FGCU students travel many different paths to one destination: graduation day. Out of 1,942 candidates for undergraduate and graduates degrees this spring, the following individuals rose to the top as examples of Eagles achieving distinction through inspiring, diverse journeys. FGCU360.com will feature additional spring graduate stories in the weeks ahead.
A nontraditional path finally leads to a degree
The road to a college degree can be long and winding. For Christina Dunne, a nontraditional student who graduated this spring from Florida Gulf Coast University with a degree in integrated studies, that route was more circuitous than most, with ample stops, starts, detours and dead ends along the way. Now joining Goldman Sachs this summer as an analyst in the investment firm’s global markets division in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dunne said she shares her journey in hopes it will help others navigate their way toward successful futures.
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Dunne grew up as an orphan in a Southwest Florida foster-care system. She began working at age 15, and at 18 moved to Miami, obtained her real estate license and earned professional experience in the workforce over the ensuing 10 years.
Her higher education odyssey began at Miami Dade College in 2009. With an associate degree in arts in hand, she briefly attended FGCU before going back to work in the Miami real estate industry. Even with all her business success, Dunne said she continued to feel the call of a university education.
She returned to FGCU in the spring of 2021 through FGCU Complete. The program provides students who have previously earned college credits the chance to work toward bachelor’s degrees via a combination of on-campus, in-community and online classes.
“As a nontraditional student, returning to FGCU to complete my degree was crucial in meeting my goals,” said Dunne. “This could not have happened without the help, guidance and support of FGCU Complete faculty and participating professors.”
Dunne actually landed her new job with Goldman Sachs while still an enrolled student at FGCU. She was offered the position on the spot as “an immediate hire” after successfully navigating the recruitment, interview and hiring processes. Mission accomplished.
“As an orphan raised in several homes through the foster-care system, I hope my story can pave the way for future nontraditional students,” said Dunne, who graduated summa cum laude. “My goal is to inspire others who see the odds as insurmountable to achieve their greatest potential. It is my belief that we can overcome any challenge through hard work, persistence and optimism. But, most importantly, you need to believe in yourself and find others who believe in you, too.”
From Colombia to Yale by way of FGCU
It may be a long way from Cali, Colombia, to New Haven, Connecticut, and Yale University – approximately 2,628 as the crow flies. But the voyage became more navigable for Camila Garcia thanks to her stop in Fort Myers and FGCU. She has parlayed an FGCU bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and minor in biology into a fully funded doctoral study program.
Born in Naples, Florida, and raised in Colombia, Garcia will begin working toward her doctorate in biochemistry this fall at Yale, where she has been awarded a Gruber Science Fellowship for the next two academic years. She credits her experiences at FGCU with helping lay the foundation for the next leg of her journey.
“FGCU provided me with amazing mentors who guided and supported me through various endeavors during my undergraduate career. They helped me discover what my interests and career goals were,” Garcia said. “At FGCU, I learned how to make a positive impact in my community, be a stronger leader and create a lasting collaboration within the university.”
Sulekha Coticone, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry and Physics chair, and Terumi Rafferty-Osaki, Ph.D., Office of Competitive Fellowships director, were instrumental in helping Garcia secure one of 10 National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. They also supported her efforts to earn a Fulbright award to study at the University College Dublin in Ireland, she said. She is part of a trio of Fulbright finalists who brought a new distinction to FGCU this spring: Fulbright Top Producer for the U.S. student program.
Involvement with the competitive fellowships office has been a peak experience for Garcia, she said. “I was not only able to earn various fellowships and scholarships to grow as a scholar and researcher, but I was also able to meet incredible like-minded peers who have been a great support system,” she said.
“Working with the OCF as an ambassador, I can speak about my experiences and encourage other students to pursue life-changing awards. It has been a very rewarding experience not only because of the advice and mentorship I gained but also because of the long-lasting impact I can say I had on other students,” said Garcia, who also helped high school students from disadvantaged communities navigate the college application process through FGCU’s Project Narrative. She worked with project advisers Rafferty-Osaki and Rowan Steineker, Ph.D., assistant history professor.
An inductee into the FGCU 2022 Hall of Fame and the College of Arts & Sciences Student of the Year, she was one of eight Eagles awarded a Millennium Fellowship by the United Nations Academic Impact and Millennium Campus Network. Through the leadership development program, Garcia collected and analyzed a specific type of DNA found on fingerprints, a project that may lead to improved investigative techniques in law enforcement.
Small changes in latitude spawn big changes in attitude
The educational expedition for Creflo Adderley may span only about 1.6 degrees of change in latitude, from where he was born and raised in Nassau, The Bahamas, to FGCU about 300 miles east. But the communication graduate intends to go far in broadcast media and entertainment. Adderley, who minored in marketing, said the experiences he gained at FGCU have armed him with the skill set needed for the next step in his journey.
“FGCU provided me with a wide range of courses that deepened my personal development and intellect. In particular, working for the Office of Service-Learning & Civic Engagement expanded my humanitarian advocacy, which can be utilized in my career to shed light on situations that require society’s attention,” he said.
