FSW Student & Alumni Success Stories

What's Your FSW Success Story?

2021 Success Stories

Sheronia Garcia

Sheronia Garcia appreciates the value of water.

Growing up on a reservation without running water as a child, Sheronia had to haul water from a watermill, purchase bottled drinking water, and collect rainwater to shower.

“Because of my experience, I’ve always been passionate about the water industry.”

After hearing about the Florida SouthWestern State College Corporate Training Center’s Drinking Water Class C certification course and the Rapid Credentialing scholarship, Sheronia enrolled in the program.

“It’s just me, my husband, and my young daughter, so the evening classes were very accommodating to my schedule. The instructor, Mr. John Thompson, was also understanding and flexible when needed.”

Sheronia also received the Rapid Credentialing scholarship, which fully covered the cost of the course and her books.

“If not for the scholarship, I probably wouldn’t have been able to enroll in the course. It was at the height of the pandemic, and work was slow. We were focusing on just surviving, so it was instrumental in getting me here.”

While she was taking the course, Sheronia was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was hospitalized. Her instructor worked with FSW in order to ensure Sheronia had what she needed to complete the course on time. When she was able, she attended classes through Zoom, and her classmates provided support through email with anything she may have missed during class.

“It was an emotional and frightening time, but everyone really supported me in getting through. I was grateful to Mr. Thompson and my classmates for everything they did for me.”

At the urging of Professor Thompson, Sheronia applied and was hired as a water operator trainee by the City of Fort Myers before she even completed the course.

Sheronia started the job in December after passing her state certification exam. She works the evening shift, checking chemical and water levels, and she is being trained to work in the lab.

Sheronia also plans to bring her new knowledge back home.

“My dream is to one day return to the reservation and help improve their access to water.”

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Ramon Vazquez-Maldonado was encouraged to enroll in the Florida SouthWestern State College Corporate Training Center’s Wastewater and Drinking Water courses when his former boss at the Glades County School District was retiring. He also received the Rapid Credentialing scholarship, which covered the cost of both courses and his books.

Vazquez-Maldonado faced his own set of challenges taking the course.

“There were times I wanted to give up. I struggled with taking both courses and working a full-time and part-time job at the same time, but instructor John Thompson and my family were very supportive and helped me keep my focus.”

Then, after being exposed to COVID-19 at work, Vazquez-Maldonado was forced to quarantine at the same time his final tests were scheduled.

“Instructor Thompson helped accommodate me so I could complete the courses on time, and I was able to complete the test at home.”

He passed both courses.

“It was definitely a challenge taking both courses at the same time, but if I had to do it over again, I would. The two areas go hand-in-hand, so it’s beneficial to understand the full process.”

Ramon is currently preparing to take the state exam and will soon begin applying for jobs in the field.

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Tiffany Morgan

Having faced many physical and health-related challenges on her way to earning her degree, FSW 2021 graduate Tiffany Morgan never gave up when it came to reaching her goal. Here’s her story in her own words:

“I have gone through a lot to get to graduate now. I started in the summer of 2016. Since then, I have had many hardships, but I have stuck in and didn’t lose sight of my goals.

I was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension in 2013. I fought to where I was healthy and ready to start my next step in life. When I began FSW, I was healthy and happy. Everything was great. I even met some of the two best people in my life, my fiancé and my best friend.

It all headed south at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. I was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, bilateral foot drop, and severe back pain. I was still going to school, even with everything going on, until I just couldn’t. I ended up having brain surgery and had a long recovery (that pain was way worse than any final or report).

I eventually was able to come back one class at a time and work my way back.

Then, in 2019, I developed five extremely herniated discs and could barely walk without pain. If you ask almost anyone, they will remember me wobbling along going between class and the Academic Support Center. I even got an award from a tutor and the ASC. I was so proud of that and still have the picture.

I had to drop the class in Spring 2020 before COVID hit. However, I jumped right back in and have been going since summer.

I am now able to graduate with my head held high. I have had so much help to get to where I am. The teachers have all been fantastic. I have met the best teachers I have ever had the privilege to learn under here.

I love FSW. It has taught me so much in many different ways. I am stronger because of what I have accomplished with this school. I know that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. FSW will always have a massive part of my heart.”

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Jessica Braunig

“I’ve been told I’m not enough.”

FSW graduate Jessica Braunig has heard those words throughout her life.

Growing up, Jessica lived in Section 8 housing. With seven siblings, her family lived paycheck to paycheck, and her household was toxic and abusive.

“I always tried to strive for better, and I wanted to go to college,” she said.

Jessica was told the only way she could go to college was if she received scholarships, so she worked to earn those scholarships, and as many 18-year-olds do, she enrolled in college courses after high school.

But Jessica found herself in one toxic relationship after another, and eventually, she dropped out of college.

After continuously repeating the same cycle she had fought so hard to escape, Jessica finally decided she had to do better for herself, and in 2019, she enrolled at FSW’s Collier Campus.

“FSW was the only college I knew at the time, and I really liked the college, my professors, and my classmates.”

One professor, in particular, encouraged Jessica along the way.

“Dr. George Harvey helped me stay on track. He said to me, ‘If you finish, I will shake your hand at graduation’.”

Now at 23, Jessica is happily married to a supportive husband and has an 8-month-old daughter.

She is currently enrolled in classes and majoring in English at FGCU and plans on becoming either a high school English teacher or a college professor. She will be the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“I didn’t want to repeat the cycle,” she said. “I want to show my daughter that you can come from a bad background and do good things.”

Jessica will receive her A.A. degree during FSW’s commencement ceremony on April 30, and she looks forward to shaking Dr. Harvey’s hand.

