Giving back is a ‘heart thing’ for physician and alumna Kamille Garness ’11.
When Kamille Garness was just 4 years old and living on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, she was taking in stray animals off the streets to feed and house them.
Giving her time and talents to those who need her help — human or otherwise — is just a “heart thing” for her, said Garness, who graduated from Saint Leo University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry.
Today, in addition to her thousands of hours of community service, Garness is working toward completing her residency to become a specialized medical doctor, having graduated from medical school at the Spartan Health Sciences University in St. Lucia, and completing medical internships in Miami and Chicago, as well as earning a Master of Public Health degree from The George Washington University.
While she works toward the goal of completing a medical residency, the 34-year-old, who lives near Orlando, FL, continues to devote much of her time to others. That work is earning her recognition and numerous awards.
“I have been involved with the Red Cross since as far back as high school in St. Lucia,” she said. “I visited the homes of the elderly and the sick, and I also volunteered at different sporting events.
“When I came to the U.S. in 2007, I decided I wanted to undertake a number of volunteer opportunities, and the Red Cross was one of them.”
Garness was honored with the American Red Cross Rising Star Award for her contributions in improving the quality of life of South Floridians and for demonstrating the humanitarian principles of the Red Cross. She received the award at the Sarah Hopkins Woodruff Spectrum Awards for Women in Miami.
She has volunteered with the Red Cross in Orlando and Miami since 2016, assisting families affected by natural disasters. Her efforts also have earned her the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Service Award, the highest honor for a volunteer. To be eligible, an individual must volunteer more than 5,000 hours in his or her lifetime.
Her time at Saint Leo also included “serving humanity from her heart.”
“While at Saint Leo, I volunteered for the Good Samaritans Club and homeless shelters, including the Love One Another Homeless Shelter, and I also took part in the Haitian education project to raise funds for earthquake victims. And I volunteered for the Hernando-Pasco Hospice. I was a caregiver for the hospice, preparing meals for the patients and speaking with them so they had someone to speak with, since they sometimes get lonely.”
Garness recently received her medical license and hopes to specialize in internal medicine, family medicine, or pediatrics.
“Just as I was about to apply for my residency in 2020, the pandemic started so I started working as a disease investigator,” to track COVID-19 cases, she said. Following the setback of the pandemic, she is now working to obtain a residency placement.
“I always knew it was my calling in life to help other people,” Garness said. “I always wanted to be a part of alleviating human suffering.”
The university emphasized giving back to the community through service. “That just reinforced that this was the field I wanted to go into,” she added.
Majoring in biology, “improved my fascination for the human body, and how systems interact to produce the miracle of life,” Garness said.
Giving back is simply a part of her — an internal requirement for her life, fulfilling her life mission by doing God’s work, she said. “I always wanted to help the world.”
Event host. Influencer. Model. Actor. Radio personality. Esports announcer. Brand ambassador. Professor. Reality TV star. Nonprofit founder. Ms. Basketball. Christina Granville ’13 boasts all of those titles on her résumé and more. The Saint Leo alumna is a multi-hyphenate who does it all. “I’m all things good energy,” Granville said with a laugh.
One of 10 children, Granville grew up in Clewiston, FL. As the “caboose” of her family, she found role models in her parents — dad Theodore is 94 and a pastor, and mom Catherine is 78 and a retired teacher.
Her love of basketball came from watching her big brother play. “I wanted to be just like him,” Granville said. “It was church every night, and then watching my brother play. I was 9 or 10, and I never looked back. There was an article written about me when I was young, and I said I wanted to be the first female in the NBA! Of course, I was going to be in the WNBA; I was going to be the next Lisa Leslie.”
Granville was recruited to play basketball and attend college at Independence Community College in Kansas. “My thought was that I wanted to get away [from Florida],” Granville said. She had a few scholarship offers, but a guidance counselor steered her to Independence.
After making a 24-hour trip in her purple 1994 Honda Civic to Kansas, “the coach tells me I’m not good enough and red-shirted me,” she said, dashing her hopes of playing that year.
Granville was devastated at the prospect of not playing college basketball and pursuing a career in the WNBA. “I thought if I couldn’t play basketball, then I don’t want to go to college,” she said.
She moved to Orlando and left the community college. There, Granville began brand ambassador work. “I got my first job for 7-Eleven, going to various college campuses handing out 7-Eleven coupons for $25 an hour. But I was missing basketball.”
So she played pick-up games and in summer leagues around the city. With her glamorous looks — makeup on and nails done — and her loudness on the court, she gained the attention of an agent at the age of 24. She told him she had given up her dream of playing for the WNBA or professionally overseas.
The agent told Granville if she was serious about playing basketball, she needed to go to college, and he secured tryouts for several teams, including Jefferson College in Missouri. “It had to be God as I had the best tryout of my life,” she said.
Soon, Granville was on the court again. During her two years at Jefferson, she hit the “reset button,” serving as captain of the women’s basketball team and breaking a school record with 22 rebounds in one game.
Her coach told her she should look at Saint Leo University, a “really good, private school” where she could get a full scholarship to play in Division II, while earning her degree closer to home.
Granville fell in love with Saint Leo on her first visit to campus. “I really got a chance to be myself at Saint Leo,” she said. “I was 26 or 27, older than all of my teammates. I wasn’t the stereotypical basketball player. But I felt at home. I still have friends from Saint Leo.”
Life at Leo
At first, Granville thought she would major in marketing, since she already was selling and marketing products as a brand ambassador. Her academic advisor gave her a “road map” for her future, helping her take courses she needed to graduate on time.
She realized that a bachelor’s degree in management suited her, and she found her professors to be positive and encouraging.
