News | August 31, 2021

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Lifelong bond between founding faculty member and student continues to inspire

5 - minute read

Contributors: Photography by James Greco

Inspiring those who inspire others. That’s the FGCU effect.

This Florida Gulf Coast University slogan rings true in many ways. Perhaps it’s most notably reflected in the relationship between Maria Loffredo Roca, associate professor and chair of the Department of Integrated Studies, and instructor Miles Mancini. To truly appreciate the bond between these two people, we must travel back 24 years to when FGCU first opened its doors.

The son of a touring musician, Mancini and his family made their way to Southwest Florida in 1996. At the time, he was a senior in high school, ready for his next adventure.

“I was fascinated with Florida. It was a shiny new experience,” he said. “I started to look at a lot of different schools, and then I heard about this FGCU place, this brand-new university. I’d never even heard of that before.”

Wanting to be part of something new, Mancini applied and was accepted to FGCU’s first class of students. In August 1997, he started his journey toward a degree in what was a nontraditional setting.

Photo shows FGCU faculty
As an FGCU undergraduate, Miles Mancini made what would become a lifelong connection with Professor Maria Loffredo Roca. They now teach side by side.

“I remember the drive to campus was so different,” he said. “There was nothing but trees. I remember when the whole road was called ‘Treeline.’ It was just two buildings for what felt like the longest time. It was Academic Building 1 (AB1) and Academic Building 2 (AB2), which are now Reed Hall and Griffin Hall.”

Mancini sailed through his freshman year, figuring out his collegiate path and meeting new people. The summer before his sophomore year, in a class fittingly called, “Connections,” he made what would become a lifelong connection with professor Roca, a founding faculty member.

“He and his group wrote a song, and I remember them marching into the classroom and singing,” Roca said. “From early on, he distinguished himself as being incredibly creative, really committed to his education and just an amazing young man.”

From that summer on, Mancini never enrolled in a semester without registering for a class taught by Roca. They grew close in their shared interests, including music and the FGCU Newman Club, the Roman Catholic student organization. Roca is also credited with playing matchmaker and introducing Mancini to his wife, Melissa—another student in FGCU’s founding class.

“He had noticed her and wanted to get her attention but was struggling,” said Roca, “So, he came to me and said, ‘I really like this girl,’ and I said I’ll put you in a group together. So that started them communicating.”

After graduation, the Mancinis moved to New York. They married and started careers but stayed close to their professor in Fort Myers. Mancini followed in Roca’s footsteps, receiving his master’s degree at New York University.

“I always had this connection [to FGCU],” Mancini said. “It just felt like that was home.”

photo shows FGCU faculty members
After his first class with Roca during the summer after his freshman year, Mancini never enrolled in another semester without registering for one of her courses.

After the Mancinis had their first child, they knew it was time to return to Southwest Florida. Roca lured Mancini into an adjunct teaching position at FGCU. Fast forward 17 years, and that baby, Isabella, is now an FGCU student along with younger sister Julianna, and Mancini is teaching in the Department of Integrated Studies.

“It’s incredible to work with him,” said Roca. “To watch somebody that you’ve known since they were 18 years old suddenly [become] a man in his early 40s—who is a really accomplished teacher and has won every award under the sun here—you feel like a proud parent.”

Mancini loves teaching classes, particularly those he has had a hand in creating.

“In integrated studies, students can put together their major in a very creative way,” said Mancini. “I’m excited to facilitate that because I feel like with my background—from being a musician to a history major to a communications major, to what I studied at NYU, which was media related—is very integrated. It doesn’t fit nicely in one box.”

In another full-circle moment, Roca and Mancini are now teaching classes together. This semester they are co-teaching “Introduction to Integrated Studies,” a class that focuses on creative problem-solving.

“I love when we’re in the class together; I feel like a student again. I feel like I’m learning so much from her. I always tell her when I grow up, I want to be as good of a teacher as she is. I know that is unattainable, but I will keep on trying!” Mancini added.

The bond between Mancini and Roca is strong. He sees her as a guiding force that has helped him professionally and most importantly, personally. Roca is the godmother of the Mancini’s youngest child, Dominic.

Roca wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I have a daughter. And when people ask me, I say, ‘I have a daughter by blood, and I have a son by love and by commitment,’ ” she said. “To me, Miles is my son. I think he is one of the best men I’ve ever known. He has a sense of morals and ethics and devotion to his family. He is an extraordinary human being.”

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