With 1,958 students applying for graduation, Florida Gulf Coast University will send off its largest-ever class this spring.
The vast majority — 1,713 undergraduates and graduate students have RSVP’d — plan to walk across the Alico Arena stage Saturday, May 4, during three commencement ceremonies. Festivities begin at 9 a.m. with the College of Arts & Sciences, followed by Marieb College of Health & Human Services and the College of Education at 1 p.m., and Lutgert College of Business and U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering at 5 p.m. Live webcasts of each will be streamed at fgcu.edu/webcast.
As the capped and gowned celebrate with family and friends, many already are well on their way to achieving success. They’re running businesses launched with guidance from our entrepreneurial programs and based on undergraduate research they conducted here. They’re landing jobs with real-world experience already in hand thanks to FGCU-facilitated internships. They’re traveling across the world to share knowledge and values instilled here through experiential learning.
As the spring Class of 2019 scatters, graduates take part of FGCU with them — wherever they go in the world and whatever they do in their careers. They become ambassadors for the university and its commitment to knowledge, innovation, service and sustainability. And just maybe they’ll inspire a future generation of ambitious Eagles to choose FGCU.
On par for success
Golf management grad Thor Parrish has carried the banner for FGCU and its exclusive PGA-accredited program across the country and abroad via four summer internships. He still keeps in touch with youths he coached last summer at an Ernie Els Performance Golf Academy in Vietnam.
“There’s a lot of interest in coming to America,” he says. “I’m staying connected with at least one kid who’s interested in our program, and hopefully he can come.”
Even as he prepares to collect his diploma and embark on a celebratory weeklong golfing tour of Ireland, Parrish is eager to pause and share his gratitude for the guidance, experience and inspiration he gained at FGCU. Recently named Lutgert College of Business Outstanding Student of the Year, he arrived on campus from Orono, Minnesota, with a purpose and a plan to absorb everything he could. He collaborated on faculty-led research that showed golfers who shortened their swings were just as effective while putting less stress on their bodies — a project that propelled him onstage in FGCU’s first live Research Roadshow. With an entrepreneurship minor, he participated in Lutgert College’s interdisciplinary Runway Program, which helped him start his own golf performance and fitness business last year, Thor the Coach.
“I have taken full advantage of all the opportunities that FGCU provided me,” Parrish says. “I can’t thank FGCU enough for all the resources it’s given me. The research was truly a defining experience of my entire college career. It became a really meaningful project that hit home with a lot of people in the area.”
After he finishes taking a swing at golfing in Ireland, Parrish will get back to business in Southwest Florida, helping area golfers improve their fitness and coaching junior players. He pledges to stay involved in FGCU’s golf management program, too.
“I’m hoping next year I can take on some interns of my own and help more students create the experience I had at FGCU.”
Internships open doors
FGCU’s latest graduating golf guru isn’t the only Eagle in the 2019 class who knows the value of internships. Hadassa Romero and Marlissa Curley both secured jobs before officially finishing their degrees by getting a foot in the door first as interns.
An art major with a concentration in digital media design, Romero didn’t have to walk too far to get her Converse low tops in the modular door of University Marketing & Communications. After excelling in a fall 2018 internship during which she shot and edited promotional videos for FGCU’s website and YouTube channel, she joined the staff full time in February while still taking classes and working on an ambitious senior art project: a 15-minute bilingual documentary for which she filmed and translated interviews with immigrants who crossed the border from Mexico into the United States.
Romero has been learning video production, photography and graphic design since high school in Lehigh Acres, and her hands-on experience as an intern has helped her get around the lack of a video program at FGCU — a digital media design major was just approved this spring.
“You don’t see a lot of video opportunities around Southwest Florida. You can do a lot of things freelance, but it’s hard to do that consistently,” Romero says. “Most jobs require a year or two of experience. Experience is the hardest thing to get.”
Her internship allowed her to enhance her portfolio and wrestle with real workplace issues like deadlines and time management while also testing the waters to see if the office environment was a good fit for her — a concern echoed by classmate Curley.
“Internships are really great because they give you professional experience and knowledge of what to expect,” Curley says. “You get a better understanding of whether this is the field you really want to go into without fully committing to it.”
Another art major with a concentration in digital media design, Curley started interning in May 2018 at The Hertz Corp. headquarters in Estero, not far from campus. The car rental company liked her work as a user-experience designer for its websites and kept her on through her senior year. The internship turned out to be a successful test drive: Less than a month before commencement she accepted a full-time position, joining dozens of other alumni in Hertz’s international workforce of 38,000.
“I see this as a really strong start to my career. I’m lucky to have a job at such a big company known around the world, and being in a corporate environment really pushes me,” says Curley, who credits FGCU faculty for connecting students with internship and professional opportunities. “They really care about how students do here and how they get careers started. I felt very supported through the program.”
Answering the call of the wild
Curley’s sentiment is common among FGCU graduates across diverse disciplines. Smaller class sizes played into the St. Petersburg resident’s decision to attend FGCU. Closer connections with faculty deepen The FGCU Effect, inspiring students who inspire others.
Next fall, environmental studies graduate Macy Kennedy will have the opportunity to pay that inspiration forward when she begins working at an outdoor educational camp for youth in Australia. The Cape Coral native is among 73 Americans ages 21-29 selected for Young Adults in Global Mission, an Evangelical Lutheran Church program that promotes “a transformative, yearlong journey in international service.”
Growing up in Southwest Florida, Kennedy developed a passion for being outdoors and learning about wildlife and ecosystems. FGCU’s commitment to teaching students to understand the local environment and embrace sustainability, conservation and civic engagement further stoked her passion.
“The professors here really care about us and the educational experience we have,” she says. “They took us on so many field trips. I’m a big experiential learner, and these trips helped me learn better than I would have just in the classroom. I got to know the community and got involved in the community.”
Kennedy came to act as a liaison to the campus community and particularly University Colloquium students as one of FGCU’s campus naturalists, who help students connect to the campus ecosystem and the wild side of Florida. Her favorite wildlife experience, though, was a study abroad trip to South Africa where she explored conservation biology.
“Seeing the biodiversity the world has to offer was an incredible experience,” she says.
No doubt she’ll be sharing some of her experiences abroad and on campus with the young people she meets Down Under during the year she has committed to serve — as well as whatever comes after that. With teaching in mind, Kennedy took all of her elective credits in education.
“I want to work in education with my church, with kids ideally, or work somewhere like a conservancy education program,” she says.
Wherever she goes in the world and whatever she does in her career, she’ll be influencing another generation through The FGCU Effect.