Donald R Tapia School of Business

Alumnus enjoys long career fighting crime and teaching others within the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

After 25 years as a senior special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, alumnus Ruben Garcia ’85, ’90 now uses his extensive field experience in the classroom, teaching and mentoring law enforcement officers from around the world. For Garcia and his students, examining law enforcement on a global scale from inside the DEA Training Academy not only helps them develop a competency for thinking bigger, but also prepares them for the many challenges they will face on the job.

“What I’ve loved about this job over the years are the challenges you have to overcome,” Garcia said. “No two cases are the same. Being able to overcome obstacles without getting frustrated is the key to success—not only in your professional career, but life itself.”

With a master’s degree in education from Northern Arizona University, along with hundreds of hours of judicial testimony in his wake, Garcia opened a new door. In 2016, his transition from senior special agent to program manager and instructor for the Sensitive Investigative Unit at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, VA, meant supervising instructors and training domestic and foreign law enforcement officers from around the world with a greater purpose in mind: to share intelligence that brings criminals at the highest levels of organized crime to justice.

Garcia developed a curriculum that combines topics in ethics and corruption, surveillance, undercover investigation, money laundering, and rule of law, among others. Conspiracy law and investigations remain his favorite course to teach.

“I love hearing from my students months or even years after my training and learning how successful they have become in working their cases,” Garcia said. “No matter what country they are from, our goal is the same—making our countries safer by prosecuting violent organized crime members.”

Prior to his teaching days at the training academy, Garcia invested countless amounts of miles, hours, and grit living the life of what the entertainment industry depicts in movies and in the popular Netflix series Narcos, released in 2015. Throughout his career as senior special agent, Garcia served as the lead investigator in numerous complex domestic and international conspiracy investigations and is regarded as a conspiracy expert by his peers, who routinely seek his advice and mentorship.

Garcia’s high-profile assignments, and an active role from 2010 to 2016 in the legendary capture of the notorious cartel leader “El Chapo” (twice), only scratch the surface of a hectic and intense profession ideally suited for a person of his character—resourceful, precise, and calm, with an innate ability for decision-making and an unapologetic belief in the value of good humor.

While his career has taken him to many places near and far, his beginnings were humble. At the age of 5, Garcia moved from Cuba to the United States. He was raised by his mother, also a teacher, in South Florida. When Garcia turned 17, he joined the U.S. Air Force, becoming the second-youngest airman in boot camp at that time. It was during his time stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, that Garcia graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in criminology from what was then Saint Leo College. This became the first of many doors that would open for Garcia, leading him to enjoy a robust and engaging career.

Today, Garcia is in the process of retiring from his work in law enforcement. His next move is to become an adjunct professor at a university in his hometown of Phoenix, opening yet another door to unleash his passion for teaching in even bigger ways.

Leaving a Legacy at Saint Leo

In 2012, Ruben Garcia’s wife, Dorothy, earned her MBA from the Tapia College of Business, and together they created the Ruben C. and Dorothy C. Garcia Endowed Scholarship in 2014. The fund helps make a Saint Leo University education possible for students studying criminal justice or business. If you are interested in joining the Garcias in starting a scholarship for Saint Leo University students, please contact Christopher Neher, director of principal gifts, at christopher.neher@saintleo.edu.

As I write this article, I’m sitting in my friend’s living room in Rio de Janeiro, where I studied as a high school exchange student five years ago. I’m back, 30 countries later, surrounded by familiar faces in the neighborhood that started my love for travel. But now I embrace my experience here from a totally different perspective.

My 2016 started off with no electricity during a citywide blackout in the interior of Brazil. Instead of celebrating the New Year, I was editing an interview my film crew conducted earlier that day with a journalist covering the mudslides that occurred near our city of Mariana, in the state of Minas Gerais. The reality of travel and working abroad is not simple, and it’s certainly not as easy as many people fantasize it to be. Working productively in constantly changing environments and political situations requires flexibility and adaptability, which is contrary to the stable conditions that most people believe are necessary to work effectively. However, regardless of the many inconveniences and surprises, this is the most rewarding kind of job I can imagine.

