Making a difference doesn’t necessarily require large sums of money. It doesn’t have to originate in a think tank with high-powered executives. A simple question by a discerning college student can spark change, too – in this case in the city of Fort Myers.
Sophomore Hailey Countryman asked a simple question of Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson when Peter Ndiangui, visiting assistant professor in the College of Education, invited Henderson to address students in his Intro to Diversity for Educators class.
The question: “Mr. Mayor, do you have a diversity advisory committee for the city of Fort Myers?” The answer: “No.” The response: “I think you need one.”
The result: Henderson, with assistance from Ndiangui and Beth Countryman, Hailey’s mother and vice president of Treasury Management at Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, formed the Diversity and Inclusion Council of Fort Myers.
“The council’s mission is all about empowering people economically and encouraging community engagement,” Ndiangui said.
Thinking back to the class and what prompted her question, Countryman said, “Mayor Henderson was sharing information about the city and his job as mayor. He said he felt like one of the reasons he was elected was because he makes a special effort to reach out to everyone, making him a better representative of all the people. But when I asked my question, I think he could see how his administration could make more of an effort. He welcomed the idea.”
Hailey’s mother, Beth, proud of her daughter and a friend of the mayor, was also instrumental in getting the idea off the ground. The council is divided into two pillars, said Countryman – the Socio-Economic Pillar, of which she is vice chair, and the Community Outreach Pillar, headed by vice chair Kathy Bruno, principal in Bruno & Prado, a Fort Myers law firm.
Good ideas often spawn more good ideas. In this case, Ndiangui and Elizabeth Elliott, professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education in FGCU’s College of Education, visited the bank to meet with Beth Countryman and her colleague Amy McQuagge, vice president and director of marketing. The result: The bank made a generous donation to the College of Education.
“The bank likes to get involved in things that are important to the community and, especially, things their employees are involved in,” said Beth Countryman.
On behalf of the College of Education, Elliott expressed her appreciation of the gift. “Sanibel Captiva is a community bank,” she said. “The primary purpose of this gift is to develop future educators and educational leaders within our local community.”
In recognition of the bank’s generosity, Merwin Hall’s courtyard has been renamed the Sanibel Captiva Community Bank Courtyard. It will be used as a common space for community events.
“We are very proud of what is happening in our classrooms at FGCU’s College of Education,” said Dean Eunsook Hyun. “Our students, faculty and community members together are making a difference for the community, with the community and in the community. That is the FGCU Effect.”
Hailey Countryman is proud of her part in the process. She credits the things she’s learned in Ndiangui’s class as being a real eye opener for her. “Dr. Ndiangui is very upfront about the fact that our conversations can get uncomfortable at times,” she said. “I haven’t experienced hardships and disadvantages as others in my class have. I want to be a teacher, and this class has changed my perspective to include equity in the classroom in ways I wouldn’t have thought of before.”
Ndiangui, Hailey Countryman and others now want to create an FGCU chapter of the international organization, Youth for Human Rights International.
“Essentially, the organization focuses on providing educational materials to communities,” said Countryman. “These are your human rights, no matter who you are, where you live. The idea is to teach members and encourage others to get involved in equality, equity and human rights.”
Not a bad return on a simple question.