Student Leaders Connect with State Legislators in Tallahassee, Advocating for FGCU


Students went to the Florida’s capital to discuss important topics about the university with Florida’s legislators for ‘FGCU Day’ at the end of March. Photo courtesy of Tyler Varnadore

Asbaa Khan, Contributing Writer

Students represented FGCU on Tuesday, March 28 in Tallahassee for FGCU Day. This is an annual event where students can discuss important topics about the university with Florida’s legislators.

“FGCU Day, I believe, was very energizing,” Tyler Varnadore, the former student body vice president, said. Varnadore was still vice president during FGCU Day. “We had a lot of outgoing and extroverted people on this trip, so it really worked to our benefit, but I’d say that it was overall a very energetic and learning experience as well.”

This was an opportunity for students and the university to advocate for different legislative priorities and how to get funds appropriated in the overall budget. All state universities have their own days where they go to the state’s capital city. A major contribution that made the event possible and scheduled the meetings students had with legislators was the FGCU Office of Government Relations.

“So, the government relations do a lot of the work when it comes to allocating funds,” Hannah Mathis, a freshman senator majoring in environmental engineering, said. “But the last 1% is this FGCU Day at the capital, where we kind of advocate for why we need this money, and this is why it can help me for the future.”

“It’s the students who are going to be impacted by our funding who go up there and kind of explain what we need,” Varnadore said. “So, it’s a deeper impact externally when we bring students versus just hiring somebody to go on our behalf or having the Office of Government Relations present us.”

There were three main topics of interest the students brought to the legislators’ attention. The first was funding for university distinction, which each university has; FGCU’s distinction is the Water School. The second was asking for next year’s operational funding, which goes to groups like the Center for Academic Achievement (CAA) and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Third was advocating for funding for Academic Building 10, which will be an expansion for the Human Health and Services program.

“The reality is that enhancing our health sciences in turn benefits this community; enhancing our water school in turn benefits this community,” Varnadore said. “Operational funding in particular impacts students’ well-being. It allows students to have the resources necessary because it continues to ensure that we can fund the programs … overall, it gives back to the community.”

Varnadore believes that FGCU Day was successful. He believes that this year was more organized than last year, which was his first year participating in the event. Varnadore was responsible for organizing portions of the trip and selecting who went to Tallahassee.

“Overall, something that really, I took away from this was that it was good that we invested in underclassmen and brought a lot of underclassmen with us because I think that really helped share a broader perspective of the students that we have at this,” Varnadore said.

The FGCU Student Government members were not the only students representing the university in Tallahassee. According to Varnadore, there were between 20 and 22 students from different majors, from sorority and fraternity backgrounds, or chosen by the Office of Government Relations.

“A lot of the advice that we give to those students is that you have a completely different walk of life on this campus; your experiences and your academics are completely different from myself or somebody else in this room,” Varnadore said. “How can you share that with the legislature to explain why we need X, Y, or Z? That’s kind of the main reason why we try to cast a broad net: so that we can bring in students who quite literally have at least some different aspects of this university in some way.”

Members of the Student Government lead two training sessions on the Sunday before FGCU Day, March 25, to prepare the students to talk to the legislatures.

“It’s super nerve-wracking,” Mathis said. “So, you’re expecting them to be just terrible, but they were actually really excited to listen to what we had to say about our experience at FGCU, and they seemed happy for us to be there, and they asked us great questions. They participated in the conversation.”

“Some of [the legislators] were very personable; they enjoyed meeting with students in particular, and then there were some who were down to business,” Varnadore said. One legislator he believed asked thought-provoking questions was Representative Tiffany Esposito, an FGCU alumna.

“She was excited to hear about what we had to say,” Mathis said. “We were in the office for like 15 minutes, and she took really good time with us.”

According to Varnadore, the next FGCU Day is in January, and he urges as many students as possible to apply in order to share their experience with legislators in Tallahassee.

“Apply next year because it’s a really big opportunity. It’s great for the resume,” Mathis said. “It’s a great networking opportunity, and it’s just a good learning experience. So, I think it’s a great opportunity for anyone. It doesn’t have to be just Student Government; anybody can join.”