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

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

Cynthia coloring with a disabled child

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

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

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

Children holding up Cynthia's coloring books

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia Cordero in uniform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For More Information

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

 

Photos provided by Cynthia Cordero

 

Professor Jack McTague retires from Saint Leo University after 44 years of teaching.

Scores of alumni who studied at University Campus recognize Professor Jack McTague as the cheerful fellow who plays bass with other faculty rock enthusiasts in their band, Time Warp. Some know him as a loyal fan of the Lions men basketball team, while theater enthusiasts may think of him as a patron of campus musicals, and sometimes even a cast member.

Jack McTague throughout the years

Beyond those classic McTague vignettes, though, is a more substantive story. McTague is the history professor who has actually become part of Saint Leo history through 44 years of service to students and camaraderie with colleagues. This spring marked McTague’s final semester of teaching undergraduates before retirement.

This accomplishment has alumni and colleagues pausing in appreciation for the effect McTague has had. On one level, people have been remarking on McTague’s steadfast show of community through attendance at events outside the classroom, in support of campus lectures and programming, or at students’ athletic contests and artistic efforts.

Then there is the measure of success a teacher can have in helping students to mature intellectually. McTague has always stressed to students the importance of thinking about context when confronting big questions. Much of the time, he means they need to know or learn enough to be informed citizens.

“Should there be any restrictions on freedom of speech?” McTague asked a class of eight seniors one day in February. The young citizens in the spring History of Ideas course had just read some texts that were in philosophical agreement with the American Bill of Rights. Now McTague was asking them to articulate their own beliefs about freedoms in light of hate speech, social media, the Global War on Terrorism, and other complexities of contemporary times. And then McTague asked them another question, and another.

Emily Mincey ’16 recalls that course, one of her favorites among the many she, a history major, took with McTague. His way of posing discussion questions “gave us the space to learn,” she said. In fact, she knew any course she took with him “was going to be a productive and enjoyable learning experience.”

Because McTague has always been primarily assigned to teach history from beyond the United States, he has likely had an even greater effect in helping students understand lessons from abroad. “The world is so much more connected now,” McTague said. “We certainly need to learn a lot more about China, we need to know more about the Mideast. Being in Florida, we need to know about Latin America.”

Some military-affiliated students come to class already aware of this, owing to previous deployments abroad or potential deployments in their futures, he said. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, he recalled, a sizable enrollment of military students impressed the faculty and classmates. “They were all very serious, hard-working students. In any class they were in, they raised the level,” McTague said.

In more recent years, the pattern has reappeared. Criminal justice majors who are concentrating on homeland security studies consistently enroll in an upper-level course he teaches on the Mideast, he added. “A lot more of our students are going to be traveling and serving in that part of the world.”

The subject matter does not come easily though. American students have told McTague that courses on the histories of other nations are more challenging than the U.S. history courses. “I know it’s tough,” he responds. “You’ve never heard of these names before now, and you’ve never heard of these events.”

In truth, he literally does know what they are going through in learning about regions that are new to them. The scholar has been called upon to expand his own base of knowledge dramatically from his early teaching days.

When the young John J. McTague Jr. first came to Saint Leo from the State University of Buffalo for an interview in 1976, he had an advantage in that his doctoral research and dissertation examined Britain, the United States, and Palestine, and that he had also studied Japan. Other young academics were much more specialized in their doctoral pursuits. Saint Leo had only one opening for one historian to teach history from beyond the United States (the one other historian on staff covered U.S. history). So McTague was the most qualified academically, and he knew from his own undergraduate college days that he could enjoy a small, Catholic campus atmosphere.

He has had to continue learning though, and researching and writing. In 1983, he published a book, British Policy in Palestine 1917-1922, which drew from the same topic he researched for his dissertation topic. Numerous articles and conference presentations have followed in the decades since, primarily dealing with Mideast history and politics. He also has enjoyed writing book reviews for a variety of professional journals and newspapers.

Traveling, too, has been an important learning mode. When McTague was first offered the Saint Leo job, he recalled, he had been to Europe twice and to Israel.

