Aysegul Timur is the second economist in a row to serve as president of Florida Gulf Coast University. At her confirmation hearing, she called FGCU the “leading economic engine of Southwest Florida,” pointing to its role as one of the largest employers in the area and also a prime contributor to the next generation of the local workforce. “FGCU alumni are employed across the region,” Timur tells Gulfshore Business. “The majority are citizens of this community. They stay here, they live here, they raise their families here.” As Southwest Florida grows, she said, so does the university.
After earning her Ph.D. at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Timur began working at Hodges University as a teaching assistant before moving into administration. She was then hired at FGCU, where she served in the office of the president as the assistant vice president of strategic initiatives. She was promoted to vice president and vice provost of strategy and program innovation before being nominated for the presidency. Throughout her time at FGCU, Timur has shown a passion for growing and training the next generation of Southwest Florida’s workforce. “Workforce development drives economic development and prosperity,” she says. “Investing in human capital is the best way to prepare students to be good members of their community.”
Timur, who took over leadership of FGCU on July 1, is FGCU’s first female president and first immigrant president. She is originally from Turkey, and brings a uniquely international outlook to her presidency: “I grew up where two continents meet—Europe and Asia—and then I moved to a third continent, the United States [in North America]. I want to bring opportunities to our students and faculty for international collaboration. This will offer a different perspective on the things we want to do and give us the sense of thinking outside the box.”
Timur has said that one of her main strengths is building partnerships, and in her role as president, she intends to lean into that strength. The university has an ongoing relationship with Naples-based medical device company Arthrex, thanks in large part to her efforts. Arthrex president and founder Reinhold Schmieding was present in the room when FGCU trustees interviewed all four candidates for the position of president. He spoke publicly in favor of Timur, acknowledging that more than 500 FGCU graduates were now Arthrex employees because of her leadership.
“Arthrex is one of our strategic employer partners in the region,” Timur says. “We even have an Arthrex day on campus [when] the Arthrex leadership comes and talks to our students and explains what kinds of careers are available in the medical device industry.”
Under her leadership, this relationship is slated to expand. New projects with the medical device company are in the works “all the time,” Timur says, including research partnerships and internship opportunities. The university has already developed an industry-specific micro-credential in the medical device industry with plans to offer more in the spring. “We are the primary workforce and talent pipeline to the medical device industry in Southwest Florida,” Timur says.
While her focus is on this area, Timur’s vision for this collaboration extends beyond the region. At the end of July, she visited Arthrex’s European headquarters in Munich and spoke to the team there about advancing the possibility of international internships and research possibilities. “It’s a continuous conversation,” Timur says. “Arthrex is growing. We are growing. And we have something in common—innovation. Arthrex is all about innovating new products. FGCU is very innovative in terms of creating new programs to prepare our students for tomorrow’s workforce.”
This push to innovate has led the university to create two dynamic new schools in the last few years, both specifically tailored to the region. The Water School, founded in the wake of the disastrous algal bloom of 2018, responds to the need to protect local water quality. “Water quality is key to the economic development of this region,” Timur says. “Tourism, hospitality—these industries rely on clean water, so protecting water quality is very much in alignment with our mission as a regional comprehensive university.”
The School of Entrepreneurship, launched in 2016, similarly aims to contribute to the local economy. “Over 90% of businesses in Southwest Florida are small businesses,” Timur says. “With both the Water School and the School of Entrepreneurship, we are preparing our students to be good stewards and good citizens of this community.”
The Shady Rest Institute on Positive Aging under FGCU’s Marieb College of Health and Human Services also responds to the direct needs of Southwest Florida, specifically the aging population. “Look at the demographics of the region,” Timur says. “We need to find better ways to align with the senior population here. The Institute for Positive Aging is about the well-being of the community and aligning with the growth of the region.” She points to the jobs that alumni might take in this industry, including in health care and at senior living facilities, and anticipates that FGCU will be a direct pipeline to the jobs needed to sustain these industries.
Another prime focus for the university under Timur’s leadership will be developing programs focused on sustainability and resiliency. “Look at our region in the last five years,” she says. “Two hurricanes, one global pandemic. How do we take lessons from these experiences and turn them into programs where we continue to learn and create new knowledge? We want to be proactive in helping businesses create sustainability and resilience plans.”
Timur is confident the university is in a prime position to accomplish its goals. “We are a young university,” she says. “We are only 26 years old—just imagine the energy we have. The economics and demographics of our region are changing, and we are constantly responding and innovating. We are nimble and flexible.”
Her tenure comes at exactly the right time for the university, she believes. “Over the past 26 years, FGCU has had the right leadership at exactly the right time. Now I am honored to be working with our faculty, staff and students for the next chapter.”