A few months after graduating from Coral Reef Senior High, Manny Montesino has taken his passion for fighting climate change and sea rise with him to college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Places like Miami start being endangered simply by worsening storms,” said Montesino in a recent Live Mas scholarship video for the Taco Bell Foundation. “I’m just scared that it’s going to happen so gradually that no one is going to notice and no one is going to think it’s a big deal.”
Montesino, 18, is one of 220 Live Mas scholarship recipients. Each student submitted a two-minute video. Scholarships from $2,500 to $25,000 were awarded based on the student’s innovation and creativity in the videos.
The Coral Reef grad received the maximum $25,000 scholarship.
“He wants to know more, he questions and he’s not really satisfied until he really gets it,” Hemisha Barkow, Montesino’s high school chemistry teacher, said in the video.
Montesino was born in 1998 into a Cuban-American family living in Managua, Nicaragua. At age 2, he and his family moved to the United States. From the time he was very young, Montesino remembers each of his parents saying to him, “Manny I know that you’re capable if you put all of your energy into it.”
“That mentality started to sink in,” Montesino said in the video.
As a Coral Reef student, Montesino was part of the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which provides qualifying students with a pre-university course of studies. At the time of graduation, Manny had taken six IB courses and 10 Advanced Placement courses, and obtained an unweighted grade point average of 4.0.
“In ninth grade, I joined the debate team at my school,” Montesino told the Miami Herald. “Our first paper was on climate change.”
In preparation for the debate, he did extensive research on the topic and quickly realized the severity and importance of it.
“One of my friends started a club in junior year and asked me to speak about climate change,” Montesino said.
Montesino then spoke in front of the school’s Global Issues and Contemporary Community club, focusing his speech on what climate change is and how it affects us all.
“I realized this was something I had to do,” Montesino said. “This was my calling when I realized how little people really knew about climate change.”
Montesino also said “we just have to jump those political hurdles, continue working against the people that perpetuate the idea that climate change is a hoax.”
Even with the threat that climate change poses to the planet, the number of college students pursuing degrees in environmental engineering isn’t very promising, he said.
“Lots of misinformation is causing a lack of opportunity in the field because people aren’t thinking of this field of engineering,” Montesino said.
Now attending MIT, Montesino has chosen to double major in computer science and environmental engineering.
“Environmental science is the science of the future,” Montesino said in the scholarship video.
Many believe that science is yet to be advanced enough to fight climate change, but “these are things we are already familiar with,” he said. “Solar panels, wind turbines — there are other countries which are making their energy 98 percent renewable.”
Montesino suggests that immediate results would come from just taking one step forward, “if you can put solar panels in places like Miami.”
The threat of rising sea levels in low-land areas like Miami is one of the many tasks on his to-do list. “Little by little it’s just getting a little bit warmer, the seas are just getting a little bit higher.”
Montesino said that “having grown up in Miami and loving the city, this is definitely one of my motivators” in studying climate change.
“Is saving the world easy? No, it’s not, but it’s a small price to pay to hopefully make a really big difference for everyone.”