Granville choked up as she recalled her time at the university. “The opportunity to be at Saint Leo and play the game I love meant so much to me,” she said. “It was not only my teammates, but the support of the community and fans coming out.”
Saint Leo provided her with a foundation to help build her career. “I learned it’s OK to go back and start over. You’re never too old to live out your dreams,” Granville said.
On the Mic
(Select a photo to view caption)
Christina holds HBCU NBA 2K Xbox League Champion trophies.
The multi-hyphenate career of Christina Granville includes being a host for the esports NBA 2K League.
Granville also models and acts.
As a host for the 2023 Super Bowl Experience in Phoenix, Granville interviews Chris Godwin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Granville began entertaining in elementary school. “I have a big personality,” she said, which many would say is an understatement. As a brand ambassador, Granville picked up the microphone to start driving sales.
She recorded herself, creating hosting reels in order to obtain work hosting events and shows. “I started getting more and more gigs, and I documented it on social media, gaining followers,” she said.
Moving to Atlanta in 2013, Granville’s career took off. She appeared in Ride Along 2, Tyler Perry’s: The Have’s & Have Nots, and Dating In Atlanta: The Movie; graced more than 50 fashion show runways; hosted major events at the Essence Festival, NCAA Final Four, NCAA Football Championship, Black Enterprise Entrepreneurship Summit, and the 2023 Super Bowl; and became an Atlanta radio show host.
Now, she hosts the esports NBA 2K League and added “professor” to her resume, teaching esports team management at Morris Brown College. In addition to teaching and hosting events, Granville also is a guest correspondent for WAGA-TV, Fox 5, Atlanta.
Hosting the NBA esports program is exciting for Granville. “When I came into the NBA 2K League community there was only one African American woman in broadcast. I want to encourage people who look like me to get into this space and take full advantage of all of these opportunities. There is room for you!”
Fulfilling Others’ Dreams
Granville has not forgotten her first love: basketball. On her website, Ms. Basketball — her MySpace handle from back in the day — her mission statement is to encourage others “to keep hooping no matter your size, race, or age.”
She started the I Hoop Too Foundation, which focuses on personal development, education, and health and wellnessprograms for girls and the community. Her foundation provides summer camps, mentoring programs, coat and food drives, breast cancer awareness events, and scholarships so others can pursue higher education, following in her path.
(Select a photo to view caption)
Christina Granville created the I Hoop Too Foundation, focusing on personal development, education, and health and wellness programs. The foundation hosts summer camps and skills clinics, as shown above.
“Ms. Basketball” hands a basketball to a young girl at a skills camp, sponsored by her foundation.
“I literally have been blessed at every level,” she said. “It keeps getting better and better. I want my life to be motivation to others to not give up on their dreams.”
Her Saturdays started at 6 a.m. when she would move from room to room, collecting laundry, cleaning the house, and helping with the cooking. She was 8 years old.
“Growing up, I knew life shouldn’t be like this, but I was taught never to complain,” said Saint Leo student Alexandra Joseph, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in political science. “There was a lot of guilt growing up. Home was very stressful. I always felt like I was the outsider intervening in someone else’s life. There was no room for complaints. It was very weird, but I was driven to move forward and move ahead.”
Joseph moved from Haiti to Florida when she was 3, following her mother’s death when she was an infant. As her years in Miami droned on while she was living with an aunt and her family, she never complained. She was lucky, they told her, that she had a place to stay.
Even when she suffered physical abuse, and later sexual abuse inflicted by a family member, Joseph stayed silent. And she remained silent when she was forced to give half of her small paycheck to her family, while still purchasing her own belongings and necessities.
Joseph saved $3,000 for a car while working multiple jobs. But her family took that money, and she never purchased the car.
She faced many struggles with her family life and stayed silent until the day she built up the courage to speak to her school’s social worker and her counselor after her family refused to sign loan forms so that she could attend college. Those two helped her change her life. “The counselor told me college was my only way out,” Joseph said.
It hurt, she said. “You work so hard and think you are finally going to get something, then they show you they are not looking out for you.”
Her family kicked her out of the house when she was an 11th-grader because she attended homecoming, Joseph said, and she was forced to leave behind her passport, birth certificate, and green card (permanent U.S. residence card)—documents she still is struggling to replace.
She turned her hurt into strength. “I was able to graduate from high school despite the struggles,” she said. And, this year, she graduated from Saint Leo and is studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Saint Leo University finally gave her a place to let go of the demons and focus on her bright future, she said.
“Law school was always the goal,” Joseph said. “To be told I wasn’t going to college, I was shell-shocked.”
After moving out of the family house, she saw an advertisement for Saint Leo University. “I finally had to check it out,” Joseph said. “It seemed like a ‘God thing.’ I applied, and I got in, and I didn’t look back. It was the best decision I ever made.”
“I just love that I took that leap of faith and the best things are still to come. Saint Leo was the giant change in my life. People paid attention to me. A lot of people advocated for me. If I was having a bad day, people noticed and would ask how I was doing. So I began to practice advocating for myself.”
She spent many sleepless nights at Saint Jude Chapel on campus. “I suffered from insomnia, but if I was going to be up, I wanted to be in a place that gives off energy, that is community and passion,” Joseph said. And that was the campus chapel.
She found the church to be a place to shed her problems and, “I could remember what I had overcome.”
Joseph won the 2020 Scholarship America Dream Award during her sophomore year that paid for her junior- and senior-year tuition. She also became a resident assistant in 2020, which enabled her to continue living year-round in the university residence hall with less financial burden.
During the Spring Semester, she completed an internship with a private defense attorney in Miami. “I am overwhelmed, but I know exactly what I want to be,” Joseph said. “No matter which field of law I decide on, I know I will give the best representation, no matter what it is.”
