Averitt Award Winners 2018

Gustavo Silveira

Merging Tech and Music

Gustavo Silveira (‘18) is a renaissance man when it comes to music technology. He’s the winner of the 2018 Averitt Award for Excellence in Instruction. He is part musician, composer, teacher, musical director, instrumentalist, multimedia artist, engineer and instrument maker, all wrapped into one.

Silveira got involved with music at an early age while growing up in Brazil.

“My father is a musician, so I started playing guitar really early,” said Silveira. “I think that I started because I liked being involved with him and his bands. I was playing in bands with him, but then I decided I liked playing all the instruments myself.”

Playing all the instruments himself led to work on several projects as a composer, musical director and instrumentalist with groups such as Grupo Tholl, a Brazilian Cirque du Soleil type of musical show.

“I was not planning to study music formally. But then I started getting so involved with making music that I thought I should take it a step further by earning my bachelor’s in music composition.”

Silveira got interested in music technology in college, and started making electronic music.

“I got to know some tools that you can use to create your own sounds. It opened a lot of doors for my creativity,” said Silveira.

Born in Pelotas, Brazil, Silveira received his bachelor’s degree in music composition from the Universidade Federal de Pelotas. Then, he was referred to Georgia Southern as a potential graduate assistant.

“I was introduced to Gustavo while he was performing with his group ‘Bit Comma,’ and I was impressed by the quality of the music,” said John Thompson, Ph.D., Silveira’s faculty advisor and head of the music technology area at Georgia Southern.

This introduction led to an assistantship for Silveira teaching studio techniques and musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) sequencing.

“I decided that Gustavo would be an ideal fit for the program due to his extraordinary creativity and his growing technical expertise,” said Thompson.

The assistantship also led to a growing mutual respect between the two.

“John is an amazing teacher. He is an amazing adviser, amazing human being,” said Silveira.

This year, Silveira created a MIDI controller called the XT Synth. Normally, MIDI controllers are keyboard-style instruments. The XT Synth has functionality that can only be achieved through guitar-style playing.

“You have all these tiny expressions that you can do with a guitar, like vibrato, string bending, sliding, that type of thing. You can’t do that on a keyboard. With this, you can make electronic music without having to learn to play the keyboard. So that’s the approach I took with the XT Synth,” explained Silveira.

Silveira has designed many kits and online tutorials that enable students to create their own electronic instruments. His designs use an inexpensive microcontroller and his own custom-designed printed circuit boards, packaged in a low-cost, easily assembled kit.

“He has a desire to democratize musical tools and technology skills into the hands of students who otherwise would not be able to afford the necessary hardware,” added Thompson.

“So I create the controller,” said Silveira. “I release all the files so they can just buy the parts in their local store. An instrument that might cost a thousand dollars in Brazil, you could make for a hundred dollars on your own.”

The topics researched in his instrument building were the same topics Silveira taught in his music technology courses at Georgia Southern.

Thompson thinks that Silveira’s students felt that he brought the subject to life.

“Students were excited by the prospect that, with such an expert at hand who excels as a teacher, outstanding works of music technology were within their reach,” said Thompson.

Silveira was a finalist in the prestigious Guthman Musical Instrument Competition at Georgia Tech with the XT Synth. The instrument was also detailed in a paper submitted to the NIME (New Interfaces for Musical Expression) conference.

Silveira has given numerous performances with the instrument including at the Root Signals Festival of Electronic Music. Each performance has showcased the possibilities with his instrument’s combination of music and technology.

“Gustavo has an extensive knowledge and a keen intuition about design,” said Thompson. “The entire music technology program gained from what he learned and the projects he did here.”

Silveira can be found on the web at musiconerd.com, which translates to “Nerd Musician.”

He’s not just a musical nerd though. He’s truly a music technology renaissance man.

— Liz Walker

Jose Sanchez-Ruiz

Exploring Science, Seeking Adventure

2018 Averitt Award for Research Excellence winner, José Sanchez-Ruiz, is an explorer. His biology research on aquatic-terrestrial interactions has landed him assignments all over the world. Places like his birthplace of Puerto Rico, Iceland, Chile — even his current home in Statesboro, Georgia.

