A $30-million, 75,000- square-foot sports complex commands attention from a corner of the Florida SouthWestern State College Lee Campus. The Suncoast Credit Union Arena, which prominently bears the college’s signature buccaneer’s head in front, broke ground in in 2015 and hosts FSW’s basketball and volleyball teams, and also holds a student athletic center.
In many cases, it’s been what Dr. Jeffery Allbritten, FSW’s president since 2012, has become known for. “A lot of the community … they think I’m all basketball or baseball,” Allbritten says. “The fact that I don’t even really watch sports would amaze people.” Allbritten says his passions really lie in education and undergraduate education.
That is why, quietly in the shadow of glowing regard for the arena, FSW has been growing its Center for International Education. Created in 2014, the center provides opportunities for students to study abroad and experience different cultures with on-campus events. So far with the center’s programs, students have traveled to Nicaragua and met with the country’s vice president, and to Durban, South Africa, to speak at the International AIDS Conference with faculty members researching the topic.
“We’re trying to give [students] more and more opportunities to interact with others not only of different races, but different ethnic cultures,” Allbritten says. It’s important that the nearly 22,000 students attending FSW not only embrace diversity to coexist well (in the Lee County campus alone, about 47 percent of students are Caucasian, 30 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are African- American and more than 6 percent are Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native or Pacific Islander), but to become more successful in life.
“Studies have shown about 92 percent of employers prefer people who have studied or trained abroad,” Allbritten says. The FSW Diversity Alliance program has also expanded in the last few years to further foster an inclusive campus community. Today it includes more than 30 clubs supporting people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
“We’re really focusing on being the intellectual, academic and cultural center for this region, and that spans across all ethnicities and all demographic groups,” Allbritten says. The attention is also on military veterans. “The military is a melting pot of the all the cultures of the United States, and we have really been on the cutting edge of supporting veterans,” he adds.
The Veteran Education Benefitsapproved college currently has about 590 veteran students in attendance. FSW takes these inclusive actions to keep all students engaged, which leads to higher graduation and retention rates, he says. “We want to make sure that everybody has a voice and everybody has an opportunity to participate and feel they are a part of this thing,” Allbritten adds.