Shaped by the past and informed by the present, the future of any great institution is sculpted from the dreams of its visionaries – those individuals who understand what it takes to build greatness. Which is to say – the future doesn’t just happen. It’s a work in progress, born of big dreams, careful planning, hard work and focus.
FGCU’s impressive first 20 years are a testament to the leading-edge vision of founders who dreamed big. During this brief slice in time, FGCU not only earned a reputation for excellence in higher education, but also contributed greatly to the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of Southwest Florida.
FGCU President Mike Martin looks with great confidence to the future. He sees FGCU’s legacy for excellence in higher education, its commitment to its students and its connectiveness to the community it serves all recognized nationally and internationally. Bottom line: FGCU 2037 no longer needs an introduction. Its reputation as a great regional university is solid.
As Martin leads the university into this position of prominence on the world stage, he is clear. The intent isn’t to compete with the elites. The intent, he said, is to become a strong model for other regional colleges and universities. “We see ourselves as a strong regional university that garners respect for the excellent job we do close to home,” Martin said. This holds true today, tomorrow and well into the future.
“We’re always seeking to give our students a holistic experience, both in the classroom and beyond. We’re looking to connect students to the local economy and to the social and cultural life of the community.” And, in the process, Martin anticipates sharing FGCU’s successes with the world at large.
Student success and enrollment are prime areas of focus for the university. It’s not, however, a question of raising academic standards for admission. “We are committed to our mission of giving every student, regardless of background or personal funding, the opportunity for a better life through higher education,” Martin said. “I’m less committed to raising the bar and more focused on helping students clear the bar.”
Graduate studies is another area of interest. “Southwest Florida is a unique environment, a living laboratory,” Martin said, one that lends itself to a substantial growth in graduate education and the development of research-based doctoral programs.
“Who else lives in a place where you walk outdoors and your lab is immediately available? This plays to FGCU’s unique advantage,” he said. “We can do things no one else can, and we can help
solve critical issues for the community.” The planned School of Integrated Coastal and Watershed Studies is one example of an idea whose time has come.
The community factors prominently into FGCU’s future. “There is enormous intellectual power in our community,” Martin said, “people with a wealth of interesting experiences who could add texture to the education of our students and inject a unique perspective as we plan our future.”
Martin’s enthusiasm for FGCU is tangible. He talks of creative ways to increase enrollment beyond the 20,000-student capacity of the campus – opening satellite campuses, creating joint degree programs in partnership with other institutions, better utilizing existing facilities.
He sees a future with students participating even more in community service projects and relates how the students instinctively stepped up to assist during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“FGCU has come much farther than anyone ever predicted,” Martin said. “We have carried out our vision remarkably well. Now, our message is that we can go so much farther in the next 20 years. We want people to get excited, to see this place is a special opportunity for everyone, everyone can participate.”
When all is said and done, he said, “It’s simple. The role of higher education is to transform individual lives, so they can transform the greater society.”
What then lies ahead? Who are today’s visionaries? What will define The FGCU Effect in the year 2037?
The Community’s University … A Robust Work in Progress
Susan Evans, ‘02, MPA
Vice President and Chief of Staff
Susan Evans was there at the very beginning. When a stroll through the campus meant chopping trails through thick undergrowth, machete in hand. She was there when the dream that is FGCU sprouted up from the wilderness. Literally.
With the past so indelibly etched in her mind, Evans, now vice president and chief of staff at FGCU, struggles to look forward 20 years. The truth is the present, with its 100-plus buildings and 15,000 students, continues to astonish this long-serving administrator.
It doesn’t take long, however, before she eagerly shares her vision for the institution she’s helped to build and nurture each day beginning four years prior to the university opening its doors to students in August 1997.
Evans credits the generosity of donors and community members for bringing the vision of a comprehensive university to Southwest Florida. “The level of community support is a huge hallmark of our history,” she said. “One that continues to grow and inspire others, and one that will take us into the future 20 years from now, 200 years from now. FGCU is, without doubt, the community’s university.”
FGCU sits on 800 acres (760 when it began), half of which is environmentally protected, a fact that impacts future construction. Add to that the financial reality. State funding for constructing public university buildings has significantly declined over the years. Today’s plans do, however, include building a new academic building when funding is available.
Reflecting on what got the university this far, Evans looks to the future with confidence. “FGCU is a pioneer,” she said. “We took 760 raw acres of land and turned that into what we see today – a campus and university with the power to transform lives. That power will only strengthen as we continue to grow.
“FGCU is spunky. You need only think of 2013 and Dunk City. But for me, Dunk City was about more than each spectacular dunk. To me, it was an answer to those people who said we couldn’t compete with the big guys; we couldn’t build a university. By introducing FGCU on the national stage, we said to people, ‘Hey look at us.’ And they did.
“And finally, FGCU has great spirit, and with that spirit and its responsiveness to the needs of our students and our community solidly in place, we will be able to address whatever the future holds.”
