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.
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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.
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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.
De Oppresso Liber, which means “Free the Oppressed,” is the motto of the Green Berets, United States Army Special Forces. Saint Leo University alumnus Brian Anderson ’14 embodies that motto.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Anderson said he felt called to join the U.S. Army, and he entered as a photojournalist. Following a deployment to Iraq, he trained and qualified as a Green Beret. When the 7th Special Forces Group was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, Anderson, then a Special Forces engineer sergeant, came under fire quickly. On his last deployment, his first fire fight lasted eight hours and two teammates were killed, including his best friend, Calvin Harrison, and Air Force attachment Mark Forrester.
When he returned to base, he received a package from his mother. “One of the books was Intro to Social Work,” Anderson said. “I read it, and I was excited. That matched the Green Beret motto: De Oppresso Liber, Free the Oppressed.”
Anderson said what he was called to do as a warrior left him questioning his faith. After he read the social work book, he knew he wanted to pursue a degree in social work at a Catholic university. He chose Saint Leo.
Re-entry to the civilian world is difficult for most warriors, Anderson said. But through Saint Leo University and its emphasis on assisting military and veteran students, he was able to obtain his bachelor’s degree in social work. Most of his classes were at the Adult Education Center at Saint Leo’s Pasco-Hernando State College office. “I took one class at University Campus,” he said. “And that was with Dr. Jim Whitworth [now associate dean of the School of Education and Social Services], retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.”
“Saint Leo allowed me to take my skills as a Green Beret and apply them to real issues Pasco County was facing — including veteran homelessness. In my first year, we already were developing the Stand Down.”
— Brian Anderson ’14
Anderson said he was encouraged by Whitworth and all of his Saint Leo teachers. “The whole program has amazing instructors,” he said. “Saint Leo instructors allow you to grow. I pitched ideas [about social work projects] in Dr. Whitworth’s class.
“Saint Leo allowed me to take my skills as a Green Beret and apply them to real issues Pasco County was facing — including veteran homelessness. In my first year, we already were developing the Stand Down.” The Stand Down, coordinated by Anderson since 2012, is an annual event that provides homeless and at-risk veterans with needed services. Saint Leo’s social work students provide counseling at the event.
While he was helping others, Anderson realized he needed to help himself. Plagued by visions of his deceased friend Calvin as well as visions of war and violence, Anderson was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To combat that, he first engaged in Prolonged Exposure Therapy, but what really has helped him is Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). “One session changed my life,” he said. “ART is evidence-based and can work in as little as three to five sessions.”
ART is a type of image-replacement therapy in which a person undergoes sets of eye movements while silently recalling the traumatic scene. The “bad memories” get pushed to long-term memory rather than haunting the warrior.
Anderson said he was having a particularly bad day and decided to try yoga for relief. He found a hot power yoga class at Trinity Yoga Studio, and he gained a business partner in Janel Norton, a former combat Air Force photographer, who is the studio’s owner. The two wanted to provide restorative therapies to their battle brothers and sisters, and a nonprofit business was formed, Veterans Alternative. Their motto is Turning Post Traumatic Stress into Post Traumatic Growth.
Norton and Anderson created a business plan for Veterans Alternative and pitched it to the Pasco Economic Development Council’s SMARTstart Challenge in February 2015. They claimed the prize of $5,000 startup capital, which helped them get Veterans Alternative established. Their venture gained a huge boost when Chris Sullivan, one of the founders of Outback Steakhouse and creator of the Chris T. Sullivan Foundation, became a supporter and contributor. The foundation pays all salaries for Veterans Alternative staff.
Anderson received a donation of the American Legion hall and property at 1750 Arcadia Road, Holiday, FL. Now Veterans Alternative serves combat veterans, military personnel who supported combat veterans, and those who suffered military sexual abuse, offering—at no cost—alternative therapies not covered at Veterans Affairs hospitals. In addition to ART, Veterans Alternative offers iRest (20 minutes of this guided meditation can equal two hours of rapid eye movement sleep), Integrative Restoration (a guided meditative yoga practice), and physical training. The Holiday site offers a contained TRX Tactical Training Locker with equipment that many military personnel are familiar with, as well as an obstacle course and swimming pool.
