Citizen ’Canes

Andrew Adler, J.D. '07

Citizen ’Canes

Alumni who bring pride to the University through their inspiring generosity and leadership
Alumni who bring pride to the University through their inspiring generosity and leadership

Alum’s Art Captures the Cuban Experience

Cesar Santalo

I was raised hearing about the torment that my parents went through, and it’s a part of me.


Cesar Santalo’s evolution as an artist has been influenced by Cuba’s history, his parents’ exile from their homeland, and his own experience as a first-generation Cuban American.

When Santalo, M.F.A. ’06, dean of Lynn University’s College of Communication and Design, was 8, his family moved from Baltimore to Miami. “Miami helped me to reconnect with my Cuban heritage,” he says. “I could go to the corner to get my cafecito, my croqueta, and my pastelito for lunch, overhearing the conversations of refugees talking about what’s going on in Cuba.”

Santalo’s art became a means for him to honor the exiles’ experiences. “I was raised hearing about the torment that my parents went through, and it’s a part of me,” he says. “My art allows me to honor my history and to talk about the reality of Cubans in Cuba.”

A breakthrough came during an installation course at the University of Miami. The instructor challenged students to bring personal elements into their sculptures. “The first thing that popped into my head was the cafetera, the Cuban coffee maker,” Santalo says.

He realized that the top of the cafetera, when separated from the base, resembled a megaphone, and the base resembled a speaker. He created an installation consisting of 65 cafeteras, representing each year Fidel Castro was in power, the tops and bases mounted on opposing walls. The tops, rusted and broken, broadcast Castro’s speeches, while the bases, shiny and new, streamed Cuban American radio.

“It was about my experience living as a Cuban American—I would always hear updates about Cuba coming from the island, and then I would hear about it from the exile community in Miami,” he says.

In 2022, director Beatriz Luengo commissioned Santalo to create a mural for her documentary “Patria y Vida, The Power of Music.” The documentary tells the story of the San Isidro Movement, which fought increased censorship and the Cuban government’s decree requiring artists to seek permission from the government before creating new works.

Exiled Cuban hip-hop musicians recorded the protest song “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) as a direct challenge to the official patriotic slogan “patria o muerte” (“homeland or death”). Luengo tasked Santalo with creating a mural depicting this fight for artistic freedom in Cuba.

Santalo collaborated with Yotuel Romero, a creator of “Patria y Vida” and Luengo’s husband. “Yotuel and Beatriz showed me a new reality [in Cuba] that I never knew existed.”

Santalo’s mural is a deconstructed image of musician Maykel Osorbo after the latter’s arrest in San Isidro, Cuba, in 2021. With the help of friends, Osorbo escaped and held out his handcuffed arm in protest.

The mural features Santalo’s signature cafetera megaphones, hardwired to play Santería percussion from the bases and “Patria y Vida” overlaid with people chanting “libertad,” or liberty, from the tops.

For Santalo, creating the mural, debuting it in the documentary, and exhibiting it at the Pérez Art Museum Miami during Miami Art Week are among his proudest moments as an artist.

“I think of my parents, what they went through, and now helping people to learn about the struggles of people in Cuba feels like an honor,” he says. “It makes me proud that even after my mother’s death, I can still continue with her voice.”

Alumna Recounts Her Inspiring Journey

Dr. Lattisha Latoyah Bilbrew, B.S. ’07

A conversation overheard by Dr. Lattisha Latoyah Bilbrew, B.S. ’07, during her first year at a health magnet program at Apopka High School in Central Florida changed the trajectory of her life.

“I heard a graduating senior say, ‘I am going to the No. 1 school in the state—the University of Miami,’ and I thought to myself, if it’s the best, then I’m going there too, no matter what it takes,” remembers Bilbrew.

She made it to the U and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and chemistry. But that accomplishment would only be the first step in a journey that took her from immigrating to the United States from England at the age of 7 to being one of only five African American female surgeons in the State of Georgia.

“I knew I wanted to be a physician from the time I was 3 years old,” says Bilbrew. “While I was visiting my Jamaican grandmother at a hospital in England, I watched her be mistreated, and I knew in that moment I wanted to be a doctor. But I did not want to be a doctor like the ones I witnessed; instead, I wanted to be someone who was empathetic, understanding, and would make sure a patient like my grandmother understood everything that was happening to her.”

Bilbrew spent an eventful and memorable four years at the University involved in everything from Greek life to the United Black Students organization. “I was super involved on campus; it was an amazing time where that part of me that wanted to learn was nurtured, and I was able to overcome any obstacles that stood in my way,” explains Bilbrew. “I learned the life skills I needed that I still use to this day. The U taught me how to deal with life, how to balance my life, and how to give back to my community.”

A community of people like herself is what she also found at the University, and she credits the institution’s commitment to diversity for making that happen, especially one particular leader. “I like to say the University was very diverse, before it was cool to be diverse,” Bilbrew says. She credits Patricia Whitely, Ed.D. ’94, senior vice president for student affairs and alumni engagement, for being a true champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “Her commitment to DEI shows her leadership and commitment to the University and its students.”

Bilbrew received her medical degree from Morehouse School of Medicine; completed her residency at
the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston; and fellowship in hand, studied elbow, shoulder, and microsurgery at the University of Florida. She is now the first Black female orthopaedic surgeon to become a partner at Resurgens Orthopaedics in Atlanta.

Her propensity to be super busy, like in her undergraduate days, has not changed considering the responsibilities she has outside her thriving practice. She speaks before Congress on behalf of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and is a member at large for the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society. She also just finished authoring a book, “Yes, I Am the Surgeon.”

