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Alumna creates coloring books celebrating everyone’s abilities, contributions.

Cynthia Cordero ’16 lives without limits. When a sudden medical issue—similar to a stroke—affected her cognitive function, speech, and ability to write, Cordero thought she would never draw again. Instead, the U.S. Navy officer found that her lifelong passion of drawing became therapy for her and others.

Cynthia coloring with a disabled child

“Disability limits you from being able to do one thing, but it doesn’t limit you from everything,” Cordero said. Inspired, she began creating coloring books to share with children who have disabilities.  

For more than two years, Cordero has volunteered at children’s hospitals. She always takes paper with her on visits, and she uses drawing and coloring to connect with the young patients, who have disabilities and/or may be terminally ill. Drawing allows them to dream about what they can do despite their disability. “As a kid you can dream up anything that you want, and creativity allows kids to bring those dreams to life,” Cordero said.

In turn, the children inspired Cordero to create a series of coloring books. The featured characters are based on children and people she meets. The message of the Don’t Let a Disability Disable You coloring book series is that a disability may limit a person, but it can’t stop them from contributing to their community and world.

Children holding up Cynthia's coloring books

“I’m hoping that through seeing themselves in a creative way, it can inspire them to know they can do anything,” Cordero said.

The series follows the children as they grow. The first coloring book, created for 2- to 8-year-olds, depicts children with disabilities dreaming about themselves as adults in various careers. The characters include a teacher with autism, a motivational speaker who is an amputee, and a doctor who must use an oxygen tank.

Volume 2 of Cynthia's "Don't Let a Disability Disable You" coloring bookThe characters are depicted with Cordero’s positive and playful style: diverse children in fun, colorful outfits with large, emotion-filled eyes. Book two, for children ages 8 to 11, features the characters as superheroes who use their disability to cure and help others.

Cordero, 33, is working on a third book, which is aimed at teens. The characters, also now teens, will be volunteers, who give back to their community.

Growing up in Long Island, NY, and Puerto Rico, Cordero dreamed of seeing the world. She joined the Navy in 2005 in order to travel and was deployed to Bahrain, Portugal, Italy, Michigan, and Florida. Now, she is based in Virginia Beach, VA, where she serves as a personnel specialist. She lives with her wife, Lauren McNulty, a mental health rehabilitation therapist.

Cynthia Cordero in uniform

Her love of children drew her to pursuing a degree in criminal justice. “It is a field that allows us as professionals to help those in need,” Cordero said. An internship in juvenile detention made her realize she wanted to assist children.

A friend recommended she enroll in Saint Leo University’s Center for Online Learning because of the program’s flexibility. Online education worked for her schedule and for her frequent deployments. The university’s core values also attracted her to Saint Leo. “You don’t find a lot of schools that take pride in and emphasize their values,” she said.

Cordero recommends Saint Leo’s online program to her fellow sailors because it offers individual attention and flexibility. Saint Leo “opened doors for me,” she said, both in the Navy and in her work with children. “This school is a great part of my story.”

Her service to the Navy and to children was recognized by her peers and community, and she was named the 2019 Samuel T. Northern Military Citizen of the Year by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. For Cordero, the honor meant her work is recognized and valued, and the recognition will bring more awareness about empowering those with disabilities and will allow her to help more people.

Cordero also wants adults to hear her message and to recognize their own superpowers, much like the characters in her second coloring book. The fourth offering in the Don’t Let Disability Disable You series will feature adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues. When her own medical issue occurred more than two years ago, she knew that a disability would not “stop me from wanting to serve my country anymore.” Cordero wants her fellow sailors with disabilities to recognize that, “everyone has something to contribute to the team.”

Child coloring a coloring bookThe coloring books are self-produced at this time, and Cordero founded a nonprofit organization, Cyn’s Vision, to help with production and other efforts. Money raised from purchases go back to the project so that the books may be donated to children’s hospitals and individuals, she said.

Cordero continues to dream. She plans on retiring from the Navy in five years and building Cyn’s Vision. She envisions creating an art therapy center to expand her outreach.

Her advice: “Take time to do what you have to do to achieve the goal. You may have to find variations from the normal ways, but don’t let a disability disable you.”


For More Information

Follow Cyn’s Vision at Cyn’s Vision Art on Facebook and Instagram @cynsvision. To request a coloring book, email cynthiacv30@yahoo.com or call (616) 773-9596.