Even while pursuing her degree, Joseph has made an impact in and outside of the Saint Leo University community. She is one of the co-authors of the book Women Breathe Again, which shares testimonial of women overcoming obstacles; chair of the multicultural and diversity committee of Campus Activities Board (CAB); and a LEAD Scholar, a program for those who wish to develop strong leadership skills. She also created and hosted a program, The Dream Room, for WLSL-FM, 92.5, the university’s radio station. Her goal was to create a safe place in which students could listen to peers discuss issues and events that affect them.
Saint Leo proved to be a perfect fit, Joseph said, offering her support and opportunities. “The first two years were hard because it is expensive. But it helped shape me as a person. Now, I get to advocate for others.”
Saint Leo University and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security, and Tactics (F1RST) have joined forces to fight human trafficking regionally, with a concentration on three counties near University Campus.
The two organizations have helped form the Mel Greene Institute to Combat Human Trafficking, which is named for the late Spring Hill, FL, resident and philanthropist Melvin T. “Mel” Greene. Greene passed away in 2020 at the age of 92 after a life spent helping others in his adopted state of Florida, and beyond. Friends and associates decided that directing some grant resources to this new venture would be a fitting way to carry on his legacy.
Dr. Karin May, assistant professor of criminal justice, is directing the university’s involvement and public-facing programs. “Human trafficking has continued to be a horrible crime that is present within Florida, as well as within national and international borders,” May said.
“But those of us in criminal justice and public safety administration have seen that concentrated attention does help raise awareness of the dangers involved and the means that criminals use to trap children and adults,” May added. “It makes sense for us to focus regionally on Hernando, Citrus, and Pasco counties to heighten and maintain that level of awareness among the public. We are also delivering new learning to college students who are interested in public safety careers and to current law enforcement practitioners who want and need updated material about detection and prosecution of criminals.”
The oldest Catholic university in Florida is now calling a historic West Tampa cigar factory home for its Tampa operations. Saint Leo University in October 2020 relocated its Tampa Education Center to the building formerly known as the Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory.
Built in 1903, the fully renovated building is iconic to West Tampa and is conveniently located off Interstate 275. Saint Leo University’s Tampa location offers 32,000 square feet across four floors. The basement and first floor are home to the Tampa Education Center; the second floor houses the Center for Online Learning Student Advising, Student Financial Services, and executive offices; and the third floor is home to the Center for Online Learning enrollment team.
Look for the Saint Leo University water tower, which you can see from I-275!
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.
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.
Saint Leo University has been involved with the Caps of Love project for three years, collecting plastic bottle caps with the proceeds from recycling going toward purchasing wheelchairs for children with mobility issues. In March, the university shipped about 15,000 pounds of bottle caps for recycling. With the value of plastic caps declining due to a low petroleum market, the university will be participating in a new charitable project in an effort to make a greater impact.
Whether you are among our newest alumni or have not been active within the alumni association, here are some details to know:
The alumni association is led by the board of directors, which holds open nominations every January. Eight to 10 positions open each July as current members’ terms expire.
Homecoming weekend is held the first weekend in November at University Campus and is a great opportunity to reconnect with former classmates or to expand your network.
A variety of alumni events are held throughout the country, including happy hours, professional networking, community service projects, and outings to local sporting events. Bring a friend or come on your own. Either way, you will be glad you came.
Regional alumni chapters provide a great opportunity to get involved with Saint Leo right in your own backyard. Don’t see your city listed? Contact the Alumni Engagement office to find out how to start a chapter.
Note from the from the Alumni Association President
A special welcome to the Class of 2018! You are now a valued member of our Saint Leo University Alumni Association family.
We encourage all 93,000 alumni around the globe to actively support our many activities and programs; stay connected with the latest news and happenings on our website and social media channels; join your fellow alumni during networking and chapter events; and give back your time, talents, and treasures in support of our university. Visit your alumni website—your.saintleo.edu—to learn more.
I also would like to recognize and thank this year’s Saint Leo University Alumni Association Board of Directors for their dedication to our mission. Together, we are working to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between Saint Leo University and alumni. We hope our leadership actions, volunteerism, and giving inspires all alumni to engage and support our alma mater.
Saint Leo Launches a New Online Career Platform
Saint Leo Career Services is excited to announce the launch of Handshake, the go-to career services platform for Saint Leo alumni and students. The new online site offers several resources for alumni and students who are looking for career guidance, seeking a new job, or looking to find that perfect new employee.
Schedule an appointment with one of our career advisors (phone, video conference, or in person)
Easily search for jobs using an upgraded tool
Read different career profiles
As a prospective employer, you can:
Share job postings
Announce internship opportunities
Connect with students and alumni as a mentor
Alumni Chapters are Growing
We are excited to welcome the Virginia Peninsula Alumni Chapter and the Virginia Southside Alumni Chapter to the pride! If you are in the Tidewater, VA, or Tampa Bay, FL, area, be sure to check out the alumni chapter events for great opportunities to network, participate in service projects, and have fun. Chapters will also be forming in Ocala, FL; Savannah, GA; and Jacksonville, FL, this fall.
Minghe Li is an industrious new graduate of the Donald R. Tapia School of Business. The 22-year-old pursued a dual major in accounting and economics and, in a logical progression, landed a good position right away in Tampa, working for accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.
No surprises there.
It’s his hometown that’s the attention grabber: Baotou, a large industrial and mining city in Inner Mongolia, China. The city of more than 2 million is recognized mainly for its supply of earth minerals.
Few other alumni have come to Saint Leo’s University Campus from schools in Inner Mongolia. But trends are shifting, and Li is a young man with a personality suited to discovery. He has come of age in an era when more Chinese families are able to afford to send children abroad to look at educational opportunities. More than 304,000 international students in the United States are from China, according to the Institute of International Education, and account for more than 31 percent of the international students in this country. In fact, China has produced more international students in American colleges than any other nation.
