Education is the key to success and, in this inland area, for many people higher education means Florida Southwestern State College. Since 1994 when the college first offered a few classes in a remote corner of LaBelle High School, local students have looked at the institution as an entryway to the rest of their lives.
Now celebrating its 55th anniversary, FSW has come a long way, including an expanded curriculum and even a stand alone campus in LaBelle, as well as several name changes as circumstances dictated.
On Tuesday, May 2, FSW faculty, staff, students and the community joined to celebrate the addition of the Hendry/Glades Center’s new Curtis Center. The center was named in honor of Mr. Ken Curtis, whose unique and generous scholarship opportunity has changed young lives for LaBelle High School graduates for over 20 years - students who would otherwise never have been able to earn associates degrees to transfer to a university or to find qualify jobs. .
The 7,200 square foot Curtis building boasts three study rooms – the center one named for Dr. David and Stephanie Klein - the Barbara and Joe Marlin Hilliard Library, computer classroom with new state-of-the-art computers, the Perry Family Galleria to display art, and the First Bank Community Room including patio area,
Several speakers noted that the credit for funding the new Hendry/Glades Curtis Center belongs to committed FSW faculty, staff and the local community, who all worked tirelessly to make it happen. Family Eye Care of LaBelle, along with the FSW Foundation and FSW alumni were also recognized.
The campaign to fund this project remains open and there are still naming opportunities available. As several speakers that evening indicated, the project was “too important to wait till all the money was raised. “This community deserves it now,” the crowd was told. FSW is proud to be the only higher education school with a campus located in the heartland.
Although the goal of opening the $1.2 million building has been met thanks to the support of this community, there is still much more to be done.
Faculty and staff proudly showed off the new Curtis Center and answered questions before the delicious barbecue dinner was served, provided by the Log Cabin owner, who happens to be an alumnus of FSW.
Remarks by Charlotte and Hendry/Glades Campus President, VP of Economic and Community Development Dr. Denis Wright pointed out that the building will enhance the college’s ability to extend higher learning to local students. He called the computer lab “impressive,” with 25 stations and state of the art computers - the highest technology the school possesses.
The Community Room, he said, is naturally available for school use but also for members of the entire community to put on events. It includes the outdoor patio area to take advantage of our fantastic weather.
Dr. Wright noted that the college serves five-counties - an area as large as state of Connecticut, he told the group - and has made the largest commitment of any Florida college to the interior region. Such a huge area makes it difficult to stay unified with campuses so dispersed, but the college is dedicated to serving this population, he said.
According to Dr Wright 450 students began the fall term at Hendry/Glades, half of them taking all their classes at this campus. He added that the campus offers 60 sections with an average of 19 students - nearly at capacity. In his introduction of a special Hendry/Glades Campus student, Dr. Wright recalled his own experience as a young student. He said his father had a seventh grade education and worked in a factory; his mother worked part time, As the eldest of five children he had no real hope of extending his education without the scholarship that paid for over half of his first year tuition at the University of Massachussetts. He said he’ll be “forever grateful” for that wonderful gift.
FSW President Dr. Jeff Albritton noted the “heavy lifting” by faculty, staff and the community that has managed to bring this new building this far – not through state financial support but through stolid commitment to the heartland and the education of its residents.
Interim Director and English Professor Amanda Lehrian touted the “enormous” computer classroom. She has been a faculty member for over 10 years and is also Chairman of the English Department. She has served as adjutant professor to Clewiston. It is her dream to diversify the classes offered at the Hendry/Glades Campus. She said this fine new building and updated learning space represent the college’s “commitment” to the Hendry/Glades Community.
Collier Campus/Regional VP of Economic and Community Development Bob Jones, who was formerly over the Hendry/Glades Campus, was on hand for the event. He reiterated his belief that it has always been “important to live here and have a history with the students.”
New FSW graduate and LaBelle resident Olivia Molina spoke to the small crowd as well. It was her first public address. She explained the importance of the unique Curtis Scholarship in her education. A 2015 LHS graduate, Olivia was dual enrolled for just one semester in her senior year at LHS. Early on she was attracted to fashion design after her grandmother bought her a sewing machine. She credits her grandmother with inspiring her to pursue her dreams and become whatever she liked. Olivia loved everything about fashion, but realized she didn’t have the artistic ability to be a designer. Still, the idea of sales and marketing appealed to her, so she decided that’s where her future is. She is receiving her AA degree this Spring.
Olivia has three younger brothers: twins, who are sophomores and already planning to “one up” her in her academic plans and a five year old. Her parents are also very appreciative of the Curtis Scholarship.
Olivia said she is ready to head to Florida International University to study for her bachelors degree in Communication. She doesn’t plan on stopping until she has her Masters degree.
She said she loves the “supportive atmosphere” at FSW. Understanding that many students don’t get scholarships, she acknowledges the immense assistance the Curtis Scholarship provided her and the importance of being able to get an education debt-free, no stress on parents
“It’s hard to pursue a degree without this assistance,” she said, adding, “but this is just the first stop!”
She also had kind words for the “incredible professors and staff” at the campus.
Many people may not be aware that the FSW softball team recently won the state championship and is headed to nationals in Utah May 17-20. It’s a huge step for FSW sports that mirrors the increasing influence of the school in so many ways.
It’s just another way that FSW is committed to expanding its influence into our lives and our community.