But as time went on, McTague and colleagues agreed the Saint Leo world history curriculum should be expanded. And McTague always felt a history professor should have a first-person acquaintance with the culture of countries in his or her teaching areas. Saint Leo has been supportive, he said, by making professional development money available that helped him finance summer educational travel.

“My two trips to China have been very useful for my classes in Far Eastern History and trips to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan have been helpful in my Middle Eastern History classes.” His trips to 10 countries in Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean have helped inform classes on that region, as well. “I’ve now been to 40 countries,” he said.

In the future, he would like to travel more, with another trip to Israel among his planned destinations. And then he may be back to teach a course from time to time because he’s also the resident expert on Latin American history.


McTague’s Movies

Jack McTague is happy to recommend movies that have a basis in historical events. Here are some of his suggestions, organized by regions of the world.

Latin America
The Mission, Like Water for Chocolate, Frida, Roma

Middle East
Lawrence of Arabia, Argo, The Kingdom

Far East
The Last Emperor, Gandhi, Seven Years in Tibet, The Last Samurai


Congratulations

The university extends its best wishes also to these faculty, who decided to retire this academic year.

  • Francis Githieya, assistant professor of philosophy, theology, and religion, Atlanta
  • Susan Foster, professor of sport business
  • Marguerite McInnis, associate professor of social work
  • David Persky, professor of criminal justice
  • Thomas Ricard, assistant professor of physics and physical sciences
  • Joanne Roberts, associate professor of education
  • Leonard Territo, distinguished professor (graduate studies) of criminal justice

Center photo by Cheryl Hemphill. Other images courtesy of Time Warp, and from Saint Leo files

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone knows that wry saying about becoming a parent: You have to pass a test to get a driver’s license, but not to become a biological mother or father.

While that is still true, some Saint Leo students have had the option of getting some excellent grounding in the topic (with tests) through an undergraduate course called the Psychology of Parenting. It is a junior-level course, developed by Dr. Tammy L. Zacchilli, associate professor of psychology, after discussion among several peers in the discipline from various Saint Leo teaching locations. She has taught it four times so far, every other fall, at University Campus. The class typically fills up, or nearly does.

Dr. Tammy Zacchilli, a mother of three herself, has hopes of extending the course to more Saint Leo students by developing an online version in the near future.
Psychology faculty knew the course would help students who want to become parents at some point in life. Another group that stands to benefit are those who intend to go into teaching, social work, or another kind of helping profession, she points out. “Their jobs may require them to work with parents.”

For some reason, Zacchilli found there were only a few sound textbooks available on the topic—though she notes with caution for other readers that anyone can write a book on parenting without broad knowledge of the theories on how children develop psychologically. Still, she hunted until she found one and supplements the reading with videos, interactive assignments, speakers from child-related occupations, class discussions, and a required service project.

The class lends itself to being divided into three segments, she said. In the first part, the class reads and discusses what psychologists have written about parenting and discipline styles. Students are generally eager to talk about this and compare experiences. Even though most at University Campus have not yet had children, they think back to their own families and have positive exchanges about how different cultures and backgrounds play a role, she said.

“We have students from a lot of different places,” she reflects. Students from the Caribbean, for instance, may have experiences that contrast with those of students from the mainland United States.

The second portion of the course is devoted to understanding child development, and the third to special situations that include adoption, high-risk families, and same-sex parenting.

Emma Hutterli ’16 particularly recalls an assignment with a delicate prop. Students were given actual chicken eggs (with the inside liquid blown out) to carry for a week as stand-ins for infants, meaning they were not to leave the eggs unattended. It was “light-hearted, but the class took it seriously,” recalled Hutterli, who is now studying for the Master of Social Work degree from Saint Leo.

“We then talked about that experience: for example, how was it to ask for a babysitter, what was it like taking the eggs to class/home/the store, did any of the eggs break over the time period?” She still has her phone photo of her decorated egg.

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

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

Remembering Mike Macekura

Macekura,-MikeCountless young people first heard of Saint Leo University because of the work of Mike Macekura. He worked as an associate director of admissions and often traveled to college fairs representing Saint Leo. He liked to place a palm tree on the Saint Leo display table. It was a conversation starter when he was chatting with families in the Northeast and explaining the advantages their students would enjoy if they attended college at University Campus in Florida. His daughter Vanessa ’11 followed that advice and proved him right.