Li recalls his interest in overseas travel being stirred during his teen years, when he was able to visit London for a few weeks. He just kept thinking about what more there is to see in the world. Curiosity inspired him to seek his father’s permission to study abroad during high school.
At first Li tried Wisconsin, and then transferred to Melbourne Central Catholic High School in Florida. It proved to be a wonderful decision. The family of Timothy and Rosemary Laird wanted to host an international student attending the school, and Li proved to be the perfect match. He made a connection with both the parents and the Laird children—attending Mass with them, traveling with them on vacations—and considers them his “American family.”
Missie Valencia, director of the international student program at Melbourne Central Catholic, still recalls Li’s arrival in South Florida with other students on a long-delayed flight. Even though it was late at night by the time the plane finally landed, when Li exited the plane, he was so excited he hugged everyone in the group meeting the students at the airport. And he stayed true to that excited, joyful personality throughout his time at the school, she says, taking part in school social activities and shattering the stereotype that all Asian students are introverts who rarely speak. To the contrary, Li encouraged conversation, and adopted the American nickname of Scofield, based on a character on a cable TV show. The character’s personality, he explained to Valencia, is much his own, and the name would be easier for his new classmates to pronounce. Meanwhile, he impressed the adults with his thoughtfulness and willingness to work hard to improve his command of academic English and perform well in his courses.
Li loved Florida, Timothy Laird recalls, so much so that he decided to stay for college. Several people at Melbourne Central Catholic recommended that he visit Saint Leo University, and Li was accepted.
It was not just the Florida climate that attracted Li. He dreams someday of running a business in China that will be beneficial for society, and he thought an American business education would give him a vantage point on markets and commerce that Chinese society cannot yet provide. “China is developing its business structure, its economy. The United States has already developed its structure,” he said.
He applied himself diligently at Saint Leo, learning how commerce is conducted in the West, and even became a tutor for other students in economics and accounting courses. Tapia School faculty helped Li decide to make those two disciplines his majors, and he is particularly grateful to Dr. Passard Dean of the accounting faculty for his guidance in the matter. Li and Dr. Dean had discussions about the ways that both accounting and economics can be applied and understood internationally, and how accounting credentials would allow Li to pursue positions abroad after he gains more experience. That, in turn, can move him closer to his eventual goal of making a contribution to the world of business in China.
Another benefit for Li at Saint Leo: He met his future wife, Ayaka Morita ’15, originally from Tokyo. By the time this magazine is printed, they will be married.
“Saint Leo University not only provided me the best education, but has also helped me to find my other half I can spend the rest of my life with,” he said. “I hope with this story, I will inspire more young people like me to pursue their dreams!”
Crops grow faster in Alaska than in other parts of the United States, Gena (Chiriboga) Grobarek ’07 explained. And why is that? Because during the growing season, the sun can be out more than 18 hours a day. This is just one reason why Gena and her family are thriving as farmers in Homer, AK.
The daughter of a Peace Corps volunteer who met her husband in Ecuador, Gena grew up in a bilingual household. She spent most of her childhood in Oregon but moved to Florida with her family while she was in high school. Like her two sisters, Gena enrolled at Saint Leo University. She majored in biology with an environmental sciences concentration, a program that seemed tailored to her strengths and interests. She also learned a great deal from Dr. Chris Miller, professor of biology and ecology. Under his guidance, she participated in student trips to Peru and the Galápagos Islands, and she always seemed ready for adventure.
“She had a confidence about her,” Dr. Miller remembers. “She would go and do stuff, just to try it out. She didn’t fret much.”
With Dr. Miller’s assistance, she landed an internship with an environmental consultant in Tampa. That position morphed into a full-time job that she held for about a year after graduation.
While she was fond of Florida, she had never been a fan of the heat and humidity, so when she learned of an opening for a fish biologist in the Bering Sea, she leapt at the chance. While in that role, she worked on some of the boats featured in the TV documentary series The Deadliest Catch. She also met her husband, Brent. Their next stop was moving to Petersburg, AK, and working for the U.S. Forest Service. She enjoyed mapping streams and “getting paid to hike in the woods.”
As much as they liked Petersburg, the island location can only be reached by plane or ferry. So Gena and Brent decided to move to Homer, AK, on the mainland. They bought property and spent a summer living in a wall tent while they built their home. Those were lean times, which required “living on mac and cheese.” As they settled in to life in Homer, they “fell in love with the community.” They started a family, which includes four children: Oliver (age 5), Emil (4), Alice (2), and Irah (born on June 21, 2016). They also began supporting many local causes, especially those related to conserving the environment.
Before long, Gena and Brent cleared some of their land for agricultural use, quit their jobs, and became full-time independent farmers. Today, they grow a variety of crops, including salad greens, carrots, onions, peppers, eggplant, beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, and broccoli. In addition to feeding their own family, they sell the crops to other families through 25 Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes during the summer and operate a farm-to-table booth at a farmers market. They also raise chickens, selling free-range eggs at two local stores, and raise goats for milk. Through it all, they have learned about crop rotation, how to protect the water, and how to keep the soil fertile—which can be in stark contrast to the big commercial farms in other parts of the United States. They also “don’t spray with anything,” avoiding pesticides and herbicides.
“Organic farming is more labor-intensive,” Gena observed. “But it is viable. Our efforts help the local economy, and sustainability is really important to us.”
She also explains that she and her husband have extended their growing season through November, thanks to high tunnels, which are like unheated greenhouses. They start planting soon after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so even in Alaska there is very little downtime for a farmer.
