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Heroes for the humanities

Seidler family investment in College of Arts and Sciences already benefiting students, faculty, community

Arianna Soares could have surfed through the summer, enjoying lazy days on island time in her Key Largo hometown, before beginning her senior year at FGCU.

Instead, the chemistry major holed up in a lab designing crystalline compounds and testing their potential to capture gas molecules such as carbon dioxide. Working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Gregory McManus, she gained valuable experience using high-tech instruments with impressive names like “gas sorption analyzer” and “nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscope.” In the bigger picture, she contributed to McManus’ research on technology that could improve air quality by helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“In a lab, you learn to apply the science you learn in the classroom in reallife situations. It changes your perspective on the science and helps you understand it more,” Soares says. “You could do research just for the knowledge gained, but it’s so cool to know this could be applied on a wide scale.”

Like the 15 other Seidler Summer Undergraduate Scholarship Fellows who conducted research or collaborated on creative projects with 12 faculty members over the summer, Soares gained hands-on experience that should give her an edge when applying for graduate programs or jobs. Spanning fields from playwriting and music composition to biological and marine sciences, the fellowships are just one of many programs made possible or expanded by The Seidler Fund. Established by Lee and Gene Seidler of Sanibel, and Lee’s daughter Laurie, the fund aims to enhance opportunities in FGCU’s College of Arts and Sciences for undergraduate scholarship, humanities initiatives and arts programming.

“This gift will touch the lives of countless students in the years ahead,” says Robert Gregerson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We are extremely grateful to the Seidlers for their thoughtful and generous support.” By the time their name was unveiled on the former Academic Building 7 last January, the philanthropic seeds planted by the Seidler family were well on their way to bearing fruit. Students majoring in humanities and social sciences already were benefiting from a new mentoring program that strengthens their preparation for successful careers. Aspiring artists were given the opportunity to travel and expand their cultural and professional experiences.

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With their gift, the Seidlers wanted to help ensure that FGCU continues to strengthen programs in its largest college. “It’s a matter of trying to preserve the arts and sciences,” Lee Seidler says. “My wife and I both had a liberal-arts education. We want to make sure students who want that foundation in the humanities have access to those programs.”

Longtime supporters of First Generation scholarships and arts programming at FGCU, the Seidlers and their latest generous gift helped expand the annual 24 Hour Festival creative competition, sent five art majors to the National Council of Education for the Ceramic Arts and funded an inspirational tour of Miami art museums and galleries for 19 art majors.

“Without the Seidler gift there was no way for us to do field trips like this for our students,” says Associate Professor Michael Salmond, one of the day-trip organizers. “These excursions introduce the students to art and design from the larger world, and it’s a critical part of their education. Until now, it’s not something we’ve been able to afford.”

The Seidler Fund also enables the college to pursue unanticipated opportunities such as an Archaeology Field School conducted during summer session in a sugar-cane field in rural Palm Beach County. Two professors and 14 students participated in an excavation to seek clues about previous civilizations that may have used the land thousands of years ago. This fall, students enrolled in an artifact analysis course started detailed analysis of the pottery sherds, animal bones and shells they unearthed, cleaned and catalogued. They will present their conclusions at the Florida Anthropological Society annual meeting in May 2017.

“These students will be able to produce research posters and author research from this,” says Assistant Professor of Anthropology Bill Locascio, who organized and taught the field school. “They will leave here versed in the basic skills of field work, so they can be hired as field techs in cultural resource management or be accepted into graduate school.”

Preparing students for successful careers after graduation is one of the main goals of PAGES, a mentoring program launched in 2015-16 and supported by The Seidler Fund. The name stands for “Professional Development and Networking, Academic Achievement, Global Sophistication, Engaged Living and Skills Development.” The program began with a core conviction that the humanities teach students skills such as critical thinking, communication and problem solving that are crucial to understanding our world and valuable in a variety of fields. In its augural year, 25 undergraduates majoring in humanities or social science subjects engaged in peer mentoring, refined career goals and networked with professional partners in the community.

For Cassandra Ellis, PAGES was a lifeline when she changed her major from biology to philosophy. She felt adrift. People asked her “What are you going to do with that?” As she puts it, PAGES is helping to show that humanities majors are “not just people who end up working at Starbucks.” This fall, she started an independent study project that combines her love of philosophy with her interest in medicine.

“There’s a lot of support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors, which is great, but I was really drawn to philosophy and humanities and didn’t see as much support,” the junior from Naples says. “This program is really helping me find my path. I’m grateful to the Seidler family and happy that there are people out there who love FGCU as much as I do and appreciate humanities majors as much as STEM majors.”