Changing Fields from Art to Biology

After spending four years, and nearing completion of an art degree at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, Sanchez-Ruiz decided to try something new. He took two science courses that led to research opportunities. He found he had an affinity for science and research, so he started his degree all over again. He graduated in 2016 with a degree in biology. His life has been a worldwide scientific expedition ever since.

“It was kind of amazing that I could go and explore places that I would never imagine existed,” said Sanchez-Ruiz. “I thought, so they pay me to be an explorer? To do all of this stuff? To explain the natural world? I don’t know. It kind of fit with my personality, and I immediately switched my major to biology.”

He worked in the stream ecology lab at the University of Puerto Rico. The lab had connections that later developed into a friendship with Checo Colón-Gaud, Ph.D., associate professor and the biology graduate program director at Georgia Southern. Colón-Gaud later steered Sanchez-Ruiz to an assistantship that has allowed him to continue his work on a master’s degree at Georgia Southern.

Being a Late Bloomer Leads to Early Publishing Success

Due to his late change in major and frequent research, Sanchez-Ruiz is a bit older than his University colleagues. But he is early when it comes to having his work published in peer-reviewed journals. So far, he has been an author or co-author of six papers, and has widely presented his research.

“I think it is his dedication that allows him to disseminate his work so proficiently,” said Colón-Gaud. “José has been able to keep motivated and committed to the work. He knows that this is the key to accessing opportunities for continued studies (he plans to pursue a Ph.D.) once he completes his M.S. at Georgia Southern.”

Sanchez-Ruiz will graduate this fall or in the spring depending on how his research progresses. He wants to get enough work done to complete more research papers. But the slight delay is fine with Sanchez-Ruiz, as he views research as an important part of his education.

“For me it’s really important as an ecologist and biologist to understand different biomes. The work I do in Georgia is really geographically different than the work I did in Puerto Rico. And the work I did in Chile and the work I did in Iceland. So overall I think it helps me as a biologist to understand global ecosystems and the ecosystem processes. It broadens my mind in respect to biology.”

Because he’s older, Sanchez-Ruiz considers himself a non-traditional student, and it shows in his outlook on higher education.

“Most people going to college don’t know anything about what they want to seek in life. The reason I think I’ve done well is because I took the time to figure out what I wanted. And research is not like a job to me. It’s more like my life, you know? I get invested in all these experiences.”

A Life of Adventure

For people who love science and love adventure, Sanchez-Ruiz recommends a biology career.

“I’ve been to Colombia, Costa Rica multiple times, Chile, Iceland and several places in the U.S. So for me, that is one of the greatest incentives for a career in biology. I would recommend that anybody who has a similar mindset to go for it.”

The Georgia Southern biology department will be sorry to see this student leave. He’s a prolific researcher and writer with drive, enthusiasm and commitment to growth.

“I’m very proud of José,” says Colón-Gaud. “I know he’s worked hard to get to where he’s at, and I’m confident that he will continue to succeed. More importantly, José has been able to establish a foundation for future work that will contribute to the field of ecology and the conservation of natural ecosystems. He’s been a solid student, a great team player and an outstanding citizen of our program. I’m going to be sad to see him leave.”

So far, he’s certainly been enjoying a very adventurous life. It appears his delayed change in major was the right choice. The Averitt Award is Georgia Southern’s highest honor for graduate student research.

— Liz Walker

Research Highlights

Sanchez-Ruiz has presented his research at the international meeting of the Society for Freshwater Science and presented at the international conference for Tropical Aquatic Ecosystems in the Anthropocene (AQUATROP) in July.

Throughout his time in the graduate program, Sanchez-Ruiz has successfully secured funding for his research and to travel to conferences through the Georgia Southern Graduate Student Organization and the Department of Biology.

Sanchez-Ruiz has also developed proposals for external funding sources such as Sigma Xi, the National Science Foundation, and has been awarded a graduate mentoring fellowship from the Society for Freshwater Science’s Instars Program, to broaden participation of underrepresented minorities in aquatic science.

During the winter of 2017-18, Sanchez-Ruiz was awarded the NSF International Research Experiences for Students to participate in the development of a long-term research site at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park at Navarino Island, Chile. Sanchez-Ruiz was one of only four graduate students nationally selected to participate in this prestigious opportunity and he has quickly turned this into a potential long-term collaboration with researchers at the site, as well as from other universities in Chile and the United States.