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InsideFebruary 2014

Inside this Issue

Around Campus

On-campus living serves up recipe for student success

Josiah Nichols (left) hangs out with residents of the Osprey Crossings (Photos by Jennifer Grissom).The prospect of living on campus at the University of North Florida was like a beacon of freedom for Josiah Nichols.

Growing up as the youngest brother to three sisters, Nichols was eager for a change of scenery from his parents’ home in Atlantic Beach. He was looking forward to a place where he could crank the bass on his speakers, skateboard whenever he wanted and meet all sorts of new people. UNF offered all of that, and once he acclimated to campus life — and realized that his neighbors in Building Q of the Crossings weren’t too fond of the bass bumping from his room — Nichols found a place for himself within the University’s vibrant campus community.

“I’ve gotten to know so many people, and I’ve started viewing campus as this big community,” said the freshman education major, who recently started his second semester. “I really enjoy living with people who are my age and share some of my interests.”

Through his on-campus residential experience, Nichols said he feels more connected to life at UNF. All the advantages offered by a thriving university campus, such as live music, exciting sports events and recreational activities, are right outside his door. And that’s made him more energized to attend class and take charge of his education.

“There’s always something to do or someone new to meet,” he said. “Living on campus has been great for me. I really feel at home here. Everything I could want from my college experience is right here.”

When UNF instituted a freshman-housing requirement in 2012, it sent the message that the University is committed to ensuring the academic and personal successes of students like Nichols. Numerous studies have shown that first-time-in-college students who live on campus their first year boast higher grade point averages, report greater satisfaction with their college experiences and are ultimately retained at higher percentages, leading to much higher student graduation rates. After poring over UNF’s statistics from that first cohort of freshmen, Dr. Jay Coleman, the interim associate provost for Academic Affairs, validated that data and determined that those who lived on UNF’s campus posted higher retention rates than their peers who lived off-campus. Ninety percent of the students admitted in the fall of 2012 were required to live on campus, while 10 percent were given exemptions for one reason or another. Of those students who lived on campus, 84.3 percent of them are back with UNF for their sophomore years.

These figures are important because they are evidence of a strong correlation between engaging in UNF’s thriving on-campus community and a higher level of student retention, said Dr. Tom Serwatka, UNF vice president and chief of staff. Boosting the University’s retention and graduation rates are key areas of focus for administrators, even though UNF’s graduation rates compare closely to peer institutions across the country. Serwatka said being comparable isn’t the goal — achieving excellence is.

“We're doing fine from a national standpoint, but that’s not exactly where we want to be,” he said. “Doing well is nice, but our students, our alumni and our community need UNF to graduate more of our students. A thriving community needs a thriving center for higher education, and UNF is just that. And we want to be that to even more students. Taxpayers invest money into the higher education system, and they deserve to see the results in action — students walking off campus with degrees in hand.”

A member of the UNF Swoop Squad takes prospective students on a tour of campus, including the residence halls.Coleman, an expert statistician by trade, said he crunched the numbers for a mountain of residential housing data and determined the true impact of on-campus living on student success. After an exhaustive look at five years of academic data starting with the 2008 freshman cohort, the answer is clear — there was a positive correlation between on-campus housing and student retention each and every year. He even controlled for a number of factors — including students’ high school test scores and proposed majors — and the data remained the same. Coleman expanded the data set even further, pooling retention rates from more than 200 other public and private institutions, and found that on-campus living had the same positive effect on graduation and retention rates as evidenced at UNF.

Serwatka said this research offers further support for the University’s decision to institute the freshman-housing requirement in 2012.

“To condense this data down to its core, students who live on campus perform better academically and are more connected with their university,” Serwatka said. “UNF has witnessed major developments among its student population in the past few years, and shifting to a mandatory first-year housing model has been shown to be the fastest and most effective way to continue UNF’s journey from a commuter campus to a university of national acclaim with a thriving culture of residential life. This move offers value to our students and fits in with our belief in creating a culture of completion here at UNF. The students who enter UNF their freshman year should feel secure in the knowledge that the University is doing everything it can to ensure that when they leave this campus four years later, they will do so with degrees in hand.”

