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Every semester, 10 outstanding undergraduate students are chosen to participate in multiple research and hands-on training internship opportunities offered at FIU and partner organizations.

This opportunity is made possible by the generous support from the Fernandez Pave The Way Foundation.

Spring 2020 applications are closed. Check back for future application opportunities. for more information, please contact


Interns work on projects across a range of focus areas at sites throughout Miami-Dade County.

  • Deering Estate

    One intern is selected per semester to work at the Deering Estate with mentor Vanessa Trujillo. Possible projects include:

    Mapping Data collected at Deering Estate

    Utilizing already published data sets and literature, this project would create a database of projects that have been conducted at and around the Estate. The data collected could be used for a literature review, meta-analysis and GIS map that would support future research projects.

    Tropical Hammock Bird Transect

    The Deering Estate is home to a large area of tropical hardwood hammocks. This project would look at the biodiversity within the area, specifically birds. One will see which birds are dominating the area and determine if any rare birds are utilizing the hardwood hammocks for any period of time.


    Utilizing all 450 acres of the Deering Estate, this project would determine any symbiotic relationships birds at the Estate have with plants. The student would survey for avian uses of plants throughout the estate and determine if there is a symbiotic relationship with specific bird species and specific plants at the Estate.

    Reef Gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus) Population Density

    The native reef gecko can be found at the Deering Estate. One would survey the estate for reef geckos and determine any factors that impact their population density. What areas of the Estate do the reef geckos prefer to utilize as their habitat and why?

    Invasive Anole survey

    We find several different invasive anoles at the Estate. The project would entail surveying the estate to take an inventory of which invasive anoles we find, what the populations are like, and determine which habitat they are established in. The project will also determine why the invasive anoles are utilizing certain areas over others.

    Aquatic Inventory

    This project would study our seagrass and mangrove environment. The project will survey these different environments for biodiversity. Also water quality samples will be taken throughout to see if biodiversity is changed around the state pre and post-freshwater pumping from the C100 canal.

    Atala butterfly survival rate

    Students will utilize our pine rockland habitat to determine survival rates of atala butterflies. Atala butterflies only lay their eggs on the coontie plant, which is plentiful in our pine rocklands. Utilizing that fact students will determine which areas of the pine rocklands have the highest counts of coontie and also which areas have the highest number of atala butterflies.

    Native versus nonnative plant competition experiment

    Plants may compete directly or indirectly with one another for limiting resources. Students will choose a native and nonnative plant to conduct a competition experiment. Data will be collected from variables like growth rates of roots and shoots. Students will also compare differences in overall survival between native and nonnative plant species.

    Native versus nonnative salinity experiment

    Climate change, along with sea level rise will alter coastal habitats that may affect native and nonnative plants differentially. Students will to determine growth (i.e. roots and shoots) and survival rates of a native versus a nonnative plant across varying levels of salinity.

    Aquatic species inventory

    Students will conduct a survey of aquatic species in fresh and/or saltwater areas at Deering Estate. Baited video stations will be created across aquatic habitats and recorded. Students will then determine an aquatic inventory for species located in different areas around the Estate. Students would have to provide their own underwater camera or GoPro.

    Citizen science: monitoring and outreach

    Students will increase the interests of citizens by incorporating them in current programs and projects being conducted at the Deering Estate. This project will focus on flora and/or fauna surveys and the app, iNaturalist. In addition, students will help coordinate and run a bio-blitz event at the Deering Estate.

  • Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

    Learn more about Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden online.

    Million Orchid Project

    Mentor: Dr. Jason Downing

    Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, located in Coral Gables has an opportunity for a student to work directly with the scientists and researchers as part of Fairchild’s The Million Orchid Project. The Million Orchid Project is a community-wide initiative to propagate and reintroduce one million rare and endangered native orchids into urban South Florida neighborhoods. This internship will require work in Fairchild’s state-of-the-art micropropgration laboratory, aboard the innovative STEMLab and at our nursery.

    FIU Tropical Conservation Internship with Fairchild Conservation Team

    Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Possley

    This intern will work closely with biologists and horticulturists on Fairchild's Conservation Team. Part of his/her duties will include assisting the team with their rare plant monitoring field work in natural areas all over South Florida. The intern will have the opportunity to learn about local flora as well as conservation and management issues, and will acquire practical skills such as GPS, GIS and field monitoring techniques. Staff will also guide the intern with one or more independent projects. Potential topics could include seed biology, conservation genetics, ecology, demography or citizen science.

  • Dream in Green

    Learn more about Dream in Green online.

