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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

Michele Naughton ’10 ’13 ’18 uses her Saint Leo education to invest in her community through her work with the Norfolk Police Department.

Michele Naughton is a survivor who overcame being homeless, raising children as a single mother, suffering a serious injury, and fighting cancer on her journey to becoming a police captain with the Norfolk (VA) Police Department.

A triple Saint Leo graduate, Naughton studied at education centers in Virginia, and earned an associate degree in 2010, a bachelor’s degree in business administration-management in 2013, and a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2018. She also is a graduate of Saint Leo’s Command Officer Management program.

A self-proclaimed “Army brat,” Naughton lived in Oklahoma, Germany, Texas, California, and New York prior to moving to Virginia. “I lived in the Louis Armstrong projects in Bedford Stuyvesant,” she said. “My parents had six kids, and when I was 15, my mom decided to move from Sacramento to Brooklyn to reunite with my dad. He was an Army veteran and an alcoholic. His addiction forced my mother to leave. With six kids in tow, we walked the streets of Brooklyn. We were homeless at times.”

But the strength of her mother encouraged her. “She loved us and ensured that our education was a top priority,” Naughton said. However, her educational journey stalled when she became pregnant at 19. She became pregnant again with twin sons and soon followed her mother to Norfolk so she could have her support.

“I originally became a police officer because my mom told me to!” Naughton said. “It was that simple. But once I became an officer, and I realized that every day is different and there are many opportunities, I really enjoyed it.”

She faced more challenges as she tore her meniscus after entering the police academy, delaying graduation for two years until 2002. In 2005, while pregnant, she was diagnosed with cancer. She has been in remission since 2006.

Naughton said, “I have dealt with adversity throughout my career and this accomplishment [being named captain] answered the questions I posed to God such as why I survived cancer, but my 3-year-old nephew did not, why did I get injured in the academy so completion took almost two years, why did my mom get shot and survive, and why did I meet Officer Sheila Herring in the academy, who was killed in the line of duty in 2003? I finally realized that God had a purpose for me. I believe I can inspire others to achieve their goals and to keep going even when the going gets tough.”

Norfolk Police Department Captain Michele Naughton receives a Community Heroes award from the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce
Saint Leo alumna, Norfolk Police Department Captain Michele Naughton, center, receives a Community Heroes award from the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

In 2007, she became a community resource officer assigned to the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. “I could relate to the concerns of the community as I had been a resident of the New York Housing Authority. I wanted to truly help make a safe community for the families, especially the children. I saw myself in the women in that community. I am a single mother, and I faced a lot of the same challenges as the residents. I was able to connect with them.”

Prior to being promoted to captain, she served in the patrol, detective, training, and vice-narcotics divisions throughout her career with the NPD.

Learning Curve

Naughton learned about Saint Leo University from other Norfolk police officers. “I was drawn to Saint Leo primarily because of the flexible schedule, affordable cost, and numerous degree programs,” she said. “I was a single mother of three, and when I started my educational journey, all my children were in elementary school.”

She completed most of her undergraduate degree at the South Hampton Roads Education Center at JEB-Little Creek, and also took classes online and at the Norfolk and Oceana offices. Her graduate degree program and Command Officer Management program were completed at the Chesapeake Education Center. “I enjoyed blended classes because I was able to manage the amount of time away from work and family and still able to receive classroom instruction,” she said.

Through Saint Leo, she learned skills to assist her as she moved into a command position. “Certain classes like accounting, budgeting, management, and policy courses provided the knowledge to understand the business and legal aspect of policing and the administrative side of law enforcement. I believe that, coupled with my experience, has made me a better officer today.”

Empowering Women

Captain Michele Naughton at Richard Bowling Elementary School's Black History Month presentation on March 5, 2020
Captain Michele Naughton at Richard Bowling Elementary School’s Black History Month presentation

Law enforcement needs more women, Naughton said. Women possess many special characteristics such as emotional intelligence, she said. “My advice would be that sometimes we [women and women of color] may doubt ourselves because we don’t see people who look like us in positions of authority in law enforcement, but there is a place for you. I would say, ‘you are smart enough, you are strong enough, and you are good enough. You are enough!”

While she said law enforcement is not an easy career path, it is rewarding. “Whoever made the glass ceiling wanted it to be broken—if not, it would have been made of concrete or steel.”

Naughton is motivated by the sense that she can change people’s perception of police officers. “I can truly be part of the solution,” she said. “I am motivated by knowing that I am a part of an organization that believes in fostering positive relationships and inclusivity. I am motivated because I see the example of leadership through authentic community engagement that results in crime reduction and building trust set by Chief Larry Boone.”

In turn, the Norfolk chief has great things to say about Naughton. “Not only is she an inspiration to young women, she is also an outstanding model for leadership,” Boone said. “Having overcome personal, professional, and health challenges during her career, Captain Naughton’s background authentically resonates with citizens, as she is an example of endurance and fortitude for anyone facing difficulties in their life. I am certain her legacy will impact/influence the future of recruitment for women and minorities in law enforcement by her example and mentorship.”