Adderley worked as a service trip leader for the office, teaming up with community partners on projects at volunteer sites, including the I Will Mentorship Foundation, Harry Chapin Food Bank and We Rock The Spectrum Kids’ Gym. “I enjoyed the camaraderie among my co-workers and the purpose-driven mindset that everyone displayed to accomplish our goals. I learned how to create, collaborate and do great things,” said Adderley, whose duties at service events included managing sign-in and introductions, organizing students into task groups and assisting community partners. “I also helped students complete their service-learning hour requirement by connecting them with nonprofit community partners to complete volunteer work and discover passion areas.”
Adderley was heavily involved with Live365 Eagle Radio, part of the university’s student-run Eagle Media program. He launched and hosted a weekly podcast titled “Real Talk,” tackling topics such as the female perspective, Black excellence, cultural differences and the ups and downs of collegiate sex life. In recognition of his work on the podcast, Adderley was named Eagle Media Producer of the Year for 2021-22 in April.
In addition to gaining experience as a broadcast producer and host, Adderley is a musician and recording artist who performs under the stage name of SigFlo. He said that his most memorable moment at FGCU was performing in front of hundreds of fellow students at the Eagle Radio Music Festival, held in March on the Great Lawn. “It was my top experience because it is something that I am passionate about,” he said. “I wrote and performed all original music, and my performance was well-received by the audience.”
The newly minted graduate plans to continue his journey a couple more degrees of latitude to the north as he moves to Orlando to pursue a career in broadcast media and entertainment.
Clearwater resident stays near to go far
When Niesha Radovanic made the approximately two-hour drive south on Interstate 75 from her residence in Clearwater to the Fort Myers campus of FGCU, she found not only her future alma mater; she also found a place to put down roots. Radovanic, who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in creative writing, will be staying put for graduate school and working toward her clinical mental health counseling master’s.
“Florida Gulf Coast University became my home. I created connections with professors and faculty who encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone,” she said, crediting those who helped pave the way toward the next step in her educational expedition. “FGCU offers a variety of services that help prepare students for their next steps, such as graduate school. I met weekly with Career Development Services, my professors and mentors to prepare my graduate school applications.”
Through her minor in creative writing, Radovanic has continued creating poetry, carrying on a passion she first developed as an eighth-grade student and the oldest of nine siblings being raised by her grandmother. Many of her poems tackle such subjects as the Black experience, diversity, history and her own personal childhood trauma, and she said she wants her work to facilitate sometimes-difficult conversations and lead to deeper understanding of social issues.
In November 2021, Radovanic was among eight FGCU students selected from a pool of more than 25,000 applicants to participate in the prestigious Millennium Fellowship, a leadership development program launched by United Nations Academic Impact, the higher education arm of the U.N. The Millennium Campus Network specifically invited her to open its welcome forum for all fellows by reading one of her poems. She was one of two Eagles tapped to serve as student directors of the Millennium cohort at FGCU, helping lead weekly professional development sessions and ensuring that benchmarks were achieved.
“This role equipped me to mentor students through professional development trainings, and it also provided me with the opportunity to connect with students globally to share our passion for social impact,” said Radovanic. Her project, “Let Them Hear You,” focused on peace, justice and strong institutions. “The unique experience I had as a campus director for FGCU’s inaugural Millennium Fellowship enhanced my leadership skills and also served as a great discussion during my graduate school interviews. The Millennium Fellowship goes beyond community impact to prepare students to make a global impact, and I am grateful to be a part of it.”
Immigrant overcomes language barrier to become first-gen trailblazer
As a native Cuban who immigrated seven years ago and began high school in Naples unable to speak English, Miguel Garcia considers himself somewhat of a trailblazer. Garcia is the first in his family to go to college, graduating with a degree in finance – magna cum laude, to boot. He credits FGCU faculty and staff for serving as guides along the way.
“As an immigrant, one can feel a lack of sense of belonging. However, FGCU welcomed me with open arms and with an inclusive and diverse community. It gave me the opportunity I mainly came to this country for: Attending university and furthering my human capital,” Garcia said.
Garcia ranks taking the Eagle Fund student-managed investment class among his most rewarding experiences. “I had the opportunity to combine what I had learned academically with the actual investment management process and gain practical experience by analyzing and investing designated funds into a variety of securities,” he said. “This proved to be extraordinarily rewarding because it allowed me to produce a fundamental research report and gave me firsthand insight into what goes into selecting different securities and creating and rebalancing a portfolio.”
Now headed to Dallas to join PNC Bank’s Corporate and Institutional Banking Development Program as an analyst, Garcia recalled the yearslong process it took to leave Cuba for America with the intent of escaping communism and furthering his education. After a false start that left him and his parents “devastated,” they finally got word that their immigration visas had been approved.
“When I walked into the U.S Embassy in Havana, I remembered staring at a big U.S. flag thinking my life could change forever, and a few tears came out of my eyes,” Garcia said. “We had to sell everything in our possession to afford and book the plane tickets. As soon as the plane was taking off, I felt so liberated but at the same time extremely sad because I was leaving my roots, family, friends, traditions and cultural customs behind. As the airplane was landing in the U.S., my breath was taken away by all the skyscrapers, tall buildings and modern cars. I had only seen those things in movies.”
Garcia said he selected FGCU because of its proximity to Naples and its reputation. “It was close to family. And since they don’t speak English nor understand technology well, being close to home would allow me to help them and guide them through challenging situations,” he said. “It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It gave an immigrant kid with big dreams the opportunity to graduate magna cum laude and become a first-generation college student.”