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Debris Free Oceans

Chef Andrew Scholar Program

A Chef with Two Passions; Culinary Arts and the Ocean

To honor the life of Chef Andrew Michael Alessi, Debris Free Oceans has created a program in his memory. The Chef Andrew Scholar Internship is a Fall and Spring semester-long program for post-secondary students based in South Florida who are passionate about engaging communities with education and outreach to address the plastic pollution crisis! With great mentorship from the Debris Free Oceans team, the interns become experts in plastic pollution, public speaking, sustainability consulting, and community organizing.

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About Chef Andrew Michael Alessi

Chef Andrew’s two passions were culinary arts and the ocean. As a credentialed Chef, he spent many hours preparing signature recipes and presentations for the kitchens of the finest Miami restaurants including 27 and The Fontainebleau. Andrew also spent many happy days diving among the beautiful reefs of Miami, the Florida Keys, and the Caribbean and made sure he always collected any debris he saw attached to the reefs.

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The Scholar Program

Each month of the program, interns coordinate and host two educational presentation, one cleanup, and one tabling event. Interns will also fulfill at least one policy engagement, such as making public comments or contacting our lawmakers.

After completing monthly requirements, interns are awarded a stipend, totaling $1,500 by the end of the internship.

Read a Blog about a Past Scholar's Experience!

Meet Our Chef Andrew Scholars

Morgan Krempasky

Current Intern

Morgan is an undergraduate student at the University of Miami, pursuing degrees in Public Health and Spanish. She loves to spend her free time immersed in nature and at the beach, so the Chef Andrews Scholar program was the perfect way to give back to our marine ecosystems that are in need of extra love and care. One of her main interests is how plastics are connected to marine and human health. Morgan will be graduating in Spring of 2024 with plans to pursue a doctorate program in Acupuncture in San Diego, CA. She wants to centralize her future healthcare practice around sustainability and minimizing single-use plastics within the field. Morgan is eternally grateful for the mentorship she has received from DFO, as well as the opportunity to expand her personal knowledge on plastic pollution while simultaneously engaging with members of the community.

Bethany Tolber

Past Research Intern (2023)

Bethany was a Master of Professional Science student who studied Tropical Marine Ecosystems at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science from 2022-23. She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio but found herself drawn to South Florida after visiting the area on a class trip in undergraduate school at the University of Mount Union. Bethany has helped expand plastic-free outreach events to Little Havana and studied the differences between inland and coastal debris during her time as a Chef Andrew Scholar.

Post graduation, Bethany is dedicated to the restoration of Biscayne Bay’s precious ecosystem and educating Miami residents and tourists about its treasures.

Alyssa Ulrich

Past Research Intern (2022-23)

Alyssa was born and raised in Oregon, Ohio. She graduated with a Master of Professional Science from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Sciences with a concentration in Marine Conservation. In addition to hosting cleanups and delivering presentations, Alyssa evaluated the effectiveness of these programs. As a part of her master’s degree, Alyssa also surveyed local marine debris leadership individuals with the hopes to evaluate the impact and reach of community cleanups in Miami-Dade County, representation in environmental conservation, as well as areas of improvement.

Now graduated, Alyssa has moved to Cleveland, OH where she works with high schools in the Greater Cleveland area to expose students to the opportunities that await them after high school and to increase postsecondary attainment. She is still heavily involved in the zero plastic movement and hopes to combine her passion and the passions of students to create a generation of plastic free ambassadors.

Kevin Oakley

Past Intern (2022-23)

Kevin graduated from the University of Miami in the spring of 2024 with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy. He was a junior at The U during his time as Chef Andrew Scholar where he’s since continued his work helping the environment. The summer following his completion of the Chef Andrew program, he interned with Miami Dade county in their Office of Resilience, helping bring forth sustainable initiatives for South Floridians. During his senior year, Kevin, along with some other students, founded the University of Miami Pi Epsilon chapter, a national honor society and academic fraternity dedicated to environmental sciences. After completing his tenure as Vice President of Pi Epsilon, Kevin interned at Metric Engineering, a Florida-based civil engineering company, where he now works full time as an environmental specialist.

