Jo-Ann Johnston


A look at our university’s forefathers and foremothers

While many of us with strong connections to Saint Leo may know that the university was founded by monks from the Order of Saint Benedict, what may be lesser known are the particulars of what it means to be a Benedictine community.

Benedictines are known for lives of prayer, work, and study, as prescribed by the founding monk, Saint Benedict (480-547) of Italy. Also, the work of Benedictines is often practical and tied to the community. Historically, some Benedictine monasteries in Europe were centers for learning and teaching. These factors help explain why Benedictines became involved in starting and running universities in the United States.

Benedictines, from their founding days, have also been known for their hospitality, which at the time literally meant sheltering people who had nowhere else to go whether because of economic need or dangerous political upheaval. That persists now as a tradition of providing a welcoming environment for prayer and learning for everyone, no matter what background or affiliation.

The Saint Leo Abbey Church is an integral part of the campus community.

The Benedictine Monks of Saint Leo Abbey

Spiritual support of Saint Leo enjoys a long history, as a Benedictine abbot founded Saint Leo as a college in 1889.

A physical representation of this is the beautiful white Abbey Church, surrounded by University Campus. The church remains in the care and ownership of the Benedictine Monks of Saint Leo Abbey. While many community and university events take place there each year, the Mass of the Holy Spirit is one of the most celebrated events, led by Abbot Isaac Camacho, OSB, ’95, for the benefit of the university community at the start of a new academic year. Everyone is welcome in the tradition of Saint Benedict.

“We believe that every student at the university has the same dignity that God has given to us, as we claim that he is the creator of us all,” explained Abbot Isaac.

The abbot and the monastic community also pray daily for all those who work and study at the university, in keeping with being a Benedictine community.

“It is only when we have peace that we can share with others what we are and have,” shared Abbot Isaac. “That is why we pray for all in our Saint Leo community. This is the importance of a Benedictine community—to care for each other, to respect all because they are the image of Christ, to grow in wisdom in the eyes of men and God as we embrace our personal development. This can be done with integrity. As we live in this community and as we depart, we become responsible stewards in the fields that we have come to embrace. Excellence is our goal.”

Volunteers help prepare a Thanksgiving dinner with the Benedictine Sisters by peeling potatoes, among other tasks.

Benedictine Sisters are visible in community service

Today the Benedictine Sisters of Florida have “a different kind of day-to-day involvement” with Saint Leo than in the days when they housed and fed students and occupied other roles at the college level, explained Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, ’57, prioress.

The sisters are involved in a variety of community works, true to their commitment of responding “with the compassion of Christ” to the needs of people. Students sometimes become engaged with the sisters in community projects. A classic example is a community Thanksgiving dinner that the Benedictine Sisters host with nearby Saint Anthony Parish. Undergraduates in the Social Work Club take part annually in preparations and fundraising.

“One thing we pride ourselves on is that we serve real mashed potatoes, so we have to peel 100 pounds of potatoes,” said Sister Roberta. More than 250 meals are served with just more than 100 delivered to people who are homebound. One of the sisters runs Daystar Hope Center in Dade City, where students can volunteer in the clothing thrift shop and food distribution center. Helpers are always welcome in the sisters’ aquaponics project, a self-sustaining fish farm with indoor and outdoor gardens.

The Benedictine Sisters are sometimes asked to help with the temporary hospitality needs of graduate international students. And last summer, they provided short-term lodging for a graduate student from out-of-state so that she could attend a weekend academic conference. Her stay affected her greatly.

The Cross of Saint Benedict is found on buildings throughout campus as a way to call for God’s blessings and protection.

“The sisters were incredibly nurturing and service-oriented. Though not Catholic, I even decided to attend prayers and Mass,” the student wrote. “It was definitely God’s plan for me to be here … Being cared for and cared about by the sisters, prayer, time to be introspective, walks in the gardens, talking to God, and sleeping soundly, have [all] brought me back to what is important.”

Everyone knows that wry saying about becoming a parent: You have to pass a test to get a driver’s license, but not to become a biological mother or father.

While that is still true, some Saint Leo students have had the option of getting some excellent grounding in the topic (with tests) through an undergraduate course called the Psychology of Parenting. It is a junior-level course, developed by Dr. Tammy L. Zacchilli, associate professor of psychology, after discussion among several peers in the discipline from various Saint Leo teaching locations. She has taught it four times so far, every other fall, at University Campus. The class typically fills up, or nearly does.

Dr. Tammy Zacchilli, a mother of three herself, has hopes of extending the course to more Saint Leo students by developing an online version in the near future.
Psychology faculty knew the course would help students who want to become parents at some point in life. Another group that stands to benefit are those who intend to go into teaching, social work, or another kind of helping profession, she points out. “Their jobs may require them to work with parents.”

For some reason, Zacchilli found there were only a few sound textbooks available on the topic—though she notes with caution for other readers that anyone can write a book on parenting without broad knowledge of the theories on how children develop psychologically. Still, she hunted until she found one and supplements the reading with videos, interactive assignments, speakers from child-related occupations, class discussions, and a required service project.

The class lends itself to being divided into three segments, she said. In the first part, the class reads and discusses what psychologists have written about parenting and discipline styles. Students are generally eager to talk about this and compare experiences. Even though most at University Campus have not yet had children, they think back to their own families and have positive exchanges about how different cultures and backgrounds play a role, she said.

