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Saint Leo alumnus, former board chair, and philanthropist Donald R. Tapia ’05 ’07 was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica in August after being confirmed by a Senate vote in July. 

As ambassador, he will represent the president in an official capacity and work on efforts to protect and promote national interests and maintain diplomacy.

“This is a remarkable opportunity that will have national and international impact,” said Saint Leo University President Jeffrey Senese. “I am incredibly excited for Don and the great work that he will do to serve our country in this position.”

Tapia was the chairman and CEO of Essco Group Management, which grew to become the largest Hispanic-owned business in Arizona. In 2010, he retired from the company to devote his time to philanthropy.

It was nearly 17 years ago that Tapia made the decision to pursue a college degree after being inspired by his grandchildren. In just 32 months, he completed his undergraduate degree in business administration from Saint Leo’s Center for Online Learning, while at the same time managing his multimillion dollar company in Chandler, AZ. 

Tapia was deeply impressed when he visited Saint Leo’s main campus for the first time in 2005 to attend his commencement ceremony, and his relationship with Saint Leo strengthened. He joined the board of trustees in 2006, and earned his Master of Business Administration degree from Saint Leo, also online, in 2007. In 2011, he was named chair of Saint Leo’s Board of Trustees.

His generous gift of $4 million to Saint Leo was announced in 2010 and is the largest donation in the university’s history to date. The gift supported the construction of what today is the Tapia College of Business building.

In 2014, the university awarded Tapia with the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, for his dedication to the university and for his great vision and sound advice.

Carla Willis 
In July, Saint Leo welcomed Carla Willis as interim vice president of University Advancement and Communications. She brings a wealth of experience and outside perspective to the university.Prior to Saint Leo, Willis was the vice chancellor of university advancement and executive officer of the foundation at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. There, she launched and led a comprehensive giving campaign that raised more than $7.4 million, exceeding the university’s goal. Willis has held several advancement leadership roles throughout her career, which include Kean University in Union, NJ; Ohio State University; Florida A&M University; University of Toledo (OH); and University of Michigan. Willis received her Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Toledo.


Matthew Mills
In June, Matthew Mills joined Saint Leo as vice president of WorldWide Enrollment Management. In his role, Mills is responsible for the oversight of new student enrollment for the university’s more than 30 education centers, online, and graduate programs. Mills comes to Saint Leo from South University (GA) where he successfully served as vice president of admissions for 11 campuses for more than a decade. He also was able to support the effective launch of eight new campus locations. Prior to South University, Mills served in admissions leadership positions at MedVance Institute of Fort Lauderdale (FL) and Career Education Corporation (IL). Mills received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from East Carolina University.

Saint Leo’s Florida locations came together for the first time to celebrate commencement on April 27 during two ceremonies at the Florida State Fairgrounds. The university hosted nine commencement ceremonies beginning with the Key West Education Center’s on April 19. Additional ceremonies were held in Virginia, Texas, California, and South Carolina, and in Atlanta and Savannah, GA.  

The university welcomes all of our new members of the alumni association!

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This commencement was a special one for three sisters. Brianna Murphy (center) graduated at the morning Florida ceremony, joining her sisters and fellow alumna Kaitlin Murphy ’17 (left) and Courtney Murphy ’13.

Learn about Dr. Jeffrey Senese in 15 questions.

Saint Leo University President Jeffrey Senese is a visionary higher education leader who brings a wealth of experience and unique perspective to the university, having held leadership positions at several universities across the United States. 

In his first year at Saint Leo, President Senese rallied the university community to support a bold, three-year strategic plan that will strengthen the foundation of our 130-year-old institution. His vision for the university’s future is focused on offering strong academic programs that lead to jobs with high market demand, strengthening the student experience, and growing Saint Leo’s footprint across the nation.

He is a dynamic leader with an incredible passion for learning. Get to know the president of your alma mater by reading his responses to these 15 questions.