“I’ve been told I’m not enough, but here I stand to say: I’m more than enough.”

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Whitney Treloar

"I want my kids to realize that you can stop and turn and change directions. Stuck is something you decide and you can also decide not to be stuck." For mother of three, Whitney Trelore, being stuck was just a mindset. Pushing 50 years old, she decided to go back to school and take her life back. If you're feeling stuck, listen to her story.

Ayesha Anklesaria

Ayesha Anklesaria graduated from FSW with an Associate in Arts degree and an Associate in Science degree in paralegal studies in 2019. She is now using what she learned at FSW to elevate her experience at the University of Florida. Read how FSW helped Ayesha elevate her opportunities here, in her own words:

“My experience at FSW was a memorable one. I cannot put into words how appreciative I am for the moments, conversations, opportunities, and people met throughout my time there. When I moved from Canada to the US with my family back in 2014, I did not know anyone or anything. Attending college in the US was not only something that was not expected, as I was accepted into a university of choice in Canada, but it was intimidating and mind-boggling. I was, however, prepared to have a similar college journey and experience in Canada.

After taking some time to settle down and work for a year, things started to change. I did some research, talked, heard, and learned about FSW from friends who attended previously (when it was known as Edison). I then made the decision to attend FSW, and it was a decision that I do not regret!

One of the places that I spent the majority of my time at FSW was with the Office of Student Engagement (SE). SE revolves around student involvement and provides students with opportunities to enhance their success, retention, and graduation. Additionally, the office provided students with the various resources and programming needed for them to succeed.

During my time with SE, I had the opportunity to serve as a peer mentor in the first-year experience classes, with the Student Government Association (SGA), and in two honor societies. While in SGA, I held the positions of secretary, vice president, and president. I also had the opportunity to work and serve nearly a million students through the Florida College System SGA (FCSSGA) as region 4 coordinator. While in these positions, I worked closely with the SE team. We got to know one another and built close relationships.

Based on my experiences, I would say that the SE team elevated my opportunities in numerous ways. For starters, each member of the team taught me something and saw things in me that I did not see. They encouraged and helped me to step out of my comfort zone to try something new. They further helped me to find my voice and develop my passion for leadership.

Now, being an alumna, I am currently a student at the University of Florida (UF). I am majoring in sociology and minoring in leadership. The leadership skills learned at FSW are applicable and useful inside and outside of the UF community. Thanks to the FSW SE team, I am more confident when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new. Although it is harder and more competitive on the university level, I continue to take risks, research opportunities, and learn more about myself along the way. To this day I remain in touch with each of the members of the SE team letting them know what is going on and how I am doing. They continue to work with me as I go through my journey at UF. It’s as if I’m still there or they’re here with me.

Each individual of the SE team has made an impact on me and that I am forever thankful for. They continue to give advice and help put things into perspective. With that said, continuous thanks go out to the SE team for everything they do for the students of FSW and for being there for me. They helped to mold me into the leader and individual I am today. If students want to get involved and take the next steps in leadership, FSW SE is the place to go!”

2020 Success Stories

Trevon Davis

For many people, teaching is a passion or a calling. FSW graduate Trevon Davis says it’s more than that for him. Yes, he found his calling as a middle school teacher in Lee County, but as a Black, male teacher, which is a rarity, he says it’s his mission to inspire other people of color to become educators.

Katie Means

How many times have we heard: “FSW is just a community college for kids who didn’t succeed in high school?” or “FSW is a fall back school.” FSW student Katie Means said that once or twice as well. Now, this former 4.0 high school student is saying FSW is a place she didn’t settle for; it’s an institution where she’s thriving!

Lyn Carlson

“After working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) for 39 years, I took my first college class at FSW in 2014 with RN as my goal. After completing my prerequisites, I was accepted into FSW’s Associate in Science degree in Nursing (ASN) program. I was in class with bright, passionate young people who accepted me even though I was older than most of their parents. They taught me the particulars of Canvas and the language of Text, and I laughed with them about my ancient experiences of nursing in the 1970s. This shared journey was intense and our class of 43 grew into a family of sorts, supporting each other through engagements, divorces, deaths and Hurricane Irma.

Nursing is more than an education, it's a calling. Before we graduated, all of us were committed to lifelong learning. I completed the prerequisites needed to apply for FSW’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program and was thrilled to be accepted and begin the next leg of my education experience.

This online program at FSW grooms the graduate nurse into a professional through a deeper study of pathophysiology, an acute understanding of research and evidence-based practice, and a solid recognition of leadership traits and habits. My professors provided inspiration, and I graduated in August 2020. 

The catalyst for this undertaking involves my husband's encouragement, my colleagues at Lee Health, the patients I care for, and the knowledge that education is the best way for me to influence the health of my community. My role at Lee Health is RN Navigator in Community Care Outreach. Our team of nurses and social workers partners with community organizations for better patient outcomes through patient engagement and care coordination.

Especially during this public health crisis, I am grateful for the educational opportunities FSW offers and my own experience there.”

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Sherri Zimmerman

For some of us, no matter the struggle, giving up just isn’t in the cards.

FSW student Sherri Zimmerman proves this daily. She has been working to earn her college degree for more than 30 years.

Zimmerman first enrolled at Edison’s Charlotte “Center” in 1987. Back then, Charlotte’s classes and student services were held in an old strip mall in Port Charlotte. Over the years, she’s watched the Charlotte Campus change with the times.

“I really love FSW,” Zimmerman said. “The small campus size was perfect for me, and the faculty and staff are helpful and available if you are struggling. They were always patient with me, and they would go over things with me until I understood them. They truly love what they do, and they made me love learning, too.”

With their help, she was even able to overcome her biggest fear – math.

