In April 2020, Samantha Nelson was named president of FGCU’s Programming Board, which oversees signature events such as EagleFest and Winter Wonderland, that thousands of Eagles anticipate every year. It’s sort of like being appointed campus social director.
A week later, the coronavirus crashed the party. Classrooms closed as learning went remote. Students living on campus were encouraged to go home for the rest of the spring semester.
That summer, still early in the global pandemic, Nelson was back home working in Illinois. But she also was on the phone and online with her programming adviser coordinating solutions to adapt and salvage the social highlights of the school year when students were allowed back on campus. Quarantining, social distancing and mask wearing threatened to crimp many social activities that energize a campus, make college years fun and fuel lifelong friendships and memories.
With strong organizational skills and a commitment to giving 100%, she made it happen and became the first Eagle to serve two consecutive years as Programming Board president.
“I just pushed through it,” said Nelson, who graduated this spring as an Honors College member with a degree in resort and hospitality management. “Giving students a chance to get out of their dorms when they were feeling isolated and lonely was enough to motivate me to be like, ‘We have to figure out a way to do this.’ Being open to trying new things really helped me. I’m OK with change.”
Nelson’s dedication to student involvement was part of why she was inducted into the FGCU’s Hall of Fame along with eight Class of 2022 peers profiled below, many of whom will be featured in other FGCU360.com stories in the coming weeks. The highest recognition given to student leaders, the Hall of Fame is reserved for graduating seniors who have demonstrated superior leadership, integrity and achievement through their activities, service, scholarship and academic excellence.
Honorees include a trio of Fulbright finalists — Camila Garcia, Kaelyn Julmeus and Katherine Patterson — who brought a new distinction to FGCU: Fulbright Top Producer for the U.S. student program. Each year, the U.S. Department of State announces this status for institutions with the highest numbers of U.S. students (young professionals with a bachelor’s degree) and scholars (faculty, researchers and administrators) recognized each spring.
One thing all of these Hall of Famers have in common: They got involved in research, in scholarship, in leadership and in organizations that made a difference in Southwest Florida and beyond. Sometimes, all of the above.
Nelson, for instance, didn’t just make it her mission to roll with the changes as pandemic guidelines surged and ebbed. Over her four years at FGCU, she served as an Honors College mentor, ambassador and house leader. In fact, she helped launch the ambassador program, which involves representing the college at recruiting events like Eagle Expo and leading campus tours for prospective students and their families.
“She has done an excellent job and helped create the culture for this program,” Honors College Dean Clay Motley wrote to the Hall of Fame selection committee. “She has demonstrated to me that she is a hard-working, mature and ambitious leader.”
Kelsey O’Brien, coordinator for student programming, had been Nelson’s adviser since 2019 and watched her grow into a fine leader who has increased awareness of campus activities.
“Sam works to make sure all events are inclusive and every student feels welcome,” O’Brien said. “Sam is very hard working, creative and determined. It has been a pleasure to see her grow into the leader she is today.”
Nelson’s work ethic and adaptability should serve her well as she begins her hospitality career as a food and beverage manager in training at The Ritz Carlton in Naples.
Like Nelson, other 2022 Hall of Famers didn’t let two years of pandemic life stop them from achieving success in academics, scholarship, research and service. Read more about them.
• Degree: B.A., health science
• Hometown: Waukesha, Wisconsin
• Activities & honors: For the last year, Alles has led Global Medical Brigades as president and the Honors mentor program as a co-lead mentor. He became a mentor three years ago and completed an Honors thesis about the program. Alles was one of the first FGCU students to receive the Millennium Fellowship, a leadership development program created by the United Nations that focuses on sustainability. In 2019 and 2020, he served on Student Government and participated in advocacy trips to Tallahassee. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he coordinated a PPE donation drive and mask-making event on campus to benefit the residents of Immokalee. He participated in Honors Immokalee Immersion trips for three years. He also helped start the Campus Cancer Campaign in 2021 as a team leader.
• What’s next: Studying osteopathic medicine at Kansas City University in Kansas City, Missouri.
• Degree: B.S., biochemistry; B.A., music
• Hometown: Fort Myers
• Activities & honors: Anderson has been conducting chemistry research with Arsalan Mirjafari, Ph.D. for the past three years, resulting in six publications, presentations at the international level and a research internship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has also received top awards like the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. In music, Anderson sang with and served in leadership positions in the FGCU Chamber Choir, Women’s Chorale and Choral Artistry. She has also performed in various opera productions and as a soloist at churches and concerts.
