Christine John


It’s 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, and Dr. Passard Dean starts his course, The Value of Money (HON260), with a simple, but profound question: “Tell me what you want to know about money,” he asks. This course is part of Saint Leo University’s Honors Program offering, and by beginning with this thought-provoking question, Dean is giving students the opportunity to contribute to how the curriculum comes to life.

The accounting professor’s class is one of 17 honors courses offered each year that are attracting students to Saint Leo with a true upgrade in academics based on a skills-based curriculum that follows a global citizenship theme. At the heart of the growing program is a fresh take on creativity with courses that change topics every semester.

Beginning with nearly 50 students in the fall of 2021, the Saint Leo Honors Program now serves more than 200 students who are learning from each other, discussing moral responsibility, and translating it to life outside the classroom. The program received a revamp under the guidance of Dr. Timothy Jussaume, who served as director of the Honors Program and associate professor of philosophy through the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. Students from a range of majors can now participate in a program that offers a sense of mission in a more sophisticated way. More than 10% of the campus population is enrolled in the Honors Program.

We are challenging students to see their undergraduate education as preparation for lives of moral responsibility and service to others,” Jussaume said. “The Honors Program offers transformative learning experiences that facilitate intellectual and personal growth.”

The Honors Program is comprised of seven courses and one capstone project for a total of 25 credits that students take as part of their bachelor’s degree program. As Jussaume likes to emphasize, the course load is not more work, but a different kind of work. First-year courses are team-taught by multiple faculty and represent one of the most unique experiences available at Saint Leo. Courses are truly interdisciplinary because students are led by faculty from multiple disciplines.

Faith and Politics (HON161), a popular team-taught course offered in the spring, challenges students to learn how to talk about difficult topics.

Three honors program professors posing
(Left to right) Dr. Stephen Okey, associate professor of theology; Dr. Timothy Jussaume, former director of the Honors Program and associate professor of philosophy; and Frank Orlando, instructor of political science.

The course brings three Saint Leo instructors together into one classroom for a semester of curiosity and learning for both students and professors as they work their way through the course, not always knowing where the class discussions will take them. Taught by Jussaume; Dr. Stephen Okey, associate professor of theology; and Frank Orlando, instructor of political science, the course is helping students to build self-confidence and develop listening skills that allow them to articulate strong opinions with clarity, evidence, and thoughtful lines of reasoning.

First-Year Seminar I: Wild Florida is another first-year, team-taught course where faculty members from philosophy, biology, and English teach together. It examines how Florida has occupied a unique place in the American consciousness and explores the historical, environmental, social, and cultural forces that have shaped the Florida of today.

“We talked a lot about being self-aware and explored how nature has an intrinsic value,” said Rylan Hutchins ’26 who took the class in the fall as a freshman in the Honors Program. “Not only can nature give you happiness, but there are also moral principles we need to uphold. It’s so important to realize that we’re not the only ones inhabiting this planet.”

Hutchins is a native of Dade City, FL, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and considering the 3+1 program to earn two degrees in four years.

The Honors Program also has grown in the number of faculty who are tapping into their passions. More than 22 faculty members from the university’s four colleges and the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library are finding the curriculum flexible and the teaching style appealing. By working with Jussaume to develop courses that emphasize the skills necessary to engage with high-level content in their disciplines, faculty are preparing students to address the many challenges of global citizenship. And because the class setting in the Honors Program is student-centered rather than instructor-centered, faculty members are encouraging students to take ownership of the course, leading discussions and making connections to their majors.

Students working on a group project in their honors class.
The Honors Program has become the most interdisciplinary way for the university to help students go outside their major. Classrooms are student-centered, encouraging honors students to take ownership of the course and make connections to their majors.

Students in the program find it ideal that honors courses are not in a set sequence. Whether it’s a 200- or 300-level course, first-year and upperclassmen can take classes together, share multiple perspectives, and learn by being part of a true academic community. With titles like The Psychological World of Disney, Sports Diplomacy, Hip-Hop and Social Justice, Glass Ceilings, and Experiences of the Divine, the courses are taught by faculty members in theology, religion, biology, philosophy, physics, social work, sociology, criminal justice, and history, to name a few. The Honors Program has become the most interdisciplinary way for the university to help students go outside of their majors and learn how they can impact their communities.

For the Saint Leo Honors Program, an important consequence of its new approach and variety of course offerings is that it is not only about academics, but also about a broad vision for student success. Honors students earning bachelor’s degrees are empowered to be campus leaders, to connect with the Saint Leo community, and to develop the skills that prepare them for life after graduation.

Attracting Students with a True Upgrade in Academics

Headshot of student Tayhana Taylor“It’s not about just looking for information to help you pass a test or pass only the courses that fit into your degree so that you can get a job,” said Tayhana Taylor ’24, an Honors Program student who is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in accounting. “It’s about responsibility, leadership, taking ownership, building culture and community. My honors professors are willing to go down that road with me to help me understand the significance of something outside my major.”

Taylor is a dynamic student-leader, serving as world news editor for The Lions’ Pride Media Group, vice president of the Institute of Management Accountants Student Chapter, peer mentor, and a resident assistant. Taylor also dedicates time as a research assistant for the Accounting, Economics, and Finance Department; volunteers as a certified tax preparer for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program; is a member of the Collegiate Leadership Tampa Bay Chamber Class of 2023; and completed three internships with accounting firms in Miami and New York.