That fear led Zimmerman to put off her math courses until the very end, but with the help of tutoring services in the Math Center and professor Kelsea Livingstone, she gained a whole new perspective about the subject.

“Because of professor Livingstone, not only did I earn an A in every one of my math courses, but I love math now!” Zimmerman said.

It’s no surprise. Zimmerman has always pushed through to reach her goals. As a teenager in New Jersey, she earned her barber apprenticeship license, and at the age of 21 with just $14 in her pocket, opened up her own small barbershop.

But years of hospitalizations and multiple mental health misdiagnoses stalled her attempts to earn her college degree. Still, while she was facing challenges that might have led some to just give up, Zimmerman was motivated even more, and she continued taking classes when she could.

“I never thought about giving up,” she said.

Since receiving an accurate medical diagnosis in 2016, Zimmerman has gone on to host a radio talk show, has written two books about her experiences with mental health, and has patented a board game she hopes will be incorporated into therapies at mental health facilities.

She is now living in North Carolina where she hopes to continue her education at Duke University, focusing both on pre-law and clergy studies.

“My goal is to help create better laws and regulations in the mental health field,” she said. “Specifically, I want to focus on establishing a law that requires nurses to be in the room when a doctor is with a patient in psychiatric hospitals.”

Her advice to those who may find themselves struggling: “Follow your gut feeling and intuition, use the resources that are available to you, and don’t give up.”

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Respiratory Care Class of 2020

For the third consecutive year, 100% of the graduates of FSW's Respiratory Care program have passed their certification exams to earn the Registered Respiratory Therapist credential. There were 13 graduates in the class of 2020. To earn the credential, graduates must pass two certification exams that must be completed at least three days apart.

“This group of graduates faced unusual challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jean Newberry, FSW Respiratory Care program director. “From March through June, they had to complete the program virtually via Zoom. They then had to travel across the state of Florida to find testing locations that were still open to take their two exams. We are always proud of all of our graduates, but this group is a true example of how to overcome challenges to reach your goals.”

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Kallen Hopkins

A change in perspective led to a change in career for FSW 2020 graduate Kallen Hopkins.

After working as a stock supervisor in the retail industry, Hopkins shifted his focus to the restaurant industry where he trained new employees at a popular restaurant chain.

“I never felt connected in my retail job, but liked the connections I was building with the new employees in the restaurant,” Hopkins said. “I enjoyed teaching them, and I knew I could do even more.”

Hopkins enrolled in FSW’s Bachelor of Science (BS) in Elementary Education program.

It was no surprise he felt a connection to teaching. His mom, a single mother, had been a teacher, and Hopkins had many teachers throughout his life that had made a positive impact on him.

“Male role models are important,” said Hopkins. “Many kids grow up without fathers. I was one of them, so many of the teachers I had were role models I needed in my life. They helped me through many personal challenges.”

Hopkin’s decision to enroll at FSW also wasn’t a surprise.

“When I decided to go back to school, I chose FSW because I grew up in Southwest Florida and I was familiar with it, but also because my mom earned her teaching degree from FSW, back when it was Edison College,” said Hopkins. “After she passed away, earning my teaching degree at the same college she did helped me feel closer to her.”

While he was enrolled, Hopkins was also working full time and was raising his three-year-old daughter. He found the shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic a challenge, but he didn’t give up.

“My goal was to do well, stick through it, and show my daughter I could do it,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins graduated from the program with honors, and he received the FSW School of Education’s Outstanding Student Award during the program’s Spring 2020 pinning ceremony.

“Kallen earned the award because from his very first class in the program he was a stellar student,” said Dr. Joyce Rollins, department chair, FSW School of Education. “He always went above and beyond on his assignments and in his field experiences. He encouraged his peers and often motivated them when they were feeling overwhelmed. During his final internship, he was a natural in the classroom and looked like a tenured teacher as he worked his magic with the fourth graders.”

“The program was incredible with amazing faculty,” said Hopkins. “They want you to do well and go out of their way to help you succeed.”

Hopkins will begin teaching the fourth grade at Lehigh Elementary School this fall.

“I can relate to many of the socio-economic challenges many of these young students are going through, and I look forward to working with them and becoming a positive role model for kids who need it.”

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Tyrone Humbles

If you ask Tyrone Humbles, life is all about having the heart to take chances. He’s a man with an eye for business, but the one thing he always wanted was a degree.

Aaliyah Conde

FSW 2020 graduate Aaliyah Conde believes in being her truest self, and she doesn’t let anything hold her back from achieving her goals. She even brought this mindset to some of her classmates who were struggling in their biology class.

“Aaliyah had a great dedication and attitude toward learning, despite the challenge of studying difficult biology topics, added to the fact that she is a non-native English speaker,” said Dr. Marcela Trevino, FSW biology professor. “She also displayed a very supportive attitude to encourage one of her classmates to not give up on the class.”

It was a previous life experience that helped create Conde’s positive frame of mind.

“I was in a really bad relationship, and once I was no longer in that relationship, I felt like I could be anyone I wanted without someone holding me back,” Conde said. “If you are experiencing something like this, set yourself free. Your future self will thank you.”

Conde discovered a love for biology while in Dr. Trevino’s class. She plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in biology from FGCU and then apply for a master’s physician assistant program.

She has this message for the Class of 2020:

“I am extremely proud of all of us for getting through this. I’d say we are the best class there is considering we made it through even with the Coronavirus interrupting our last semester. If we can get through this, we can get through anything.”

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Rachel Kipfinger

FSW Class of 2020 graduate Rachel Kipfinger embraced the college experience and made the most of her time on the Charlotte Campus.

