Darwin Aquino

Classical music is not as big of a tradition in the Dominican Republic as it is in some other locations, and opportunities for young musicians are limited there.

“But when you have a passion about something, life sends you the way,” says Darwin Aquino, an FIU graduate who was recently named Conductor in Residence for the Washington University Symphony Orchestra in St. Louis. 

Darwin graduated from FIU in Spring 2015 with a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting. However, his interest in composing music began early. He started by creating short pieces and playing them on his violin for fun. From there, he learned how to write his compositions in music notation and compose them for the piano. With the guidance of teachers over the years, he began to write bigger compositions meant for chamber music and orchestra. His skill earned him the first prize of a major composition competition in the Dominican Republic, which led to his acceptance into the National Strasbourg Conservatory in France. In France, he had the opportunity to specialize in contemporary composition. 

“That opened the doors for me, and my music to begin to be premiered internationally,” Darwin says.

Darwin decided to come to FIU after meeting Professor Robert Davidovici, Artist-in-Residence and Professor of Violin in the School of Music. “As many times in life, everything starts with a person you meet,” says Darwin.

Davidovici traveled to the Dominican Republic to teach string masterclasses and to serve as concertmaster of the Santo Domingo Music Festival. Darwin met Davidovici when he took his violin students to Davidovici’s class.

 “We started to talk, and he mentioned all the opportunities that FIU has to offer for graduate studies, including music,” Darwin says. “At that moment Maestro Grzegorz Nowak was entering the school as the conducting teacher. I did not think twice to apply and was convinced that FIU was the right place to continue my profession. The quality of the faculty at the music school is impressive and world class. That is what you need to grow.”

Darwin says that FIU made him a conductor by providing opportunities that are not widely available at other music schools. As a student, he was able to get plenty of podium time conducting the FIU Symphony Orchestra and was even able to conduct opera performances.

“I arrived at the School of Music with a lot of experience, repertoire, and years of work as a conductor with the Dominican ‘El Sistema’,” says Darwin. “But to be able to study and learn from artists like Nowak, Davidovici, Gekic, Garcia, Amernet String Quartet, Galand, etc. really raised my level and how I was looking at music. You can be better if you just surround yourself with the best. That is what I found at FIU, together with the most motivating environment for music making.” 

Currently, Darwin maintains a busy schedule in St. Louis. He will conduct the Winter Opera Saint Louis productions of “L’Italiana in Algeri” and “Norma” and will be conductor-in-residence for Washington University’s “Carmina Burana”. He also has many commissions as a composer.

“I’m trying to balance my career between being a conductor for opera/symphonic music and a contemporary composer – not an easy task nowadays,” Darwin says. “My goal is to maintain that balance where I’m able to conduct what I love and compose my music.”

Darwin will return to Miami for the FIU Concerto Winners’ Concert with the FIU Symphony Orchestra. The concert will feature the world premiere of his first violin concerto, a piece he composed as a thank you to FIU, the School of Music and its faculty, the Symphony Orchestra, and Professor Davidovici.

“It is a special piece that celebrates Caribbean music and chants, scored for strings and Latin percussion,” says Darwin. “There is solo violin, singing inside the orchestra, beautiful percussion effects and tropical colors in the orchestra. Something new, fresh, and not to be missed! I hope that everyone can join us to support the work of the FIU School of Music and its graduate programs.”

Find out more about the concert and buy tickets by visiting the event page:

http://carta.fiu.edu/music/event/fiu-symphony-orchestra-celebrates-panther-alumni-week/

Bryan Dewsbury

When Bryan Dewsbury was a STEM graduate student at FIU, he had many opportunities to pick up tips and lessons about interactions and relationships within his department. Now, those lessons are influencing how he approaches those types of relationships as a faculty member. Bryan is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Rhode Island, and he wants to improve science education. 

With an interest in equity-minded teaching and learning, Bryan says that his future lies in being part of systems that intentionally work toward that. “That is certainly partially boutique programs that focus on the historically disenfranchised,” Bryan says, “but mainly refers to deeper systemic change where equity forms the lens through which all relationships within the academic ecosystem [are] developed.”

Bryan initially chose to attend FIU because he wanted to pursue a career related to marine conservation, and FIU had several labs doing work that was loosely related to the subject. “Honestly, since it was going to be a marine focus, I wanted to dive somewhere where the water actual gets warm,” Bryan says. He’s originally from Trinidad and Tobago, so Miami’s proximity to Trinidad by plane was also a major contributing factor.

Bryan’s experiences at FIU have contributed to his success as a professor in varied and unexpected ways. He was the Head TA for the QBIC (Quantifying Biology In the Classroom) Program. QBIC is an FIU academic program that emphasizes the study of living systems and the critical evaluation of biological concepts. “I think none of what I do now would have been possible had it not been for the fabulous students, faculty, and staff I had the pleasure of interacting with during my time in the program,” Bryan says. 

Besides QBIC, other experiences as a graduate student, such as his involvement with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, have directly influenced Bryan’s work as a professor. SoTL seeks to improve teaching by examining student learning in the classroom and making the findings public. With support from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, Bryan was able to engage in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as a graduate student. “I had the good fortune of doing ‘professor type’ things that [were] formative to what I do now,” Bryan says. In addition to SoTL, he sat on search committees, conducted workshops on curriculum design, and designed curricula.

Bryan earned a PhD in biology from FIU in 2014. Prior to that, he earned an MS in biology from FIU and a BS in biology from Morehouse College.

Soumyadeep Mukherjee

FIU doctoral graduate Soumyadeep “Deep” Mukherjee is the Written Category winner for the 2018 Flame Challenge. Deep, who received his Ph.D. in Public Health, graduated from FIU in 2016 and is now as Postdoctoral Researcher in the Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University (SBU). 

The Flame Challenge, sponsored by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, aims to improve how scientists communicate with the public by challenging them to communicate complex concepts in ways that an 11-year-old would be able to understand. The question for the 2018 competition was “What is Climate?” The contest offered a $1,000 cash prize for winning entries in three categories (Written, Video, and Graphic) and a trip to New York City to meet Alan Alda and be recognized during the World Science Festival.

Deep says it is important for the public to understand scientists and for scientists to understand each other. The need for effective communication in the sciences became clear to him while attending seminars and conferences. There were multiple experiences when he had a difficult time understanding an expert’s research presentation. He also recalls the need to improve his own communication skills. 

“I was often at a loss of words myself when someone would ask me about my research or my own interests,” he said.

Deep credits his experiences at FIU as being contributing factors to his success in the Flame Challenge. Presenting at FIU’s Graduate Student Appreciation Week and at local and national conferences forced him to improve how he communicated his work to others. Also valuable was his involvement in the second cohort of the Academy of Graduates for Integrative Learning Experiences (AGILE) program. 

“Dr. Lakshmi N. Reddi, Dr. Sonja Montas-Hunter, and Dr. Magnolia Hernandez regularly emphasized the necessity to improve our communication and leadership skills,” Deep said. “One workshop in the AGILE program that I can vividly recall focused on giving our talk in 3-5 minutes without using any jargon or power-point slides!”

As an AGILE participant, Deep learned the importance of communicating research in blogs, community meetings, and other outlets that the public are more likely to access. “Most of the scientific research is funded by the public directly or indirectly,” Deep said. “So, they have a stake in knowing what we are doing!”

At SBU, Deep is working on a project that examines the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and changes in mental health among responders to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. His long-term goal is to have a career devoted to teaching, science communication, and research. 

“I hope to be a able to interface with the community, the media, and policy-makers to promote health equity,” he said.