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In late November of last year, toxic mudslides from a burst dam at an iron ore mine contaminated three major rivers that are the water source for more than 250,000 people. They also killed thousands of fish and displaced hundreds of families. Recovery of the Rio Doce and its dependent environments is expected to take more than 30 years.

In situations such as I faced here in Brazil, where film and photography are the tools used to convey messages and address global issues, travel and education are synched. Inevitably, while traveling, the truths of injustice, crisis, and poverty are also brought to the surface in our lens. In many countries I have been pulled to crisis, and local issues surfacing, and facing the fundamentals of human injustice in conflict.

As an international hospitality and tourism major, I remember sitting in class during my freshman year when a guest speaker spoke about his work in the Peruvian Amazon. I followed this dream to the rain forest. What was conceived as a three-month summer internship turned into a six-month project that enabled me to learn how to analyze cultural issues and how tourism interacted with culture all over Peru. My internship allowed me to travel with a professional purpose, push myself to the best of my abilities, and learn the power of image in our visual world.

We are taught in our courses to follow our dreams, as our passions will push us to excel. My professors and advisors encouraged the idea that a true understanding of the world exists outside the classroom, and the best education we can have is experiencing it. The purpose of university is to teach us to succeed in the real world.

“I’ve been detained at borders. I have also heard stories and met people I will never forget who taught me what it means to be human in the context of saying ‘I love you’ and ‘cheers’ in 15 languages.”

— Erin Skoczylas ’16

Among my university courses were business strategies and languages. However, my most valuable lessons in photography and travel were gained outside the classroom. My financial skills came from learning how to budget my travels and bargain for vital goods and services. My language skills were attained when I forced myself to survive in a foreign environment.

I have sailed across the world, hitchhiked on two continents, slept in the port of Hong Kong, camped in deserts, in jungles, and on the sides of a highway. I’ve been detained at borders. I have also heard stories and met people I will never forget who taught me what it means to be a human in the context of saying “I love you” and “cheers” in 15 languages. Who’s to say that education is not learning to climb Machu Picchu on my own, watching the sunrise over the ancient temples of Bagan, or learning to ride a motorbike in India? These are moments when I challenged myself as a person, as a traveler, and as a photographer. They have led to the most extraordinary experiences, and my best photos are the ones I have taken when I put myself at greatest risk.

University is not only a time to invest in your education, but to invest in yourself as a person and develop the mental skills you need to build your career. I am now in my final semester, finishing my courses online. In the real world at last, I will be working and learning more about the wetlands of Brazil and then interning in Costa Rica. You’ll find me somewhere in a jungle, in the mountains, or on a beach with a camera.

Every great project needs a great plan—a set of steps from conception through completion. Terri Vertes can attest to that. She spends her days helping the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, be more efficient and streamlined. As the manager of IT Project Management, she sets the standards for putting processes in place and providing consistency. When she arrived at Moffitt, there were no project guidelines. Today, there is a color-coded system that keeps everyone on track.

Although it may seem that project management would be dominated by numbers and deadlines, “It’s all about relationships,” Vertes explained. She and her team of six project managers and a coordinator have created an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration with other departments. They focus on projects that align with Moffitt’s strategic goals. One recent project involved implementing computerized physician order entry (CPOE), which enables Moffitt to meet government regulations and reduce risk. Another project involved revamping the TV system in patients’ rooms to provide tutorials, health information, and other tools for cancer patients.

Vertes’ educational journey was initially not an easy one. She was working at Bank of America in Tampa, FL, being a mom to her young son, and trying to finish her degree at the University of Tampa. She found that rushing to class during her lunch hours was becoming impossible. Lucky for her, one of her clients suggested that she take classes at Saint Leo online. “I started with one class,” she recalled, “and was quickly ready for two.” After completing her business degree and then working for an urban planner for a time, she came back to Saint Leo for her MBA. She has been in her current position since February 2015.

As a Catholic, Vertes appreciates Saint Leo’s abiding Benedictine tradition. “There was a community feel, and the people actually cared about me. The professors always made themselves available, and it was such a great educational experience,” she said.