Four years is a long way off for Nichols. He’s still learning to navigate the academic world and enjoying his time on campus meeting new and interesting people. One thing is certain — he feels like the University community is there for him.

“Right now, I’m just enjoying the ride and learning more about all the cool stuff the campus has to offer,” he said. “Living on campus was a really good call, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Around Campus

Record crowd elevates Ospreys win in River City Rumble

The student section was packed with supporters rooting the Ospreys on to victory (Photos by Jennifer Grissom). A devastating putback dunk, a couple of clutch free throws and some seriously hard-nosed defense helped the University of North Florida men’s basketball team take home the win during this year’s River City Rumble against Jacksonville University.

The victory will go down as a marquee triumph for UNF’s burgeoning athletics department. It will also enter the record books thanks to the more than 5,000 fans who packed UNF Arena to watch the Ospreys defeat the Dolphins. Thousands of raucous fans sporting white UNF shirts cheered the Ospreys to victory, bellowing chants of “Beat JU!” and summoning an amazing home-court advantage for the guys in blue and gray. Attendance totals for the game eclipsed the previously record-setting turnout of last year’s River City Rumble by more than 1,000 people.

Lee Moon, UNF’s athletics director, said that this River City Rumble victory was more than just a great team win — it was a symbol of how far the Osprey athletics program has come. UNF has only been competing as an NCAA program for 21 years, and Moon, who was hired in 2009 to help with the University’s transition from Division II to Division I collegiate competition, said the past few years have seen tremendous growth for the athletics department, spearheaded by a progressively successful men's basketball team.

“I look at the UNF/JU men's basketball game as a yearly measure of success for the program,” Moon said. “Every year, there are more people in the Arena than the year before, and this year crushed the previous attendance figures. It’s pretty clear that the Ospreys are on the right path.”

Coach Matthew Driscoll rallied his players in the second half. UNF’s student section was packed — a usual sight for home games against JU. But this year, even the upper-deck sections were jammed with UNF supporters, many sporting one of the “Swoop Life” shirts handed out by Arena staff before the game. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell also came out to take in the spectacle.

“The crowd was electric, and both teams played at an extremely high level creating a truly awesome college basketball atmosphere,” Moon said. “It was a great reflection on the hard work we’ve put into developing a championship-caliber athletic program and legitimized the River City Rumble. We are excited about this year’s event and look forward to continued growth in seasons to come.”

Forward Travis Wallace dominated JU’s frontcourt all game, posting 27 points and a career-high 19 rebounds — with a few highlight dunks thrown in for good measure. Wallace, a senior, was particularly amped for this year's showdown with UNF's crosstown rivals. Each of the last four years, Wallace said he's witnessed a noticeable change in atmosphere for the JU game when compared to a normal home contest. Those crowds are always strong, but this year brought it to a whole different level.

“Seeing a crowd like that shows how much the University has grown in the last four years,” Wallace said. “Every year I’ve been here, the fans have gotten louder and more passionate. It helps us on the court — having a fanbase that supports its players. It makes us play twice as hard seeing them going hard in the stands. You don’t want to lose in front of all those supporters, so that gives us that added motivation and energy.”

UNF Coach Matthew Driscoll said this game was truly the culmination of years of hard work by his players and staff. Player development has been at the top of his priority list since day one, and he said the development of the team is inextricably linked to the assistance of the campus community.

Senior forward Travis Wallace dominated the paint, posting a career high in rebounds (Photo courtesy of UNF Athletics Department). “We [the coaching staff and athletics department] targeted our student body from the beginning and have shared our vision with them at every opportunity,” said the fifth-year head coach. “We consistently try to help them understand the worth of ‘athletics’ toward their college experience and degree visibility and value. We also constantly encourage them to keep building a home-court advantage that puts us at the top of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Our crowds have been, and continue to be, the largest, loudest and most rambunctious in the league and are one of the reasons for our sustained success over the past five years.”

