October 17, 2021


It's Your Education

Winter 2020 Class Notes | FIU Magazine


Hope Jacobson ’77, MS ’85, EdD ’98 was awarded the Bill Crutchfield Award For Outstanding and Distinguished Service from Special Olympics FL. She has been a volunteer with the organization since 1974 in a wide range of roles, including coaching athletes, teaching in the Athlete Leadership University (Academy), and fundraising and facilitating community-based programs. She also was a coordinator for Athlete Leadership Miami. Now retired from Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), she is currently an adjunct professor in FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences and Education and works as a substitute teacher for MDCPS.



Carmen Cruz ’92, ’93
was named the first Latinx president of the Association of Counseling Center Training Agencies. In February of 2020, Cruz also received a national multicultural award, the Janet E. Helms Award for Mentoring and Scholarship from Columbia University, and was invited to do a keynote for the longest standing multicultural psychology conference in the U.S.



jennifer-cohen-2.jpegJennifer Cohen ’93 has been selected as the 2020 Florida American Mother of the Year, an award established by American Mother’s, Inc. A single mom and a lifelong animal advocate, Cohen has devoted her life to helping people and animals in need. She became a professional fundraiser after a successful career as a publicist, and has raised millions of dollars for a variety of organizations. After her twin daughters (now in their teens) were born 10 weeks premature, she started a nonprofit agency and raised money to donate an incubator to the NICU at the hospital that saved her daughters.


Alex F. Vicencio
 97, a financial advisor and the managing director of investments at the Vicencio Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Miami, was recognized as a 2020 Best in State Wealth Advisor by Forbes Magazine. Vicencio has more than 20 years of experience and has been sought out by media outlets such as CNN, USA Today and Wall Street Journal for his expertise.

 natalie-boden-2.jpgNatalie Boden ’99 was selected as a visionary honoree by Ragan’s international Top Women in Communications Awards. Boden is the president and founder of a communications agency bearing her last name. Her thought leadership guides the agency and helps companies including Target, McDonald’s, Delta Dental and United Healthcare continue to drive conversation, build community and inspire cultural leadership. She has previously been named one of PR Week’s 2014 “Top 40 under 40” Heavy Hitters and received the 2017 PR News Game Changer award as well as FIU’s Distinguished Alumni Torch Award in 2015.


Justin Pane ’02 was recently appointed as the director of the Multi-Mission Operations Center (MMOC) at NASA Ames Research Center. Justin served as the acting MMOC director since September 2019 and the MMOC deputy director since October 2018. During this time, he has led “NASA’s Mission Control in Silicon Valley” by providing ready-to-use facilities, networks, IT equipment, software, system administration and engineering support for operating spacecraft in flight. He is a 2015 recipient of NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal. He received a bachelor’s degree in management information systems from FIU.

Vanesssa Valle ’04, an alumna of the FIU College of Arts, Sciences & Education, was named the Miami-Dade County Public Schools 2021 Francisco R. Walker Teacher of the Year. She is the 20th FIU alumnus to receive the award since 1973.

Tony Lopez MS ’05, who is the deputy town manager of the Town of Miami Lakes, was recognized as part of South Florida Business Journal’s 40 under 40 Class of 2020. He was also selected to be part of Leadership Florida’s Connect class for th 2020-2021 program year. Leadership Florida Connect is the state’s only leadership program that spans industry boundaries and focuses solely on developing Florida’s existing and emerging leaders.

javier-casabona_mbaf.jpgJavier Casabona ‘06 has been promoted to director in the audit department at the nationally recognized public accounting firm MBAF’s Miami office. Casabona specializes in auditing real estate and hospitality organizations under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and his extensive experience includes hotels, casinos, commercial and residential real estate, among others.


vanessa-duran-2.jpgVanessa Duran ’06, ’20 is the principal at DCC Accounting. Through her visionary leadership, this March the company celebrated its 10th year working with small to mid-size businesses and growing startups in South Florida, as well as nationally. A financial executive with experience in business consulting and entrepreneurship, financial analysis, accounting and tax services, she leads a team of professionals in providing services including small business accounting and bookkeeping to young professionals establishing businesses.

As one of the winners of the Knight Art Challenge, Sterling Rook ’09, MA ’17 was awarded with a $15,000 matching grant by the Knight Foundation for his project, “The Miami Rope Bridges.” The project features a fiber-art installation of a rope bridge made from recycled fabrics. The bridge was created in the style of 500-year-old traditional, indigenous Peruvian rope bridge-builders and was created collaboratively through a series of participatory fiber-art workshops and presentations that built community among the creators.


Aaron M. Abelto ’10 was recently featured as the head director/writer on Hollywood News Deadline.  His latest documentary, “The Power of Movement,” was picked up by Entertainment Studios, a major a broadcasting company in Los Angeles, CA. It aired in 200 countries. He is the co-founder of Able 2 Film Entertainment based in Fort Lauderdale, FL, which recently won the 2020 Media Innovator Awards from Corporate Vision.

