It usually takes many years to build the sort of life that brings with it accolades and recognition from the community and your peers. But there are some exceptional human beings who make an impact early.
At Florida Gulf Coast University, we call our young movers and shakers Soaring Eagles. They are alumni who, within 10 years of graduating, have made noteworthy achievements in their professional or volunteer lives.
There was an impressive number of nominees in this year’s group, making it harder by the year for the FGCU Alumni Association to select the winners.
“The number of great nominees grows every year,” says Kim Wallace, senior director of Alumni Relations. “It’s so rewarding to see our graduates not only succeeding in their chosen fields but becoming such valuable members of the community. And while the decisions grow more difficult each year, that’s a good problem to have.”
And now, the winners of this year’s Soaring Eagle awards.
Sean DeRossett, ’21
Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies, Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship
FGCU is where Sean DeRossett discovered the purpose and passion that led to receiving the Soaring Eagles Award. In 2020, he was named the entrepreneurship school’s Student of the Year.
“I found my niche within the School of Entrepreneurship and that’s when I found my purpose,” says DeRossett. “I became extremely passionate about the field, and the exciting and innovative environment that Florida Gulf Coast offered me truly enhanced my educational experience.” The Naples resident is founder and CEO of Keyrift, LLC, a company dedicated to making piano instruction enjoyable for children who struggle with traditional lessons. DeRossett designed a patented, color-coded product, “Improkeys,” that simplifies that learning process.
DeRossett volunteers with New Horizons of SWFL after-school program, the FGCU Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program and the university’s Runway Program, a free business incubator open to students and alumni.
He’s also studying for a master’s degree in entrepreneurship at the Daveler & Kauanui School.
“I’m truly grateful to be named a recipient of this award,” DeRossett says. “Being able to say that I’m among the other recipients is a true honor. It feels great because I know all the hard work I put into my business, and into school and my classes. For Florida Gulf Coast University to see all the hard work and dedication I put in, that means a lot to me and it really encourages me to push forward to continue trying to do the best that I can.”
Tatiana Devia, ’12
M.S. Forensic Studies, College of Arts and Sciences
Tatiana Devia has made being a voice for the voiceless and an advocate for the underserved her life’s work. It’s also the reason she was selected as a Soaring Eagle.
She is a staff attorney for the Corporate Accountability Lab, a Chicago-based nonprofit that’s dedicated to fighting corporate abuse of human rights and the environment. There, she leads a program seeking justice and accountability for human rights victims in her native Colombia.
Devia says her experience with the Forensic Studies Department and working closely with the Justice Studies program’s chair, Heather Walsh-Haney, helped her to become “a more well-developed attorney.”
While in Southwest Florida, she worked as an investigator for the Fair Food Program, founded by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which ensures humane wages and working conditions for farmworkers.
Her next career move saw her employing her forensic studies knowledge as an international human rights investigator. Devia, who has a bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Central Florida, graduated from the American University Washington College of Law, in Washington, D.C., in 2018, with a specialty in international human rights.
“It really took me back to my FGCU experience and my forensics work and that entire journey,” Devia says about being named a Soaring Eagle. “Every single thing that I’ve done, it all started with my forensics work at FGCU. It was very special to get, not just an award, but to get it from FGCU.”
Cindy Michaels, ’16
Special Education, College of Education
Cindy Michaels’ dedication to her students and her profession radiate from her voice when discussing her role as a middle school, ESE-Autism Spectrum Disorder teacher.
“I love my job and I love the school that I work at,” says Michaels, who is in her seventh year teaching at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts in Lehigh Acres.
The passion she exhibits as a professional, as a community volunteer and for FGCU have led to the Lehigh Acres resident receiving the Soaring Eagle Award.
“I was excited just to be nominated,” Michaels says. “When the video came out and I was named a winner, I cried, because in education, we don’t get a lot of kudos. I don’t do it for the kudos, but it was amazing to win and get that recognition. It took me aback and I was shocked because there were a lot of great nominees. I’m grateful and thankful in so many ways.”
