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“I thank the founding faculty and staff, our advisory councils, and the leadership from the Legislature, county commissions and citizens who have contributed time, talent and treasure in leaving a legacy for generations to come.”

— Roy McTarnaghan, founding president of Florida Gulf Coast University, in a story he wrote for the publication, “FGCU: The First Decade”


In a way, Aug. 25, 1997, was graduation day for Dr. Roy McTarnaghan.

The former executive vice chancellor for the State University System/Board of Regents had in 1993 enrolled in a figurative four-year course of study in higher education for which there was no curriculum or textbook — building Florida’s 10th state university from scratch as its founding president.

That hot summer day in 1997 would be a commencement in two ways: President McTarnaghan earned his “diploma” for essentially pulling off a miracle, and Southwest Florida celebrated a beginning, the opening day of an extraordinary institution that would make immediate, far-reaching impact — Florida Gulf Coast University.

It was the triumphant culmination of a whirlwind journey that began with molding undeveloped, sensitive land: clearing swaths on 760 acres of subtropical wilderness — all with great environmental care and responsibility — for roads and buildings.

The Godspeed journey would continue with a grand plan: crafting original curriculum, recruiting top faculty and staff lured by the pioneering opportunity, developing the necessary support services, creating budgets to operate and expand along with a private foundation to aggressively help fund the countless projects, negotiating with various agencies and institutions for the people and places to get the ball rolling.

The Board of Regents had in 1996 approved academic-degree programs in the colleges of arts and sciences, business, health professions and professional studies. What made — and makes — FGCU unique among institutions of higher education is that it opened with a faculty contract system instead of a tenure system, and with two graduation requirements that help students become better-rounded people and citizens: service-learning hours and a three-credit-hour University Colloquium course.

The results became real when in January 1997, Mariana Coto became the first student admitted as she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. And the mission quickly became a journey validated when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) put the fledgling university on track toward accreditation.

Not that the journey would end that ceremonious August day when 2,584 students officially began classes at a university whose foundation already had accumulated some $38 million in assets. In fact, the ever-evolving mission was only beginning.

“Our library consisted of a portable trailer with a few long tables and chairs,” Coto said, recounting those first days in a story for FGCU’s 10th anniversary in 2007. “The space also acted as our cafeteria with three vending machines.”

In an essay President McTarnaghan wrote to mark the 10-year milestone, he noted that in the beginning, people would ask why he didn’t “wait until they build the university, then go there and take over?” He would then explain, “I am ‘they.’”

Twenty years later, we can say “they” did a pretty darn good job leading a journey few previous educators had ever taken.

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FIRST STUDENT ADMITTED

In January 1997, Mariana Coto became the first student admitted as she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

Colleges Approved
Colleges Approved

The Board of Regents had in 1996 approved academic-degree programs in the colleges of arts and sciences, business, health professions and professional studies.

ON TRACK TO ACCREDITATION
ON TRACK TO ACCREDITATION

The FGCU journey is validated when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) puts the fledgling university on track toward accreditation.

Paving the Way to Greatness
Paving the Way to Greatness

In the beginning, founding staff members crafted original curriculum, recruited top faculty and staff lured by that unique curriculum, developed the necessary support services, created budgets to operate and expand along with a private foundation to aggressively help fund the countless projects, and negotiated with various agencies and institutions for the people and places to get the ball rolling.

The First Library
The First Library

“Our library consisted of a portable trailer with a few long tables and chairs,” said Mariana Coto, FGCU’s first admitted student, recounting those first days in a story for FGCU’s 10th anniversary in 2007. “The space also acted as our cafeteria with three vending machines.”