The Gig

In her position as captain, Naughton is the commanding officer of the Office of PRIME Affairs. PRIME is public relations, information, marketing, and engagement. She oversees the Public Information Office, Community Affairs Sections, and Community Outreach.

Naughton attributes her success and ability to move up the ranks within the police department to “the support and love of the community, co-workers, and family,” she said.

She volunteers weekly as a literacy tutor, co-hosts the bi-weekly radio talk show We Are One – NPD and You, and serves on the Cops & Curls Committee and the Fair and Impartial Policing work group. “I make time as it is important to me,” she said. “One encounter can change the path of a person’s life.”

And Naughton knows she does not do it alone. The support of her family, the Norfolk Police Department, the community, and God have encouraged her on this journey.

Photos by RGB Imaging

Saint Leo alumni share some of their best business advice.

With experience often comes new wisdom. We learn and grow through trial and error, the exploration of new ideas, and from others who have walked paths similar to ours.

In the spirit of continuous learning, we asked five Saint Leo alumni to share advice on success in business. May their words inspire you to live your best life, no matter where you are on the journey.

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.

“Quite often in life, one will have amazing ideas that can develop into solid goals. However, without discipline, those ideas and goals never become a reality. Saint Leo provided me with a disciplined bridge to stay on track while working toward my goals.”

Michael Fulton ’18 
Supervisor of Crime Scene Division, 
Houston Forensic Science Center

 Don’t let your ideas sit on the sidelines. 

“Putting an idea into motion has more value than perfecting an idea and letting it sit on the sidelines. I would rather take action on a thoughtful plan and be willing to course correct than labor endlessly over the what-ifs. People respond to decision-making and direction.”

Maggie Gill ’98
Chief Executive Officer, Delray Medical Center
Palm Beach Group CEO, Tenet Healthcare

Never ask your team to do anything you wouldn’t do.

“Make time to work alongside your people; it will show them you are on their team, not just leading it. When things get hectic, be the first to jump in. When your team sees that there is nothing that is ‘above you,’ they will be more than willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work as well. It supports your leader persona and makes it known that you’re not just coaching from the sidelines; you’re willing to get in and play if needed.”

Elizabeth Jimenez ’08
Director of Operations
Leadership Prep Brownsville Elementary Academy,
an Uncommon School
Brooklyn, NY

Many times the barrier to success is you.

“Leading in an ever-changing and demanding environment can be very challenging. Being self-aware, open to feedback, and cognizant of others’ goals and related impact will provide you the tools to develop not only a better self, but a successful organization. Investing in yourself and your team will produce a sustainable model and create a culture of excellence.”

Iskra Sbraccia ’05, ’09
Compliance Sanctions Director, 
Independent Compliance Risk Management, Citi
Tampa, FL

Treat your clients like family.

“Many will deliver only the minimum during the typical 9-5 workday in order to get the job done. But those who go above and beyond for their clients and treat them like they are family often have not only a better working relationship with their clients, but also great relationships with future referrals from those clients. Take care of your clients, and they will take care of you.”

Kevin L. Sullivan II ’13
Senior Associate, Nicoletti Law Firm

Families form in a variety of ways. Some members are born, while others are sought. Some members are inherited, and some are a surprise.

Within the Saint Leo community is an array of blended families. There are faculty and staff who commit to taking students under their wings, ensuring their success and well-being, and students who take care of one another.

Here, we profile the matriarchs of three such families in the Saint Leo community.

Ms. Evon, giver of hugs, drier of tears, Lions cheerleader

Ms. Evon

Great people, great children come through the doors of Saint Leo, said Ephonia McCobb, or “Ms. Evon” as she’s known to the Saint Leo community. A housekeeper in Facilities Management, McCobb takes care of the Marion Bowman Activities Center and its many student-athletes, coaches, and staff.

No one is a stranger to McCobb. Everyone is greeted with a hug and wished well with a “have a blessed day.”

At the Marion Bowman Activities Center, where she began working in 2006, McCobb does more than take care of housekeeping. She takes care of Saint Leo’s student-athletes as if they were her own children. And she takes care of their families, too, reassuring them that their children will be just fine at Saint Leo.

“There is one student, Mary, and her parents dropped her off in August,” McCobb recalled. “They were in the hallway crying. Her daddy was crying harder than her mama. I asked why. He said, ‘We’re dropping off my daughter.’ He said, ‘I just dropped my son off to the Marines last month.’”

“I told them they had done a wonderful job!” she continued. “They got their children to a good place. I asked if we could pray about it, and we did. And then I told them to go get their date night back!”

She offers student-athletes advice on life, dries their tears, and gives them hugs. “I am proud of all of them,” McCobb said. “I tell them that when they leave Saint Leo, if they see someone who is going down the wrong path, they need to take five minutes to talk to them about what they need to be doing, and then tell them ‘have a blessed day.’ Perhaps you might touch someone.”