Her role as mother to two autistic sons, now 16 and 14, and the success the older son’s pre-K teacher had in transforming the non-verbal child, inspired her career choice.
“He had a lot of behaviors and the teacher who worked with him gave him his voice back and he started talking,” Michaels says. “I wanted to do the same thing for other families, and I do it every day and I love it.”
Corey Smith, ’12
Civil Engineering, U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering
Giving back has long been a priority for Corey Smith. That focus applies in his personal life, as well as to FGCU.
“FGCU created so many opportunities for me that I really feel it’s important for me to give back to the university and to the communities that I live in and build in,” says Smith, a project manager with Suffolk Construction in Tampa.
He has worked on projects ranging from $1 million to more than $75 million, including at FGCU. Over the years, he has traveled to Guatemala with the FGCU nursing program, as their engineering support, supported the establishment of FGCU’s student chapter of Habitat for Humanity and volunteered for the organization, and tutored middle school students in math, science and history. He’s also been active with the American Society of Civil Engineering, the College of Engineering’s Civil and Environmental Advisory Committee, served on the FGCU Alumni Association Board of Directors and Lee County Public School’s Advanced Placement Capstone Academy.
In recommending him for the award, Smith’s supervisor, Josh Christensen, says, “We strongly value our relationship with FGCU, and graduates like Corey only make that bond tighter and more valuable as we continue to recruit highly skilled graduates like Corey to our company.”
Robert Sorenson, ’12
Human Performance, Marieb College of Health & Human Sciences
Robert Sorenson took on a new and important role with FGCU after receiving his bachelor’s degree in human performance in 2012. Since then, he has supported the exercise science and the experiential learning programs by mentoring students in their internships. As the director of wellness at Moorings Park Retirement Community in Naples, he has developed the facility into a sought-after internship site. He has also become an adjunct professor within the exercise science program.
Those are just a few of the reasons why he was nominated for the Soaring Eagles Award by Barbara Tymczyszyn, the program’s academic coordinator of clinical education.
“It’s very humbling to be recognized for personal growth and identified specifically by the university,” Sorenson says. “In my professional career, I’ve found a real niche environment where I’ve been able to thrive and I attribute much of that to my schooling at Florida Gulf Coast University and the human performance program, now exercise science; that really instilled professional behaviors in me.”
Post-FGCU, he went on to earn a master’s in gerontology from Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale, and a doctorate of education in health professions from A.T. Still University in Kirksville, Missouri.
Sorenson credits his FGCU education with creating the foundation for his professional achievements.
“All the growth I’ve had as a leader, all the growth I’ve experienced through the organization where I work is because of my FGCU experience, in particular, the program I went through.”
Andrew Townsend, ’18
Management, Lutgert College of Business
Receiving the Soaring Eagle Award has been a surreal experience for Andrew Townsend.
“I’m blown away by it,” the Fort Myers resident says. “I knew I was nominated, but I also am very aware that there are a lot of other successful people in business and management positions who’ve graduated from FGCU and received the award. I’m very humbled by it. I’m very grateful. I think it’s one of the biggest accomplishments of my life and I’m very proud of it.”
Townsend co-owns the Cattyshack Café in Gulf Coast Town Center. The business serves coffee, pastries, beer and wine, but the main attraction is the opportunity to commune with adoptable cats and kittens in a separate room. He partnered with Gulf Coast Humane Society to help more than 1,000 rescue cats find homes in just the last year.
Cattyshack General Manager Maureen McLaughlin nominated Townsend for the award, crediting him with starting a business to help the Southwest Florida community, including partnering with other area businesses.
“He works hard to ensure the business thrives every day and has made waves even beyond
Fort Myers,” she adds. “Gulf Coast Humane Society has pulled shelter cats from as far as Orlando and Sebring to bring to Cattyshack to find better lives. In just a few months Andrew’s business has exceeded expectations and I am sure he will continue to do so.”