There’s more than one kind of goal in football, especially for participants in a customized program for children with autism, co-organized and hosted by NYU Abu Dhabi. For the kids, volunteers, and parents alike, having fun was the biggest goal of all.
“Parents of children with special needs are always seeking extra-curricular activities and increased opportunities for social integration for their children,” said Suparna Mathur, assistant director, NYUAD Community Outreach. “This partnership between Community Outreach, NYUAD Athletics, and GOALS UAE—a non-profit that organizes activities for children with autism—provides such an opportunity. And it has been very well received.”
Sixteen NYUAD student volunteers—affectionately known as ‘buddy mentors’—were each paired with a child on the autism spectrum to lead a series of activities designed to improve the child’s football skills and coordination. Volunteer buddies also helped keep children on task and develop social skills. Guided by autism professionals and experienced athletes, practice sessions were held Sunday evenings for six weeks at NYUAD’s brand new football pitch on Saadiyat Island.
Volunteers Gloria Jensen and Wesley Huang (NYUAD ’18) agreed; seeing those smiles every week made it all worthwhile. “It helped with my own understanding of what it means to be part of a community,” said Jensen. “I think we were able to create some valuable memories.”
Huang added, “Even if I am having a rough day, teaching soccer to children instills a joy that I cannot truly describe.”
For many parents of children touched by autism, seeing their child play sports or make meaningful connections with other people can be a remarkably emotional experience. While children with autism are often bright and outgoing, they may struggle with communication, social interaction, and physical coordination.
Goals UAE Founder Khawla Barley said, “One mother even teared up when her son came off the field and looked her in the eyes for the first time.”
The program will continue at NYUAD in April, along with other autism education initiatives to mark Autism Awareness Month.
On Thursday, 26 March, NYU Shanghai will host a Colloquium in Neuroeonomics featuring Kenji Doya of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. Professor Doya will discuss the control of patience and serotonin.
This colloquium is one of the monthly Shanghai Colloquium Series. It aims to promote interdisciplinary discussion among many scholars in Shanghai who study Decision Making. The cooperative brings together scholars from all of the Shanghai Universities and Institutes on a regular basis, and holds monthly colloquium in Neuroeconomics at NYU Shanghai’s campus in Pudong. The monthly colloquium also brings internationally recognized speakers from Asia, Europe and the Americas to Shanghai. Each colloquium is followed by a Q&A session as well as an informal reception.
A Love Letter to La Pietra Dialogues
La Pietra Dialogues always works hard to provide students with relevant and exciting educational programs. But last week, the good people of LPD outdid themselves with a sponsored field trip to Brussels and Luxembourg. A month ago, I joined the European Union Working Group Series, one of the many programs LPD has to offer, and began to learn about the intricacies of the supranational political system uniting Europe. But last week, I was able to truly experience the work of the EU as my peers and I traveled from Florence to Brussels to Luxembourg, touring and participating in several EU institutions.
Bright and (exceptionally) early, the working group met in the Florence airport, eager to finally embark on the anticipated field trip. Once we arrived in Brussels and quickly made friends with our peers from NYU Berlin, we promptly began to summarize what we had learned in our respective working groups up until that point. My peers and I were able to name the five main institutions of tThe European Union (the European Commission, the Council of the EU, the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Court of Justice) and their main functions. Not only did this program teach us the complicated framework of this system before the trip, but we were able to intelligently discuss the research we acquired as we focused on the EU’s ever-evolving policies on immigration and data protection as soon as we touched down in Brussels. I was impressed with how much we were all able to learn in such a short time through this La Pietra Dialogues program and I felt prepared to put this knowledge to practice.
The next three days in the bustling city of Brussels and the charming little country of Luxembourg went by all too quickly. As we went from esteemed institutions, The United States Mission to the European Union and the grand buildings of tThe European Commission and the EU Council, to some of the most interesting museums and visiting centers in Europe, the Parlamentarium and the Bozar Art Museum, I learned and learned. Not only did those interested in pursuing a career in politics, gain a valuable international perspective with which to supplement their studies. But with every place we visited, I learned something new about the greater political and cultural context of my temporary home in Europe. Not only did participating in a Parliamentary role play expand my understanding of the European Union law-making processes, but visiting two of the most engaging modern art museums in Luxembourg gave me a greater grasp of the contemporary culture throughout Europe.
So this is my thank you note to all of the folks at La Pietra Dialogues. Thank you for taking us to every major institution of the European Union, ensuring our comprehensive understanding of the overarching political context of our current home in Florence. Thank you for making time to visit the museums of Brussels and Luxembourg, ensuring our knowledge and appreciation of European modern art. And (a big) thank you for taking us all to such fantastic restaurants. Thank you, LPD, for once again putting students first and giving the EU working group a trip of a lifetime.
