and kufi capPortrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), Charles Willson Peale


Archaeology has a way of fleshing out what written records have not. The excavations brought a physical reality to the legend of Mamout.

Despite his accomplishments as a freed African Muslim, Mamout faded from history, relegated to the two portraits and local lore. In 2004, his biographer, James H. Johnston, spotted Mamout’s second portrait, a James Alexander Simpson work at the Georgetown Public Library, and he wanted to know more about the man in the picture. Two blocks away, at 3324 Dent Place NW, a small lot is a mystery of rubble, its Reconstruction-era house crushed by a tree as Johnston was finishing his research. Although the legend of Mamout permeated the area, the link between the smiling man in the Peale portrait and the decrepit lot was unconfirmed until Johnston completed his work. The D.C. Historic Preservation Office began excavating the former site of Mamout’s home in June 2015, following several years of research by the office’s interns.

For one graduate student at UF, the excavation was an extraordinary opportunity, and in the face of persistent racial and religious tensions in America, a chance to flex archaeology’s muscles to tackle a pressing social problem. Mia Carey PhD’17 initially came to UF on a McKnight Fellowship to pursue zooarchaeology under the mentorship of Professor Susan deFrance. As she moved forward in her studies, she began volunteering with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office in 2011, with internships in 2014 and 2015. The district archaeologist, Ruth Trocolli PhD’06, invited Carey to join the dig on Dent Place. “We didn’t really know what to expect. Nobody had ever excavated a known African Muslim site in the U.S.,” says Carey, who served as a field director on the dig. Trocolli told The Washington Post that in lieu of time travel or written records, archaeology illuminates the stories of slaves’ lives.

19th century etched map of city of Washington
Georgetown, a historic neighborhood in Washington, D.C., lies adjacent to the Potomac River. 3324 Dent Place NW, marked in red, was the residence of Yarrow Mamout.


These stories are not well documented in history, and those of African Muslims taken as slaves even less so. Mamout was well educated, which afforded him some reprieve from harsh conditions, although he was kept in servitude for most of his adult life as a brick-maker and butler. In 1800, a few years after gaining his freedom at age 60, he purchased 3324 Dent Place NW. After his death, the house was eventually replaced by another, which sat empty until an oak crushed it in 2011, trapping artifacts of a fascinating life in the ground below. The Historic Preservation Office prevented the permanent obscuring in the face of potential development; a common role for contemporary archaeologists is to uncover secrets in the soil before new construction covers them up. This case was indeed a chance to give voice to the voiceless, as Trocolli put it.

According to Johnston’s research, it was likely that Mamout had been buried on the property; his remarks on this possibility at a development board hearing helped secure the stay on renovations. The dig commenced with mixed feelings about the potential discovery of human remains on the property, reported The Post, but none were found, likely due to the acidity of the clay-based soil. Moreover, the archaeologists found no evidence of burial.

Archaeology has a way of fleshing out what written records have not. The excavations brought a physical reality to the legend of Mamout. However, “the sometimes overemphasis on artifacts, data, and reports is what limits our ability to connect the past to the present in real and meaningful ways,” says Carey. Importantly, the excavation allowed the team to conduct public outreach that challenged the often reductive and sanitized narrative about both slaves and Muslims in American history. The researchers hosted “fence talks” with passersby during the dig and launched a Facebook page, the Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project, to share their findings and tell Mamout’s story in an innovative way.

According to the dissertation Carey wrote from her Georgetown fieldwork, the excavation was much more than digging holes. There now was an opening to “puncture the silences” created by “white privilege” in society — the “common thread through literacy tests, immigration, South Asian religious movements, the Nation of Islam, and the racialization of Islam,” she says. Excavating Mamout’s residence brought material culture into conversation with oral history and ethnography, filling in the many blanks that speckle America’s convoluted and brutal history of slavery. Although Mamout’s story was unusual, it illustrates that freed slaves did not vanish from society, and their threads of history are crucial to understanding the artifacts, both material and ideological, of race relations in the United States.

filtered photo of walkway on UF campus
Hannah Pietrick/UF Photography

Rachel Dorman ’10, MS’12 on deferred giving

What is a bequest?
A bequest is a deferred revocable gift typically given through a will or living trust.

How does a bequest differ from other gifts to the college?
Like immediate cash gifts, bequests can be made today. However, the college will not receive the funding until the donor passes.

How are bequests made?
If you know you would like to include the University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in your estate plans, there are three main ways to accomplish this within a will or living trust. You can state a set dollar amount, name a percentage or residue of your estate, or name a specific item of property (such as jewelry or real estate) in your estate plans. You can also name UF as a beneficiary on your retirement plan, bank account, brokerage account, or life insurance policy. This can easily be accomplished through a change of beneficiary form with your account administrator, without changing your will or trust.

