Adel Peña

Degree: Master of Science in Environmental Studies

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

After serving as an Army medic for four years, including in South Korea, Adel Peña enrolled at FIU and considered becoming a doctor. After interning with professor Suzanne Koptur, however, Adel discovered an unexpected passion for botany. 

Koptur introduced Adel to Florida’s pine rocklands, a habitat for trees, flowers and animals unique to South Florida and the Keys. It is estimated that 98 percent of this habitat is gone. For Adel’s first project in the pine rocklands, she gathered fruit from native plants, grew their seeds at FIU and planted them at various Miami-Dade schools and other organizations to educate children and to help sustain local pollinating insects. For these efforts, she earned the Botanical Society of America’s Young Botanist of the Year Award.

This experience led Adel to her graduate research cataloging changes to plants in the pine rocklands as far back as the 1800s. She discovered 19 plant species that were not mentioned in historical records and recommended to conservationists that one plant, the tick clover, be identified as a native species, targeting it for conservation. She also identified when 10 invasive species were introduced. As a graduate student, Adel was also a teaching assistant.

After commencement, Adel will continue working at FIU’s Wertheim Conservatory and she plans to become a teacher or college instructor, showing students why conservation matters. She credits her mother, Cleo, for always inspiring her and showing her how to be a strong, independent woman.

By Chrystian Tejedor
Account Manager, College of Arts, Sciences & Education