Honors Advocate Excels in Student Leadership Roles

Nicole CocuyDuring her four years at NSU, Nicole Cocuy followed many paths to student engagement and leadership: Advocate of the Undergraduate Honors Program, award-winning editorial writer and co-editor at NSU’s student newspaper, participant in the university’s Model United Nations team, intern at the office of a U.S. Congresswoman … and the list goes on.

“There are so many opportunities to get involved at NSU. I feel so connected to the campus, the professors, and the community. Once you find your place at NSU, you’re at home,” said Cocuy, a senior majoring in communication studies and pursuing a minor in international law.

Cocuy will be recognized at Commencement as one of the Outstanding Students of the Class of 2016, and she will be the student speaker at the Honors banquet.

As an Honors Advocate, Cocuy is a voice for high-achieving students in the Honors Program housed in the Farquhar Honors College. In this role as a liaison for Honors students, she also helps organize Honors College events. In spring 2015, she received the Changing Lives Honors Alumni Scholarship awarded to a current student who demonstrates the Honors College learning outcomes.

“The Honors Program is an opportunity for students from a variety of majors to get to know each other,” said Cocuy, who has thrived among the program’s diversity of students and interdisciplinary coursework.

“You’re sitting next to a biology major, a history major, an art major. The discussions are very interesting because everyone has a different background, a different way to tackle the subject, and a different approach to solving problems. In addition, I interact with faculty in a variety of fields on a daily basis. The classes are significantly smaller, so the professors know my name. On top of that, I’ve had the opportunity to take classes in different subjects. I’ve had classes in psychology, history, leadership. I’m even taking a music class.”

Suzanne Ferriss, Ph.D., professor at NSU’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, said Cocuy excelled as a student in her Honors seminar called Chick Lit, Chick Flicks. “Nicole was an ebullient presence,” Ferriss said. “In a class of eager, talented, and competitive students, Nicole distinguished herself on the basis of her knowledge and passion for women’s cinema and literature.

“She exemplifies all we expect of our most accomplished students. Not only does she excel in her coursework, she has immersed herself in co-curricular activities that exploit her intellectual talents.”

During her sophomore year, Cocuy started writing for NSU’s student newspaper, The Current. The experience revealed her passion for writing and prompted her to change her major to communication studies. Soon, she was serving as the newspaper’s opinion editor. She encouraged fellow Honors students to contribute book and film reviews to the paper. In 2015-2016, Cocuy was named one of two editors-in-chief of The Current—the first two undergraduates to serve jointly in that position.

Before becoming a co-editor at The Current, she participated in NSU’s Model United Nations Team, which provides an academic simulation of the world organization dedicated to international peace.

She also joined the staff of Digressions, NSU’s student-run literary magazine, serving as the publication’s director of marketing during the 2014-2015 academic year.

Megan Fitzgerald, Ph.D., associate professor at the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and faculty adviser to The Current, describes Cocuy as an engaged and creative leader at the student newspaper. “She is plugged into current events and able to use this knowledge, not only for story ideas at The Current, but also in her classes,” Fitzgerald said. “She has a remarkable ability to think critically about the news and apply it to theories and concepts in her communication classes.

“Nicole practically breathes all things media, so she’s able to bring so much to the newspaper in terms of content. She also has managed to balance this enormous job with her classes and other leadership roles at NSU.”

In 2015, Cocuy was awarded a prestigious Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for a 2014 column she wrote about the homeless, titled “Fort Lauderdale’s War against Poverty.” She also was named a finalist for two other columns.

Said Cocuy: “I really enjoy that person-to-person interaction of being at the newspaper. I found a common group of people with whom I really connected. Part of what makes a newspaper interesting is to be diverse. We have students from different backgrounds, different interests, and different ideas. I’ve learned how to implement all of that into something that makes the paper work.”

Cocuy’s pursuit of cultural diversity led her to participate in a travel study program for eight weeks in Spain (where she earned college credit for studying Spanish) with an excursion to Morocco.

“My study abroad experience added context to my education in ways I didn’t realize at the time,” said Cocuy. “I am minoring in international law. In one of my courses, I was better able to understand the differences between political systems because we had discussed the differences between elections in Spain and elections in the U.S.

“There’s a lot of growth that develops when you leave your comfort zone. Study abroad made me less afraid, particularly of traveling, and I am more confident and more mature.”

Cocuy also participated in a summer internship program at a public relations/lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., and she spent the winter 2015 semester as an intern at the Pembroke Pines office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

At Wasserman Schultz’s office, “I assisted constituents with questions about federal legislation, particularly immigration issues. I directed constituents to the appropriate staff member, answered questions, and in cases where constituents had complaints, I listened to their concerns and archived them.

“I also had the opportunity to shadow a staff member on immigration cases,” Cocuy said. “This was fascinating to me, especially because both of my parents are immigrants. My mom is from the Dominican Republic, and my dad is from Colombia. The process to become a U.S. citizen is very complicated. To gain insight into that by watching [a staff member] help immigrants through the process was really eye-opening.”

Cocuy plans to attend law school in fall 2016, and hopes to pursue a career in media law. “It’s a great marriage between both of my interests,” she said. “I would like to work for a newspaper because I’m used to that environment. At the same time, I’m open to what the future holds.”