Describe yourself in three words.
“Determined, optimistic, and sociable.”

What was your first job?
“A dishwasher.”

Can you play any musical instruments?
“I played the trumpet and the baritone horn back in the day.”

What is your favorite thing about Florida?
“I love the people with all their quirks, as well as the weather.”

Do you have pets? 
“Yes. A yellow Lab named Enzo, and a French bulldog named Norman.”

What is your favorite book?
“The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.”

What is your favorite food?
“Steak.”

What is your favorite Bible verse?
“Jeremiah 29:11:  For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Where is the most interesting place you have ever been?
“Iceland.”

Describe your perfect Saturday.
“Reading . . . a nice long run . . . and then maybe a bit more reading.”

Name two people who inspire you.
“My father and faculty who taught me.”

What is something you want to learn more about?
“I am reading several books about the future. I would like to know more.”

What piece of advice do you give your children?
“Read. Do the job right the first time no matter how difficult. Be nice.”

How do you want to be remembered?
“I want to be remembered as a servant leader who did all he could to ensure the success of Saint Leo University every single hour of every day.”

What excites you the most about Saint Leo University?
“Our wonderful faculty and staff and our amazing potential for the future.”

As part of the activities to celebrate the inauguration of the university’s 10th president, Saint Leo University officially kicked off a new tradition in giving with a gala that raised more than $550,000 for student scholarships.

The event brought together business and community leaders, past and present Saint Leo board members, faculty, staff, and students at The Orlo Club in the historic Spafford House in Tampa, FL. Saint Leo has never held a philanthropic gala of this scale in its history.

During the gala, President Jeffrey Senese and wife, Alicia, surprised all attendees when they announced that they decided to create an endowed scholarship at the university by making a personal gift of $350,000. President Senese and Mrs. Senese’s gift is unprecedented at Saint Leo. No other president in the university’s history has made a gift of this size.

After achieving great success, the scholarship gala will be established as an annual fundraising event, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue the university’s mission and educate students for years to come.

View the inauguration ceremony video and photos at saintleo.edu/inauguration and look to the spring issue  of Spirit magazine for complete coverage on the inauguration.

Please take a moment to remember these alumni who have passed.

