Elevating opportunities in SWFL for 60 years and counting

Posted 4/6/22

Sixty years ago, a community in need of a college came together.

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Elevating opportunities in SWFL for 60 years and counting

President of Florida SouthWestern State College, Dr. Jeff Allbritten
President of Florida SouthWestern State College, Dr. Jeff Allbritten
Courtesy photo

Sixty years ago, a community in need of a college came together.

At what was then the Andrew Gwynne Institute on the corner of Jackson Street and 2nd Street in downtown Fort Myers, a small group of educators founded the first campus of Edison Junior College with 603 students.

Sixty years later, as I prepare for Florida SouthWestern State College’s (FSW) 2022 commencement ceremony, I ask myself, could the original founders have even imagined where the small junior college they created would be today?

Four campuses that serve five Southwest Florida counties, two collegiate high schools and dual-enrollment programs, international study abroad programs, a performing arts center, an arena, national championship-winning athletics teams, and most importantly, 70,207 degrees and certificates awarded to students since its first commencement ceremony in 1964.

Did the founders imagine the extraordinary things that their college’s alumni would go on to do for the Southwest Florida community?

Golden Apple-winning teachers like Ryan Caudill who was born and raised in LaBelle and remained home to teach children at the same elementary school he attended.

Business owners like Guadalupe Lopez whose company is creating affordable and sustainable housing for families living in Southwest Florida.

Did they imagine forensic investigators like Pricilla Doyle who collects and analyzes crime scene evidence to bring closure and comfort to Southwest Florida families during some of their worst moments?

There are numerous Edison/FSW alumni stories just like these within the 70,207 number, but if you think about it, the number of lives that have been changed by FSW far surpasses 70,207.

Did the founders imagine all of the patients in our local medical facilities whose lives would be saved by FSW health programs graduates or every child that has been taught by FSW teachers’ program graduates?

From accountants and paralegals, information technology professionals and crime scene investigators, small business owners and architects, law enforcement and public safety, teachers and coaches, medical professionals and first responders, did they imagine that 60 years later, we would find Edison/FSW graduates in nearly every industry in Southwest Florida’s workforce?

But then, the reach of our alumni is not limited locally, and so I ask myself, did the founders imagine that their college’s alumni would be accepted to universities like Stanford, West Point, and Oxford, or find careers saving the ocean’s sea turtles and working on rockets at NASA that will head to the moon?

As FSW graduates a new class of students this April, the 70,207 number will rise, and with it, so will the number of lives that will be changed by these graduates.

And as I present diplomas to each class of 2022 graduate that crosses the stage on April 29, I will think back to those founders and wonder if they ever would have imagined that their small junior college, housed in a corner building in downtown Fort Myers, would change more than 70,207 lives in Southwest Florida.

So, the next time someone asks you why they should choose FSW, tell them the 70,207 ways and counting that FSW has elevated opportunities for all of Southwest Florida for the last 60 years.

And we are going to keep doing it for even more.

Florida SouthWestern State College, FSW, college, degrees, Dr. Jeff Allbritten