“There is so much more to Alaska than oil, mining, and gas,” Gena said. “For instance, did you know that carrots grown in Alaska are sweeter than they are from other places? It’s because of the cold weather.”
She and Brent are active in their community, and they connect with other farmers via social media. Gena is a supervisor on the board of the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District. Soil and water conservation districts are local units of government that develop, manage, and direct natural resource programs at the local level. They work with private landowners to help them learn about and manage their lands and waters, whether for forestry, agriculture, recreation, or other uses, which Gena says is key to economic sustainability and local quality of life. In addition, they are advocates for the younger generation. “Traditional farming is an art form,” Gena stated. “We want to help young people in Homer learn about it and find a purpose.”
“Gena was always asking questions,” Dr. Miller says. “And I can see her wanting to pass along that curiosity to kids. She had a sense of wanting to do the right thing. She is definitely a student I’ll remember till the day I die.”
The Grobareks can attribute their current success to a number of factors: low overhead, no debt, and being minimalist, instead of materialistic. “Dr. Miller was a wonderful mentor in that regard,” Gena said. “The things I learned from him are still with me today. He made me conscious that individuals can make an impact. If everyone cared, things would be different.”
Gena believes that her Saint Leo experience played a huge role in her life goals: “Self-sufficiency, respect for our planet Earth, and finding a better, healthier, more ecologically friendly way of life. We are part of the local food movement taking place in the United States, encouraging our local community to know where their food came from and how it was created.” She believes that another road would have taken her elsewhere, but she is happy with her choices. “I’ve worked for government and state agencies, as well as private firms, but many jobs are morally sketchy. I’ve never been happier than I am now.”
Gena (Chiriboga) Grobarek’s sisters, both Saint Leo alumnae, are also doing amazing work around the world. Maria Victoria Chiriboga ’05 is the undersecretary of Climate Change for the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador, and Maria Mercedes Chiriboga ’03 is a Montessori teacher in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.
It has been a busy year for President Bill Lennox. In March, Saint Leo University was honored as the Military Business Partner of the Year at Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce’s 18th annual Military Appreciation Banquet, and Dr. Lennox accepted the award on behalf of the university. In May, he was asked to serve as treasurer of Independent Colleges and Universities in Florida (ICUF). On behalf of ICUF, he visited a number of state legislators and presented them with a plaque recognizing their inclusion on ICUF’s Legislative Honor Roll for supporting private higher education and educational choice in Florida (photo above with State Senator Wilton Simpson). In June, he served as the keynote speaker for the Joint Special Operations University Special Operations Forces Education Conference at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa.
Dr. Melanie Storms Dr. Melanie Storms has joined the university as vice president of the newly created Saint Leo WorldWide division. She has extensive experience with both programmatic and regional accreditation. As a university administrator, Dr. Storms has worked with traditional graduate student populations, as well as adult learners at the graduate and undergraduate levels in campus-based and online settings. Her experience positions her to lead Saint Leo’s online and education center programs through Saint Leo WorldWide. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the Florida Institute of Technology.
Father Kyle Smith ’07
In July, Father Kyle Smith ’07 returned to his alma mater as chaplain for University Ministry. A Florida native, Father Kyle earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in middle grades education from Saint Leo. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, FL, and moved on to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, FL, to begin his study of theology. Father Kyle earned his Master of Divinity in 2014 and was ordained as a priest in May 2014 for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Bob Quinn has joined Saint Leo as vice president of Business Development. He earned his bachelor’s degree and MBA from Fordham University (NY). A seasoned veteran in corporate management, he served as a captain in the U.S. Army and was awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, among other commendations.
Colonel Pamela Martis
In June, retired U.S. Army Colonel Pamela Martis joined Saint Leo University as director of Military Affairs and Services. She retired from active duty in 2013, having served 28 years. She was commissioned from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, Class of 1985, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in operations research management. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Russian, Central European, East European, and Eurasian studies from the University of Kansas. In addition, she received a master’s degree from the National Defense University, Industrial College of the Armed Forces. She was awarded the Bronze Star and the Department of Defense Distinguished Superior Service Medal.
In August, Cyrus Brown assumed the new role of executive director of University Public Safety. In this capacity, he is responsible for reviewing and improving safety measures throughout the university. Prior to joining Saint Leo, he was associate director of safety for Bethune-Cookman University (FL) and served for 31 years in the Florida Highway Patrol. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Barry University (FL) and his master’s degree from the University of Central Florida. He also is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville (KY), and Leadership in Police Organizations program from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Saint Leo University’s governing board is a group of volunteers who exemplify the university’s six core values. They all give generously of their time, talent, and treasure to enhance the education our students receive. This year, we welcome eight new members to the board. Click the photos to learn more.
Image 1 of 8
Peter Biscardi ’70 graduated from Saint Leo College with a bachelor’s degree in political science and went on to hold a number of management positions in the automobile industry. These include positions at the Hertz Corporation, as well as president and then partner at National Auto Care Corporation. He was also city manager at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. An avid sports fan, he remains a loyal supporter of Saint Leo Lions Athletics. Since retiring, he continues to be active as a business consultant and is involved in local charities. He and his wife, Linda, live in Bonita Springs, FL, and maintain part-time residences in New York City and Dublin, OH. They have two grown children and a grandson.
The Saint Leo University alumni ranks grew to more than 80,000 this year with commencement ceremonies taking place from coast to coast. At University Campus, close to 1,200 students graduated during three ceremonies held April 29 and 30. Those events kicked off the “commencement season” for Saint Leo with 15 more ceremonies being held near education centers throughout May and June. Click the photos to learn more.