The Evolution of FGCU … The Future Begins Now
Blake Gable, ’01, MBA
CEO Barron Collier Companies, Chair FGCU Board of Trustees
Everyone knows the university experienced tremendous growth in its first 20 years. “Now, we need to take a deep breath,” said Blake Gable, chair of the FGCU Board of Trustees. “We need to make sure we’re handling the basics and the fundamentals; we need to make sure we’re providing our students with a quality education and the opportunity to move in and through their academic careers more expeditiously than in the past.”
This means that FGCU needs to have a laser focus on student success – on providing those programs and degrees that allow students a sustainable path to graduate within four years.
Realistically, he said, “Undergoing these kinds of initiatives takes a long time. There are a lot of components to it. We’re not going to see graduation rates change overnight.” That said, identifying the metrics for student success is critical. “All the basics are here,” he said. “We just need to realign how we’re approaching things.”
Gable acknowledges FGCU’s remarkable achievements. The evolution of any great enterprise, however, soon morphs from the congratulatory phase to a level of in-depth analysis. It is that analysis that moves an institution from great to greatness. And it is that point in the evolutionary process that FGCU now finds itself.
“We need to identify what’s not working,” Gable said, “and change it. And if the change isn’t working, we need to acknowledge that and do something different.”
One thing Gable believes can be improved upon is outreach to the Naples community. “Some of the best business minds in the country call Naples home. They want to be a part of things in Southwest Florida. They want to make a difference. We need to do a better job of exposing these business leaders to the university and show them how they can make an impact.”
Times Are Changing … A Sustainable Blueprint for Student Success
Mitchell L. Cordova
Vice President for Student Success and Enrollment
“What it comes down to is positioning the university and its programs in such a way as to continue to attract the highest quality students who want to experience the FGCU Effect,” said Mitchell Cordova, vice president for Student Success and Enrollment, and former dean of the Marieb College of Health & Human Services. “And, ideally, we want FGCU to be our students’ first-choice school.”
Simply said. Not-so-simply done.
But Cordova embraces the challenge. He has been tasked with leading the student success and enrollment management initiative at FGCU, which involves many things: finding ways to improve FGCU’s four-year graduation rate; ensuring students are well prepared to graduate with the competencies and proficiencies they need to secure a good job at a competitive salary within their chosen career path; looking at efficiencies between and among offices and divisions in creating a comfortable learning environment for students; engaging faculty more in supporting students outside of the classroom; and focusing on enhancing our customer service.
When it comes to this Herculean to-do list, Cordova begins with the observable: “We’re not operationally aligned. There will be lots of changes. We need to create a structure for all of this to happen seamlessly on campus.”
It goes without saying that this new structure must be sustainable, flexible and poised to meet the growing needs of the students and the community.
It’s impossible to quote actual metrics when it comes to forecasting student enrollment, graduation rates, faculty retention and such for the year 2037. What is possible is to say all metrics will be greatly improved. Year 2018 is what Cordova calls the “design phase” of the initiative. “We’re in the process of creating teams charged with attacking these specific issues and coming up with tactical solutions we know will have a positive impact.”
So, the bottom line is this: FGCU is reexamining what is happening now, so it can ensure its reputation for quality only continues to get stronger in the years to come.
An Unstoppable Force in SWFL … A Bold Action Plan for Growth
Vice President for University Advancement
FGCU 2018 – a young university on the rise, committed to excellence in a region in the throes of its own growth spurt. FGCU 2037 – an institution solidly embedded in the community it serves, its tradition of excellence its hallmark. This is an institution that has taken its focus on academic excellence and meaningful transformation to the next level by strengthening its graduate degree programs, expanding its cutting-edge undergraduate and graduate research, and launching additional programs and activities in response to student and community needs.
The key, he said, is blurring the boundaries between FGCU and the community. Which means, essentially, merging the two. Simoneau believes this will happen over time as FGCU’s vision begins to take physical shape. Simoneau sees a health clinic, hotel and conference center, and a continuing care and retirement center, maybe even a charter school – all built close to campus. The result? A vibrant community that advances the educational needs of its students and serves the interests of Southwest Florida and its citizens.
“It’s not about how FGCU will fit in,” he said. “It’s about how FGCU, in partnership with the community, will be a major player in solving the critical issues facing the region.” Issues like water quality and responsible development come to mind.
But the time is now, he said, “to think more aggressively about our future. What can we be? Where do we want to go? How can we continue to evolve in a mature way?”
Simoneau envisions all major industries embedded, engaged and married to the activities of the university, whether it’s health care, hospitality, construction, entrepreneurship – you name it. “We’re already the pipeline for intellectual capital for this area,” he said. “We need to build on this with one generation of FGCU graduates mentoring the next.” This, he said, in much the same way Princeton or Harvard or any of the elite privates feed graduates to well-established businesses and industries.
“We’re in the process of building a robust entrepreneurial system supported by students and faculty; we’re generating new ideas, creating new businesses, developing the infrastructure for innovation,” he said. In 20 years, Simoneau believes that infrastructure will be well in place – entrepreneurship alive, well and thriving.
Simoneau’s vision is a lofty one, but he strongly believes the university’s robust external fundraising from local friends and businesses, together with the future support of FGCU alumni as they mature into their careers, will ensure its success.