 

Photos provided by Cynthia Cordero

 

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients in my coaching practice is that they just don’t make the kind of progress they’d like when trying to turn their ideas into reality. I have found that these aggravating hurdles crop up when we are not yet clear enough with ourselves about why we are pursuing an idea and the way we are approaching it.

What’s your why?

It is easy for us to be attracted by ideas, dreams, or fantasies about what our future might look like, but all too often, we settle on a surface-level understanding of why we want to do something. For example, a common response I hear to the “why” question is, “to make more money.” That’s a perfectly reasonable response.

However, research has shown that after we have enough money to become comfortable, money begins to lose its luster as a motivational force. That’s when we need to dig a bit deeper and connect the goal to something that aligns with our values, allows us to tap into our strengths, or permits us to live a life we find fulfilling.

We need to go into “toddler mode” and keep asking, “why is that important?” What is it about money that makes us want more of it? How would we use the money? Having a solid “why” can reinforce each step of our progress and can help us sustain our efforts, which is crucial when life gets busy and things get in the way.

How to make progress on ideas

A commonly used technique for making progress on ideas is to have SMART goals. These are goals that are specific in nature and could be easily explained to someone else. They also are measurable, so you will know precisely when the goal has been met. While the goals may be challenging, they must be achievable in the sense that they are realistic and possible. Relevant goals relate to one’s values and to the “why” discussed above. Finally, the goals should be time-limited. They must have a specific time frame that is reasonable and that fits into one’s bigger-picture objectives.

Consider making someone else aware of the goal and the deadline you’ve set for achieving it. This goal confidante is known as an accountability partner. Having someone on your side who is expecting news about your progress can have a powerful impact.

For big, long-term goals, it can be particularly helpful to engage in backward planning. This process involves setting a reasonable time frame for achieving a major goal, such as leaving a current job and making a living by owning a business in five years. What kind of income does this business need to have in five years? Set a number and make that the goal. Working backward, what kind of target income would you set for three years from now to be on track? In one year? Six months? Then think about the steps that need to happen to reach each target and break them into SMART goals that you can track.

The next time you find yourself stuck or frustrated with a lack of progress on your goals, remember to closely examine why you’re doing what you’re doing and look carefully at how you’re going about it. Odds are that once you’ve done so, you will find your ideas will start to become real!

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.

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.


In 2008, at age 23, LaVita Rodriguez ’15, ’17 was paralyzed in a car accident. That transformative moment led her to change her outlook on life.

Today, Saint Leo University’s core values are an integral part of her. “I am a true believer,” she said of the core values such as community and responsible stewardship. “We studied that constantly. The core values guide me in life: I use them to stay on the right path and help others as a part of fulfilling both my personal and professional goals.”

LaVita in cap and gownAfter she graduated from high school, she worked for a law firm. “Something in me told me to go back to school,” she said. “That led to Saint Leo; you just get so much out of higher education because it provides you with the ability to make positive changes in the world around you.”

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in business with a concentration in management in 2015 through the Center for Online Learning. She completed her MBA in December 2016 and officially will receive her degree on April 29.

The accident and her experience at Saint Leo fostered a desire to give back to her community. Rodriguez now volunteers at Tampa General Hospital (TGH) in pediatrics. It is the hospital where she was treated following her life-changing accident. “I want to give back to the hospital that saved my life that night in March [2008],” she said.

“Volunteering is my way of showing appreciation and gratitude for life and the doctors and nurses who continue to keep me healthy so that I may continue to pursue my dreams and spend time with my supportive family and close friends.”

Rodriguez is at TGH with the pediatric patients weekly. “I’m there to alleviate stress and loneliness that have the potential to generate anxiety and depression,” she said. “When the kids are there by themselves, giving them positive stimulation helps them cope with the unfortunate situation they are experiencing.”

She also takes care of the physicians and nursing staff who took care of her. “I bring them cake pops as a small gesture of my unending gratitude,” she said, laughing. “And who doesn’t love cake?”

Her love of children extends beyond the hospital setting. She has several nieces and nephews who want her undivided attention when she is not volunteering or studying. She is prepping for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and plans to attend law school so that she may “give children a voice” as a human rights, family, and health care attorney. “I believe it will be incredibly gratifying to help our future generations live a happier and healthier life by bridging gaps that have the potential to deteriorate one’s quality of life,” she said.