She was a regular participant in campus events including Trivia Tuesdays, Tournament Thursdays, Puppy Palooza, and Pi Day, and she was a member of the FSW Photography Club.

"FSW is a great college to attend," she said. "The professors really get to know you, and they are very friendly and knowledgeable and willing to help you succeed. Campus life is also tons of fun, and I've met some of my best friends by attending these events."

Kipfinger also embraced the help of FSW's Academic Success Center to help her succeed in class.

"I had trouble understanding content in my Spanish II class," she said. "My grade was mediocre, and it got to the point where I needed more assistance the further I got into the class. I stopped by the Academic Support Center and they set me up with an amazing tutor that helped me understand the lessons and pass the course."

Kipfinger earned her A.A. degree from FSW and plans to pursue her bachelor's degree in exercise science at FGCU and transfer to a physical therapy program for her master's degree.

"I would love to work alongside high-performing athletes and help them reach their physical goals on the court, field and track."

Kipfinger was nominated to be a student commencement speaker. She has this message for the Class of 2020:

"I know that this wasn't the graduation we had in mind when we started our degree, but we've all made it here despite the challenges we've had to face this last semester. It will be a graduation to remember, and an entertaining story to tell years from now."

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Jenia Badova

After seeing her children off to college, FSW A.S. in Dental Hygiene program graduate Jenia Badova decided it was her time to earn a college degree as well. At FSW, she found the support, guidance, and resources she needed to return to school.

"English is my second language and going back to school presented psychological challenges more than anything," Badova said. "The insecurity did not last long, though. I was welcomed, immediately accepted, and soon felt just like any other student focused on academic success regardless of what my background might have been."

As an FSW Dental Hygiene program student, Badova participated in Give Kids a Smile Day, an annual event held in the FSW Dental Hygiene Clinic that provides free dental services to children. She also volunteered in various oral health educational programs for organizations including WIC, the Buckingham Exceptional Center, and local VPKs. Badova was also nominated to be a Class of 2020 commencement speaker.

"My greatest inspiration are my teachers for giving me all the tools of success and showing me with their own steps the professional role models I wanted to emulate in my career," Badova said. "Every one of them is very passionate about giving their students the best education possible, and that sincere effort on their behalf is something I will always consider the greatest gift. To teach someone what it is to really care and the implications of kindness is beyond what knowledge can accomplish alone. It is the real essence and the drive in any healthcare professional's philosophy, and my teachers helped me see it in action."

Badova graduated from FSW with her associate's degree in dental hygiene this spring. She plans to continue her education by pursuing her bachelor's degree in Dental Hygiene at Tampa University.

She has this message for the Class of 2020:

"Finally, all these sleepless nights we had to pull, papers we had to write, quizzes we had to take… all of the hard work we had to put in, and all of the sacrifices we made brought us to this unforgettable moment. From now on, with pride in what we do and belief in our capacity to make a difference, let us build a better life for us and our community! As Dalai Lama says: The creation of a more peaceful and happier society has to begin from the level of the individual, and from there it can expand to one's family, to one's neighborhood, to one's community, and so on. Let us be the heroes the world needs so much today."

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Tara Gadoury

FSW graduate Tara Gadoury knows it's never too late to conquer your fears and follow your dreams.

Fed up with a life in retail and having been placed on disability, Gadoury decided it was time to earn her college degree. She enrolled at FSW, but as a non-traditional-age student, Gadoury was afraid she wouldn't fit in on campus and only took online classes at first.

After being accepted into the FSW Honors Scholar Program, Gadoury found the courage to attend classes on campus, and she took full advantage of everything FSW had to offer.

Gadoury participated in FSW's study abroad in Italy program at the Lorenzo de'Medici Institute where she studied the Italian language along with additional FSW classes.

"The experience was intense but amazing," she said. "The classical world surrounds you, and the art that you've always heard about is right there in front of you. I lived and studied with students who were younger than me, but we all appreciated the shared experience. We all came back as different people."

Following her study abroad experience, Gadoury continued to be involved on campus. She presented her research project, "Bronze Slayer: Perseus with the Head of Medusa," during the FSW Fall Research Expo. She served as president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, president of the Italian Language Club, and vice president of fellowship for Phi Theta Kappa. She was team captain of the FSW Brain Bowl Team, and she participated in FSW's Model UN team in which she traveled to Harvard University to participate in its international Model UN event. She was even nominated to be a Class of 2020 commencement speaker.

"I overcame so many fears during my time at FSW," Gadoury said. "Nobody cares about your age. Everyone is going through it all together. I will forever be grateful to this place, and I do not want to leave even though I know I must."

Gadoury has been accepted to Columbia University, the University of South Florida, New College, and Smith College. She has chosen to attend Smith College in Massachusetts in the fall and plans to earn her bachelor's degree in Classics (Greek and Latin languages), followed by her master's degree and Ph.D.

She has this message for the class of 2020:

"This semester has been full of unprecedented challenges. We're sick of hearing that. If you're like me, you laughed, cried, and then just tried to finish your classes. Well, congrats! We made it! The world we will face in the future is uncertain, but from what I know of my fellow graduates, we are certainly up for the challenge! Keep your head up, and we will change the world!"

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Mariela Chavez

Hello, my name is Mariela Chavez, and I am a proud dental hygiene student here at Florida SouthWestern State College. I am graduating this spring semester with my A.S. degree in Dental Hygiene, Class of 2020!

During the program, my class and I have participated in many community service events to educate the public about oral health and provide dental hygiene services to members of the community. Being part of this program has opened the door to greater opportunities, unique experiences, and most importantly, growth and success.