The Bronfman Center recently opened the Global Center for Jewish Life. What is the Center and where is it? Why was it created?
The goal of the Global Center is to create the infrastructure for Jewish students studying abroad to have access to opportunities for Jewish engagement and connection with local communities. Although thousands of American Jewish students study abroad every semester in ever increasing numbers, there is still no coherent program or curriculum to bind them to the local Jewish communities at their study abroad sites. This project demonstrates to NYU’s Global Network University how Jewish global connections can powerfully enhance its students’ experiences all over the world. There isn’t a building or one set location for the Global Center. Rather, I work and travel between all of our European sites to help tailor the NYU Jewish student experience to each location. I often refer to myself as the ‘traveling Bronfman Center!’
What are the primary goals for the Center in its first year? What is your role and how are you planning to achieve those goals?
Right now a good deal of my job is reconnaissance. I work to build connections and networks, market the program, and learn about each European city where NYU has a campus. When I touch down in a new locale, I meet with NYU administrators to talk about the program; students to gain an insight into how they’ve experienced Jewish life abroad and what they might be looking for; and I work to find everything Jewish happening in that city. The resources I gather are used both to connect the students I meet with the religious, cultural, or communal opportunities they might be looking for, and to bolster the resources we’re able to offer the study abroad sites and students who are thinking about study abroad in the coming years.
As I understand it, you hope to educate students not only about global citizenship generally, but about a uniquely Jewish global citizenship. How will you do that?
The deeper goal behind this project is to foster a sense of Jewish peoplehood. We want students to see that there are indeed vibrant Jewish communities all over the world, not just in America and Israel. We also want them to learn that Judaism across Europe often looks very different than anything they could have imagined back home. But despite the differences and distance, as Jews we are all part of a global people, and strengthening those bonds helps us to share our culture with one another, preserve traditions, and stand together both in moments of celebration and mourning. When a Jewish student eats a Shabbat meal with a Jewish family in Paris, spends a holiday in the Great Synagogue of Florence, or talks about life over a beer with a German Jewish student in Berlin, they are building those connections. Instead of simply consuming European culture as they hop from city to city on weekends, they are becoming enmeshed in it. When language is a barrier, often they can turn to Hebrew. When the world is overwhelmed by ugliness and anti-Semitism, they can serve as allies. We are creating opportunities for students to build networks and friendships based on a shared history and commitment to their heritage, all the while learning more about the world around them. This not only enhances their study away experience and personal development, but they are then also able to bring these components back to the New York campuses and to the Bronfman Center.
Can you give us some examples of the kinds of activities and programs the Center organizes? What activities do you have planned for this term?
We’ve coordinated Shabbat meals, holiday celebrations with the local communities, walking tours and theatre trips. Recently we coordinated a fantastic teleconference between NYU Washington Square, NYU DC, and NYU Paris entitled, “Global Advocacy: Addressing Modern Antisemitism,” which can now be watched online. Here is the link: http://www.nyu.edu/global/global-academic-centers/washington-dc/nyu-washington–dc-events/global-advocacy–addressing-modern-antisemitism.html#doubleBox_nyuimage_1
Last week five students from New York came to Paris over their spring break to show solidarity with the French community in light of the escalating antisemitism, and to learn more about French Jewry. We visited the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme; the Hyper Cacher, site of the fatal attack in January; local Jewish student organizations, the CRIF (French federation), and more. We also spent a day in Brussels where we met with the European Union of Jewish Students, the Community Center for Secular Judaism, the Belgian Jewish Museum, and the European Parliament. The students walked away with a stronger understanding of what it means to serve as an ally to a strong but worried community, and with a commitment to continuing and building upon the connections that they made, each with personal projects.
You are spending this term traveling among NYU’s European sites. How do you identify opportunities for local engagement at each site? Can you share what you have found most rewarding thus far? Most challenging? Has anything been surprising?
Google is a fairly magical tool, I must say. But on top of hours of simply researching online, I put in the legwork. I walk the city, I show up and introduce myself. I leverage my connections for introductions into the Jewish community, and one introduction becomes five, which then become 20, and soon I have a fairly comprehensive picture of resources on the ground. In smaller cities, that means knowing all of the communities and communal leaders. In larger ones it means finding the local Jewish student groups, a variety of communal leaders, and the lists of synagogues and kosher restaurants. Most rewarding has been seeing students’ faces light up when I tell them that there is a synagogue around the corner, or a holiday event, or that there is a vibrant community waiting for them to return in New York. Most challenging has been dealing with some of the community politics, natural as they are. There’s an old saying that if you have three Jews in a room you have four opinions… The most surprising thing to learn was how difficult it can be for students to find these resources on their own, and even once found, to step far out of their American NYU bubble and join a new community. The Global Center and I are building the bridges to make those first steps that much easier.
