News | August 21, 2020


FGCU takes cautiously optimistic approach to reopening

Face masks now mandatory across university

How do you find some sense of normalcy during a global pandemic? For many students, faculty and staff, the answer might be in their return to Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).

Early on, FGCU’s leadership realized the pre-COVID-19 “normal” was likely a thing of the past, so they created a nimble plan to welcome back students and employees. The plan features new protocols for the fall semester and an appeal to every member of the community for individual responsibility. All of it falls under the campus’ primary goal – to “Protect The Nest.”

“If ever there was a critical time to emphasize and to practice personal responsibility, this is it,” FGCU Vice President and Chief of Staff Susan Evans wrote to the campus in late July. “Everyone in the FGCU family will have to care about ourselves and each other; protect ourselves and each other; and be smart for ourselves and each other!”

Photo shows Gervais Baptiste, a finance and supply chain management major, discusses the importance of wearing a mask in one of the “Protect The Nest” campaign videos.
Gervais Baptiste, a finance and supply chain management major, discusses the importance of wearing a mask in one of the “Protect The Nest” campaign videos. Photos: James Greco/FGCU

A primary tenet of the “Protect The Nest” campaign, masks are now required for everyone on campus and at secondary FGCU locations like Vester Marine Field Station and the Emergent Technologies Institute. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Masks may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others. Wearing a mask will help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

A social media video ad campaign featuring multiple FGCU students is helping to inform the campus community about the mask mandate. Students also discuss the importance of social distancing (remaining at least 6 feet away from someone), even when wearing a mask; constant handwashing; and health monitoring. The latter is being accomplished through a new app, which has quickly become the ultimate indicator of individual responsibility.

Each morning, students, faculty and staff members are required to complete a daily COVID-19 health screening questionnaire through the app. The answers to these questions dictate whether a student or employee should come to campus, leave on-campus housing, or take other measures intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The information provided is secured in accordance with HIPAA, FERPA and other applicable laws.

“Every day, respond with respect to your health conditions on the app that’s been provided,” FGCU President Mike Martin said. “We will only succeed [with reopening] if everyone, everyone, takes personal responsibility to make this work. To date, we’ve been doing well, but it will depend now on all of us coming together.”

Photo shows FGCU student
Music education major Sami Maddox gives a “Wings Up” hand signal and shows off one of the new student masks.

Martin’s comments were made Tuesday, Aug. 18, during one of his semi-regular video updates. The president’s videos have become valuable tools for reiterating information found throughout campus, in email updates and on the “Protect The Nest” website. Martin started recording his thoughts in March. As of this week, he has delivered updates by video nine times with no signs of stopping.

“We’re all on the same team here, and I want you all to know that I join you in the challenges that we must overcome,” Martin said.

Beyond the ad campaigns, new campus signage reflecting changes due to COVID-19, and the video and email updates, each campus community member is required to watch a 12-minute training video. The recording covers many of the aforementioned topics, but it goes into deeper explanations about FGCU’s efforts to “Protect The Nest.” The training video also highlights the campus’ COVID-19 mantra:

“TOGETHER, WE ARE STRONGER. And together we will protect the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and community. We will think creatively to fulfill our mission to educate and enlighten. And together, Eagle nation, we will move forward while taking care of each other during this challenging time. PROTECT THE NEST.”

The efforts to educate everyone about the new expectations are vast, but many people still have questions or criticisms. While some are legitimate and helpful, others seem to be anything but. If you read between the lines of Susan Evans’ July 10 campus update, it becomes clear that defeatism is not, and will not be, part of the strategy for Florida Gulf Coast University.

“COVID-19 will challenge our FGCU campus community in ways we never before have been challenged,” Evans wrote. “And to be successful, it’s going to take every single student, faculty member and staff member working together with collegiality, smarts and kindness to keep our community safe and healthy for ourselves and for each other. There will be some inconveniences. There will be some ambiguity. There will be some new ways of doing things. And yet through these challenging times, we have the opportunity to reaffirm the special reasons that make us uniquely FGCU!”

Evans’ words are also the opening for the mandatory training video. But she isn’t the only one who has a grounded, yet hopeful look at the campus’ current challenges. Many students are back on campus committed to making the most of their time at FGCU.

Photo shows FGCU student
Student Government President Jacob Goldman shows off one of the masks students received upon their return to campus.

“I feel good about the precautions that the university is taking. It seems like the team has thought of every detail when creating the plan, and I am hopeful that we will see success due to these precautions,” said FGCU Student Government President Jacob Goldman. “One of the many hopes that I have for this semester is safety. I hope to see our Eagle family remain as safe as possible throughout the rest of this pandemic and not fall short with the compliance of the precautions. Being in person will only work if we all work together to ‘protect the nest.’”

Goldman is part of the “Protect The Nest” ad campaign. In the video, he speaks about the importance of wearing masks on campus. Many others join him on screen, including Grace Anderson, a music and chemistry double major who spent her summer making hand sanitizer for campus in the chemistry lab. Her portion of the video focuses, suitably, on the importance of handwashing and using sanitizer.

Health science major Sapphire Gibson is also front and center in the social media video. There she reminds viewers that the campus is stronger if faculty, staff and students come together to “Protect The Nest.” While that’s what many will hear her say, Gibson’s words off camera are just as impactful.

“Florida Gulf Coast University has shown me that they respect and value each and every student by placing social distancing rules across campus,” Gibson said.

“I believe that everyone is doing their part to not only protect themselves but also the lives of those around them.  It is encouraging to see that the faculty is abiding and reinforcing these social distancing rules in and outside of the classroom.  When everyone follows the safety guidelines put in place, it encourages me to be positive about the future of our school and nation as a whole.  This pandemic has reminded me that the actions I take can greatly impact the life of my neighbor.”

Learn more about Florida Gulf Coast University’s efforts to “Protect The Nest.”