Next spring, a new school at Florida Gulf Coast University will open its doors, dedicated to finding solutions to Southwest Florida’s water-quality issues and with a state-of-the-art facility to bring this mission to life. Three Eagle alumni are at the forefront of the project, helping to create The Water School building from conception to completion.
Gabriel Tamayo (’20), Ryan Speir (’19) and Christopher Fusco (’13) are graduates of FGCU’s U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering. They may not have crossed paths frequently as students, but the three men are now on the same team working for Manhattan Construction Co.
“I’m back home,” said Tamayo. “I spent so many days and nights here. It’s like I never left. It feels great to be back and working on campus.”
Tamayo graduated with a civil engineering degree and is now a project engineer for Manhattan Construction. He worked as a student intern with the company before landing a full-time job after graduation. Tamayo’s responsibility is to plan and organize the logistics of the project, ensuring all required materials are at the site on time and that they all fit together.
“I spent a lot of time in buildings as a student at FGCU, and now I have the opportunity to build a new one. I can give my input and make sure it’s up to the quality I think students would need and desire,” Tamayo said.
Speir joined the Manhattan Construction team in November 2020. A whiz in math and science, Speir earned degrees in both civil and environmental engineering at FGCU. As a Southwest Florida native, he knows the impact water quality has on the local surroundings. Now he is combining his education and passion for the outdoors into a learning laboratory for faculty and students to develop water-quality solutions.
“To have a place to study water and to be so close to what it’s impacting is exciting,” Speir said. “Looking at the labs and knowing the dedicated work that will come out of them is cool.”
Speir is also a project engineer focused on what is happening inside the 114,414-square-foot building. From doors and windows to signage and bike racks, Speir ensures material is on site on time. He also directs construction workers on how and where these pieces of the puzzle are installed.
“It’s been an exciting opportunity to apply what I’ve learned at FGCU to this job,” Speir said. “It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been back on campus. It’s fun to see all the progress, continual growth, and play a role in that.”
Growth at FGCU is something Fusco has seen firsthand. He was hired as a student intern with Manhattan Construction nearly a decade ago. He has participated in other FGCU projects, including the expansion of South Village and the development of Osprey Hall and Eagle Hall. He was also part of the team that built Marieb Hall.
Fusco is a project manager for The Water School building. His role is critical to both FGCU and his employer to ensure the project is delivered on time and on budget.
“It’s insane how fast this campus is growing,” Fusco said. “(The Water School) is going to be a great school. Any information or findings that come out of it to improve our water quality is a great cause.”
Even though the building is not complete, it is already having an impact on students. Tamayo, Speir and Fusco have connected with current classes within Whitaker College by giving tours of the site, discussing their roles in constructing the building and showing students how the concepts they are learning in the classroom apply to a real-world setting.
“It’s nice to see students out here and have that opportunity to get that hands-on experience,” Speir said. “They can touch it. You can bring some of it to life, and they can see what they are getting into as a career.”
The three graduates agree, working with fellow Eagles on a project that benefits their alma mater is rewarding. They often reminisce about their time at FGCU while applying the knowledge they have gained through education and work experiences to equip the next generation of students with the tools to succeed in their future careers.
“It just feels good to give back,” Tamayo said. “FGCU helped me out a lot, and now I can help future generations of students, as well as the state of Florida, with all the research they are going to be doing here.”
- Learn more about The Water School