When the game’s final buzzer sounded, Wallace admitted that he got a bit emotional. It was the end of his last River City Rumble game, and dozens of UNF students had streamed onto the court in victorious celebration. He, along with many of his teammates and coaches, clasped arms and huddled up at center court, basking in the joyful pandemonium brought on by the Osprey victory.

“It’s good knowing that when I graduate, the fans will be here to support the rest of the guys,” Wallace said. “We definitely dedicate that win to the fans."

Around Campus

Warehouse acquisition frees up academic space in core of campus

The warehouse is located just off the core of campus (Photo by Jennifer Grissom). The University of North Florida has acquired a new warehouse facility that, while located just off campus, will free up space for academic programs in the core of campus.


The 70,000-square-foot maintenance storage warehouse at 11820 Central Parkway was acquired for $2.68 million late last year and will serve as a new work and storage space for some portions of Physical Facilities and its array of equipment. The shops housed in Support Services Building, Building 6, will make the move. A lack of enclosed space led University administrators to search for a new location with a more efficient shop layout and additional office space for supervisors. The newly acquired warehouse fits both of those criteria.


The space previously occupied by Physical Facilities in Building 6 will now be used by UNF’s Art and Design program, as well as the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, said Shari Shuman, vice president of administration and finance.

“This move works in two important ways — it gives Physical Facilities the space it needs for daily operations and equipment storage, and it frees up a key location in the core of campus that can be used for academics. Our focus here is on keeping everything in that campus circle so students have easy access to everything they need.”


The UNF sculpture program, which has worked on a number of large-scale projects that have been installed on and around campus, will be the major beneficiary of the new space. The increased workspace will allow students to expand beyond the smallish confines of the University sculpture lab behind the Fine Arts Center.


The new warehouse site is located immediately to the northeast of the north University entrance from Central Parkway. It will take about $1.8 million to convert the warehouse into usable shops for Physical Facilities. The move to the new facility is ongoing.


UNF honored as top college for teacher education

UNF's consistent level of student/teacher interaction is a hallmark of the University experience (Photo by Jennifer Grissom). The College Database — the most comprehensive source for U.S. higher education data — named the University of North Florida to its list of the top colleges in the state for teacher education in late 2013. The new list, “Top Colleges in Florida: Shaping the Next Generation,” highlights the post-secondary institutions in the state that produced the most education graduates during the 2012 academic year.

“The University and the College of Education and Human Services are pleased to be recognized by the College Database for our work in preparing teachers and other school professionals,” said Dr. Larry Daniel, COEHS dean.

The COEHS graduates around 500 teachers each year, in addition to approximately 30 school counseling and 50 school administration graduates. All of the College’s programs are nationally accredited and meet rigorous state requirements. UNF education students are also exposed to reality-based experiences throughout their programs of study, with all teacher education majors required to complete 900 to 1,000 classroom-based hours prior to graduation. Education students are required to complete a substantial portion of their field work in urban schools, and all graduates must have experiences working with special-needs children.

The College Database is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to provide free information about education options, both nationally and locally, to students, parents and other interested parties. The goal is accomplished by making all information and tools on the site free and easy to access.

UNF’s College of Education and Human Services offers a variety of programs to serve educational professionals in Northeast Florida. It has undergraduate programs in fields such as special education, elementary education and secondary education. The COEHS has selected undergraduate programs for non-teaching professionals in areas like sport leadership and deaf studies while also offering graduate programs in elementary and secondary education, special education, counseling and educational leadership.

Around Campus

Pocket park will boost on-campus greenery

The pocket park will have greenery and benches installed soon (Photo by Jennifer Grissom).The University of North Florida is adding another green space to campus for students, faculty and staff to take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Pavers for a pocket park were installed in December between the Andrew A. Robinsion Jr. Center, Building 14, and the John E. Matthews Jr. Computer Science Building, Building 15. The park replaces the portables that previously occupied the spot. An array of lush greenery will be added to the location soon.

“The University has had a progressive movement to get rid of all the portables on campus, and those between Building 14 and 15 were the last ones,” said John Hale, UNF’s director of physical facilities. “To replace those portables, we wanted to create a nice, tranquil space for students, faculty and staff that wouldn’t cost a lot and increased the amount of green space in the core of campus. A pocket park seemed like a smart use of that space.”

