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“Florida Gulf Coast University in 2011 is light years ahead of where it would be today without the leadership of Bill Merwin, who served as president of FGCU during a time of unparalleled growth and development. He will be fondly remembered as a dynamic leader whose vision and many accomplishments significantly advanced our university. His unwavering belief in the power of education was at the core of his contagious enthusiasm for FGCU, and he was greatly admired by students, faculty, staff, donors, elected officials and community friends. We are profoundly saddened by his passing, and also extremely proud of his legacy that always will be a part of Florida Gulf Coast University.”

— FGCU President Wilson G. Bradshaw, after the May 6 death of former President William C. Merwin in Jacksonville


Assistant professors Dr. Michael LaGier and Dr. Jan DeJarnette were picked to collaborate at the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute’s undergraduate research program in microbial genome annotation in Walnut Creek, Calif., in January. The pair from FGCU were selected because their application demonstrated potential to enrich the University’s science curriculum with sequenced-based genomics and bioinformatics research.

Dr. Christian Prosi of Austria and Jean-Paul Senninger of Luxembourg, both ambassadors to the U.S., visited Dr. John Golden’s business class in organization development and change in February as part of a goodwill trip to Florida.

FGCU Foundation chairman Donald A. Lesch announced in March that the Sanibel Captiva Trust Company that he co-chaired would donate $25,000 to establish a scholarship fund for business students in the trust company’s name. That same month, the University announced that a $60,000 gift from Charles Dauray and the College of Life Foundation and a new partnership with the Holocaust Museum and Education Center of Southwest Florida would help develop a museum-studies program.

Also in March, FGCU Athletics bestowed its highest honor on a non-athlete when Duane Swanson Sr., an ardent athletics booster whose name graces the baseball stadium and whose gift generosity helped fast-track the Eagles into NCAA Division I, was presented with an honorary letter before a game against Michigan.

Continuing with athletics, the men’s and women’s soccer teams would both become the first teams in FGCU history to win both the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season and tournament titles. Other conference championships would be earned by the women’s basketball and swimming and diving teams.

The first speaker in the new President’s Lecture Series in April was former first lady Laura W. Bush, who spoke on “Unleashing Human Potential through Education.” The previous University Lecture Series had hosted writer and poet Maya Angelou, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell.

Melissa Simonitis, a 2008 master’s of business administration graduate and director of development for the PACE Center for Girls in Lee County, was awarded the year’s Alumni of Distinction honor, while Matthew Johnson (2001), Andy Waters (2008), Melissa Wallace (2007), Ansley Cockram (2009) and Samantha Scott (2005) were recognized as Soaring Eagles at the FGCU Alumni Association annual awards ceremony in April.

FGCU’s newest class of Student Hall of Famers included Danielle Alvarez, Kimberly Diaz, Jamie Flatley, Anthony Graziano, Chris Harmon, Rachel Jones, Laura Layton, Leslie Puzo and Lindsay Scott.

Sustainability scholars gave video presentations about progress in Africa on April 1 when the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education at FGCU hosted TEDxFGCU.

Dr. Joe Shepard, who joined FGCU in 1995 to help create the Division of Student Affairs and went on to become its dean before he was named vice president for administrative services and finance, left the University in June to become president of Western New Mexico University. Steve Magiera, then vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the FGCU Foundation, succeeded Shepard.

May 6 was a day of mourning at the University when it was announced that former President William C. “Bill” Merwin, FGCU’s second president, died in Jacksonville after a lengthy illness. Under President Merwin’s leadership from 1999-2007, FGCU’s student enrollment grew from 3,284 to 8,309, with full-time-equivalent (FTE) student percentage going from 46 percent to 73 percent; the operating budget grew from $52 million to $110 million; the number of campus buildings went from 24 to 71; and $218 million was raised during a capital campaign alone — not to mention the expansion of degree programs such as engineering and music, the growth of the athletics program from infancy to NCAA Division I status and the addition of student housing. FGCU invited the entire community to a memorial service honoring Merwin on May 23 in Alico Arena, and on Dec. 5, William C. Merwin Hall was dedicated.