“We have students from a lot of different places,” she reflects. Students from the Caribbean, for instance, may have experiences that contrast with those of students from the mainland United States.

The second portion of the course is devoted to understanding child development, and the third to special situations that include adoption, high-risk families, and same-sex parenting.

Emma Hutterli ’16 particularly recalls an assignment with a delicate prop. Students were given actual chicken eggs (with the inside liquid blown out) to carry for a week as stand-ins for infants, meaning they were not to leave the eggs unattended. It was “light-hearted, but the class took it seriously,” recalled Hutterli, who is now studying for the Master of Social Work degree from Saint Leo.

“We then talked about that experience: for example, how was it to ask for a babysitter, what was it like taking the eggs to class/home/the store, did any of the eggs break over the time period?” She still has her phone photo of her decorated egg.

There are so many ways to look at a plate of food on a table or well-stocked shelves in a supermarket.

Some people are concerned about their diets and whether they are getting enough nutrients or too many calories. Some people working in nonprofits and in certain kinds of church ministries worry about people who are not reliably receiving food. And those who produce and harvest the food in our globalized economy have a range of other decisions and concerns to consider, from farming regulations to pricing policies.

A new three-credit course called Feeding the Planet: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century gives undergraduates a rich mixture of all those ingredients and more. Dr. Patricia Campion (pictured) designed the sophomore-level course and taught it for the first time during the recent fall semester at University Campus. Eventually, the course option will be widely available, as it can be taught online and at education centers.

Further, Feeding the Planet is part of the University Explorations curriculum, a choice among the group of courses that form the liberal arts foundation required of all Saint Leo undergraduates. One of the hallmarks of a University Explorations course is that it takes a focused, topical approach to an intriguing area—like food—and delves deeply into the material so that students come to see how scholars approach the larger questions, which in this case, involve agricultural economics, nutrition, public health, and sustainability.

“To me, the planting was the most interesting part,” sophomore Giovanni Thomas said during the last half of the course, in reference to a class requirement to grow an edible plant. Dr. Campion’s students were able to share the planting beds and greenhouse typically used by Saint Leo biology students. They kept an academic journal about their plantings, somewhat in the way previous generations kept garden almanacs. Thomas, for instance, grew green beans. He and his classmates tracked watering, pests, and growth patterns, and provided photographic evidence of their attempts. A failed “crop” of a stunted zucchini or eggplant, or withered tomatoes did not result in a failing grade on the project, as long as the student was vigilant in the growing attempt and observation process.

This was literally new territory for many, “connecting students with the fact that their food comes from somewhere” and not just a supermarket, Dr. Campion said. Thomas was one of the few in the class of 10 with gardening experience. Some were initially reluctant to handle the soil. Still, by the end of the semester, several students excelled with the journals.

In another assignment, students reviewed their regular diet to identify something that might be problematic for their health (not just weight-wise), if not currently, then at some point in the future. Their regular diet was to include meals out, pre-made meals from supermarkets, fast-food meals, dining hall meals, and meals prepared at home. Dr. Campion further instructed them to research thoroughly an alternative that could be substituted, at least part of the time, and to explain their decisions in a brief paper.

The students were required to go far beyond the personal research, though, in keeping with the expectations that University Explorations courses also introduce students to probative, scholarly questions. So students took what they learned about food and nutrition personally and integrated that into readings and discussions about food production brought to scale. That meant understanding food in relation to local and global cultures, conceiving of crops as commodities that are traded on international markets, and relating agricultural practices and policies to economic and ecological considerations. (Sustainability considerations are also studied in other Arts and Sciences courses, such as Environmental Sociology, a science course called Creating Sustainable Societies, and offerings within the Global Studies Program.) It didn’t end there. The course delineated the packaging, distribution, marketing, and advertising processes that all play a part in bringing harvested foods and meals directly to consumers.

Through this, Thomas said that during the course he noticed for the first time how much he was influenced by television commercials for fast foods, enough to make him think he was hungry. “That was his ‘aha’ moment,” Dr. Campion observed. Another student, one from a family with a home garden, came to her own organic realization and told her professor that “now she wasn’t going to complain when her dad asked her to weed the garden.”

More substantively, Dr. Campion described her aspirations for the students in greater detail.

“I hope that the students have learned from this experience not to take their food for granted, and to value not only its nutritional content, but also the work and care of all the people involved in its production,” she said. “In the future, I’m looking forward to expanding the planting activity, so that we can end the course by cooking the food we have grown during the semester.”

For many Americans, the mention of U.S. Civil War studies brings to mind names of battles and generals, or stirs memories of Lincoln’s speeches. But a Saint Leo University senior and budding historian has earned recognition for a different study, a work of social history that examines the lives and torments of everyday women who lived through America’s war with itself.

Samantha Tyler, a University Campus student, presented findings from her senior thesis “From the Ground Up: Women of the Civil War” in a national meeting. She traveled to New Orleans in January to make a presentation at the Phi Alpha Theta (national honor society) convention for historians. It was the first time a Saint Leo student had done so. A scheduling conflict prevented her from also appearing at the Florida Conference of Historians to deliver her presentation on lesser-known perspectives on the war.

Tyler’s work does discuss the influence of the famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe and the fiery words of African-American leader Sojourner Truth. But the famous women appear in Tyler’s work within the broader context of understanding the emotions and attitudes of everyday Northern women, Southern white women, and former slaves and freed African-American women. Tyler combed women’s letters, journals, and other personal writings—in addition to Stowe’s best-selling book Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech—to reach her conclusions. “The stories that those diaries and personal papers provide help us see that the simplistic views of women that dominated the antebellum era, and that have been repeated by historians since, do not tell the whole story,” Tyler’s introduction states.

