There are many different ways that the seniors in the spring 2015 graduating class have contributed to the university. Undoubtedly, each member of this spring’s graduating class has impacted the campus in some way. No matter how large or small the contribution, no student will leave Florida Gulf Coast University without having touched a life, shined a light or added something to the world that wasn’t there before.
The university has many ways of recognizing students whose accomplishments and contributions to FGCU are deemed exemplary, yet many students go unrecognized for everyday actions that are making a difference on campus. Drew Flowerday, Tia Rowe, Talissa Soto and Vanessa Fernandez are a few seniors whose contributions to FGCU have impacted many lives and will continue to shape the university even after graduation.
Leaving home and coming to college can be hard and stressful. Whether living on campus or commuting, first year students are faced with the challenges of growing up and the independence that comes with college life. Sometimes, we need people to guide us in our newfound freedom.
As a freshman, Flowerday and his friends started an all-inclusive group called the “Avengers Initiative” in Honors freshman housing. This one act of reaching out and making others feel welcome is a simple way that Flowerday and his friends were able to make an impact.
Students may think they don’t know Flowerday, but he has actually been acting as Azul the Eagle for most of his college career. If you have been to a sporting event this year, the odds are good that you have seen Flowerday. Flowerday is also a senior peer adviser on campus for First Year Advising, a job that allows him to help new students adjust to college life. As a senior peer adviser, Flowerday works on everything from data entry to helping incoming freshman figure out their schedules, to leading workshops to help them pick majors and creating web video tutorials for picking out their classes. Those videos can help future students figure out how to register for classes. Flowerday got into that role by serving as an orientation leader the summer before his sophomore year, which he called “an amazing experience.” Additionally, his involvement in the “Let’s Talk about Sex” event on campus as the marketing coordinator and as a lead organizer of the 2014 Honors Horror Film Festival are proof of his continual campus involvement. After graduating a year early with a degree in both communication and philosophy, Flowerday plans on moving to Kansas City, Missouri with his partner, Sonya, to pursue his passion: graphic design.
A passionate feminist and massive supporter of human rights, Tia Rowe is fighting for social justice one cause at a time. This year her focus has been on the Real Food Challenge. The main goal of the RFC is to add a bill to FGCU’s new dining contract that states that the food provider will spend 20 percent of its budget on “real food,” which is classified as being local and community based, ecologically sound (e.g. organic) and acquired through fair trade and humane techniques. With the RFC, it will be easier for students to know where their food is coming from and know that the people working to provide the food are treated humanely. Although she has been involved with RFC for three years, Rowe has seen it pick up steam in the past year. Up until now, students involved in the RFC were building relationships with professors and laying groundwork. This year, Rowe has taken a leadership role and furthered the RFC’s progress. By July 2016, FGCU’s campus dining contract will be up. A goal of the RFC is to get a new dining provider who is more transparent. Last semester, Rowe helped organize Food Day, a symposium on the importance of the RFC. Leading up to that event, a campus-wide petition collected approximately 1,400 signatures and Faculty Senate, Staff Advisory Council and Student Government have all passed resolutions and statements of support for the RFC. Most recently, the RFC group met with J. Michael Rollo, the vice president of student affairs. The next step for the RFC is approval from President Wilson Bradshaw. In the meantime, Rowe’s goal is to spread more awareness across campus to get students to know how important the RFC is. After graduation, Rowe —who will also be receiving a degree in philosophy and communication — plans to stay in the Fort Myers area and mentor the new leaders of RFC.
She said that she “will be as involved as they want me to be,” but wants the new generation to have the opportunity to become leaders and grow like she did.
Leadership means something different to everyone. For some, it means serving on the executive board of Student Government or a sorority. For Vanessa Fernandez, the opportunity to not only lead, but change the world presents itself in everyday life. Fernandez is the president of No Race No Hate, a campus organization that gives students the opportunity to discuss issues of race, ethnicity, and culture. She believes that everyone has the power to make changes.
“It doesn’t have to be extravagant,” Fernandez said. “Start with something small and it will snowball and make some really big things happen.” In spring 2014, Vanessa and a group of friends were inspired after watching a TED Talk. The speaker included a board that read something like, “How I will change the world before I die,” and in that simple message, the friends saw the opportunity to form something that the university desperately needed.
By August 2014, No Race No Hate had officially been formed with Fernandez as the president. The student organization proved to be extremely relevant in the coming months with the nationwide aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and the Ferguson protests, as well as the death of Eric Garner and the subsequent social media explosions of #BlackLivesMatter. By offering FGCU students a place to come together and discuss these issues outside of a classroom setting, students and faculty have been able to come together in unprecedented ways. The Office of Multicultural and Leadership Development has been instrumental. Bradshaw, Rollo, Jan-Martijn Meij, Ph.D., and Sachiko Tankei-Aminian, Ph.D. served on the ‘In Living Color’ discussion panel last semester, sharing stories of their experiences with race. This spring, Fernandez and No Race No Hate Vice President Talissa Soto presented a talk at TEDxFGCU on the theory behind No Race No Hate. The video of their talk, “A Crash Course in Changing the World” can be found on YouTube. Fernandez will graduate with a dual degree in communication and philosophy with minors in both digital media design and critical theory. Post-graduation, she is looking forward to a full-time job as a communication coordinator for Pushing the Envelope, a local advertising agency, and is hoping to work more with No Race No Hate.
Fernandez has some advice for FGCU students.
“Grow in your leadership,” she said. “Get involved in the things you care about. It is easy to do things everyone else has done — push the limits.”
Last summer, a group of nursing and social work students took a trip around the world to Ghana. Soto is neither a nursing major nor a social work major, yet she took the opportunity to travel to a faraway country and immerse herself in a culture entirely unfamiliar to her. A sociology and political science double major, Soto was the only undergraduate student to work with the social work students. While in Ghana, Soto and the graduate students visited schools for the deaf and blind as well as special needs children. Their research evaluated the interactions between the teachers and children.
“It was a really great experience to learn more about a culture we didn’t know about,” Soto said. Upon her return to FGCU, Soto helped found No Race No Hate. Upon graduation, Soto plans to stay in Fort Myers, continuing her current work as a teaching assistant for the Climate Change: Science, Disinformation, and Denial course at FGCU. Additionally, she plans to continue her involvement with Histories of Choice, an independent study project with Professors Kristine De Welde and Nicola Foote. The project collects the oral histories of people who experienced the effects of the history of abortion throughout the state of Florida. Furthermore, Soto plans to stay involved with Divest FGCU, a campus organization whose goal is to persuade the FGCU Board of Trustees to divest their investments in fossil fuels.
“I’ll be around,” Soto said.
Soto’s advice for students is to leave a place better than it was when they got there.
“People always think they don’t have the power or the ability to be able to do something about the issues they care about. But remember that no matter how small the impact might be, you are doing something and it’s better than doing nothing.”