Yoga and Kali (Filipino martial arts) classes and other exercise sessions are offered at Veterans Alternative, as well as at community partners such as Norton’s Trinity Yoga Studio and Gulf Coast FCS Kali. While some veterans may have discounted yoga at first, Norton and Anderson said they’ve “taken the ‘Hippie’ out” of the practice and made it palatable for military personnel.
Veterans Alternative will be starting a service dog program, too. Anderson is accompanied by his therapy dog, Hero, who was trained by Patriot Service Dogs to serve those with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. Not only does he assist Anderson and calm him, Hero befriends every veteran who steps through the door of the center.
One of the most important components of Veterans Alternative is the camaraderie. Those who have served in the armed forces share a bond, and once they return to civilian life, there can be a vacuum. Every Friday, there is a 35-minute iRest session, followed by a barbecue. The center boasts a beautiful patio, with fire pit and furniture, thanks to a BB&T Lighthouse Project, offering a place where veterans can chat or chill.
In March, Veterans Alternative was presented with the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation’s Community Hero Program award. The $50,000 gift will be used by Veterans Alternative to support ongoing veterans programs. In its first year, Veterans Alternative has served 400 people.
Anderson was called to serve and has walked in the boots of his warrior brothers and sisters. Now, as part of a new calling, he helps them transition to civilian life. To learn more about Veterans Alternative, call (727) 939-VETS (8387) or visit www.VeteransAlternative.org.
Veterans Alternative in Holiday, FL, offers different therapy modalities to help combat veterans. These therapies usually are not offered through Veterans Affairs hospitals, but are clinically accredited.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
Accelearated Resolution Therapy (ART) is a form of psychotherapy with roots in evidence-based therapies. ART helps people quickly, usually within one to five sessions. It is used for clients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, panic attacks, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health issues.
ART combines some parts of traditional psychotherapies, such as talk therapy and visualization, with the use of rapid eye movements, which are similar to the ones that occur while dreaming. A trained therapist moves his or her hand from side to side in front of the client while the person follows the hand movement with his or her eyes. “We look at their specific trigger points [what is causing stress or anxiety],” said Alison Voisin, lead clinician at Veterans Alternative.
While a traumatic memory or image may be difficult or upsetting to visualize, in ART the therapist helps lead the client past that point where they may be stuck. The clinician uses a technique called voluntary image/memory replacement to change the way the negative images are stored in the brain.
“They can choose to talk about the negative image or not,” Voisin said. “The success rate for treating PTSD is amazing.”
This is a guided meditation practice offered to veterans and their families at Veterans Alternative to help relieve stress triggers that combat veterans experience. Janel Norton, co-founder and director of operations for Veterans Alternative, leads the iRest sessions. It is a form of yoga that does not use postures, but rather uses a 10-step protocol in which you lie in a comfortable position. The 35-minute practice starts with three resolutions, according to the Veterans Alternative website:
Your purpose or mission in life;
Your intention, or what it is on that particular day that brings you to the practice; and
Your inner resource, or that sense of well-being in a safe place where you are most happy and comfortable.
The guided meditation is “breath sensing, body sensing, and you are in a deep state of relaxation,” Norton said. “You feel like you just took a 20-minute power nap.”
One session of iRest can feel like two hours of restful sleep for participants.
Physical therapy is an integral aspect of the program at Veterans Alternative, and it can take many forms.
Some of the activities offered are:
Yoga: Classes are offered at Veterans Alternative, as well as Trinity Yoga, which is owned by Norton, with varying levels from gentle yoga to power yoga.