For instance, the papers she found revealed to her much more starkly the actual brutality of slavery than did more widely published works she had read, Tyler said. She found white women in the South who developed a personal hatred of the opposing side, arising from the battles that took place in their towns and fields, the seizure of land, livestock, and homes by the Union Army, and the widespread destruction ordered by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. Meanwhile, Northerners who were more distant from battlefields were not affected in the same way, physically, or as deeply emotionally in their feelings toward Confederate troops, Tyler observed. But Northerners who went to the conflict as nurses—if they came from the middle class or more prosperous backgrounds—might actually be criticized by family members for venturing beyond the social norms of the day, rather than earning heightened respect from their relations for their bravery, compassion, or sense of duty. Common to all the women, Tyler said, was the deep fear that the men closest to them would be killed or maimed by the war.

This vein of American history is incredibly rich, Tyler decided, though it has not been studied much. Tyler’s conference presentations partly address the void, while also pointing toward her hopes for the future.

Tyler so loves “learning about our world and American history” that she will make history and teaching her career. She has always enjoyed the support of her parents in her endeavors; her dad, in fact, is an Air Force veteran who involved the young Samantha in military history long before she ever thought of history as a possible college major. Tyler hopes to secure a high-school teaching position in Florida after her graduation this spring; she plans also to earn a master’s degree in American history through an online program at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. Eventually, Tyler, said, she would like to teach at the college level.

Bill Shelden’s employment brings him to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, a place known historically for space exploration missions, and now more for rocket launches. Shelden, an Air Force veteran of 24 years’ service, continues as a civilian employee for the Air Force, working around technology and hardware.

Yet that is only one dimension of his work life on this coastal outcropping.

Shelden tends spiritually to the population laboring nearby at Port Canaveral (pictured below). They are people who work for luxury cruise ships, on maritime cargo vessels, in port operations, and sometimes for the U.S. Coast Guard at this deep-water berth. Their jobs are essential, not glitzy. Their means are few. They can be isolated from families, from houses of worship, and may be oceans away from their homelands. To these souls, Shelden (MA ’15, theology) is Deacon Bill.


He is part of the team at Space Coast Seafarers Ministry, a non-denominational Christian ministry that provides spiritual nourishment and many practical resources to an underserved population. Often, Deacon Shelden leads people in prayer either in groups or individually; he generally reads some Scripture and then provides reflection.

The encounters can be much more informal, just him and a person from the port. “The one-on-one interaction can be powerful as well. We pray together, talk, shoot a game of pool, I even help them fill out job applications or prepare for interviews,” he says.

If circumstances permit, Shelden would like soon to begin offering specifically Catholic services through his role with a professional Catholic association called Apostleship of the Sea. (Catholic Charities of Central Florida is helping this effort by seeking space at the port where Catholic services could take place.)  As an ordained permanent deacon, Shelden can fulfill many functions important to Catholics. A permanent deacon may assist a priest during Mass (a priest is required to preside), conduct baptisms, be a witness to marriages, and lead wakes or funeral services so long as Masses are not involved.

Often, though, a lay public that is not accustomed to spending time with deacons can get caught up in formal particulars of the office and miss an essential aspect of this calling. And that is the way deacons can serve the Church by offering a compassionate presence in the secular world, beyond the confines and routines of their own parishes and neighborhoods.

As Shelden explains about his work at the port, “It is a chance to meet and interact with people who don’t have a spiritual home. My heart goes out to these people who work on ships. They don’t have a family, some of them.”

He is touched also by the young people he meets serving in the Coast Guard and carrying weighty responsibilities. “A lot of them are between 18 and 25,” says Shelden, who is 55. “They go out on law enforcement actions and they see things that would scare an older person.”

Shelden is quick to point out that he is not a certified counselor. His identity as defined by the Church is that of a faithful, caring servant, and he brings an appropriate demeanor to the mission. “I just try to be as authentic as I can. My wife [Wendy] says people gravitate toward me because I am natural and accepting.”

No doubt, those qualities would help make a faithful Catholic man a possible candidate for the diaconate, as the Catholic religious order of deacons is sometimes called.

There is much more required, though, to become a permanent Catholic deacon, and depending on the diocese, the process can take five or six years. (Men who are on the road to priesthood in the Catholic Church are ordained as transitional deacons.) Ordaining married men as permanent deacons is widely accepted, and the couples are generally expected to enter the formation process together. This involves years of spiritual discernment and reflection for the couples, with each member praying and thinking deeply about their own and their family’s relationship with God.

A deacon candidate must develop pastoral skills during the period, too.

For instance, Shelden served in the prison ministry at his county jail for a year. Inmates awaiting trial or serving sentences of one year or less could request individual pastoral services (as well as attend service or Bible study). Shelden still recalls visiting inmates and listening to their stories, and inviting them into prayer about their situations. “What they have been through is so disheartening,” Shelden says. “These are people who have a lot of problems but don’t have any avenue for getting things fixed.”

The training of deacons further includes an academic element so that they have the theological grounding they will need in their service. It is up to each diocese to determine how this will be done. Saint Leo University offers the Master of Arts in theology program to several dioceses in Florida and in some other states for this purpose. (While the MA is typically offered online, dioceses that enroll their deacon-candidate groups with Saint Leo are provided with classes taught at their sites by a faculty member.)