While in the program, I had to overcome many challenges with my personal life as a single mother, working when not in school, and dedicating long hours to studying in between my schedule. I had to sacrifice much time away from my daughter, but I continued to push forward in spite of what life threw at me.

My daughter is my biggest motivation for all my efforts, and I would not be who I am if it were not for her. I only hope to be the role model that every parent wishes to be for their child and that this journey was well worth the fight.

I am also currently dual-enrolled at St. Petersburg College to earn my Bachelor's in Applied Science degree in Dental Hygiene and anticipate graduating by next year.

What I want to express to future college students is that FSW is very dedicated to helping students succeed academically and offers many resources for students to reach their long-term academic goals. I am very grateful for the FSW instructors, campus resources, and student services in helping me achieve this milestone of becoming a health care professional.

I would like to congratulate my fellow FSW graduates and colleagues on this extraordinary accomplishment! Our hard work has finally paid off, and we are now welcomed into the workforce to improve the overall health of the community.

I want to give a special thank you to Dental Hygiene Program Director Karen Molumby and the dental hygiene instructors that have supported us throughout the entire program. I deeply appreciate your kindness, encouragement, dedication, and commitment to making bright and successful dental hygienists.

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Bertha Mendez

For FSW Class of 2020 graduate Bertha Mendez, choosing to earn her A.S. degree in Early Childhood Education was a no-brainer.

"I absolutely love children and all the joys and challenges that come with educating them," said Mendez.

For nearly 12 years, she has taught preschool to three- and four-year-olds, spending the last five years at the Guadalupe Center in Immokalee.

"The children who come through the program are so eager to learn, and they do so through play," she said. "The great thing about childcare is that we allow the children to lead, and we use their interests to create activities that allow them to build on skills they already have. We model great behavior, and we problem solve when obstacles occur. I have 19 little children that I work with every day, and every day I look forward to seeing all 19 of them."

But Mendez didn't think she would be able to attend college.

"College is costly, and I couldn't afford it," said Mendez. "Then, I received a scholarship from a program called T.E.A.C.H that works with my childcare center to help teachers receive an education."

"I chose to attend FSW because they offered a plethora of online classes and had local tutors if I needed more help," she said.

Mendez plans to continue her education and earn a bachelor's degree in early childhood education.

"My motivation for getting a degree would have to be the children I work with," Mendez said. "Having a degree just gives me the encouragement that what I am doing is right."

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Henry Lozano

FSW student Henry Lozano will earn his A.S. degree in Architectural Design and Construction Technology this spring. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Henry has worked in the construction field since 2006.

"I chose the construction industry in the U.S. because the field continues to grow more and more each day with new software and technologies."

He enrolled at FSW to continue expanding his career. "Education is very important to me. If you have a good education, you will have better opportunities for better jobs and better pay."

Henry embraced his time at FSW. He worked as a peer mentor, and he was nominated to be a student commencement speaker.

"To the Class of 2020, I'd say enjoy the experience, and thank you for all of the good moments we shared. Go Bucs!"

Kelly Maguire

FSW student Kelly Maguire has a college resume that even some ivy league students couldn't claim.

She's a member of the FSW Honors Scholar Program, the FSW Leadership Academy, the FSW Campus Activities Board, Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the National Society for Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), and she is a founder and president of FSW's chapter of the Active Minds club, a nationally-known mental health organization. She was also named a 2020 Coca-Cola Academic Team Gold Scholar and was nominated to be a student speaker for FSW's 2020 commencement ceremony.

With a list of accomplishments this long, you'd likely be surprised to learn the challenges she's had to overcome in just two short years. But if you know Kelly, you won't be surprised to learn that these challenges have only proven to inspire her even more.

During her first year at FSW, Maguire struggled severely with mental health issues, and she found it difficult just to show up to class many days. She was in such a state of crisis that she had to take a two-month leave of absence from school during her 2019 spring semester to attend a residential mental health treatment center. But while she attended therapy sessions for eight hours every day, she also continued to work on her academics.

"The work was exhausting, and I could not have stayed on track academically if it were not for my honors advisors, professors, and the counseling department at FSW," said Maguire. "I overcame this hurdle by turning my pain into power, and I found a new motivation in my goal of returning to school by fall."

Maguire finished that spring semester with a 4.0 GPA and made it back to FSW in time for the start of the new school year. She also felt extremely driven to make sure that other students did not have to go through the mental health struggles she experienced, so she used all of the pain she still carried and focused on helping to establish an Active Minds chapter at FSW while continuing her work with the Mental Health Matters committee.

Then, while she was preparing to return from winter break for the Spring 2020 semester, Maguire suffered a traumatic accident, which left her with a broken back. She was put on bed rest, and she was once again unable to come to campus for class. However, she continued to write agendas for the Active Minds meetings and worked virtually with faculty and staff, keeping up with her classes online. After just five weeks, she was able to return to campus, but only for a short time.

"The three weeks before spring break were incredible," Maguire said. "We flew to the National Active Minds conference, and we had big plans to host our first annual MindCon: Half Day Mental Health Conference."

Then the world changed for everyone. COVID-19 forced FSW to move all spring classes and activities to an online, virtual format, and Maguire found herself forced to leave campus once again.

"I have unexpectedly been forced to take a leave from school three times in the last year," she said.

Despite all of the challenges, she has maintained her 4.0 GPA, maintained her status in the Honors Program, continued contact with faculty and staff, and she will always keep advocating for her greatest passion – mental health.

Maguire will transfer to FGCU this fall to pursue her bachelor's degree in psychology. She plans to stay involved with the Active Minds chapter at FGCU and collaborate with FSW to create a cohesive, positive mental health culture in Southwest Florida. She also plans on volunteering at FSW to continue the work she started here.