Chris Villalta ’12 joined SV Designs, a Massachusetts-based firm, as an architectural designer. The company provides design services to residential multi-family and commercial spaces.

Brenda Baddam ’14 was awarded with the State of New York 40 under 40 Rising Star Award for 2020. As an attorney at Barclay Damon, she was also named one of the best lawyers to watch for in commercial litigation in the 2021 edition of The Best Lawyers in America. Most recently, she became the Assistant Attorney General at the Office of the New York State Attorney General. 

Shantay Bolton MBA ’14 was promoted to the position of deputy chief operating officer at Tulane University. In her role, she oversees the human resources and enterprise risk functions and contributes to the delivery of Tulane’s strategic initiatives by working in partnership with multiple cross-institutional teams.

amanda-garcia-alpizar-2.jpgAmanda Garcia Alpizar ’15 has been promoted to the position of Manager of Travel Management at the University of Miami. Prior to this role, she was the marketing specialist for University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and the catering sales manager at Zoo Miami. Amanda is also completing her masters in international administration at UM, continues to dedicate time to work at Zoo Miami and volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Janice Betti ’18 was promoted to account executive at The Conroy Martinez Group, a full-service, bilingual public relations, marketing and social media agency based in Miami. In her role, she handles media and marketing campaigns on behalf of clients in the trade and logistics, hospitality, real estate and non-profit industries.

A major in the Miami-Dade Police Department, Brian Rafky ’19, headed security efforts for Super Bowl LIV earlier this year. He was at the helm of the joint operations center, intelligence operations and emergency operations center for the big game. He says his education in the master’s program in disaster management helped him prepare for the mammoth task.

In Memoriam

lynn-berk-fiu.jpgProfessor Emerita and founding faculty member Lynn Berk taught in the Department of English for three decades. She served in numerous roles, including as an assistant professor, the assistant dean of the then-College of Arts and Sciences, chair of the English Department and director of the linguistics program. She also served on the Faculty Senate and was among the most active members of the faculty union, serving as the United Faculty of Florida Grievance Chair for a number of years. She also authored a successful graduate level textbook on syntax as well as three novels set in the Canadian Yukon Territory.

barry-greenberg.jpgProfessor Emeritus and founding faculty member Barry Greenberg was a passionate educator. He joined FIU in 1973 as a founding faculty member in the newly formed Department of Education and Psychological Studies in the College of Education. For almost 50 years, he was involved in research and evaluation of the efficacy of educational programs. His work took him from the Bahamas to Oxford University and many places in-between. He also served in leadership roles at FIU, including as the assistant provost and president of the Faculty Senate. He retired in 2006 but continued to be involved in the medical field as an entrepreneur and returned to FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine as a research scholarship course coordinator from 2011-2014.  

john-b.-jensen-photo.jpgJohn B. Jensen, professor in the Department of Modern Languages, came to FIU in 1978. Throughout the years, he taught courses in linguistics, Portuguese, Spanish, literature, translation and interpretation and served as chair of the department of Modern Languages. He is the author or translator of 16 books, more than 50 journal articles and chapters and over 100 academic lectures. A world-class conference interpreter, he participated in over 400 high-level international conferences spanning the diplomatic, political, legal, financial, technical and health care fields. From 2001 to 2006, he co-directed the State of Florida Interpreter Services Program under a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement. He retired from FIU in 2010. 

kuldeep-kumar-square.jpgProfessor Emeritus Kuldeep Kumar, came to FIU in 1999 and dedicated 15 years to the university. He taught in the Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics at the College of Business. In addition to his service at FIU, he was a distinguished research scientist in IITM and Professor of Business Process Sourcing at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. He was also visiting professor at the City University of Hong Kong, and more recently was a senior advisor to the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He was a tenured professor of information systems at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University; the Netherlands; and Georgia State University. He also served on the faculty of engineering management at the University of Waterloo. He retired from FIU in 2014.

william-kurtines.jpgProfessor Emeritus in psychology William Kurtines joined FIU in 1973. He was a tireless mentor for many students and a prolific writer, publishing more than 100 journal articles, book chapters and books. With his colleagues, he helped to create a couple of master’s degree programs in psychology, which were two of the first five graduate degree programs approved for FIU by the State Board of Regents. Together with colleagues at FIU and at the University of Miami, he was also awarded numerous grants from organizations including the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health, to support research programs on interventions for children and youth. He retired from FIU in 2012. Before starting his academic career, he served in the U.S Army and was deployed to Vietnam in 1967, where he served as an Infantry Platoon Leader in the 4th Infantry Division. He was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during the Tet Offensive in 1968. 