Nancy Cheek, virtual communicator, career coach extraordinaire

McCobb’s impact on the lives of student-athletes has not gone unnoticed. “Ms. Evon is the epitome of our core value of community,” said Brad Jorgensen, head men’s lacrosse coach. “Almost every young man I have recruited has been greeted with a hug and a loud ‘welcome to the Saint Leo family!’ from Ms. Evon.”

Nancy Cheek

For nearly four years, Nancy Cheek has worked to create a close-knit community where no physical community exists. As associate director of Career Services, she helps hundreds of students each year with their career needs—no matter where they live—most times never meeting face to face.

“What I look forward to is when students tell me they are coming to graduation,” Cheek said. “After having developed a relationship with them remotely, it is so exciting to finally meet them in person.”

With a large portion of Saint Leo students attending school online or at education centers across the United States, Cheek is passionate about ensuring remote students feel supported in achieving their careers goals. While not able to physically be with them, she uses email, photographs, social media, video conferencing, phone calls, and online webinars to build relationships across the Internet.

“Our goal is to make online students feel like they are part of a community without ever coming into an office,” Cheek said.

Countless students have thanked Cheek for her support. She recalls the story of a student who decided to attend Saint Leo after retiring from a 20-year career in the military. He lived in a remote part of Florida and needed help assessing career options.

“I just want to say thank you again for all the helpful guidance you gave me,” wrote the student. “You said I did all the hard work, but I never really felt like I was doing it alone.” After working together for some time, the student Cheek helped was able to land a job with a government agency.

“I live for the days when I get an email or phone call that says, ‘Hey, I just got a job offer,’” Cheek said. “That is why I do what I do.”

Dr. Joanne Roberts, professor, advisor, retired public school teacher and principal

Dr. Joanne Roberts with spring 2018 scholarship recipient, Justina Guptill.

Every spring and fall, a new group of transfer students in their 20s and 30s enroll in the education program at the Gainesville Education Center in central Florida. The future elementary and middle school teachers form cohorts as they make their way together toward their teaching degrees.

They attend rigorous classes four nights a week while holding down full- or part-time jobs to pay expenses. Luckily, they enjoy the kinship they develop within their cohorts and benefit individually and collectively from the benevolent leadership of Dr. Joanne “Tippy” Roberts, professor, advisor, and retired public school system teacher and principal. Roberts says she understands why the classes become close-knit. These young adults—often the first in their families to attend college—receive moral support from one another as they proceed through a tough curriculum.

“Our cohorts sometimes spend more time with each other than with their own families,” Roberts said. So her approach incorporates two philosophies. The first is that the program at the center will create a sense of belonging for all committed education students. The second is that the student kinship can be nurtured into professional collegiality that will serve them well in their careers.

“Family is a good word,” Roberts said of the center environment for the education students. “It’s a learning community, but it’s a learning family. We work together, and we learn together.”

Recent middle grades education graduate Justina Guptill ’18 affirms that “the education program is special all in its own because you really get to know your professors and classmates. You spend so much time as a cohort, it becomes impossible to do anything other than care for the people around you and help in their successes as well as your own. Dr. Roberts put together a very caring faculty to help create the family atmosphere throughout the entire program!” The faculty she is referring to includes adjunct instructors and professors Roberts hired and supervises to teach the education courses in Gainesville. The adjuncts are a vital part of the family, as well.

Given Roberts’ multiple responsibilities, it is difficult to quantify the impact she has made during her years at Saint Leo. By her own count, Roberts estimates she has worked with 450 undergraduate and graduate students in various educational programs at the center.

Although Roberts considers teaching the hardest job in the world, second only to being a parent, she said she cannot imagine doing anything else with her life or finding a deeper sense of fulfillment in any other learning environment.

“During the 15 years I have worked at Saint Leo, I have become a better educator and gained more from my students and colleagues than I ever learned from textbooks.”

With most Americans spending the majority of their waking hours at work, colleagues can start to become like family. There are work wives and work husbands, brothers and sisters, and even second moms and dads in the workplace.

For some Saint Leo alumni, the definition of a work family takes on added meaning. At PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), many alumni continue to experience Saint Leo’s family-like culture by working together at the Tampa location of the multinational professional services firm, which focuses on audit and assurance, tax, and consulting services. The relationship started with one student about 10 years ago.

Dr. Passard Dean, professor of accounting and finance at Saint Leo, was looking for a way to provide more internship and job opportunities for students. When one student was able to secure a full-time position at PwC after graduation, he asked if she would be willing to help recommend other qualified graduates for jobs.

“All it took was one student who was willing to help make Saint Leo a better place,” Dean said. “Because of her willingness to help, countless students have benefited.”

Left to right, Kara Ennis ’18, Ashley Dudney ’18, Johana Beltran-Cantu ’15

Today Saint Leo participates in a unique internship program with PwC. Dean and Dr. Daniel Tschopp, professor of accounting, work with recruiters from PwC to identify students for its internship program, which often leads to full-time employment after graduation. Each year about eight to 10 seniors participate, receiving exposure to accounting work in a variety of sectors.

Kara Ennis ’18, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting this spring, is one of them.  After graduation, her internship led to a full-time position working with several other Saint Leo alumni.

