Photo credit to FGCU.

Basketball made headlines last school year. So what’s in store this year?

Florida Gulf Coast University will welcome about 14,200 students to campus this month as fall classes resume at the growing university. FGCU is heading into its 17th year, and the university has logged much success in its short history. While the formerly double-digit growth rate is intentionally being slowed, student enrollment continues to rise each year, with an even greater bump expected in 2014 – spurred by the Eagles’ NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament success. “Whatever gets them to our front door is good,” says FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw. “When they come here, they will find a very successful, comprehensive university with great academic programs, great athletic programs, and student organizations.”

Along with a new men’s basketball coach – former Kansas Assistant Coach Joe Dooley – FGCU students, staff, and community members will see a few more changes on campus this year. A new pavilion on the Great Lawn in front of the library will be dedicated next month in honor of military veterans. The American flag, Florida flag, and POW/ MIA flag will fl y proudly above the new gathering area at Veterans Pavilion. “It was student-proposed and student-funded,” Bradshaw says of the $226,000 pavilion earmarked by Student Government. “They have been unwavering in their dedication to getting this done.”

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Veterans Pavilion is one of many examples of FGCU’s focus on community. Students were also the driving force behind the nationally recognized FGCU Food Forest, a student-run community garden for learning, as well as gleaning fresh produce. Additionally, students support their new campus food pantry by collecting nonperishables at athletic events. “It provides a much-needed source of food when they run out of money and have transient needs,” Bradshaw notes.

No new academic buildings are being built this year, as the university’s chiller plant has reached its capacity. Creative scheduling, including a high percentage of online courses, allows the university to expand academic offerings using its current space, Bradshaw says. The university has increased the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by 232 percent over the last four years, outpacing every other Florida public university. It also leads the pack in online courses and number of low-socioeconomic status students who earn a bachelor’s degree. This year, the university is adding 20 new offices, remodeling Merwin Hall, and completing a pool for the South Village freshman complex. Another 500-bed residence hall, Eagle Hall, is scheduled to open in Fall 2014.

The university also is welcoming increased funding from the Florida Legislature. Last year’s $5.2 million budget cut has been restored, with FGCU receiving an additional $6.5 million to enhance student success. Those funds will be used to offer more career services and enhance honors programs and the Accelerated Collegiate Experience for high schoolers taking courses at FGCU. The university also has added a transitional doctorate in physical therapy. Bradshaw says he is pleased with FGCU’s growth, both academically and on the playing field. Last March, he and his wife Jo Anna traveled to New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall to hear FGCU musician Priscilla Navarro perform a solo concert. The following day, they were in Georgia watching both the FGCU men’s and women’s basketball teams win in the Atlantic Sun semifinals. The men took home the championship title the next day and went on to make it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. “People recognize the institution now,” Bradshaw says, “and it’s very gratifying.”

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