Candidates must complete the 36-credit-hour graduate program before they can be ordained. So far, 250 men in diaconal formation have completed the MA, and 140 more are enrolled.

As rigorous as that is, upon ordination into the clergy, permanent deacons may find life opening up to even more new and unexpected ways to walk in the spirit of Christ. Catholic permanent deacons are expected to be deacons all the time, so, at his paying job at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Shelden is expected to carry out his duties and work with colleagues in a manner reflective of his relationship with God. At his parish, he and fellow deacons sometimes fulfill other specific tasks at the request of the parish priest, such as delivering the homily (sermon) during Mass, or assisting with added Masses for holidays.

Life unfolds. Deacons are asked to help, or find themselves equipped and in positions to help. “That’s part of the excitement of living a life in service to Christ.”

Thomas J. Kaiser, MD, is achieving what many young biology majors everywhere hope for when they first walk into the science classrooms and labs.

ThomasKaiserKaiser, 30, is well on his way to becoming an orthopedic surgeon and specialist, a possibility he began contemplating as a high school and college athlete. The former Lions basketball forward (No. 25) is currently in the fourth year of the five-year residency program at the University of Florida Health System in Jacksonville. Residency is the period right after medical school (or other physician training) when licensed new graduates work under the tutelage of more senior doctors to acquire in-depth training in a particular area. Examples are family medicine, pediatrics, cardiology, or in Kaiser’s case, orthopedics—the care of the whole skeletal system of bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints.

While the young doctor (and newlywed) still has some milestones to pass, Kaiser has already completed the three most intense years of his residency program. Just getting an orthopedic residency is an accomplishment in itself. New doctors have to compete for limited spots; those who are not admitted have to make another plan.

Kaiser remembers first becoming intrigued with skeletal repair when he was growing up and attending Catholic schools in Tampa. Service projects periodically brought him to Shriners Hospitals for Children-Tampa, where his mother worked as a nurse. He encountered children who came from as far as Central America for procedures to repair limbs, and he discovered orthopedic medicine.

Kaiser wore No. 25 for Jesuit High School, as well as Saint Leo.

Another interest took hold during his teens that played a part in his path: playing competitive basketball for the Jesuit High School Tigers in Tampa (wearing No. 25 then, too). “My dream was to play basketball in college. Saint Leo offered a full scholarship.” That meant he could study biology seriously and play basketball where his family could attend home games. Indeed, he played for three years and graduated summa cum laude. And then he was off—straight into the medical school of his choice—at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He graduated with his medical degree in 2014.

Looking back at his time at Saint Leo, Kaiser credits the rigor of being a student-athlete with instilling in him good time-management practices. Another benefit was being able to get to know and shadow the men’s basketball team physician for a couple of seasons, which further honed his interest in orthopedics. He may even seek a fellowship in sports orthopedics after this residency.

Academically, Kaiser was influenced by Saint Leo faculty to learn to look at problems in multiple ways for solutions, and to be a lifelong learner. That adaptability is vital in orthopedics, because so many different activities, maladies, and accidents require treatment, and patients span generations. So it is vital that orthopedists be able to work with all kinds of patients and be open to new or varied treatment options.

There are multiple challenges for the patient, too. The healing process involves more than just surgery. There is usually physical therapy, and patients may feel lonely, stuck, or withdrawn for a while. Things turn for the better as patients regain mobility and their spirits lift, Kaiser said. Then comes the point where the young doctor sees in his patients’ lives his professional reward: “Getting them back to functioning, back to their life before.”

In Sabrina Burton Schultz’s work, no one day resembles the next. Since 2006, she has served as the director of life ministry for the five-county Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. It is an expansive undertaking, and not just geographically. Schultz supports parishes not only in pro-life projects and services, but also in many other human, societal, and environmental concerns, which are all rooted in Catholic social teaching.

“It’s a broad umbrella, and this is what makes it so interesting,” she said. “I never have the same day twice.”

So in one day, she may get a call requesting a speaker for a bereavement group, field a request for advocacy for displaced Haitians seeking protection against deportation, and take a phone meeting about the agenda for a planned workshop on social justice. In her role as director, she leads efforts to abolish the death penalty (legal in Florida); provide humanitarian support for immigrants and refugees; educate non-citizens of their legal rights; and prevent the tragedy of human trafficking. There is a big emphasis on prayer in her ministry, which seeks the Lord’s assistance in the daily struggles faced by God’s holy people.

Individuals, public figures, and media organizations are apt to misunderstand or mislabel aspects of the Catholic life ministry work as parts of either a liberal or conservative agenda, she noted. But that is not the correct paradigm to apply. “When you look at human dignity as the foundation, as well as solidarity with others and a preference for helping the poor and the vulnerable, it gives a starting point, a common understanding,” she explained.

Parishes, pastors, and committees of worshippers are involved in all such efforts, of course. “I don’t have all the gifts,” she stressed. Schultz can often assist by finding talented pastors, teachers, volunteers, and professionals who serve as advocates and teachers. While she is often at work in the evenings and on weekends, she makes a point to reserve at least half the weekend for her family, which includes her husband, Stephen, their two young sons, and their mastiff, Susie.

Schultz entered this career without any pre-conceived plans for the future, she recalled, but with a deep-abiding trust in God’s plan for her life. At Saint Leo, she earned a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in the topics of most interest to her, religious studies and psychology.