Macekura, who lived in Marlton, NJ, passed away on December 19, 2017, at the age of 61. He proudly served his country as a major in the U.S. Army and as part of the Infantry 82nd Airborne Division. He was the first commandant of the Army Sniper School. In addition to his professional accomplishments, he was a man who loved antiques and who was trained in Italy to make violins.


Lorinda (Cindy) Eldredge,Honors Graduate 2008 (1/2+)

Cindy-'08-and-James-EldredgeMy darling wife, your spirit is with me as I see your name
written in stone.
I know that I shall never, nor will you ever, be alone.
Always and forever,
Husband Jim (1/2= 1)
P.S. — 1/2 each made us whole


John Sosin ’50
September 3, 2016

Victor (Vic) Helton ’53
April 21, 2016

Edward (Eddie) Herrmann ’53
October 21, 2017

Ronald L. Taylor ’58
December 20, 2016

Jay J. Miniet ’64
July 18, 2017

Elizabeth Allison ’69
May 22, 2017

Glen J. Swette ’72
September 15, 2017

Glover P. Manning ’76
January 7, 2017

Susan E. Huysman ’77
April 18, 2015

Karl Pedersen ’77
June 18, 2017

James O. Wallace ’77
September 16, 2014

Jack D. Hunn ’78
September 10, 2017

Lester J. Rarick ’78
January 30, 2015

Boyd M. Weber ’78
August 28, 2017

Charles W. Bishop ’81
May 6, 2014

John R. Moll ’81
March 17, 2015

Manuel Faria ’83
August 10, 2017

Donald (Don) McDowell ’83
March 30, 2017

John W. Winter ’83
November 5, 2016

Columbus H. Mize ’84
July 18, 2017

Benjamin A. Sablan ’84
October 5, 2017

Hollis C. Turner ’84
May 30, 2015

Charles E. Willie ’85
May 23, 2017

Moses C. Baines ’93
April 4, 2017

Ronald G. Bondurant ’00
May 26, 2006

David Cox ’03
May 10, 2017

Greg Fusco ’03
December 16, 2017

Lorinda (Cindy) Eldredge ’08
September 9, 2017

David M. Smith ’09
February 28, 2017

Kajuansa A. Jones ’11
January 19, 2017

Brett T. Bassett ’16
November 18, 2017

Anderlei Cunha Mello Jr. ’20
October 31, 2017

Iconic children’s TV host Fred Rogers often quoted his mother as saying in tough situations or emergencies, “Look for the helpers. There’s always someone who is trying to help.” Saint Leo alumnus Marlon Knight is one such helper.

At age 6, Knight became a caregiver. His great-grandmother came to live with him and his mother. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and her condition progressively declined to the point that she was bedridden. Young Knight came to her aid. “I would get her up, help her use a bedpan, clean her,” he said. In addition, when he was 11, he helped care for his grandfather, who had suffered a stroke.

A desire to help others led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in human services from Saint Leo University’s Savannah Education Center in 2016. “I have a giving heart,” he said. “I want to make a difference.”

Knight grew up helping older neighbors, getting them groceries and doing chores. “They said, ‘You have a spirit of discernment at an early age and a spirit to communicate with people,’” Knight recalled. His helpfulness was not limited to seniors, as he volunteered and worked with children, teens, and young adults. “At the daycare [center] my children attended, I would go and read stories, acting them out,” Knight said. “And I was Santa Claus for three years in a row.”

He was enrolled at Savannah Technical College, and friends there kept encouraging him to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “Some of my classmates were going to classes at Saint Leo at night,” he said. “When I walked in the door [of the Savannah Education Center], the staff was so welcoming. They were so helpful. I said, ‘I need to do this!’ I never stopped until I walked across the stage [at commencement].”

Human services was a good fit for Knight. As a child, his mother coached him, was strict about his penmanship, and the way in which he spoke and carried himself. She encouraged him to help others. “It was that upbringing,” he said, that led him to a degree based on aiding those in need.