Joseph F. Fleckenstein ’41
December 14, 2017 

Henry “Hank” Schulte ’43
January 29, 2019

Louis “Lou” Flynt ’49
February 5, 2019

William “Bill” Maus ’49
July 8, 2019 

Albert G. Wendel ’57
October 27, 2017

Ming Tang ’60
October 28, 2018 

Thomas P. Henneberry ’68
April 16, 2018

Timothy J. Briarton ’69
June 10, 2017

Dennis A. Duffy ’69
May 26, 2019

Paul “Larry” Lumpee ’69
April 5, 2018

Daniel F. Padulo ’70
March 8, 2019

Gene M. Rossi ’70
September 26, 2017

Konstantine “Gus” Goanos ’78
September 27, 2018

Margaret E. (Dix) Kelly ’78
January 26, 2019

Salvatore P. Porto ’78
May 25, 2018

Charles “Chuck” Human ’79
January 14, 2019

Ruth M. Skeel ’79
March 4, 2018

Mark Vinson ’79
April 24, 2018

Erich W. Wachsmuth ’79
July 30, 2017

Joseph E. Andrade ’81
December 31, 2018

Joe B. Carter ’81
May 1, 2017

Charles “Charlie” James ’81
September 2, 2018

Joseph J. Pajuf ’81
August 9, 2018 

Elton E. Rogers ’81
December 21, 2018

Connie L. Curry ’83
January 1, 2017

Randy D. Bocook ’84
January 20, 2019

Clayton R. Ives ’84
July 4, 2017

Charles W. Hinkle ’85
March 7, 2019

Samuel R. Mabry ’85
August 29, 2017

Peter F. McCosker ’85
March 11, 2018 

Carlos E. Cross ’87
November 28, 2018 

Pattie A. McKinnon ’87
January 31, 2018

David R. Grimes ’88
April 16, 2019

Stephen E. Havasy ’89
December 24, 2018

Bonnie J. Tunheim ’90
July 7, 2018 

John L. Cavanagh ’91
May 2, 2017

Ryan K. Cox ’91
May 31, 2019 

Judith A. Seel ’95
March 21, 2017 

Thomas G. Atwell ’96
October 2, 2018 

Sue R. Watson ’97
December 25, 2018 

Kim F. Corlew ’99
November 30, 2018 

Carla (Pearson) Abrams ’00
January 20, 2019

Phillip A. Thompson ’01, ’06 
August 30, 2019

Robert Calandra ’04
April 13, 2018

Matthew B. Teasdale ’04
November 11, 2018

Mary Gayle ’05
May 31, 2019

William Lindley ’07
January 15, 2019\

Avon C. Edwards ’13
June 27, 2018

Sister Winfrida Shirima ’13
April 22, 2019

Wallace J. Tamplin ’15
April 4, 2019

Lisa Pardus ’17
February 18, 2019

Dennis K. Henry
Saint Leo College 
professor of theatre
July 19, 2019

Established in 2016, the Roaring Onward recognition program celebrates outstanding alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years. Selection is based on professional success, contribution to their communities, and living the university’s core values. Recipients possess the qualities that embody the spirit of Saint Leo and a commitment to further strengthen the alumni community. They are Lions who are truly making a difference!

Frank Carillo ’11 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and is a mental health case manager in the Richmond, VA area. He works with intellectually and physically disabled adults, as well as at-risk youth, and is working toward his doctorate at Walden University. Carillo’s fondest memories of Saint Leo include two of his professors, Drs. Stephen Ellsworth and Toni Bailey. He encourages current students to stay in touch with their professors after graduation and says that being a successful student is not a matter of what you learn, but how you use your God-given abilities.

Caleb Fuddy ’13 earned his bachelor’s degree in sport business and is employed by Crawford Healthcare, in Tampa, FL. After graduation, Fuddy worked in the operations department for the Boston Red Sox. When the team won the World Series last year, Fuddy was fortunate to receive a World Series ring. He credits Saint Leo for the opportunities he has received. While a student, he built strong relationships in classes and through athletics that he continues to maintain.

Jocelyn Morales ’16 graduated from Saint Leo with a Master of Business Administration degree and is a senior analyst in the securities processing department at the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation. In addition, Morales is a board member of the Refugee and Migrant Women’s Group, which provides resources and life skills to refugees. She is proud to have received her MBA from Saint Leo because it has helped provide growth and development educationally, professionally, and personally.

Joshua Paul ’09 earned his master’s degree in sport business and is working toward his doctorate in business administration through Saint Leo. He is a pharmaceutical underwriter with Cigna and received the Cigna Champion Award for consistently going above and beyond. He is a member of the East Brainerd Youth Athletic Association in Tennessee, where he also coaches baseball. Paul is proud to be a member of the original cohort for Saint Leo’s doctoral degree in business administration and continues to strive for balance in life experiences and academic achievements. 

In December, President Jeffrey Senese represented the university at the Gold Shield Foundation’s annual meeting and announced that Saint Leo University will offer a full scholarship to one student per year through its work. The Gold Shield Foundation provides financial assistance and helps ensure a college education or vocational training for the spouse and dependent children of Florida law enforcement officers and firefighters of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Polk, and Marion counties killed in the line of duty.

Throughout the fall and winter, Saint Leo faculty members shared their knowledge and insights with a variety of media outlets and audiences—from newspapers and television stations to group talks. Here are a few highlights of appearances and media reporting featuring our faculty.