What is the benefit of establishing a bequest?
A bequest is a wonderful way to create a lasting legacy at the University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Through estate planning, individuals often make the largest and most impactful philanthropic contribution of their lifetime. These types of gifts can truly be transformative. There can also be tax advantages for the donor and their heirs.

How can my gift best benefit UF?

A bequest might not be received by UF for many years — so there’s a delay in funding the gifted purpose. As a result, restrictions placed on the usage of your gift should be as minimal as possible, providing UF with maximum flexibility, as priorities and programs change over time. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Development and Alumni Affairs team can work with you to find gift proposals that meet your philanthropic goals.

Rachel Dorman ’10, MS’12 is associate director of development and can be reached at via email. For suggested bequest language, visit the the UF Foundation website or call UF’s Office of Gift Planning at 866-317-4143.

What is the History of the F Book?

University Archivist Peggy McBride explains the origins of a UF tradition.

“Greetings: The University of Florida swings wide its doors and welcomes into the college circle you young men who enter here as students for the first time. A hardy welcome is extended you to the ideals, traditions, and opportunities of the college world.”

These are a few of the words of UF President and mathematician A.A. Murphree in the 1925–26 Volume I of the F Book, a handbook presented to students as they registered for classes. The volume contained the constitution and laws for the student body and various university organizations, the university calendar, and a list of student officers. Also included was information about social fraternities, a list of honorary fraternities, and the words to spirit songs and yells. The editors added a letter to freshmen giving suggestions about handling money matters, finding a place to live, and registering for classes — “Registration under present conditions, dear Freshman, is an endurance test at best.”

colorful small books spread out over table
Volume II of the 1925–26 F Book (on the lower right) is the only copy left in existence. Kristen Bartlett Grace

The 1925–26 F Book was a two-volume set with Volume II being the official directory of faculty and students. It also contained ads for cafés, laundry services, boarding houses, car dealerships, flower shops, drug stores, hardware stores, newsstands, and churches. One enterprising clothier, advertising sport apparel for college men, recommended purchasing “A tie that will blaze in a hectic haze, down where the vest begins.”

Inspired by Dean of Students Robert C. Beaty, the handbook usually was published as a paperback that would fit neatly in a student’s pocket for easy access. While the 1925–26 F Book established the basic facts needed by UF students, over the years information was added about a list of traditions, which included freshmen wearing “rat caps,” Homecoming, Gator Growl, and the requirement that the entire freshman class had to attend all football games and athletic events held in Gainesville.

In the 1930s, the editors divided Volume I into four books: General Information, Student Government, Organizations, and Athletics. The “President’s Welcome” was reduced to a short paragraph stating the university was hospitable and democratic with a congenial atmosphere. Generous amounts of sports information and a fold-out campus map were included during these years.

Publication was suspended in 1960, but in 2006, the Cicerones and the Student Alumni Association resurrected the F Book to strengthen the undergraduate experience. Today, the University of Florida Alumni Association publishes the F Book as a photographic scrapbook chronicling university traditions that will never change.

“Where palm and pine are blowing, where Southern seas are flowing, shine forth thy noble Gothic walls, thy lovely vine-clad halls. ’Neath the Orange and Blue victorious, our love shall never fail. There’s no other name so glorious — all hail, Florida, hail!”

In a globalized world full of nation-states, the use of natural resources is drastically varied. Forests provide lumber for buildings hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Many cease to exist. Power structures ostensibly representing millions of people govern the use of the planet’s resources.

Who, then, is responsible for saving the trees? It takes a village — but a bigger one this time, with people from all walks of life. Among these people are academics of multiple disciplines, NGO workers, and community organizers. At the University of Florida, a village meeting center has emerged as faculty from a half dozen disciplines cross the garden walls to meet in the forest — both metaphorically and literally.

Twenty-seven professors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences serve as affiliate faculty of UF’s Tropical Conservation and Development (TCD) program. TCD emerged in the 1970s and gained momentum over the next couple of decades, with significant leadership by UF professor Marianne Schmink, who served as its co-director from 1993 to 1995 and director from 1996 to 2010. The program offers an interdisciplinary hub that extends its roots beyond the UF sphere; this broad network becomes increasingly crucial to solving the challenging problems of deforestation, damming, and loss of culture and biodiversity — much of which occurs between 23 degrees north and 23 degrees south.

“My perception is that the wicked problems of the world, the ones that have no easy solution, ultimately lead us to do this kind of thing,” says Stephen Perz, professor of sociology and author of Crossing Boundaries for Collaboration: Conservation and Development Projects in the Amazon. “The challenges of working with the ‘other’ — people in other disciplines, other countries, other kinds of organizations — I ended up learning by doing.” Trained as a demographer, Perz’ research into frontier migration ultimately led him from sociological inquiry into land use, road-building and conservation in the Amazon.

illustration of hand made to look wooden, holding sapling between fingers
These topics revolve around the worsening problem of drastic deforestation, and the human element cannot be ignored, nor confined to state-level interventions. Indeed, a familiarity with the people within the forest is crucial to this kind of work, especially as conservation scientists work towards community-oriented natural resource management. Local institutions and power dynamics of land ownership and use must be considered. Schmink, professor of Latin American Studies and affiliate professor of anthropology, studies gender politics in conservation.