    Mentor: Barbara Martinez-Guerrero

    Water and Energy Learning and Behavior Project

    This project focuses on delivering urgent and highly relevant environmental education about the water-energy nexus to South Florida residents. Through educational workshops, online community forums and interactive tools, WE-LAB seeks to motivate community-wide water-energy saving behaviors and foster long-term environmental stewardship through money saving actions. Participants in the program learn to track and analyze their water and energy use at home and apply the knowledge learned and tools provided in order to take action and make improvements. An intern for Dream in Green would help to evaluate the current activities, participate in planned workshops, help to improve pre/post surveys, help update the current WE-LAB website, and promote participation.

  • The Education Fund

    Learn more about The Education Fund online.

    Mentor: Eddie Rios

    Food Forest Gardener

    The main responsibility of the gardener is to help school maintain their food forest- this requires hands-on, physical labor including mulching, planting, lifting concrete blocks, harvesting and pruning. In addition, the intern will collaborate to train teachers to maintain and harvest crops; assist in harvest distributions for students to take home; and work with the food forest team to expand food forests as needed. All food forests are located in elementary schools so it is important to enjoy working with children, and to have a lot of patience. A certified teacher will be present at all times when children are involved. All tools will be provided. Individual transportation to different schools is required.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    Learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service online.

    Schauss' Swallowtail Butterfly Habitat Assessment

    Mentor: Kevin Kalasz

    Schauss' Swallowtail butterflies have a restricted range in south Florida and their population has been a focus of concern for many years. Working with Kevin Kalasz and Jeremy Dixon at Crocodile Lake NWR, student would collect data on the extent and condition of Schauss' host plants (wild lime and torchwood) at the refuge and develop a plan that would optimize availability of those plants to the butterflies. This project may not be completed during one semester but it is expected that a motivated student could accomplish a significant amount of the work.

    Stock Island Tree Snail Assessment

    Mentor: Shawn Christopherson

    The Stock Island tree snail (SITS; Orthalicus reses reses, not including nesodryas) is an arboreal snail inhabiting the hardwood hammocks of the Florida Keys and Miami-Dade County. The most recent status surveys for SITS are a decade old. Updated range-wide surveys are needed to help determine the current status of SITS and other at-risk tree snails, as well as the distribution/abundance of the New Guinea flatworm (NGF; Platydemus manokwari), a newly identified non-native predator. The student would conduct surveys to help assess the current distribution and abundance of SITS and other at-risk tree snails; identify and implement a viable means to obtain a representative, annual sample of SITS distribution and abundance throughout the range; and investigate the distribution of New Guinea flatworm, assess the impacts on SITS, and formulate an appropriate response. Considering location and time availability of the intern, the list of targeted lands would include public and private lands within Monroe and Miami-Dade County where access has been granted. This information will help guide future conservation and recovery efforts: e.g., long-term monitoring, population/habitat management, NGF control, and listing decisions.

    Diversity assessment of pine rockland herbaceous plants: ground truthing pine rockland plots in conjunction with drone low altitude aerial quadrat imagery (LAQI)

    Mentor: Layne Bolen

    The Pine Rockland habitat in South Florida is a unique, critically endangered system with a highly diverse ground cover of rare and endemic plant species. The use of small drones (unmanned aircraft systems (UASs)) are becoming a valuable tool in habitat assessments and species classification. The purpose of the study is to assess high-definition drone imagery for plant group and species occurrence and to complete ground truth assessment of pine rockland plots at Navy Wells Pineland Preserve in Miami-Dade County. Goals include: 1) Assess the feasibility of using drone LAQIs as a method for plant species assessment and long term monitoring, and 2) establish an identification classification system using drone LAQI. The intern will review LAQI drone images and identify Classification Groups by percent cover in each plot. Species occurring in each plot will be identified to the genus or species level. The intern will also perform ground truth assessment of 8 x 11 foot plots (or quadrats) marked with a center waypoint. The percent estimate of Classification Groups (i.e., percent cover of herbaceous plants, shrubs, grass, palms, ferns, and limestone) will be completed for each plot. Species will be identified to the genus or species level. Ground-truthed results will then be compared to LAQI images of the same plots. The intern may also assist drone pilots with flights as available and interested. This information will establish habitat assessment methods on a small scale for use in habitat management decisions and long-term monitoring of species.

  • Zoo Miami

    Learn more about Zoo Miami online.

    Digital Conservation Education

    Mentors: Frank Ridgley and Steven Whitfield

    One of the most impactful aspects of modern conservation is awareness of the issues concerning species and habitats and creating empathy to inspire action. This internship would concentrate on working with Zoo Miami staff and learning about our regional and global conservation efforts. With this acquired knowledge and the collection of associated digital media, this intern will create effective stories and messaging with the Conservation and Research department and marketing staff through our dedicated Zoo Miami Conservation and Research Facebook, Instagram, Twitter accounts and webpages. Through the use of analytics and engagement statistics, they will determine which type of conservation messaging, media, and interactive content creates the most engagement and what audiences are being the most responsive in order to make the awareness aspects of our programs more effective. The intern should be social media savvy, passionate about conservation, able to write effectively, and can operate a digital camera.