Bilbrew says she juggles it all, including being a single mother to her 3-year-old son, because of what she learned on the Coral Gables Campus. “The University taught me how to organize, execute, and follow up.”

A Professional Hat Trick

Andrew Adler, J.D. ’07

When Andrew Adler, J.D. ’07, was a student at the University of Miami School of Law, the possibility of appearing before the United States Supreme Court never crossed his mind. He has now argued three cases as first chair—or lead attorney—before the court.

Adler argued the first case in his professional hat trick by telephone from his home during the pandemic. “The court was doing the best it could under extraordinary circumstances, but the experience felt a bit artificial,” he says. “Each justice had a three-minute segment to question, so if, hypothetically, Justice [Stephen] Breyer talked for two-and-a-half minutes, I only had 30 seconds to respond. And of course, the lawn guys decided to come that morning!”

Adler grew up outside Philadelphia, the son and nephew of lawyers. “There was no pressure to direct me toward law,” he says. “It was just kind of where I naturally drifted.”

Two incidents sparked Adler’s interest in criminal defense. The first was being falsely accused of writing defamatory graffiti about his bar mitzvah tutor. Fortunately, his parents believed in his innocence, and his bar mitzvah was allowed to proceed.

The second experience was more general. The local police force was well resourced but sometimes had little actual crime to police. “One might say they mildly harassed teenagers who were driving around in the area,” Adler says.

On a couple of occasions, Adler was pulled over for minor infractions, like not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. “As a teenager, it can be scary to be pulled over by police, though it obviously pales in comparison to excessive force incidents that we hear about today,” he says.

As an undergraduate at Emory University, he enrolled in a pre-law course on unreasonable searches and seizures. “I thought, ‘yeah, this Fourth Amendment thing is interesting. I can relate to this.’”

When he considered law schools, the University of Miami made financial sense, and the weather was lovely. Also, it was close to his grandmother, with whom he had spent time as a child.

“I had a positive experience in law school,” Adler says. “It probably took me a semester before I figured out what was going on, but I found most of my courses interesting. I also came away with some basic legal knowledge that I wouldn’t have had otherwise in subjects like corporations and trusts and estates, which I do not use in my current practice at all but have used in my life. And not that it ever really saved me, but it’s nice to know about federal maritime law!”

Adler encourages today’s law students not to dismiss the notion that they might one day find themselves arguing before the court.

“The Supreme Court bar consists of truly brilliant lawyers,” he says. “Many have clerked for justices on the court, and many of them work in top law firms. It’s a very distinguished and talented group.

“[But], I would say to current students, you never know where your career is going to take you. If you are interested in criminal defense, I would highly recommend working as a public defender. It is one of the few places to gain in-court experience after law school, and it serves a vital public interest. Who knows, one day you could find yourself arguing before the Supreme Court.”

Redheaded Alumnae Make a Splash on ‘Shark Tank’

 sisters Adrienne Vendetti Hodges, B.B.A. ’09, and Stephanie Vendetti Thomas, B.B.A. ’11

Long before sisters Adrienne Vendetti Hodges, B.B.A. ’09, and Stephanie Vendetti Thomas, B.B.A. ’11, were successful entrepreneurs taking the beauty world by storm with their innovative line of products for fellow redheads, they were two girls growing up in Rhode Island who looked up to their grandmother and her beautiful red hair.

Their grandmother became a role model to them in all things beauty and in how to be a redhead. Still, the sisters found it challenging to rock their red hair and fair features.

Stephanie recalls: “I remember always struggling to find a concealer that was light enough for my complexion or products to fill in my brows; meanwhile, Adrienne would test out new products only to break out badly.”

Even though the sisters shared their frustrations around makeup, they differed in how they related to their fiery features.

“I always loved my red hair,” says Adrienne, “but Stephanie had a hard time embracing it.” In middle school Stephanie began bleaching her hair blonde to fit in.

Being at the U really pushed us to start our own business.


It wasn’t until the sisters attended the University of Miami, their father’s alma mater, that they came into their own as redheads and as businesswomen.

“The University of Miami opened our eyes to the world,” says Adrienne.

For Stephanie, the diversity on campus helped her to realize the beauty of being different.

“I remember walking to class hearing different languages being spoken all around me, and it really made me feel that uniqueness is something to embrace,” Stephanie recalls. “I came to college bleaching my hair and not really knowing who I was, but the U helped me to realize that it’s cool to be different.”

Adrienne found the culture at the University inspiring as a budding entrepreneur.

“Being at the U really pushed us to start our own business,” says Adrienne. “I remember being surrounded by business-minded people and realizing it’s not out of the ordinary to just start up a company.”

The sisters became determined to create an empowering space for redheads, celebrating their uniqueness and catering to their needs. In 2011 they launched the website How to be a Redhead (H2BAR) as a place for redheads to find community, guidance, and beauty products specifically for redheads.

“We created H2BAR so that redheads wouldn’t have to go through what we did growing up, wasting all this money on products that won’t work for you or your features,” explains Stephanie.

In February 2024 the Vendetti sisters brought H2BAR to ABC’s “Shark Tank,” the hit television show in which entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to five potential investors. In the end, the sisters accepted Mark Cuban’s offer of $350,000 for 15 percent equity. They intend to use the investment to expand their audiences, embracing redheads of all genders. Their dream is to see their line represented at major beauty stores like Sephora and Ulta.

For now, they are content engaging with their audience directly through their website, where it’s not uncommon to receive thank-you letters among all their orders.

“Every day we receive emails thanking us, whether it be from moms for helping their daughters to love their hair or from the customers who are grateful to have finally found a product that works,” says Adrienne. “It makes us feel proud of what we’ve created: a business which helps people to feel empowered, confident, and beautiful.”