“Development and conservation tend to be viewed as political and ideological issues. Often people in technical fields don’t understand how gender division of labor and different forms of knowledge and other key gender differences might affect what to them don’t seem to be related,” she says. “After 40 years in this field, I usually have to start from zero in explaining to people how gender impacts the field.” For example, many land-use decisions are made by women in forest communities around the world, so imposing state hegemony of male-oriented nations is harmful.

Even entering these vulnerable areas as a researcher has its challenges, agrees Perz. “When you’re crossing boundaries, usually those boundaries are there for [societal] reasons and then they map on inequalities. When the white male PhD from a big North American university comes down into a small country where they don’t have as many PhDs and the people speak a different language and the skin colors are different, that has to be navigated because it can come up in various different ways and can cause all kinds of misunderstandings and confusion,” he says.

On the other side of the world in Indonesia, biology professor Jack Putz studies logging and natural resource management by examining the trees themselves. His education in applied plant ecology kicks into gear when working in an area with forests that will inevitably be logged. Who better than such an expert to protect the forest despite the loss of its trees? “Outside of protected areas in landscapes from which people need to earn livings, I often find myself doing conservation with chainsaws, bulldozers, herbicides, and drip torches,” he says. Saving the trees is a family thing, he says, starting with a threatened patch of trees behind his house. “To my great embarrassment, [my mother] chained herself to a tree and dared the dozer drivers to plow her under. They didn’t and the trees stand, testimony to her determination.”

illustration of human foot with labyrinthine pattern
The family tradition continues as Putz and Claudia Romero, his research partner and wife, each tackle deforestation and forest degradation. Assistant Professor of Biology Romero focuses on mitigating the effects of climate change, bringing her dual perspectives in ecology and economics to the table. The pair’s most recent paper for the Center for International Forestry Research reviews the efficacy of methods such as Reduced-Impact Logging (RIL) and silvicultural (tree care) treatment and addresses the climate change effects of such methods. Written with their former student Ruslandi PhD’15, the paper explores the timber, carbon, and financial tradeoffs that result from RIL and other tree-growth enhancing treatments in Indonesia. Moreover, there is the question of economic effects, exemplified by the misunderstanding of RIL to mean “reduced-income logging.” Conservation science often walks a web of fine lines among saving the trees, reducing the greenhouse effect, supporting local economies, and protecting biodiversity, any of which can come at the expense of another.

While Putz works outside government-sanctioned “Protected Areas,” historically, such zones have had the unfortunate side effect of asserting state control with little parity with the locals. In light of this, many conservation efforts seek to integrate silvicultural and culturally competent measures. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature thus identifies and encourages the creation of Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). Many ICCAs are so because of a web of customs, traditions, and principles that encourage conservation. In Brazil, indigenous reserves comprise a significant portion of the country’s 145 million hectares of Amazonia.

Understanding humans, no matter their type of society or culture, as geomorphic agents better allows for tree-saving.

The new approach to conservation remembers the forest’s people, yet sheds the myth of the “noble savage” living in perfect harmony with nature. Understanding humans, no matter their type of society or culture, as geomorphic agents better allows for tree-saving. “Beginning in 1988 or ’89, we had two training courses in Brazil that were focused on an approach developed by Peter Hildebrand, UF professor emeritus, that offered solutions for small farmers and forest managers,” says Schmink. The program, PESACRE, brought professionals into collaboration with small agricultural producers in Brazil. Supported by a major USAID grant for 13 years, PESACRE addressed economic vitality and natural-resource conservation as two sides of the same coin.

whimsical painting of rolling countryside
Perz seeks to connect all these dots with intricacy to match that of the forest ecosystem. It starts with a decision, such as to build a road. “What happens when you pave a road in the Amazon? Socially, economically and ecologically? As it turns out, there is a large literature on all those topics, and they draw very different conclusions as to whether the roads are a good or a bad thing.” In the end, conservation does not necessarily equate to preservation.
For these researchers, the seeds of conservation science started with the trees. “In graduate school in the 1970s — the beginnings of the women’s movement — I was able to do some traveling as an undergraduate in Nicaragua and Mexico,” recalls Schmink. “It got me interested in Latin America, in human–nature interactions and how people adapt to their environment.”

“I grew up on the edge of an extensive wilderness area, at least extensive from the perspective of a little kid growing up in suburban New Jersey,” says Putz. “Plenty of trees to climb, underground forts to dig, squirrels to harass, and a lot of the same things I continue to do as an adult, but now I get paid for it.”