He completed his internship at Park Place Outreach Inc. in Savannah, GA, working with at-risk youths. Park Place operates an emergency shelter for children ages 11 to 17, who may be runaways, placed there by the court, or in other vulnerable situations. That “real world” experience coupled with volunteer work with the Human Services Club, his classmates, and the Saint Leo faculty and staff was eye-opening. “We went out in the summertime, and the kids [from Park Place Outreach] were doing volunteering, passing out food, brown bag lunches, snacks, juices, and personal care items,” Knight said. “In human services, we were seeing the homeless, and we would count the homeless and pass out blankets. We would see babies in shelters. It was just so heartbreaking, but it was just a great experience.

“You are out in the community, and you get to see the less fortunate,” Knight continued, ‘those who look like me and you, who are going through a rough time.”

Since February 2017, he has been a probation officer with the Chatham County Juvenile Court, continuing to help youths. He recently finished working with a pilot program of Homeboy Industries. The eight-week work-readiness program paid young people a stipend and taught them work and life skills. “Their conversations were about their struggles, hardships, drugs, guns, life on the streets, life behind bars, and the people who they know who have died,” Knight said.

His key to reaching them was poetry. In addition to helping others since a young age, Knight has put pen to paper to write. He wrote rap songs at 12. Sharing those raps with young gang members helps break the ice.

In December, he spoke at the 3-on-3 basketball jamboree sponsored by the City of Savannah.

Addressing a gymnasium filled with boys and girls, he performed “Problems”, a rap song he wrote as a teen.

“I started off with that poem to show that I can relate to them,” Knight said of his rap. “Poetry is how I get people to listen.”

Problems
So many problems are chasing me,
I’m stuck with nowhere to turn,
Nobody’s concerned,
who’s the blame if I never learn,
I’m full of a lot of stress,
nobody seems to know why,
I’m pressured by pain—so I get high,
hoping I can get by,
’cause on these streets ain’t nothing to do but violence-so I try to chill,
’cause if I’m caught in the crossfire—it’s so easy to be killed,
and if I die—some gonna cry,
but still life goes on . . .

His writing led him to attend the Sandhill Writers Retreat at University Campus. Encouraged by Dr. Susan Kinsella, now dean of the School of Education and Social Services, Knight submitted his poem “My Gifts” to Gianna Russo, assistant professor of English and creative writing. “What really motivated me was in the break area [of the Savannah Education Center], there is a picture of the campus,” Knight said. “I was intrigued by the beauty of the campus. I said, ‘I want to go there.’ It was one of the most beautiful sights. I wanted to get more involved with the writing, meet more writers, and learn techniques. I was excited to do something different.”

In downtime while he is sitting in court, Knight writes. “I write about life, love, spiritual growth,” he said. “The work inspires it, too.”

He translates what he sees and the stories of the young people he helps into poetry. He uses his gift of poetry to change young lives, still being the helper.

Helping-out-(1)-(2)
Marlon Knight’s children, Christopher and Christiana, are shown with Dr. Susan Kinsella, dean of the School of Education and Social Services, volunteering with the Savannah Education Center’s Human Services Club at Second Harvest Food Bank. Not pictured, Knight’s son, Marlon Jr.

Header photo: Marlon Knight ’16 and daughters Marlaya and Chistiana (wearing tiara)

Minghe LiMinghe Li is an industrious new graduate of the Donald R. Tapia School of Business. The 22-year-old pursued a dual major in accounting and economics and, in a logical progression, landed a good position right away in Tampa, working for accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

No surprises there.

It’s his hometown that’s the attention grabber: Baotou, a large industrial and mining city in Inner Mongolia, China. The city of more than 2 million is recognized mainly for its supply of earth minerals.

Few other alumni have come to Saint Leo’s University Campus from schools in Inner Mongolia. But trends are shifting, and Li is a young man with a personality suited to discovery. He has come of age in an era when more Chinese families are able to afford to send children abroad to look at educational opportunities. More than 304,000 international students in the United States are from China, according to the Institute of International Education, and account for more than 31 percent of the international students in this country. In fact, China has produced more international students in American colleges than any other nation.