barry-levine.jpgEmeritus Professor and founding faculty member Barry B. Levine came to FIU in 1972. He became the first chair of the then-department of Sociology and Anthropology, where he taught sociology until his retirement in 2007. He was also a founder of FIU’s Latin American and Caribbean Center. He was the author of five books including, Reflections on a Puerto Rican Life, which was hailed as a “masterpiece” in Newsweek magazine by Yale historian Robert Ferris Thompson. In addition, he founded Caribbean Review, a bi-monthly journal that was widely circulated and was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in 1981. 

john-makemsom_biology.jpgJohn C. Makemson, professor of biological sciences in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, started at FIU in 1978.  He was chair of the Department of Biological Sciences from 1985 to 1988. During his tenure at FIU, he spent a year at the University of Bahrain as a Fulbright Scholar and took a two-year leave to serve as coordinator and professor at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman to start a new college of marine science. Once back at FIU, he served another term as chair of the department and eventually became the undergraduate program director. He also served as a faculty scholar with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2012 and 2013, after which he launched the HHMI SEA PHAGES program at FIU. He was devoted to that program even after he retired in 2018. The Department of Biological Sciences has set up a scholarship in his name to support biology undergraduates who have taken biochemistry.

juan-martinez-3.jpgProfessor Emeritus of art history Juan A. Martínez came to FIU in 1990 and for more than two decades, helped carve out a future for the Department of Art + Art History in the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts, where he eventually served as chair of the department. In addition to teaching numerous courses, he also helped create the foundation for scholarly work about Cuban art at FIU. A prolific writer and scholar, in 1994, Martínez published Cuban Art & National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters 1927-1950, the first book to examine the art of the Vanguardia painters. He also authored Maria Brito, which won first place in the Best Arts Book category at the 11th Annual International Latin Book Awards in 2010. He presented at numerous international conferences and inspired a generation of artists and scholars. He retired from FIU in 2013.

mcminn.jpgWilliam G. McMinn, founding dean of the FIU School of Architecture, now part of the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts, was a widely respected educator, architect and mentor for students and faculty. He dedicated almost 50 years to architectural education at seven universities and served as president of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). At FIU, McMinn incorporated pre-professional undergraduate programs in architectural studies and interior design as well as various graduate programs in related areas. Under his leadership, the professional program in architecture earned full accreditation by the NAAB. He was also instrumental in shepherding the design and construction of the award-winning Paul L. Cejas School of Architecture building at MMC. He retired from FIU in 2004 and in 2006 received the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education.

aurora-morcillo-2.jpgAurora Morcillo, professor of history of Modern Europe/Spain in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, came to FIU in 2002. She served as the associate director of the Women’s Studies Center and in 2014 went on to create the Spanish and Mediterranean Studies Program, of which she served as director. She was an internationally known expert on the history of gender in modern Europe, with a focus on Spain during the Franco era. She published various books on the topic and her research was funded by Erasmus Mundus, the Mellon Foundation and the Spanish Ministry of Culture, among others. In 2018 she was a visiting fellow at Exeter College, Oxford. An endowment to support graduate students studying abroad in Spain (with the goal of promoting gender and women’s issues) has been established in her honor through the Department of History.

bethanyreeb-sutherland.jpgBethany Reeb-Sutherland, associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education and an affiliate in the Center for Children and Families, arrived at FIU in 2012 as director of the Brain and Behavioral Development Lab. Her research focused on the relations between early learning and social behaviors from infancy through childhood. She published more than 45 articles on these topics in leading developmental and child clinical psychology journals and was the editor of various journals or special issues. She was also the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on numerous NIH grants totaling more than $10 million, and received accolades including the 2017 Early Career Impact Award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. At her family’s request, an Ignite account will be established in her name to honor her passion for helping students in need.

wayne-robinson-square.jpgWayne E. Robinson Jr. was an associate professor at the Department of Theatre. During his time at FIU, he chaired numerous committees and directed 27 theater productions for FIU Theatre including Gypsy, Twelfth Night, Glengarry Glen Ross, And Then There Were None, and Anna in the Tropics. In 2014, he was named the head of the Performance Program. His professional career included acting and directing in over 40 theatre productions in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami. In South Florida, he worked with New Theatre, White Rose Miami, Shakespeare Miami, Alliance Theatre Lab, One Minute Play Festival and Outre Theatre. 

e-george-simms.jpgErnest George Simms, the inaugural assistant vice provost of Student Access and Success, came to FIU as associate vice president for Pre-Collegiate and Minority Student Services and associate professor in the College of Education in 1991. He was instrumental in designing and implementing many of FIU’s programs to promote diversity and access, and was a leader in this area nationally, serving as the executive director for the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Science and Engineering, Inc. In 1992, he served as the principal investigator for the first FIU awarded TRIO Upward Bound grant. He was also one of the founding members of the FIU Black Employee Association as well as of hallmark FIU celebrations, including the MLK Celebration and the annual Children’s Holiday Celebration. He taught undergraduate and graduate classes, holding the ranks of assistant and associate professor in higher education over the years. He retired in 2016.