UF researcher Calistus Ngonghala uses math to understand the spread — and prevention — of disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

By Terri Peterson

For UF mathematical biology professor Calistus Ngonghala, researching the relationship between poverty and disease is more than an academic endeavor. Ngonghala grew up in rural Cameroon in central Africa in the 1980s, with friends and family living a subsistence lifestyle. He witnessed the devastating social impact infectious diseases such as HIV and malaria can inflict, recognizing that disease and poverty can reinforce one another and force a community into a poverty trap.

“If you were sick, you walked many miles or squeezed into a compact car to ride ill-kept roads to see a doctor, or suffered with the illness,” says Ngonghala. All of these options degrade an individual’s ability to support oneself, whether due to the incursion of medical expenses, or by lost work time and attendant lost wages. In turn, this degradation exacerbates the problems of poverty, creating a deeper trap from which to climb. “I knew this was the problem I wanted to solve when I left for college. It’s grown up inside me.”

Ngonghala points out that not all poverty is the same, and not all relief efforts achieve desired goals. “We can apply a patch to a poverty-stricken area. For example, we can send in food. And that might be what one community needs to survive, but another area may be in need of something else, like medical supplies. There’s no one Band-aid that works everywhere.” Also, one-time relief efforts might work for some cases, but can be problematic in other situations. For example, sending food to an area enduring persistent extreme poverty may temporarily elevate an individual’s well-being within that state of poverty, but it won’t eliminate it. Eventually, the food is eaten or the supplies are depleted, and the relief recipient is back to square one.

In order for relief efforts to be considered a “sustainable good,” they require coordination of resources and oversight. While this may sound like an enormous task, Ngonghala points to the east African country Rwanda as an example of poverty, disease, and recovery. After the brutal Rwandan genocide in 1994, the country descended into extreme poverty. Minimal resources were available, human capital was unskilled, and most of the population was undernourished and demoralized. The Rwandan government used its relief funds to strategically implement systemic overall changes, initially providing broad access to health care. Healthier people made for more efficient workers more readily able to contribute to the economy. Today, Rwanda is growing in health, education and income, with disease rates that have dropped by as much as 80 percent and a life span that has doubled.

To allow other communities or countries to experience this sort of recovery, Ngonghala has built and is testing a mathematical framework that can be modified to accommodate a wide range of environments and positively impact future policy measures. “Initially we think of the extreme examples of poverty, where many people are unhealthy and have limited access to food, water and other basic resources. But poverty is also a problem in wealthy countries, even if much of the population is generally healthy. Once the framework is ready, we plan to take this to every government that will listen.”

Seeds of Success

Russell Anderson M’17 has set a record for graduate certificates earned by one student, including four in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that he added to his master’s in sustainable development and practice. Yet, he has still found time to launch his own enterprises in sustainable gardening, including a new vertical gardening product, Annual Explosion.

young man in blue stands next to wall of foliage
Russell Anderson M’17 has worked with local businesses, including Boca Fiesta restaurant in downtown Gainesville, Fla., to implement vertical gardening. Robert Landry

What’s your interdisciplinary education experience been like?
I started in the master’s program in summer 2015 and quickly was pulled into the Tropical Conservation and Development grad certificate. Getting into the climate science side of it, I realized what I wanted to do long-term: multinational consultancy. That gave me an opportunity to look at other schools at UF. Although, it’s been 18 hours a semester. I don’t recommend people doing that and also working full time. But that time is going to pass regardless, so you should capitalize on the resources and space you have when you have it. You never know what tomorrow brings.

What do graduate certificates provide beyond a standard degree?
It wasn’t until I got those certificates that I realized how much more I needed to know to get a holistic understanding of sustainability. For some of my graduating peers, they’re having trouble finding offers because they don’t have as much of a well-rounded experience. I’m feeling confident that I can go out there and if I don’t have the skills, I can network and coordinate to make things happen. There are a lot of opportunities coming down the pipe that are now in the realm of possibility.

How did you conceive your latest project?
I am working with Natalia Pegg, a local teacher. We were discussing horticulture and vertical gardening and lots of things about current products we didn’t like — material, expense, inefficiency. We developed a design that is lightweight, ergonomic, and easily transportable. It’s really cool to be working with a school teacher and refining those connections and capitalizing on our respective skill sets to make this thing work. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Why the name Annual Explosion?
This is a modular gardening system, so it is best used with annuals, replaced on a seasonal basis. So, you’ll have your fall splash and your spring splash — an explosion of color on your fence line or handrail. We can turn any grey thumb green. I think the market’s right for it.

On a crisp November day in 2003, Bob Graham ’59 stood on what remained of Lincoln High School’s track in Tallahassee, Fla., telling supporters and TV cameras that after almost 40 years in elected office — first as a state legislator, then as a two-term Florida governor, and finally as a three-term U.S. senator — he would not be seeking re-election to a fourth term in Congress. In his speech, Graham spoke of his intention to remain active in public life and his desire to create a nonpartisan policy institute that would focus on preparing the next generation of citizen leaders.

