Over the last 20 years, Florida Gulf Coast University students have contributed more than 2.5 million hours of service to the local community. Every undergraduate student is required to log 80 hours of service, but many students are eager to go beyond this requirement, sometimes spending hundreds of hours helping out in the community.
Jessica Rhea, director of FGCU’s Office of Service Learning and Civic Engagement, passionately connects the university to organizations within Southwest Florida. Rhea, her staff, and a number of student ambassadors assist undergraduates in providing meaningful experiences in and out of the classroom. Service opens the door to many possibilities and makes an enormous impact on members of the community.


CREW Land & Water Trust
As an FGCU student, Jessi Drummond volunteered at the Food Forest, an on-campus botanical garden packed with edible produce. After graduation, she became the education coordinator for CREW Land & Water Trust, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving water resources and natural wildlife habitats. Drummond now leads many environmental justice events at CREW, which holds the largest watershed in Southwest Florida on its 60,000 acres of land.
Most of CREW’s interns and education ambassadors are current FGCU students. The trust maintains two trails off of Corkscrew Road east of I-75 and provides educational tours for local schools and the general public. After Hurricane Irma, CREW and FGCU mobilized student volunteers to clean up the trails and surrounding areas.
“FGCU is a great resource and community partner. We are very ‘Eagle proud’ out here at CREW,” says Drummond.

Leadership Through Service
Leadership Through Service (LTS) is a Living Learning Community in which a small group of freshmen students live on campus together while participating in various service projects. These students are connected with local nonprofits from the very beginning of their time at FGCU. LTS actively volunteers with Pinewoods Elementary, assisting students and teachers in the classroom.
The Living Learning Community is led by Courtney Satkoski, a professor for Integrated Studies and Honors College. LTS recently organized a blood drive, an event that felt close to Satkoski after her own son needed a blood transfusion. One of LTS’s main projects is “Hunting for a Cure.” Its mission is to raise money to combat Hunter’s Syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder that affects young children.
While the LTS community only lasts for freshman year, the students often become life-long friends, with many choosing to live together again. From their first year at university, these students stand among local leaders, step out of their comfort zones, and open doors to their future at an accelerated rate.

Highlighting Student Leader Emma Nichols
Emma Nichols is a current member of the LTS Living Learning Community. She volunteers at Pinewoods and with “Hunting for a Cure” while maintaining her membership at the FGCU Honors College. As a freshman, Nichols has already filled a number of leadership positions on and off campus. She serves as secretary for Everglades Area Council, Girl Scout Chair and Philanthropy Party Head for the Eta Tau chapter of Kappa Delta sorority, and she is an active member of the Concert Committee for FGCU’s Programming Board. According to Satkoski, Nichols is one of the most active leaders at the university — so much so that Nichols currently works as her teaching assistant.


Quality of Life Center
Former FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw served on the board of directors for the Quality of Life Center (QLC) in Fort Myers. FGCU partnered closely with this organization in 2015 when it established the Leadership Through Service (LTS) program. This inspired students, faculty and other staff members to get involved with strategic projects in the areas of environmental sustainability, youth development, poverty, college readiness, education and healthcare. Together, FGCU and QLC organize numerous days of service in which hundreds of students actively participate in community-based efforts. LTS has dedicated over 1,700 hours to the Quality of Life Center by effectively identifying the core needs of the community and mobilizing students to build multiple service projects throughout their school careers.

Wings of Hope
The Wings of Hope (WOH) program at FGCU provides environmental education to more than 5,500 elementary school students from Lee and Collier counties. Students are educated on the wildlife of Southwest Florida, including a number of endangered species such as the Florida panther and black bear. The children are led by over 400 FGCU students who are dedicated to wildlife conservation and sustainability. They often trek along the trails of CREW Land & Water Trust, witnessing diverse species of plants and animals and learning how to use scientific instruments.
A main feature of WOH is the Florida Panther Posse Program. In the Panther Room, located in Reed Hall, FGCU students provide hands-on learning as elementary children are educated on panther research with the use of motion sensors and trail cameras. The Panther Posse effectively engages children on the importance of environmental conservation and scientific research. As members of the Panther Posse, FGCU students are each encouraged to educate two other people, thus increasing WOH’s outreach to over 10,000 community members a year.

Student volunteers in these programs are making a big impact on the quality of life in Southwest Florida. Some, like Jessi Drummond and Emma Nichols, find their passion through service and will continue volunteering long after their FGCU service requirements have been met.

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