Image 1 of 19
Abena Ankomah ’11, ’16 earning her MBA
Flashback to 2014: Chukwudi Peter Achonwa ’14
Originally from Imo state in southern Nigeria, Chukwudi Peter Achonwa has lived and worked across the Niger River in neighboring Delta state for more than 20 years. His home is in the city of Warri, which is not far from the Gulf of Guinea.
His entire life, Achonwa had never been outside Nigeria.
That was until May 2014, when the Saint Leo University online student—and now alumnus—boarded a plane and traveled for nearly 24 hours to arrive in Florida and attend commencement at University Campus.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting that day, and now he is an accountant in his native country. He hopes to earn a master’s degree and a PhD in his field.
Mary Beth Erskine, web content writer, posted a longer story about Chukwudi Peter Achonwa on Saint Leo’s online blog.
Want to see more photos from the Class of 2016 ceremonies? Be sure to visit this page.
Katie Adamson Volleyball • Senior Nelson, New Zealand
The middle blocker was a force at the net in the 2015 season, leading the team in both total blocks, at 103, and blocks per set, averaging 0.87. She tallied a career-high eight blocks in three different matches last season. Offensively, Adamson put away a total of 159 kills in 2015, tallying a career-best 11 against Eckerd College (FL). As one of three seniors, Adamson will help the young Lions squad build off a 21-11 season and an NCAA Second Round appearance.
Hannah Beard Women’s Soccer • Class of 2010 Grassendale, Liverpool, England
Hannah Beard is a former Lions women’s soccer player. Originally from England, she is playing professionally with the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Australian W-League. She was one of the best players in program history to date, winning several individual honors and helping the team reach the NCAA tournament in each of her four years at Saint Leo, and the program’s first Sunshine State Conference Tournament Championship.
Tyreece Brice Men’s Basketball • Junior Rock Hill, SC
Tyreece Brice made an instant impact on the court for the Lions in the 2015-16 season as the sixth man. Brice averaged the second most points on the team, 15.5 per game, and finished the season as a 2015-16 Sunshine State Conference All-Newcomer team selection. He played in 31 games with 14 starts and tallied 481 points in 977 minutes for the Lions. Along with his 15.5 points per game, Brice averaged 4.2 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game. Brice scored a career-high 31 points against Alabama-Huntsville in the first round of the NCAA South Regional tournament. Brice helped lead the Lions to a 19-12 record and a fourth-place finish in the SSC with a 10-6 mark.
Sommer Pollard Softball • Junior Clearwater, FL
Sommer Pollard was the everyday starter behind the dish for the No. 1 pitching staff in all of Division II, owning a 0.93 earned run average. Pollard played in all 47 games, with a .991 fielding percentage with only three errors on the season. She recorded 300 putouts behind the plate, with 19 assists. A Second Team All-Sunshine State Conference selection, Pollard finished the season with a .366 batting average (41 hits in 112 at-bats) while scoring 24 runs and driving in 17. She recorded one triple during her sophomore campaign against Colorado Christian, where she went 2-for-2 from the plate. Pollard recorded 15 stolen bases over the course of the season.
Brandon Rivera Men’s Soccer• Senior Orlando, FL
The local product out of Lake Nona High School in south Orlando has come a long way since his freshman season when he saw action in just two matches. In fact, in his junior campaign, Rivera saw action in all 18 games for the SSC regular season champion, including making 13 starts. He scored a career-best four goals on the season, adding a career-high four assists, including his first career assist that came against Lees-McRae (NC) in a 4-1 victory where the midfielder saw three passes find the foot of the goal scorer. Rivera’s breakout game came in the SSC Tournament Semifinals, where he tallied two goals in the Lions 2-1 win over the 2014 reigning NCAA National Champion Lynn (FL), earning himself a spot on the SSC Tournament team.
Maftuna Tuhtasinova Women’s Swimming • Sophomore Tashkent, Uzbekistan
A native of Uzbekistan, Maftuna Tuhtasinova competed in the final four regular season events and the Sunshine State Conference Championship for women’s swimming and made an immediate impact on the team. The freshman was a finalist in three events at the SSC meet, including a third-place finish in the 200 Backstroke with an NCAA “B” cut mark and Saint Leo record time of 2:02.01. Her 100 backstroke time also qualified as an NCAA “B” cut time, and Maftuna was a part of 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay teams that set new Saint Leo records.
Zach Whitaker Baseball • Senior Land O’Lakes, FL
Zach Whitaker was Saint Leo’s top pitcher in 2016, recording a 4.38 earned run average over 72.0 innings pitched, with a 6-1 record and one save. He finished among the top 10 in the Sunshine State Conference in ERA, and held opponents to a .277 batting average. Whitaker fanned 62 batters over the course of the 2016 season, tied for most on the team.
Jim Cerbie ’79 got his 400th win as head baseball coach for The Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC, on April 5, 2016. During his 29-year baseball coaching career at Providence Day, he has seen 28 of his players sign to play college baseball at some of the most prestigious programs and schools in the country.
James Jacobsen ’70 is the golf coach at Bergen Catholic High School (NJ), where he won his 1,000th match on April 22, 2016. This gave him an overall 34-year coaching record of 1023-33-1. He was named Coach of the Year by the Star Ledger, The Record, and The Bergen County Coaches Association.
The 2015-2016 year was a remarkable one for Lions Athletics, with multiple conference and tournament championships, as well as the Sunshine State Conference Mayors’ Cup (above right) for the men’s program.
Men’s Program Captures SSC Mayors’ Cup
For the third time in four years, Saint Leo University captured the Sunshine State Conference Men’s Mayors’ Cup, representing overall supremacy among SSC institutions in men’s conference competition.
The Lions finished second in the race for the Women’s Mayors’ Cup for the second year in a row.