That led to positions at two different parishes in the diocese. She gained experience managing religious education programs for all ages, working on parish and diocesan committees, and more. When working at a parish in Tampa, she took time off each summer to study at Boston College, eventually earning a master’s degree in pastoral ministry with a concentration on social justice issues. By 2006, when the diocese was reorganizing, now-retired Bishop Robert N. Lynch ’97 selected Schultz for her current role. (Bishop Gregory Parkes succeeded Bishop Lynch in January 2017, as noted on page 19.)

An upcoming project in her ministry will focus on healing divisions that are caused by differences among people of various political and personal beliefs. The Life Ministry of the Diocese of St. Petersburg is collaborating with Catholic Relief Services to host workshops that train leaders in facilitating civil dialogue. Dialogue sessions will allow participants to connect their beliefs and personal experiences with Church teaching on major issues facing our society, she explained. “Respectful dialogue is often lacking in society. We have to get people to converse in a civil way.” Gathering in a parish hall seems like a good place to start.

“I am the nontraditional student,” said 25-year-old Nick Carlson by way of introduction. “That has summed up a lot of my life.” Indeed, he might be the nontraditional among nontraditionals and, consequently, gives back to his state and country in uncommon ways and at unexpected intervals.

Carlson enrolled at University Campus in Fall 2015, already married, an officer in the Florida Army National Guard, and equipped with a four-year degree in business. He came with the dream of eventually becoming a rural physician—a path he had earlier rejected as taking too long, especially for a restless young fellow. “God helped me understand my calling for medicine. I’m going the long way around.”

Saint Leo offered Carlson welcome and entry into the rigorous science courses needed for medical school admission. He registered for first-level biology, chemistry, and physics, plus their respective lab courses, all at once. And he was determined to excel.

His first discovery: “There is a way to be a student, there’s a way to be a science student, and there is a way to be a scientist.” It took him about a month to make the required mental shift, and he credits the science faculty for mentoring him whenever needed.

And he delighted in his next discovery: that synergies exist among biology, chemistry, and physics, synergies that are apparent when you plunge into all of them. “I never knew physics could be so awesome,” he told his wife, Heather. The A student eagerly followed through with the second-level biology, chemistry, and physics courses.

By Fall Semester 2016, Carlson had taken on part-time employment as a tutor. He also dived into the first level of organic chemistry, a notoriously difficult subject. He managed his time during the first weeks so he was a bit ahead.

Then Hurricane Matthew formed and swirled furiously along the east coast of Florida during the first week of October, leaving floods, damage, power outages, and stressed communities. Carlson was deployed as an officer of the Florida Army National Guard. It was his first call to action for storm duty and a chance to serve his home state.

Carlson went with a logistics unit to a big operations site in Orlando. His job for two solid weeks was to use his military operations and leadership skills to keep track of soldiers, trucks, bottled water, supplies, and food, and to get everything and everybody to the right places at the right times. He was equipping the Guardsmen who were assisting civilians. The days were repetitive, and 14 or 15 hours long. When he got home, it was time to turn around for two days of regular drill training in St. Augustine.

Yet, all that was manageable. The challenge was maintaining his A in organic chemistry without being able to go to class. “Dr. [Brian] Kyte and I communicated by email,” as Carlson continued reading the text and working on study questions during his downtime. By the end of the semester, Carlson’s grade dropped by a few points, perhaps five, and he was satisfied with that.

That’s not to say that Carlson would necessarily want to try something like that again, say with the organic chemistry and biochemistry courses he still needs. Ironically, the next choice he faced involved a similar predicament.

Carlson got word that his financial management unit is likely to be deployed overseas during 2018, and that there were command roles that would have to be filled.

“I felt called to take the position. I had the leadership skills and the training so that I could lead these soldiers, and I would be one of the best choices to accomplish the mission and get everyone back alive.”

The responsibility also involves spending much of 2017 on pre-deployment work, getting to know the soldiers under his command, and spending time with his family while he is still in the States. As for school, he and his wife concluded that his remaining pre-med studies would have to wait until he fulfills his military mission.

Though he considers himself impatient by nature, Carlson says he is at peace with the delay in his nontraditional timetable. “In 2019, I will be back here, taking classes.”

Minghe LiMinghe Li is an industrious new graduate of the Donald R. Tapia School of Business. The 22-year-old pursued a dual major in accounting and economics and, in a logical progression, landed a good position right away in Tampa, working for accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

No surprises there.

It’s his hometown that’s the attention grabber: Baotou, a large industrial and mining city in Inner Mongolia, China. The city of more than 2 million is recognized mainly for its supply of earth minerals.

Few other alumni have come to Saint Leo’s University Campus from schools in Inner Mongolia. But trends are shifting, and Li is a young man with a personality suited to discovery. He has come of age in an era when more Chinese families are able to afford to send children abroad to look at educational opportunities. More than 304,000 international students in the United States are from China, according to the Institute of International Education, and account for more than 31 percent of the international students in this country. In fact, China has produced more international students in American colleges than any other nation.

Li recalls his interest in overseas travel being stirred during his teen years, when he was able to visit London for a few weeks. He just kept thinking about what more there is to see in the world. Curiosity inspired him to seek his father’s permission to study abroad during high school.

