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During challenging times, we often witness amazing feats of bravery and innovation in support of career growth or a common cause. Courageous individuals find a way to blaze new trails despite facing enormous odds. This got us to thinking about some of the shared characteristics of trailblazers. While certainly not an exhaustive list, we came up with these three.

A Strong Work Ethic

Goals alone will not get you far unless you roll up your sleeves and get to work. One of the greatest examples of a person with an unwavering work ethic was  the late U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately known as “The Notorious RBG.” At 87 years old, she rarely missed a day of work, even when hospitalized. She was a champion of women’s rights,  a four-time cancer survivor (1999, 2009, 2018, and earlier in 2020), took care of her husband when he fell ill, and would work well into the night after putting her children to bed during her child-rearing years. Despite reaching the heights of the legal profession as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, being nominated for the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and making Time magazine’s “Top 100 Influential People,” she was a humble servant of the people. In her own words, “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” Let her words serve as inspiration for your work.

Vision

Despite the shortlist of African-American director role models in Hollywood, actor and comedian Jordan Peele kept his eye on his personal goal of becoming a feature film director. After attaining a significant level of recognition for his work on Comedy Central’s sketch show Key and Peele, Peele feared that no one in the industry would take him seriously as a director, especially since he had never directed a film, let alone a feature. In an off-chance meeting with producer Sean McKittrick, Peele pitched a few ideas that did not land well and ended with “Here’s one you’ll never want to make…,” which was his pitch for the suspense thriller Get Out, a commentary on race relations in America. McKittrick immediately optioned the concept and Blumhouse Production executives later approved Peele as the film’s director, based on his specific vision for each scene and his commitment to writing the script. Get Out, produced on a $4.5 million budget, has earned more than $270 million worldwide to date, and received nominations for best picture and best director at the 2018 Academy Awards. At the same awards, Peele became the first African-American screenwriter in history to win the Academy Award for best original screenplay. He indeed is a trailblazer who never wavered from a specific vision. 

Passion

Whether motivated by righting a perceived wrong or seeking to change the world for the better, passion is what will keep you motivated, and hopefully, active. Defined as “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something,” passion is also what keeps trailblazers up at night and what helps them to find the energy to follow through. Current trailblazers include the thousands of everyday men and women in cities across America who have been marching in a nonviolent protest against the inhumane treatment of immigrants, racially motivated violence against African-Americans, and LGBTQ rights or other social justice issues. Other passionate trailblazers include the thousands of frontline health care workers who put their lives at risk to treat COVID-19 patients and the numerous virologists and other scientists working around the clock to develop a vaccine. God willing, their passion, vision, and work ethic will usher in a new normal, and from there other trailblazers can lead us into the next era of innovation and change.


Amina Abdullah

Dr. Amina Abdullah is the chair and assistant professor for the undergraduate human services program. She holds a Ph.D. in human services. Abdullah teaches and organizes community services initiatives and service-learning experiences for students enrolled in the human services program.

Craig Winstead

Dr. Craig Winstead is the chair of the Operations Management Department and an associate professor of project management. He holds a Ph.D. in organization and management. He teaches project management courses in the bachelor’s and MBA programs and serves as the course coach for project management micro-credentials.

Jason Arigoni

Alumnus Jason Arigoni became a leader for The Home Depot by investing in others.

After high school, Jason Arigoni ’05 was not considering college. He already had established himself firmly in a retail career, working since he was a teenager at the Southeastern grocery chain Winn-Dixie and then joining Target after graduation.

It wasn’t until 2001, when Arigoni played a round of golf at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club and had a casual conversation with another golfer, that he seriously thought about a degree. That golfer turned out to be a Saint Leo admissions counselor. Arigoni started classes in January 2002 and graduated in May 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Working full time while commuting and taking a full course load at University Campus left Arigoni with little time for campus social life. “My time was spent in class or at work,” Arigoni said. “I was working 40 to 55 hours each week, but I did occasionally come out to support sporting events.”

Yet, Arigoni’s Saint Leo experience made an impression.

Jason Arigoni and his team at Home Depot
Jason Arigoni (center) visits with team members in Williston, VT.

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Arigoni is now regional vice president of the New England region at The Home Depot, a company that espouses core values similar to Saint Leo University’s.

“In all honesty, I think all of Saint Leo’s values align with Home Depot’s,” Arigoni said. “The Home Depot is a values-driven organization. We encourage entrepreneurial spirit, doing the right thing, building strong relationships, giving back, respect for all people, creating shareholder value, excellent customer service, and taking care of our people.”

Taking care of people, especially his customers and his employees, may well be what Arigoni does best.

He made time to speak with Saint Leo while waiting to board a plane on a Friday afternoon. Arigoni’s emphasis on communication skills was evident as he tuned out the airport noise and answered every question thoughtfully—even as he was headed home to (the Boston suburb) where he, his wife, Lina, and their 4-year-old daughter, Gulianna, now live.

“I was really attracted to the values and the culture of The Home Depot, that feeling of ‘We’re going to do this! We believe it! We live by it!’” Arigoni said.

“I didn’t realize how rare it was to be recruited by The Home Depot,” Arigoni said. “I really enjoyed working for Target, so when The Home Depot tried to recruit me, I went back and forth with them for a year and a half.” Once Arigoni made the decision to join the world’s largest home improvement retailer, he never looked back.

Jason Arigoni and his team at Home Depot
Arigoni celebrates the success of an associate.

Arigoni is a proponent of the “inverted pyramid” model of organization and leadership used at The Home Depot. In that business model, front-line associates (employees) are the most important people in the company’s hierarchy because they are closest to the customers.

He said he believes in investing in his associates and attributes his success to that investment.