Do you have plans to visit other NYU sites?
Aside from the European sites, I’ll be visiting NYU Tel Aviv in May to run a 5-day seminar at the end of the semester entitled, “Issues in Contemporary Israeli Society.” I traveled to Copenhagen following the attack on the synagogue in February to show solidarity with the community. I’ll also head briefly to Warsaw in April to visit the Museum of the History of Jews in Poland, curated by NYU’s own Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, to learn more about the seat of Ashkenazi culture, and see how we might partner in the future.
I understand that you are an NYU alum. When did you graduate and what did you study? Did you study abroad while at NYU? If so, where and how did that inform your NYU experience and how does it influence your approach in this role?
I graduated in May 2013 from Steinhardt with a B.S. in Media, Culture, and Communication. I actually didn’t study abroad because I couldn’t imagine being away from all that was happening on the square for a full semester. Instead I found my own ways to travel. I studied in Israel the year before I started NYU, and spent my spring breaks and summers backpacking, visiting friends, and attending conferences in Prague, Abu Dhabi, Ghana, and Nepal, to name a few. I knew that I wanted the experience of living abroad, out of my comfort zone, and becoming a part of a community, so after graduating I spent a year teaching English in Samut Sakhon, Thailand. I have learned what it means to be Jewish and to sometimes struggle with my Judaism and my observance in places where many people have never even heard of a Jew. I found those struggles forced me to define what kind of a life and community and commitment I wanted for myself. The role I’m playing now, helping others find their own definitions, was a natural next step.
How can current students reach out to and connect with the Global Center for Jewish Life?
There are so many ways! They can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and reach out via email to Bronfman.firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to subscribe to our listserv!
The photos are of Chelsea and the students from last week’s Paris trip (at the Eiffel Tower, above) and from a Purim holiday celebration in Florence (directly above).
On March 18 – 19, NYU Tel Aviv will host a symposium entitled Individuality and Cooperation: Cells, Organisms and Populations.
The symposium will open Wednesday evening, March 18, with a public lecture by Dr. Yaron Daniely, the Academic Director of the MBA program with focus on biomedical management at the College of Management in Rishon le-Zion in Israel. Daniely is also CEO of Alcobra Pharma and Ph.D. graduate of the NYU Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. His talk, entitled Biomedical Entrepreneurship and Innovations in Israel, will highlight recent achievements in this Israeli industry and will be accessible to the general public.
On Thursday, March 19, the symposium will continue with an all-day program of scientific talks by speakers from NYU, Tel Aviv University and other Israeli institutions. The symposium will highlight cutting-edge experimental and theoretical approaches linking population-level phenomena with traits of individual cells and organisms.
Traditionally studying away has been an opportunity unavailable to the STEM students seeking to meet their degree requirements on time. With course offerings in biology, chemistry, and physics, NYU Tel Aviv proudly represents the ever increasing opportunities within NYU’s global network for STEM students to expand their cultural awareness abroad while earning credits towards their major.
On 17 March, NYU Prague will host NYU Professor Mark Galeotti for a talk on current affairs related to Russia and the Ukraine crisis. The premise for the talk is that the crisis in Ukraine is as much as anything else a crisis in relations between Moscow and the West. Professor Galeotti will consider what brought us to this place and how this “hot peace” will develop. This event is open to the public and members of the community will also attend.
Mark Galeotti is Professor of Global Affairs at New York University and an expert on modern Russian politics and security. He has worked for the British Foreign Office, consulted for the US State Department, NATO and other government agencies, and been a visiting professor in Moscow at MGIMO, the Russian foreign ministry’s university. He has published widely, with 15 authored and edited books to his name–his most recent, a study of the Russian Spetsnaz special forces, comes out in June–as well as numerous articles in the academic, professional and popular press.He studied history at Cambridge University and took his doctorate in Russian politics at the LSE and now lives in New York.
Today NYU London will host Dr. Hayden Parry for a conversation examining how genetic engineering can combat disease-carrying mosquitos. This event is organized in partnership with SCI’s London group.
The mosquito is the world’s most dangerous animal, accounting for hundreds of millions of malaria and dengue cases each year. In the global war against the mosquito it is the mosquito that is winning as trends such as globalisation and urbanisation provide transportation and environments that exacerbate the threat of mosquito borne diseases.
In his talk, Dr. Parry will argue that current tools have proved unsuccessful in combating this threat and that new approaches are desperately needed. His solution is that genetic engineering provides an answer by allowing the use of genetically ‘sterile’ mosquitoes that are released into an urban environment to reduce rapidly the disease carrying species. In presenting such a solution Dr. Parry argues that proponents must address the perceptions around GM technology with clear communication and transparency.
