FORT MYERS — The administrators at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers believe their university makes a difference in the lives of their students by having small classes, requiring community service and getting every student engrossed in the learning process.
“Instead of a sage on a stage, our classes get the students more engaged,” said Jim Wohlpart, dean of undergraduate studies.
To promote their unique academic environment, the university welcomed students from Ahfachkee to tour the campus on Nov. 13. The 16 students in grades seven through 12 spent the day hearing from university president Wilson G. Bradshaw, Ph.D., top administrators and student tour guides. The day capped off with a men’s basketball game between Gulf Coast and the University of Miami, which Gulf Coast won 63-51.
“We like the students to have early exposure to colleges to see if they can see themselves there,” said Paola Moneymaker, education adviser. “There is something about them experiencing the college environment and seeing students on campus that gives them the sense of an actual university community.”
Gulf Coast stresses hands-on learning, as well as responsibility for the environment. A lot of learning occurs outside the classroom; every student must complete a service learning project in the community.
“We need more education in the future,” Bradshaw said to students. “It’s inevitable that your community will need you. I don’t care where you go to college, I care that you go. Of course, I hope you come here.”
Although actual classroom time at college is far less than during high school, expectations are high for students at any post-secondary institution, and Gulf Coast is no exception.
“When you get here, you have to work hard,” said director of admissions R. Marc Laviolette. “It’s a great place to come to get your education.”
The students toured the sprawling campus and saw the athletic facilities, freshmen housing, classroom buildings, public spaces and the library before settling in for some pizza and the basketball game. While walking through campus, Ahfachkee students took note of the older students as they rolled quickly by on skateboards.
“This is the first college campus I’ve seen,” said eighth-grader John Robbins, 13. “It’s kind of inspiring; I’d like to go to college.”
“It’s better than I expected,” added eighth-grader Nashoba Gonzalez, 13.
During the tour, students gained insight into what it means to attend college and may be less intimidated by the prospect of leaving home for school.
“The students need to know the ins and outs of the admissions process,” Moneymaker said. “They need to get serious early. This tour gave them information about what GPA is required, what test scores they need to get in, sports recruiting and other criteria for attendance.”
Senior Tyler Tigertail, 18, enjoyed the experience.
“It was very educational and informative,” he said.