Not many people become department heads in just their second year of teaching. For Felipe Maldonado (’16, Art), leading the art department at North Fort Myers High School just two years after graduation from Florida Gulf Coast University’s art program has strengthened his belief in the importance of life’s “little decisions.”
It was a little decision that brought Maldonado to FGCU in the first place. Born in California but raised in Broward County on Florida’s east coast, Maldonado said he faced issues applying for in-state tuition at FGCU. He couldn’t afford out-of-state fees, and although he was excited to be the first in his family to go to college, he thought his application for in-state tuition had not been filed in time.
The night he went online to withdraw his acceptance to FGCU, Maldonado checked his tuition payment page one last time.
“Out of nowhere, the number had changed,” Maldonado said. “It had lowered to in-state tuition costs. I kind of freaked out. I woke up everyone in the house.”
Maldonado, who keeps in touch with his FGCU mentors and will return in the fall to display work at an exhibition, says he fell in love with the university the minute he came to campus.
“Once I got here, this was home,” he said. “FGCU was home.”
Other little decisions helped Maldonado get to his current role.
When he saw a temporary teaching position open at Cape Coral High School, he called instead of filling out an online job application. They scheduled him for the next available job interview – the very next day at 8 a.m. Maldonado, who was at an event on the other side of Florida, drove through the night to get to the interview and borrowed professional clothes from friends to wear because he didn’t have time to go home and get his own.
He was offered the job later that day. Maldonado made another seemingly small decision near the end of that school year to meet with his principal before applying for other jobs. The teacher he was filling in for would be returning soon, and Maldonado needed a new job. The principal appreciated the meeting, and when Maldonado interviewed to be the ceramics teacher at North Fort Myers High School, that principal personally called and recommended him for the position. For the second time in his life, Maldonado received a job the same day as his interview.
His energy and passion for art are now making big impressions on his colleagues and students.
“It brings me joy to be able to teach them, help them find their voice and continue their love for art.“
Ellen Bianchi started in the North Fort Myers art department at the same time as Maldonado, and says he is part of the most collegial group she’s worked with in 40 years of teaching.
“We get along famously,” Bianchi said. “We look to him for leadership and guidance, but he looks to us for guidance as well. It’s a very lateral kind of work relationship.”
Maldonado and Bianchi also collaborate outside of school. When Bianchi opens her new location for DAAS Co-Op Art Gallery in Fort Myers this spring, it will display some of Maldonado’s pottery.
Maldonado keeps his students interested in art by taking them to museums, on college tours, and giving them local opportunities to showcase their art. Several of his students had work featured at ArtFest 2019 in downtown Fort Myers, both in the student showcase and the chalk-art competition.
At ArtFest, a local housing community representative asked Maldonado for student help creating a mural in the community. Now, Maldonado is working to make that a reality, and to get his students involved in mural projects throughout Fort Myers.
“It brings me joy to be able to teach them, help them find their voice and continue their love for art,” Maldonado said.