Points in the Mayors’ Cup race are earned based on order of finish in the final Sunshine State Conference standings in league sports. The Men’s Mayors’ Cup competition awards points in soccer, cross country, basketball, swimming, golf, tennis, lacrosse, and baseball, while the Women’s Mayors’ Cup is decided by competition in the sports of volleyball, soccer, cross country, basketball, swimming, golf, tennis, softball, and rowing.
Saint Leo walked away with the Men’s Mayors’ Cup with 46 points, besting its nearest rival in the standings, Florida Southern, by 10 points. In the Women’s Mayors’ Cup final standings, Nova Southeastern came out on top with 53.5 points; Saint Leo was close behind with 48 points.
Spring 2016 SCC Championships
Saint Leo captured four Sunshine State Conference spring championships with regular season crowns in softball (above), men’s tennis, and women’s tennis, and men’s tennis also claiming the SSC tournament championship.
These were the first SSC championships for the tennis teams. It was the second title in program history for the softball program, with the first earned in 2013. The 2016 senior class has now been a part of the two SSC championship teams at Saint Leo, its freshman year in 2013 and its final season in the Green and Gold.
Lions Take Second in Learfield Directors’ Cup
Saint Leo University finished the 2015-2016 academic year ranked second among 307 NCAA Division II institutions for the Learfield Directors’ Cup, presented by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
The Lions finished the year with 723 points, trailing only Grand Valley State (MI), which earned 1,070 points and won its second-straight Division II Learfield Directors’ Cup and 11th overall.
Saint Leo’s second-place finish eclipses the previous high of eighth, set in 2015.
“This is an incredible moment for Saint Leo Athletics. The class that entered Saint Leo in August 2012 arrived when we had broken the top 100 in the Directors’ Cup standings for just the second time in program history. That class graduated this past April as part of the second-best overall athletics program in all of Division II. Those student-athletes believed in our goals and mission, as did our coaches and staff and university administration, and together they made this achievement possible,” said Francis X. Reidy, Saint Leo’s director of athletics.
Troy Sieber Chosen by the Houston Astros
Saint Leo junior first baseman Troy Sieber was selected by the Houston Astros on the third day of the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft. He was taken in the 24th Round, and was the 727th pick of the draft.
“We’re very proud of Troy and all the hard work he has put in to make this happen. We wish him all the best and we will miss him,” said Sean O’Connor, Saint Leo’s head baseball coach. Sieber is the fifth Saint Leo player drafted under O’Connor, who recently completed his fourth season as the Lions head coach.
An ABCA/Rawlings Second Team All-American and finalist for the 2016 Tino Martinez Award as Division II Player of the Year, Sieber batted .457 this season, leading the Sunshine State Conference and ranking fourth in all of Division II.
Anthony Crocitto Named Head Women’s Basketball Coach
A veteran Division II head coach with experience at all three levels of NCAA women’s basketball, Anthony Crocitto has been named Saint Leo University’s new head women’s basketball coach.
”We were looking for a coach with a proven record of success in Division II women’s basketball, and out of an incredibly deep pool of applicants we found an ideal fit in Anthony Crocitto,” said Francis X. Reidy, Saint Leo’s director of athletics. “I believe that Coach Crocitto’s passion for the game, coupled with his experience at identifying, recruiting, and developing talent at this level, will quickly lead to greater success for Saint Leo women’s basketball.”
Crocitto comes to Saint Leo from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), where he has served as the Bears’ head women’s basketball coach for the past seven seasons. Under Crocitto’s guidance, NYIT has logged three 20-win campaigns over the last four seasons, rejuvenating a program that was 4-23 in the year prior to his arrival at the Old Westbury, NY, campus.
Our alumni, students, faculty, and staff enjoy a variety of special events throughout the year. Take a few moments to experience Saint Leo in Pictures. Click on any photo below to learn more.
Image 1 of 17
Burke Tomaselli ’16 (left) and Zoe Mathieu ’16 facing off in the mock presidential debate. During fall semester, Saint Leo University students in a broad range of academic classes created a fictitious (but realistic) two-party American presidential campaign. Students assumed the roles of candidates, staff, press, security consultants, and other key players, culminating with a debate between the fictitious Republican and Democratic presidential nominees on November 13.
July 7, 2015. It is a day that will not be forgotten by any of the young men on the Saint Leo soccer team. On that day, they learned that Jules Verdin, their teammate and friend, died tragically in a hiking accident in Switzerland. Verdin, a native of Tongeren, Belgium, was hiking with his family near the Jungfrau in the Swiss municipality of Lauterbrunnen when the accident occurred. Verdin, who wore the No. 5 jersey, was named the 2014 Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year and a Second Team All-SSC selection. He had completed his first year at Saint Leo, recording two goals and two assists for six points.
“Jules was like a little brother to me,” said senior Henry Adu, a native of Ghent, Belgium, located just 90 miles from Verdin’s hometown. “When I got to Saint Leo, I dreamt that someone from Belgium would join the team, someone who spoke Dutch and shared the same interests and understood the Belgian lifestyle. From the first day we met, we became connected. We hung out almost every day.”
[Video was created and shared on YouTube by teammates of Jules Verdin]
Adu recalled, “I was in Miami at a CVS store when I heard the news from his mum. I was preparing to fly out of the country back to Europe for the summer. It was the most shocking and painful news I have ever experienced in my life. I broke down in the CVS store crying like a little child. The first person I called was Coach to tell him about it. I had no choice but to tell my teammates about it. The most difficult time was my 10-hour flight from Miami to London; all I could do was cry. I never got a second of sleep. I was just living in the memories and looking at his pictures.”