Rodriguez hopes to take her quest for children’s rights to Washington, DC.

The desire to help children and trips to India resulted in a visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Orphanage. “I love India,” she said. ”It makes me more appreciative for ancient wisdom that deepened my spiritual views. I also like to give back wherever I go. It shows humility and develops unity in diversity that fosters an abundance of love, happiness, compassion, and peace.”

LaVita (1)In the United States, “We are blessed,” Rodriguez said. “You can drive around and not see kids on the streets. [In India], you see kids begging. But many still are smiling ear to ear. Why? Because it is not a materialistic culture, but a spiritual one that focuses on values. This is not only inspiring, but also truly beautiful.”

Wherever her travels take her, Rodriguez always stops by a cathedral to pray. And she tries to do some volunteering while vacationing.

“You leave a little piece of you there whenever you do something like that,” she said. “You are supposed to help others. I will never forget these experiences.”

Almost losing her life had a tremendous impact. “It pushed me. I just have a different view of life,” she said. “[My] having a lower-level spinal cord injury is minor. I could have died. I feel like I got a second chance, and I need to use it. To waste it would be such a mistake. God has placed these dreams in my heart and is clearing my path to fulfill them while driving me to act in a way that serves others.” •

A Message to the World
“If you had one story to share with the world, what would you say?” That is the premise behind the powerful Dear World interactive portrait project that came to Saint Leo University for two days in September. Faculty and staff were invited to join students in the photography project “that unites people through pictures in their distinct message-on-skin style.”

Participants wrote messages in black marker on their arms, hands, faces, or other body parts to tell their individual stories. “The words you wrote on your skin are a window into your story,” Katie Greenman, storyteller, photographer, and facilitator for the project, told the participants.

A Message to the World  A Message to the World (2)  A Message to the World (3)

The goal for the project was to find understanding and common ground among the Saint Leo community members. The event was sponsored by the Student Government Union; Campus Activities Board; Student Activities; Multicultural and International Services Office; Residence Life; and Counseling Services.

See more photos at spirit.saintleo.edu/dearworld.


Feeding Those in Need
Last fall, staff members in the Center for Online Learning Student Support Center collected four barrels of food for Metropolitan Ministries, based in Tampa, FL. That was nearly 600 pounds of food!


Lending a Faithful Hand
Lending a Faithful Hand“Little things can make a big difference to people.” That is an observation from Barry Doupnik, a sociology major at University Campus, who offers his time to Faith Tampa Bay.

Volunteering with this nonprofit organization founded in Tampa, FL, in 2007, Doupnik works with schools, churches, and other organizations to promote positive change. He and fellow volunteers organize teacher breakfasts, provide home rehab services, do yardwork for those in need, and even serve as a table host for annual celebrations. “We have no agenda,” he said. “We just do what we can to help.”

A Tampa native, Doupnik first got involved with Faith Tampa Bay as a Wharton High School student. He was also active in Young Life, helping adolescents learn about Christianity. In addition, he has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, Metropolitan Ministries, and other worthy causes.

Doupnik recognizes that many people want to lend a hand to those in
need but cannot afford to give financially. “There are other ways to give,” he explains. “I always love seeing a completed project. I step back and say, ‘We accomplished this. We did this to help someone.’ It’s a great feeling.”

Learn more at www.faithtampabay.com.


Offering Inspiration
Lending a Faithful Hand (2)
Lions Serve is exactly what it sounds like. It is a group of Saint Leo Adult Education Center students who study at the Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) locations—primarily at the Spring Hill, FL campus—and who are called to help others.

“We hope to inspire and help the community as a whole, said Sativa Fisher, president of Lions Serve.

Most of the members are pursuing degrees in social work, like Fisher, who is a senior and will graduate April 28. And a few members are majoring in psychology. “We all want to give back,” Fisher said. “We have a mind-set to help.”

Lions Serve is open to all students enrolled at Saint Leo through the Adult Education Center. Members meet to discuss ways they can help the community. Last year, they participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life at Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville, FL, and will do so again this year.

The students recently embraced the hot trend of painting rocks with messages of hope and encouragement and leaving them for others to enjoy. Before final exams for Fall 2 Semester, the Lions Serve members gathered to paint rocks with inspirational messages to help students make it through their tests and papers. “We wanted to boost morale because exams can be so stressful,” Fisher said.