"Since I was 13 years old, I have aspired to become a child psychologist," Maguire said. "After living with mental illness, I found that my greatest passion was to help others who may be suffering just as I once was. My ultimate career goal is to make a large impact on many people's lives and to help children and adults alike feel like they are not alone and that recovery is possible. There is so much stigma surrounding mental health, and at the end of the day, I know my purpose is to smash the stigma and help those in need.

"There is no school I would rather be graduating from than FSW," Maguire said. "I cannot express in words how much this school has helped save me, put me on the right track, and helped shape me into the person I am today. FSW will challenge you to take initiative, stand up and be a leader for the things you are most passionate about, and give you opportunities I don't think you can find anywhere else."

She has this message for the Class of 2020:

"There is no other group of students I have met full of such resiliency, grit, and determination. Ten years from now, we will look back on this day and remember ourselves as courageous, strong, and compassionate. As Bucs, we have formed a close community that will stand together no matter what storm hits us. We have all gone through great challenges to stand where we are today. To continue studying virtually while being separated from those we love, and to face every day with uncertainty, yet continue to be there for others, is true strength. Class of 2020, we will never be forgotten. I want to send you all virtual hugs, handshakes, and congratulations because even without this pandemic, you have all overcome great strides to get where you are today. It has been an honor to be a part of your class, and I will forever cherish the memories made with so many of you. I want to leave you with this quote: ‘Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming.'- Alice Walker."

Chase Lopez

Julexiua Ellis

Shirin Bos

Riley Havel

2019 Success Stories

Brandon Cardin

Brook Sanchez

"I started my journey at FSW (it was Edison State College when I began) in high school as a full-time dual enrollment student. I graduated with my associate degree a few weeks before I graduated with my high school diploma in 2013. During my senior year of high school, I applied and was accepted into the University of Central Florida. I planned on attending there and pursuing my degree in dental hygiene. However, at only 17 years old, I found out I was pregnant. Due to this unforeseen, life-changing event, I decided to stay local and continue my journey at FSW. Talk about a blessing in disguise! I couldn't have made a better decision than to stay at FSW. I began my prerequisites as a pre-dental hygiene student. During this time, I had a change of heart and knew my calling was in education. The FSW advisors were so helpful in allowing me to switch my major. I delivered my daughter in January 2014 via c-section and began my prerequisites for elementary education at FSW that same semester. The professors were so understanding and worked with me every step of the way as I was learning how to cope with being a new mother along with working full time and attending college. After my prerequisites, I was accepted into the elementary education program. These professors are like no other! They genuinely care about your success along with your personal life. In November of 2015, I had my second daughter (also a c-section) and the professors went above and beyond to work with me during this time. I started my final internship in January 2016 at River Hall Elementary and then graduated in May 2016 with my bachelor's in elementary education. I was hired by the Lee County School District as a teacher for the 2016-2017 school year at River Hall. In 2017, I decided to work toward my master's degree in elementary reading with Grand Canyon University. I graduated from there in September 2018 and that same month, I had my third child (finally a BOY). Three kids, three degrees, three years of teaching… It definitely was not easy, but it was so worth it.

I give a huge amount of credit to the professors at FSW as they never ceased to believe in me. I was the youngest student in the program, yet the professors never let that be a hindrance. The confidence that they instilled in me continues to remain. I have learned that regardless of any circumstance, do not give up on your dreams. Most likely, there will be bumps along the way. It might change your path slightly, but do not lose sight of your end goal. Looking back, I never thought I'd be where I am now. Every event played a special part in my journey, and I will be forever grateful."

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Samaria Rios

Jorge Santiago

Mike and Jenn Ochocki

For FSW students Mike and Jenn Ochocki, it's never too late to earn a college degree.

Mike, an Army veteran and first-generation college student, dropped out of high school in his junior year. He took some classes while he was on active duty, and then again after he completed his service, but still never finished his degree. "I didn't really understand college or what an education could do for me."

Eventually, Mike wanted a career change and enrolled at the FSW Charlotte Campus. The first year was a challenge, but Mike's wife, Jenn, was the support he needed to get through.

"I struggled with self-doubt and imposter syndrome, and I had a hard time in my math class," Mike said. "But she let me know that my test grades did not define me as a person. Her support helped me overcome my self-doubt."

After watching Mike go through his first year of college, Jenn decided it was her time to go to college, too. Having been a stay at home mom for several years, Jenn wanted to earn her degree to better her job prospects once her kids were grown.

"It takes a lot of humility as a non-traditional student to sit in classrooms with younger students," Jenn said. "They are much sharper at some things, and though you're older, you're starting at the same place."

As non-traditional students, both Mike and Jenn have faced challenges that younger students might not experience, but through the support of each other and the FSW Charlotte Campus faculty, they have been able to overcome those challenges.

"Being in it together helps a lot," Jenn said. "We share experiences and know what each other needs. We are a team. We cheer each other on and bring each other up. And the support from faculty is so much more than I expected. They are understanding about where we are in our life stage because that's where they are too."

"The faculty are mentors, encouraging and knowledgeable, and the Academic Support Center (ASC) is helpful when I need the extra learning support," Mike said.

Both Mike and Jenn are now tutors at the ASC. In fact, while Mike struggled with math at first, he is now a math tutor and wants to become a college math professor.

"I'm glad FSW is here," Jenn said. "I am able to learn and grow. The classes are small, and it's a great environment for interaction with others. The professors are accessible and available, and they are just as good as a university."

"Who knows where I would be without FSW," said Mike.

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Stephen W. Buckley celebrates 50 years with the firm

Stephen W. Buckley never intended to stay in Florida after his grandparents offered to pay for his college at the "new" Edison College (now Florida SouthWestern State College). His planned to get his education in Florida and move back to Connecticut where he grew up.