In September, faculty member Dr. Tammy Zacchilli was quoted extensively in three articles on the digital feature news site FamilyMinded.com. As an associate professor of psychology, Zacchilli shared advice for parents on the art of disciplining children, typical fears of toddlers, and what to consider before expanding a family.

In November, faculty member Dr. Gianna Russo appeared on WEDU’s That’s All I’m Saying with Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper. Russo talked about nurturing Tampa area authors during the 30-minute program on regional public television. The assistant professor of English and creative writing also will soon release her new book, One House Down, a collection of poems published by Madville Publishing.

Dr. Keith Jones, associate professor of marketing, shared insights on a Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey regarding holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day and whether stores benefitted from being open (or closed) on the holiday. His commentary appeared in American City Business Journals’ publications across the nation. He also participated in a Facebook live interview for Saint Leo alumni on the same topic.

Dr. Jenenne Valentino-Bottaro, an adjunct faculty member at the Ocala Education Center, participated in a November television interview with WCJB-TV, ABC 20, in Ocala about animal-assisted therapy. Valentine-Bottaro teaches human services courses in the College of Education & Social Services and is the co-founder of the Human-Animal Interconnectedness Institute.

In January, social work faculty member Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall was interviewed by Tampa Bay area television stations WTVT-TV, FOX 13, and WFLA-TV, NBC News Channel 8, about research conducted by the Saint Leo Polling Institute on human trafficking. That same month, Rapp-McCall and colleague Dr. Robert Lucio presented the polling institute’s survey data on human trafficking during a panel discussion hosted by the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Atlanta Education Center

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A new education center opens in Atlanta

Saint Leo University opened a new education center on January 2, in Atlanta at 2450 Piedmont Road N.E., in the heart of Buckhead at Lindbergh City Center. Saint Leo occupies the entire second floor with more than 23,000 square feet. The initial plan is to develop eight classrooms with the potential of developing six more. The new center features a Learning Resource Center, cybersecurity lab, and student lounge. It also offers unlimited Wi-Fi.

Please take a moment to remember these alumni who have passed.

William R. Diez ’50
August 27, 2018

Augustine “Gus” Bombard ’52
March 17, 2018

Jeb J. Rosebrook ’53
August 31, 2018

Kimbrough W. O’Haver ’56
July 29, 2018

Cateta “Cathy” Porras ’56
October 5, 2018

William “Rocky” Branigan ’61
March 28, 2018

Thomas A. Guertin ’61
July 12, 2018

Sutton “Sonny” Hilyard ’61
September 29, 2018

Frank M. Toomey ’68
April 22, 2018;

