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A group of diverse FIU students attended a field trip to Pinecrest Gardens and took part in an art-science experience that captured the voices of 24 individuals from across the globe who have been directly impacted by climate change. Before long, students would realize just how much they had in common with those 24 distant voices.

The trip invited students to join distinguished environmental artist Xavier Cortada for his Longitudinal Installation Performance at Pinecrest Gardens. This participatory art piece took place around a sculpture symbolizing the North Pole, with 24 carefully sculpted shoes placed in a circle around it. Each shoe represents a person living in a different part of the world affected by climate change, and as students stood before their assigned shoe, they recited the statements of 24 people describing the impact of global climate change in their lives. The “25th statement”, would later come from the students themselves.

From the painful tears of Hurricane Maria survivors hardened by an event that threatened to take the lives of their families, to a Nigerian student who understood all too well the impacts that climate change is already having on coastal West African communities— the “25th statement” from students made it immediately clear how much they had in common with each other and with the 24 voices that they represented during the performance.

A collaboration between FIU’s School of Environment, Arts, and Society and CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment, the trip was part of the research experience for undergraduates (REU) fellowship. It was intended to give the REU students a broader perspective of science communication to use on their final research project presentations, as well as facilitate conversation among students pursuing careers that play critical roles in climate science and conservation.

During a discussion led by Mr. Cortada before the installation performance, students shared their goals as future environmental researchers, lawyers, communicators, and teachers. Cortada offered valuable advice on how to achieve those goals to build a brighter future- their collective efforts aimed at assuring that those 24 voices, as well as their own, would be heard and that action would be taken.

While “we’re all doomed” is a thought that, admittedly, crossed everyone’s mind during the art installation, Cortada and the students left with a sense of unwavering determination and hope. The anxieties posed by the extraordinary challenges facing them were overshadowed by the idea of building a better, sustainable future.