“Our donors are driven by the desire to make a difference through their philanthropy,” Simoneau said. “They understand the impact they can make at FGCU. They understand we are educating tomorrow’s leaders. One million dollars has a greater power to impact FGCU then, say, an institution like Harvard. And our appreciation for their support is enormous.
“We can become as strong as any great university in the country,” he said. “And we will.”
Alumni 2037 … The FGCU Effect in Action
Michael Nachef, ’10, Political Science
Director of Government Relations at Lee Health
Michael Nachef is confident that The FGCU Effect will be as impactful 20 years from now as it is today. His own experience points to something tangible. Solid. “The FGCU Effect is a building block for the future, a foundation,” he said, “not only for students, but also for administrators, staff and alumni.”
Nachef graduated in 2010 with a degree in political science. Immediately following graduation, he accepted a position as a legislative assistant to state Sen. Garrett Richter. Six years later, he became director of government relations at Lee Health, the largest public hospital system in Southwest Florida and the largest employer in Lee County.
Today, Nachef serves on the board of the Alumni Association and is chair of the Development Committee. In 20 years, he estimates alumni could number 45,000-plus. Nachef is committed to finding ways to draw alumni back to FGCU and encourage them to participate in alumni events, to volunteer and to mentor current students.
He acknowledges that today’s alumni are young, early to mid-career. In 20 years, they will be more established and, he predicts, better positioned to give back financially. “But even today,” he said, “our young alumni are contributing to the capacity they can.”
Nachef sees FGCU’s regional pipeline for employment continuing to flow smoothly over the years. He envisions even more excitement generated by FGCU athletics. He predicts a rising academic profile of students.
For his part, he said, “Attending FGCU gave me opportunities no other university could have. The possibilities for participation were limitless. In 20 years, I believe FGCU will offer students even more opportunities and, with that, an even greater ability to shape the future.”
Philanthropy Reimagined … A Future Where Giving Back Includes Talent Sharing
Donor and Adjunct Professor, Counseling
Thanks to a generous donation from Alise Bartley and her husband, David W. Bartley, FGCU is poised to open a mental health center on campus early next year. But Alise Bartley made it clear that the Bartleys’ donation is not all about the money.
“The common perception is that philanthropy is about people giving huge amounts of money,” she said. But Bartley believes that philanthropy is equally about “helping each other.” That help might take the form of funding. But it might just as well be sharing of talents or participating in community service projects or any number of other ways one person can impact the life of another.
Equally important to Bartley is destigmatizing mental health issues. “My husband and I were looking to fund a center within an institution that was in touch with the needs in our community and of society in general,” she said.
FGCU, while forging its own path, is still a young institution, not stuck on traditions and very much in touch with its community. This resonated with the couple.
Her hope for mental health in 2037? “I’d love to see lots of counseling centers in all communities, each staffed by our students who have been well trained by FGCU. I’d like us to have tapped into the rich resource of talented people in our community, who lend their time and talents.”
And Bartley would like the concept of service as philanthropy to be firmly rooted in the FGCU psyche by the year 2037. “Money is great,” she said. “But talent is priceless.”
FGCU – Nationally Known as Southwest Florida’s Hometown University
Director of Athletics
FGCU’s athletics to-do list is straightforward: recruit the best student-athletes and coaches and raise enough funds to support them and their teams, plus give them the resources they need to succeed. And, by the way, make sure the athletics fields, equipment and facilities are first-class, befitting of a Division I institution.
Of course, men’s basketball comes immediately to mind when we think FGCU athletics. “Let’s keep in mind, however,” said Ken Kavanagh, director of athletics, “that we have 15 Division I sports
teams.” His point: each student-athlete in each team needs support, whether it’s financial, academic or physical. Each team requires enormous human and financial resources and, if FGCU Athletics is to move successfully into the future, focus needs to be on strengthening the base.
“In 2037, I’d like us to look back and say we finally reached our goals of fully funding NCAA allowable scholarships for each sport and of compensating coaches and staff at competitive Division I levels across the board,” said Kavanagh. “By 2037, I’d like to see first-class fields and facilities. I’d like to see us comprehensively addressing the nutritional and mental health aspects of our student-athletes side-by-side with their physical and academic training.”
To achieve these goals, Kavanagh says that community support is crucial, and, judging by the $575,000 the 2017 Night at the Nest fundraiser garnered, support should only grow over the next couple of decades.
Kavanagh is frequently asked when FGCU will introduce football to its roster. The easy answer, he said, is, “Not in the foreseeable future. Financial considerations aside – and they are considerable – we need to concentrate our energies on maximizing our existing 15 Division I teams.”
Today and always, Kavanagh sees the responsibility of FGCU Athletics as more than training student-athletes to excel in sports. “We will continue our responsibility to promote positive publicity for FGCU in terms of our collective academic, athletics and community service endeavors, to give our alumni and our community something to be proud of.”
Much like UCLA or MIT, Kavanagh believes that, in the future, the letters FGCU will be easily recognized nationally as Southwest Florida’s hometown university. Period. No need to spell it out.