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Saint Leo University opened its newest location in March in the master-planned Nexton community, located in Summerville, SC. The new Charleston Education Center is now serving the tri-county area of Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley counties.

Charleston Education Center classroom“This new 9,000-square-foot facility will provide more space for student resources, classes, and activities, better technology, and space to grow,” said Candis Whitfield, assistant vice president for the Central Region.

Saint Leo University’s Charleston Education Center features a dedicated computer lab, learning resource center, student lounge, and much more. A grand opening ceremony will be held at a later date.

Known as a “quiet force,” Eric Ward ’13 was named the Tampa Police Department chief on April 30. Ward, who grew up in the Belmont Heights area of East Tampa, has served in almost every area of the Tampa Police Department. His work with the department exemplifies Saint Leo University’s core value of community.

Ward, who earned his Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice, is known for reaching out to those in Tampa. One of his main goals as chief is to make sure the community and law enforcement have a good bond. To that end, Ward often visits Grady Elementary, where his wife is a teacher, as well as Tampa PAL (Police Athletic League). He remembers that Belmont Heights Little League and Tampa PAL played a role in his life from a young age, and it is where he learned that most police officers are “good.” Those officers provided him with skills and knowledge to be successful.

“You have to interact with kids at an early age,” Ward said in a City of Tampa video. “The sooner we can interact with them, the better it is for law enforcement and the community.”

The Tampa police chief saw tensions between law enforcement and his East Tampa community when he was growing up. So when he was 21, he decided to join the police force “to make a difference from within.” He explains, “It was a lifelong goal to become a police officer, but I did not envision myself as being the chief.”

While he was a TPD officer, Ward began taking classes at University Campus, at the MacDill Education Office, and online. “I knew that Saint Leo had a highly regarded criminal justice program, and that many of my colleagues have benefitted greatly from the classes,” he said.

He faced the trials of many adult learners. “Time management was a challenge,” Ward said. “It takes a tremendous amount of discipline for a full-time police officer—with a family—to devote the appropriate time to classwork.”

His favorite memories of his time as a Saint Leo student? “I especially enjoyed networking with colleagues in law enforcement and in the military.”

On the city website, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said his selection of a new police chief was one of the most important appointments a mayor can make. “Within the department, Eric is known as a quiet force, and his methodical demeanor and certitude will serve him, the department, and our city.”

Ward will take the skills he learned at Saint Leo and his 27 years with the Tampa Police Department and use them to serve the Tampa Bay area.

“As a police officer—and now as chief—I recognize that I have a tremendous opportunity to accomplish things for this city and this community,” Ward said. “I welcome that opportunity, as well as the challenges that go with it. My favorite part is being in the community and seeing where we have made a difference, or where we can make a difference.”

Being a parent is a tough job, but being a single mom taking college classes is even tougher. Yesenia Shaffer ’14, age 26, was one of those moms who juggled and multi-tasked, finally earning her bachelor’s degree in social work in Spring 2014.

It took lots of planning,” Shaffer remembers. “I knew I had to limit how long I was gone from my son.”

Her son, Gavin-Anthony, now 4, was 2 when Shaffer began taking courses toward her bachelor’s degree. Prior to that, she earned her Associate of Arts degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, FL (now Pasco-Hernando State College, PHSC).

Gavin-Anthony was foremost in Shaffer’s mind as she began her education journey. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have him in day care,” she says. “So I went to night school. As I went through school, I got a little smarter, and I gained more strength to let go a little bit of my son. I worked nights at the Generations Christian Church in Trinity so I could afford small things, and my son was always with me when I worked in the day care area. I didn’t take on anything where I couldn’t take care of him. I was figuring out what was best for him.”

In addition to getting a college degree, Shaffer also wanted to become a pilot. When she first started her junior year at the Adult Education Center at the New Port Richey Office-PHSC, she only worked nights so that her son could accompany her. “My last semester, I got a job at the flight school and it was two hours both ways in traffic,” she recalls.

Dr. Marguerite McInnis, department chair of social work at Saint Leo, was impressed that her student wanted to be a pilot. “At first she was living in New Port Richey and commuting to Lakeland,” Dr. McInnis says. “And she still did her field placement. I was just amazed at everything she was handling. She maintained a positive attitude, but she was tired. She was juggling everything for her child’s future and for her future.”

Shaffer pursued a bachelor’s degree in social work from Saint Leo’s Adult Education Center at PHSC after not knowing what she wanted to study. It all became clear when she took her first human services class. “During the class, our teacher talked about if you wanted to be a counselor, you should get a social work degree rather than psychology,” Shaffer explains. “I had taken psychology, nursing, and education classes; I actually have my massage therapy license. I always enjoyed helping people, but didn’t know what way was going to be my way.”