TRX Tactical Training: Veterans Alternative received the first Tactical Training Locker used by a non-military organization. Usually these lockers, which are equipped with pulleys, weights, and other gear, are used for military physical training on deployments.
Kali: This Filipino Martial Art (FMA), which primarily uses a single or double rattan stick, improves coordination and concentration. Norton’s husband, Ray Norton, teaches the classes at Veterans Alternative, and classes also are offered at Gulf Coast FCS Kali in New Port Richey.
Obstacle Course: Clients can meet the challenges of an on-site obstacle course at the Holiday location of Veterans Alternative.
Swimming: Clients can swim for exercise or just to relax.
One of the most important aspects of Veterans Alternative is the fellowship of the combat veterans, trauma victims, and their families. Every Friday evening, Veterans Alternative hosts a barbecue and everyone “chills” by the fire pit. In addition to meeting fellow warriors during yoga, iRest, or physical training, the Friday events give everyone a chance to mingle and form bonds.
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.
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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.
Being a student-athlete at Saint Leo means long hours in the gym, multiple practices a week, and juggling games and matches amid academic responsibilities. However, those demands are not so daunting when compared to the lives that young runners in Kenya lead. In December 2015, the cross country coaching staff saw firsthand what it is like to live and go to school in this African country. Head Coach Kent Reiber and Assistant Coaches Adriane Wunderlich and Connor Callahan traveled with 2012 Boston Marathon winner Wesley Korir and his wife, Canadian runner Tarah McKay, to work with children in Cherangani Hills, Kenya, who show academic and athletic promise. They read to the children, helping them to improve their English skills, ran together, and accompanied them to and from church. Most of the children’s homes are tiny mud huts with no electricity and running water. But what the young people lack in material goods they make up for in spirit and determination. The goal for Korir, who is a native of Kenya and ran for the University of Louisville, is to encourage the children to get a good education so they can grow up and make Kenya a better place. “It was a very humbling experience,” Coach Reiber explained, and perhaps the first of many trips to Kenya.
Imagine being a young girl fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). While other girls may run and play, you face daily back and leg pain and constantly have to be vigilant against infection. This is the life that Anya Cale has been dealt. After being diagnosed in 2014, she has undergone chemotherapy, as well as alternative treatments, to fight this cancer. Along the way, Anya has made great friends, including the members of the Saint Leo women’s lacrosse team. These women have rallied around Anya, inviting her to practice and games. Anya’s mom, Heather (Ehrman) Harvey ’10 of Wesley Chapel, FL, has had to take a leave from her teaching job to help Anya battle ALL, so the additional support has been invaluable to the family. As Head Coach Lesley Graham explains, “Having a relationship with Anya has helped us gain perspective. Whenever we have a bad day, we can look to her and understand what facing a challenge is all about.”
“Anya spends so much time in the hospital, and getting treatments that she’s unable to participate in team sports at this time. The opportunity to get involved with Saint Leo Women’s lacrosse was such a treat for us, and it makes her feel like she is really part of a team!”
—Heather (Ehrman) Harvey ’10
Times flies when you’re conducting polls. After seven quarterly polls and three snap—or instant—polls, Saint Leo University has already been in the public opinion survey business for two years.
In December 2013, Saint Leo University launched its own public opinion polling enterprise—the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. The polls’ findings, on a national and statewide scale, are released four times a year with several snap polls on timely issues conducted periodically.
Since the inaugural poll, the polling institute has released findings on national and statewide politics, religious issues, technology, and seasonal/timely topics relating to consumer culture. More recently, respondents have been surveyed on global climate change, influential Supreme Court decisions, and the relaxation of trade relations with Cuba, among the assorted topics posed to consumers nationwide and in Florida. The surveys always include a question about Pope Francis’ popularity.
The polling institute’s survey topics align with the expertise of our faculty, who help craft the survey questions, interpret the findings, and offer adept analysis to the media. Coverage has been hugely successful, and the university’s reputation has been enhanced. The operation utilizes technology (the majority of polls are conducted online) to capture the views of the American public on important issues that merit attention.
