Each year, Saint Leo University alumni across the generations and around the world live out our core values and contribute to their communities, professions, and causes in a variety of ways. The Saint Leo Alumni Association seeks to celebrate the members of our alumni community and pay tribute to those who have reached remarkable goals either professionally or personally. Please join in congratulating the 2021 and 2022 recipients of the Saint Leo University Alumni Awards.
(Select a photo to view caption)
Gianfranco Pagan ’21 receiving the 2021 Global Service Award.
Roaring Onward recipient Benjamin Larison ’14 with his family.
Alumni 2021 Awards
Joseph Byrne ’74
Christine Gibree ’85
Gianfranco Pagan ’21
Jerry Blash ’14, Mercy Figueroa ’17, Seth Gross ’17, Anthony Santa ’12, Andrew Specht ’17, ’22
Alumni 2022 Awards
Natoy Baker ’11, ’20
Peter Mulry ’67
James Salgado ’07, ’14
Peter Mulry ’67, James Salgado ’07, ’14
Haywood Barnes ’93
Bobrenti “Brent” Patterson ’21, Mohammed “Ammar” Mohart ’17, Benjamin Larison ’14, Krystal Cox ’12, and Allison Baldwin ’15.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saint Leo University faculty and staff demonstrated a commitment to our community in a variety of ways—from facilitating free educational webinars to help small business owners and first responders to offering complimentary, on-demand courses designed to help individuals relieve stress.
When news about the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine surfaced, Saint Leo University stepped up in another way by offering to serve as a vaccine distribution site for the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. Since January, more than 25,000 members of the public have passed through University Campus to receive the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.
In April, the university was fortunate to offer its own vaccine clinic event for members of the university community. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and their household members were able to come to University Campus and receive a vaccine through a drive-thru event.
Jessica Van Guilder ’12, ’15 was among the alumni who received a vaccine at University Campus. She lives in close-by Land O’ Lakes, FL, and still keeps in touch with fellow alumni and staff at the university.
“I decided it was one of the best chances for me to get the vaccine early,” she said.
Elissa Noblitt, who graduated from the university in 2020, also came to University Campus from Orlando to get a vaccine. “I drove down because I trusted Saint Leo, and I knew that the university would run the operation well,” Noblitt said.
Highlights on recent Saint Leo University faculty accomplishments and contributions in teaching and learning.
Dr. Jacob Aguilar, a mathematician and data scientist, and several co-researchers from a cross-disciplinary team, released their manuscript about an important and little-understood aspect of virus that causes COVID-19. The team used new modeling techniques to estimate the number of people who might become infected by someone already carrying the virus, but not yet showing any symptoms. This provides insight into how contagious the illness is, and that knowledge, in turn, helps regional officials make public-health decisions. Aguilar and his fellow researchers came to the conclusion that an asymptomatic carrier could infect an average of six other people or more, which is far more than a typical strain of the flu. Aguilar and his researchers released a manuscript describing their work on a respected scientific platform created for quick dissemination of research findings.
Aguilar’s contribution to the coronavirus study was based on work he and a collaborator had only completed recently in estimating the potential for people infected with malaria—but with no symptoms—to spread the deadly illness. In other words, Aguilar was taking a modeling approach he had developed for the study of one horrible, persistent ailment, and successfully incorporating that into a new team project focused on the new coronavirus. An account of the study about malaria was released in 2020 in a peer-reviewed publication. Aguilar joined the faculty at the start of the 2019-2020 academic year as assistant professor of mathematics.
Dr. Melinda (Lin) Carver, an associate professor in the Graduate Education Department, co-wrote a book with colleague and adjunct instructor Lauren Pantoja, Reading Basics for All Teachers: Supporting All Learners. It was published in April 2020 by Rowman and Littlefield and provides K-12 teachers from all subject areas with ways to enhance their students’ reading and writing development. Carver and Pantoja wrote an earlier edition on this topic that was published in 2015. In the second edition, they have added new content and strategies for teachers to explore.
Renee Gould, assistant professor at the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library, was the co-author with two former Saint Leo colleagues of a case study about working with library-database products to meet the real-world needs of visually impaired patrons. Gould and recently retired library colleague Jacalyn Bryan, associate professor, along with alumna Brittany Leigh ’12, who until recently worked with the Office of Accessibility Services, described their work in the spring issue of the journal, FloridaLibraries. Libraries with printed and electronic holdings rely on software from third-party vendors for day-to-day needs. Such resources and tools provide students and staff the means to retrieve and read books, journals, newspapers, and magazine articles. As it turns out, while many of these products may be legally compliant with regulations meant to ensure access for the visually impaired, they can still be hard to navigate and use successfully. The team described approaches adopted to remedy the situation at Saint Leo, possible steps for future exploration, and possible starting points for other libraries.
Poet and faculty member Gianna Russo was named the City of Tampa’s first Wordsmith and will steer new projects meant to encourage creativity and expression, such as holding writing workshops in city neighborhoods. She recently edited a collection of poems inspired by regionally well-known photographs from Tampa and other spots in Florida produced by Tampa’s leading commercial photographic firm from 1917 to early 1960, the Burgert Brothers Inc. Chasing Light includes many images that capture 20th-century central Florida, from its cigar trade, to its diverse communities, agriculture, and natural surroundings. Russo contributed the forward and a poem, in addition to serving as editor. Other Saint Leo faculty and academic administrators with contributions in Chasing Light are part-time English instructor Amanda Forrester; English instructor Marissa McLargin (published as Marissa Glover); and professor and outreach librarian Carol Ann Moon. There are 48 contributors in all. The volume was published in February as a large-format paperback by the independent YellowJacket Press in collaboration with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Library and library supporters. Russo is an assistant professor of English and creative writing.
Dr. Zachary Smith, assistant professor of economics and finance, and a co-author, had a macroeconomic study published in April in the Pacific Economic Review. Their study examined the interplay between fintech—financial technologies including access to cellular phone and Internet applications and cryptocurrencies—and the policies normally employed by governments’ central banks to raise or lower interest rates, control inflation, and support overall economic growth. Their research study was based on 18 years of data from 30 nations with advanced economies (including the United States). In general, when people have access to mobile and internet technology, more money circulates throughout the economy. But the presence of cryptocurrencies—as they are substitutes from the currencies issued by governments—reduces the demand for money to spread through the economies. As the use of cryptocurrencies widens then, the authors suggested, central banks will have to consider updating their traditional policies to account for cryptocurrency-based transactions. Otherwise, the policies will become outdated and less effective in keeping economies running smoothly, Smith and his co-author said.
Alumni of the fraternity start a new tradition in giving.
With the 30th anniversary of their founding approaching, members of the Rho Xi Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., wanted to do something special to commemorate the occasion.
The chapter was founded at Saint Leo College in the spring of 1989 by a group of 10 students. The organization would provide leadership and a brotherhood experience within the frame work of Greek life to minority students. On November 11, 1989, under the guidance of Terrence Hood, the Rho Xi Chapter became nationally recognized and chartered.
The fraternity places a strong emphasis on service and helping minorities and disadvantaged individuals achieve success. “Since its founding, the chapter has been providing educational and social opportunities to the campus and the local community,” said Stuart Hart ’98 ’15, who helped reinvigorate the chapter at the university in 1995.
“We wanted to celebrate our 30 years in a special way,” said James Cummings ’09, who was one of the alumni members who helped organize the effort. “We thought, ‘why not create a scholarship to help this group of individuals.’” Working in partnership with the university’s Alumni Engagement and Sustained Giving office, they did just that, establishing the Alpha Phi Alpha Outstanding Leadership Scholarship to benefit student leaders with financial need.
As part of the 2019 homecoming weekend, fraternity members came together and hosted a scholarship ball at University Campus. At the festivities, they presented the university with a check for $28,080, permanently establishing the fund and creating a new philanthropic tradition for the fraternity.
“It was a lot of hard work, but it was exciting, though,” Cummings said. “We were more than excited to start something we felt would leave a legacy at our alma mater.”
Hart said strong fraternities enjoy active engagement from alumni, so it is important for alumni members to stay connected with current students. “Celebrating this milestone reunion and establishing the scholarship would help in this area,” he said.
The reunion weekend brought together Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity members dating back to 1989, including members of the current chapter as well as friends, advisors, and family.
A Note from the President’s Corner of the Alumni Association
On behalf of the Saint Leo University Alumni Association Board of Directors, it is my honor to welcome the Class of 2019 as valued members of the Saint Leo Alumni Association. I also want to welcome all students who are beginning or returning to their studies at Saint Leo. It is important for you to get to know about our association, too. Whether this is your first or 15th year as a Saint Leo alumnus or alumna, I challenge you to get connected and get involved. There are a number of ways to meet this challenge. Join an alumni chapter in your area, come to campus for homecoming weekend, suggest Saint Leo to a prospective student, or be a part of the conversations on the alumni social media channels from the comfort of your home. With more than 95,000 alumni worldwide, the Saint Leo alumni community is a network worth your time.
As a note of interest, this year begins a new chapter in our alma mater’s history with the inauguration of Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese as our 10th president.
The strategic vision he has for Saint Leo is already becoming a reality with new academic programs, new education center locations, and the largest
freshman class ever at University Campus. I encourage you to stay informed of everything that is
happening across the university, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
John E. Holladay ’75
President, Saint Leo Alumni Association
New Alumni Chapters Established
We are excited to announce that two new regional alumni chapters are up and running. Welcome to the pride, Ocala and Jacksonville!
If there is not an alumni chapter in your area, we’ve got you covered. Check out our new virtual alumni chapter to connect with alumni from across the globe.
Details about all of our alumni chapters, along with a full calendar of events, are available online: your.saintleo.edu/chapters
Connect with your Saint Leo Career Services Office on Handshake
The Saint Leo Career Services office can be a resource to alumni well beyond graduation, helping you find new opportunities and connecting you with fellow Lions:
Services for Alumni
Whether you’re a recent graduate searching for that first job or a working professional looking to advance, Career Services offers a wide range of valuable resources online or in person. The team can help review your résumé, help you prepare for interviews, or provide you with access to job-search tools. Use the information below to connect with Career Services by phone or email, or come in for a one-on-one appointment. Career Services is located on the first floor of Kirk Hall at University Campus. Engage with Current Saint Leo Students
Give back to your alma mater by leveraging your network to help current students. Here are a few ways you can help them achieve their career goals:
Become a mentor and share your experiences, insights, and network.
Host students in your place of work for informational interviews, job shadowing, or credit-bearing internships.
Facilitate an information session or career workshop for a group of Saint Leo students.
Advocate that your organization’s Human Resources department recruit at Saint Leo.
Direct job and internship opportunities (student, entry-level, and experienced hires) through Handshake.
Saint Leo alumna and creative writing faculty member Brooke King ’12 held a book reading at University Campus in July to debut her new book War Flower: My Life After Iraq. This was King’s first major local reading since War Flower was released earlier this year by Potomac Books, part of the University of Nebraska Press.
Influential media including Publishers Weekly
and Kirkus Reviews have praised King for providing an open and honest account of her deployment to Iraq, which began in 2006. She was 19 years old then and a newly enlisted soldier.
Passion. Joy. Inspiration. Those are words Salvatore DiBenedetto ’12 takes to heart and drops into his conversations. To be successful, you have to follow your passion, DiBenedetto advises.
DiBenedetto has parlayed his passion for food, travel, and communication into success. As The Grubfather, he is a social media influencer, and food and travel content producer for social media, online, broadcast, and print publications. He also founded The Connect Agency, a creative, digital branding and marketing company focusing on content creation for the hospitality industry, brand building, and digital marketing.
One glance at his social media channels, and the salivating and envy begins. There are photos of DiBenedetto posing with a gigantic slice of pizza monopolizing the table; toasting with Chef Eric Ripert in the Grand Cayman; floating in paradise with a drink in each hand in beautiful Kauai; juggling a bratwurst and a plate of schnitzel in Germany; and sharing the food and flavors that make his Long Island home special. There are photos of food, more food, and even more food!
Becoming The Grubfather
So how did a guy with dual bachelor’s degrees from Saint Leo in history and international studies and a minor in cultural anthropology transform into The Grubfather?
“A lot of people wrote it [history and international studies] off as not going to be valuable later in life,” DiBenedetto said. “I believe people should follow their passions. I was passionate about traveling. And, I am interested in why people act the way they do. So I use the cultural anthropology minor, too. That is how I run my Instagram and social media.”
DiBenedetto received scholarships to attend Saint Leo. “I feel like Saint Leo is a place for a certain person; you have to understand what you are getting into,” he said. “It’s in a small town, rural area. I didn’t want to be a little fish in a big pond. I wanted to be a big fish.”
Being involved is another of DiBenedetto’s passions, and he dove into activities at Saint Leo, serving as a class president, bringing new energy to the Sigma Lambda fraternity, and serving as the president of the Interfraternity Council. “I wanted to create a name for myself that I wasn’t able to do in high school,” he said. “Saint Leo gave me the confidence to excel and thrive in a place like Brooklyn and New York as a whole.”
The restaurant business long has been a part of DiBenedetto’s life. He started as a bus boy at the age of 13 and became a waiter at 15. “I’ve been a waiter my whole life,” he said. “I continued through college. I worked in Dade City [in Pasco County, FL] at Francesco’s [Restaurant & Pizzeria], Garden Café, and City Market Bistro. I fell in love with the hospitality industry.”
After graduating from Saint Leo, he accepted a job as a marketing director for a tattoo school in Brooklyn. “I quickly realized that I had no passion for it, and I didn’t want to work for someone else’s dream when I had big dreams of my own,” DiBenedetto said.
So he left and went back to being a waiter. “The rents are high in New York, and I was thinking, ‘This is a risk,’ but if you’re going to do anything in life, you have to be willing to take the risk,” DiBenedetto said.
He began working at Brooklyn Commune, a café in his neighborhood. Chef Chris Scott, an alumnus of the Top Chef TV competition, had started a dinner program there, and DiBenedetto became the head waiter for the program.
“It was there that I really fell in love with the culinary arts,” he said. “Unfortunately, the dinner program didn’t take off. But it gave me my biggest gift. They let me start their Instagram.”
Instagram, the popular photo and video-sharing social networking service owned by Facebook Inc., gave DiBenedetto a platform on which to shine. He promoted the food and culture of Brooklyn Commune via that platform. “Over and over, I would ask [guests] where they heard about us, and people said they found us on Instagram,” he said. With that, a business was born.
Potential clients reached out to him, and when he had seven clients, he thought, “I can do this full time.” He created his company, The Connect Agency. From that came The Grubfather.
Named with a nod to the movie The Godfather and DiBenedetto’s Sicilian roots, The Grubfather and his team, including Saint Leo alumni, create and share information about restaurants, hotels, travel destinations, and lifestyle brands. According to www.thegrubfather.world, his work has been featured in a variety of social channel publications and websites such as INSIDER Travel, Travel + Leisure, Complex magazine, and LADbible, among others.
Now, The Grubfather is one of the fastest growing food, travel, and lifestyle blogs on Instagram, DiBenedetto said. It shows where to stay and what to eat and drink, along with photos of a smiling DiBenedetto. The Grubfather has close to 115,000 Instagram followers and 12,000 on Facebook.
“I grew the brand [The Grubfather] through strategic partnerships and being consistent and staying on brand at all times,” DiBenedetto said. “For me, ‘on brand’ is anything I feel passionate about. I refuse to limit myself. If I’m inspired by it, and a person is a follower [on social media], then they are going to find appreciation in what I’m sharing. This is what makes me feel alive.”
Saint Leo Ties That Bind
When DiBenedetto started The Connect Agency and The Grubfather, it was important to give back to people who were part of his community, including his Saint Leo family. “When you join a fraternity, and they tell you these people are going to take care of you for life, I took that to heart,” he said. He has hired Saint Leo alumni and loves giving them opportunities.
“The more wins we have for Saint Leo, the better it is for everybody,” he said. “I was able to hire somebody that I went to school with and, for me, that was very much a marker of success.”
Working with DiBenedetto is Peter Valcarcel ’14, whom DiBenedetto describes as his right-hand man.
Future Looks Bright
DiBenedetto hopes to grow his business “in all directions and work on creative campaigns for brands that I’m super passionate about.” And the Saint Leo alumnus hopes to host his own food and travel show. “I want to grow The Grubfather brand exponentially. I’m in the process of starting a clothing line,” he said.
For The Grubfather, success means finding something you are happy doing, maintaining a positive outlook, and always following your dream.
Sal DiBenedetto, The Grubfather
Long Island, NY
I’m extremely partial to Italian food, and I’m a huge fan of Japanese cuisine.
Favorite restaurant in the world:
My cousin’s little hidden restaurant in the hills of Sicily. It’s Ristorante L’Albero in Porto Empedocle, Agrigento, Italy.
Nero di seppia (black squid ink pasta)
How do you eat all the food in your photos?
I try everything that I post! But I did lose weight from college to now. I’m consistent about running and portion control. There may be a huge slice of pizza, but I share it with everyone on the photo shoot.
Advice for future entrepreneurs:
If someone closes a door on you, build your own. When someone tells you no, find the inspiration in it. Let other people’s negativity fuel your positivity.
Saint Leo feels like family because I can truly relate the traditions and values of the university to my own upbringing and family morals. At home, we respect and support one another with a ‘we are all in this together’ attitude. When I was a student and now as an active alumna, I have that same feeling—a spirit of unity, every time I step onto campus, visit with alumni, or meet with staff. And I know I always will.” — Ann Marie Lombardi ’77
“Saint Leo feels like family because of its genuinely good-natured people. Nowhere else can you go and find such a warm-hearted and welcoming community; that is a direct reflection of Saint Leo’s core values being instilled into its students, faculty, and staff. As a student and now as an alumnus, Saint Leo continues to be that amicable family I can always confide in and reach out to for help.” — Luckson Abraham ’16
“Saint Leo feels like a family because the university always welcomes us home where lifelong friendships were formed and bonded, incredible memories deeply entrenched, and lives transformed and forever impacted by the opportunities that we were afforded. Simply put, I am who I am today, both personally and professionally, because of Saint Leo
University.” — Greg Greiwe ’80
“Saint Leo feels like family because we enjoy a laugh, a tear, and loads of work. I was taken aback at a regional spotlight event on campus as it was all about India. Home didn’t feel far away. I may struggle to complete my syllabus, but there is always help around. Saint Leo gave me a beautiful opportunity to be a member of the alumni board, as a student representative. I enjoy our meetings especially when we meet my ‘Gang of Lion Kings.’ It was wonderful to watch Saint Leo from the outside; but being involved from inside is even more rewarding.” — Akshita Sahgal ’19
“Saint Leo feels like family because we all share a common set of core values and experiences. All our lives have changed and have been impacted by our experiences and education at Saint Leo and whenever I am with other alumni, I always feel like we are ‘in it together.’ We share our experiences and core values in our interactions with the world.” — Laura Chirichigno ’10, ’12
Dr. Douglas M. “Doug” Astolfi, professor emeritus of history, passed away on June 14, 2018, at his home. He was 75 and had been ill with kidney cancer. He joined Saint Leo in 1997 as vice president of academic affairs, following a progression of administrative and teaching positions at other institutions.
He taught history courses at all levels and was a specialist in American history and modern Chinese history. At the end of April, the Saint Leo Board of Trustees awarded him the title of professor emeritus in recognition of his work elevating the stature of the university and enriching the lives of Saint Leo students.
Dr. Astolfi was known as a challenging but supportive teacher and mentor who kept in touch with many of his students.
The program emerged from community outreach done by the late Kurt Van Wilt, a longtime professor of English at Saint Leo University Campus. Dr. Wilt recognized the need for programs that supported local writers throughout Pasco County and the greater Tampa Bay area. The original program design was done by Gianna Russo, assistant professor of English and creative writing, who also included a unique focus for war literature. Dr. Steve Kistulentz was hired in 2015 to be the program’s founding director and administrator and fulfill Dr. Wilt’s vision.
The first cohort began in July 2016 with a weeklong inaugural residency held at University Campus. Students come to university campus for an intensive week of study each summer, then return home to do the bulk of their work. The low-residency degree requires 36 graduate credit hours taken over the course of four semesters and two summer residencies; at the third and final residency, students submit a master’s thesis, a book-length collection of creative work in their chosen genre of study. Saint Leo offers tracks of study in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.
“Everyone has a story to tell, whether it’s a deeply imagined one, or a family story that they would like to preserve for children and grandchildren. The low-residency model gives students the tools to tell those stories without neglecting their existing commitments to family, work, and community,” said Dr. Kistulentz.
One of the benefits of the program is the diversity of its students, an observation made by Dawn Sandoe-Henshaw, a member of the inaugural cohort, discussing a student population that ranges from recent college graduates to students well into retirement age. “We draw students from all walks of life, and from all areas of the country,” Dr. Kistulentz agreed.
The weeklong summer residencies also bring luminaries in the creative fields to University Campus for intimate workshops and discussions. The July 2018 roster of visiting writers is headed by award-winning author Adam Johnson (at right), whose book Fortune Smiles won the 2015 National Book Award; his 2012 novel The Orphan Master’s Son, a fictional account of the personal and political in North Korea, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Poet and memoirist Beth Ann Fennelly, poet Carmen Gimenez Smith, and novelist Tom Franklin also will be featured visitors.
The program design jointly examines the relationship between the knowledge of literature and its creation. Students pursue two courses each summer, one doing the intensive reading of a graduate program in literature while another focuses on the student’s own creative work in fiction, poetry, or narrative nonfiction.
Perhaps the most unique quality of the master’s program is its optional track of study in war literature, and writing by and for veterans of the armed services. The program builds on the long-standing relationship between Saint Leo and the armed services; nearly one-fifth of the students currently enrolled in the creative writing program are veterans or remain on active duty. Students learn the fundamentals of writing alongside strategies for putting their writing skills to work, regardless of their career paths. Current students in the program include Army officers, career Marines, and recently separated veterans of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Writing about their experience is not the only factor that drives those students with previous military service. Said student Jennifer Holt, who serves in the U.S. Marine Corps, “I want to spend my time on something that enriches my life and allows me to explore my creative side.” Student Jennifer Harman, a Navy veteran, agreed: “Regardless of industry, good writing is a skill that not everyone possesses, so I could use my master’s in whatever path I took.”
The year 2018 will see not only the graduation of the master’s program’s inaugural cohort, but also the release of several new books by creative writing program faculty.
Program director Steve Kistulentz, associate professor of English and creative writing, is the author of two previous books of poetry, but this spring releases his debut novel Panorama, published in March by Little, Brown & Company. Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, calls Panorama “a remarkable literary work, rare in its ability to be both thematically complex and a compelling read. Steve Kistulentz remarkably transforms our TV culture’s participatory tragedy into a deep meditation on human connectedness. This is a stunning debut by an important new writer.”
Poet Anne Barngrover joined the Saint Leo faculty in 2017 and will also release a new book this spring, the poetry collection Brazen Creature, an editor’s choice selection in the University of Akron Press Series in Poetry. Erin Belieu, an award-winning poet and director of the graduate creative writing program at Florida State University, called Brazen Creature, “a terrific collection by a strong, smart, feminist voice.”
Fiction writer Patrick Crerand will have his debut collection of stories, The Paper Life They Lead, published in 2018 by Arc Pair Press. The book will collect some of Crerand’s noteworthy stories, which have previously appeared in such magazines as McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, New Orleans Review, Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, and Cimarron Review.
In addition, nonfiction writer Brooke King ’12 will have her memoir Full Battle Rattle published by the Potomac Books imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. King has written about her experiences in combat for a number of magazines, including The Atlantic and War, Literature and the Arts.
Header photo: (Left to right) Steve Kistulentz, Anne Barngrover, Brooke King ’12, Gianna Russo, and Patrick Crerand. Russo, a published poet who teaches at the undergraduate level, designed the graduate program.
In July, your Alumni Engagement & Sustained Giving team hit the road with the return of the Coming Home to You Tour. With stops in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Hampton, VA, alumni and students had a chance to network and have fun.
The tour will return this spring—so be on the lookout for the stop closest to you, and join in the fun!
Welcome Class of 2017
With commencement season behind us, it is time to welcome our newest graduates into the next phase of their Saint Leo experience. Be sure to keep your contact information up-to-date and visit your.saintleo.edu often to learn about all of the exciting things taking place.
Whether you are just graduating or simply haven’t had time to get involved yet, be sure to:
Saint Leo has made its mark in New York City and Tampa—what cities will be next? Alumni chapters provide a great opportunity for Saint Leo alumni to come together to network, help spread the word to potential new students, complete community service projects, and have fun—all in their own backyards. To find out how to start an alumni chapter in your area, visit your.saintleo.edu/chapters.
Calling All Animal Lovers!
Do you have a unique, special, or just plain wonderful pet? Please send us your photos (high-resolution, print quality if possible) for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of Spirit magazine. Dogs, cats, pigs, horses, iguanas, parakeets, and more—all are welcome! Be sure to supply: your name and class year, the pet’s name and breed, and what makes your pet great. Send to email@example.com, subject line: Saint Leo Pets
This Is My Saint Leo!
In May, members of the Class of 1962 (above) celebrated their 55th reunion. The weekend included a reception on campus, providing an opportunity to revisit familiar places as well as tour new ones.
Fred Edwards ’47 shared the images (below) with classmate Mickey McLinden ’47. The left photo was taken the day the pair “borrowed” the Benedictine brothers’ truck and took it to Dade City, something they got docked for weeks by Father Raphael for doing. The other photo was taken 60 years later in front of the same model truck. “Those were the days!”
Dr. Tanya L. Higgins, who taught sociology at the Fort Eustis Education Office in Virginia from 1999 to 2010, passed away on August 5 in Williamsburg.
Marc Newberry, a University Campus rising junior who was majoring in management, passed away on April 28, following a boating accident near his home in Naples, FL. Marc was well known in his hometown for his talents as a high school football player. The Naples community remembers him as “the man with the hard hit and the big heart.” Regarding the accident, Marc’s father, John Newberry, explained, “He died doing what he loved to do, and that’s out and about having fun with his friends.”
Roberta Frazier Wright, a business administration student at the Savannah Education Center, passed away on March 23. She had been a Saint Leo student since summer 2015. Her daughter, Malaysha Hall, also is a Savannah Education Center student.
In 2015-2016, the Saint Leo University Alumni Association established a new recognition program to celebrate 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 their alumni community. They are Lions who are truly making a difference!
Nicholas DeMarinis ’05 is a regional business leader at LinkedIn in Hong Kong. He leads multiple sales teams across Asia within LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions division and regularly speaks at local universities about the importance of building your professional brand. He volunteers at local homeless shelters and is a regional lead for the Movember Foundation. DeMarinis’ favorite Saint Leo memory is when he tried out for the men’s golf team. He didn’t make the team, but the golf coach, Art Kirk III ’99, ’03, created a second team for him and a few others who hadn’t made the team because Coach Kirk wanted to help develop their golf skills. “Being a Saint Leo alumnus is more than just a diploma. It’s being a part of a group of individuals who chose to be part of school that is run like a family.”
Bobby Edwards ’09, MBA ’13 is a chief transportation officer at Kansas City Area Transit in Kansas City, MO. He manages a $30 million budget and is responsible for more than 500 employees. Edwards credits much of his success and ability to accomplish his career goals to his studies while at Saint Leo. “The professors prepared me for my current position and were major contributors to my success. Their hands-on teaching style and the way they incorporated their real-life experience into their courses prepared me for the real world.”
Kristen Claus ’12, MBA ’13 is a special events manager at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC. She is a member of the Northern Virginia Junior League, volunteers at community 5K races, and has run the Marine Corps Marathon. Claus’ favorite Saint Leo memories are the hot weather and the Dining Hall (aka “the caf”). “When I think back on my experience as a student, I remember the people the most. I remember how caring and encouraging they were and how they helped me achieve my goals as a student. That kind attitude is something I try to pass along in my everyday life, and I feel honored to be a Saint Leo alumna.”
Daniel Torres ’14 is a catcher for professional baseball team the Modesto Nuts in Modesto, CA. The Modesto Nuts are part of the Seattle Mariners minor-league system. Torres’ favorite Saint Leo memory is being a part of the Saint Leo baseball team. He remembers the team having great camaraderie on and off the field. His advice? “Use the knowledge you’ve gained from Saint Leo, whether in the classroom or on the field/court, to achieve your dreams and aspirations.”
Amanda Davis ’07 is an academic advising coordinator at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO. During her career she has received multiple awards for being an outstanding faculty member and staff supervisor. Davis is an active member of St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Golden. She volunteers as the chapter advisor for the Delta Psi chapter of Alpha Sigma Tau and also actively volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Denver and Habitat for Humanity International. Last summer, she hiked 75 miles and raised more than $3,000 for Operation Nine Line, a group that supports veterans and their families. She has many favorite Saint Leo memories; however, being initiated into Alpha Sigma Tau is at the top of the list. “Being a Saint Leo alumna has provided me with lifelong friendships and connections.”
Alicia Waldon ’07, MBA ’15 is the director of Enrollment Marketing for Saint Leo University in St. Leo, FL. She is responsible for attracting future students to all of the university’s locations. She volunteers as an advisor for Love Your Melon Student Ambassadors at Saint Leo, an apparel brand run by college students across the country on a mission to give a hat to every child battling cancer in America. Waldon’s favorite Saint Leo memory is reinstating Theta Phi Alpha at the university. She is proud of the women who came together, empowered through education, to develop leadership skills and give back to the community. “I didn’t realize the footprint of Saint Leo when I was a traditional student on campus. As an alumna, I really appreciate the network that is available, the many Saint Leo locations, and the reach that online learning can provide.”
Nikki Collins ’09 is the director of Catering at Disney ABC in New York, NY. She also serves as a regional marketing champion for Restaurant Associates, providing marketing expertise for several locations throughout New York City. She is diligent about the professional development of her staff, encouraging them to excel and guiding them as they seek new professional opportunities. Collins spends her free time hanging out with her dog, Toby, in Brooklyn. “Being a Saint Leo alumna is something that has always defined my path in my career and personal life. The work ethic and ambition required to succeed as a young manager in New York City takes a great deal of respect for others and serious commitment to excellence and personal development.”
Amber Loring ’06, MBA ’07 is a client service manager for the Newport Group in Tampa, FL. She has actively volunteered in her community for more than 10 years, dedicating time to the Ronald McDonald House and as a member of a pet therapy team that visits patients at VA hospitals in the area. She also implemented a pet therapy program for the chapter of the SPCA in Greensboro, NC. Loring has many fond memories of Saint Leo, but her favorite is when the bagpipes started to play as she walked to the Bowman Center for her undergraduate commencement. “As a Saint Leo alumna, I practice the core values in every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. I love to spread the word about our amazing university, and I love to share the positive experiences I had as a student.”
Rebecca McDearmon ’08 is a program lead for Southwest Airlines in the training department of SWA University in Dallas, TX. She trains company employees in customer relations/rapid rewards, second-tier customer support, and other specialty training. McDearmon’s work has been recognized throughout the organization, and she has received numerous company awards for the training programs she has led. She regularly volunteers at charitable organizations such as Goodwill Industries, Meals on Wheels, Ronald McDonald House, and the Salvation Army. McDearmon’s favorite Saint Leo memory is freshman orientation. Even though she was nervous, she was more excited to meet new friends and navigate the course of her future. “Being a Saint Leo alumna means being part of a community rather than just attending a college. The friends you make while at Saint Leo will be yours for life.”
Jessica O’Keefe ’10, MBA ’12 is an associate director of Client Management in Transaction Banking at Standard Chartered Bank in New York, NY. During her 5+ years with the company, she has earned multiple excellence awards for her leadership of the bank’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, including “Most Progress” and “Excellence for Gender Inclusion.” She climbed Mount Kenya for the bank’s charitable initiative “Seeing Is Believing,” raising more than $20,000 for children’s cataract surgery in India. She is also a catechism teacher for the Narnia Clubs in New York City, tutoring young students who are preparing to receive their Holy Confirmation. Her fondest memory of her time at Saint Leo was partaking in the annual spring break SERVE trips.
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.
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Abena Ankomah ’11, ’16 earning her MBA
Flashback 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.
Want to see more photos from the Class of 2016 ceremonies? Be sure to visit this page.
Father Damian DuQuesnay, who had been the oldest living monk in the Order of Saint Benedict of Florida, passed away on May 8. Greatly loved and admired by colleagues, students, faculty, and staff, he was a remarkable man of faith.
Born on July 24, 1918, in Highgate, Jamaica, Father Damian graduated from Jamaica College Prep and Saint Benedict College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, KS, in 1943 with a BS in zoology. He received his MS from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, in 1951.
He was ordained into the Holy Priesthood on the Feast of Corpus Christi Day, June 20, 1946, by Bishop Emmet Michael Wash in the unfinished Abbey Church. Father Damian was the first Jamaican to ever wear the habit of a Benedictine.
Father Damian taught numerous subjects at Saint Leo College, including biology, histology, and zoology. He also served two separate terms as department chair of the science faculty. He was prefect in the prep school for 10 years, where he taught algebra, biology, chemistry, French, geometry, Latin, and religion. He thoroughly enjoyed teaching students at both the prep school and the college. When asked what type of teacher he was, he simply said “fair.”
Father Damian was appointed abbey prior in 1957 and also served as novice master and brother master. After his retirement from the Saint Leo faculty, he was chaplain to Holy Name Monastery, a responsibility he held for four decades but eventually relinquished at age 90 due to his limited mobility.
He was the abbey botanist and remained faithful in his daily devotionals and prayers right up until his passing.
Dr. Teresa Harrell, instructor of speech and senior academic advisor at the Langley Education Office, passed away June 26.
She graduated with distinction from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in social work and educational policy in 1972. In May 1994, she was awarded her PhD from the University of Minnesota, majoring in training and development in the College of Education. Dr. Harrell had served at the Langley Office since 2006 and is remembered for her fierce dedication to the success of our students.
Dr. Scott R. Homan, associate professor of management at the Savannah Education Center, passed away on June 23. He graduated from Purdue University in 1988 with his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and supervision; he earned his master’s degree in the same discipline the following year. After a stint at Anderson Consulting in Chicago, he decided to pursue his love of teaching and completed his doctorate degree from Texas A&M University. He joined Saint Leo in Spring 2013 and taught graduate and undergraduate courses in business management.
John “Jack” Reynolds, who served on the Saint Leo Board of Trustees from 1990 to 2012, passed away on April 17. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from St. John’s University at night and his Master of Business Administration at the Stern School of New York University (also at night) and attended the advanced management program at Dartmouth College. He was employed for 10 years by W. R. Grace and for many years by ITT, rising to the position of corporate vice president and division president. He was a trustee emeritus at the time of his death.
Walt Riddle, retired Saint Leo University and Sunshine State Conference (SSC) publicist, passed away on May 7 after a lengthy illness. Celebrated as a gifted writer and a transformational figure for both Saint Leo University athletics and the SSC, Riddle first came to Saint Leo’s University Campus in 1989 as the sports information director and special events coordinator. The following year, he assumed the duties of SSC assistant commissioner and sports information director, and helped the conference establish its first central office. Under Riddle’s guidance, the SSC developed one of the nation’s largest NCAA Division II television packages.
Riddle remained with the Sunshine State Conference until 2001, when he returned to his duties as Saint Leo’s sports information director. In 2006, he transitioned to a new role as Saint Leo’s director of athletic marketing and Green and Gold Club coordinator, a job he held until his retirement in 2011.
“The Sunshine State Conference and Saint Leo University lost a friend, leader, and mentor with the passing of Walter Riddle,” said Francis X. Reidy, Saint Leo’s director of athletics. “He had a positive impact on many young coaches and sports information directors around our league. Walt was instrumental in helping Saint Leo athletics transition to its current state of success.”
Dr. Burt Rosenbaum, for nine years an adjunct professor at Saint Leo College, passed away on March 30. After graduating from the College of the City of New York with a degree in mechanical engineering, he began his career at NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), which became NASA, and published about 30 applied mathematics research papers with emphasis on statistics. Several of his papers contributed to NASA’s successful Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, for which he received the Apollo Achievement Award.
He continued his studies at Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve University) while working, marrying and starting a family. In June 1957, just six months shy of his 35th birthday, he received his PhD in theoretical physics.
After retiring from NASA in 1973, Dr. Rosenbaum and his new family moved south and eventually to Florida, where he accepted an adjunct position at the University of Tampa. For the final nine years of his second career, he remained at Saint Leo College teaching mathematics, statistics, physics, and computer science until 1994.
Jules Verdin, a member of Saint Leo University men’s soccer team and the 2014 Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year, died on July 7 in a hiking accident in Switzerland. He was 19 years old.
“The Saint Leo soccer community mourns Jules’ death,” said Keith Fulk, Saint Leo’s head men’s soccer coach. “He was one of the best players I had the privilege and honor of coaching, and he was a constant student of the game—always asking questions about how he could improve his game. I think he really matured during his first year here at Saint Leo, from the time he arrived to the time he left campus at the end of the school year, and that’s what you want to see in your students.”
Some people are known for bringing work home, but Wayn MacKay instead brings his work to the classroom at Saint Leo University’s Fort Eustis (VA) office.
MacKay earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice with a specialization in homeland security in 2012 (at Fort Eustis and online) and his master’s in criminal justice with a concentration in critical incident management in 2013 (at the Newport News office and online). He now teaches criminal justice at Fort Eustis.
“The degree I got my undergrad in has a lot to do with what I do in my day job,” MacKay explains. “I work for a police department within the federal government. I write local policies, conduct risk assessments, identify threats, develop plans to mitigate those threats, and also do some intel [intelligence work], as well as a long list of other things.”
And that’s just what he teaches current Saint Leo students. In the fall, he taught Local Response to Terrorism. He now is teaching Terrorism and is scheduled to teach Exploitable Weaknesses in Terrorism and Intro to Homeland Defense in upcoming semesters. “I’m loving it,” he says. “The students are engaged and want to learn, and I’m very proud of them.
“Saint Leo has given me the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge, and I find that to be very rewarding,” MacKay says. “I’m engaged in it during the day and then when I teach at night; I’m among a crowd of people who want to be engaged in law enforcement and terrorism issues.”
Being at Saint Leo allows MacKay to be around “likeminded folks,” he said. He enjoys teaching students who want to excel in life and often want to start a new career.
MacKay practices what he preaches and plans to make the security industry a lifelong career. He served 20 years in the Navy and in such positions as patrolman, watch commander, career counselor, military customs agent, criminal investigator, protective service supervisor, antiterrorism officer, and physical security officer.
During his tenure as a protective service agent, he provided protection for many celebrities, high-ranking military officials, members of the U.S. House and Senate, and presidential cabinet members.
He enjoys using the critical-thinking skills necessary for intelligence, anti-terrorism, and homeland defense training. “You have to develop and maintain those skills. That’s what employers look for—critical thinkers.”
MacKay uses real-life situations students may encounter to teach them proper responses. “I give them a scenario, and then we talk about how they would deal with it,” he said. “The scenarios are challenging and require the students to think about how their particular strategy may affect or not affect operational planning and execution. It’s important to be able to identify and manage multiple challenges simultaneously.”
He retired in 2009, and the following year, he enrolled at Saint Leo using benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Thinking back on his years of studying at Saint Leo, MacKay says, “There have been many professors throughout my undergrad and graduate programs who have helped to shape me as the professional I am today. I like to think of life as a buffet . . . take a little of everything you like. Almost everyone has some quality to emulate and taking a little here and there can be of great value.
“Saint Leo is an institution that provides the foundation for personal growth through the core values coupled with many different professions. For me, it’s about the core values combined with law enforcement and homeland security.”