When Christopher Fils finished his undergraduate degree in December 2008, the conditions for launching a career in finance were not just unfavorable, but downright hostile. It was the start of the Great Recession, and the finance sector was shedding thousands of jobs.
Some may have opted for another line of work. But Fils still aspired to financial counseling. The son of immigrants and the finance sector was shedding thousands of jobs.from Haiti and Jamaica, he had begun reading popular financial titles like The Millionaire Next Door in his teens. He managed to get a foot in the door at a financial services company in Tampa in 2009 in customer phone services, and stayed for about a year. “But I wanted to be in front of people, helping them plan.” He started in personal banking at another company and has since kept acquiring skills, professional licenses, and responsibilities.
He and his wife have also moved physically, from Tampa, to New York City, to California. Currently he is a branch manager for Morgan Stanley in Los Gatos, the southern end of Silicon Valley. While Fils was intrigued with New York, the opportunity to live in California and witness the interplay of technology and innovation with growth and wealth was compelling. He oversees 25 employees and is in charge of all sales, investments, compliance, and hiring.
Fils is also within months of earning his MBA online from Saint Leo. “It’s amazing,” he said, a little stunned. “I’m 30 years old. I came up through the recession.” His path demonstrates advice he now passes along to younger people: Be alert to opportunities—they can come up suddenly and subtly. And when you see an opportunity, “Move on it quickly.”
When Ally Vincent was an elementary education student at University Campus, her professors and fellow classmates knew she was destined for great things. An active volunteer for campus events and participant in SERVE (Students Engaged in Rewarding Volunteer Experiences) trips, Vincent was always eager to lend a hand.
After graduation, she was afforded the opportunity to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, as part of the Rotary Global Scholar Program. Through this yearlong program, she earned a Master of Science in Inclusive and Special Education. She said it was “an amazing year” during which she did research, observed other teachers, and presented at a conference. She was also made an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Portobello, her host club during that year.
This advanced degree led her back to Florida and to Citrus Springs Elementary School in Citrus County, where she teaches a second grade inclusion class. She explained that “almost half of the students have disabilities of some kind—developmental, physical, or intellectual.” Her job
is challenging, but she said it is all worth it when she “sees the smiles of the kids, and I know I can help make a difference.”
She explained: “The kids definitely keep me on my toes. Many don’t get the love and support they need from home. So it’s important to have good role models at school.”
Heather Grimes has worn many hats in county government, from customer service and performance development administrator to assistant county administrator. Today, Grimes is the chief administrative officer for the Pasco County (FL) Clerk and Comptroller’s Office, and she stated that in all her various roles she has enjoyed being able to give back to her community.
Grimes earned her MBA online from Saint Leo, and she continues to contribute to the university. In June, Grimes participated in the Leaders in the Industry webinar presented by Saint Leo WorldWide Career Services and offered advice to students about working in government administration.
“The benefits are great, and the pay is competitive,” Grimes said, “but you don’t come to government to get rich.”
In Florida, governments participate in the Florida Retirement System. Additional perks of government employment include excellent leave policies and tuition reimbursement. “My MBA was 100 percent paid for by Pasco County, and they encouraged me to go after my master’s degree,” Grimes said.
According to Grimes, no matter where you live, there is always a government job to be found and one for every interest. “Once you understand government and how it works, it is easy for you to be able to transfer to another government job [since] you can speak the lingo,” she said.
More importantly, it is interesting and challenging work. “You can make a difference,” Grime said. “There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you are giving back to the community you live in. Find your happy place, and you will do good things there. I tell my employees this all the time. Make sure it is somewhere you enjoy working.”
What attracted Christopher Stanzione to Saint Leo? The warm weather, the beautiful campus, and the great psychology faculty. In fact, he found Saint Leo to be the perfect fit and quickly got involved in Tau Kappa Epsilon, was active in the Psychology Club, and served as a campus tour guide.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Stanzione headed straight to graduate school at the University of North Florida, focusing on research, and received his master’s degree in 2010. He went on to Georgia State University, where he earned a PhD in 2014.
Today, Dr. Stanzione is a lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he strives to be an “authentic mentor” to his students. His specialization is child psychology, specifically language and cognitive development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. A second area of study is in personality theory, explaining that personality “is like gravity. You can’t see it, but you can feel its effects. Therefore, it’s important to measure personality traits from several angles.”
As an educational psychologist, one of his jobs is to study how individuals learn and retain knowledge, especially in classrooms. According to Stanzione, these areas not only include the obvious, like the learning process, but also extend to emotional, social, and cognitive outcomes for all students. However, it is not enough to solely study an area of psychology to become a good teacher. Teaching goes beyond methodology and involves creating real connections with students. One of his goals for each student is to become an informed consumer of knowledge. “As an instructor, it is my job to apply critical thinking techniques within my lectures and assignments. However, becoming an informed consumer of knowledge is not confined to the context of academic topics. I am also teaching students to be good people; celebrating those from different backgrounds or who have different views than our own, and this requires us to think critically, too.” His short-term goals include improving the teaching curriculum, increasing his effectiveness, strengthening the professor-student relationship, and helping students with research.
