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FGCU on the Frontlines

Rising STEM star highlights the importance of scholarships

When Elizabeth Recker scored an elite summer internship last year, she had to participate virtually because of the pandemic. But the outcome of her experience had real-world impact: She was part of a student team that designed and marketed a template that enables people to fabricate protective face masks — while raising money for COVID-related charities at the same time.

Like others in the Florida Gulf Coast University family, her efforts have had an impact on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are healthcare workers as well as teachers, mental health counselors and scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs — a legion of ordinary people who became extraordinary in challenging times and demonstrated the impact of FGCU in communities near and far.

Many of those heroic Eagles, as well as the undergraduates preparing to follow them into the trenches, are able to do so because of donor-funded scholarships and other financial assistance. In addition to the President’s Gold Scholarship, a merit-based award Recker has received since she was a freshman, she has been a recipient of the Blair Foundation Scholarship and the Ruth M. and Cleveland L. Campbell Engineering Scholarship Endowed Fund for two years.

“If it wasn’t for scholarships and Pell Grants, I wouldn’t be here,” Recker said flat out. “FGCU has given me wonderful opportunities.”

Elizabeth ReckerA junior bioengineering major at FGCU who minors in biology and chemistry, Recker was one of more than 500 engineering undergraduates from around the country chosen for a 10-week program last summer with the Biomedical Engineering Alliance between Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. The program was prompted by COVID and the need to create virtual research opportunities that helped students continue learning remotely. The internship culminated with a small group-based challenge to develop, design and test a solution to address the need for personal protective equipment to help mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. 

Recker’s four-woman team placed second among 126 teams, and their project is still making an impact every time someone downloads the mask template in exchange for a donation to charities such as Doctors Without Borders and the Centers for Disease Control Foundation.

“We all worked twice as hard to perfect the product as fast as possible because we just could not wait to have a real product that could raise money for a great cause,” Recker said. “Not only did we work really well together as a team, we established relationships with each other. More than just friendships, these are connections in the bioengineering field from all over the United States that we now have.”

What gives Recker the most pride is that while all student teams were instructed to create marketing plans and manufacturing proposals for their products, hers was the only team that actually implemented their idea. To get a copy of the 12-page protective mask template and instructions, make a donation on the team’s GoFundMe page.

“Many teams decided to take a theoretical approach. It was extremely important to us that this project did not end with the end of the internship,” Recker said. “We wanted to actually make something real that could truly help people. Putting the money toward a foundation that could really make a big impact on the fight against COVID was an obvious choice for us to make.”

That’s not the only way Recker is turning her scientific vision into reality. Under the guidance of FGCU chemistry professors, she’s contributing to a grant-funded study aimed at developing technologies to help fight climate change. Hands-on research experience like this — often unavailable to undergrads at larger universities — may open doors to better graduate programs for Recker.

“The opportunities available here to students are enormous,” she said. “I have met so many amazing professors at FGCU that have become my mentors. I would not want to go to any other school for my bachelor’s degree. I am so proud to be an FGCU Eagle.”

Eventually, this enthusiastic, enterprising Eagle plans to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, then create her own research company integrating science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, with emphasis on diversity and inclusion as keys to success.

“I truly believe that STEM can tackle the biggest problems,” she said. “We have to develop the next cutting edge technology and learn ways to improve our field to overcome challenges.”

Support the Frontlines

By investing in a scholarship or a program at FGCU, you can empower more individuals like those featured in the FGCU at the Frontlines series to make a difference where it matters most.
For information on how you can help, call FGCU Advancement at 239-590-1067.

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