“It is nice because we were able to come into the organization and already know some familiar faces,” Ennis said. “I didn’t feel out of place. We have each others’ backs, and everyone is so willing to help.”

Ashley Dudney ’18, who also graduated with Ennis and received a bachelor’s degree in accounting, works next to Ennis in the office. She has a Saint Leo alumna as her supervisor, Johana Beltran-Cantu ’15.

“Having a supervisor who went to the same school as you is helpful,” Dudney said. “She knows the curriculum we learned and understands what it was like to go through the program. It’s also inspiring. I look at her and think, ‘That could be me in two years.’”

Beltran-Cantu, who has been with PwC for three years, agrees with Dudney about the value of working with other alumni. She says there’s something special about Saint Leo graduates when it comes to work ethic. They stand out in a crowd.

“If you earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Saint Leo, then I know you had to work hard to be where you are today,” Beltran-Cantu said.

While they may all have different job responsibilities at PwC, Ennis, Dudney, and Beltran-Cantu all agree that working with other alumni adds a special touch to their daily work.

“It’s very much like a community, which is a Saint Leo value,” Dudney said. “We’re all used to living the Saint Leo values and that translates to how we work together here.”

The natural desire for families to do things together makes it unsurprising that many often choose to learn together, too. Each year, Saint Leo serves as the choice university for myriad families. There are generations who have studied here and others who have gone to school together at the same time.

In this story, we profile just some of Saint Leo’s family connections.

Family overcomes obstacles to achieve education goals

Family plays a pivotal role in the lives of Mercy and Luis Figueroa, of Spring Hill, FL. The couple juggled military deployments, work, family commitments, and studying while earning their degrees at Saint Leo.

“My story starts rough, but ends in the American dream,” Mercy said.

Mercy and Luis in military
Mercy and Luis Figueroa served in the U.S. Army.

Mercy was born in Havana, Cuba, where her father was held as a political prisoner. Helped by the Catholic Church, her family made their way first to Spain and then to New York, leaving Cuba when Mercy was a toddler.

“The Catholic Church has been involved in my whole life,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome I got to go to Saint Leo.”

She grew up in Brooklyn while Luis grew up in the Bronx. “I took a long train ride to find a boyfriend,” she said. “He was a tall football player with a lot of hair, but I destroyed all the hair!”

Luis joined the U.S. Army first and then encouraged Mercy to get involved. She served in the Army for four years until her daughter Gabby was born prematurely at 24 weeks with cerebral palsy and other health issues.

“She decided as much as she loved the military, she loved her daughter more,” Luis said, and Mercy left the Army to care for Gabby.

Mercy transitioned from active duty military to being a supportive military spouse. Luis, a staff sergeant, left active duty in October 2014, and retired from the military this summer. He was often deployed, and Mercy took care not only of Gabby, but also sons Isaac, who is a junior at Saint Leo, and Connor, a high school senior. “We adopted Connor from the foster care system,” Mercy said.

Luis was stationed in Fort Lewis, WA, and while deployed in Iraq, he read about Saint Leo. “It piqued my interest,” he said. “Then I came down here and realized the campus was close [to the family home in Spring Hill].” In 2011, he began his first semester at Saint Leo, but again was deployed on a high-priority mission and had to take a break. But in fall 2014, he started again and never turned back.

Mercy tried to go to college “a million times,” she said. “Once I got Gabby medically stable, I started.” Luis encouraged her to join him at Saint Leo, and she earned her associate degree in 2016.

The university felt like home. “Once I heard about Saint Leo’s history, the diversity and inclusion, at a time when they didn’t have to accept other races, cultures, that is what made me love it,” Mercy said. “There are people from everywhere at Saint Leo. It is such a great place.”

Mercy and Luis looking at each other_LOcopy22
Mercy and Luis Figueroa enjoy a moment during their commencement ceremony in 2017, where Mercy was the student speaker.

The Figueroas not only have son Isaac studying at Saint Leo, but Mercy’s sister, Heavenly Aguilar, graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice-criminalistics at the Tampa commencement ceremony on May 31. She now is pursuing a master’s degree.

Mercy graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice-criminalistics, while Luis also graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration-technology management.

For Mercy, what’s next is pursuing a law degree at the University of Mississippi School of Law, while Luis will complete his MBA at Saint Leo in December.

A family finds their home at Saint Leo

The U.S. Air Force brought the Blackman family to Florida, but Saint Leo University provided a home away from home for them. For Derrick and Kimberly Blackman and their son Elijah, Saint Leo offered the opportunity to study together, lean on each other, and cheer for each other—in the classroom and on the basketball court.

The family moved to Tampa from Colorado in 2000 when Derrick Blackman was transferred to MacDill Air Force Base. While on active duty with the Air Force, Derrick took a class at Saint Leo and enjoyed it. From there, it was on to pursuing a degree.

Derrick graduated from Saint Leo in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in religion. Next up was Elijah, who enrolled after Saint Leo representatives visited Wesley Chapel (FL) High School during his senior year there. It took a little while longer for Kimberly. “About two years later, my husband encouraged me to enroll,” she said. “He said, ‘You’ve already got your associate degree, and Saint Leo is an awesome institution for getting a quality education.’ And it was great! I’m so grateful.”