“My decision should in no way be viewed as a statement that I have completed all that I want to accomplish,” he said on the dismantled track, which he had been refurbishing during one of his iconic workdays. “I intend to continue to make a difference, albeit in a different way after January 2005.”

David Hedge, a political science professor at the University of Florida, listened intently as Graham announced his retirement on C-SPAN. Hedge was intrigued. He knew that Graham’s UF roots ran deep. Graham graduated with high honors from the university with a degree in political science. He was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and, even more importantly, met his wife of nearly 60 years, Adele, on the steps of Tigert Hall.

“I immediately contacted the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, then-Dean Neil Sullivan, about the possibility of creating a center at UF,” Hedge recalls. “This was something a number of us thought universities should be doing, particularly in terms of public leadership.”
Sullivan and then-UF Provost David Colburn subsequently met with Graham and pledged to commit the necessary administrative support and funds needed to bring Graham’s vision to fruition at UF. In summer 2005, Graham announced the creation of his namesake, the Bob Graham Center. UF made it official in 2006.

A Vision and Mission

Graham hoped to create a center that would encourage the active participation of citizens and increase understanding of democratic institutions. A Harvard University law graduate, Graham’s vision for the Bob Graham Center was shaped by the work of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

“After retiring from the Senate, I spent a year as a senior fellow at the Kennedy School,” Graham says. “Because of my experience there, and because there were quite a few centers that were already doing public policy well, I wanted to focus on what I thought was missing — centers dedicated to developing human potential for public and civic leadership.”

From the outset, the Graham Center’s mission was to provide students with the broad training necessary for careers in public leadership and to provide a forum for the public discussion of state, national, and global issues — a calling that remains central to the center’s programming today.

In its earliest days, the center established a public lecture series, for which it remains well known on campus, in the Gainesville community, and beyond. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough served as the center’s inaugural keynote speaker. Former President Jimmy Carter, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and journalist Nicholas Kristof are just a few of the other renowned guests that the center has hosted.

well-dressed man stands in calf-deep in swamp with jacket over shoulder and pants rolled up Gov. Bob Graham made a case for the Everglades — and the cover of Newsweek, ca. 1980. D. Robert “Bob” Graham Political Papers, University of Florida

“Persuading decision makers, building coalitions, and researching facts in order to support your position from a level of greater understanding are the skills that we are equipping students with.”

The undergraduate certificate program (now a minor in public leadership), the Tallahassee Internship Program, and the Policy Scholars Program (now the Askew Scholars) became the first few of many opportunities offered by the Graham Center to enhance the undergraduate academic experience by providing hands-on civic engagement.

Ann Henderson joined the center as director in July 2009. Henderson brought with her an extensive background in state, national, and international issue management and had overseen a number of nonprofit organizations before arriving on campus. Under her leadership, the center received a $3 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in fall 2010. The grant proved critical to the center’s development, funding numerous programs including the development of an online civics course and the Fellows-in-Residence program.

The fellows program brings state leaders to the university to share their expertise and experience with UF faculty and students. Fellows are individuals who have a record of professional distinction but have also been recognized for their civic leadership. Past fellows have included Martha Barnett JD’73, former president of the American Bar Association; Nancy Hardt, M.D., professor emerita, UF College of Medicine; Preston Haskell, founder of the Haskell Company; and Hyatt Brown ’59, former CEO of Brown & Brown Insurance and former Speaker of the Florida House.

Reflecting on his experience as a fellow-in-residence, Brown says he was most impressed by students’ eagerness and the diversity reflected in those he interacted with at the center.

“I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Young people bring great energy and new ideas. They are enthusiastic because their outlook is toward a positive future,” he said. “We are bringing people together from different courses of life — places, cultures, backgrounds, ideological beliefs — everyone coming together to learn from one another. That in itself is a super contribution to their overall educational experience.”

Haskell too was impressed with his interactions with students, but what stood out to him was the great social benefit that the center provides in teaching students how to work cooperatively with others and encouraging interdisciplinary research.

important man gestures emphatically, sitting at table with others listening
U.S. Rep. John Lewis spoke at the Graham Center on Oct. 16, 2015. Bob Graham Center

“It’s important to have the skills necessary to build consensus — to see the value in compromise, the ability to lead when necessary and to understand when it’s appropriate to let others lead,” he said. “Working collaboratively and having a broad base of knowledge across many disciplines is the key to success.”

Today, the fellow in-residence program continues thanks to the Knight Foundation’s generous support. Gainesville real estate developers and philanthropists Ken ’72, MBA’73, PhD’81 and Linda McGurn ’73, JD’78 will serve as joint fellows this spring.