One of the members saw a post on Facebook along with a photograph of one of the rocks. Whoever found the rock said, “At the most random time, you find inspiration.”

“It warms my heart that we made an impact,” Fisher said.



Helping Pasco County Veterans
Helping Pasco County VeteransSaint Leo University was one of the sponsors of One Community Now Stand Down for Pasco County (FL) veterans, which took place from September 29 to October 1 at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson, FL.

University President William J. Lennox Jr., his wife, Anne, and Pamela Martis, director of Military Affairs and Services, joined other volunteers in filling plates and serving steak dinners to the veterans in attendance on Friday evening. The Military Resource Center also collected new socks for the veterans.

Saint Leo social work students and faculty provided a “coffeehouse” atmosphere in a tent at the Stand Down so veterans in transition could relax and talk.

Veterans who attended the One Community Now Stand Down were able to take showers, get haircuts, receive clothing, share meals, obtain career counseling and medical care, and receive referrals for housing and mental health counseling.

Helping Pasco County Veterans (2)   


Shoes for Shelter and SustenanceShoes for Shelter and Sustenance
In December 2016, Frances Volking, senior academic advisor at the Fort Eustis (VA) Education Office, led students and staff in hosting a shoe drive that collected 71 pairs for THRIVE Peninsula’s Walk a Mile in Their Shoes Mission. This effort assisted in raising funds to help feed, shelter, educate, and encourage families in crisis in the local community. The footwear contributions also supported a vital cause by helping create and/or sustain micro-business opportunities for low-income families in developing nations, where 1.3 billion people—400 million of them children—walk barefoot.


Comforting-the-Youngest-VictimsComforting the Youngest Victims
Sometimes, when victims of domestic violence flee their homes, they do so without clothing or a comforting blanket or stuffed animal for their children.

With this concern in mind Dr. Joanne Crossman, professor of education, suggested to members of the Lions women’s lacrosse team that they make baby blankets for Sunrise of Pasco County Inc. Domestic and Sexual Violence Center. Sunrise helps women and their children escape abusive situations.

“We hope that the women who come to the Sunrise Pasco shelter will select a blanket for their baby or toddler and find comfort in the bright colors and soft fabrics,” Crossman said. “We hope this small gesture helps the women to know that our Saint Leo community supports them during a difficult time in their lives.”

On September 27, Coaches Lesley Graham and Marial Pierce along with 27 team members cut and knotted pieces of fleece, turning them into blankets sporting pink and blue hedgehogs, Lacoste-like alligators, puppies and dog bones, and other motifs.

“I sure hope the babies like it!” player Danica Leili said of the colorful blankets. “I think it is heartwarming, and it’s nice to know we’re helping somebody else.”

Coach Graham echoed that sentiment. “It is important for these young women to realize that life is bigger than themselves,” she said. “We are lucky. Most of us are healthy, happy, and play a sport we love. It is important to give back to someone in a completely different situation.”


Psychology in the Saddle
When children are scared or sad, sometimes there is nothing like a horse to improve their day. No one knows that better than Theresa Malky ’15. Since earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology through Saint Leo’s online program, she has continued to follow her calling of helping people in need. These days she is pursuing her master’s degree in counseling from Messiah College while managing Trinity Equine Ranch, a nonprofit based in Pennsylvania and devoted to equine-assisted therapy.

On this 25-acre farm, she and her husband, Brock, use horses to help children work out grief, depression, and other problems. Malky has completed the first level of Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) training and will continue to level two. To date, she has worked with hundreds, both as individuals and in groups. “To serve others is a calling, and I have to be true to that person,” she said.

Years ago, Malky was a successful commercial real estate agent. “Sometimes I really miss that when I have to clean out the stalls,” she explained with a laugh.

Psychology in the Saddle

Our alumni, students, faculty, and staff enjoy a variety of special events throughout the year. Take a few moments to experience Saint Leo in Pictures. Click on any photo below to learn more.

Robotics

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Teens, parents, and mentors from 28 robotics teams rocked the Marion Bowman Activities Center on February 13, as Saint Leo University hosted the Florida statewide FIRST® Tech Challenge for the second consecutive year.

The Saint Leo University alumni ranks grew to more than 80,000 this year with commencement ceremonies taking place from coast to coast. At University Campus, close to 1,200 students graduated during three ceremonies held April 29 and 30. Those events kicked off the “commencement season” for Saint Leo with 15 more ceremonies being held near education centers throughout May and June. Click the photos to learn more.

Abena_Ankomah

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Abena Ankomah ’11, ’16 earning her MBA


achonwaFlashback to 2014:
Chukwudi Peter Achonwa ’14

Originally from Imo state in southern Nigeria, Chukwudi Peter Achonwa has lived and worked across the Niger River in neighboring Delta state for more than 20 years. His home is in the city of Warri, which is not far from the Gulf of Guinea.

His entire life, Achonwa had never been outside Nigeria.
That was until May 2014, when the Saint Leo University online student—and now alumnus—boarded a plane and traveled for nearly 24 hours to arrive in Florida and attend commencement at University Campus.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting that day, and now he is an accountant in his native country. He hopes to earn a master’s degree and a PhD in his field.

Mary Beth Erskine, web content writer, posted a longer story about Chukwudi Peter Achonwa on Saint Leo’s online blog.


grad_4Want to see more photos from the Class of 2016 ceremonies? Be sure to visit
this page.

 

 

 

griffin-clark-hsGriffin Clark, 21, a sophomore criminal justice major and member of the men’s golf team, passed away on July 4. He was involved in a car accident near his home in Chesterfield County, VA. Griffin helped lead the golf team to its recent NCAA Division II National Championship, in Denver, CO, playing in the final match-play pairing against Chico State (CA) and winning by three strokes.
“Griffin was an outstanding young man. We were so blessed to have him be part of our Saint Leo family,” Saint Leo men’s head golf coach Chris Greenwood said. “I have so many good moments with Griffin, but the one I will always remember is standing in the 18th fairway together the final day in Denver.”


Frederick “Fred” William Colby Sr. ’84, registrar emeritus, passed away on July 7. A decorated veteran of the U.S. Navy, he served from 1952 to 1979, including tours of duty in Singapore and Tokyo, as a Naval intelligence specialist. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo College and was a member of the Saint Leo staff for 24 years, retiring as registrar.


Dr. Diane Johnson passed away on May 10. She was an assistant director of the Center for Online Learning from 2005 to 2014. After retiring from that administrative role, she continued to teach as an online adjunct professor. She is remembered for being supportive of Saint Leo’s students and guiding them through their educational development.


On May 20, Dr. Kurt Van Wilt passed away at his home. A humble and devoted English professor, he dedicated his life to the education of Saint Leo University’s students, to their spiritual and intellectual growth and development. A respected poet, he was the master of the sonnet, a form that appeals to the kind of artisan who enjoys the rigor of structure, the triumphs achieved through simplicity. An expert in comparative mysticism and Native American literature, he authored three critically praised books for Millichap Books. He was also a co-founder of The Sandhill Review literary arts magazine, The Lightning Key Review electronic journal, and The Green Rabbit chapbook series.


William “Bill” Sharp ’48
May 27, 2016

Robert E. Shoyrer ’49
April 5, 2010

Glenda W. Rusin ’52
February 7, 2015

Mary (Corrigan) Grant ’54
April 11, 2016

Richard Cobb ’60
March 4, 2016

Henry Pike ’61
July 7, 2016

Mary Ellen McGrath ’62
April 13, 2016

Peter E. Feuge ’69
November 22, 2015

Eugene Fischer ’72
February 12, 2016

Beth (Dempsey) Moore ’74
May 27, 2016

E. “William” Vanderbilt ’75
March 23, 2016

Richard A. Carter ’77
December 17, 2015

Jesse J. Dean ’77
November 17, 2015

 

Stanley P. Juds ’77
October 16, 2015

Patricia (Kennedy) Lemmerman ’77
January 7, 2016

Audrey S. Henries ’79
December 16, 2015

Marie Gagne ’82
July 23, 2012

Timothy “Tim” Murphy ’82
January 29, 2016

William A. Denton ’83
December 13, 2015

Kyle A. Miller ’83
January 1, 2009

Frederick “Fred” Colby ’84
July 7, 2016

Wayne Dupree ’86
April 36, 2016

Claude H. Bader ’93
August 2, 2014

Russell “Russ” Swart ’96
May 13, 2016

Jonathan E. Weaver ’01
April 16, 2015

William T. Campbell ’04
March 31, 2013