Elijah distributing ashes2
Elijah Blackman served as a University Ministry Mentor and distributed ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Not only did Derrick encourage Kimberly, but he also pursued a master’s degree in theology. In 2017, the Blackmans graduated with Kimberly and Elijah receiving their diplomas together at the Saint Leo WorldWide commencement. Derrick received his master’s degree the next day during the morning graduate program commencement, where he also performed the national anthem.

“It was a great honor and privilege to be able to graduate the same year,” Derrick said. “It was even greater for me as husband and father to witness both my wife and son graduate from [Saint Leo] at the same time. The experience was extremely humbling.”

Now, Derrick teaches at Saint Leo as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology.

Kimberly graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and now is working toward a master’s in human services administration at Saint Leo.

Kimberly and Elijah Blackman
Mother and son, Kimberly and Elijah Blackman, received their degrees together at the Saint Leo WorldWide commencement in 2017.

Elijah, who played basketball for the Lions and served as a University Ministry Mentor, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in sport business. After completing an internship at the University of South Carolina, he now is a graduate assistant for sports strength and conditioning at the University of Arkansas.

Graduating from Saint Leo with his parents made an impression on Elijah. “I thought it was incredible to be able to sit next to my mom during graduation and see my dad walk across the very same stage less than 24 hours later,” he said. “Graduating at the same time as your parents doesn’t happen too often.”

Derrick and Kimberly’s other son, Donovan, graduated from aviation school in 2015 and is working in Arizona. And while they tried to persuade daughter Kandice to attend Saint Leo, she did not want to attend college with her parents and brother. She is enrolled Trinity College of Florida in New Port Richey.

Twin brothers choose same major and graduate together

Family Friendly theme Igbonagwam family2Two recent grads from the Class of 2018 are not only twins, but they also graduated with the same major and held equivalent jobs as residence hall advisors. In another family connection, they are the sons of Sandy and Dr. Okey Igbonagwam, a Saint Leo assistant professor of computer information systems in Virginia.

As an employee, Igbonagwam is eligible for the university’s tuition remission benefit, which is a big plus in helping families pay for college. While the financial benefit was certainly a factor in the decision, Igbonagwam said his sons were also drawn to Saint Leo by the appeal of University Campus. “First impressions matter,” according to Chidozie and Chigozie. They also liked the academics, and both have wanted to be doctors since they were small. That made the biology major with a specialization in biomedical and health sciences a natural fit. The major is offered only at University Campus.

So, the twins came to Florida and got involved with the Pre-Medical Club, the student-run fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and research projects with faculty mentors. Since graduation, both have taken the Medical College Admission Test and are hoping to be admitted to medical school.

Despite deferring their dreams, couple graduates together

DSC_9028When Sherryl Johnson-Tandy and her husband Erik Tandy walked across the commencement stage together on the evening of Friday, April 27, it was a little out of the ordinary. Sherryl, a corporal in the Pasco County (FL) Sheriff’s Office, completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice. So she was grouped with the other adult learners receiving undergraduate degrees in the evening.

Her husband Erik was also graduating with a Saint Leo degree, but his was the Master of Business Administration. The MBA grads are a big group, and are scheduled for the Saturday morning ceremony of commencement weekend, along with those who have attained graduate degrees in other disciplines. But Erik was switched to Friday night at his request so that he and Sherryl could walk across the stage together to celebrate their joint accomplishment.

It was no easy road for the two. They had long wanted to reach these educational goals, but raised a family, so they waited for everyone to be grown and out of the house. It did not quite work out that way. As they went to school, and worked, circumstances required that they also tend often to three grandchildren, ages 5, 8, and 9.

Sherryl has a memory of both the adults studying at night, and then Erik “waking me up from sleeping on my computer.” And she often did the same for him. When their finals were over, she said, it was a blessing to don their robes and receive their diplomas together.

Bill and Jeanne Fuller chose him. They came to an orphanage in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 1996, and gazed at a blond toddler in a crib. “I picked him up and he started laughing,” said Jeanne Fuller.

And at that moment, Joseph Fuller won their hearts and found his forever family.

Joseph “Joe” Fuller, now 23, graduated from Saint Leo in April 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in management. He secured a position in youth development service at Youth and Family Alternatives Inc.’s RAP House in New Port Richey, FL, where he works with children ages 10 to 17, who may be homeless, have school-related or family problems, or face other issues.

For Fuller, his life has come full circle. The child who was helped is now helping others. “I can, without a doubt, say my life has been truly blessed,” he wrote in a blog.

Joseph Fuller’s adoption/passport paperwork shows his new name in Russian.

Jeanne and Bill Fuller tried for 10 years to conceive a child. “We didn’t want to be childless,” Jeanne Fuller said. “So we started to look at domestic adoptions. But we didn’t want the parents to come back and claim the child.”