Civic Engagement

Colburn, provost and senior vice president emeritus, took the helm of the center in 2012. With funding support from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost, Colburn added several programs to the already impressive catalogue of opportunities for students. The Graham Civic Scholars program, which commissions students to conduct county-level research on statewide issues; the Healthy Civic Campus and Community initiative, a social entrepreneurship grant program; and the Future of Florida Summit, a gathering of students from Florida’s colleges and universities to propose solutions to problems facing Florida, all have been established in the last five years.

“Active involvement is the only way to effectively master the skills needed to create change,” Graham says. “Persuading decision makers, building coalitions, and researching facts in order to support your position from a level of greater understanding are the skills that we are equipping students with.”
Of recent note is the center’s success in providing civic engagement opportunities through student internships. The center has placed more than 200 interns throughout Florida. Past internships have included positions with local and state government offices and agencies, the media, professional associations, and nonprofit organizations.

Last fall’s introduction of an innovative virtual internship program opened the door for UF students who previously were unable to take advantage of the traditional internship experience because of financial constraints. This program will serve as a vehicle for expanding internships significantly over the next few years.

The center’s newest internship venture is a partnership with the City of Gainesville that provides four fellowships each fall as part of the university wide town-and-gown effort. Fellows will work with the city manager’s office to provide a more citizen-centered approach to local government.

Centered on Students

Few roles the Graham Center and the university serve are as important as shaping and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders. “Every time I am at the center, I am impressed with the quality of students who have been drawn to the idea of active civic engagement,” Graham says. “They are smart, personable, and enthusiastic — exactly what our democracy needs for the next generation.”
Graham’s commitment to students is apparent to those who interact with him while he is on campus and is reflected in the center’s work.

“The center is a place you can tell he really cares about,” says Graham Center alumna Liana Guerra ’15. “He is always there — interacting with students, listening to them. He believed in me. He believes in students.”

students use devices to engage with survey displayed on large screen in front of them
The Bob Graham Center encourages civic participation and discussion regarding current issues. Bob Graham Center

Before graduating from UF, Guerra, now the deputy chief of staff to U.S. Congressman Darren Soto, completed a Tallahassee internship through the center and was an Askew Scholar. The Askew Scholars program — named for former Gov. Reubin Askew who passed away in 2014— provides distinguished undergraduates the opportunity to develop their civic understanding and skills under the direction of a faculty mentor.

Guerra credits her public service trajectory to her involvement with the center. “Without the Bob Graham Center, I firmly believe I would not be where I am today,” she says. “The funding I was provided as an Askew Scholar allowed me to take an unpaid internship in Washington D.C., which led to my first job after graduation.”

As a Tallahassee intern in 2013, Guerra was placed in the office of then-state Sen. Darren Soto. Guerra kept in touch with Soto and his team throughout his 2016 congressional campaign, and when Soto won the Central Florida seat, he hired Guerra to serve on his team permanently.

“The center opened that door for me and will continue to do the same for other students,” Guerra adds.

A Home in Pugh Hall

Located in the heart of the UF campus in Pugh Hall, the Bob Graham Center stands at the cornerstone of the university’s academic, intellectual, and civic life. A $5 million gift from Jim Pugh ’63 and his wife, Alexis, made possible the construction of Pugh Hall in 2008. The couple later pledged an additional $1 million to name the building’s teaching auditorium in honor of another former Florida governor, Buddy Mackay JD’61 and his wife, Anne.

“Adele and I are grateful for Jim and Alexis’ gift, which made possible the building that the Graham Center calls home,” Graham says. “Their generosity has its signature in many places across our great state. They have done many fabulous philanthropic things together.”

Graham and Pugh met as Sigma Nu fraternity brothers at UF in the late 1950s and have remained friends since. The two maintained a shared love for UF and a commitment to education and public service.

grandfatherly man sits in comfy chair and interacts with mobile device

Sen. Bob Graham, shown here in September 2017, makes a point to visit with faculty, staff, and students at his eponymous center as often as he can. Lyon Duong / UF Photography

While Graham went on to an illustrious career in politics, Pugh, a building construction major, became a nationally recognized developer. Pugh is considered one of the nation’s most prominent homebuilders, and his real estate development firm, Epoch Properties, is annually ranked as one of the top multifamily housing developers in the U.S. Fittingly, the building that bears his name is an architectural focal point in the historic district of the UF campus.

“Bob Graham and I have been friends for 60 years,” Pugh says. “Alexis and I have carefully followed his career and witnessed his extraordinary leadership and character. He’s the real deal.”

Pugh always wanted to find a way to give back to his alma mater, and he and his wife were exploring philanthropic opportunities at UF when they learned that Graham was planning to establish a public service center at UF.

“Bob was convinced that the center would enrich the lives of students and provide valuable civic engagement opportunities,” says Pugh. “My wife and I were looking for an appropriate financial contribution to our beloved university, so the connection of donor support to the university and a place to house the Graham Center was a natural fit.”