Her own life mirrored what she was studying. “I happened to be in every situation,” she says. “I’m a young, Hispanic single mother, recently divorced, trying to go back to school, [with a] home that I can barely pay the mortgage for, and supporting a son.”

After some soul searching, she realized she wanted to help other people by majoring in social work. “I felt so empowered,” she says. “I was at the lowest time in my life, but I felt like I could build myself up to be anything. I had a clean slate. Everyone was so encouraging. I felt strong.”

Shaffer chose Saint Leo because family members and friends had studied at the university. “I grew up right off Old St. Joe Road and did a summer camp at Saint Leo,” she says.” I always knew it was really a great university. It was convenient. It had everything. And I could afford it. It fit all my requirements.”

Shaffer wants to combine flying with humanitarian interests. “I love, love, love to help people and fly and get to places that don’t have a lot of people coming by to help,” Shaffer explains. One of her future goals is to fly to the Caribbean islands and bring supplies. “I want to help people, meeting them where they are and helping them how I can.”

Now she is director of sales and marketing at Kingsky Flight Academy in Lakeland, a five-minute drive from her home. Gavin-Anthony attends a day care at the airfield and is proud of his mother. “He’s so vocal about it,” Shaffer said. “Maybe it comes from being my kid! He’s very verbal—every emotion is expressed. He’s always telling me how he is feeling. He knows that Mommy has worked hard.”

Victoria McKee

Saint Leo education centers often receive thank-yous from grateful students. Here is just one example from Victoria McKee ’15, a student at North Charleston (SC).

Thank you for giving me hope again for my education. I had attended a couple different universities before transferring to yours. I had never felt like anything but another number to advisors and professors at my previous colleges. However, upon transferring to you, I immediately felt welcome.

When you walk into the center, you can feel the “Saint Leo difference.” You are greeted by name by Rene, Ben, and Liz. They remember your husband’s name, your pets and children, and other personal bits which broadcasts how caring they are for the students beyond just academics. At North Charleston, you are more than just a number; you’re the faculty and staff’s foremost priority, and because of this, my motivation for school returned. I turned my grades around a complete 180 upon stepping through these doors and can proudly display my Dean’s List certificates at home. Because of Saint Leo, I can talk proudly about finishing my degree again and have passion for what I’m studying.

I’d especially like to thank my director, Liz Heron. She has gone above and beyond in making sure I wasn’t just passing classes but actually succeeding. Any time I have struggled, I could go to Liz, and whatever the issue was, it was fixed immediately. Liz rekindled my fire for my education; she encourages me each term to get another blue Dean’s List certificate to hang up, and I know I always have someone in my corner cheering. Any time I have fallen behind, she has given me the drive to keep pushing forward and turn it around.

I treasure my time in class and am so grateful for the opportunity for this education. Who would have thought you could actually look forward to going to school? I am almost sad that my graduation date is coming up soon because then that means I will no longer get to walk into these doors into the center. But, hey—there is always a master’s degree to go for.

 


 

Jovanny Vargias

 

Vargas---author-pictureOn Veterans Day 2014, the Saint Leo University community had the opportunity to hear from Jovanny Vargas ’12, ’15, who is currently a student
at Saint Leo as well as a cadet in the Suncoast Battalion. As a veteran, he offered a unique perspective to the crowd at the University Campus ceremony. Here is part of his address:

Veterans play an important role in the Saint Leo community, the ROTC program, and have made an impact on my personal experiences. As a student of Saint Leo, I feel that veterans play a crucial part in our student body and contribute a distinct point of view in the classroom based on their vast experiences. Veterans tend to spark interesting conversations based on their unique perspectives and encourage students to be more engaged in discussions.

In the ROTC program, veterans play a vital role in developing and mentoring other cadets based on their past military experiences. They constantly challenge other cadets and provide skills that benefit the organization. Cadets tend to value the opinions of veterans and rely on their expertise. Their presence in the organization as instructors, cadets, and support staff provides the essential tools needed to have a successful leadership program. The cadets that graduate from the program gain the best training available from the interaction they receive from these veterans.

During my time in service, veterans were those men and women in arms who supported me during my time away from my family. They were people I could rely on when times were hard and I always knew they had my back. They are a group of professionals who don’t settle for anything less than perfection, always striving to exceed the standard.

Saint Leo has always been a great supporter of those serving in our military no matter where that may be. Before I had the opportunity to study as a full-time student here at University Campus, I had to take the majority of my classes online or on military installations. Regardless of where the Army sent me, whether it was in Korea, Morocco, or even in the most secluded areas in the world like Antarctica, Saint Leo has always provided me with the resources I needed in order to pursue my education. It is evident that Saint Leo cares about making education available for veterans no matter where they are located.

I salute those men and women who have served and currently serve this nation.