Hale said the University master plan calls for that space to eventually be used in a potential expansion of the Matthews Computer Science Building. It’s unclear when — or if — that expansion will occur, so Hale said the pocket park will be an aesthetically pleasing way of occupying the area in the interim.

Construction on the park started in November, and the finishing touches — including the installation of benches — will be finished soon. The space encompasses less than an acre and cost around $142,000 for site work. Additional work to install underground chilled and hot water lines for the campus was done at the same time as the park construction and cost an additional $200,000.

Around Campus

Trash to treasure: Seven artists reinterpret recycling

feb mocaThe artists of “Material Transformations” — Angela Ellsworth, Alison Foshee, Johnston Foster, Kirsten Hassenfeld, Rune Olsen, Lucrecia Troncoso and Paul Villinski — uncover symbolism in the unconventional substances they use to construct their works of art. They find inspiration in the stuff of life, items we frequently encounter, use and discard with rarely a second thought, such as aluminum cans, cleaning sponges, construction debris, corsage pins, masking tape, office supplies and wrapping paper.


The exhibition opened in late January and continues through April 6 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida. Organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Ala., in collaboration with MOCA, “Material Transformations” becomes much larger in the MOCA space. Curator Ben Thompson has worked with the exhibition artists to add several new pieces — some never before displayed.


“Material Transformations” is sponsored by Harbinger/Florida Mining Gallery. Agility Press, Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, the city of Jacksonville, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and WJCT Public Broadcasting are contributing sponsors.


There are a number of related programs associated with the exhibition:


“Waste Land,” 7 p.m. Feb. 20: “Waste Land” is a documentary film featuring renowned contemporary artist Vik Muniz who is best known for creating original and reimagining historical works of art with unusual materials such as chocolate syrup, peanut butter and jelly. The film tracks the development of a 2008 series of monumental photographic portraits made from trash. Entitled “Pictures of Garbage,” this series was created by Muniz in collaboration with the garbage pickers — or catadores — of Jardim Gramacho, a 321-acre, open-air dump just outside Rio de Janeiro that is one of the largest landfills in Latin America. Through the process, this documentary captures both the dignity and despair of an essentially discarded group of people as they begin to re-imagine their lives.


“Material Alterations,” 5–9 p.m. March 5: This winter, MOCA is hosting a community response project in conjunction with “Material Transformations” and Jacksonville Fashion Week (March 26-29). Student groups from local middle schools, high schools and colleges are invited to design and create original fashion designs made out of found and recycled materials. Winners will be selected from each age group by a jury of fashion industry experts; then the public will vote for their favorite through social media in February. The selected works will be featured at MOCA during the March Art Walk.


Featured Artist Alison Foshee, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 29: During the past 15 years, “Material Transformations” featured artist Alison Foshee has been “exploring the artistic potential of everyday stuff.” This spring MOCA is proud to offer a one-day workshop for adults with this innovative mixed media artist from Portland. Self-defined as “craft sciences,” Foshee’s work takes patience integral to craft, insight found in the most conceptual art and beauty that is truly universal. Foshee make thumbtacks and pushpins explode into extravagant floral arrangements, staples trace the jagged contour of a leaf and office labels spin out in hot, firecracker explosions. Sign up for a unique opportunity to work with the artist as she shares her process and inspires you to create your own original piece of art. Tickets are $15 for MOCA members and $20 for guests. Register in advance at or call (904)366-6911, ext. 214.


Feb. 20, 2014

UNF celebrity Sgt. QuackersFeb. 20, 2014. This day will be one for the history books at the University of North Florida. You'll want to be there when it happens. 

Be in the Boathouse prior to the men’s basketball game for a special announcement that will impact the University and the community for years to come. Join us for the announcement, and be a part of history being made. Swoop! 

For more information, contact DeeAnne Crookham, director of Campus Life, at (904) 620-5742, or visit the UNF Traditions Project.

Get to Know

Radha Pyati

Radha PyatiDepartment: Chemistry

Job title: Associate professor and chair

What do you do? I teach chemistry, conduct research with my students and lead the department.