“The moments that stick with me the most are the ones where you inspire associates who didn’t think they were capable of growing their career, for whatever reason, and you show up and help them break past that notion,” Arigoni said.

“Many of these folks go on to obtain roles that are actually life-changing,” Arigoni said. “The most motivating part is realizing in real time that you are part of one of these career/life-changing moments.”

As focused as he is on his job, Arigoni makes time for other important facets of life.  He and his wife and daughter are working their way through a list of the 100 best things to do in the Northeast. They especially enjoy exploring the Atlantic coastline and hiking.

Jason Arigoni and his team at Home Depot
Arigoni and associates at The Home Depot

Through his position at Home Depot, Arigoni is the “community captain” supporting the service work of the 800 stores in the northern United States. Outside his job, he serves on the executive advisory board for the Ron Burton Training Village, which offers a seven-year program for at-risk youth to guide, support, and mentor them in education, social skills, moral values, leadership, and fitness.

He also makes time for entrepreneurial side gigs, running among other businesses, a property management company.

Arigoni offers this advice to his team and to anyone who aspires to grow their careers: “Understand your personal balance and how that aligns with your personal vision and values. Make time for what motivates you outside of work.

“Remember that you’re in marathon, not a sprint,” Arigoni continued. “Whether you are making a lateral move to get ahead in your career or working toward a college degree that takes a long time to finish, it’s all OK, as long as you meet your end goal and help others along the way.”

Photos courtesy of The Home Depot

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

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


M.Lydon_8Michael Lydon ’07 is the director of North American Talent Acquisition for INC Research/inVentiv Health, a fully integrated bio-pharmaceutical solutions organization in the market. In his role, Lydon leads a department of 40-plus managers and recruiters who are responsible for hiring more than 1,500 employees in North America and 3,500 employees globally. He regularly participates in a number of local community charities, including the Pancreatic Cancer Center, Trinity Cafe, and Hope Children’s Home. His most memorable Saint Leo moment was when he first met his wife, Jamie (Porrevecchio) Lydon ’08. Given the university’s diversity, Lydon credits Saint Leo for helping him learn how to collaborate and communicate with individuals from all over the world. These invaluable skills have accelerated his success and enabled him to make a positive impact in the corporate world.


Latoya-GaryLatoya Gary ’11, MBA ’13 is a senior accountant for the Marion County (FL) Public Schools finance department. She plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of the district—from handling budget preparations to analyzing financial data. She participates in United Way fundraisers hosted by the district and regularly volunteers at church by serving on the Hospitality Committee. Her favorite Saint Leo memory is the networking receptions. While she attended Saint Leo online, these receptions allowed her to network and meet new friends.

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Latoya Gary ’11 MBA ’13 receiving her award from Dr. Lennox

ShermanSherman Milton III ’13 is a Realtor® for Florida Heritage Real Estate Group in Dade City (FL). Since joining the real estate world, he has helped many first-time buyers fulfill their dreams of becoming homeowners. Being one of the youngest agents in his association, he has a busy work schedule, but he still finds time to give back to his community. During his free time, he tutors at the Boys and Girls Club and mentors for the Pasco Education Foundation. Milton’s favorite memory of Saint Leo is his SERVE (Students Engaged in Rewarding Volunteering Experiences) trip to Ecuador during his freshman year. There he had the opportunity to teach English and computer skills at a local school.


Kim_PattersonKimberly Patterson ’15 is a crime scene technician with the Lakeland (FL) Police Department. She works in all aspects of criminal investigation, including forensics, crime scene investigation/reconstruction, forensic photography, and courtroom testimony. Patterson has received numerous meritorious service awards from the Lakeland Police Department, and she actively participates in community projects sponsored by the department. She says that Saint Leo’s core values create a foundation upon which students can build to become morally responsible professionals and leaders.


J-ProphetJeri D. Prophet ’13 is the founder and CEO of lntellecTechs, Inc., a Virginia Beach (VA) firm specializing in a full range of information technology products and services. Prophet has been recognized for numerous awards, including the 2015 Still Hope Foundation’s Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, the 2014 Entrepreneurial Excellence Honoree, the 2012 Women in Business Honoree, the 2012 Still Serving Award, and the 2009 Top Forty Under 40 Honoree. A service disabled veteran, Prophet started NowHiringVeterans.com, a free veteran/employer matching job placement service website. Her favorite Saint Leo memory is walking into Professor Elliott Seagraves’ music class and realizing Professor Seagraves was as passionate about music as she was about computers, and there would be no leaving early.

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Jeri Prophet ’13 with Dr. Lennox

JesseJesse Suarez ’11 is a second-year internal medicine resident at Brandon (FL) Regional Hospital. Following completion of his residency training, he plans to enroll in a fellowship in cardiovascular medicine. Born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, he is engaged with community-based activities involving the American Medical Association and his residency program. He also volunteers frequently with the American Heart Association. Following completion of his training, he plans to return to the Tampa Bay area and serve his community as a cardiologist. Suarez says his favorite Saint Leo memory was being a member of the baseball team, through which he formed lasting relationships with his coaches and teammates, and served as captain during his junior and senior seasons. To Suarez, being a Saint Leo Lion means being a part of a collective that embodies the university’s core values.


Brendan Cahill ’10 is the senior manager for Payer Marketing and Strategy at Valeant Pharmaceuticals, in Bridgewater, NJ. He is an active member in Team Red, White & Blue, an organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Cahill’s proudest professional moment is when he placed first in his class in Basic Training with the National Guard. In fact, he is still active in the Guard and serves as the executive officer of his unit, with the rank of first lieutenant. His fondest memories of his time at Saint Leo are playing on the lacrosse team and creating lifelong friends.