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Former Fullbright Student at Sarasota-Manatee Campus Returns to USF as an Instructor

nefike gunden

SARASOTA (March 9, 2022) -- Nefike Gunden arrived at the University of South Florida as a 22-year-old Fulbright scholar determined to make the most of her opportunity, improve her English and explore her career options – possibly as a college professor. 

Now, seven years later, Gunden holds a PhD and teaches college-level classes in both the United States and her homeland of Turkey. 

Grateful to her parents, she’s also appreciative of her alma mater, USF, where she earned a Master of Science in Hospitality Management as a Fulbright student and forged strong ties with staff and faculty. It’s even where met her future husband, a student at the time as well. 

It’s no wonder then that when it came time to take the first steps in her fledgling academic career, Gunden didn’t think twice about where to go. She came to USF and now serves as an adjunct instructor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the Muma College of Business. 

The 28-year-old Gunden, who grew up in a family of five in a small town in Turkey and later its capital city of Ankara, marvels at how her life has come full circle. 

“It’s amazing in a way, and I am so happy to be back at USF,” she said. “It’s like coming home.” 

As a young girl, Gunden fell in love with the idea of living and studying abroad. Encouraged by her parents, she focused on education, consistently achieving high marks, all the while dreaming of life in Europe, Japan or the United States. Later as a top student at Gazi University in Ankara she applied for a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the U.S. 

As luck would have it, receiving the scholarship brought her back to Florida where a couple of years earlier she interned at Walt Disney World as a customer service specialist. At USF, she found a warm welcome from staff and faculty at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. 

Gunden didn’t know it at the time, but the campus’ hospitality program – now part of the Muma College of Business – would become a second home to her. Faculty and staff were especially encouraging and urged her to focus on research, a message she’s since taken to heart. Already, she’s had three articles published and a fourth is pending.  

“Dr. (Cihan) Cobanoglu and Dr. (Faizan) Ali were especially supportive, and they encouraged me to focus on research as much as on my studies,” Gunden said. “Dr. (Katerina) Berezina also was very supportive. I hope to model my career after hers.” 

Gunden graduated with her master’s degree in May 2017 and a year later was accepted into the doctoral program at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. 

“It is always amazing to see our graduates doing great things,” Cihan Cobanoglu, professor and interim dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said. “Nefike has completed her doctoral degree successfully and it is an honor to welcome her back to USF, this time as a professor.”

Returning to the classroom here felt completely natural, she said. She especially enjoys interacting with students and watching their progress.

“Fulbright changed my life,” she said. “When I was Fulbright student, I told myself that I would teach and get my PhD, and now I’m an instructor and back at USF. The staff and faculty have all been very welcoming and supportive. They have always been there for me. I’m so happy to be back here.”