Dr. Stephen Okey


It’s 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, and Dr. Passard Dean starts his course, The Value of Money (HON260), with a simple, but profound question: “Tell me what you want to know about money,” he asks. This course is part of Saint Leo University’s Honors Program offering, and by beginning with this thought-provoking question, Dean is giving students the opportunity to contribute to how the curriculum comes to life.

The accounting professor’s class is one of 17 honors courses offered each year that are attracting students to Saint Leo with a true upgrade in academics based on a skills-based curriculum that follows a global citizenship theme. At the heart of the growing program is a fresh take on creativity with courses that change topics every semester.

Beginning with nearly 50 students in the fall of 2021, the Saint Leo Honors Program now serves more than 200 students who are learning from each other, discussing moral responsibility, and translating it to life outside the classroom. The program received a revamp under the guidance of Dr. Timothy Jussaume, who served as director of the Honors Program and associate professor of philosophy through the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. Students from a range of majors can now participate in a program that offers a sense of mission in a more sophisticated way. More than 10% of the campus population is enrolled in the Honors Program.

We are challenging students to see their undergraduate education as preparation for lives of moral responsibility and service to others,” Jussaume said. “The Honors Program offers transformative learning experiences that facilitate intellectual and personal growth.”

The Honors Program is comprised of seven courses and one capstone project for a total of 25 credits that students take as part of their bachelor’s degree program. As Jussaume likes to emphasize, the course load is not more work, but a different kind of work. First-year courses are team-taught by multiple faculty and represent one of the most unique experiences available at Saint Leo. Courses are truly interdisciplinary because students are led by faculty from multiple disciplines.

Faith and Politics (HON161), a popular team-taught course offered in the spring, challenges students to learn how to talk about difficult topics.

Three honors program professors posing
(Left to right) Dr. Stephen Okey, associate professor of theology; Dr. Timothy Jussaume, former director of the Honors Program and associate professor of philosophy; and Frank Orlando, instructor of political science.

The course brings three Saint Leo instructors together into one classroom for a semester of curiosity and learning for both students and professors as they work their way through the course, not always knowing where the class discussions will take them. Taught by Jussaume; Dr. Stephen Okey, associate professor of theology; and Frank Orlando, instructor of political science, the course is helping students to build self-confidence and develop listening skills that allow them to articulate strong opinions with clarity, evidence, and thoughtful lines of reasoning.

First-Year Seminar I: Wild Florida is another first-year, team-taught course where faculty members from philosophy, biology, and English teach together. It examines how Florida has occupied a unique place in the American consciousness and explores the historical, environmental, social, and cultural forces that have shaped the Florida of today.

“We talked a lot about being self-aware and explored how nature has an intrinsic value,” said Rylan Hutchins ’26 who took the class in the fall as a freshman in the Honors Program. “Not only can nature give you happiness, but there are also moral principles we need to uphold. It’s so important to realize that we’re not the only ones inhabiting this planet.”

Hutchins is a native of Dade City, FL, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and considering the 3+1 program to earn two degrees in four years.

The Honors Program also has grown in the number of faculty who are tapping into their passions. More than 22 faculty members from the university’s four colleges and the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library are finding the curriculum flexible and the teaching style appealing. By working with Jussaume to develop courses that emphasize the skills necessary to engage with high-level content in their disciplines, faculty are preparing students to address the many challenges of global citizenship. And because the class setting in the Honors Program is student-centered rather than instructor-centered, faculty members are encouraging students to take ownership of the course, leading discussions and making connections to their majors.

Students working on a group project in their honors class.
The Honors Program has become the most interdisciplinary way for the university to help students go outside their major. Classrooms are student-centered, encouraging honors students to take ownership of the course and make connections to their majors.

Students in the program find it ideal that honors courses are not in a set sequence. Whether it’s a 200- or 300-level course, first-year and upperclassmen can take classes together, share multiple perspectives, and learn by being part of a true academic community. With titles like The Psychological World of Disney, Sports Diplomacy, Hip-Hop and Social Justice, Glass Ceilings, and Experiences of the Divine, the courses are taught by faculty members in theology, religion, biology, philosophy, physics, social work, sociology, criminal justice, and history, to name a few. The Honors Program has become the most interdisciplinary way for the university to help students go outside of their majors and learn how they can impact their communities.

For the Saint Leo Honors Program, an important consequence of its new approach and variety of course offerings is that it is not only about academics, but also about a broad vision for student success. Honors students earning bachelor’s degrees are empowered to be campus leaders, to connect with the Saint Leo community, and to develop the skills that prepare them for life after graduation.

Attracting Students with a True Upgrade in Academics

Headshot of student Tayhana Taylor“It’s not about just looking for information to help you pass a test or pass only the courses that fit into your degree so that you can get a job,” said Tayhana Taylor ’24, an Honors Program student who is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in accounting. “It’s about responsibility, leadership, taking ownership, building culture and community. My honors professors are willing to go down that road with me to help me understand the significance of something outside my major.”