    Butterfly Bunker Laboratory

    Mentor: Frank Ridgley & Steven Whitfield

    The Butterfly Bunker is a repurposed 1940s-era military munitions bunker from the former Richmond Naval Air Base that has been converted to a dedicated hurricane-resistant imperiled Lepidoptera research lab that is entirely solar- and wind-powered. The internship will assist the lab manager in maintaining the Lepidoptera colonies of the targeted species, collect data on the colonies, propagate and collect host plant material, maintain the host plants immediately surrounding the lab and likely participate in field surveys of adults, larvae and host plants. Surplus from the colonies will be used for targeted releases for public engagement, reintroductions, and possible urban rewildling programs.

    Gopher Tortoise Conservation and Ecology

    Zoo Miami's pine rocklands habitat hosts a significant population of gopher tortoises - native threatened tortoises that construct deep burrows that provide a home for the tortoises - as well as hundreds of other species of vertebrates and invertebrates. The Conservation & Research department is conducting a thorough study of gopher tortoises, and is conducting zoo-wide surveys for gopher tortoises burrows, observing tortoise behavior at burrow entrances using motion-sensing video cameras, investigating seed dispersal by tortoises, and conducting radiotelemetry to understand movement patterns and habitat use.

  • The Kampong

    Learn more about The Kampong online.

    Introduced Peacocks in Urban Landscapes

    Mentors: Drs. Elizabeth Anderson and Chris Baraloto

    Peacocks are a common feature of the landscape in many areas of Miami and are particularly prevalent in neighborhoods around Coconut Grove. But anecdotal information suggests that residents of Coconut Grove are divided over their presence. Some residents are fond of the peacocks, feeding them and enjoying their presence around their homes. Other residents claim peacocks are a nuisance that create traffic jams, destroy plants and property, and cause waste and noise pollution. Using The Kampong as a base, this study will estimate current and historical populations of peacocks in Coconut Grove, create a timeline of introduction and population trends, and examine social perceptions of peacocks among residents of the neighborhood.

  • Montgomery Botanical Center

    Learn more about the Montgomery Botanical Center online.

    Palm Reproductive Biology

    Mentor: Joanna Tucker Lima

    The Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) has 381 different palm species and 232 cycad species growing on the property. Specific project ideas related to palm reproductive biology include monitoring and evaluating flowering phenology in one or several different species; studying inflorescence development by examining preserved inflorescence material at different stages of maturity both under the microscope and in the field; examining fruit morphology and assessing viability of fruits in the garden setting; collection of floral scent volatile samples for comparisons across species; and research on pollination ecology and floral biology. For cycads, MBC has research opportunities related to cycad cone and pollen collection, hand pollination, phenology, and seed viability studies, as well as taxonomic work with herbarium specimens and maintaining the World List of Cycads.


Hands-on training lets our interns develop their research and professional skills while advancing tropical research and conservation. Learn about the experiences of some of our past interns:

Brianna Chin

As part of the Spring 2018 internship cohort, Brianna worked at Zoo Miami tracking the movements of gopher tortoises throughout the pine rocklands surrounding the Zoo using a handheld radio receiver, antenna system and GPS. Through the completion of her research project, Brianna learned about Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and using two different kinds of software to keep record of GPS points. Brianna presented a poster based on her research at the 40th annual Gopher Tortoise Council Conference.

Jessica Rodriguez

Jessica was an intern at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Spring 2017. During her internship, she worked on a project that aimed to create a scoring system to rate the fitness of individual mountain bongo antelope - an endangered flagship species native to the high mountain forests of Kenya - to be repatriated to its native ecosystem. In her time as an intern, she gained hands-on experience in animal husbandry and creating research proposals and presentations. After the internship, Jessica worked full-time at FIU as a communications and outreach coordinator and was accepted into FIU's Earth Systems Science PhD program to research environmental policy.

Adrian Figueroa

As a Tropical Conservation Intern in Spring 2017, Adrian examined seed consumption by gopher tortoises in the globally imperiled pine rockland ecosystem surrounding Zoo Miami. He discovered that most of the tortoise seed diet comprised native species, including the seeds from the only known host plant for two federally endangered butterflies.

Daniela Leal

Daniela began her internship with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Spring 2018. During this experience she worked on the Garden's "The Million Orchid Project," which aims to restore native orchids to South Florida's urban landscapes. Daniela worked in the micropropagation laboratory and took on science education roles such as participating in STEMlab and the Discovery Program. Working at Fairchild provided Daniela with more direction regarding her path to finding a career: "Nothing can prepare you better than experience, and that is exactly how I feel about my internship."