Honors College Student Amanda Di Perna Recognized as a Fall 2023 Outstanding Graduate

Olivia GuthrieUncategorized

Outstanding Graduate is a title bestowed to a few Florida International University. It is an honor of distinctions that celebrates each semester’s best at commencement. They are the graduating Panthers who went above the bar academically, professionally, and personally in their accomplishments achieved during their college career. This semester, an FIU honors student with an insatiable love of the water and protecting its creatures has garnered this recognition.

Amanda Di Perna, 21, is graduating this Fall with the privilege of this title. Amanda moved from Montreal, Canada to Miami at the age of five and has called it home ever since. She has loved the water since childhood and competitively windsurfed growing up. Going to MAST Academy at Key Biscayne deepened her love for marine life and marine sciences, so when she decided to go to FIU, a major in Marine Biology seemed like a natural choice.

Di Perna speaking with MAST Students

Her time at FIU and as a member of the honors community has been jam-packed with various activities and accolades. A career setter for her was joining in on the virtual FIU in D.C. event, Future of Environmental Resilience for Economic Growth and National Security, in 2021.

“That initial opportunity significantly expanded my knowledge of the advocacy world and drew me to Capitol Hill, setting the foundation for my continued commitment to environmental advocacy and policy influence,” said Di Perna.

Di Perna recently had another FIU in DC experience, this time with an in-person fly-in. The Future of the Everglades was a three-day event this past November that allowed Di Perna to interact with leaders in Everglades restoration and meet people doing exactly what she hopes to do one day.

FIU in DC Cohort with Miccosukee Leadership

“FIU opened my eyes to all those options,” said Di Perna. “I feel like if I would have gone somewhere else and didn’t partake in those programs, I’d be doing something completely different.”

Some opportunities have taken her internationally. This past summer for six weeks, she conducted field research on dolphin and whale conservation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines through the Tropical Conservation Institute’s International Research Experience for Students.

“It helped improve my capabilities as a researcher, and then we also had fun in the Caribbean,” said Di Perna. “All around good program.”

With the Honors College, she did a study abroad in the summer of 2022 to Costa Rica. The trip was centered on the environment and sustainability. They stayed at plastic-free and sustainable resorts and saw an inside look at one of the leading environmentalist country’s tactics for combatting ecotourism issues. She saw firsthand how much could be done to help the earth and environment, and it made her want to bring it home to a better America, and in particular, Florida, which also is facing these problems.

Di Perna Presenting Research at URFIU

Di Perna has been a part of many organizations during her academic career, in and outside of FIU, holding board member positions in several. These include The Surfrider Foundation , Ocean Research & Conservation Association, Inc. (ORCA), Project VOCES – Florida International University , and Green Campus Initiative (GCI).

Di Perna became President of GCI amid many pandemic restrictions. She didn’t want the fact that everything was being done virtually to limit her ability to feel a part of the FIU community and she has spearheaded their club initiative to tackle single-use plastics, both on campus and in the state.

The club got the opportunity to work on legislation for single-use plastic reduction. They conducted a research project that was then presented at the Miami Dade Delegation, where Representative Jim Mooney and Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez had the inspiration to draft up two bills on both sides of the aisle, targeting plastic reduction.

GCI at the Miami Dade Delegation

They then got to go to Tallahassee, where she had her first lobbying experience and talked about single-use plastic and the group’s research.

Di Perna in Tallahassee

“It was super cool and a very nice wrap-up to all our work,” said Di Perna. “Every single person that we met with just welcomed us with open arms, and were so inspired to see young students with so much passion, that led me into thinking ‘okay, I can make a change.’”

They wanted to bring change to their campus as well. They started working with Panther Dining and made an initiative on campus called Plastics If You Ask. This made all FIU restaurants give plastic bags, straws, or lids only if you asked. By-request initiatives are becoming famous worldwide and are now on FIU’s campus.

“Overall, my goal with this [club] is to cultivate a community of students that care about sustainability and want to make a change, and like help provide them with activities that allow them to do so” said Di Perna.

Beach cleanup at Bayfront Park

Outside of her extracurricular activities, her classes have also provided her with the knowledge and resources to use after graduation and in her career.

Professor Anthony A. Rionda‘s Save Our Parks is one such class. It covered the topic of national parks, going into the issues surrounding environmental law, policy, and politics. The class expanded her mind and enabled her to later, during her D.C. trip, apply what she had learned when speaking with representatives from the Department of the Interior, the federal organization in charge of managing and protecting public lands.

She has connected with the professor on LinkedIn, and he is always cheering her on from the sidelines, proud of all her achievements.

“The faculty from the honors college, they show that they see you and are proud of you, and that has been fuel for me to keep going,” said Di Perna.

With graduation around the corner, Di Perna feels excited and ready to go out and do what FIU has taught her so well: make a change.

“My passion lies in translating science into facts that are communicated to the general public and also into policy,” said Di Perna. “I want to influence conservation policy and do that by making the public more aware of conservation issues that are taking place, but simultaneously making sure that politicians are aware of it, so that there’s this synergy where people are caring about the environment, and the laws are reflecting what the people care about.”

She hopes to live in Miami and commute when necessary to D.C. for her advocacy and lobbying efforts. The FIU community is proud of all Di Perna has accomplished and is excited to see her success as an alumna.