At first Li tried Wisconsin, and then transferred to Melbourne Central Catholic High School in Florida. It proved to be a wonderful decision. The family of Timothy and Rosemary Laird wanted to host an international student attending the school, and Li proved to be the perfect match. He made a connection with both the parents and the Laird children—attending Mass with them, traveling with them on vacations—and considers them his “American family.”

Missie Valencia, director of the international student program at Melbourne Central Catholic, still recalls Li’s arrival in South Florida with other students on a long-delayed flight. Even though it was late at night by the time the plane finally landed, when Li exited the plane, he was so excited he hugged everyone in the group meeting the students at the airport. And he stayed true to that excited, joyful personality throughout his time at the school, she says, taking part in school social activities and shattering the stereotype that all Asian students are introverts who rarely speak. To the contrary, Li encouraged conversation, and adopted the American nickname of Scofield, based on a character on a cable TV show. The character’s personality, he explained to Valencia, is much his own, and the name would be easier for his new classmates to pronounce. Meanwhile, he impressed the adults with his thoughtfulness and willingness to work hard to improve his command of academic English and perform well in his courses.

Li loved Florida, Timothy Laird recalls, so much so that he decided to stay for college. Several people at Melbourne Central Catholic recommended that he visit Saint Leo University, and Li was accepted.

It was not just the Florida climate that attracted Li. He dreams someday of running a business in China that will be beneficial for society, and he thought an American business education would give him a vantage point on markets and commerce that Chinese society cannot yet provide. “China is developing its business structure, its economy. The United States has already developed its structure,” he said.

Minghe Li
Minghe celebrates his graduation day with his American family and fiancée, Ayaka.

He applied himself diligently at Saint Leo, learning how commerce is conducted in the West, and even became a tutor for other students in economics and accounting courses. Tapia School faculty helped Li decide to make those two disciplines his majors, and he is particularly grateful to Dr. Passard Dean of the accounting faculty for his guidance in the matter. Li and Dr. Dean had discussions about the ways that both accounting and economics can be applied and understood internationally, and how accounting credentials would allow Li to pursue positions abroad after he gains more experience. That, in turn, can move him closer to his eventual goal of making a contribution to the world of business in China.

Another benefit for Li at Saint Leo: He met his future wife, Ayaka Morita ’15, originally from Tokyo. By the time this magazine is printed, they will be married.

“Saint Leo University not only provided me the best education, but has also helped me to find my other half I can spend the rest of my life with,” he said. “I hope with this story, I will inspire more young people like me to pursue their dreams!”


It was just about three years ago, Ammar Mohrat recalls, that he started to think his future was a dead end, another casualty of the war in Syria.

At age 23, he was effectively an exile who had been away from his city, his parents, and the family home since he was 20. Before that time, he had been studying computer engineering in college in the city of Homs, where he had grown up and where his family operated a farm and supermarket.

But the Syria of his childhood did not last. In March 2011, peaceful springtime protests for free speech and democratic rights were met with arrests and violence from leader Bashar al-Assad. More protests and yet more crackdowns descended into what was first a civil war, but has since broadened into a larger, more chaotic conflict, as the Islamic State and other combatants have moved in and grabbed territory. Millions of people have fled to other nations in what has become the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The Mohrat family story is part of the diaspora.


Mohrat’s parents persuaded their son to leave Syria late in 2011. What Americans would consider some mild pro-democracy social media activities on his part, and participation in peaceful early protests, put him in too much danger with the ruling government, they feared. He left in December, leaving college behind, too. He and one of his brothers tried finding work in Dubai, on the Arabian Gulf, for months, but to no avail. He kept up the numerous contacts he had made on Facebook over the months and traveled around the region, landing not once, not twice, but three times, in Jordan. By then he was hoping for asylum in the United States, looking for a way back to college through new aid programs, hoping for a way to start again. But nothing seemed to be adding up. Two institutions extended him offers of partial scholarships, but neither was enough for a young man whose family was scattering, and whose funds had been exhausted.

“I was sitting in Jordan, doing nothing, thinking [to myself]: You have no future.” Shortly, though, he heard back from Saint Leo University, which had joined a new consortium trying to help displaced Syrian scholars and offered Mohrat a partial scholarship. When he had to decline the offer with the explanation that he “would not be able to pay the rest of the money,” Saint Leo asked him to write more about his story and circumstances.

He complied and was extended an offer of free tuition, room and board.

“I was so excited, so lucky.” His journey to Saint Leo was about to start. It was July 2013. A friend from the Syrian expatriate Facebook community gave him the airfare.

Once Mohrat reached Saint Leo, he was immediately enrolled in the Bridge Program, which helps international students improve their English-language skills for the demands of academic work. It also helps them adapt to American culture and society, and proved to be a wonderful way to make friends.

I really want to meet everyone who donated money for me to be here. I think that it is so nice to change somebody’s life

With his natural ambition and optimism revived, Mohrat has excelled academically. “If I get a B, it is really annoying to me.” He did not mind that he had to start all over again as a freshman and complete all of Saint Leo’s liberal arts requirements. He has chosen the computer science major and is typically on the Dean’s List. In the Fall 2015 Semester, he was among the first group of Saint Leo students inducted into a brand-new chapter of an academic honor society for the information and computing sciences. Now a junior, he is working on a possible business plan and starting to think about graduate school.

Ammar MohratAt the same time, Mohrat is having a well-rounded social experience at college and is exploring American culture. For Paige Ramsey-Hamacher, director of Multicultural and International Services, it is gratifying to see the 25-year-old regularly attend campus activities, speaking events, and programs, “to embrace this culture, and of course, this university.” He joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity, whose slogan is “Better Men for a Better World.”

