Daryl Cordova came to Florida Gulf Coast University as a first-generation college student who planned to one day make a difference in the lives of others as a social worker.
But as is the case with many undergraduates, Cordova, from Lehigh Acres, changed course. Switching to a political science major his sophomore year, the Honors College student still plans to make a difference, but on a bigger stage. Instead of creating impact at the grassroots level of social work, Cordova hopes to do so on the more wide-reaching platform of government work.
“I realized I was more interested in procedural matters and how government works than the clinical one-on-one of social work,” he said.
And so Cordova leaves FGCU on Saturday, May 4, with a diploma in hand, a bachelor’s degree in political science, enshrinement in the FGCU Hall of Fame and the anticipation and excitement of a new academic and social adventure starting this fall: pursuing a master’s in public administration at prestigious George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“I applied to a couple graduate programs, and George Washington was my No. 1 choice,” said Cordova, who will start there in the fall. “The location gives me a unique opportunity for great internships and to work with multiple government organizations while receiving an amazing education.”
Born in Chicago to Mexican immigrants, Cordova and his family moved to Southwest Florida from what he calls a “violent, impoverished neighborhood” in pursuit of a better life, which they found working in the restaurant business. One of his siblings, Melissa Cordova, is a junior biology major at FGCU.
For Daryl Cordova, college wasn’t really a serious thought until his senior year of high school. “I did everything at the last minute, and I was fortunate to get accepted,” he said.
With no higher-education history in the family to draw from, Cordova admits he was apprehensive at first about whether he could cut it at FGCU. “It was a difficult process for me to feel that I belonged at a university, to know whether I could accomplish what I set out to do. There was a lot of self-doubt. You have to make sure you find support, develop the network of people who will have your back when you feel you can’t do something.”
Cordova’s confidence soared at FGCU thanks to Multicultural Leadership Development (MLD) — “That program really enabled me to grow and come out of my shell,” he said — along with the “help of lots of different departments and people.” He served as a mentor for MLD as well as the Honors College.
Cordova served an internship his junior year with Republican state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who’s also director of community relations at FGCU; and another his senior year shadowing Lee County government. The state government internship helped Cordova “learn a lot about interaction between legislators in seeing government at work firsthand. It really enhanced my classroom experiences.” The following internship in local government showed him the difference between state legislative politics and day-to-day county operations that “take projects from paper and develop them into programs and find the people to run them.”
Two 10-day service-learning trips with the Dominican Republic Outreach Program during his freshman and sophomore years were also transformative for Cordova. “That helped me develop a great deal and identify more purpose to what I was doing,” he said. “It gave me greater perspective about what I was studying and what I want to do beyond the educational experience.”
The best advice he can offer current and future Eagles? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. FGCU has entire departments that specialize in that, the ability to develop students in different ways. You’ll find that the courage to get out and search for and find help proves very beneficial.”
Apparently so. Peter Bergerson, professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, calls Cordova one of the best students he has had the privilege to teach in a career that has spanned a half-century.
“I’m impressed with Daryl for several important academic and personal characteristics he has demonstrated in several of my courses,” Bergerson said. “He is goal-oriented, hard-working and has the highest ethical standards. He knows that the values of hard work and discipline have their rewards. He has distinguished himself as one of the best. I know — I’ve seen him demonstrate the qualities that make for future success. He is the best of the flock of FGCU Eagles.”
To hear about Cordova’s accomplishments and aspirations in his own words, check out the You Tube video submitted as part of his FGCU Hall of Fame application.