Voices of Alumni: Orlando Raez

Read about this LEAF alumnus who is driven by sustainable transportation.

Science Chronicles

Learn more about Orlando's thoughts on urban conservation in this published interview.

Orlando Raez has moved away from his native New York City and put down roots at the opposite end of the East Coast. But the experiences he had growing up continue to inspire and motivate him today.
"Attending HSES and participating in the LEAF internship with The Nature Conservancy helped grow my curiosity about the world beyond Manhattan."


When did you first become interested in environmental issues?


I was born and raised in Little Italy in Manhattan, and I spent most of my childhood in and around that neighborhood. I first became interested in environmental issues early on when I was attending St. Patrick's Old Cathedral Catholic School. There’s not one specific event or moment I can point to, but by the eighth grade, I knew I wanted to go to the new High School for Environmental Studies (HSES) in midtown Manhattan. Attending HSES and participating in the LEAF internship with The Nature Conservancy helped grow my curiosity about the world beyond Manhattan.


You worked as a LEAF volunteer on the Chaumont Barrens Preserve near Altmar, New York during the summer of 1997. What impact that experience have on you?


We spent most of that time helping to locate and control invasive plant species. It really opened my eyes to the value of preservation and conservation practices and influenced my decision to major in Environmental Studies at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. One summer during college, I was fortunate to be able to share those lessons more broadly. As a summertime museum educator at the American Museum of Natural History, I believe I taught about 5,000 school children grades K-12 about environmental and cultural issues. It felt good to share what I had experienced first-hand.


You’re now working as an urban planner in a transportation/engineering firm, focusing on environmentally sound transit projects. What inspired you to pursue this kind of work?


Since the LEAF program, I have traveled quite a bit. I’ve explored the paper mills of Maine, the giant Sequoias of California, the deserts of New Mexico – and many villages and cities in between. When I began to see the ecological connection between all of these places, I started to realize the importance of land use and policy decisions on our future. I decided to go to graduate school, and in 2008, I got my master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Florida Atlantic University. Before joining my current firm, I worked for various government agencies including Florida Department of Transportation and Miami-Dade County. Recently, I was appointed to the Development Review Board for the City of Hollywood, Florida. I’m excited to let my voice be heard and hopefully do my small part in making this a better place to live for everyone.


What are your goals for the future?


We need to increase transportation choices in and around our communities, so that commuters have choices other than driving an automobile. I’m lucky to live in one of the few pedestrian friendly-areas in southeast Florida, about ten blocks from Hollywood Beach.

Also, turtle nesting season here is from May through October. I've yet to see a turtle lay her eggs on the beach, but I hope to one of these days!


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