Mohrat also befriended through Facebook another young man from Syria who was looking for a college in the United States. Mohrat successfully encouraged him to try Saint Leo through the regular international admission process (not the one-time scholarship Mohrat maintains).

That is what others have done for Mohrat, he reflects: guided him when he needed it. Much of the help he has received has been financial. One Syrian expatriate helped him buy textbooks, for instance. Another donated to him an older vehicle, a 1993 Lexus, which allows him to go to work at a part-time job in Tampa and earn money. (He recently got a work permit and wants to earn enough money to visit his family, most of whom are now in Turkey; he speaks with his parents there weekly by Skype.) He looks forward to the day when he is successful and can help others in such ways. In the meantime, he wants to express a profound gratitude. “I really want to meet everyone who donated money for me to come here. I think that it is so nice to change somebody’s life.’’

While the last several months have delivered multiple bad news reports about cybersecurity breaches of customer and employee files at corporations, various government agencies, and even among certain smartphone users and car owners, there is good news in the field of cybersecurity.

CybersecurityTalented people are being attracted to the growing career field of cybersecurity to help corporations, organizations, and individuals learn how to safeguard their vital data. And Saint Leo University is helping to train the workforce with dynamic new academic programs designed to meet the most current industry hiring specifications. The first class to enroll in the master of cybersecurity degree program will graduate in Spring 2016, and the 19 degree candidates are expected to encounter ample career opportunities for promotions and higher-paying positions.

“There are strong indications that there are good career prospects for these students,” commented Dr. Vyas Krishnan, assistant professor of computer science, who helped design the MS program. One company has told Saint Leo it wants to interview master’s degree candidates in the fall for hiring in the spring. On a national scale, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the job growth rate for information security analysts (an industry term for cyber experts) during the period 2012-2022 will exceed 36.5 percent, while the growth rate for computer systems analysts will exceed 24.5 percent. “The projected job growth rates of 36.5 percent and 24.5 percent represent a substantial increase,” Dr. Krishnan said, “creating a robust demand for graduates with a degree in cybersecurity.”

The 36-hour MS program in cybersecurity is specifically marketed to those who already possess some experience in the information technology field. More than 60 students are in some stage of the advanced degree program currently. It is now offered online as well as at University Campus, with a second cohort beginning on-ground studies now.

Students are versed in the technical competencies of safeguarding operating systems, networks, databases, and other software applications. The students’ curriculum is compliant with standards established by the National Security Agency, and it prepares them to attain a number of industry-recognized certifications. “These information security professionals require proficiency in a variety of current and emerging technologies—computer and network security, operating systems security, cryptography, Internet/intranet security, biometrics, compliance and legal issues, and homeland security,” Dr. Krishnan elaborated.

CybersecurityTo be as effective as possible over the long term of their careers, graduates must also emerge from the university with an understanding of the management environments they will operate in and the needs of chief executives they will serve. Saint Leo offers students an advantage in this regard, as the academic home of the cybersecurity instruction is the Donald R. Tapia School of Business, an environment that prepares students to function in business organizations. “Securing the information assets of an enterprise depends on more than just a technical foundation in information security,” Dr. Krishnan explained. “It requires an overall security management approach that combines the business needs of the enterprise, the technical and business risks associated with those information assets, the relevant legal issues, and how the systems interact with people: the developers, the system managers, and the internal and external users.”

Many of these institutional strengths also influence positively the instruction at the undergraduate level, where Saint Leo students have been so far able to earn the Bachelor of Science in computer information systems (popular in many education centers) or the more technically oriented computer science program. They may also earn a minor in information assurance with either program to gain cyber credentials. Apart from those options, students are also invited to take part in fun activities, including a cybersecurity club, a cybersecurity competition that may become an annual event, and opportunities to make presentations on topics such as computer extortion at Academic Excellence Day (held each April at University Campus).
Still, Saint Leo as an institution is ambitious to do more, and so development of a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity is underway. At the earliest, it would be offered in Fall 2016, at University Campus and online. The objective of the Bachelor of Science degree will be to prepare graduates for careers in developing security products and procedures, so they may work in roles such as security-application programmers, testers, analysts, and even cyber-legal analysts, Dr. Krishnan said. The curriculum proposed for the BS in cybersecurity requires core courses from the computer science degree and supplements that with six courses on technical aspects of cybersecurity and two courses from the bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice (housed in the School of Education and Social Services).

Another option is also on the table: an accelerated program just approved that will move motivated students swiftly from the BS in computer science through the MS in cybersecurity. It is called one of the Tapia School’s “3 +1” programs, explained Dr. Derek Mohammed, the chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, and shortens the student’s overall time in the academic setting.

CybersecurityThere is good reason to be optimistic about the job prospects for Tapia School graduates from these programs, too, according to Dr. Mohammed. Four graduates of the class of 2015 who earned the BS in computer science with a minor in information assurance—the most cyber-intensive offering available at the time—were sw
iftly hired after graduation at a technology company, a soft-drink company, a staffing company, and the City of Tampa.

Saint Leo has also signed on to participate in a specialized program in Florida for veterans. The pilot program was created to train veterans for careers in cybersecurity by making selected online courses available to them. The student-veterans enrolled will eventually take certain industry certification tests and earn a certificate of completion.

