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As our world changes, so do the needs of the workforce. During the next 10 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that we will see heightened demand for skilled professionals in health care, technology, and data science, among other sectors.

To help support the workforce of the future, Saint Leo University has invested in four new degree programs that will support future workforce needs and lead to high job placements for students. “Curriculum really doesn’t stand still; it can’t,” explained Dr. Mary Spoto, vice president of Academic Affairs. “We are constantly finding ways to create new programs and to strengthen existing programs to provide the best educational experience for the future for our students.”

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

College: The College of Health Professions
Where: University Campus
When: Fall 2021 (must be accepted as pre-nursing student for two introductory years)

What Students Will Learn: Students will receive the best in classroom education and clinical experience, preparing them to take the national licensing exam for registered nurses. Graduates will be prepared to move straight into nursing positions at hospitals, clinics, community organizations, long-term care facilities, businesses, and other settings.

Why It Matters: Population trends and stressors, including the coronavirus pandemic, have created an ongoing, critical need for additional nurses, especially in the Southeast and Florida. Saint Leo-prepared nurses will not only help fill the labor demand, they will bring to the field an orientation toward treating the whole patient, advancing the well-being of the patient’s community, and working collaboratively with clinical colleagues. This philosophy is known as the Culture of Health framework and is embedded in all health professions programs.

Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT)

College: The College of Health Professions
Where: Online
When: Spring Semester 2022

What Students Will Learn: Students who enroll will be professionals who already have an associate degree and are employed as respiratory therapists who assist patients whose ability to breathe is compromised. These professionals already know how to attend to patients’ breathing needs, operate the requisite medical equipment, and function as part of a health care team. The online, upper-level coursework will provide additional specialized knowledge and prepare students to become team leaders or managers in the field.

Why It Matters: The role of respiratory therapists became more visible during the first wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations, but other conditions prevalent among middle-aged and older patients also require respiratory therapy care. Consequently, demand in the field is increasing, including demand for respiratory therapists with bachelor’s degrees. This program is online so that these professionals can continue working while earning their bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor of Science in Robotics & Artificial Intelligence (BS)

School: The School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science
Where: University Campus
When: Fall 2022

What Students Will Learn: Robotics is an interdisciplinary field that combines computer science, computer hardware, mathematics, electrical engineering, software engineering, and mechanical engineering. Students earning this degree will gain firm, theoretical knowledge of the essentials of computer science, robotics, and artificial intelligence, plus the skills required to design, implement, and evaluate robotics technology and systems that will solve real-
life problems.

Why This Matters: Robotics is a fast-growing field with applications in space exploration, health care, automation, manufacturing, security, and other scientific and business fields. The worldwide market for robotics and the related need for skilled robotics engineers and designers will continue growing. Because of projected job growth in Florida and neighboring states, the Florida State Legislature granted Saint Leo $1 million in 2021 to launch this program.

Bachelor of Arts in Veteran Studies (BA)

College: The College of Arts and Sciences
Where: University Campus, Online Coming Soon
When: Fall 2021 Semester

What Students Will Learn: Students, who are veterans and non-veterans, will be immersed into courses in history, art, policy, psychology, ethics, and other fields to learn how people from various generations, ethnicities, genders, and nations have been influenced by their service in the military and the transition back to civilian life. Students will be able to pair this with other majors or minors if they choose and then move into careers in business, government administration, policy, teaching, or other areas where their understanding is vital. A minor is also an option.

Why This Matters: This is a new field in which other colleges or universities offer only a certificate or minor. Saint Leo is the first in the country to offer a bachelor’s degree in the field, which demonstrates both the faculty’s vision in seeing how our society will be improved by the contributions of veteran studies graduates and the overall commitment of the university to the military and military-connected population.

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.

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.