Taylor is a dynamic student-leader, serving as world news editor for The Lions’ Pride Media Group, vice president of the Institute of Management Accountants Student Chapter, peer mentor, and a resident assistant. Taylor also dedicates time as a research assistant for the Accounting, Economics, and Finance Department; volunteers as a certified tax preparer for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program; is a member of the Collegiate Leadership Tampa Bay Chamber Class of 2023; and completed three internships with accounting firms in Miami and New York.

Saint Leo University faculty are transforming the lives of students and making significant contributions to their fields of study. Take a look at some of the most recent accomplishments from our faculty.

Christina CazanaveChristina Cazanave, director of internships and instructor for the Undergraduate Social Work Program, was appointed legislative chair for the NASW-Florida Chapter. In this five-year, statewide leadership position, Cazanave works closely with NASW-FL lobbyists to develop legislative proposals, collaborates with the chapter board to set legislative priorities, tracks bills relevant to social work practice, prepares testimony on critical bills, assists members in communicating issues to their elected officials, and builds relationships with other supportive organizations.

This role allows Cazanave to support Florida social workers, lobby for social justice and equitable policies, and mobilize the profession in Florida to engage in voter and civic engagement. This work includes creating a statewide voter engagement toolkit and leading the charge in voter activities across Florida.

Cazanave has served as co-chair for the Social Work Programs’ LEAD Day committee and as chair of the university’s Why Vote? campaign. Additionally, she demonstrated her passion for civic engagement by conducting workshops, conference presentations, and discussions on civic engagement and expanding advocacy within the social work practice.

Passard DeanDr. Passard Dean, interim dean of the Tapia College of Business, was appointed to the Institute of Management Accountants Committee on Ethics (IMA® CoE).

“The purpose of the IMA Committee on Ethics is to encourage IMA members, their organizations, and other individuals to adopt, promote, and execute superior business practices consistent with IMA’s mission in management accounting and finance and its Statement of Ethical Professional Practice by advocating the highest ethical principles,” according to the IMA. 

“The objectives of the Committee on Ethics are to advance these principles by regularly contributing meaningful insights, perspectives, opinions, and analysis to ethical issues, activities, publications, and networking opportunities, as well as membership compliance, brought before or identified by the committee.”

Stephen OkeyDr. Stephen Okey, associate professor of philosophy, theology, and religion, contributed to a story for The History Channel on the history of exorcisms. Written by Dr. Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist and journalist, the story examined the centuries-long practices of expelling evil, and it was published and posted just in time for Halloween. 

“According to Okey, the term ‘exorcism’ is most commonly associated with Christianity, especially Catholicism, partly because of the numerous explicit references to Jesus casting out spirits in the Gospels,” the story stated. “In 2017, Pope Francis told priests that they ‘should not hesitate’ to call on a Vatican-trained exorcist should they need one.”

Dr. Matthew Tapie and Rabbi David Maayan

Dr. Matthew Tapie and Rabbi David Maayan, director and assistant director of the university’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, will work with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Vatican, and other organizations to host a conference on the newly opened archives from the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII. The conference, New Documents from the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII and their Meaning for Jewish-Christian Relations: A Dialogue Between Historians and Theologians, will be held at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome in October.

Dr. Jacci WhiteDr. Jacci White, professor of mathematics in the School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science (CARDS), received the prestigious Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) National Meritorious Service Award in 2022. 

The award was established by the MAA Board of Governors in 1983 and is given once every five years to one recipient in each section — Saint Leo is in the Florida Section. It is awarded in recognition of extraordinary service to the MAA and the section.

“White is known for her dedicated teaching, providing student-centered education, and implementation of innovative teaching techniques,” the MAA noted. “At FL-MAA meetings, she often can be found surrounded by students who give presentations, participating in student competitions, and giving talks.”

For her distinguished teaching, White previously was awarded the 2007 MAA Florida Section Teaching Award.

Dr. Tammy Lowery ZacchilliDr. Tammy Lowery Zacchilli, professor of psychology, was elected as the Southeastern regional vice president of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, beginning in July 2022. 

Psi Chi has more than 800,000 members and is one of the largest honor societies in the United States. Zacchilli works with chapters in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia. In this role, she coordinates Psi Chi programming at the Southeastern Psychological Association Conference. She also serves on committees, reviews for awards, and serves as a liaison between the southeastern chapters and the Psi Chi Board of Directors. 

Zacchilli has served as the Psi Chi faculty advisor at Saint Leo University since 2010 and has served as an associate editor to the Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research since 2017. She also was the 2015 recipient of the Psi Chi Faculty Advisor Award for the Southeastern Region and has recently served as a psychology expert on WTVT, FOX 13, several times.