Oscar Roa: Miami Service 2021

Student Bio

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Photo by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

Hello! My name is Oscar Roa, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I’m a third-year mechanical engineering student from Bogotá, Colombia. I love going out and exploring Miami with my friends, working out, and playing music. I am always eager to learn from people who have different lifestyles and backgrounds from mine.


Photo by Jhon W. Bailly/CC by 4.0

I volunteered for this service project with Florida International University’s Honors College. Specifically, under the Miami in Miami class with professor John W. Bailly. This class was a great group to do the cleanup with since we are all like-minded individuals when it comes to our responsibility with the environment and sustainable practices.


Photo by Carolina Echeverri/CC by 4.0

The main reason behind our service project is to preserve Chicken Key’s biodiversity and to create consciousness within our student body of the impact that we as humans have on nature. It also encourages us as students to create our cleanups and take responsibility for our environments. One of the most important aspects of cleanups is what we do after. Many people volunteer for cleanups and put effort at the moment of picking up trash. But then they continue to live their lives the same way as before, using a lot of plastic products without recycling, purchasing products that aren’t manufactured under environmentally sustainable measures, etc. I think that it is our responsibility as students to spread awareness of the importance of sustainable practices, especially when we have experienced firsthand the consequences of contamination. I believe that environmental responsibility falls under all majors, as a mechanical engineering student, I am compromised with practicing sustainable methods in my career. Additionally, on a personal level, I want to change the stigma that lies around engineering students, who we are, and what we do. Many young students tell me that they don’t want to work in STEM because they are afraid that they will end up working in a cubicle for the rest of their lives. I know that many of my engineering classmates share my enthusiasm for different areas of study such as the arts and social sciences. I hope to inspire other students in the STEM area to pursue their careers without the fear of missing out on the other things they enjoy about life. I want to prove to them that one can be more than just a STEM major and that their career doesn’t have to become their life.


It was thanks to Nicole Patrick, a former FIU student who was very involved at the Deering Estate, that I first volunteered for Chicken Key’s Cleanup back in 2020. However, for this service project, our Miami in Miami 2021 class went under the supervision of professor Jhon W. Bailly. Totaling over 25 FIU honors students in a collective effort to clean Chicken Key. I still am in contact with Nicole, and I plan to continue creating events where FIU students can volunteer for Chicken Key cleanups throughout my different involvements on campus.

Where and What

Photo by Jhon W. Bailly/CC by 4.0

My service project was done in a single-day cleanup. We got there at 10:00 am, and then we canoed/kayaked from the Deering Estate to Chicken Key. The trip itself was about an hour-long since we stopped a couple of times. We then ventured inside chicken key with empty sandbags, two per student, and we started to pick up all the plastic we could find across the island. The process was exhausting considering the heat, humidity, and the fact that we had to bend over or crouch for an extensive amount of time. Little by little, we ended up filling up all of our sandbags with pieces of plastic. Some of them were as small as a penny and some of them were as big and heavy as a car wheel. With a total of over 25 students carrying 2 or more sandbags each, plus some items that were too big to fit in a bag, we ended up carrying a great amount of debris out of Chicken Key. Despite our great efforts and contributions, there was a lot more trash to be picked up. There were some pieces that we couldn’t reach, some that we couldn’t pick up because they were too big, and even some that we couldn’t touch for our safety. Even with a team of 100 people, it would take a long time to clean Chicken Key completely. The problem though is that every time that a group of students comes back to do a cleanup, there is more debris. It doesn’t matter how many cleanups we organize; the ocean is full of plastic that will continue to be washed in our shores.


My service project took place on Wednesday, October 6, 2021. From 10:00 am to 3:45 pm.


Photo by Carolina Echeverri/CC by 4.0

As an engineering student, it isn’t common for me to take courses like Miami in Miami, let alone courses that are not math-related. Thus, I value deeply in my heart the opportunity to take classes like this one and partake in this kind of activity so different from my field of study and unique in nature. From kayaking under the sun and through the peaceful water, interacting with the wildlife, and having fun with my fellow classmates; to picking up debris from the mangroves, getting cuts in my legs, and carrying a giant smelly plastic part; this has been one of the best experiences in my college career. Not only am I having a great time, but I also am contributing to the preservation of local wildlife and protecting the birthplace of several endangered species. (Deering Estate. “Conservation”). In terms of what worked and went well, I consider that everything went smoothly when it came to kayaking and collecting the debris. Everyone had a great attitude towards the cleanup effort and the professor patiently waited for those students who struggled with paddling. In terms of what didn’t work it’s very hard to say that we could have done things differently to have a greater impact on chicken key. One becomes frustrated with the fact that despite all the cleanup efforts, there will always be more trash to pick up that keeps on getting washed ashore from the ocean. The problem of contamination will never be solved by cleanups if we don’t stop contamination in the first place.

Works Cited

Deering Estate. “Conservation.” Conservation – Deering Estate

Author: Oscar Roa

My name is Oscar Roa, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I'm a third-year mechanical engineering major from Bogotá, Colombia. Fun facts about me: I play the violin, I'm part of the FIU Powerlifting team. https://oscarmroag.wixsite.com/portfolio

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