Li recalls his interest in overseas travel being stirred during his teen years, when he was able to visit London for a few weeks. He just kept thinking about what more there is to see in the world. Curiosity inspired him to seek his father’s permission to study abroad during high school.

At first Li tried Wisconsin, and then transferred to Melbourne Central Catholic High School in Florida. It proved to be a wonderful decision. The family of Timothy and Rosemary Laird wanted to host an international student attending the school, and Li proved to be the perfect match. He made a connection with both the parents and the Laird children—attending Mass with them, traveling with them on vacations—and considers them his “American family.”

Missie Valencia, director of the international student program at Melbourne Central Catholic, still recalls Li’s arrival in South Florida with other students on a long-delayed flight. Even though it was late at night by the time the plane finally landed, when Li exited the plane, he was so excited he hugged everyone in the group meeting the students at the airport. And he stayed true to that excited, joyful personality throughout his time at the school, she says, taking part in school social activities and shattering the stereotype that all Asian students are introverts who rarely speak. To the contrary, Li encouraged conversation, and adopted the American nickname of Scofield, based on a character on a cable TV show. The character’s personality, he explained to Valencia, is much his own, and the name would be easier for his new classmates to pronounce. Meanwhile, he impressed the adults with his thoughtfulness and willingness to work hard to improve his command of academic English and perform well in his courses.

Li loved Florida, Timothy Laird recalls, so much so that he decided to stay for college. Several people at Melbourne Central Catholic recommended that he visit Saint Leo University, and Li was accepted.

It was not just the Florida climate that attracted Li. He dreams someday of running a business in China that will be beneficial for society, and he thought an American business education would give him a vantage point on markets and commerce that Chinese society cannot yet provide. “China is developing its business structure, its economy. The United States has already developed its structure,” he said.

Minghe Li
Minghe celebrates his graduation day with his American family and fiancée, Ayaka.

He applied himself diligently at Saint Leo, learning how commerce is conducted in the West, and even became a tutor for other students in economics and accounting courses. Tapia School faculty helped Li decide to make those two disciplines his majors, and he is particularly grateful to Dr. Passard Dean of the accounting faculty for his guidance in the matter. Li and Dr. Dean had discussions about the ways that both accounting and economics can be applied and understood internationally, and how accounting credentials would allow Li to pursue positions abroad after he gains more experience. That, in turn, can move him closer to his eventual goal of making a contribution to the world of business in China.

Another benefit for Li at Saint Leo: He met his future wife, Ayaka Morita ’15, originally from Tokyo. By the time this magazine is printed, they will be married.

“Saint Leo University not only provided me the best education, but has also helped me to find my other half I can spend the rest of my life with,” he said. “I hope with this story, I will inspire more young people like me to pursue their dreams!”

 

Raisa Alstodt ’16

During the Spring 2015 semester, I took a leap and did the Semester at Sea study abroad program. I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity and unbelievably grateful for the people I met and the things I got to experience. I saw 12 countries spanning Asia, Africa, and Europe in under four months while traveling on a ship. And while my bucket list now has lots of things crossed off, it has only grown longer. This program has gotten me even more excited to travel the world and experience all there is out there. While on the trip, I kept a blog, and what follows is one of my entries.


Ubuntu is a term I learned on the ship back in January on the way to South Africa.

I’ve come to realize that life is a constant obstacle course. Many things can change in very little time. People come and go. A word that meant nothing to you six months ago could now mean everything to you. Change and growth can occur. The shock is when you look back and actually notice all of this. South Africa was this shock for me.

ubuntu-tattooHow did a word foreign to me just four months ago come to mean so much? It’s a short word, though with a multitude of meaning. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of life even.

The word is defined as an African philosophy roughly translated to “human kindness.” It literally means human-ness, often translated as “humanity toward others.” Even used in a more philosophical sense, meaning “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connect all of humanity.” Another definition: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu says a person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened by what others have, believing that we belong to a greater whole. It’s the essence of being human. Those who have ubuntu are known for their generosity.

