Every March sports fans all over America and beyond go “mad” for the college basketball tournament that culminates by crowning the best men and women’s team as champion. The tournaments, collectively referred to as “March Madness,” are always filled with surprises, upsets and stories of triumph that go well beyond the games themselves. This year was no different and included an extraordinary, record setting run by both the men and women’s teams here at my beloved University of Miami where I am a graduate student and before that earned my undergrad degree.
Our men’s team culminated a historic season by making the Final Four for the first time in school history before being defeated by the eventual National Champion, the University of Connecticut. The ladies’ team – led by my long-time friend, middle and high school summer camp coach, and incredible inspiration, Coach Katie Meier – made history by reaching the Elite Eight for the first time in school history before being defeated by the eventual ladies’ National Champion, Louisiana State University. Congrats to everyone at the U and especially to the team, coaches, administrators, and fans that cheered the Canes on to these lofty heights for the first time in our history (It’s Great to be a Miami Hurricane as we say around these parts).
And speaking of March Madness, can you imagine just how difficult it must be to manage school while playing Division I college sports and the rest of one’s life as is the case for each member of these teams? The long hours every day, hard work, dedication, and countless sacrifices certainly led to fantastic (record setting even) success and resonate with me because those have long been foundational traits that I’ve tried to embrace in my own work. And while at 5’2” tall and after two knee operations (from playing basketball no less), my days of playing competitive hoops are over. But, I’d like to share a bit about my own March Madness this year as I worked to balance school and all else during what’s been an awfully busy month for The Sink or Swim Project and my own environmental endeavors. In addition to my studies (I am currently finishing my second year of law school and the first year of my Ph.D. studies), the madness in recent weeks has included:
Thanks to the folks at BLUE Missions (www.bluemissions.org) for having me give a presentation to their Building Young Leaders student group. The students participate in a three-month impact leadership training to learn how to create positive changes in their communities and I was honored to share a bit about my work, as well as my concerns related to our climate crisis and how young people all over the globe must solve this problem during our lifetimes. In addition to my lecture I also participated in a photoshoot that BLUE Missions plans to use for their Young Leaders campaign that is being promoted in local schools so that students can see what members of our communities are doing to fight environmental issues. And later in the month I was honored to also record a discussion with BLUE Missions for their upcoming Climate Cure Podcast so please stay tuned for news about its release!
Thanks again to Danny, Leslie, Nicole, Tayler, Ashley, and the entire BLUE Missions team, as well as their dedicated group of young student leaders.
For the second year in a row the esteemed Aspen Institute held its climate crisis symposium (Aspen Ideas: Climate 2023) right here in Miami-Dade County. I was pleased to attend plenaries and panel discussions addressing mitigation and adaptation efforts, sea level rise and flooding solutions, renewable energy technologies, food and agricultural impacts, and more. I was especially excited to attend the “Come Hell or High-Water” panel moderated by one of my professors from the University of Miami, Dr. Katharine Mach, discussing managed retreat and climate gentrification.
The symposium was packed with climate and sustainability leaders from all over the world including Colette Pichon Battle, Nadege Green, Susan Crawford, and Jake Bittle to name just a few from the day I was able to attend. The day ended with a fantastic plenary that included Ali Zaidi, White House climate czar; Dan Gelber, Mayor of the City of Miami Beach; Pat Gruber, CEO of Gevo, a company creating low-carbon jet fuel and gasoline; Amy Knowles, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Miami Beach; Michael Green, Founder and Principal of Michael Green Architecture, a leader in sustainable wood construction and innovation; and, yes, THE Bill Nye “the science guy” (Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill!).
Allow me to also share that in order to attend this year’s event I had to not only plan ahead for my schoolwork but leave the symposium site on Miami Beach that day to attend my “Environmental Planning and the Environmental Impact Statement” class on the University of Miami’s Key Biscayne Campus (The Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science) before darting back to the symposium for its afternoon and evening events. To say I was exhausted (the symposium started at 9:00 AM and took an hour’s drive in traffic to get to) by the end of the day is an understatement but it was time well spent even if it made for a tiring few days.
As I was leaving the Aspen conference near 10:00 PM that night and checked my email for one last time that day, I was pleasantly surprised to find an invitation from the White House to greet Vice President Harris the very next day here in Miami where she was scheduled to be Aspen Ideas conference’s closing Keynote speaker. Talk about March Madness!
Needless to say, I immediately accepted the invitation. I was and remain honored by the invitation and to be able to spend a short time with Vice President Harris and her staff. I am deeply grateful to her and the President for their climate-related work, including the Inflation Reduction Act, while also understanding that much work to be done (shutting down the Willow Project would be a good next step!). Thanks to Miami-Dade County Mayor Levine Cava and her team for suggesting me as one of the people to meet the Vice President and to the Vice President’s team for making me feel so welcome.
My time with the Vice President took place at Miami International Airport where her plane, known as Air Force II, landed right in front of where I waited to meet her. No sooner than that event was over I boarded an evening flight to Sarasota, Florida where I spent the next two days conducting shark research with Mote Marine Laboratory and Dr. Demian Chapman, a world-renowned shark scientist, at the invitation of Leisha John and Greg Hamra, and the folks at Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org)
During my time at Mote, I was able to assist with experiments testing the sensitivity of different shark species’ ampullae of lorenzini (electroreceptive pores on the front of sharks’ snouts that detect electric fields) to magnetism, as well as spend time out on the water on the boat shark tagging. As you can see in the pic above, we caught a beautiful eight-foot bull shark and collected data from her that will contribute to genetic, population, and tracking research projects. As I’ve mentioned many times in various blogs, I love sharks, and so getting to conduct research with Dr. Chapman at the laboratory founded by Eugenie Clark, founder of Mote and a pioneer for women in shark science and STEM fields in general, was a dream come true.
Thanks again to Leisha and Greg for the invite and to the Board of Directors for your hospitality, as well as wonderful work over the years.
And finally allow me to share that nearer the end of the month I proudly participated in a World Water Day panel discussion hosted by BLUE Missions at Bay 13 Brewery with Daniel Rodriguez, President of BLUE Missions; Keely Weyker, Director of Engagement and Outreach for The Everglades Foundation; Erin Cover, Education and Outreach Manager for Miami Waterkeeper; and Matt Anderson, Assistant Director of Mobility and Sustainability for The City of Coral Gables Office of Sustainability. We talked about a range of topics including water quality issues, salt water encroachment, the threat that the Everglades National Park faces, and more.
Over the past two years of my law and Ph.D. related studies there were occasions when juggling all my work, between school and The Sink or Swim Project, were, candidly, challenging. I know that a lot of my followers, whether students or working professionals, grapple with these same challenges between your day-to-day responsibilities in school and/or work and wanting to help protect our precious environment or play a meaningful role in whatever cause(s) inspires you.
I get it.
Choices and what are often hard personal sacrifices are certainly required, but at the end of the day (and by the end of our lives), is there anything more important than being able to help make things better? I hope that sharing a bit about my own “March Madness” proves in some small way that it’s certainly possible to balance all of your priorities, even the occasional surprise, and that the next time you’re invited to a rally, government meeting, or some other event where your view and voice can make a positive difference you will consider that, if I can manage all of these types of things, then you can too.