Swamps, Beaches, and Baby Alligators: What It's Like to Go to Florida Gulf Coast University

Last night, No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast University shocked the world by upsetting No. 2 seed Georgetown, a monumental moment for a small school no one had really heard of before last night. The question on everyone's mind after the game was, "Wait, who?!" 

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Last night, No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast University shocked the world by upsetting No. 2 seed Georgetown, a monumental moment for a small school no one had really heard of before last night. The question on everyone's mind after the game was, "Wait, who?!"

Last year was the first time FGCU were even eligible for the NCAA tournament, and this year they completely shredded pretty much everyone's bracket. It was the seventh time an upset of that magnitude has ever happened in the NCAA tournament. The wild game saw FGCU take over and hold their lead thanks to some monster dunks and the complete fearlessness of their leader, the fantastically named Sherwood Brown. They ruined Georgetown's day; it was supposed to be their year. The Georgetown basketball program is over 100 years old, and won its first national title in 1984. FGCU was founded in 1991. This wasn't supposed to happen.

That's why it's so awesome, though: FGCU is officially the this year's Cinderella tournament team, and it's impossible to root against them. But the victory led to some pretty terrible jokes on Twitter, because FGCU was such an unknown school. (Was is the most important word in that sentence, by the way.) FGCU sounds more like an airport than a top NCAA basketball school, some said. The campus is actually in a strip mall on the outskirts of Fort Myers, the Florida city where the real campus is located, others joked. Those couldn't be further from the truth, it turns out. Yes, one of the school's alumni is an ex-beauty queen turned truck driver, but we spoke to a normal FGCU alumni to find out what it's like to go to the hottest school in the country right now. It's even better than you would expect: the school was built on a swamp; baby alligators can be seen along the school's long network of boardwalks; and one of the dorms is a stone's throw away from the beach.

Caitey Kauffman graduated from FGCU in 2011; she was part of the school's first graduating class of journalism students. "There were only two of us," she told The Atlantic Wire in an email. Today, she works for a PR firm during the week and produces an NHL radio show on Sirius/XM radio on weekends. The win last night is pretty special for her. "I helped kick off The FGCU Sports Report - the first-ever TV show dedicated to highlighting FGCU athletics," Kauffman told the Wire.

"I'm far more thrilled than I expected to be," she said. I've seen FGCU teams win some great games — but this one was way more emotional. Seeing blue and green all over the major news homepages has been surreal and incredible. I can't wait for the next game."

But wait, wait, wait, one second. What did you say about baby alligators? you're asking. That was one of the first fun facts Kauffman told National Post columnist Bruce Arthur on Twitter last night that caught our attention, too.

"FGCU was built on wetlands," she said. "The campus itself is full of wildlife and the school makes effort to preserve it. They built these long, wooden boardwalks that connect the main campus to parking, so you walk through trees, grasses and a marshy land on your way to class."

If that sounds like a campus that would be kind-of amazing to attend every day — like a school built in the middle of a nature reserve — that's because it is. One of the school's dormitories is quite literally sitting on a Florida beach, as you can see in the picture on the right. "It can make for a hike, but it really is very peaceful... Unless you're carrying 20 lbs of books, that is!"

"It's brand new, modern and on those perfect, sunny and 75-degree Florida days, you almost want to kiss the ground when you walk between buildings."

Unfortunately, the baby alligators aren't as common an occurrence as she made them out to be on Twitter, but we'll forgive her and chalk it up to post-"holy schnikes, we just beat Georgetown in the NCAA tournament" excitement.

"Seeing baby alligators on campus isn't uncommon," Kauffman said. "Not something you see every day, but in my four years at FGCU I saw, either on Facebook or with my own eyes, 5-6 incidents of tiny alligators crawling across the sidewalk." Thankfully they're not a danger to the students or anything, she says. No one's lost a leg or an arm to a wild alligator on the way to sociology 101.  "Nothing to worry about of course, but another instance of FGCU embracing the land."

One of the biggest questions on our minds, and probably just about everyone else's, too, was what made Kauffman choose to go to FGCU, especially in the packed post-secondary athletic landscape in the Sunshine State. "I'm originally from the area," Kauffman said, "and it was a great way to get the college experience without going too far from home. Plus, class size was important to me, I didn't want to get lost in a sea of massive lecture classes. I wanted to form great relationships with professors - and I still talk to so many of them even long after I graduated."

While jokes about the late nice skinny dipping parties in the school's pools will continue even after the tournament is over — and yes, despite being right on the beach, Kauffman said there are pools distributed through the school dorms — FGCU does sound like a legitimately great place to study.

"I didn't really realize how one-of-a-kind the campus is — with a beach and alligators — until all of America started pointing it out," Kauffman said. "Can I go back now?"

[Images via AP; Caity; FGCU's website; flickr @steph|nester]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.