A Legacy of Leadership

2016 was a milestone year for both Graham and his eponymous center. The center celebrated 10 years on the UF campus, and Graham celebrated his 80th birthday. While the center will surely be part of Graham’s lasting legacy of leadership and service to the state of Florida, Graham himself dismisses the idea of legacy building.

“I don’t believe in shaping your own legacy. That is the work of historians. You do what you think is right and important and hope that the benefits of your actions stand up to scrutiny over time,” Graham says. “I believe it is important for college-aged young people to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a citizen in our democracy.”

In Graham’s view, providing students with an understanding of their rights and responsibilities and arming them with the skills needed to operate effectively as citizens is the best antidote for the decline in civic engagement.

“If the beginning of the 21st century has shown us anything, it is that our democracy is under assault,” he says. “This assault is evidenced by the decline in citizen involvement in public affairs, lack of participation in community problem solving, and a waning in voter turnout among our country’s youngest voters.”

Graham believes the center has a role to play — not only in changing this disturbing trend but also in fostering civil discourse and encouraging other universities to follow suit.

“The increasingly partisan and polarized political climate has frustrated the ability of our democracy to create policies that benefit all citizens,” Graham says. “The center hopes to stand as a source of enlightenment and as a beacon for other institutions to do the same.”

What’s next for the Graham Center? Colburn says an expansion of internships and undergraduate research opportunities. Greater faculty engagement and an elevation of the center’s statewide and national presence also are on the horizon.

“Establishing an endowment to underwrite the center’s programs will be essential,” says Colburn. “The center fosters the intellectual enrichment and public engagement of our students. We want them to prosper professionally, but we also want them to give back to their communities. They will be the better for it, and so will we.”

As for Graham, he will continue to tout his message of engaged and informed citizenship and champion issues of importance to Florida and the nation.
In October, Graham was recognized by the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for his continued contribution to the state and the university. During the college’s Evening of Excellence, Dean David Richardson presented Graham with the inaugural Civic Champion Award. “Of our many alumni who commit their lives to public service, the first person who comes to mind is Sen. Bob Graham,” Richardson said at the ceremony. “Bob Graham is the epitome of what it means to be a Civic Champion.”

Graham remains a civic champion. Throughout his public service career, he has advocated for better schools, economic opportunity for all citizens, government transparency, the preservation of natural resources, and a strong, participatory democracy. He has represented the nation and UF with distinction, honor, and integrity. The Graham Center will ensure that legacy by nurturing the next generation of state and national leaders.

Each spring, politically engaged students from Florida’s colleges and universities gather at the Future of Florida Summit to solve pressing issues facing the state. Sponsored by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, the summit aims to establish a tradition of statewide intercollegiate political activism, inspire students to champion solutions to difficult challenges, and promote the free and open exchange of ideas.

In its fourth year, the summit brought together more than 125 students, representing 25 of Florida’s higher education institutions, to discuss the approaching Florida Constitution Revision Commission and learn more about the role, scope, and direction of state government.

Twelve groups of students worked with state policy experts and leaders including former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Graham, former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Florida Supreme Court Justice James Perry, and UF Law Dean Emeritus Jon Mills to discuss possible changes to the constitution. Participants were then tasked with drafting proposed amendments and presenting their recommendations to a panel of six judges. At the conclusion of the summit, the following three proposals were sent to the commission for consideration:


  • Increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75;
  • Eliminate the write-in loophole in elections; and
  • Change elected constitutional officer positions in non-charter counties to nonpartisan.


The commission held a series of public hearings across the state, and student representatives from the summit publicly presented the proposals to members of the commission in Orlando, Tallahassee, and Gainesville.

While it remains unclear if the proposals submitted by the students will be placed on the ballot in 2018, participants left with a more thorough understanding of the revision process, the state’s biggest challenges and the opportunity to have a deliberative voice in democracy. Though a relatively young program, Future of Florida Summit has become a hallmark program for the Bob Graham Center and a premier nonpartisan gathering for students from around the state.

UF Haitian Creole specialist Ben Hebblethwaite unearths African and Haitian history from the mythology of Vodou songs and rituals.

By Rachel Wayne

The tiny island nation of Haiti holds centuries of history from another continent. Sung in Creole, the sacred songs of Haitian Vodou impart the rich spirituality and diverse languages of West African cultures in a long-running oral tradition. Benjamin Hebblethwaite, associate professor of Haitian Creole, Haitian, and Francophone Studies, has devoted his career to capturing Haitian Creole text and documenting Vodou rites — especially the lyrically and socially rich songs that permeate the rites.

Hebblethwaite’s research shows that this body of work entails one of the best-preserved oral traditions, with thousands of years of songs, words, and figures embedded in Haitian culture through Vodou. “For linguists, it’s a vast resource that reveals the layers of history that formed Haiti, through the African-Haitian community brought across in the slave trade,” says Hebblethwaite.