Years at UNF: 5

What is your favorite thing about working at UNF? I work with a lot of really good people who go out of their way to make the best possible experience for UNF students. They inspire me.

Describe your favorite UNF-related memory? At the start of every semester, some new research students join my lab. Their enthusiasm is the memory I relive in my mind.

If you won the lottery, what would do with the money? Pay off our house, buy an apartment in Paris and set up a foundation to connect environmental science with social justice.

If you were asked to paint a picture about anything you wanted, what would you paint? Pikes Peak. I don’t miss the cold weather in Colorado, but I miss looking at the Peak every day. It was like the face of a friend.

What is the best thing you ever won? Two tickets to see the Police at a sold-out concert in Cincinnati just before my 15th birthday.

Who is your favorite fictional character? What makes them your favorite? Either Jane Eyre or David Copperfield. The novel, “Jane Eyre,” was so many things — a mystery, a romance, an adventure. And David Copperfield seemed like a great friend.

Is there a piece of technology that you just couldn’t live without? My cell phone — it’s a love-hate relationship, but I depend on it.

Tell us about your family. I am married to my best friend, and we have two precious daughters, ages 7 and 1.

If you could choose any other career, what would it be and why? I would be either a director of a science museum or an elementary school teacher.

What would you like to do when you retire? Walk on the beach and read mystery novels.

If you were not working at UNF, what would you be doing? Probably still teaching chemistry in Colorado Springs, where I was before coming to UNF.

What band(s)/musician(s) would perform the soundtrack to your life? The Beatles. My husband and I had our wedding dance to “Something,” and both “Julia” and “I Will” are lullabies for our girls.

What is your favorite way to blow an hour? Reading a book and eating chocolate. What was the best money you ever spent? My first house. I was proud of every inch of that place. It was hard to sell it.

What is the proudest/happiest moment of your life? Marrying my husband and bringing our girls into our lives.

Tell us something that would surprise people to know about you: I am reasonably good at salsa dancing.

What was the first concert you ever attended, and what was the most recent concert you attended? The first was the Police, and the most recent was Ben Folds.

What person had the greatest impact on your life? Some combination of my parents, my sister, my husband, my children and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What are you most passionate about? Setting my kids on a path to have the best lives possible.

Who is the most famous person you ever met? Lady Bird Johnson.

Tell us something about you that even your friends don’t know: Sometimes, I am still the college girl I once was — when everything is interesting and there is so much to learn. I guess it’s good that I work with college students. Plus, I still drink Rolling Rock from the bottle.

What do you hope to accomplish that you have not done yet? Make time to start running again and get down to an 8-minute mile.

Last book read: “Devil in the Grove,” by Gilbert King. It is a story of a civil rights case in Central Florida and of Thurgood Marshall’s early career.

Faculty and Staff

august faculty staffBrooks College of Health


Public Health: Drs. Elissa Barr, Michele Moore, Tammie Johnson and Jamie Forrest, along with Melissa Jordan, published a research article titled “New Evidence: Data Documenting Parental Support for Earlier Sexuality Education” in the Journal of School Health.


College of Computing, Engineering & Construction


Computing: Drs. Zornitza Prodanoff and Kenneth Martin presented their paper “Performance of BFSA Collision Resolution: RFID Including Non-Unique Tag IDs” at the ninth International Conference on Telecommunications and Networking in December.


Dr. Sanjay Ahuja had the paper “A Survey of Cloud Computing and Social Networks” published in the Journal of Network and Communication Technologies in December. Ahuja also had the paper “Empirical Performance Analysis of HPC Benchmarks Across Variations of Cloud Computing,” published in the International Journal of Cloud Applications and Computing.


Dr. Ching-Hua Chuan presented her paper “A Multimodal Approach to Song-Level Style Identification in Pop/Rock Using Similarity Metrics” at the 12th International Conference on Machine Learning and Applications in December in Miami. Additionally, Chuan and presented the paper “Predicting Key Recognition Difficulty in Polyphonic Audio” in the IEEE International Symposium on Multimedia in December in Anaheim, Calif.


