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Feeding Floridians in need, and more


Second Harvest semi-truck driving on flat road.

Photo courtesy of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Radical Hospitality

When hospitality and tourism management major Bill Collins ’85 became chief operating officer of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida over six years ago, no one could have predicted the ways in which COVID-19 would drastically increase the need for the food bank’s services. But thanks to Collins and his colleagues, the organization has risen to the challenge.

Because of an increase in food insecurity coupled with a decrease in donations, plus disruptions to federal and nonprofit food assistance systems’ operating model, the food bank has had its work cut out for it. But as of January 2021, the food bank was providing over 300,000 meals each day—about double the amount before the pandemic. Not only that, but innovative new programs like the Bring Hope Home delivery program have helped safely provide food to those who needed it.

“Second Harvest Food Bank’s ability and agility to meet unprecedented demand, stemming from massive layoffs from unchecked COVID spread, has everything to do with Bill’s leadership,” says Karen Broussard, vice president for agency relations and programs. “He has been tireless in engaging and meeting the never-before-seen needs to keep hunger at bay for hundreds of thousands of central Floridians.”



Artistic rendering of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Image courtesy of the Railroad Street Youth Project

50 Years of Consciousness

In October 2020, the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies celebrated its 50th anniversary with a virtual symposium: “Conscious to Woke: Fifty Years of Revolutionary Black Thought.” The symposium commemorated the department’s semicentennial by speaking to today’s efforts toward equal justice, illustrating that Black studies are still as relevant as ever.

In the 1960s, there was a great deal of activity on campus to organize Black students and push for the inclusion of Black studies. Cheryl Evans ’68 was a pivotal part of those efforts. She was the first elected president of a Black student group on campus and has remained an organizer, starting the UMass Black Pioneers Project in 2018 to document the stories of Black alumni who attended the university in the 1960s. Says Evans, “I would hope that the Du Bois department continues to grow and to add the actual stories of the Black pioneers who made its existence possible.”

Today, the department is one of the largest of its kind in the country. For alumni like McKinley Melton ’12PhD, it had been a place of community, contributing to his current success as a tenured associate professor in the English Department at Gettysburg College and an affiliate of their Africana Studies program. “I spend every day with the absolute privilege of teaching students to have the same level of respect and appreciation for the writers, voices, traditions, and culture that I came to understand so deeply during my time at UMass,” he says.



An Impact on Implants

If you’ve had a successful medical implant surgery, you may have the research of professor and chemical/biomedical engineer Rena Bizios ’68 to thank. Over her career, Bizios has dedicated herself to teaching. However, her research of cellular and tissue engineering, tissue regeneration, and the interaction between implants and body tissues has also been important.

Bizios co-authored the go-to textbook in the field of biomaterials, An Introduction to Tissue-Biomaterial Interactions, along with several other books, chapters, and scientific publications. She is the co-inventor on numerous patents and is often invited to present at scientific conferences and seminars.

Bizios was recently recognized with the 2020 BioMedSA Award for Innovation in Healthcare and Bioscience. Celebrating innovators in the field, this prestigious award is just the latest in her long list of accomplishments.

“It is clear that Rena Bizios has made an enormous impact on the field of biomedical engineering,” noted BioMedSA President Heather Hanson to UTSA Today. “Her research has opened the door for numerous medical applications that improve patient care. Furthermore, as a female researcher and educator who started her career when women simply were not widely seen in the field of biomedical engineering, she has been an influential leader and inspirational mentor for her students.”