When Saint Leo’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies (CCJS) was established more than two decades ago, its mission was to provide interfaith education and dialogue for thousands of students and members of the Tampa Bay area community. Today, with the creation of the Maureen and Douglas Cohn Visiting Chair in Jewish Thought, the center is providing more opportunities to engage in dialogue with better resources and information, making CCJS the only academic center of its kind in the Southeast.

Made possible by the generosity of Maureen and Douglas Cohn in December 2021, the new chair enables CCJS to feature a Jewish scholarly voice at the center of its vision, mission, and educational programs. A unifying force in their work with the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation, the Cohns are longtime friends of CCJS and have supported Saint Leo on this front since the early 2000s.

“We are excited to collaborate with the university and the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies to help increase engagement between the Jewish and Catholic faith in our community,” Maureen Cohn said.

“By establishing a full-time faculty position that also works closely with local religious leaders, we can create more opportunities for people of all faiths to talk directly to a scholar for generations to come,” Douglas Cohn continued.

The Cohn Visiting Chair is devoted to scholarly research and teaching and allows students, faculty, and members of the community to significantly deepen their understanding of Judaism by having direct and regular access to a scholar of Jewish thought.

The west coast of Florida is home to many Catholics as well as Jews. One of the most unique aspects of the Cohn Visiting Chair is that it puts a scholar of Jewish thought and culture into regular conversation with individuals outside of the college classroom—with everyday people, including members of other religions. In addition to teaching undergraduate students, the visiting scholar will provide a series of spring educational workshops for the Tampa-area community.

“The center is unique in the way our faculty teach in the community, as well as in the classroom,” said Dr. Matthew Tapie, CCJS director. “We are building bridges of understanding that lead to a more just and peaceful society.”

Because the position is a visiting chair, the scholar will teach and research at CCJS and in the community for up to three years before another scholar takes the helm to carry out the center’s mission, building mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation among people of goodwill.

Alumnus enjoys long career fighting crime and teaching others within the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

After 25 years as a senior special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, alumnus Ruben Garcia ’85, ’90 now uses his extensive field experience in the classroom, teaching and mentoring law enforcement officers from around the world. For Garcia and his students, examining law enforcement on a global scale from inside the DEA Training Academy not only helps them develop a competency for thinking bigger, but also prepares them for the many challenges they will face on the job.

“What I’ve loved about this job over the years are the challenges you have to overcome,” Garcia said. “No two cases are the same. Being able to overcome obstacles without getting frustrated is the key to success—not only in your professional career, but life itself.”

With a master’s degree in education from Northern Arizona University, along with hundreds of hours of judicial testimony in his wake, Garcia opened a new door. In 2016, his transition from senior special agent to program manager and instructor for the Sensitive Investigative Unit at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, VA, meant supervising instructors and training domestic and foreign law enforcement officers from around the world with a greater purpose in mind: to share intelligence that brings criminals at the highest levels of organized crime to justice.

Garcia developed a curriculum that combines topics in ethics and corruption, surveillance, undercover investigation, money laundering, and rule of law, among others. Conspiracy law and investigations remain his favorite course to teach.

“I love hearing from my students months or even years after my training and learning how successful they have become in working their cases,” Garcia said. “No matter what country they are from, our goal is the same—making our countries safer by prosecuting violent organized crime members.”

Prior to his teaching days at the training academy, Garcia invested countless amounts of miles, hours, and grit living the life of what the entertainment industry depicts in movies and in the popular Netflix series Narcos, released in 2015. Throughout his career as senior special agent, Garcia served as the lead investigator in numerous complex domestic and international conspiracy investigations and is regarded as a conspiracy expert by his peers, who routinely seek his advice and mentorship.

Garcia’s high-profile assignments, and an active role from 2010 to 2016 in the legendary capture of the notorious cartel leader “El Chapo” (twice), only scratch the surface of a hectic and intense profession ideally suited for a person of his character—resourceful, precise, and calm, with an innate ability for decision-making and an unapologetic belief in the value of good humor.

While his career has taken him to many places near and far, his beginnings were humble. At the age of 5, Garcia moved from Cuba to the United States. He was raised by his mother, also a teacher, in South Florida. When Garcia turned 17, he joined the U.S. Air Force, becoming the second-youngest airman in boot camp at that time. It was during his time stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, that Garcia graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in criminology from what was then Saint Leo College. This became the first of many doors that would open for Garcia, leading him to enjoy a robust and engaging career.

Today, Garcia is in the process of retiring from his work in law enforcement. His next move is to become an adjunct professor at a university in his hometown of Phoenix, opening yet another door to unleash his passion for teaching in even bigger ways.

Leaving a Legacy at Saint Leo

In 2012, Ruben Garcia’s wife, Dorothy, earned her MBA from the Tapia College of Business, and together they created the Ruben C. and Dorothy C. Garcia Endowed Scholarship in 2014. The fund helps make a Saint Leo University education possible for students studying criminal justice or business. If you are interested in joining the Garcias in starting a scholarship for Saint Leo University students, please contact Christopher Neher, director of principal gifts, at