Construction Management: Drs. Roberto Soares and Zornitza Prodanoff had their paper “RFID in the Construction of Single Family Dwellings” published in the International Journal of Engineering and Technology in December.


Engineering: Dr. Adel ElSafty gave a presentation to ICRI members at San Jose Country club on Basalt FRP testing and applications.


College of Education and Human Services


Leadership, School Counseling and Sport Management: UNF’s School Counseling Program was well represented at the Florida School Counselor Association’s annual Convention in November in St. Petersburg. Dr. Rebecca A. Schumacher, president of FSCA, presided over the convention. Graduate students, Laura Ache and Lindsey Taylor participated in a panel session titled, “Graduate Students: Strategies for Job Searching and Beginning New Positions.” The panel was comprised of school counselors, district level administrators and department heads from across the state. Additionally, SOAR students presented poster sessions. Overall, 12 UNF students attended the convention.


Dr. Terry Cavanaugh worked with the Duval County Reading Council and provided a presentation to them on “E-books: think And, not OR.” Cavanaugh also presented at the American Association of School Librarians in Hartford, Conn. on the topic of “Bookmapping: Melding Literature, Reading and Interactive Maps.” Also, Dr. Luke Cornelius and Cavanaugh, published an opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Distance Learning, Distant Courtrooms” on the possible impact of jurisdictional issues with lawsuits about distance learning classes.


Dr. Jason Lee had an article published in the December issue of the International Journal of Sport Communication titled “Industry Interviews: Interview With Dan Edwards, Senior Vice President, Communications, Jacksonville Jaguars.”


Childhood Education, Literacy and TESOL: Drs. John Ronghua Ouyang and Nile Stanley have an article, “Theories and Research in Educational Technology and Distance Learning Instruction through Blackboard” published in the Universal Journal of Educational Research.


Dr. Katie Monnin presented at the National Council of Teachers of English in Boston, Mass. in late November. She moderated a panel titled “Bad Girls’ in Children’s and Young Adult Literature,” which included Jane Yolen, Burleigh Muten and Heidi Stemple.  

Dr. Nile Stanley published a research article, “Storytelling in Teaching Chinese as a Second/Foreign Language,” in Linguistics and Literature Studies.


Drs. Lunetta Williams, Katrina Hall, Wanda Hedrick and Marcia Lamkin, along with UNF graduate Jennifer Abendroth, recently published an article in the Journal of Language and Literacy Education.



Office of the Dean: Dr. Larry Daniel was elected as an at-large member of the Board of Directors for the Mid-South Educational Research Association at its annual meeting in November. The term of office is for two years beginning January 2014.   


  dateline_anniversaryMilestone anniversaries

Congratulations to the following employees who will celebrate a milestone anniversary at UNF in February:


25 years

Sandra Bernreuter, Office Manager, Physics


15 years

Timothy Robinson, Director, International Center

10 years

Marice Hague, Assistant Director, Small Business Development Center

Gloria Cobb, Senior Custodial Worker, Physical Facilities


Five years

Mark Falbo, Director, Center for Community-Based Learning

Betteanne Visnovsky, Senior Registered Nurse, Student Health Services

Andrew Sullivan, Program Assistant, Disability Resource Center

William Delaney, Coordinator, Student Affairs

Charlie Hill, Custodial Supervisor, Physical Facilities

David MacKinnon, Instructor, English

Jeremy Duckworth, Help Desk Manager, User Services 

William “Lee” Moon, Athletics Director, Intercollegiate Athletics



The following employees were either hired by UNF or were promoted from OPS positions recently:


Shawn Asmuth, Associate Director, Purchasing

Eric Fontaine, Accountant, Auxiliary Services

Larry Gartrell, Custodial Worker, Custodial Services 

Shelby Huber, Academic Support Services Coordinator, Coggin College of Business

Charnese Parker, Administrative Secretary, Coggin College of Business

Frank Watkins, Assistant Professor, Music


Great job

The following employees were promoted recently:


William Carle, Senior Applications System Analyst, Enterprise Systems

Karen Folco, Office Manager, Management

Jeffrey Michelman, Professor/Associate Dean, Honors Program



Heartfelt well wishes in their new endeavors for the following employees, who left UNF recently:


Faith Hall, Director, Alumni Services

Marion Kreisel, Instructor, Nursing

Donald Moores, Professor, Exceptional, Deaf, and Interpreter Education

Justina Wilcox, Senior Lecturer, Biology

Stephen Keels, Accountant, Controller

Ethel Dennis, Senior Custodial Supervisor, Physical Facilities

Carol Murray, Administrative Secretary, Brooks College of Health

Mary Payne, Office Manager, Management

The Goods


feb coconutThe Goods: Coconut


We know coconut tastes good, but will this tropical drupe — the technical term for a fleshy fruit — also help you lose weight and improve your health? Jackie Shank, undergraduate program director in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program at the University of North Florida, sheds some light on coconut. A recipe has been included to help add some coconut to your diet.


Myth: Coconuts are the largest nuts found in nature.

Truth: If they were nuts, they wouldn’t be the largest. Coconuts are actually the fruit of Cocos Nucifera, a tropical palm tree. Specifically, they’re a type of fruit called a drupe, which puts a coconut in the same category as a peach, mango or apricot. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration added coconut to its list of tree nuts to be avoided by those with food allergies, causing a bit of confusion since coconuts aren’t nuts, botanically speaking. Allergic reactions to coconut are uncommon.


Myth: Coconut milk is a good substitute for people who can’t tolerate cow’s milk.

Truth:  Coconut milk is very different from cow’s milk. It’s made by pouring boiling water over shredded coconut and straining the white, creamy liquid. It’s typically purchased canned and has a long shelf life because of the high amount of saturated fat, which is slow to turn rancid. Coconut milk is most often consumed as an ingredient in recipes, such as breakfast smoothies, velvety sauces, soups and curries, lending a unique flavor and texture. Nutritionally, coconut milk has much more saturated fat and calories than whole milk (36 grams saturated fat, 372 calories per cup of coconut milk; 5 grams saturated fat, 150 calories per cup of whole milk) and lacks the protein, calcium and vitamin D that cow’s milk provides. You can purchase light coconut milk to cut the calories and fat in half. If you’re looking for an alternative to cow’s milk, try fortified soy, almond or rice milk.


Myth: Coconut water will improve your health.

Truth: Coconut water is the slightly opaque liquid contained within a fresh coconut. There’s nothing special about coconut water other than the high price you’ll pay for 620 milligrams of potassium. Most of the other nutrients listed on the label — for instance, vitamin C — aren’t there naturally but are added by the processor. To tell the difference, look at the list of ingredients. If a nutrient is shown on the ingredient list, it’s added during processing. That’s OK, but drink coconut water for what it is — a tasty, refreshing beverage — and not a ticket to vibrant health. 

Myth: Coconut oil will help you lose weight.

Truth: There are myriad factors that determine whether a person loses, gains or maintains their weight. It’s true that coconut oil contains medium-length fatty acids that are processed in the body via a more direct route compared to the long-length fatty acids abundant in commonly used cooking oils. But when it comes to weight balance, what’s most important is the total amount of fat and other energy nutrients (carbohydrates and proteins consumed and the activity level. Most Americans are either overweight or obese because they’re eating more calories than they need, and they’re not moving their bodies enough to make a difference. To believe that coconut oil will help that situation is misguided. That said if used in small amounts, coconut oil is a wonderful addition to your kitchen. It’s usually solid at room temperature because it contains so much saturated fat. That’s why it can often be substituted for butter or shortening in recipes with good results. Some people prefer the less processed virgin coconut oil over the refined product, but be aware that the refined version has a higher smoke point, so it can withstand more direct heat when cooking. Whether you choose virgin or refined coconut oil, regularly consuming either may increase blood cholesterol levels in susceptible people.

Myth: Shredded coconut is too high in sugar to be used in cooking or baking.  

Truth: Coconut is naturally very low in sugar, but the kind most readily available in grocery stores has been sweetened during processing. It contains about five teaspoons of sugar per one-half cup of coconut flakes. You can find unsweetened coconut flakes at a natural food market. Add a dash of vanilla extract to enhance the flavor.