Donald E. Baier ’71
September 27, 2018

Pamela (Catri) McQueeney ’73
October 6, 2018

Bobby R. Smith ’76
June 25, 2018

Albert C. Foster ’80
June 2, 2018

Hector M. Miranda ’82
April 3, 2018

Ronald J. Sybers ’82
November 17, 2018 

Mary A. Niles ’83
March 6, 2018

Leona J. Trojan ’83
June 9, 2018

Elizabeth S. Bishop ’84
September 24, 2018

Robert P. Desbiens ’84
December 3, 2017

Douglas D. Clark ’86
October 4, 2018

Mary-Ann Buzzetti ’87
September 28, 2017

Richard A. Clem ’87
June 29, 2018

Shirley J. Conaway ’87
June 16, 2017

Kathryn S. Evenson ’89
August 11, 2018

John D. Fluck ’89
February 13, 2017

Walter M. Lisicki ’90
November 25, 2018

Linda “Sue” Faucett ’90
November 5, 2018

Joseph F. Nelson ’91
October 18, 2018

Mary Hensley ’92
October 4, 2017

Wilda J. Farrar ’94
March 6, 2018

Thomas S. Manduca ’97
June 8, 2018

Tina (Barrios) Meeks ’99
August 17, 2018

Jerry C. Reynolds ’00
October 29, 2018

Cynthia E. Massey ’03
December 22, 2018

Kathy Semar ’08
August 7, 2018

Anthony Guzzardo ’13
July 26, 2018

Katlan M. Sterling ’14
October 7, 2018

Dr. Mary Spoto
After serving as acting vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for some time, Dr. Mary Spoto was named the university’s vice president for Academic Affairs by President Jeffrey Senese in November. Spoto has served in several roles during her 25-year history with Saint Leo. Before serving as dean, she was the chair of the Department of English, Fine Arts, and Humanities, now referred to as the Department of Language Studies and the Arts. She also is a professor of English. She earned her Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and doctoral degree in English from the University of South Florida.

 

Dr. Jen Shaw
In January, Saint Leo welcomed Dr. Jen Shaw as the new vice president of Student Affairs. Shaw oversees all student affairs departments, which include Dining Services, Student Activities, Counseling Services, Health and Wellness, Campus Life, Career Services, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Accessibility Services. She brings 25 years of experience in higher education to the position, serving in a variety of student affairs leadership positions. She most recently served as associate vice president and dean of students at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Shaw earned a doctorate in higher education from Florida State University; a master’s degree in college student personnel services from Miami University in Oxford, OH; and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. 

 

Dr. Robyn Parker
In February, Dr. Robyn Parker joined Saint Leo as dean of the Tapia College of Business. She has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, serving in both public and private institutions. Parker most recently served as dean of the College of Business Administration at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, an institution she joined as a faculty member in 2010 to teach management courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Parker earned her doctorate in organizational communication from Wayne State University in Detroit, and a master’s in human resource development from Boston University. For her undergraduate degree, Parker earned a bachelor’s in communication studies from the State University of New York College at Oswego.

Note from the Alumni Association President
With my term ending in a few months, I find myself reflecting upon all that our alumni association board of directors has accomplished this year, and the good work that still needs to continue.

As your board, our mission of fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between Saint Leo University and alumni is at the forefront of all we do. I’m pleased to share with you a few highlights of how we “defined success” this past year.

I hope our board’s leadership efforts inspire you to stay connected and engage with one another, to give back to our alma mater in meaningful ways, and to share your Saint Leo spirit by volunteering in the communities where you live and work.

Ann Marie Lombardi, Class of ’77
President, Saint Leo Alumni Association


Alumni Association Updates

Living Globally, Giving Locally
The Benedictine spirit of community continues to guide the work of Saint Leo alumni across the world. Many are supporting their local communities through philanthropic efforts. Here are some highlights of recent efforts:

  • The alumni board recently made a financial contribution to Make a Difference Inc., an organization that provides necessities for people in need throughout Pasco County. Made on behalf of all alumni, this gift will help support the local community surrounding University Campus.
  • During homecoming, Greek Life members—past and present—came together and assembled 20,000 meals for Feeding Children Everywhere. This organization provides healthy meals to children in need around the world.
  • The Tampa Alumni Chapter collected new toys at its annual Christmas party to donate to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
  • The Virginia Southside Alumni Chapter collaborated with the Chesapeake Education Center for a day of service at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

Saint Leo WorldWide Alumni Outreach
The board of directors recognizes that alumni who have graduated from Saint Leo’s online program or an education center may not have as many opportunities as University Campus graduates to connect with fellow alumni. That is why we will soon launch a program specifically designed to help WorldWide alumni connect, including a virtual alumni chapter for professional networking, mentoring, and socializing.

Celebrating the Class of 2019

As you read this, the Class of 2019 is preparing to experience a major milestone by graduating from Saint Leo University. The board of directors will be with them to welcome them to our alumni association. We plan to share special communications about the importance of staying connected and being an active alumnus, engage in celebrations along with them, and be there to greet them and their families during commencement ceremonies.


