Sofia Mesa

Making a lasting contribution to the University’s legacy of sustainability

By Deserae E. del Campo

Making a lasting contribution to the University’s legacy of sustainability

By Deserae E. del Campo
Foote Prize winner is committed to shifting perceptions on food security and fashion’s environmental footprint

Looking back at the moments in her life that sparked her dedication and commitment to sustainable living and environmental causes, Sofia Mesa says that one of her greatest influences was her mom and joining the local nonprofit organization, Debris Free Oceans, which is dedicated to making Miami a zero-waste city.

“My mom was the kind of person who would bring home stray animals all the time,” said Mesa, who is double majoring in English and ecosystem science and policy on the pre-law track. “It made me question my relationship to animals and I wanted to do more, so I went vegan.

“Yet, when I was introduced to Debris Free Oceans, who came to give a presentation at my high school, that is when I really started learning how I can do more for the environment,” she added. “I learned how everything is interconnected to climate change, from how eating more plant-based foods results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, to the fact that the oil and gas industry also makes money from making single-use plastics.”

In a virtual ceremony celebrating Earth Week on the University of Miami Coral Gables campus, recipients of the esteemed Foote Prize were announced and honored for their contribution to the University’s legacy of sustainability. Mesa, who is this year’s student recipient, is chair of Student Government’s ECO Agency and Sustainability Director of UThrift, the campus’ free thrift swap aimed at alleviating fashion’s environmental footprint.

Her work is focused on addressing and normalizing conversations about the environmental impacts of single-use plastics, the fashion industry, and food sustainability. With UThrift, Mesa is dedicated to promoting how the free community swap is an affordable way for the UM community to sustainably donate things that they don’t want and pick up free items they love in exchange. She has also been able to work as ECO Agency chair with ECO board member Teresa Vazquez to start a free campus food pantry, 'Canes Community Pantry.

“The ‘Canes Community Pantry allows students to pick up any food items they need, and we also accept donations right at the pantry,” said Mesa. “Food insecurity exists everywhere. We don’t want to put labels on anyone for using the ’Canes Community Pantry. It’s for everyone on campus. If a student needs a quick snack, they can find it at the pantry. That’s why the pantry is there—to support our community without judgement.”

Born and raised in Miami, Mesa was unsure where to apply for college after attending Miami Palmetto Senior High School. Mesa said she wanted to attend a university where sustainability was an integral part of the campus culture, and she has seen that grow here at the University of Miami.

“What I’ve learned about myself and my experience with sustainability is that we need community to address the big problems happening now,” said Mesa. “There are so many things that we can do. Everyone can get involved and try their best to reduce the impacts of climate change and promote sustainable living, from eating more plant-based foods to riding a bike as means for transportation, every little bit helps. It can be overwhelming sometimes to address these issues, but we can do it if everyone chips in, and we work together.”