She is also pleased to be sharing her success with others. Moffitt and Saint Leo recently entered into an agreement for an IT and project management intern program. “Saint Leo has the only university agreement with an IT relationship,” she said. Soon Saint Leo students will be benefiting from her expertise.

While the last several months have delivered multiple bad news reports about cybersecurity breaches of customer and employee files at corporations, various government agencies, and even among certain smartphone users and car owners, there is good news in the field of cybersecurity.

CybersecurityTalented people are being attracted to the growing career field of cybersecurity to help corporations, organizations, and individuals learn how to safeguard their vital data. And Saint Leo University is helping to train the workforce with dynamic new academic programs designed to meet the most current industry hiring specifications. The first class to enroll in the master of cybersecurity degree program will graduate in Spring 2016, and the 19 degree candidates are expected to encounter ample career opportunities for promotions and higher-paying positions.

“There are strong indications that there are good career prospects for these students,” commented Dr. Vyas Krishnan, assistant professor of computer science, who helped design the MS program. One company has told Saint Leo it wants to interview master’s degree candidates in the fall for hiring in the spring. On a national scale, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the job growth rate for information security analysts (an industry term for cyber experts) during the period 2012-2022 will exceed 36.5 percent, while the growth rate for computer systems analysts will exceed 24.5 percent. “The projected job growth rates of 36.5 percent and 24.5 percent represent a substantial increase,” Dr. Krishnan said, “creating a robust demand for graduates with a degree in cybersecurity.”

The 36-hour MS program in cybersecurity is specifically marketed to those who already possess some experience in the information technology field. More than 60 students are in some stage of the advanced degree program currently. It is now offered online as well as at University Campus, with a second cohort beginning on-ground studies now.

Students are versed in the technical competencies of safeguarding operating systems, networks, databases, and other software applications. The students’ curriculum is compliant with standards established by the National Security Agency, and it prepares them to attain a number of industry-recognized certifications. “These information security professionals require proficiency in a variety of current and emerging technologies—computer and network security, operating systems security, cryptography, Internet/intranet security, biometrics, compliance and legal issues, and homeland security,” Dr. Krishnan elaborated.

CybersecurityTo be as effective as possible over the long term of their careers, graduates must also emerge from the university with an understanding of the management environments they will operate in and the needs of chief executives they will serve. Saint Leo offers students an advantage in this regard, as the academic home of the cybersecurity instruction is the Donald R. Tapia School of Business, an environment that prepares students to function in business organizations. “Securing the information assets of an enterprise depends on more than just a technical foundation in information security,” Dr. Krishnan explained. “It requires an overall security management approach that combines the business needs of the enterprise, the technical and business risks associated with those information assets, the relevant legal issues, and how the systems interact with people: the developers, the system managers, and the internal and external users.”

Many of these institutional strengths also influence positively the instruction at the undergraduate level, where Saint Leo students have been so far able to earn the Bachelor of Science in computer information systems (popular in many education centers) or the more technically oriented computer science program. They may also earn a minor in information assurance with either program to gain cyber credentials. Apart from those options, students are also invited to take part in fun activities, including a cybersecurity club, a cybersecurity competition that may become an annual event, and opportunities to make presentations on topics such as computer extortion at Academic Excellence Day (held each April at University Campus).
Still, Saint Leo as an institution is ambitious to do more, and so development of a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity is underway. At the earliest, it would be offered in Fall 2016, at University Campus and online. The objective of the Bachelor of Science degree will be to prepare graduates for careers in developing security products and procedures, so they may work in roles such as security-application programmers, testers, analysts, and even cyber-legal analysts, Dr. Krishnan said. The curriculum proposed for the BS in cybersecurity requires core courses from the computer science degree and supplements that with six courses on technical aspects of cybersecurity and two courses from the bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice (housed in the School of Education and Social Services).

Another option is also on the table: an accelerated program just approved that will move motivated students swiftly from the BS in computer science through the MS in cybersecurity. It is called one of the Tapia School’s “3 +1” programs, explained Dr. Derek Mohammed, the chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, and shortens the student’s overall time in the academic setting.