Jeanne Fuller attended a seminar on international adoptions and thought it was a good fit for the couple. They worked with a now-defunct agency in New Mexico that would send videos of children and provide as much history about the children as it could. At that point, Americans could still go to Russia to adopt, Jeanne said. “All of the sudden,” she said, “Joe came along. He was so cute! He was just a year old in the video, but he took control of the whole play area [of the Russian orphanage].”

At one point, the Fullers were afraid they were not going to able to adopt Joseph. “Luckily, things loosened up,” Jeanne Fuller said.

When they arrived at the orphanage, the inside was decorated with bright, primary colors. “They took us to a room with all the boys, and there he was,” she said of Joseph. “He was playing with dolls, which he denies! We got to play with him for a little while.”

After a rather informal adoption proceeding, Joe was theirs. “We brought him back to the hotel and stared at him,” Jeanne Fuller recalled. “Now what do we do? We gave him a bath! He spoke Russian to us. It was interesting to see him see a whole new world.”

Jeanne Fuller delights in her new son Joseph.

At almost 2, Alexander “Sasha” Alexandrovich Foliniykh, became Joseph Paul Alexander Fuller, who grew up in a loving, Catholic family in Sidney, Ohio. March 19 is his “Gotcha Day,” a day the Fullers have traditionally celebrated throughout the years with a chocolate chip cookie cake. “I was one of 4,491 kids adopted that day,” Fuller said. “And of those, more than 60 percent were claimed by American families.”

The Fuller family became complete when they adopted daughter Sara from Russia, too. “I was holding her when I got out of the car,” Jeanne Fuller said of Sara. “Joe wouldn’t talk to me. I had to bribe him!”

Faith played a big role in the family with the Fuller children attending Catholic elementary and high school. “When he got to high school, his faith grew,” Jeanne said of Joseph. Now he attends St. Anne Byzantine Catholic Church in New Port Richey, an Eastern Catholic church. He is a third-degree Knight in the Knights of Columbus organization.

When it came time to choose a college, Joseph Fuller said he was looking at 40 schools. “I cut them down by class size, rural vs. city, Catholic or public,” he said. And he chose Saint Leo.

Fuller earned athletic scholarships and continued pursuing his passion of running, which he started in eighth-grade cross country. As a Lion, he qualified for the NCAA Cross Country National Championships three times and was a member of two Sunshine State Conference championship teams. With his teammates, he volunteered at the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa, which enjoys a good reputation statewide. Now, he serves on the organizational committee for the Gasparilla races as well as organizing the smaller Rattlesnake Run for Pasco County’s Rattlesnake Festival and the RAP River Run in New Port Richey.

When he turned 21, Fuller formed the I Play Track Foundation. The name comes from a Tweet in which someone asks, “What sport do you play?” The answer: I play track.

Fuller had been donating his cross country and track spikes to children in need. “There were a lot of kids who had shoes in disrepair,” Fuller said. “I thought it would be nice to give back to the running community that got me through college.

“On my 21st birthday, I grabbed my shoes and the shoes my sister had, and I kicked off the charity,” he said. Now, the I Play Track Foundation is awaiting 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity status.

“I usually just take gently used running shoes and track spikes,” Fuller said. “Some people give new ones. I collect at running events, road races, and other events.”

Coaches send Fuller an email or contact him through the I Play Track Facebook page and tell him what size shoes they need for their athletes. “I go through inventory, send the coach a list, and then they pick the shoe for that athlete. That’s important. I want them in the right shoe. That’s the benefit of me being an athlete. I know that there are different shoes for different athletes.”

Giving back to the community and those who have supported him is important to Fuller.

“I feel that every child, no matter who he or she is or where he or she comes from, deserves to be loved and valued.”


National Adoption Day

Saturday, November 17, 2018
Nearly 5,000 children were adopted during the National Adoption Day observance in 2017.

World Adoption Day

Friday, November 9, 2018
The overall number of adoptions to the United States in fiscal year 2017 was 4,714, a decline
of 658 from the previous year.

Source: U.S. Department of State


I Play Track Foundation
For more information, visit facebook.com/IPlayTrackFoundation or email iplaytrackfuller@icloud.com.

The 2017-2018 academic year concluded with 13 commencement ceremonies. Ceremonies took place in Florida, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, California, and Texas for the university’s education center and online students.

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Alysa Nantarojanaporn of Homestead, FL, was awarded the Thomas B. Southard Leadership Award Sabre at the undergraduate commencement on April 28. The sabre was presented to her by Virginia M. “Ginger” Judge, a member of the Board of Trustees. The sabre is given to the Army ROTC graduate who demonstrates leadership achievement in ROTC advanced camp, classes, and labs. Nantarojanaporn is the middle child of nine and the first college graduate in her family. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice.

Celebrating Four Championship Appearances

This spring, the Saint Leo University men’s lacrosse, men’s golf, women’s track, and softball teams all competed for NCAA Division II National Championships—two of which were first-time appearances for the programs.


