It was a late April morning, and Aysegul Timur was occupying a corner booth in a Naples eatery. Her table was covered in books, a computer and a few notepads. From afar, it looked like someone was cramming for a major test, and, in a lot of ways, she was. In a matter of days, she was going before the Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees to make her case to become the institution’s fifth president.
“It’s not cramming,” remarks Efehan, her son. “That’s always our workspace. It doesn’t shock me in the slightest that you got to view that experience. That’s just how it’s always been.”
Efehan would know. His mother has often talked about raising him while she pursued her Ph.D. at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa. That period makes up some of his earliest memories.
“We only had one car. So, time to time, my mom [and dad] would go to USF, and my dad would drive back [to Collier County]. Then, at the end of the day, he would take me with him. We would drive two hours and pick my mom up. Mom drove back and forth four days a week for four years,” he recounts, estimating the family car gained an additional 100,000 miles in a single year.
Efehan knows the effort was worthwhile.
“It wasn’t easy; we all knew that going in,” he says. “I’m really proud that she [earned her doctorate]. It inspired me going forward to continue my education.”
But before she became a fixture on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Aysegul was connected to another shore.
Water as a foundation
If you’re traveling by boat from Greece to the Black Sea, there are a series of waterways one must traverse. After passing through the Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles empties into the Sea of Marmara. From there, one more channel lies between you and your destination.
The Bosporus flows between the European and Asian border, but it’s more than a confluence of continents. At this natural boundary, cultures, languages and religions, among other things, meet. This atmosphere enveloped Aysegul.
“I’ve always identified as someone from Bosporus,” she says.
Like her parents, Aysegul was born there. Her father was a locally known soccer player turned small-business owner, and her mother was a housewife. Together, they raised three children — two boys and a girl — with Aysegul being the youngest by 13 years.
Growing up in an international melting pot fashioned her a colorful personality. Aysegul’s name pays homage to a children’s book character, one known for storytelling and a love of teaching and learning. Consequently, she was the subject of a spot-on prediction.
“I remember my family members and friends telling me, ‘We knew, one day, you’d be telling stories,’” Aysegul says.
The skill set was useful as she earned degrees, became a professor and, eventually, FGCU’s fifth president.
The pursuit of higher education
It was 1998 when Aysegul and her fiancé, Mete Timur, were planning their nuptials and pondering a transcontinental move to the U.S. to continue their education. After completing their degrees, they planned to return to their hometown.
“We were thinking about the timing,” Mete recalls. “My mom said, since we were going to come back, we should go sooner so we would come back sooner.”
Aysegul’s family, the Ustuns, were conservative, which played into the decision-making.
“My mother gave me that look,” Aysegul says, laughing. “That look was so important, and she said, ‘You’re not going anywhere without getting married.’”
What followed was a whirlwind.
“It’s really funny because we get our I-20s (U.S. Certificates of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) on Wednesday, applied to the consulate on Thursday, got our F-1 visas Friday and then we married on Saturday,” Mete adds.
The newlyweds packed the next day, flew to the U.S. Monday, and started an English as a second language (ESL) program in Collier County three days later.
Learning English in Southwest Florida
“Learning a language is not learning the technicality of the language, the grammar and the vocabulary,” Aysegul explains. “It is about learning the culture, learning about the behaviors, learning about, you know, so many things, including history, jokes, idioms and traditions.”
For Aysegul, the greatest challenge of learning English dealt with writing and saying verbs in the correct tense. Her professor offered tips on properly using this grammatical aspect. He also provided suggestions on how to think about the words.
“He asked me to write 10 essays every day, and he was constantly giving me feedback. He would say, ‘This is not the right word,’ ‘This word is in the wrong place,’ and ‘This grammar is not correct.’”
It worked. Within four months, she could speak, listen and write in English at varying levels of proficiency. The progress was nothing short of remarkable.
Focus on family
Spend any time around a Timur, and one realizes the importance of family. Aysegul beams when talking about her parents.
“It was a working-class family but with very core values of the culture and the fundamental values of being a family. We were a very welcoming family. My parents’ home was known as ‘you go there and you’re going to get the best hospitality,’” Aysegul says.
She brought that hospitality with her to America.
“My parents really like to entertain,” says Alara, her daughter. “So ever since I can remember, we’ve always had small parties with their friends. And now, obviously, since there are more events that my parents host, I kind of just picked up on helping out.”
Besides the warmth that carried over from her parents’ household, Aysegul and Mete made sure their children were grounded in core values. They are expected to be honest and trustworthy, respect themselves and care for others, including their family.
In fact, Aysegul decided not to apply the first time the Board of Trustees asked for applications during the presidential search. She was worried about how the job might impact her family dynamic, particularly for Alara, who is in high school.
“The only thing I was concerned about was her not taking the opportunity,” says Alara.
Alara got her wish. When the trustees revisited the application phase of the search, her mom applied and, ultimately, was selected as FGCU’s fifth president.
Hard work as the baseline
Aysegul’s upbringing along the Bosporus explains her love for Southwest Florida.
“I can’t live anywhere without a large waterbody nearby,” Aysegul says.
“More than that, Naples has several similarities with where I grew up. You meet so many people in our area who come from somewhere else with a mix of different cultures and traditions.”
It’s another ecosystem that’s allowed FGCU’s president to thrive. In less than six months leading the university, Aysegul has dedicated every moment to FGCU’s success. It’s a pace her son expected.
“I think having my mom at the helm is definitely a good choice,” says Efehan. “It sounds a little biased because she’s my own mom, but anybody who knows her knows she’s going to be the hardest worker on the team.”
And hard work is the ultimate link between Aysegul and FGCU.
“I’ve been in the region for about the same time as FGCU has existed,” Aysegul says. “During that time, I’ve put in the hard work and the people of this university have done the same to make Southwest Florida a better place for everyone to live. I’m excited about what’s to come.”