Recognizing Alumni Achievements

During homecoming 2018, several alumni were honored for exemplifying the university’s core values and demonstrating a commitment to strengthen their alumni community. The weekend began with the 2018 Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, followed by the presentation of the Distinguished Alumni and Benedictine Spirit awards at the Brunch with the President. The 2018 Roaring Onward Alumni were honored at the brunch.

Nominations for 2019 are now being accepted. To learn more about these programs or to nominate deserving alumni you know, please visit your.saintleo.edu/alumniawards.

2018 Benedictine Spirit Award
Valerie Crane ’62 graduated from Holy Name Academy and then attended Loyola University School of Dentistry, in New Orleans, for dental hygiene. After 25 years as a dental hygienist, she is now retired and lives in Alabama with her husband, John. Crane received a scholarship to Holy Name Academy as an incoming high school sophomore. She says the Benedictine Sisters encouraged her to take leadership roles that she would have never attempted at a large high school. She felt fortunate “to have had a nurturing environment and excellent education.” Crane enjoys lake living and spending time with John, their four children, and nine grandchildren.

2018 Distinguished Alumni Award
Dr. Brandon M. Brooks ’11 graduated with a biology degree and is a third-year podiatry resident at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta, GA. To date, he has completed more than 1,000 foot and ankle surgeries during his residency and was appointed chief resident for the 2018-2019 residency year. As a doctor in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Brooks is proud to wear a Saint Leo lanyard around the clinic and operating room. He says he feels “blessed to be a Saint Leo alumnus,” citing that everything he learned set the foundation for his entire career. Brooks and his wife Amanda are proud parents to Levi and are expecting their second child in April 2019.

It’s Better Inside the Pride

Hundreds of Saint Leo University alumni and their families gathered on University Campus for the 2018 homecoming weekend, November 1 – 4. Alumni came from more than 20 states, Canada, and even as far as Nigeria. They represented nearly 50 different graduating classes, dating as far back as 1947.

The three-day weekend was packed full of a variety of activities—from Brunch with the President to the Lions Tailgate. The Class of 1968 celebrated its 50th reunion with a dinner on Friday night, and Greek Life members participated in a service project with Feeding Children Everywhere, an organization that provides healthy meals to children in need.

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Exciting things are happening at Saint Leo University. Here’s a top-five list of why it’s better inside the pride:


Saint Leo was named as one of the best regional universities and best values in higher education in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges, which takes into account both academic quality and cost. The university was No. 14 among Best Value Schools in the South and 47th among Southern universities in the top 50 “Best Regional Universities.” Additionally, Saint Leo was named one of the Best Colleges for Veterans among regional universities in the South, ranking 31st. 


Once again, Saint Leo ranked among the top 100 degree-granting institutions for minority students. The university ranks 25th among the top 100-degree granting institutions for African-Americans earning bachelor’s degrees in all disciplines, 19th for master’s degrees in all disciplines, and 75th for associate degrees in all disciplines. This is according to a 2018 listing by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine. Additionally, the magazine ranked Saint Leo 21st among top producers of Hispanic graduates earning master’s degrees in business administration, management, and operations.


In January, Saint Leo was named as a Top 10 Gold-level Military Friendly® School Award recipient for 2019-2020 in the category of private institutions offering doctoral degrees by VIQTORY. Additionally, the university was selected as one of Military Times Best for Vets: Colleges 2019, ranking fourth in the country in the Online & Nontraditional Schools category.


Saint Leo University has become one of approximately 100 colleges across the country to offer two semesters of coursework in the biology major that puts students to work almost immediately in collecting viruses for a growing research database. The development is yielding multiple benefits. Students value having the chance as freshmen or sophomores to experience scientific discovery through a hands-on project, and they are making contributions to a huge repository of information that is valuable to other scientists near and far.


On December 5, Saint Leo celebrated its 20th anniversary of offering online education.Saint Leo was one of the first institutions to embrace online education through the creation and launch of the Center for Online Learning in December 1998. The university also was recently ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s list of 2019 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans.