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Lacrosse alumni share their knowledge with college and high school players on the field and off.

Saint Leo University’s lacrosse programs are producing alumni who still are racking up accomplishments on the field, but they now are experiencing it from a coach’s vantage point. Building relationships and connecting with young people are just two of the benefits coaches reap while guiding athletic teams.

“When players join our team, there is a mutual investment,” said Brad Jorgensen, men’s lacrosse head coach. “We are counting on them helping us win games and represent Saint Leo, and they are counting on Saint Leo preparing them for the rest of their lives.”

Today, several Lions, now living across the country, are making the most of what they learned on the lacrosse field and in the classroom at the university.

Alumnus Anthony Biondo serves as the head men’s lacrosse coach at Hendrix College in Conway, AR, where in his first year as head coach in 2017, the Warriors set a school record with eight wins. Biondo earned his bachelor’s degree in middle grades education from Saint Leo in 2009.

“My education background helps with my approach to everything we do here,” Biondo said of his coaching experience at Hendrix. As he learned at Saint Leo, reaching young people can take several different approaches.

“It is my goal to ensure we are teaching our young men, and finding ways to break it down into little nuggets,” he said. “We try to reach our players in different ways; whether it is hands-on [field application], visual, or audio, we try and make sure we hit everything as a staff to ensure the information reaches the players.”

Not only does Biondo coach on the lacrosse field, but he also runs the leadership council and manages the budget for the program. “The job of being the coach is truly being a jack-of-all-trades,” said Biondo, who also maintains his team’s social media presence and recruits new players.

One of his biggest takeaways from his time in a Saint Leo uniform is that details matter.

“Coach Jorgensen was always on us about the little things, and making sure we did them, and teaching us to do them the right way,” Biondo said. “During my time there, I was able to grow and find my focus for my career. My professors in the education department taught me so much about how to connect with my students/players and to always approach it with a fresh mind every day.”

Linsey Hoskins ’14 has come full circle as she graduated from J.W. Mitchell High School in New Port Richey, FL, and now is the head girls lacrosse coach for the Mustangs. She also coaches the Tampa Tribe club team.

Hoskins earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in forensics/criminology. Now, she is teaching biology at Mitchell as well as teaching a new forensics class.

“I use my degree every day,” Hoskins said, “Since I teach the subjects that I studied. It is great just having the background knowledge. I use my real-life experiences and my different lab experiences.”

Hoskins was a walk-on player for the Saint Leo women’s lacrosse team, and she credits athletics for getting her through school. “I chose Saint Leo first and the sport came secondary,” she said. “It kept me focused. I probably wouldn’t have stayed in college if I hadn’t played a sport. Having the resources that Saint Leo offered to keep me focused, kept me in school. I may not have got those [resources] at a bigger university.”

As a coach, Hoskins said, she loves “just being able to bring the game that took me through college to other girls.

“It is important for those of us who did play at a high level to pass that along,” she continued.  “We need more role models for these young women. I love it.”

Saint Leo women’s lacrosse head coach Caitlin Hansen could not agree more. “I view coaching as an investment in growing the game,” Hansen said. “Lacrosse is a rapidly growing sport, and it’s one where we always are looking for people who have played to join the coaching ranks and give back. I think that investment in the future of the game is important.”

Two alumni who played on the Saint Leo men’s lacrosse national championship runners-up team are Kyle Pauwels and Jake Gilmour. Both earned their bachelor’s degrees in management in 2018, both are pursuing master’s in business administration, and both are coaching.

Pauwels is an assistant men’s lacrosse coach at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN. “With my undergrad degree being in management, there are a lot of concepts that apply to the business side of things along with coaching,” he said. “When managing a company or team, you come across dealing with different people and how you can lead them to success. There is also a lot of business and finance that comes with coaching, so my degree helped me prepare for the behind-the-scenes stuff in regard to booking hotels, ordering food and equipment, and more.”

As a coach, Pauwels said he loves giving back what he learned during his playing days. “I enjoy being around this age group and having an impact on them in any way possible,” he said. Like Biondo, Pauwels said taking pride in doing the right thing and doing something well were values instilled in him by Jorgensen, the Lions coach.

Gilmour was drafted by the Denver Outlaws to play professional lacrosse and plays for Major Series Lacrosse League in the summer. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he is waiting to hear about this year’s schedule. He also is a graduate assistant for Career Services at Saint Leo and co-head coach for the Wesley Chapel (FL) High School boys lacrosse team.

In addition, he helped with Lions lacrosse. “It was really cool and fun to be a part of all the other aspects and see it from a different perspective,” Gilmour said.

“I’ve actually been coaching for several years, as I coached summer clinics for the team I played for [in Canada],” he added. But while that coaching experience was only for a weekend, he enjoys coaching the Wildcats high school team.

“I enjoy being able to see the development of the players as they progress, and how their love of the game grows,” Gilmour said. “And obviously, I still have a passion for the game.”

In Career Services, Gilmour helps students discover what they need to be career-ready and what different work environments are like and also helps with their internships. During this time of online learning, Career Services also moved online, and Gilmour hosts virtual workshops and drop-ins for Saint Leo students.

His Saint Leo degree provided a solid foundation, Gilmour said. “A lot of what I learned is time management,” he said. “I handle my everyday job and balance high-school coaching and college coaching on the side. You have to get your act together pretty quickly!”

Pauwels and Gilmour share a favorite Saint Leo memory—playing for a national championship. “Really my whole senior year,” Pauwels said. “From being unranked to making it to a national championship was surreal. Our team came together so much on and off the field over the year. That whole season is still as clear as day.”

For Saint Leo’s Jorgensen and Hansen, coaching future coaches is rewarding.

“Having former players get into coaching is one of the highest compliments I can receive,” Jorgensen said. “To know that guys thought highly enough of the experience here at Saint Leo to want to spend their lives involved in lacrosse is really rewarding.”

Hansen said she thinks coaching is an investment in developing future leaders. “If you can build relationships and connect with these high school and college players, you can really push them to not only be their best selves on the field but in all other aspects of their lives as well.”

Those lessons have paid off for the alumni who are coaching. All said they want to continue coaching, teaching, or being involved in lacrosse and sports in some way.

Gilmour summed up Saint Leo’s culture and its effect on him: “It’s based on respect,” he said. “The world is a lot bigger than lacrosse, but it all begins with respect.”

 

Photos courtesy of Anthony Biondo and Hendrix College; Kyle Pauwels and Lincoln Memorial University; and Linsey Hoskins

Alumnus finds value and application in a popular Saint Leo University course on terrorism in Israel.

Charlie Bird ’05 ’11 ’14 followed a time-honored path over the course of three decades to emerge as the head of law enforcement  in his Central Florida hometown. He started as an outdoorsy, active young man who was introduced to the career through a friend who was a police dispatcher, and found the work suited him. He earned his degrees near home and advanced through the ranks. 

Now, as the director of public safety for the same small city, Winter Haven, FL (population: 43,000), Bird is a proponent of providing police and other emergency professionals with an international educational perspective. Even in smaller-population cities such as his, the threats to public safety and well-being are real, he said. Parkland, the Florida city victimized by the infamous Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, estimates its current population at 32,000, he pointed out.

Through his experiences at Saint Leo, Bird came to the conclusion that approaches to keeping the public safe now have to be researched worldwide, and not just within our country’s framework.

Bird earned an associate degree from Saint Leo in 2005 and later earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the university, studying part time, while working and raising a family. Then he followed that degree with a master’s in criminal justice with a concentration in critical incident management.

That was all sound training, he says, but what made him a more forward-leaning leader was his participation in an eight-day group trip to Israel. The tour is a learning experience that is organized periodically by Saint Leo’s departments of public safety administration and criminal justice in partnership with a respected security training company for law and safety students and professionals. The group learned about Israel’s approach to counterterrorism through its public infrastructure, various protective agencies, and planning capabilities.

“It was one of the best things I ever did,” Bird said of his 2014 experience. While many fellow travelers on the trip were from large-city police forces, Bird encountered many lessons that he applies in directing safety operations for Winter Haven, and that he thinks could work for other smaller municipalities.

New perspectives

What meant the most to Bird was the emphasis placed on the prevention of attacks and cooperative measures, along with strong tactical response capabilities. For instance, he realized in Israel, police and firefighters may coordinate and act immediately at a mass casualty, rather than in a sequence with police first, then firefighters. “You’re looking at it from a different perspective,” he said.

Charlie Bird, left, with Saint Leo faculty member Dr. Robert Sullivan on a tour during a study trip in May 2014 to Israel.

The Israeli thinking about keeping schools safe from intruders and active shooters also intrigued Bird. “Their security layers for schools are not just on campus,” he said. “They are outside that. They patrol the perimeters outside the school property.” His department could examine and adjust patrol routes, he immediately realized.

When he returned to Florida, the ideas stayed, and advancement opportunities followed. Bird became Winter Haven’s police chief early in 2015 after the previous chief, a mentor, left for another position in the region. After another few years, the city’s fire chief retired.

The local city manager in 2018 proposed a new organization bringing the fire and police departments, along with code enforcement, under one city department overseen by Bird. Bird agreed and was appointed the director of public safety, a new position. He now oversees 91 police employees and a force of 71 firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

One of Bird’s current initiatives involves taking police, fire, and code enforcement officers on team walks through neighborhoods where some of the homes and yards are out of code compliance or are about to be because of overgrown grass, debris, or other deficits. Team members walk and knock on doors to talk to residents, Bird said, taking an informative approach first, and asking what the public servants can do to help the residents bring the property into code compliance.

Community members who help agency personnel may come along, too, Bird said, and sometimes identify easy solutions. Firefighters look for features of buildings that might be fire hazards and add to their knowledge of the properties under their protective watch.

Cross-functional teams

The police presence also reassures residents the department is serious about keeping the area safe from personal and property crime and fighting drug dealing. This cooperative venture is also a data-driven exercise that will track results, including numbers of code citations and calls to police for help, Bird said.

He has his eye on the longer term, too. Now that some safety department managers have been working more holistically for more than a year, he would like to send six of them on the next Israel trip that Saint Leo is able to arrange. (A May 2020 date has been rescheduled for November 2020 in hopes of better travel conditions domestically and internationally, in light of the coronavirus outbreak.)

Bird wants the group to be able to see for themselves the kinds of things he did and develop more ideas for improving the safety and well-being of the residents of Winter Haven. An anonymous foundation board has come forward to fund most of this training so that taxpayers will not have to foot any costs. The donating board—unknown even to Bird—considers the donation a way to help the 53-year-old public safety director have strong successors in place when he eventually retires. Bird said he is “extremely appreciative.” The foundation’s board is “making a heck of an investment into the future of this department and into the future of this community.”


For More Information

If you are interested in learning more about the course and trip, please contact Dr. Robert Sullivan, faculty member with Saint Leo University’s Department of Public Safety Administration and Department of Criminal Justice, at robert.sullivan02@saintleo.edu.

Photos courtesy of Charlie Bird

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.
Go, Lions!
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.
  • Volunteer to appear in Career Services webinars. 

careerservices@saintleo.edu  |  (352) 588-8346
www.saintleo.edu/career-services-handshake


Your Saint Leo is Hitting the Road

A variety of alumni events are planned throughout the country this winter and spring. Be on the lookout for your invitation if you are in: 

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Savannah, GA
  • Charleston, SC
  • Houston, TX
  • Key West, FL
  • New York, NY

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. 

Food Network chef and Chopped judge Scott Conant and Sal DiBenedetto sample some of Conant’s dishes at Cellaio, his Italian-inspired steakhouse at Resorts World Catskills.

“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.”

The GrubfatherSaint 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

Age:
28

Hometown:
Long Island, NY

Favorite food:
I’m extremely partial to Italian food, and I’m a huge fan of Japanese cuisine.

Travel list:
Japan!

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.

Best dish:
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.

Follow The Grubfather
@TheGrubfather on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

About your Alumni Association 

Whether you are among our newest alumni or have not been active within the alumni association, here are some details to know:

  • The alumni association is led by the board of directors, which holds open nominations every January. Eight to 10 positions open each July as current members’ terms expire.
  • Homecoming weekend is held the first weekend in November at University Campus and is a great opportunity to reconnect with former classmates or to expand your network.
  • A variety of alumni events are held throughout the country, including happy hours, professional networking, community service projects, and outings to local sporting events. Bring a friend or come on your own. Either way, you will be glad you came.
  • Regional alumni chapters provide a great opportunity to get involved with Saint Leo right in your own backyard. Don’t see your city listed? Contact the Alumni Engagement office to find out how to start a chapter.

Photo: Front row: Keith Middlemark ’04 (secretary), Harv Whitney ’68 (treasurer), John Holladay ’75 (president-elect), Ann Marie Lombardi ’77 (president). Second row: Bud McKechnie ’52, Brittany Hahn ’15, Ray Pennick ’16, Kristen (Cabot) Brady ’08, ’13, Sandy Watkins ’03, ’17, Rebecca Matthews ’14, Amber Loring ’06, ’07, Akshita Sahgal ’19, Allison Walker ’09, Maggie (Herrmann) Beaumont ’57. Third row: Luckson Abraham ’16, Iskra Sbraccia ’05, ’09, Bill Meneely ’71, Ken Finch ’89, Andy Flanagan ’70, John McDonald ’87, Greg Greiwe ’80, Gary Gustafson ’07, John Flaherty ’67, Juliette Stratis ’19, George Gano ’85

Details on all this and much more are available at your.saintleo.edu.


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

Note from the from the Alumni Association President

A special welcome to the Class of 2018! You are now a valued member of our Saint Leo University Alumni Association family.

We encourage all 93,000 alumni around the globe to actively support our many activities and programs; stay connected with the latest news and happenings on our website and social media channels; join your fellow alumni during networking and chapter events; and give back your time, talents, and treasures in support of our university. Visit your alumni website—your.saintleo.edu—to learn more.

I also would like to recognize and thank this year’s Saint Leo University Alumni Association Board of Directors for their dedication to our mission. Together, we are working to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between Saint Leo University and alumni. We hope our leadership actions, volunteerism, and giving inspires all alumni to engage and support our alma mater.


Saint Leo Launches a New Online Career Platform

Saint Leo Career Services is excited to announce the launch of Handshake, the go-to career services platform for Saint Leo alumni and students. The new online site offers several resources for alumni and students who are looking for career guidance, seeking a new job, or looking to find that perfect new employee.

Visit Career Services Handshake and check out the site today.

As a job seeker, you can:

  • Schedule an appointment with one of our career advisors (phone, video conference, or in person)
  • Easily search for jobs using an upgraded tool
  • Read different career profiles

As a prospective employer, you can:

  • Share job postings
  • Announce internship opportunities
  • Connect with students and alumni as a mentor

Alumni Chapters are Growing

We are excited to welcome the Virginia Peninsula Alumni Chapter and the Virginia Southside Alumni Chapter to the pride! If you are in the Tidewater, VA, or Tampa Bay, FL, area, be sure to check out the alumni chapter events for great opportunities to network, participate in service projects, and have fun. Chapters will also be forming in Ocala, FL; Savannah, GA; and Jacksonville, FL, this fall.

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Virginia Southside Alumni Chapter social

Photo above from left to right: Anderson Lora ’20, Derrick Wade ’18, Stephen Kubasek ’08, John Flaherty ’67, Lesny Flores ’20, and Gerard Wiltshire ’17

Christopher Fils ’18
Branch Manager, Morgan Stanley

FilsWhen Christopher Fils finished his undergraduate degree in December 2008, the conditions for launching a career in finance were not just unfavorable, but downright hostile. It was the start of the Great Recession, and the finance sector was shedding thousands of jobs.

Some may have opted for another line of work. But Fils still aspired to financial counseling. The son of immigrants and the finance sector was shedding thousands of jobs.from Haiti and Jamaica, he had begun reading popular financial titles like The Millionaire Next Door in his teens. He managed to get a foot in the door at a financial services company in Tampa in 2009 in customer phone services, and stayed for about a year. “But I wanted to be in front of people, helping them plan.” He started in personal banking at another company and has since kept acquiring skills, professional licenses, and responsibilities.

He and his wife have also moved physically, from Tampa, to New York City, to California. Currently he is a branch manager for Morgan Stanley in Los Gatos, the southern end of Silicon Valley. While Fils was intrigued with New York, the opportunity to live in California and witness the interplay of technology and innovation with growth and wealth was compelling. He oversees 25 employees and is in charge of all sales, investments, compliance, and hiring.

Fils is also within months of earning his MBA online from Saint Leo. “It’s amazing,” he said, a little stunned. “I’m 30 years old. I came up through the recession.” His path demonstrates advice he now passes along to younger people: Be alert to opportunities—they can come up suddenly and subtly. And when you see an opportunity, “Move on it quickly.”


Ally Vincent ’14
Second Grade Inclusion Teacher, Citrus Springs Elementary School

_DSC7891When Ally Vincent was an elementary education student at University Campus, her professors and fellow classmates knew she was destined for great things. An active volunteer for campus events and participant in SERVE (Students Engaged in Rewarding Volunteer Experiences) trips, Vincent was always eager to lend a hand.

After graduation, she was afforded the opportunity to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, as part of the Rotary Global Scholar Program. Through this yearlong program, she earned a Master of Science in Inclusive and Special Education. She said it was “an amazing year” during which she did research, observed other teachers, and presented at a conference. She was also made an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Portobello, her host club during that year.

This advanced degree led her back to Florida and to Citrus Springs Elementary School in Citrus County, where she teaches a second grade inclusion class. She explained that “almost half of the students have disabilities of some kind—developmental, physical, or intellectual.” Her job
is challenging, but she said it is all worth it when she  “sees the smiles of the kids, and I know I can help make a difference.”

She explained: “The kids definitely keep me on my toes. Many don’t get the love and support they need from home. So it’s important to have good role models at school.”


Heather Grimes ’09
Chief Administrative Officer, Pasco County Clerk and Comptroller’s Office

fullsizeoutput_ca8fHeather Grimes has worn many hats in county government, from customer service and performance development administrator to assistant county administrator. Today, Grimes is the chief administrative officer for the Pasco County (FL) Clerk and Comptroller’s Office, and she stated that in all her various roles she has enjoyed being able to give back to her community.

Grimes earned her MBA online from Saint Leo, and she continues to contribute to the university. In June, Grimes participated in the Leaders in the Industry webinar presented by Saint Leo WorldWide Career Services and offered advice to students about working in government administration.

“The benefits are great, and the pay is competitive,” Grimes said, “but you don’t come to government to get rich.”

In Florida, governments participate in the Florida Retirement System. Additional perks of government employment include excellent leave policies and tuition reimbursement. “My MBA was 100 percent paid for by Pasco County, and they encouraged me to go after my master’s degree,” Grimes said.

According to Grimes, no matter where you live, there is always a government job to be found and one for every interest. “Once you understand government and how it works, it is easy for you to be able to transfer to another government job [since] you can speak the lingo,” she said.

More importantly, it is interesting and challenging work. “You can make a difference,” Grime said. “There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you are giving back to the community you live in. Find your happy place, and you will do good things there. I tell my employees this all the time. Make sure it is somewhere you enjoy working.”


Christopher Stanzione ’08
Lecturer, Georgia Institute of Technology

Stanzione_HeadshotWhat attracted Christopher Stanzione to Saint Leo? The warm weather, the beautiful campus, and the great psychology faculty. In fact, he found Saint Leo to be the perfect fit and quickly got involved in Tau Kappa Epsilon, was active in the Psychology Club, and served as a campus tour guide.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Stanzione headed straight to graduate school at the University of North Florida, focusing on research, and received his master’s degree in 2010. He went on to Georgia State University, where he earned a PhD in 2014.

Today, Dr. Stanzione is a lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he strives to be an “authentic mentor” to his students. His specialization is child psychology, specifically language and cognitive development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. A second area of study is in personality theory, explaining that personality “is like gravity. You can’t see it, but you can feel its effects. Therefore, it’s important to measure personality traits from several angles.”

As an educational psychologist, one of his jobs is to study how individuals learn and retain knowledge, especially in classrooms. According to Stanzione, these areas not only include the obvious, like the learning process, but also extend to emotional, social, and cognitive outcomes for all students. However, it is not enough to solely study an area of psychology to become a good teacher. Teaching goes beyond methodology and involves creating real connections with students. One of his goals for each student is to become an informed consumer of knowledge. “As an instructor, it is my job to apply critical thinking techniques within my lectures and assignments. However, becoming an informed consumer of knowledge is not confined to the context of academic topics. I am also teaching students to be good people; celebrating those from different backgrounds or who have different views than our own, and this requires us to think critically, too.” His short-term goals include improving the teaching curriculum, increasing his effectiveness, strengthening the professor-student relationship, and helping students with research.

Down the road? “I hope to one day go on a sabbatical—go abroad and work at another university. I think that international experience would broaden my perspective.”


J.P. Ricciardi
Special Assistant to the General Manager, New York Mets

Ricciardi_Ricco0683What does it take to make it to the majors? For J.P. Ricciardi (standing left), his road to the New York Mets front office had some interesting turns.

It all started when he was recruited to play baseball for the Saint Leo Monarchs in the late 1970s. A second baseman, he came to Florida and soon found that the baseball team was like his family. When not in class, they spent most of their time playing and practicing together.

“The campus was great,” Ricciardi said. “But it sure has changed a lot—for the better. Saint Leo has come a long way, and I’m proud of what it’s become.”

Three years into his college career, Ricciardi signed with the New York Mets in 1980. He played in that team’s system for a few years, then went to work as a coach for the New York Yankees farm system. Along the way, he was also a minor league instructor and scout for the Oakland Athletics.

He landed his first job in the front office as special assistant to Sandy Alderson, the general manager of the Athletics. When Billy Beane assumed the GM role, Ricciardi transitioned to the director of Player Personnel. The success he had in those roles led him to being namedthe general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001.

“Saint Leo has come a long way, and I’m proud of what it’s become.” —J.P. Ricciardi

These days, 37 years later, he is working for the team that first drafted him, serving once again as special assistant to Sandy Alderson, now GM for the Mets. In this position, Ricciardi helps put the baseball team together, has a hand in player trades, evaluates the minor league system, and manages many of the operation’s processes.

“It’s a great job,” he said. “I get to be part of a terrific organization.”

When he is not in the office or on the field, he is spending time with his wife of 33 years and their two sons, who are both playing baseball in college—one a junior at Bryant College (RI) and the other in his first year at Florida Atlantic University.


John Flaherty ’67
Director of Alumni Relations, Salesian High School

_DSC5301Many alumni want to give back to Saint Leo but may not know what they can offer. For John Flaherty, the answeris simple: encourage high school students to choose Saint Leo for college.

A native of Yonkers, NY, Flaherty has worked at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, NY, for more than 50 years. A former principal, he is now director of Alumni Relations and has helped recruit more than 15 young men for Saint Leo. He says that all were happy with their choices and have gone on to find success in their careers. Among them are Stephen Kubasek ’08, who is now director of Advancement Services and Planned Giving at Saint Leo; Joseph P. “J.P.” Connellan ’85, Saint Leo trustee and a managing director at Citi; and current freshmen Michael Ahearn and Jordan Rivera.

Flaherty chose Saint Leo because he liked the small college setting. When he arrived, it was a two-year college, but then transitioned to a four-year college, so he stayed and completed his bachelor’s degree.

He said that at Saint Leo, he was able to try things that might have intimidated him at a large university, such as taking courses that were more difficult or outside his usual aptitude. He found that teachers and classmates supported him in all that he attempted.

In talking to high school students, he has discovered that “If you want to get into a student’s head, get there through his heart. Let them know that you care. That is what the Saint Leo faculty did for me, and I applied it in my career. The foundation of a Salesian education is based on the four educational principles of reason, religion, kindness, and presence.” Today, more than a dozen alumni can credit Flaherty for helping them make a good choice and join the Saint Leo family.


Mikael Angesjo ’08
Deputy Director, Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom

Mikael AngesioWhen Mikael Angesjo was considering where to attend college, he had many offers outside his native Sweden. In the end, however, he felt that Saint Leo was the perfect choice to continue his soccer career while gaining a good education. That education has led him to an interesting international career, including his current role as deputy director of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom.

As a student-athlete at Saint Leo, Angesjo was a business major with a marketing specialization and a member of the men’s soccer team that won the school’s first-ever conference championship. Looking back, he said, “The institution was like one big family, and such an atmosphere fosters excellence. I met some of my closest friends, excelled academically and reached Who’s Who, won the school’s first athletic championship in history, fell in love, and found God at Saint Leo. To do that in four years, I look back at it now and wonder how it was all possible.”

For a time, Angesjo was an agency-represented fashion model, working for some of the top international brands, including Armani, Calvin Klein, and Adidas, but these days he is focused on his director position with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, the largest Swedish business network in the world, where he has applied a lot of the skills acquired at Saint Leo. He explained, “I work in 50 different sectors at the same time. There is a satisfaction in connecting companies with completely different profiles, which otherwise never would have thought to cross each other’s paths, and ultimately see it lead to fruitful partnerships. However, acting as the main point of contact for 400 exporting companies, and doing so in a country [UK] in the process of a historic (and highly complex) ‘divorce settlement’ from the European Union, comes with a certain level of pressure.”

What is next for Angesjo? “My goal is not very specific but the same as it has been—to always be in an environment where I feel I am developing. When you feel that is no longer the case, it is time to move to the next chapter.” He continued, “There are some plans in place I cannot share at this very moment in time, but one has to continue to challenge oneself.”

Christian Schindler

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Christian Schindler has joined Saint Leo University as vice president of Marketing and Enrollment. Prior to this position, Schindler served in a variety of leadership roles in marketing and enrollment, including divisional vice president of Strategic Recruitment and Global Marketing at Laureate Education, vice president of Marketing and Enrollment at Straighterline, and senior director of International Global Marketing at LeapFrog Enterprises. He has an extensive background in lead generation, branding, and strategic recruitment for both campus-based and online institutions of learning. He is a graduate of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, where he also received his Bachelor of Arts in political science.

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-ClausKristen 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-TorresDaniel 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-DavisAmanda 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.”


AliciaWaldonAlicia 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-CollinsNikki 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-LoringAmber 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-McDearmonRebecca 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'KeefeJessica 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.

Alex “Pancho” Carrera, a junior at University Campus, passed away on September 11, 2016. A graduate of Fort Pierce Central High School, he was born in Guerrero, Mexico. Fellow students remember him for his “huge smile and contagious happiness.”


Brother Benedict Cooper of Saint Leo Abbey passed away on December 30, 2016. He lived on the Abbey grounds following the death of his wife, and he made his oblation in 2011. The monks of Saint Leo Abbey remember him for his smile and happy demeanor. He dutifully worked in the sacristy, keeping everything orderly and clean, and he prided himself on being a singer in the St. Petersburg cathedral choir.


Nicholas Cusson-Ducharme (aka Nickk Cusson) passed away on December 31, 2016 near his home in Winooski, VT. A senior majoring in accounting, Nickk took classes at University Campus and online. He was active in the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.


Clarence H. Johnson, an MBA student at the Tampa Education Center, passed away on October 31, 2016. He was a resident of Temple Terrace, FL. Before enrolling at Saint Leo, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Florida. An enthusiastic traveler, he found joy in music, food, and art.

 


J. Roy Dee ’49
September 30, 2016

Richard T. Slade ’50
January 9, 2017

Martha (Pike) Huizenga ’61
January 3, 2017

Patrice M. Chardain ’62
August 9, 2015

George J. Kennedy ’67
November 23, 2016

Michael F. Miron ’67
September 1, 2016

Michael A. Milardo ’68
August 16, 2016

James “Jay” Kenney ’69
June 18, 2016

Pierre P. Lafitte ’69
September 24, 2016

William “Ernie” Chatman ’72
July 24, 2016

Charles M. Durian ’73
November 6, 2015

Kevin J. Kiernan ’77
November 7, 2016

LTC Harold G. Beddow ’80
May 9, 2014

Joyce M. Dudley-England ’80
December 17, 2015

Foriest S. Rivenbark ’81
July 18, 2016

Walter C. Capron Jr. ’82
January 5, 2016

Kenneth A. Kozbiel ’82
September 29, 2016

Laurence E. Higgins ’84
August 24, 2016

Shelley L. Kelly ’84
January 24, 2014

Jennifer B. Canalizo ’86
December 9, 2014

Hugh U. Downing ’87
August 7, 2013

Ronald W. Hinson ’89
August 31, 2016

Kevin Flynn ’95
July 27, 2016

Philip P. Royal ’98
July 18, 2016

David S. Flowers ’00
November 3, 2016

Tommy W. Reagan ’03
August 22, 2016

Robert A. Behnke ’11
September 1, 2016

Helen Crittenden ’11
March 20, 2015

Elimisha M. Gates ’13
August 23, 2016

Yvonne Johnson ’13
August 23, 2016

Ann Marie Gildemeyer ’14
July 22, 2016

Tiffanie M. Hughess ’15
July 18, 2016

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.

 

 

 

Being a parent is a tough job, but being a single mom taking college classes is even tougher. Yesenia Shaffer ’14, age 26, was one of those moms who juggled and multi-tasked, finally earning her bachelor’s degree in social work in Spring 2014.

It took lots of planning,” Shaffer remembers. “I knew I had to limit how long I was gone from my son.”

Her son, Gavin-Anthony, now 4, was 2 when Shaffer began taking courses toward her bachelor’s degree. Prior to that, she earned her Associate of Arts degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, FL (now Pasco-Hernando State College, PHSC).

Gavin-Anthony was foremost in Shaffer’s mind as she began her education journey. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have him in day care,” she says. “So I went to night school. As I went through school, I got a little smarter, and I gained more strength to let go a little bit of my son. I worked nights at the Generations Christian Church in Trinity so I could afford small things, and my son was always with me when I worked in the day care area. I didn’t take on anything where I couldn’t take care of him. I was figuring out what was best for him.”

In addition to getting a college degree, Shaffer also wanted to become a pilot. When she first started her junior year at the Adult Education Center at the New Port Richey Office-PHSC, she only worked nights so that her son could accompany her. “My last semester, I got a job at the flight school and it was two hours both ways in traffic,” she recalls.

Dr. Marguerite McInnis, department chair of social work at Saint Leo, was impressed that her student wanted to be a pilot. “At first she was living in New Port Richey and commuting to Lakeland,” Dr. McInnis says. “And she still did her field placement. I was just amazed at everything she was handling. She maintained a positive attitude, but she was tired. She was juggling everything for her child’s future and for her future.”

Shaffer pursued a bachelor’s degree in social work from Saint Leo’s Adult Education Center at PHSC after not knowing what she wanted to study. It all became clear when she took her first human services class. “During the class, our teacher talked about if you wanted to be a counselor, you should get a social work degree rather than psychology,” Shaffer explains. “I had taken psychology, nursing, and education classes; I actually have my massage therapy license. I always enjoyed helping people, but didn’t know what way was going to be my way.”

Her own life mirrored what she was studying. “I happened to be in every situation,” she says. “I’m a young, Hispanic single mother, recently divorced, trying to go back to school, [with a] home that I can barely pay the mortgage for, and supporting a son.”

After some soul searching, she realized she wanted to help other people by majoring in social work. “I felt so empowered,” she says. “I was at the lowest time in my life, but I felt like I could build myself up to be anything. I had a clean slate. Everyone was so encouraging. I felt strong.”

Shaffer chose Saint Leo because family members and friends had studied at the university. “I grew up right off Old St. Joe Road and did a summer camp at Saint Leo,” she says.” I always knew it was really a great university. It was convenient. It had everything. And I could afford it. It fit all my requirements.”

Shaffer wants to combine flying with humanitarian interests. “I love, love, love to help people and fly and get to places that don’t have a lot of people coming by to help,” Shaffer explains. One of her future goals is to fly to the Caribbean islands and bring supplies. “I want to help people, meeting them where they are and helping them how I can.”

Now she is director of sales and marketing at Kingsky Flight Academy in Lakeland, a five-minute drive from her home. Gavin-Anthony attends a day care at the airfield and is proud of his mother. “He’s so vocal about it,” Shaffer said. “Maybe it comes from being my kid! He’s very verbal—every emotion is expressed. He’s always telling me how he is feeling. He knows that Mommy has worked hard.”