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Seminoles experience a day of college life at FGCU

FORT MYERS — More than 40 Seminole Tribe middle and high school students with a vision for their futures that include college made that dream a reality for a day at Florida Gulf Coast University.

FGCU invited the students to get a taste of the post-secondary academic world, attend a few classes, take a tour of the Fort Myers campus and root for the home team at the volleyball game versus Jacksonville University on Oct. 11.

“This is a day for our youth to see how they can progress in the future,” said Brighton Councilman Larry Howard. “I hope they take this opportunity and reap the benefits of having an education. They are the future of our Tribe and we are behind them 100 percent. Knowledge is power.”

Two students from Naples, 22 from the Ahfachkee School and 17 from Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School attended Seminole Tribe Day at FGCU. The program included hands-on robotics and forensics classes as well as a presentation about succeeding at college.

During a Florida Gulf Coast University forensic studies class on Oct. 11, Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students learn how to dust for fingerprints and find them with a flashlight. From left are Saniya Rodrigues, FGCU graduate student Savanna Dungan and Nena Youngblood. The activity was part of Seminole Tribe Day at FGCU. (Photo Beverly Bidney )

“We have a great partnership with FGCU,” said Lee Zepeda, executive director of administration. “I’m a huge believer in education and am part of the process. The Tribe helped me get an education and I came back to give back. FGCU is close to BC and Brighton and if you are interested in the environment, they are at the forefront.”

‘FGCU junior Ahnie Jumper shared a few words of advice with the students in the hospitality suite at the school’s Alico Arena.

“I go home about twice a week, it’s that close to home,” said Jumper, a social work major. “Take advantage of the resources the Tribe provides. They are there, so why not use them?”

Over the years Butch Perchan, FGCU’s partnership coordinator with the Tribe, has hosted six or seven of these Seminole Days at the university as well as sports clinics and SAT and ACT test prep classes.

“I hope the Seminoles are starting to reap the benefits of college,” he said. “I hope you’ll consider FGCU. If not FGCU, then Florida SouthWestern State College or a vocational school. Education is important.”

Monique McKay, director of indigenous initiatives, told the students FGCU is committed to advancing the needs and interests of Native Americans.

“Education is an important value in our communities,” said McKay, who is a member of the Metis Nation in Canada. “For self-determination you need your own teachers, doctors, lawyers, business leaders. School is a great life; you get to choose what to study, you are around people who are excited about learning and you can choose a lot of different pathways.”

After hearing what the speakers had to say about FGCU, the kids went to experience it for themselves.

During a robotics class, FGCU math department chair Dr. Menaka Navaratna, Ahfachkee teacher Dr. Rona Olukolu and Ahfachkee students Patsy Veliz and Alena Stockton follow as Dr. Navaratna shows how to program the robot. (Photo Beverley Bidney)

Once on the busses, the advice kept flowing. FGCU student ambassadors served as tour guides and shared their experiences with the middle and high schoolers. One message was repeated often; be as involved in college life as possible.

The ambassador on one bus told the students to join clubs and get involved; it will change their college experience for the better.

In the robotics class, students learned how to program small, mobile robots on a computer.

The students followed along on the computers in the lab as Dr. Menaka Navaratna, chair of the FGCU math department, walked them through the process.

To test whether or not they had programmed the robots correctly, students took them to a cardboard maze in the front of the classroom and tried to get them to navigate it successfully.

As like much in science, the first time wasn’t the charm. Students went back to the computers, tried again and again until they understood the process and succeeded.

“I like it, it’s fun,” said Carlos Bermudez, an 11th grader at Immokalee High School, who plans to go to college when he graduates.

The class was less than an hour long, but in that time the students became engaged with the process of solving the problem.

“It went really fast,” said Patsy Veliz, a senior at Ahfachkee. “I want to keep doing it.”

The forensic studies class taught real-life crime scene investigation techniques and the reasons for doing them. They also learned the importance of finding and evaluating evidence.

Graduate students studying forensic anthropology helped Dr. Heather Walsh Haney, chair of the FGCU criminal justice department take the students through a variety of evidence gathering exercises from finding fingerprints to mapping a crime scene’s exact location.

“It was fun learning about crime scenes because I watch TV shows about that,” said Jaylee Jimmie, an eighth grader at Ahfachkee. “It’s quite fascinating how they do the investigation and find out how long a body has been there. I will go to college, but I don’t know where yet.”

In the student success class, FGCU students and staff explained the non-academic aspects of college life such as clubs, interest groups and student organizations.

They emphasized the importance of making connections with students and staff members and, of course, getting involved.

One student ambassador told the Tribal kids that they will only get out of college as much as they put into it.

A large group of Seminole students, teachers, Brighton Councilman Larry Howard and executive director of administration Lee Zepeda gather in front of the FGCU Alico Arena to commemorate Seminole Day at the university Oct. 11. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Another student speaker touted the smaller sizes of FGCU classes as compared to a much larger university.

She transferred from the University of Central Florida because she realized it would be easier for her to learn in smaller classes. She told the Tribal students they will find a community at FGCU and the school has all the resources necessary for them to succeed.

The group participated in a team work activity highlighting the importance of working together, something they will have to do in school and in life.

“I may want to go here,” said Dominic Osceola, a senior at Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples. “It’s close to family and it feels like a safe environment to learn and make friends.”

Before loading the busses for the rest of the tour, which included housing and the bookstore, students reflected on the experience.

“This is a great college and is close to home,” said Carlise Bermudez, a 10th grader at Ahfachkee. “I may apply, but I don’t think it will be my first choice. I want to go into law. My mom tells me I should go away to college, but I will definitely take this into consideration.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at