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Each year, the leadership committee for each of our centers at the Institute of Water and Environment decides the Graduate Students of the Year for their respective centers. The award recognizes and rewards a student whose academic achievement and current material research display a high level of excellence and distinction among their peers. The students are decided upon based on their continued support of and commitment to their center and related research.

Learn about the Sea Level Solutions Center, Southeast Environmental Research Center and Center for Coastal Oceans Research Graduate Students of the Year below, where you can find out more about their exceptional research and commitment to their respective centers.

Matthew Smith – Sea Level Solutions Center (SLSC)

Matt Smith is the first student to be awarded the SLSC Graduate Student of the Year award. Smith’s current research focuses on identifying shifts in biogeochemical regimes across urban ecosystems in response to extreme weather events. He leads the FIU Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN) which is run through the SLSC.

Smith began his career at FIU as a PhD student in 2016, and in that short amount of time has already made enormous contributions to the progress and development of SLSC. He has worked on stormwater contributions to urban flooding in Miami and thanks to his continued collaboration with  external partners, Smith has successfully established integral agreements with our partners.

In addition to his work with UREx SRN, Smith was recently awarded the Resilient Urban Latin America International Research Exchange for Students award to travel to Valdivia, Chile, to begin an international collaboration on green infrastructure and the potential benefits on enhancing stormwater quality.

Dr. John Kominoski, Smith’s faculty mentor, says that Smith “has been one of the most positive and adaptive students I’ve worked with at FIU.”

Viviana Mazzei – Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC)

“Viviana is an example of what a successful FIU and SERC student looks like,”  says Dr. Evelyn Gaiser, Viviana Mazzei’s faculty mentor.

Mazzei began her academic career as an undergraduate student in 2009 and got excited about coastal water quality problems and algae at that time. She  went on to earn an M.S. studying coral reef algae, the products of which she has since published. Currently, she has been doing research in the Everglades and has been at the heart of the Florida Coastal Everglades and SeaGrant collaborations, mentored students, received scholarships and published both taxonomic and ecological research that has great meaning for the the management of the Everglades.

Mazzei is applying to post-docs across the  world where she will undoubtedly continue to make a big impact, and be a source of pride for FIU and SERC.

Laura Timm – Center for Coastal Oceans Research

Laura Timm has played an integral role in the DEEPEND consortium, a research group composed of over 10 universities across the country.

“Laura is one of several graduate students in the DEEPEND consortium, but she has gone above and beyond to completely immerse herself in this research team and the project,” says her faculty mentor, Dr. Heather Bracken-Grissom. “She has participated in 3 of the 4 two-week research cruises in the northern Gulf of Mexico, where she was solely responsible for collecting crustaceans for downstream molecular work. She has led the sample processing of all collected material, which has resulted in over 1000 specimen that needed to be catalogued in the FIU Zoological Collection.”

In addition to her superb research contributions, Timm has also  participated in over a dozen skype or on-site school visits for outreach related DEEPEND activities. Earlier last year, she received the GOMRI Scholar Award, which recognizes the top graduate students involved in Gulf of Mexico research.