Part of a series of stories exploring how service-learning influences careers
At 23, Felicia Nudo came to FGCU with some professional work experience but really no volunteerism experience to speak of. She had an interest in environmental studies, but it didn’t yet run particularly deep. So how did she end up with a dream job stewarding 4,500 acres of conservation land for Lee County?
It all started in her FGCU environmental studies classes, where her interest evolved into a full-blown passion and left her wondering how she was going to get a job to match her enthusiasm. It’s the classic Catch-22 situation. You can’t get a job in that field without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job in the field. Frustrated, she turned to her dad for wisdom. He suggested service-learning.
Nudo’s service-learning experience began where it does for so many FGCU students — in the required University Colloquium class — and continued through the 80 hours of service most students are required to do. She chose projects that were environmentally focused, such as organizing cleanups and providing environmental education.
But she didn’t stop at 80 hours. By the time she graduated in 2017, she had performed hundreds of volunteer hours, won FGCU’s Excellence in Civic Engagement Award and earned five scholarships based on service-learning experiences. As a result, Nudo graduated debt-free.
Part of what fueled her success is that, despite going to school full time and working full time in jobs outside of her field, she welcomed the opportunity service-learning offered to gain relevant experience.
“My service-learning experiences shaped the way I act in my professional life and helped me learn how to manage projects and put my best foot forward,” she says. “Each successive project I initiated got bigger and better because I was building on tools I had already learned.”
One of her most meaningful initiatives was designing a program to teach fourth-graders about the environment. She read them the young adult novel “Flush” by Carl Hiaasen, about two children who expose a casino boat for dumping sewage into the ocean. Then she taught a whole curriculum around it, educating them on the importance of water quality and taking them on field trips. It was a big hit with the kids and their teacher.
With her future profession in mind, she was also cognizant of building contacts within the agencies and community partnerships she served. So when her quest brought her to the Lee County Conservation 20/20 Program, she made sure to form good relationships and network with the coordinators there. They put in a good word for her, and she landed her ideal job.
Today, Nudo has a position as a land stewardship coordinator that would turn most environmental studies majors green with envy. Her days are spent at local preserves doing things like site inspections, monitoring plant and wildlife species, and overseeing prescribed fires — controlled burning to ward off devastating fires. Conservation 20/20 is an environmentally sensitive land acquisition and stewardship program in Lee County to protect natural areas for the benefit of present and future generations in Southwest Florida.
“This is my dream job,” she says. “I’m 28 and don’t have to look for another job. Ever. I spend my days out on the land I’m responsible for.”
For students who are considering the merits of devoting more time to service-learning, Nudo advises pursuing opportunities that match goals.
“Many see it as a box to check off in their college career,” she says. “But it’s not just for the community. It’s for your own development. If the perfect opportunity doesn’t exist, create it. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s an investment you make in your future.”
- More information about service-learning at FGCU