Also in May, FGCU became the only school in the State University System to earn President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll With Distinction laurels from the Corporation for National and Community Service, cited for both exemplary public-service efforts and service to disadvantaged youth.

James Knupp, founding partner in the Ennis, Knupp & Associates investment-consulting firm, took the gavel as chair of the FGCU Foundation Board in late May, while Northern Trust president and CEO John Fumagalli was elected vice chair. Judy Sproul was honored with Foundation Fellow designation.

FGCU’s Small Business Development Center accepted a variety of awards in June at the Florida SBDC state conference in Melbourne.  Certified business analyst Julio Estremera was named top regional CBA, marketing director Trish Leonard was regional employee of the year, retired CEO Ken Oaks was regional volunteer of the year and Janice Groves, CBA for Hendry and Glades counties, earned the Founders Award for Leadership. In September, the SBDC was presented the Champion Award from the Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board for its commitment to Florida’s job growth.

Dr. Joseph H. Simmons, who led the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy at the University of Arizona, was appointed Eminent Scholar by FGCU in July to fill FGCU’s Backe Chair in Renewable Energy, which was established by John D. Backe of The Backe Foundation, Inc. through a $1 million gift.

FGCU’s reputation as a producer of world-class pianists under Dr. Michael Baron was enhanced July 25 when sophomore Priscila Navarro returned to her native country to win the International Piano Competition in Lima, Peru — the latest in a string of competitive accomplishments by the 17-year-old piano music performance major.

The expanded FGCU Student Union (it grew from 53,000 to almost 75,000 square feet) opened with an Aug. 22 ribbon-cutting, and in 2012 it would bear the name Cohen Center after a $3 million legacy gift in September from Janet G. Cohen of Naples, who with her late husband, Harvey, had established a scholarship fund at FGCU five years earlier. The Cohens had earmarked their latter gift to promote student engagement.

An FGCU delegation led by President Wilson G. Bradshaw was in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3 to accept the Higher Education Civic Engagement Award from The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. FGCU was one of just six higher-education institutions out of 140 nominated nationally to earn the honor, which recognizes leadership in community programs and projects.

FGCU joined the A-Sun Conference’s newest sport, sand volleyball, by announcing in November it would have a team. The Eagles’ first match on the sand would be the following March.

The University’s new journalism program received a $42,000 grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to join the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg and Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy in Long Island in launching a virtual interview program called Face-to-Face: Conversations With Journalists. The idea was to get students access to journalists who have covered news in remote areas.

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FORMER FIRST LADY GIVES FIRST PRESIDENT'S LECTURE

The first speaker in the new President’s Lecture Series in April was former first lady Laura W. Bush, who spoke on “Unleashing Human Potential through Education.”

AN IVORY TOAST
AN IVORY TOAST

FGCU’s reputation as a producer of world-class pianists under Dr. Michael Baron was enhanced July 25 when sophomore Priscila Navarro returned to her native country to win the International Piano Competition in Lima, Peru — the latest in a string of competitive accomplishments by the 17-year-old piano music performance major.

A GREATER UNION
A GREATER UNION

In November, an expansion project was finished that increased the student union building’s size from 53,000 to almost 75,000 square feet.

SHIFTING SANDS
SHIFTING SANDS

FGCU fielded its first women’s sand volleyball team.

SUMMIT OF INSPIRATION
SUMMIT OF INSPIRATION

FGCU staged its first TEDx summit.

AHEAD OF THE PACE

Melissa Simonitis, a 2008 master’s of business administration graduate and director of development for the PACE Center for Girls in Lee County, was awarded the year’s Alumni of Distinction honor.

ROOT FOR THE GENOME TEAM

Assistant professors Michael LaGier and Jan Dejamette were picked to collaborate at the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute’s undergraduate research program in microbial genome annotation in Walnut Creek, Calif., in January. The pair from FGCU were selected because their application demonstrated potential to enrich the University’s science curriculum with sequenced-based genomics and bioinformatics research.