Coconut Vegetable Curry

Cooking spray

1 tablespoon canola oil 
1 12 ounce package extra firm water-packed tofu
1 small onion, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 small red bell pepper, cubed
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cup carrot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup whole sugar snap peas

Coconut-Curry Sauce:
1/2 cup lite coconut milk
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar 
2 teaspoons cornstarch


1. Drain the tofu, pat dry and cut in cubes. Spray a skillet with cooking spray and sauté the tofu in one-half tablespoon oil until brown. Set aside.


2. Steam the broccoli, carrots and sugar snap peas for several minutes until tender-crisp.

3. Spray a wok or wide skillet with cooking spray and apply high heat. Add one-half tablespoon oil, and then add the onions and bell pepper. Stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir 3 to 4 minutes. Add the steamed vegetables and tofu. Toss to mix.

4. In a small bowl, combine the coconut milk, soy sauce, curry powder, brown sugar and vinegar.


5. Add the sauce to the pan with veggies. Bring to a simmer, tossing to combine.

6. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1and one-half tablespoons of water and add to pan. Stir until the sauce turns glossy, about 10 seconds.

7. If desired, serve with rice, noodles or a warm loaf of bread.


Nutritional Analysis per serving:

Calories: 532, Total fat: 27 grams, Saturated fat: 8 grams, Cholesterol: 0 grams, Protein: 33 grams, Carbohydrates: 40 grams.

This recipe was adapted from PF Chang’s Coconut Curry Vegetables.


The Goods is a monthly column about food myths and facts by faculty members in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program and runs monthly in The Florida Times-Union’s “Taste” section. Have a question about coconuts? Contact Jackie Shank at


Healthy Osprey

 Health: Have a good primary care provider          feb healthy

Think of your primary care provider as your trusted go-to health adviser. A wise patient understands that having an ongoing relationship with one coordinator for all services of health care is a huge help. Your primary care provider looks at the big picture of your overall care including health promotion, health maintenance, counseling, assessing the urgency of medical problems and making referrals to specialists when necessary. They’re always there to treat temporary ailments, but a proactive approach in which they work to help keep you healthy and catch health issues before they become serious is even more important. Annual exams are a necessary tool for checking everything from your blood pressure and cholesterol to cancer and diabetes screenings. This is also a good time to discuss any changes in your health so your doctor can help you adjust. Live a healthier and happier life through preventive care with the help of a dedicated primary care provider.


Fitness: The CrossFit craze

CrossFit is a high-intensity workout that is the main strength-conditioning program for many police academies, military specialties and other elite athlete organizations. This style of “training for the unknown and unknowable” should appeal to anyone who is looking to become healthier, regardless of age or fitness level.


Here are a few reasons CrossFit might work for you:


It’s fun and varied. Workouts are called WODs, or workouts of the day. They are constantly changing so you never really repeat the same boring exercises.


You get fit faster. Interval training (higher efforts combined with active rest) is more effective than low or moderate-intensity exercises.


It helps build confidence. You’ll gain strength that allows you to do things you never thought you could and create a beautiful lean physique.


It’s a welcoming fitness environment. CrossFitters are much about Community — they support each other and will help you reach your personal goals.


So if a one-dimensional approach to fitness isn’t exciting, and you want to be in shape for all sorts of physical activities, then CrossFit may be the diverse answer to your fitness needs. Check out the Student Wellness Center for information about group CrossFit-style classes offered by the Center’s trainers.

Healthy Osprey is designed to provide solid advice on how to become healthier at work and at home. Shelly Purser, director of Health Promotion, writes a different article each month that focuses on some aspect of health and wellness. Healthy Osprey is a collaboration of students, faculty and staff working together to foster a University community that embraces the development of a healthy body, mind and spirit. The purpose of the Healthy Osprey initiative is to assess and respond to the needs of the UNF community to create and maintain a healthy environment, which will enhance the holistic student experience. For more information, or for any questions you might have, contact Shelly Purser at