Down the road? “I hope to one day go on a sabbatical—go abroad and work at another university. I think that international experience would broaden my perspective.”
What does it take to make it to the majors? For J.P. Ricciardi (standing left), his road to the New York Mets front office had some interesting turns.
It all started when he was recruited to play baseball for the Saint Leo Monarchs in the late 1970s. A second baseman, he came to Florida and soon found that the baseball team was like his family. When not in class, they spent most of their time playing and practicing together.
“The campus was great,” Ricciardi said. “But it sure has changed a lot—for the better. Saint Leo has come a long way, and I’m proud of what it’s become.”
Three years into his college career, Ricciardi signed with the New York Mets in 1980. He played in that team’s system for a few years, then went to work as a coach for the New York Yankees farm system. Along the way, he was also a minor league instructor and scout for the Oakland Athletics.
He landed his first job in the front office as special assistant to Sandy Alderson, the general manager of the Athletics. When Billy Beane assumed the GM role, Ricciardi transitioned to the director of Player Personnel. The success he had in those roles led him to being namedthe general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001.
“Saint Leo has come a long way, and I’m proud of what it’s become.” —J.P. Ricciardi
These days, 37 years later, he is working for the team that first drafted him, serving once again as special assistant to Sandy Alderson, now GM for the Mets. In this position, Ricciardi helps put the baseball team together, has a hand in player trades, evaluates the minor league system, and manages many of the operation’s processes.
“It’s a great job,” he said. “I get to be part of a terrific organization.”
When he is not in the office or on the field, he is spending time with his wife of 33 years and their two sons, who are both playing baseball in college—one a junior at Bryant College (RI) and the other in his first year at Florida Atlantic University.
Many alumni want to give back to Saint Leo but may not know what they can offer. For John Flaherty, the answeris simple: encourage high school students to choose Saint Leo for college.
A native of Yonkers, NY, Flaherty has worked at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, NY, for more than 50 years. A former principal, he is now director of Alumni Relations and has helped recruit more than 15 young men for Saint Leo. He says that all were happy with their choices and have gone on to find success in their careers. Among them are Stephen Kubasek ’08, who is now director of Advancement Services and Planned Giving at Saint Leo; Joseph P. “J.P.” Connellan ’85, Saint Leo trustee and a managing director at Citi; and current freshmen Michael Ahearn and Jordan Rivera.
Flaherty chose Saint Leo because he liked the small college setting. When he arrived, it was a two-year college, but then transitioned to a four-year college, so he stayed and completed his bachelor’s degree.
He said that at Saint Leo, he was able to try things that might have intimidated him at a large university, such as taking courses that were more difficult or outside his usual aptitude. He found that teachers and classmates supported him in all that he attempted.
In talking to high school students, he has discovered that “If you want to get into a student’s head, get there through his heart. Let them know that you care. That is what the Saint Leo faculty did for me, and I applied it in my career. The foundation of a Salesian education is based on the four educational principles of reason, religion, kindness, and presence.” Today, more than a dozen alumni can credit Flaherty for helping them make a good choice and join the Saint Leo family.
When Mikael Angesjo was considering where to attend college, he had many offers outside his native Sweden. In the end, however, he felt that Saint Leo was the perfect choice to continue his soccer career while gaining a good education. That education has led him to an interesting international career, including his current role as deputy director of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom.
As a student-athlete at Saint Leo, Angesjo was a business major with a marketing specialization and a member of the men’s soccer team that won the school’s first-ever conference championship. Looking back, he said, “The institution was like one big family, and such an atmosphere fosters excellence. I met some of my closest friends, excelled academically and reached Who’s Who, won the school’s first athletic championship in history, fell in love, and found God at Saint Leo. To do that in four years, I look back at it now and wonder how it was all possible.”
For a time, Angesjo was an agency-represented fashion model, working for some of the top international brands, including Armani, Calvin Klein, and Adidas, but these days he is focused on his director position with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, the largest Swedish business network in the world, where he has applied a lot of the skills acquired at Saint Leo. He explained, “I work in 50 different sectors at the same time. There is a satisfaction in connecting companies with completely different profiles, which otherwise never would have thought to cross each other’s paths, and ultimately see it lead to fruitful partnerships. However, acting as the main point of contact for 400 exporting companies, and doing so in a country [UK] in the process of a historic (and highly complex) ‘divorce settlement’ from the European Union, comes with a certain level of pressure.”
What is next for Angesjo? “My goal is not very specific but the same as it has been—to always be in an environment where I feel I am developing. When you feel that is no longer the case, it is time to move to the next chapter.” He continued, “There are some plans in place I cannot share at this very moment in time, but one has to continue to challenge oneself.”