Hadyn Parry is the Chief Executive of Oxitec, an Oxfordshire based company pioneering the control of insects that spread disease and damage crops. Dr. Parry has an extensive background in the Life Science sector. During his career at ICI Crop Protection/Zeneca/Syngenta he held various positions helping to develop solutions for farmers and public health authorities. Hadyn has been involved in the development of GM crops through his position as General Manager of Zeneca Plant Sciences and as European Business Director and Global Head of R&D for Advanta, one of the world’s largest seed companies. More recently he has worked as an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical sector developing new therapeutics. Hadyn was also Chairman of Help for Heroes, a UK charity founded in 2007 to support wounded British soldiers from its foundation up to 2013.
On 10 March, the NYU Berlin community will consider the war in Syria and how it involves multiple conflicts.
Syria has been in the news ever since the uprising against President Assad’s government in 2011 and since then deteriorated into a battlefield with multiple warring parties, in which regional and even global conflicts are fought out. The appearance of IS (Islamic State) on the scene brought a new dimension to the conflict and the media coverage. Yet while the global public has become used to reports of atrocities committed in Syria, it at the same rate appears to lose the overview and understanding of the multiple conflicts.
For this lunchtime seminar Dr. Carsten Wieland, a diplomat with the German Foreign Office, and formerly an academic and journalist, will provide a unique insight as somebody who is closely involved in the United Nation’s attempts to bring the conflict to an end. In 2014, Wieland was political advisor to the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the Arab League for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and followed the Syria negotiations in Geneva. As an academic, Wieland has published widely on Syria’s recent history.
The fifth annual Conference on Genomics and Systems Biology at NYU Abu Dhabi brought together scientists working at the forefront of this rapidly progressing field and featured over 30 talks by researchers from NYU New York, NYUAD, and many other universities. The three-day event held February 17-19 was capped by a public lecture from Randy Schekman, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for his work on the way cells secrete proteins.
For a field that was “in its infancy 10 years ago,” genomics and systems biology has come a long way, and many of the advances have been made possible by new technologies, said Justin Blau, program head of NYUAD Biology.
“One of the biggest changes is the advent of next generation sequencing,” Blau said. “This is making it possible to sequence the genome of pretty much any species and also to generate information about gene expression profiles of single cells.” For example, using a fruit fly, researchers can compare the genes expressed in visual system neurons with those in motor neurons. This should help scientists determine how neurons can have such specialized and diverse functions.
Blau gave a talk at the conference on the circadian clock of fruit flies. Like humans, fruit flies can keep track of time and anticipate the predictable cycles of day and night using a dedicated set of “clock neurons.” Air travel across time zones throws off the human body clock leading to jetlag. And although the tiny fruit fly rarely takes international flights, its clock neurons are also affected by changes in time zone and day length.
Blau and his coworkers were able to isolate clock neurons from the fly brain and compare the genes that these neurons express at different times of day. In his talk he mentioned a gene at much higher levels at dusk than dawn; this particular gene is involved in changing the connections clock neurons make with other neurons, in this case downstream target neurons. This process seems to be key to flies changing the pattern of their daily activity between summer and winter.
But the goal of these studies was not to simply study how changes in day length affect the fly brain. “It also allows scientists to address fundamental questions in neurobiology — such as plasticity,” or the way the brain rewires itself in response to experiences, Blau said. He hopes that “the basic mechanisms we uncover for structural plasticity can help us understand plasticity in general.” His lab is also trying to understand why a hard-wired behavior like circadian rhythm displays so much plasticity.
Genomics and systems biology has also brought high resolution imaging and computational expertise to biology. “For our plasticity project, we want to know if the neurons take the same path each time they grow and retract, or whether they take a different path,” Blau said. “So we plan to watch these neurons grow and retract, but we will need some computational help to figure this out.”
On Thursday, March 12 an event held at NYU Washington, DC will take place simultaneously using video conferencing at NYU Paris and Washington Square. The event, Global Advocacy: Addressing Modern Antisemitism, will consider what can be done in response to recent events and rising antisemitism.
According to many, Antisemitism in Europe is believed to be the worst since the Nazi era. As the conflict between Israel and Palestine intensifies, so do incidents across Europe targeting Jewish communities. This discussion will focus on the many layers of antisemitism in Europe, taking into account a long history of religious discrimination, coupled with a newer and vehement attempt at suppression; xenophobia; secular nationalism; and the rise of Islamism. Panel experts will examine how these factors affect European Jewish communities, and consider how these nations ought to respond.
As the world endures events like those recently experienced in Paris and Copenhagen, there is a growing sense of urgency among Jews, and of mutual responsibility. The desire to act is strong, but how to do so while still respecting the integrity and unique character of these communities is the challenge.