The College of Arts, Sciences & Education prepares students for life after graduation to become successful leaders in the community. We went on a search to find CASE alumni who are thriving in their careers. This is one in a series we’ve titled, Where are they now?
FIU in the 80’s was different than it is today. There were only two campuses – Bay Vista, now known as the Biscayne Bay Campus, and University Park, now known as the Modesto A. Maidique Campus. The buildings were scarce, the majors offered were limited and the student population was a mere 16,500.
Among those 16,500 was Albert Mastrianni. Having moved with his parents to Ft. Lauderdale in the 1950’s when he was just a few years old, the now 74-year-old recalls jumping at the idea of becoming a Panther and attending Miami’s local public university.
A double major in economics and environmental studies, he was what would be known as a non-traditional student. He came to the university almost 20 years after graduating high school, with a wife and six children, eager to get his degrees.
“I always tell the kids to keep your eyes and your mind open,” he said. “When you first start, you’re geared towards one thing, but you want to take as many different courses [as possible] to compliment that.”
He credits FIU with giving him the knowledge and skillset he needed to start his own environmental consulting business just one and a half years after graduating in 1985.
“Everything in my business I owe to this school. The professors, the courses, the opportunities.”
Founded in 1987, Mastrianni runs environmental programs in three states: Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. He’s known as an environmental consultant and was one of the first of his kind in Miami-Dade County. At the time, there were only five or six other environmental consulting companies in the area.
“I first envisioned my job as trying to convince businesses that this was worthwhile to do,” he said. “I tried to explain to businesses that if they had a 10 million dollar property with 6 million dollars’ worth of contamination… the property was actually worth 4 million. With numbers, they listen.”
One by one, he built the relationships needed to help businesses understand he was on their side and not the enemy. He had to educate them on why it was beneficial to them to help reduce carbon. He worked with a range of people to test ground water, soil, surface, water and air quality. Then he had the task of reading, interpreting and suggesting changes as needed.
This was back at the start of his consulting days.
Now he focuses on maintaining the gains he has made with clients. This includes teaching courses on compliance for big corporations. He covers the proper handling and disposal of waste in addition to how to read labels. His company ensures there is little to no contamination after hurricanes hit and keeps teams on the right track at all times.
“I’ve been running a business for 33 years. 98 percent of my clients are from 1987, including Braman Honda. I used to have to clean up pollution underground, now I focus on maintaining.”
When he first decided on environmental studies, he would have never thought he’d be his own boss three decades later.
“The environmental field has the most in-demand jobs with the rise of sea level, global warming [and] the melting of the icecaps,” he said. “We thought in 1982 that what’s happening right now would take hundreds of years… it hasn’t even been 30, it’s accelerated.”
The most important thing to remember when studying this type of science?
“You can’t stop some of it, but you have to try to at least contain the damage at this point. You gotta believe in it.”
Mastrianni still remembers taking a course – now called Ecology of South Florida – that allowed him to experience the many ecosystems all around him. Through field trips to places like Bill Baggs State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, snorkeling in Key Largo and exploring Everglades National Park, his eyes were opened to the importance of his unique home.
“I’m thankful to have had that opportunity – to be here in the early 1980’s, what was the beginning of the environmental movement, and to have people encourage you every step of the way. I can’t say enough about the encouragement I got at FIU.”
Mastrianni still runs his business full time and has no plans to slow down. He doesn’t think of retirement as an arbitrary point in time. There is still so much to be done.
In between work and kayaking on the weekends, Al recently finished writing his first collection of poetry, “Florida and Other Poems.”
The collection reflects the major themes of his life. In three sections, he starts by taking readers through his first love – Florida. The second section focuses on wanderings, harkening back to his travels throughout the Caribbean and Europe. Finally, the collection ends with a meditation on workers and the opportunity each individual has to make an impact.
He’s working on two more collections, expected to be released in 2019 and 2020.
Advice he’d like to leave behind for the incoming freshman class?
“Learn how to do something, but also learn how to think. It’s not just the job, pick something that’ll make a difference. Your job is something that you go to everyday, you have to believe in what you do. You never want to feel like you’re just steady.”