“DFO was my first internship. I learned so many of my communication, professional, and organizational skills during my time as a Chef Andrew Scholar. I couldn’t imagine achieving the same level of career success without this experience. Even years later, I’m so thankful to have had this opportunity to bring so much positive change to communities throughout South Florida through the Chef Andrew program.”

Amanda Di Perna

Past Intern (2022-23)

Amanda Di Perna was a Chef Andrew Scholar during the junior year of her undergrad. She graduated as an Outstanding Graduate from Florida International University (FIU) in December 2023 with a B.S. in Marine Biology. Throughout her undergraduate career, Amanda was deeply committed to researching and combating plastic pollution. As President of the Green Campus Initiative, she spearheaded FIU’s inaugural ‘Plastics If You Ask’ initiative, which introduced by-request-only options for single-use plastics on campus. She also held the position of President at the Surfrider Foundation FIU Club, where she actively engaged in environmental policy advocacy and organized numerous cleanups for the FIU community.

Currently, Amanda serves as the Program Manager for Debris Free Oceans, where she continues to work towards a zero waste future. In her role, she not only oversees various programs but also mentors and guides the next generation of Chef Andrew Scholars, empowering them to follow in her footsteps.

Sofía Mesa

Past Director  & Intern 

Sofia was born and raised in Miami, FL to Cuban parents and is a first generation college student. She is a Senior and Hammond Scholar at the University of Miami, graduating with a double major in English, and Ecosystem Science and Policy. At UM, Sofia has served as the Chair of Student Government’s environmental agency ECO and as the Founding Sustainability Director at the free pop-up thrift swap, UThrift. After graduation, she plans on attending Law School and pursuing a career supporting environmental law and policy that protects both people and the planet.

Isabella Herrera

Past Intern (2021-22)

Isabella Herrera (she/her) was a Chef’s Andrew Scholar during her senior year at Florida International University. She graduated from F.I.U. in 2022 with a Bachelor’s in Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology and an undergraduate certificate in Biodiversity Conservation. During her time at F.I.U., Isabella served as the Secretary of Environmental Resilience and Green Initiatives for the Student Government Association. She organized a lecture series on the Biscayne Bay Campus focusing on a variety of environmental and conservation topics and hosted F.I.U.’s “Day on the Bay” — a campus-wide clean up event — in tandem with her role with Debris Free Oceans. An avid admirer of Florida’s ecology, Isabella led kayak and paddleboard tours in Oleta State Park and organized clean ups through the mangrove trails and Sandspur island in North Biscayne Bay.

Isabella is currently an Assistant in Policy, Communication, & Collaboration for the American Meteorological Society, where she continues to incorporate conservation, environmental justice, and community-led solutions into her work at the intersection of science and policy.

Esther Cai

Past Intern (2019-20)

Esther was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelors of Science in Ecosystem Science and Policy with a minor in Climate Policy. Throughout her undergraduate career, Esther was involved with community outreach and sustainability serving as service chair for both her sorority and business fraternity. Even after her internship, she enjoyed organizing beach cleanups with various campus organizations.

Esther is now a Pollution Control Inspector with Miami-Dade County’s Division of Environmental Resource Management. She volunteers frequently with the outreach and education team helping with events such as Baynanza and Adopt-A-Tree. In the future she hopes to continue working towards a more sustainable future and preserving the natural environment.

Lizzie Macgowan

Past Intern

Lizzie grew up in Miami, Florida and attended Florida International University majoring in Psychology and minoring in film photography. She studied at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff for a year, where she took courses on environmental psychology, studying the relationship between the environment and the individual. She is passionate about nature, psychology, and philosophy, and hopes to be an influence in uniting those in order to better the state of the planet. In her free time she can be found tending to her plants and garden, biking, shooting photos, and spending time in nature.