His grandparents had been vacationing on the other coast and moved to Fort Myers in the 1950s. "None of the kids or grandkids were close by, so they asked me if I would come down and start my college and they would help with expenses."

He transferred to University of Florida for his undergraduate degree in journalism and then Florida State University for his law degree. "One of the kids in the class asked the assistant dean where he would go to practice law, and he said Fort Myers," Buckley said. "I had ties in Fort Myers."

He said he always knew he wanted to be a lawyer. His father and grand parents were in real estate. "I grew up with real estate law," he said.

Now he assists clients with wills, trusts, estate planning, probate, real estate and real property law cases. Buckley is a top-rated lawyer under the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review rating system.

After graduating from law school in 1969, he moved to Florida and joined the firm, then seven years old and located in downtown Fort Myers in its present location at the corner of Main Street and Broadway.

Fort Myers was a different place when he started. Area Bar meetings were held in a corner of the former Snack House restaurant. Edison Mall had just opened, pulling Sears and J.C. Penney's from downtown. When he started, he said there were five men's stores downtown. "Attorneys wore suits more then than they do now," he said, "Everyone dressed to the hilt."

Buckley has seen tremendous change in the law through the years. "I think today there are more judges than attorneys," he said. "When I started there were two circuit judges and one county judge."

He remembers one of his first cases was to get a woman in real estate the right to sell property she owned without consent of her husband, which was the rule at the time. Shortly after he was able to make her a "free dealer," the rule was abolished. He also remembers a case where he worked with the Coast Guard to have a man declared dead who disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle on a flight to Bimini. Without a body, it would have taken five years for his spouse to get a death certificate. He said the investigation determined how much fuel the plane had and every place the plane could have landed. The plane, the man and his passenger were never found.

He enjoys spending time vacationing at his home in Maine, but Buckley says he has no intention of retiring. "I enjoy what I'm doing," he said. "I don't play golf. I don't play tennis. I don't fish. I'll just keep doing it while I can, and the clients want to work with me. My wife would have a long honey-do list if I did retire."

He and his wife, Bonnie, who he met in Fort Myers at a roller-skating rink, celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

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Melissa Hernandez: From a Dream to a Degree

Melissa Hernandez didn't think college was an option for her.

Born in Toluca, Mexico, Hernandez's parents brought her to the United States when she was just four years old. They made their home in Naples and have remained ever since.

Being so young, the transition to life in the U.S. was not too challenging for Hernandez, and she attended ESOL classes when she began elementary school.

"I would speak Spanish at home and English at school," said Hernandez. "As I became more fluent, I was able to help translate for my parents. I noticed as I got older that my English became better than my Spanish."

With her dad working in construction and her mom staying home to raise her and her younger siblings, Hernandez always just assumed that once she graduated from high school, she would go directly to work.

At the urging of her eighth grade English teacher, Hernandez applied to Lorenzo Walker Technical High School. Originally, she was interested in cosmetology, but her teacher encouraged her to look into nursing.

"Nursing requires patience and caring, and he saw that in me and thought it would be a good fit."

Then in 2012, everything changed. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, allowing some people who arrived in the United States as children to apply for deferred action every two years and also make them eligible for work authorization.

"DACA meant I could go to college," Hernandez said.

While at Lorenzo Walker Technical High School, Hernandez earned her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and though she had the opportunity to sit for her Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) exam, she decided to continue on to earn her degree.

"I knew I wasn't ready just yet to sit for the licensing exam or make the commitment," she said.

She applied for DACA status and began exploring colleges. Ultimately, Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) fit everything she was looking for.

"The classes are small, and FSW's faculty want you to succeed and they are willing to help," she said. "It's not as intimidating as some of the larger universities."

As a DACA student, Hernandez is not eligible for federal financial aid, and she pays for school on her own.

"FSW is affordable," she said. "My dad helps me with some of the costs, and I have to work part-time, but the Tuition Installment Plan (TIP) at FSW really helps make paying for my tuition manageable."

To pay for her tuition, Hernandez applied for a work permit, and FSW helped her find a job on the Collier Campus working as a student assistant at the reception desk, answering student questions and providing college information to visitors. A workforce training program through CareerSource also helps her with the costs associated with earning her nursing degree.

But Hernandez also found something even greater at FSW. Acceptance.

"It's scary to tell people about your immigration status," Hernandez said. "At first, I was terrified to tell anyone I was a dreamer, but at FSW, I never felt judged. FSW accepts you like family."

Hernandez earned her Associate in Arts degree in 2018, and the skills and knowledge she developed while working as a student assistant at the reception desk gave her the confidence she needed to apply for a part-time, professional position in FSW's admissions office. She got the job, and now she assists other students finding their way through their first college steps.

"As a first-generation college student I didn't have the knowledge or guidance about college that many students have from their families," Hernandez said. "Through my experience, I can now help guide other students and my younger siblings' on their path to college."

Hernandez has to reapply for her DACA status every two years.

"It's expensive and stressful because you never know if they are going to accept your application, but it is worth it."

Hernandez will graduate from the Associate in Science in Nursing (ASN) degree program at FSW this December. She plans to continue on to earn her Bachelors in Science in Nursing (BSN) degree at FSW, and then possibly continue on to her earn master's degree.

"My parents always told me my education comes first, no matter the cost," she said. "They came to the U.S. to give me a better future. My goal is to continue to make them proud."

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Tony Peterson

Lucky for most of us, the paths we travel are not set in stone. When FSW alumnus Tony Peterson decided to change his path, he had no idea how far it would lead him.

Originally a high school dropout, Tony decided to earn his GED after a gunshot wound dramatically altered his life.

