First lady Dr. Felicia Knaul puts conversation in motion

Students share ideas for campus improvement with Dr. Felicia Knaul during her first Walk & Talk around Lake Osceola. Kawan Amelung // Contributing Photographer

A hurricane gear-clad Dr. Felicia Knaul led a group of about 12 students, faculty and administration members on her first Walk & Talk event of the year on Monday afternoon. The University of Miami’s first lady talked to students about their concerns and hopes for the university under Dr. Julio Frenk’s leadership while strolling around Lake Osceola.

Knaul’s idea for a discussion while moving developed out of her dislike for all-day sedentary work.

“I think better when I walk than when I sit,” she said. “I thought, ‘well, this is a chance.’”

Knaul’s friendly demeanor reflected Frenk’s plan to spend the first year delving into university life, getting familiar with students and the campus as a whole. This includes his plan of “100 days of listening” to start his time in office.

Jeff Farmer is a graduate student who was assisting Knaul. He joined the walk and offered to put students in contact with Dr.Knaul if they had further questions.

“We want to try to show that she’s accessible,” Farmer said.

Although only a handful of students took advantage of the opportunity, Farmer said Knaul has plans to make interactive sessions a regular occurrence, even featuring guest speakers.

“What we might do is have specific walkers who can talk about a particular topic,” Farmer said.

For about 15 minutes, which were only interrupted by a brief stop at the Band of the Hour rehearsal to say hello, Knaul spoke to senior Christine Castiglione about careers in global health.

“She’s been telling me about the World Health Organization and how I could work with Latin America and South America and what all the opportunities are and her opinion on it,” Castiglione said.

Knaul has worked in global health and policy for the majority of her career and intends to incorporate her experience to create connections with Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as among departments within the university.

She is now director of the Miami Institute for the Americas in the College of Arts and Sciences. According to Dr.Knaul, there will be a variety of lectures and symposia throughout the year to discuss issues plaguing the global community, with an emphasis on Latin America and the Caribbean.

One set of lectures will be what Knaul dubbed the “Women And” series. It will focus on women in different fields, from medicine and engineering to art, and how they face inequality.

“That will be a way for me to sort of engage with the different schools, but also to begin to ask questions about how are women not being recognized in these areas of work and why,” she said.

Mostly, Knaul said she wants to continue to interact with students so she can better cater to their needs, academic or otherwise, and make studying at UM a fulfilling experience.

“I’m meeting wonderful students. I’m thrilled about that,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting more involved and to finding out more about what all of you do.”

Correction 5:20 p.m., Sept. 3, 2015: The story originally stated that Jeff Farmer’s role was “program development and project manager of the Genetics Exercise and Research Study program at the Miller School of Medicine,” which is incorrect. Farmer was really a graduate student who was assisting Knaul.