• What’s next: Pursuing a doctorate in materials science and engineering at MIT.
• Degree: B.S., biochemistry
• Hometown: Naples
• Activities & honors: Garcia conducted DNA research aimed at helping law enforcement reduce cold cases and presented findings at over 15 university, state and national symposiums. She collaborated on manuscripts, including her first publication in the Journal of Forensic Education. Garcia was among 10 students nationwide selected for the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Aside from research, Garcia served as president of the FGCU Chemistry Club and treasurer of Project Narrative, which helps underserved students from local high schools with the college application process. She was selected as a member of FGCU’s inaugural cohort of Millennium Fellowships, a United Nations academic initiative that supports leadership development. Read more.
• What’s next: Fulbright research/study grant at the University College of Dublin, Ireland; pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry on a Gruber Science Fellowship at Yale University.
• Degree: B.S., biology
• Hometown: Fort Myers
• Activities & honors: Over the past four years, Julmeus has served in leadership roles for the Cancer Research Program while also conducting breast cancer research on campus. In addition, she has served as a teaching assistant for the Whitaker Center, encouraging middle school girls to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She has worked as an instructional assistant for the Department of Chemistry & Physics and a tutor for the Center for Academic Achievement.
• What’s next: Studying abroad with an Honors College team in Peru before traveling to Poland on a Fulbright grant to teach English; planning to attend medical school to pursue a career in surgical oncology.
• Degree: B.A., psychology
• Hometown: Hollywood
• Activities & honors: Nichols has been involved in numerous roles on campus: tour guide for Undergraduate Admissions; resident assistant for Housing and Residence Life, where she was awarded Resident Assistant of the Year for 2019-20; Dance Marathon chairperson; Director of Student Opportunity in Student Government; Eagle Chapter representative to the National Residence Hall Honorary, where she was awarded National Representative of the Year; and founder of Project Period advocating for and establishing free menstruation products in gender-neutral restrooms on campus. In the last year, Nichols worked as a residence life team assistant, co-supervising 12 resident assistants and presenting research on student success at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference.
• What’s next: Pursuing a master’s degree in child development and family studies at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
• Degree: B.S., biology
• Hometown: Naples
• Activities & honors: In 2020, Patterson became FGCU’’s first recipient of a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship and studied Mandarin; she was selected again for the program in 2021. She was also part of FGCU’s inaugural cohort for the Millennium Fellowship; her project for the program was the Campus Cancer Campaign, an effort she co-founded to educate college students about cancer risk factors and prevention techniques. Her linguistic studies led to her writing an Honors thesis on herbs in traditional Chinese medicine that can help reduce metastasis or proliferation in triple-negative breast cancer. Patterson has been an Honors College mentor and ambassador. She also was a founding officer for Cooking Club and Project Narrative and served as an undergraduate fellowship adviser for the Office of Competitive Fellowships.
• What’s next: Next fall, she will travel to Taiwan on a Fulbright grant to teach English and plans to apply to medical school.
• Degree: B.S., bioengineering
• Hometown: Palm Coast
• Activities & honors: Recker began chemistry research her sophomore year in professor Arsalan Mirjafari’s lab. Her main project focused on designing new materials for carbon capture. She has received many awards through this research, including the Goldwater Scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (honorable mention). Becoming a campus director for the inaugural class of Millennium Fellows at FGCU, Recker used this opportunity and platform to bring her project to undergraduate chemistry courses, encouraging lower-level undergraduates to pursue research opportunities. She has also mentored high school and FGCU students in the chemistry lab. Recker served as president of FGCU Dance Company, worked as a campus tour guide and represented FGCU as a U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering ambassador.
• What’s next: Pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
• Degree: B.A., history and B.S., accounting
• Hometown: Naples
• Activities & honors: Ryan was recognized in 2021 as the College of Arts & Sciences Student of the Year and as the National Collegiate Honors Council Student of the Year for her work in scholarship, leadership and service. The provost’s office appointed her to complete a StoryMap project, a multimedia digital history of FGCU featuring over 100 stories based on more than 40 interviews. Ryan also published a research article, “Everglades National Park’s Historical Impact on the Seminole and Miccosukee Nations,” in the inaugural edition of the Florida Undergraduate Research Journal. She served on the Honors College Senate for four years and promoted research and mentorship opportunities to students as an FGCUScholars ambassador. She was a founding officer of Project Narrative.
• What’s next: Pursuing a master’s in public history at American University as a White House Historical Association Fellow.