To meet the growing instructional and advisory duties all these initiatives will create, Saint Leo has hired two faculty members for newly created positions this fall at University Campus, Dr. Mohammed noted, in addition to a faculty member hired to fill an open position. Two faculty members have been brought on in Virginia in recent years, as well. “This really demonstrates Saint Leo’s commitment to cybersecurity,” he said.

Further, Saint Leo has met head-on the particular challenges academic institutions face in preparing entrants for this fast-paced field, Dr. Krishnan commented. “There is a constant ‘arms race’ between cyber-criminals with their increasingly sophisticated methods of cyberattacks, and the efforts of cybersecurity professionals to mitigate and defend against these threats,” he said. “To be effective as a university, it is imperative for faculty teaching courses in cybersecurity to stay current with the latest trends and needs of the industry. Saint Leo faculty are committed to preparing sophisticated practitioners who are well-versed in the science of protecting vital computer networks and infrastructures from attack.”

When Dr. Maribeth Durst arrived at Saint Leo College in 1979 as a new assistant professor of sociology, she could have had no idea that her career path would evolve to include so many roles and duties in teaching, administration, and even the pursuit of another advanced degree. At the end of this academic term, Dr. Durst will retire after 36 years at Saint Leo, the final 10 serving as the vice president of Academic Affairs—in other words, Saint Leo’s steward of excellence in teaching and degree offerings.

Saint Leo was not Dr. Durst’s first teaching post—that was at Saint John’s University at its Staten Island, NY, campus in the late 1970s. But in academia and other sectors, opportunities to advance were scarce. Dr. Durst and her first husband came south when the Saint Leo sociology position opened, and he found a position in Tampa in his field. Dr. Durst began teaching the sociology courses in the catalog at the time. However, in what was to become a continuing theme, she saw a spot where she could make a contribution and developed the course “Women in America” as an option to the early 1980s curriculum.

In those days, women were not yet well represented in teaching or administration, and the concept of work-and-family balance had not emerged. But as a young working mother in rural St. Leo in the early 1980s, Dr. Durst found infant child care for her son, David, practically next door with the Sisters of Holy Name Monastery, the Benedictine nuns who have always been involved with Saint Leo.

Then a “real life-changing event” occurred in the spring of 1983, she recalled. A female student came to see her, at the suggestion of an administrator. The young woman was being battered by a boyfriend and she didn’t know how to get out of the situation. Dr. Durst had degrees in both sociology and anthropology (her doctorate), but not the specific skills to guide that student or others in such peril.

Her response was to take a course in social work, and she became hooked. Over three years, she earned the Master of Social Work degree. This helped inform her leadership and also qualified her to teach social work courses, along with anthropology and sociology.

She loved infusing community service requirements into her teaching and class requirements, as well. She remembers a young man who disliked the service requirement initially, but then grew to enjoy the time he spent helping coach students at the nearby Saint Anthony of Padua Interparochial School. Some of the young boys just wanted an older guy to talk to, he found. He so enjoyed it that he began explaining his community service to his mother during a long-distance phone call. At first, she didn’t understand. She feared his service was a judicial sentence and exclaimed: “What crime did you commit?” That anecdote is one of Dr. Durst’s favorite stories.

Dr. Durst also found it fulfilling to work in a college with Saint Leo’s generous spirit. “We accept any student who exhibits a chance to be academically successful. Even though we have high standards, we will give students a chance who haven’t necessarily been successful before.”

Her dedication to teaching was recognized twice with a campus award for Outstanding Faculty Member from the Student Government Association, first for 1987-1988, and again in 1996. By then, she had been promoted to a full professor of sociology and social work. During her career, she also took on a variety of administrative tasks on the academic side, as needs emerged.

Eventually, she began working for the university on years-long work related to the college’s accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools*. President Kirk assigned Dr. Durst the painstaking role in 1998, concurrent with her work as dean of the School of Education and Social Services (she had also held accrediting responsibilities at an earlier point, from 1988 to 1991). It was an arduous time as Saint Leo worked to reverse enrollment declines and prove itself. But Saint Leo did recover, did attract more students, and innovated with online learning. Saint Leo became a university in 1999, in recognition of the addition of master’s degrees in business and education.

In 2005, the vice president of Academic Affairs position became open, and at first Dr. Durst did not apply. However, she noticed that even the best of the applicants did not seem to take the institution or its potential seriously enough. In her mind, they regarded Saint Leo only as a “stepping stone to further their own careers.” She realized she was more invested in the university’s continued success, and therefore applied and earned the vice president’s job.

It has been a busy decade since, marked by more improvements. New faculty take part in an extensive mentoring process, for instance, to ensure they truly understand and support the student-centered, teaching orientation of the university. Undergraduates have an innovative liberal arts program that nurtures the development of critical thinking across multiple disciplines. A Master of Social Work degree program has been added, along with the Doctor of Business Administration. Something Dr. Durst didn’t foresee happening in her tenure—a second new academic building—is undergoing rapid construction, and it will be ready for Fall 2015.

Equally as important, Saint Leo is now recognized as a strong teaching-oriented institution, dedicated to the development of the whole individual, who may well have multiple careers over a lifetime. “Many American universities have lost their way,” Dr. Durst says. “They’re more interested in research than in teaching, and teaching is a by-product. Our responsibility is to teach our students to fulfill a productive role in society, and to give back to others.”

*Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Saint Leo University.