Not to be confused with New Orleans Voodoo, Haitian Vodou is a complex religion with several million adherents, derived from Dahomian Vodun and incorporating several additional West African traditions. It emerged among slaves in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). As is often the case in conquest and slavery, the active suppression of African culture and religion led to newly coded forms of expression. Hebblethwaite explains that despite the French’s strict slave regime in Haiti that also forced conversion to Catholicism, their laissez-faire attitude toward slaves’ evening activities allowed the Africans to share and codify their homeland songs and myths into Vodou with a new common language: Haitian Creole. “I’m fascinated by the way the Vodou community uses Haitian Creole and by the memory that lives in that community,” Hebblethwaite says. “Vodou preserves African history better than any other institution in Haitian life, including professional Haitian historians.”

Robust religious traditions such as Vodou entail a multifaceted package of cultural expression, the hinge point of Hebblethwaite’s ethnographic inquiry. He explains that the highly personal and intimate nature of religious oral tradition has enormous potential to capture history that’s often forgotten in post-colonial societies. In the case of Haiti, Vodou allowed for a “pristine preservation of pre-colonial history,” he says. Moreover, Haiti’s relatively short time as a colony before its independence in 1804 helped stay the cultural execution, allowing Vodou to flourish before the resurgence in the 20th century.

“Vodou preserves African history better than any other institution in Haitian life, including professional Haitian historians.”

Yet, both Haitian Creole and Vodou retain an unfortunate mystery, vibrantly pulsing under centuries of suppression and stereotyping, with little official representation. Until the late 1980s, the practice of Vodou was still prohibited. Still, Haitian Creole is slowly enjoying broader official usage in both Haiti and the U.S., through more political functions and services in the language. In what Hebblethwaite calls a promising development, the state officially recognized the Akademi Kreyòl, organized to promote and standardize Haitian Creole, which “adds weight to the momentum of the Creole movement,” he says.

To that end, Hebblethwaite has also published — with some resistance by journal editors — a paper in Haitian Creole, which has 9.6 million speakers, to show that the language is “a worthy vehicle for science.” Haitian classrooms are predominantly taught in French, although the first language of almost all students, and indeed Haitians in general, is Haitian Creole. In that sense, the French influence is still palpable, and this incongruity can be harmful. Hebblethwaite seeks to increase the body of Creole work by doing it himself as much as possible. “It’s practicing what I preach,” he says.

Hebblethwaite’s passion for his area of expertise stems from a year of study in his birth nation of South Africa, where Dutch creolized into Afrikaans. Afrikaans spread widely through its use in schools, broadcasts, and Bible translations. Hebblethwaite was intrigued by how this creolization and the expansion of the functions of Afrikaans had occurred. His studies focused on French, in which he is fluent. “I wondered what a Creole would look like evolving in a French colony.” To wit, he picked up a Haitian Creole Bible, and his fascination took hold, he said. “Some things are serendipitous,” he says. Now, he is “one of a long line of preservationists” working to form a “synchronic snapshot of Vodou as it exists today.”

Further in support of the vanguard for Haitian Creole, Hebblethwaite has video recorded dozens of Vodou ceremonies. Although no one part can stand alone, the videos provide opportunity for researchers in anthropology, linguistics, and religion. In his new book, Hebblethwaite is working toward an in-depth history of Vodou’s Dahomian aspects.

Vodou is a highly systematic and codified tradition. For a full understanding, a Creolist must move beyond linguistics and embrace anthropological and historical investigation. The book focuses on three rites — the Rada, the Gede, and the Nago — and all three originate in the Yoruba and Aja–Fon cultures tied to the kingdoms of Dahomey, Allada, Whydah, Oyo, and others. No stranger to intensive study, Hebblethwaite picked up on West African history. “To finish the last chapter, I had to become conversant in the history of the Yoruba-Aja Commonwealth,” he says matter-of-factly.

UF students need not feel left out. A comprehensive Haitian Creole Studies program offers language instruction from beginner to advanced levels, as well as four interdisciplinary courses on Haiti culture, society, and history.

Now, another creole is coming to class schedules as well: Hebblethwaite has proposed an undergraduate course covering Jamaican language and culture to be called “Jamaican Creole, Reggae, and Rastafari.” UF will become only the second university in the U.S. to offer instruction in Jamaican Patois, improving academic representation for Florida’s significant Patois-speaking population and further expanding the curriculum on Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs). “I love to teach about languages and cultures that I find inspiring,” Hebblethwaite says.

For the past two decades, Title VI funding from the U.S. Department of Education has supported instruction in LCTLs, including the Haitian Creole Studies program at UF, but that funding source has ceased. To find out how you can support the program, email the Office of Advancement or call 352-294-1971.

Richard Freeman, whose photo appears on the opposite page, passed away unexpectedly on Oct. 23, 2017, before this issue went to print. We mourn his passing and appreciate his incredible work for UF.