A Spotlight on Artist Jenny Hager

At entrance of the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens stands one of sculptor Jenny Hager’s most ambitious projects: a steel, mosaic-style giraffe standing at a towering height of twenty feet- about a foot taller than the largest live giraffe on record. This impressive piece is just one example of how Hager’s public sculptures have added flair to the Jacksonville area and beyond.

While Hager has always had a passion for art, she didn’t find her interest in sculpture straight away. She started off as a painter throughout high school, and had originally planned to pursue painting as a career.

“I thought I was going to college to be a painter,” Hager said. “But I took my first sculpture class, and got hooked.”

Hager attended graduate school at California’s San Jose State University, after earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky. Now, as an associate professor of sculpture at the University of North Florida, she works hard to balance her academic career with her own artistic endeavors. Because of this, there is no such thing as a typical workday for Hager. She says she tries to start every day with a morning swim, but after that, her to-do list can vary wildly. Working in sculpture, she says, has its own unique set of challenges and obstacles. Creating the art is just one piece of the puzzle.

“The biggest challenge as a sculptor is always logistics,” Hager said. “Coordinating efforts to move things, coordinating efforts to install things with cranes, and all the materials and supplies.”

The steel giraffe, for instance, was transported to the zoo in two separate pieces in order to clear roadway signs and traffic lights. Hager needed to design the sculpture in a way that allowed the giraffe’s head to be removed at thirteen feet. Then, with the help of the zoo, she was able to use a low-lying trailer to make sure both pieces safely reached their destination, where they were put back together.

But Hager still appreciates these problem-solving opportunities that her career allows her. Each sculpture poses its own set of challenges, she says, which provides countless new experiences. Additionally, she enjoys helping her students work through their own obstacles, as well as preparing them to face challenges on their own after they graduate. For her students to understand the logistics side of the art world, she requires them to fill out their own orders for their sculpture materials. She also teaches a summer class dedicating to helping artists learn how to turn their passion into a viable career.

“I teach a class in the summer called The Business of Art,” Hager said. “We talk about how to write grants. We talk about how to source materials. We talk about how to do your taxes for artists, because you’re operating as a small business. We talk about how to market yourself. All of these things are really important to becoming a professional artist, and so I try to give those skills to my students too.”

Hager puts in tremendous effort to help her students secure their own place in the art world, but that effort isn’t just for the students themselves. Hager knows that artists provide a vital service to the community and, without public art, an area’s culture and individuality could not flourish.

“Public art is so important. I think it makes a place come alive, and I’ve seen cities where public art has transformed communities that were blighted into communities that have lots of action,” she said. “Art has proven over and over again to be able to do that, and a lot of neighborhoods in New York City fit that model. It creates culture in your community and, really, if there’s no art, what’s the point?”

Hager and her husband, Lance, who is also a sculptor and adjunct professor at the University of North Florida, were two of six artists who recently transformed Downtown Jacksonville with their work. Lance created bike racks based on the four elements- earth, wind, water, and fire- while Hager’s two sculptural benches were installed underneath the Jacksonville Skyway monorail.

In addition to creating her own pieces for the community, Hager has pursued a number of efforts to bring in work from other artists, including her own students. UNF’s Seaside Sculpture Park in Jacksonville Beach features a collection of sculptures created by Hager’s sculpture students. The sculptures overlook the seashore and are changed out every year so that all students have a chance at displaying their work before they even graduate. And for those who might be wondering how the sculptures fared through the recent Hurricane Irma, Hager says they are standing as strong as ever.

“They stood up well!” Hager said. “We were really happy. That was the first thing we checked after our house. And the ones downtown were okay too.”

Now, Hager is helping to organize a Sculpture Walk in Jacksonville’s historic neighborhood Springfield, which she describes as a “national call to artists” who will have a chance to showcase their art in the neighborhood for two years. She received several grants to help bring in work from all over the country, and looks forward to seeing how the new exhibit will enhance the area.

In addition to her local public art, Hager has also had her work showcased nationally, in New Orleans and York, Pennsylvania, as well as internationally in Wales, Latvia, and Italy. She also has served on several committees for both Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the Northeast Florida Sculptors Group.

Jenny Hager is not only an incredibly driven and influential artist in her own right, but she is also just as determined to lift up her fellow artists, and help provide platforms for those whose work she admires. Because working on such a large scale calls for multiple sets of hands, Hager says she feels that the sense of camaraderie in sculpture is like no other area of art, and that’s what draws her to it.

If there’s one thing Hager hopes for her students to take away from training with her,  it’s the importance and value of teamwork.

“I try to teach them to play well with others,” she said. “We foster an environment here where everyone helps each other out, so I hope that they take that and pay it forward. I hope they share their knowledge and their skills with other people after they graduate.”

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The “Nursing Shortage” and its Effect on Jacksonville

For the past several years, sources like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing have noted an increasing shortage in nurses in the United States. According to the AACN’s website, “the U.S. is projected to experience a shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) that is expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for health care grows.”

Any UNF nursing student knows how difficult it is to be admitted into the nursing program. UNF’s nursing program receives several hundred applications each semester, but there are only 40 slots available. While it is obviously important for nursing programs to have high standards, many would say that to combat the nursing shortage, schools should have less competitive nursing programs with more slots available.

