David Riera

Degree: Master of Science in Environmental Studies

College/School: School of Environment, Arts and Society; College of Arts, Sciences & Education

David Riera credits a lifetime of experiences – from serving in the U.S. Marine Corps to studying animal conservation to carrying out undergraduate research – for providing him with the expertise to develop breakthroughs in the cryopreservation of threatened rare orchid species.

Working closely with agroecology professors Amir Khoddamzadeh and Mahadev Bhat, David was part of a team that pioneered a method for preserving the genetic material of these plants. Their goal is to preserve orchids for study or cultivation for months, years or centuries at a time.

The challenges came in finding the right temperature at which to store the orchids’ genetic material and in developing a synthetic coating that would help make them more viable once unfrozen. After months in the lab, working until the wee hours of the morning – including weekends and holidays – David and the team found the right combination. They now have the expertise to increase the viability of those frozen samples by up to 99 percent.

The potential to harness this technology could have serious implications for conservation, reintroduction, education and commercial growing of rare orchids, according to David.

He plans to continue his lifelong mission of education by pursuing a doctorate in curriculum and instruction at FIU. David plans to study how best to bring higher education to non-traditional, underserved and underrepresented students like himself, taking him full circle back to what he loved doing in the Marine Corps – helping others realize their potential through the power of education.

By Chrystian Tejedor