Making Sunshine State Conference History

This past spring, former Saint Leo University President Dr. Arthur F. Kirk Jr. was one of nine members inducted into the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame. Kirk, who served as the university’s president from 1997-2015, became the 16th Saint Leo Sunshine State Conference Hall of Famer. A two-time president of the Sunshine State Conference, Kirk raised Saint Leo’s national profile by placing 18th in the Learfield Director’s Cup in 2014, increasing to eighth in 2015, and second in 2016. Under his leadership, the Athletics Department doubled in size and captured its first Mayor’s Cup, while adding a tennis facility, softball stadium, parking garage with a lacrosse field installed on top, a soccer-only facility, and lights at each of the new venues.
 


Fran Reidy Named Athletic Director of the Year

For the third time in six years, Saint Leo Vice President and Director of Athletics Francis X. Reidy was named the Division II Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year. Reidy was one of 28 athletics directors to earn the award this year from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA). The ADOY Award highlights the efforts of athletics directors at all levels for their commitment and positive contributions to student-athletes, campuses, and their surrounding communities.


Saint Leo Athletics Places Fourth in Learfield Directors’ Cup

Saint Leo University Athletics placed fourth in the 2017–2018 Learfield Directors’ Cup Division II, a program that honors institutions for achieving success in sports. This marks the third time in four years that the Lions placed in the Directors’ Cup top 10.
Saint Leo also placed as the top Sunshine State Conference institution. For two of the last three years, the Lions have claimed a top-five finish. A total of eight Sunshine State Conference institutions were ranked among the top 100 in the latest Directors’ Cup standings report.

“We have an incredible staff and student-athletes who strive for excellence,” said Francis X. Reidy, vice president and director of athletics. “Our five-year run of great finishes is a remarkable feat when you consider where Saint Leo was just a short time ago. We are proud of our two top-five finishes over the last three years as we strive to be one of the best all-around programs in Division II.”


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After climbing seven spots at the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Super Regional, men’s golf earned a spot to advance to Muscle Shoals, AL, for the 2018 national championships. In the end, the Lions fell 3-2 to Sunshine State Conference foe and No. 3 seed Barry University. Men’s golf player Alberto Castagnara (sophomore)

For many Americans, the mention of U.S. Civil War studies brings to mind names of battles and generals, or stirs memories of Lincoln’s speeches. But a Saint Leo University senior and budding historian has earned recognition for a different study, a work of social history that examines the lives and torments of everyday women who lived through America’s war with itself.

Samantha Tyler, a University Campus student, presented findings from her senior thesis “From the Ground Up: Women of the Civil War” in a national meeting. She traveled to New Orleans in January to make a presentation at the Phi Alpha Theta (national honor society) convention for historians. It was the first time a Saint Leo student had done so. A scheduling conflict prevented her from also appearing at the Florida Conference of Historians to deliver her presentation on lesser-known perspectives on the war.

Tyler’s work does discuss the influence of the famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe and the fiery words of African-American leader Sojourner Truth. But the famous women appear in Tyler’s work within the broader context of understanding the emotions and attitudes of everyday Northern women, Southern white women, and former slaves and freed African-American women. Tyler combed women’s letters, journals, and other personal writings—in addition to Stowe’s best-selling book Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech—to reach her conclusions. “The stories that those diaries and personal papers provide help us see that the simplistic views of women that dominated the antebellum era, and that have been repeated by historians since, do not tell the whole story,” Tyler’s introduction states.

For instance, the papers she found revealed to her much more starkly the actual brutality of slavery than did more widely published works she had read, Tyler said. She found white women in the South who developed a personal hatred of the opposing side, arising from the battles that took place in their towns and fields, the seizure of land, livestock, and homes by the Union Army, and the widespread destruction ordered by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. Meanwhile, Northerners who were more distant from battlefields were not affected in the same way, physically, or as deeply emotionally in their feelings toward Confederate troops, Tyler observed. But Northerners who went to the conflict as nurses—if they came from the middle class or more prosperous backgrounds—might actually be criticized by family members for venturing beyond the social norms of the day, rather than earning heightened respect from their relations for their bravery, compassion, or sense of duty. Common to all the women, Tyler said, was the deep fear that the men closest to them would be killed or maimed by the war.

This vein of American history is incredibly rich, Tyler decided, though it has not been studied much. Tyler’s conference presentations partly address the void, while also pointing toward her hopes for the future.

Tyler so loves “learning about our world and American history” that she will make history and teaching her career. She has always enjoyed the support of her parents in her endeavors; her dad, in fact, is an Air Force veteran who involved the young Samantha in military history long before she ever thought of history as a possible college major. Tyler hopes to secure a high-school teaching position in Florida after her graduation this spring; she plans also to earn a master’s degree in American history through an online program at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. Eventually, Tyler, said, she would like to teach at the college level.

