Hundreds of out-of-state students found FGCU before national headlines

William DeShazer/Staff
Scenes during during a pep rally for the men's basketball team at Alico Arena on Monday March 25, 2013. The Eagles have made it now into the sweet sixteen.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER // Buy this photo

William DeShazer/Staff Scenes during during a pep rally for the men's basketball team at Alico Arena on Monday March 25, 2013. The Eagles have made it now into the sweet sixteen.

Who will win, FGCU or Florida?

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1. Lee – 4,209

2. Collier – 2,141

3. Broward – 1,253

4. Palm Beach – 711

5. Sarasota – 514

Source: FGCU preliminary fall 2012 report

1. Florida – 12,576

2. New York – 135

3. New Jersey – 94

4. Pennsylvania – 76

5. Massachusetts – 66

Source: FGCU preliminary fall 2012 report

Five years ago, Nick Putrino’s friends made fun of his college choice — a small, relatively new school called Florida Gulf Coast University more than a thousand miles from his home state of New York.

“Is that a community college? Is it a real school?” he recalled friends saying.

Putrino, 23, has had the last laugh. FGCU has been the talk of the nation this week after its men’s basketball team became the first 15-seed in history to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

“Now I’m getting text messages and tweets from those same people saying, ‘Oh my God, FGCU, you’re on the map now,” said Putrino, a fifth-year senior.

FGCU may have been a secret to most of the country until recently, but thousands found the school years before it hit the national spotlight.

Since the doors opened in 1997, FGCU has graduated 13,473 students. Most are from the Southwest Florida area and most – 54 percent – live here after graduation, according to a university report from the start of the school year.

Still, Putrino isn’t the only student to move across the country to become an FGCU Eagle. The university boasts students from nearly every state, with just seven – Alaska, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming – left out.

The vast majority – 92 percent of the more than 13,000 current students – are from Florida, according the university report. Lee County boasts the most current FGCU students, followed by Collier County, Broward County and Palm Beach County.

Freshman Randy Gerlach, 19, who grew up in Fort Myers, transferred to FGCU from another school to be close to home.

“I like the size,” he said. “It’s not too small, but it’s not like Florida or Florida State where there’s 30,000 students.”

After Florida, New York has the second-highest number of students at FGCU. There are 135 of them, which equates to less than 1 percent of the student body. New York is followed by New Jersey with 94 current students and Pennsylvania with 76.

Putrino’s mom introduced him to FGCU after finding it online. His dad lives in Sarasota, so he qualified for in-state tuition. He checked it out and was sold.

“I saw there was a beach on campus. I saw it was a small and growing school, and it was a school you could make your mark on,” Putrino said.

Ask students why they chose FGCU, and the beach — a lakefront area behind the dormitory buildings — quickly emerges as a common theme.

“The fact you have lakefront on campus where you can lay out is amazing,” said Courtney Connolly, a junior from Orlando.

“When I came on the tour here they showed me the beach and I fell in love with it,” said Nick Dashko, 21, a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Many students said they also like the smaller size, which keeps class sections at about 100 students, and the laid-back atmosphere on campus.

Putrino said FGCU’s newness means students have more opportunities. Now that the school is on the map, he has high hopes moving forward.

“What I like about it now,” he said, “is I see bigger and brighter things in the future.”

NCAA Tournament

The Florida Gulf Coast men's basketball team was the first 15-seeded team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The March Madness run ended in Texas where the Eagles were defeated by the Florida Gators 60-52 on Friday, March 29 in Cowboys Stadium. Join in on the discussion by using the hashtag #ndnfgcu in your Twitter updates and/or Instagram photos.

Get complete coverage of FGCU's road to the NCAA tournament at »

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