"I wasn't doing right," said Tony. "I needed to choose a different path than the one that led me to this chair."

Tony found the support he needed at then Edison State College to continue on to earn his college degree.

"It was a great campus and atmosphere," he said. "The campus is small and that helped make the transition to college easier for me."

"The people were also a great help," he said. "Angie Hartsell in Adaptive Services is so passionate about what she does. She sticks up for her office and her clients. She will get you anything you want, but she makes sure you do the work for it. She doesn't give handouts to anybody. Dr. Christine Davis helped me when I struggled with conflicts. She took the time to listen to me and to understand me. From the cafeteria staff, to the professors, to the administration, the people just made it so easy to be here."

Tony graduated debt-free from FSW (Edison) in 2012 with his associates degree and a 3.9 GPA.

"I was a high school dropout, and when they handed me my honors cord at graduation, I never thought I would ever have something like that," he said.

Tony went on to continue his education, and in December 2018, he graduated with his master's degree in social work from Barry University.

"I never thought going back for my GED would lead to a graduate degree, but when I start something, I want to complete it."

Tony is now on the job hunt and hopes to one day open his own practice. He offered some advice to new and current FSW students.

"Become involved in activities and get to know the campus," Tony said. "Learn about the resources the college has to offer, whether educational, administrative or career-based, and use them to the fullest. And most importantly, come in with great expectations, set your bar high, stick to it, and enjoy the ride."

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Tapanga Garrett

They say there are two types of people in life, dreamers and doers. FSW student Tapanga Garrett is definitely a doer.

"I have always made up stories in my head," Garrett said, but it was after reading a short story her mom wrote that Garrett felt confident to put a story onto paper.

With her mom's encouragement, Garrett wanted to expand the short story into a full-length book. After more than a year of writing, she had completed the 300-page manuscript and titled it "Unnaturals."

"Unnaturals" tells the story of private detective, Izaboe Campos, who is on the hunt to find a murderer. The book has all the makings of a fun, fantasy tale including vampires, werewolves and gargoyles. Izaboe even has a supernatural secret of her own.

But then came the hard part…how to get the book published. The answer came through Garrett's Cornerstone Experience class at the FSW Charlotte Campus.

Cornerstone Professor April Ring invited self-published author, S.E. Smith, to speak to the class about careers in writing, and following that class, Garrett reached out to Smith.

"She showed me how to get started and helped me through the steps to publish on my own," Garrett said. "If it wasn't for that Cornerstone class, I would still be waiting for an agent."

"Unnaturals" published on Amazon in January, and Garrett is now working on the sequel.

Garrett has some advice for anyone who is hesitant to give their dream a chance.

"You might as well try," she said. "The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn't work out, but it's better to try and fail than to not try and always wonder what would have happened if you had."

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Rafael Columbie Sees Success through Honors Scholar Program

My name is Rafael Alejandro Columbie, I am a 23-year-old husband and freshly minted father who, after dropping out of college at the age of 18, got the crazy idea to go back to school to become a neurosurgeon; as if this would somehow be easier with a child, a wife, and a mortgage. My passion for healing others was awakened just over a year ago when I lost my right leg in a motorcycle accident. That night I surely thought my life would come to an end, but by some odd twist of fate, the gentleman who had struck me with his vehicle was a doctor. With his help and that of the group of medical professionals that saw to my wounds, I was able to continue my young life. While I was in the ICU there were two other young men (both approximately twenty years of age) who had also been brought in for motorcycle accidents; one lost both his legs, while the other lost his life. I consider myself fortunate. Thus, from that moment on, I felt compelled to devote my life to save that of others; for the memory of those of us who weren't so fortunate. But, sobering tragedy aside, I devote what time I have left outside of school and my family to martial arts, Jiu-Jitsu in particular; there is something oddly satisfying about besting my fellow two-legged humans in hand to hand combat (on the rare occasions that I do).

Has your involvement in the FSW Honors Scholar Program (HSP) made a difference in your overall educational experience here?

Although I was apprehensive of joining HSP at first, by virtue of my age (silly I know, I am only 23), it has enriched my educational experience far beyond my greatest hopes. FSW's HSP is a stellar example of excellence and passion, the likes of which I had not before seen. After only a few months into my first semester as an FSW honors student, I was granted the opportunity to present at the Florida Collegiate Honors Conference, all graciously sponsored by the college. The experience was enriching beyond any-thing I could've hoped for. I, a former college dropout, now have a 4.00 GPA and a reignited passion for education and for what the future may hold. A future that seems exceedingly bright may I add, because only a few days ago I received a letter in the mail from Columbia University, inviting me to apply. This could not have been possible had it not been for the resources, support, and genuine encouragement so generously provided by FSW's HSP.

To all FSW students, keep moving forward. See your educational endeavors through to the end, and be the change that you want to see in the world.

Has your involvement in HSP made a difference in your overall educational experience here?

HSP has been extremely beneficial to my education. It gave me a second chance at taking my education seriously, something I didn't do in high school. It gave me opportunities like going to conferences, smaller classes, and better access to grants and scholarships. Most importantly, HSP has given me confidence that I could go anywhere after FSW and every possibly is within reach.

What advice would you offer to all FSW students?

School provides more than homework and diplomas and more than academic resources. The chance to network on a college campus is better than most other places; you can easily find someone that knows something you don't, someone that's further along with the career you both share, and definitely potential friends.

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Luis Munoz

BAS, Supervision and Management - 2018

FSW graduate Luis Munoz redefines the idea that our graduates fly high. A third generation Human Cannonball, he earned a Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Supervision and Management in 2018. Luis completed his degree online while living in Spain and managing his own business.

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