Rewind to November 21, 2014. The NCAA South Regional Final saw two SSC foes face off for the second time that season as the Lions met No. 3 Lynn on the Young Harris College (YHC) Soccer Field in Georgia. Lynn, the eventual 2014 National Champions, got the better hand, taking the game 3-0, ending Saint Leo’s season. Looking back now, it is fair to say that while ending a season can be tough, that is not why those men will remember YHC Soccer Field. Instead, it was the last time Verdin stepped on the field in Green and Gold.
Fast-forward to September 3, 2015. About 10 months passed since the Lions had gazed upon the YHC Soccer Field, an air of remembrance drifting among them as they took the pitch for the first time in the 2015 season. In a match-up of nationally ranked squads, No. 13 Saint Leo faced host No. 3 Young Harris. The team placed the No. 5 jersey across the bench, the place it would remain all season long.
“We came out flat, and we started the day exactly the same. We fought hard, we continued to battle, but we needed to focus on our composure and technical ability. [It] was very emotional for the team knowing this was the last place Jules Verdin played with us,” Head Coach Keith Fulk said, following the 3-0 defeat.
“This season was an emotional roller coaster for us, but I am extremely proud of every single one of my teammates for staying together and picking each other up”
— Matt Campbell, team captain
September 5, 2015. Just two days later, the Lions remained in Georgia for a neutral site game against Lees-McRae on YHC Soccer Field once again. In an opportunity to rid the field of demons that haunted it, Saint Leo entered the game with sharp focus. Less than one minute into the game, the team scored and eventually took the game 4-1.
“It was by far the most emotional week for these kids; they wanted to win so badly. In the first game they came out flat, [but the second game] was the complete opposite. They were outside on their ‘hype zone,’ and at halftime, I got them to calm down. Now it’s time to move forward,” Fulk said after the game, delivering a phrase that sat with the Lions all season.
It’s time to move forward.
September 19, 2015. Another memory, another moment. Saint Leo hit the road to face No. 1 Lynn. The same Lynn that bounced the Lions out of the NCAA Tournament the previous season. The same Lynn that Jules Verdin faced in his last game. Sometimes it’s hard to move forward, when forward resurfaces the past. The Lions reveled in this resurfacing, however, as they knocked off the top team in the nation, 3-1, on their own field.
Maybe it was a high they were not expecting. Maybe it was a high they could not handle. Following the win over Lynn, the wave of emotion hit a lull, sending the then 3-1 Lions on a three-game losing streak, bringing them to just 3-4 on the season, and 1-2 in SSC play. The path was not easy.
Bonding helps a team in any situation, but in a situation like this? Ultimately the most important thing a team can do is find their way back to the winning course without getting caught up in the emotion.
“This season was an emotional roller coaster for us, but I am extremely proud of every single one of my teammates for staying together and picking each other up,” senior and team captain Matt Campbell said. “Jules was such a huge part of our team. He was not only an unbelievable player, but he was a great teammate and was always willing to lend a helping hand, or give some comic relief when needed. His death was hard on all of us, and I believe it showed at the beginning of the season. It took some time for us to grieve together and learn how to cope with the loss of our brother.”
“… he would have run to the fans and slid on his knees and would start chanting, ‘Champions! Champions!’ All he wanted was to win a trophy for Saint Leo University and celebrate with the team. It felt very special to win something for him.”
— Henry Adu, teammate
Something clicked. Following their 3-4, 1-2 opening to the season, the Lions rebounded, turning in five-straight wins, taking down Nova Southeastern, Christian Brothers, Embry-Riddle, Tampa, and Florida Southern. They turned their record to 8-4, 4-2 in SSC, finding themselves right in the race for the SSC regular season title, with three games left, two in conference.
A game with Stetson, a Division I foe, ended the winning streak, but it was trivial in the ultimate storyline, as the Lions followed that Monday game with a Thursday game versus Eckerd, and a Saturday game versus Barry.
The Lions downed Eckerd, 4-2, in a heated battle, giving Saint Leo an opportunity to play for the championship.
October 31, 2015. Heading into the match-up with Barry, there were four teams that could earn the No. 1 seed for the SSC Tournament and the regular season title, depending on how Saturday finished. But the Lions had the upper hand. This was the final game to be played in the SSC regular season as all other games had already taken place, and Saint Leo knew that a win or a tie solidified their spot as the regular season champions.
Once again, the Lions took the pitch, with the No. 5 jersey on the bench. Eighty-five scoreless minutes passed before Barry lined up for a corner kick. The ball sailed off the foot of the Barry player, crossing the goal box, finding the head of a teammate who knocked it in. It seemed as though the Lions’ chances had ended with just five minutes of action remaining. But if there was one thing the Lions had learned over the season, it was resiliency. And resilient they were, as they charged down the field, earning a foul outside the box, giving Saint Leo an opportunity to score. Junior Maximilian Schulze-Geisthovel stepped up to the ball to take the free kick, blasting it past the wall of defenders, but Barry’s keeper was there to block the shot, sending it straight to the foot of freshman Yuga Yanagisawa, who was trailing the ricochet. Yanagisawa sunk the rebound and tied the game. Maybe it was divine intervention, fate, chance, destiny, or someone watching from above—call it what you may—but the Lions capitalized on the opportunity in front of them and hung on to the tie through the final three minutes of regular play and two overtime periods. The Saint Leo Lions were named the 2015 Sunshine State Conference regular season champions.
“Oh, my gosh, that day! This was the very first time I cried in front of the team about Jules,” Adu reminisced. “I thought, ‘What would he do if he was here?’ Knowing him very well, I know he would have run to the fans and slid on his knees and would start chanting, ‘Champions! Champions!’ All he wanted was to win a trophy for Saint Leo University and celebrate with the team. It felt very special to win something for him.”
The path to success is usually not a paved road; for the Saint Leo men’s soccer team, a single day in October proved that no matter what happens, you can find triumph in any tragedy.