Talking Points

Garden Party

Hard-core Chicago fan Michael Kaplan always imagined he’d spend his college years in his beloved Chi-town, rooting for the Cubs. But in the next frame of “Michael Kaplan, the Movie,” our young protagonist—resplendent in orange and green—is cheering the Hurricanes to victory. Whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, or volleyball, this Orlando native’s soul lives in ’Cane country.

Why the radical change in heart, not to mention latitude? Kaplan, a history and political science major, says he chose the University of Miami for several exciting extras—chief among them access to the prestigious Foote Fellows Program, which exempts a select group of high-performing freshmen from general-education requirements, enabling them to dive right into a smorgasbord of diverse learning opportunities.

“UM said, you can take your education and make it your own,” the 19-year-old explains over a green tea snatched between classes. Arriving in fall 2008, Kaplan, “Kappy” to friends, joined Model UN and Hillel, became active in student government, volunteered to run the scoreboard at volleyball games, and took courses in everything from philosophy to theater to sports marketing.

One freshman seminar in particular, Books That Matter, had a profound effect. Designed for the Foote Fellows and co-taught by William Scott Green, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and John Paul Russo, professor of English and Classics, the course revolves around critical readings of nonfiction books, with invited faculty discussing a title of personal significance. “Part of the purpose,” says Green, “is to give students exposure to the intellectual breadth of the University of Miami.”

That heady intellectual mix inspired Kaplan to take the concept campus-wide. The next semester he launched ULecture, inviting members of the faculty and administration to address a subject dear to them. With more than 25 successful lectures to date—including one on health care by President Donna E. Shalala—Kaplan is eyeing a successor to run the series after his 2012 graduation.

“It’s unusual for a student to start a lecture series of faculty in a formal evening,” Russo says. “I’ve not seen it before at the University. That is pretty impressive and a welcome perspective.”

When not promoting his next ULecture event, Kaplan, the 2009-10 Student Government Senator of the Year, is busy triple-minoring in theater, sport administration, and business law; leading campus tours for prospective students; honing his comedy chops with UM’s Just Kidding improv group; and, of course, supporting the home team.

Chicago can wait. These days, second-row seats to watch UM basketball beat Wake Forest by 27 points will do just fine.

—Catharine Skipp, A.B. ’79