In short, it’s about human kindness, about respect. Some define it as community. Some would even say it’s humanity; it’s the belief that all are equal. Some would add religion. Some see it as humankind seeing no color. Peace for all people. Acceptance of all. Understanding for all. It’s having virtue. Kindness for all. Goodness. It’s what Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu asked the people of South Africa to believe in, yet it’s all over Africa. In Kenya, they have the word, too, just said differently. This word just keeps growing on me and gaining value in my life.

Each person I’ve met has defined it just a tad bit differently. To everyone it means the same things, just reworded in personal words. To me it’s humanity, love, and so much more. It’s a philosophy to love and be loved. It’s God’s work fostered in a word. It’s hope for people.

On the ship, they’ve asked us to think about it in our travel. To me it seemed as though they were asking me to adopt the philosophy in my travel, and so I’ve tried. To me it became a travel philosophy and so much more. In return, I made it a permanent addition to my life.


For more images from Saint Leo’s international trips, visit spirit.saintleo.edu/travel.

Bill EldersBill Elders ’16

The Saint Leo University-sponsored trip to Israel was billed as the “trip of a lifetime,” and it did not disappoint. Students and others from Saint Leo locations across the United States signed up for this exciting adventure.

Our questions were many. Is Israel going to be a land of instability, which is so often portrayed in news media outlets, or is it the land that flows with “milk and honey” as the Bible describes? Will the Israeli people be open and accepting of those visiting from the United States, or will they be cautious and defensive? After all, with the number of terrorist threats in our world today and those specifically aimed at Israel, do they not have every right to be concerned when foreigners visit their land? How do the Israeli people deal with the ever-present threats around them and still maintain a positive, forward-thinking mind-set?

These are just some of the questions that came to mind to those embarking on this “Road to Israel.”

Saint Leo criminal justice instructor Bobby Sullivan and special projects administrator Karin May teamed with Henry Morgenstern from Security Solutions International to provide a first-class look into Israel’s ability to protect its citizens and infrastructure from terrorist threats. It is a monumental task that has to be done every day without fail and demands highly trained military, law enforcement, first responders, school personnel, and citizenry.

This trip began with anticipation and concern from each student about going to a land where witnessing explosions is probable. Loved ones and friends voiced their concern regarding the dangers. Nonetheless, we set out to learn and experience Israel, the country many of us had heard about in Bible studies and which has developed as a nation during the last 68 years.

As we sat for dinner the first night in Tel Aviv, we learned of events that forever changed the lives of area residents. In April 2003, local sports bar Mike’s Place was the scene of a horrific suicide bombing, which left three persons dead. If not for the quick action of a civilian security guard, Avi Tabib, many more patrons may have been killed. This event drives home the importance of everyone acting to thwart the efforts of those who would commit terrorist acts.

Our class schedule included visiting the Nahariya hospital and listening to the staff tell of its procedures to protect the lives of not only Israelis, but anyone in need of medical attention—even those who may be considered the enemy. The care, compassion, and concern for the lives of others, regardless of their differences, was something we soon realized.

We were able to meet with many experts who have extensive counter-terrorism knowledge. We met and heard from Sam Bashan, who served in the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli secret service; Elliot Chodoff, a political and military analyst who specializes in terrorism policies; Yoni Yagadovsky, the international director of Magen David Adom, which is equivalent to the American Red Cross; Avi Melamed, a former Israeli senior official on Arab affairs and an intelligence official; and Alon Wainer, who is a respected expert in security screening and detection technologies.

Each expert provided great insight into the issues of security and potential terrorist threats. We also learned about the culture and mind-set of the Israeli people, as they have endured the challenges of the past, but hold an optimistic outlook for their future.

As the class traveled from Tel Aviv to the northern borders of Israel, it was incredible to see the landscape and envision that this is the very land where Jesus lived, walked, and ministered more than 2,000 years ago. At one point, the class was able to observe explosions in not-too-distant Syria as Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continue to battle for dominance of the region.

We stood at the Golan Heights and visited the place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount next to the beautiful Sea of Galilee. We visited the beautiful banks of the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. And we found the people warm and willing to speak to those who want to learn about their culture.