The issue is that the nursing shortage also extends to nurse educators. In an AACN report on “2012-2013 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing”, around two-thirds of nursing schools surveyed cited insufficient number of educators as the main reason for turning away qualified applicants. The same study showed that U.S. nursing schools turned away almost 80,000 qualified applicants due to their inability to accomadate more students.

Jacksonville, however, has the advantage of being home to several accredited nursing schools, such as Jacksonville University’s and Florida State College of Jacksonville’s, in addition to UNF’s.

“Here in the Jacksonville area, we have a steady flow of brand new nurses coming out of school,” said Sandy Dupont, a critical care coordinator at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside.

Jacksonville’s main issue is the inability of many hospitals to keep experienced nurses working on the floor. After several years working in a fast-paced environment with up to several twelve-hour shifts per week, many nurses become burned out and seek more stable jobs

Jody Strauch, a clinical documentations specialist at St. Vincent’s Southside who used to work as a nurse in the hospital’s emergency room, said she eventually took an office job because it worked better with her lifestyle.

“Since nurse schedules are usually 12-hour shifts working three days a week, I wanted more normal hours that are more common with the general population, and easier to raise children,” Strauch said. “Also, I wanted weekends and holidays off, which you can’t be guaranteed to have in regular nursing.”

In addition, many experienced nurses chose to move to more widely desired areas of nursing, such as labor and delivery. This leaves a shortage of experienced nurses in other areas, such as the E.R. and I.C.U..

“You need to have a good mix out on the unit,” said Tina Debile, a clinical documentation specialist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. “New nurses need an experienced nurse to mentor them.”

Although nurse education jobs also have more stable hours, the shortage in nurse educators is primarily due to the low salary.

“The salary’s not necessarily what you could make at the hospital,” said Elizabeth Pope, a clinical documentations specialist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside and nurse educator. “So I think that deters a lot of nurses from going into the educational area.”

While residency programs that offer in-hospital training to new nurses can help better prepare them for the workplace, Debile, Pope and Dupont all agree that actual workplace is experience is by far the best way to improve.
In order to have enough nurse educators to accomodate the dire need for nurses across the country, Pope believes that ultimately the salaries will have to be raised.

Curly Fry Conundrum

Imagine what kinds of personal traits might be associated with high intelligence. Chances are, having a taste for curly fries didn’t come to mind. According to a University of Cambridge study, however, liking the “Curly Fries” page on Facebook is a trend among those with high IQs.

The study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed the Facebook likes of over 58,000 volunteers to see how they correlated with various traits among Facebook’s user base. These traits include age, intelligence, race, sexual orientation, political views, emotional stability, satisfaction with life, drug and alcohol use, and even whether or not the user’s parents had separated by the time they turned 21.

Some of the correlations were fairly obvious; Liking Bill O’Reilly’s page was mostly associated with republican users, while the Joe Biden page was mostly liked by democrats. Other correlations were more ambiguous, however, such as “Curly Fries” being one of the top 5 liked pages among users with high intelligence.

In a TED Talk titled “The Curly Fry Conundrum”, computer scientist Jen Golbeck theorized how these kinds of associations exist. One theory, she says, is based on the concept of homophily. Homophily refers to the idea that individuals often associate with those who are most similar to themselves. In other words, “birds of a feather flock together.”

“If I were to give you a hypothesis, it would be that a smart guy started this page, or maybe one of the first people who liked it would have scored high on that test,” Golbeck said. “And they liked it, and their friends saw it- and by homophily, we know that he probably had smart friends- and so it spread to them, and some of them liked it, and they had smart friends, and so it spread to them, and so it propagated through the network to a host of smart people.”

While curly fries have no real connection to high intelligence, Golbeck says the spread of trends through homophily could have resulted in the average liker of the “Curly Fries” page having a high IQ. This is how researchers are able to make assumptions about a user based solely on their Facebook likes.

In fact, the findings of the University of Cambridge study were startlingly accurate. Conducted by Michal Kosinskia, David Stillwell, and Thore Graepel, the results show how the study was able to determine a user’s race in 95% of cases, and their sexual orientation in 88% of cases.

Of course, this method of data compiling could pose privacy issues. For instance, even if a person doesn’t like LGBT-related pages on Facebook, liking pages such as Kathy Griffin or Mac Cosmetics (some popular pages among homosexual males) can help researchers make conclusions about the person’s sexuality. In extreme cases, this could lead to a closeted gay person being outed by targeted ads and content.

One solution, Golbeck says, is to develop mechanisms that warn users of the risks of liking a page or even give users the option to make their information invisible to third parties. She says the same kind of research that is used to gather information can potentially be used to prevent information from being gathered.

“As a scientist, my goal is not to infer information about users,” Golbeck said. “It’s to improve the way people interact online.”

An Evening in St. Augustine’s Downtown Shopping District

Last Friday night, I took a trip around St. Augustine’s historical shopping district. While St. Augustine is best known for its status as the nation’s oldest city, as well as for its monuments (such as the Fountain of Youth and fort Castillo De San Marco), the city is also full of unique, locally-owned shops, restaurants, and art galleries. While St. Augustine is a lengthy drive away for most UNF students, there are an abundance of things to see and do in the city’s downtown area. This slideshow depicts a trip from the area’s town square to its main shopping stretch, St. George Street.

All photos by Erica Bunch.