2017-2018 Alumni Association Board of Directors

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Front row: Amber Loring ’06, ’07, Ken Thomas (treasurer) ’06, ’09, Ken Swan (president) ’67, Ann Marie Lombardi (vice president) ’77, Kristen Brady ’08, ’13. Second row: John Bucher ’05, Melissa Hendrick ’02, John McDonald ’87, Ramone Pierce ’11, ’13, Allison Walker ’09, Deborah Changnon ’07, ’10, Bud McKechnie ’52, Maggie Beaumont ’57, Laura Chirichigno ’10, ’12, Akshita Sahgal (student representative) ’18. Third row: John Holladay ’75, Juliette Stratis (student representative) ’19, Keith Middlemark ’04, Harv Whitney ’68, Tonya Moore ’96, Anthony Santa ’12, Greg Greiwe ’80, Jim Irvin ’70, John Flaherty ’67, Andy Flanagan ’70. Not pictured: Jason Barcomb ’00, Chris Delaporte (past president) ’80, Margaret Gary ’08, ’10, Tony Porrevecchio (secretary) ’05, Tommy Poston ’06, ’09, Glenda Russel ’06, Erik Shafer ’03.

Coming Home to You Tour Returns

CHTY-5In July, your Alumni Engagement & Sustained Giving team hit the road with the return of the Coming Home to You Tour. With stops in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Hampton, VA, alumni and students had a chance to network and have fun.

The tour will return this spring—so be on the lookout for the stop closest to you, and join in the fun!


Welcome Class of 2017

With commencement season behind us, it is time to welcome our newest graduates into the next phase of their Saint Leo experience. Be sure to keep your contact information up-to-date and visit your.saintleo.edu often to learn about all of the exciting things taking place.

Whether you are just graduating or simply haven’t had time to get involved yet, be sure to:


Alumni Chapters

TB-Alumni-Ch-zoSaint Leo has made its mark in New York City and Tampa—what cities will be next? Alumni chapters provide a great opportunity for Saint Leo alumni to come together to network, help spread the word to potential new students, complete community service projects, and have fun—all in their own backyards. To find out how to start an alumni chapter in your area, visit your.saintleo.edu/chapters.

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Calling All Animal Lovers!

ernieDo you have a unique, special, or just plain wonderful pet? Please send us your photos (high-resolution, print quality if possible) for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of Spirit magazine. Dogs, cats, pigs, horses, iguanas, parakeets, and more—all are welcome! Be sure to supply: your name and class year, the pet’s name and breed, and what makes your pet great. Send to news@saintleo.edu, subject line: Saint Leo Pets


This Is My Saint Leo!

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In May, members of the Class of 1962 (above) celebrated their 55th reunion. The weekend included a reception on campus, providing an opportunity to revisit familiar places as well as tour new ones.

Fred Edwards ’47 shared the images (below) with classmate Mickey McLinden ’47. The left photo was taken the day the pair “borrowed” the Benedictine brothers’ truck and took it to Dade City, something they got docked for weeks by Father Raphael for doing. The other photo was taken 60 years later in front of the same model truck. “Those were the days!”

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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.”

How did an Ogden, UT, native end up on the Saint Leo Lions volleyball team? “It’s a long story,” Britt Sederholm explains.

Britt-Sederholm3While in high school, the young volleyball player knew she wanted to compete on the collegiate level, was set on Division II, and was focused on a college in New Jersey. However, while competing in a tournament in Colorado, she caught the eye of Coach Sam Cibrone, who was there with his Tampa United volleyball club. One thing led to another, and she decided to pay Saint Leo a visit. She toured the campus, met the team, and instantly knew that the Lions were the team for her. Another important moment from that tournament? She spiked the ball on one play, hitting Maddy Powell—from the opposing team—right in the face. But no hard feelings—the two players are now roommates at Saint Leo.

Britt admits that moving to Florida was a hard transition at first, but her family has been very supportive. Her parents, who adopted her at birth, keep in touch—in fact every day her father texts her and her mother Snapchats. She explains that her parents were very eager to adopt her, as well as her older sister, Shay. “Shay is part Mexican, and the adoption agency was worried that my parents would have a problem with that. They said, ‘We don’t care if she comes out with antennas!’ ” Britt, at five-foot-eleven, jokes that she and her sister look nothing alike: “She is short and brown, but even though I look down on her in height, I look up to her in life.” And Britt claims that her niece, Kylah, is perfect. “She is my favorite person in the world—a little ball of happiness.”

Before Britt was born, her birth mother had one instruction: she did not want the baby growing up in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) home, which is a tall order in Utah. Jeff and Tamra Sederholm had no problem with that requirement and raised their daughters to be open to all religions. Britt attended a Lutheran school through eighth grade and then a Catholic high school. She explained that at public schools in Utah, almost everyone is LDS and “you can almost feel like an outcast if you’re not.” That was another benefit that Britt sees at Saint Leo, a Catholic institution that welcomes people of all backgrounds and faiths.

What does the future hold for this talented outside hitter? She is majoring in business marketing and would like to work for a professional sports team, following in the footsteps of her best friend and godsister, Julie Johnson.

For now, when she is not studying or playing volleyball, she serves as an assistant coach for Tampa United. “Britt is a great person with awesome energy and devotion to our sport,” commented Coach Cibrone. “She coaches to learn about the game and always gives 100 percent on the court. She is a huge asset to our team.”