“Some of the most important lessons...occur outside the classroom”
Q: Since its inception, FGCU has worked hard at increasing the diversity of its faculty, staff and student body. Why is that important?
A: It allows for a richer educational and cultural experience for students and exposes them to the world in which they will work once they graduate. We aren’t simply talking about racial diversity here. We also mean intellectual, philosophical and ideological diversity. The world our students are living in is quite different from what it was even 25 years ago. It’s a global community. Students here in Southwest Florida work with people in India, China and Mozambique, among other places. The demand from the business sector for students prepared to succeed in that environment is great.
Q: How has the university’s population changed in recent years?
A: The student body, faculty and staff has grown increasingly more diverse. Hispanic students make up 16 percent of the student population, an 11 percent increase over the previous year. The number of African-American students has jumped 11 percent from the year before. They represent about 7 percent of enrollment now. Add in our Asian students – about 2.4 percent of enrollment – and that means that 25 percent of students are non-white.
Q: To what do you attribute the increase in minority enrollment?
A: Students are successful here and, as they experience success, they tell others about it. We also have programs to prepare students who are under-represented, programs for academically gifted students, programs for those interested in pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees. FGCU is one of 21 universities nationwide to receive a student services support grant to encourage student participation in the STEM disciplines. We have been awarded a five-year, $1 million grant from the federal Department of Education to retain and graduate low-income, first-generation students pursuing STEM disciplines.
Q: In what other ways do students benefit from diversity?
A: A diverse faculty is often one of the ways in which institutions define their strength. At FGCU, 7.5 percent of the faculty is African-American and 7.7 percent is Hispanic. More than 56 percent are women. For many students, it may be the first time they interact in a meaningful way with people who come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In addition to enriching and energizing the educational experience, some of the most important lessons students learn occur outside the classroom -- in the residence halls, the library, Harv’s Place (student center). They are exposed to a wealth of cultural values and ideas. It serves them well when they go out into the world.