JerusalemThe class had the opportunity to visit Gaza in the south, where Israel has been attacked with rockets launched by Hamas. We visited the Port of Ashdod and learned of the security measures that protect this great facility and visited the site where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.

We toured the Old City of Jerusalem and stood at the foot of the Western Wall. It was incredible to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he ascended toward Golgotha to be crucified, and then visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The stories that have been told in churches over the years and recited in classrooms, news reports, and throughout history came alive for the Saint Leo class. This adventure certainly met our expectations and proved to be a “trip of a lifetime,” as each student and participant left Israel with renewed respect for its people and the country.


For more images from Saint Leo’s international trips, visit spirit.saintleo.edu/travel.

Samantha Brooks ’16

To be honest, I am not sure there are enough adjectives in the English language to describe the experience I had in Greece. The hardest part I have found is having to readjust to reality. When I signed up for this trip, I was excited; when I left for this trip, I was nervous; and when I returned from this trip, I was changed. How could I not be?

I dipped my feet in springs on Mount Olympus, I climbed the steps to the Parthenon, and actually stood in front of the tomb of Phillip II (father of Alexander the Great). These are moments I will never forget.

Preschool Kindergarten Building in Greece
If all that was not enough, as an elementary education major, I found it was a tremendous opportunity to not only visit and observe several schools, but also to actually integrate myself into their classrooms.

“Not many American teachers can say they traveled to Greece and taught in a classroom for a day. It will make me a better teacher.”

— Samantha Brooks ’16

The following observations were made during my short visit. The people of Greece are loud and vibrant. Every conversation, from child to adult, seems animated. The food is beyond fantastic, with my favorite being tzatziki, a sauce or dip used on gyros. Greek salads don’t actually contain lettuce, and fried cheese with honey is without a doubt the best dessert ever. I swear feta cheese and wine are necessary for it to be considered a real Greek dinner.

greece-trip
Everywhere you look, there is a piece of history. It seems as if every building, walkway, or ruin has an extravagant story behind it. Parking is insane. You will undoubtedly see many people double-parked everywhere. We were told that car owners will place their phone numbers on the windshield, and you need only call, and they will come and move their cars. If you receive a T-shirt for surviving a taxi ride in New York City, then you should receive a gold medal for surviving a taxi ride in Greece. Think Grand Theft Auto meets NASCAR.

I take away from this trip an overabundance of pictures, unforgettable memories, and lasting personal connections. I will never forget the people I met in Greece, nor the kindness and hospitality they showed to me and my fellow travelers.

I know that I am forever changed, not only by the culture but also by the friends with whom I have shared this once-in-a-lifetime journey. I will forever hold them dear.


For more images from Saint Leo’s international trips, visit spirit.saintleo.edu/travel.

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


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.

 

 

 

delaporte
Chris Delaporte ’80 – President, Saint Leo Alumni Association

Note from the Alumni Association President

I first want to welcome the Class of 2016 to the Saint Leo University Alumni Association. You are joining a dynamic and diverse group of alumni totaling more than 82,000 and spanning all 50 states, Washington, DC, three U.S. territories, and 76 countries. Needless to say, our Saint Leo is far-reaching and impressive.

I also want to welcome this year’s eight new members to the Alumni Association Board of Directors. I look forward to working with you, and the returning board members, as we continue to work toward our goals of engaging alumni, identifying new ways to better support Saint Leo alumni, and expanding awareness of the great things our alma mater is doing in education and community service.


Events on Campus and on the Road

Saint Leo alumni, students, and friends come together—at University Campus, at education centers, and in different cities—to reconnect with old friends and classmates, network with new friends, and have fun. Check out the calendar of events to make sure you don’t miss out.

Last year more than 2,000 people attended Saint Leo alumni and community events.

Florida

Florida
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Florida


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

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Burke Tomaselli ’16 (left) and Zoe Mathieu ’16 facing off in the mock presidential debate. During fall semester, Saint Leo University students in a broad range of academic classes created a fictitious (but realistic) two-party American presidential campaign. Students assumed the roles of candidates, staff, press, security consultants, and other key players, culminating with a debate between the fictitious Republican and Democratic presidential nominees on November 13.