CybersecurityThere is good reason to be optimistic about the job prospects for Tapia School graduates from these programs, too, according to Dr. Mohammed. Four graduates of the class of 2015 who earned the BS in computer science with a minor in information assurance—the most cyber-intensive offering available at the time—were sw
iftly hired after graduation at a technology company, a soft-drink company, a staffing company, and the City of Tampa.

Saint Leo has also signed on to participate in a specialized program in Florida for veterans. The pilot program was created to train veterans for careers in cybersecurity by making selected online courses available to them. The student-veterans enrolled will eventually take certain industry certification tests and earn a certificate of completion.

To meet the growing instructional and advisory duties all these initiatives will create, Saint Leo has hired two faculty members for newly created positions this fall at University Campus, Dr. Mohammed noted, in addition to a faculty member hired to fill an open position. Two faculty members have been brought on in Virginia in recent years, as well. “This really demonstrates Saint Leo’s commitment to cybersecurity,” he said.

Further, Saint Leo has met head-on the particular challenges academic institutions face in preparing entrants for this fast-paced field, Dr. Krishnan commented. “There is a constant ‘arms race’ between cyber-criminals with their increasingly sophisticated methods of cyberattacks, and the efforts of cybersecurity professionals to mitigate and defend against these threats,” he said. “To be effective as a university, it is imperative for faculty teaching courses in cybersecurity to stay current with the latest trends and needs of the industry. Saint Leo faculty are committed to preparing sophisticated practitioners who are well-versed in the science of protecting vital computer networks and infrastructures from attack.”

When Saint Leo University launched its Doctor of Business Administration degree program in 2013, it hoped to lure the nation’s best and brightest. That aspiration has been realized with highly intelligent and experienced students joining the first two cohorts. Patrick Plummer is one fine example.

23Plummer has already enjoyed a successful career, having started two health care data businesses and subsequently selling them. In his mind, he was always guided to do what was best for medical patients, and he believes that his companies attained that goal. Along the way, he also collaborated with Virginia Commonwealth University professors on a health care strategy textbook, a project that made him begin thinking about giving back to the next generation.

Now age 50, this Mechanicsburg, PA, native decided that he wanted to go back to school and become a professor, so he began looking for just the right program. Over the last several years, he had researched as many as 30 doctoral programs, but none was exactly what he wanted. Then in January 2014, he did another Google search and found Saint Leo. Within 45 minutes of perusing the website, he knew this was the place he wanted to be.

Catherine, Patrick, Grace, and CarolynA devout Catholic, Plummer was drawn to Saint Leo’s Catholic identity and Benedictine tradition. He even commented, “If I could be a married priest, I would.” He believes that approaching matters from a Catholic basis always makes things clearer for him.

Having sold that second business in December 2013, Plummer and his wife wanted to have a meaningful family trip for themselves and their two daughters, ages 13 and 14. So in August 2014, they traveled to Italy, where they spent two and a half weeks touring the Vatican and the surrounding sites. They enjoyed seeing the pope give his weekly address, amidst tens of thousands of people. “When Papa Franco appeared,” Plummer remembered, “the crowd roared, like someone had scored a touchdown.” Even with a sudden downpour, no one’s spirit was dampened. They also toured the Sistine Chapel and St. Mark’s Cathedral, and viewed The Last Supper. His daughters agreed: “the best trip ever.”

The trip involved so much history—so much emphasis on God, religion, and faith—that Plummer returned, even more determined to make a difference for young people.“I want students to know that you don’t have to be a schmuck to succeed in business,” he explained. “Sometimes it is hard to absorb that message in corporate America. It is easy to take the wrong path if that’s what you think you have to do.”

Plummer is currently on his way to his dream of being a professor, and his goal is to complete his dissertation by December 2016. For now, he is enjoying his time as a student.

“It is a lot more work than I expected,” he said with a laugh. “There is so much reading, and writing, writing, writing. But having the cohort has been a big surprise. I am amazed at how close we have all become in such a short period of time.”

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.”