Dr. Drew Gold, associate professor of management and the institute’s director, facilitates the selection of topics for future polls by faculty and staff. He is pleased with the poll’s success and impact: “Our analysis of the poll results offers a unique perspective on issues of national and regional interest,” said Dr. Gold. “By utilizing our faculty’s expert knowledge, we can observe, analyze, and offer critical insight on various issues of interest to the American public.”
The Sunshine State continues to be a bellwether both demographically and politically of national trends. In addition, pollsters continue to examine Florida as a key battleground state in national elections. With the national general election only a year away, the institute is ramping up for intense political opinion collection and results sharing on the presidential race, as well as key Senate, House of Representatives, and gubernatorial contests nationally and statewide. The eighth quarterly survey is scheduled for release in late October.
During the past two years, the polling institute has gained credibility with news organizations and political pundits, and survey results have been reported from as far away as India and Thailand. That credibility strengthens the Saint Leo brand as the leading Catholic teaching university of international consequence for the 21st century and, ultimately, increases the value of a Saint Leo education.
Ask Coach Erin (Brunt) Kinberger ’07 about how the 2015 Saint Leo softball season ended, and you get no visible reaction. No expression in her face, nothing glistening in her eyes, no slumping of shoulders.
But, sitting in the same chair in Saint Leo’s Student Community Center where she learned in early May that the Lions’ 39-12 record would not send them to a seventh NCAA tournament appearance, it all comes out in her voice.
“I knew, based on the research that my assistants and I had done, that the odds were against us,” said Kinberger, delivering a sigh. “It was kind of gut-wrenching to see them eager to find out, and yet there were seven seniors I knew were probably going to be crushed. I mean, how do you feel when you’re 39-12 … and there’s only a slim chance you’re going to the post-season?”
That ending only slightly diminished what was otherwise a spectacular freshman campaign at the helm of Lions softball for the Saint Leo alumna. Erin Kinberger—or Erin Brunt, as she was known when she was behind the plate for the Lions from 2004 to 2007—guided the Lions to a 10-win improvement over their 2014 tally, perfecting a winning chemistry with players recruited by predecessor John Conway.
In the Sunshine State Conference, the Kinberger-led Lions posted a 15-9 record, just the second winning record in conference play over the past seven seasons.
Other milestones piled up along the way.
A 23-3 record at University Softball Stadium, best home record since 2008. An 11-game winning streak to end the season, with 50 consecutive scoreless innings and seven straight shutouts. Three-game sweeps over SSC rivals Eckerd, Lynn, and Florida Southern. Individually, junior Alana Tabel was Division II’s top pitcher with a 0.94 earned run average, after posting a 3.40 ERA the previous year.
But first on the agenda for Kinberger upon her return was changing the culture of the program.
Saint Leo softball is no stranger to post-season success, with an SSC title and six NCAA tournament appearances to its credit. But those six NCAA tourney trips have been buckshot across a span of 16 seasons, with sustained success having eluded the Lions.
Kinberger, her reputation built in part as a fiery competitor on two of those NCAA-bound teams, has brought purpose and passion to the diamond as Saint Leo’s head coach with the goal of making the Lions a consistent post-season player.
The purpose has taken the form of structure and paying attention to details—a John Wooden-esque requirement for players to wear the exact same T-shirts to practice, for example—while the passion came out in everything Kinberger and her staff did, from encouraging their outfielders to dive for balls to simply asking the young women how they were doing each day.
“At first, the kids were probably a little intimidated by that, but it really felt like overnight they just bought into it,” said Kinberger about her staff’s approach. “Bring in three young women who are passionate about the game and can’t imagine their lives without it, and that becomes contagious to the athletes.”
With newfound values having taken root in the program, Kinberger hopes that lessons and accomplishments of this past season have set the table for Saint Leo softball to rise to the top of the conference. No SSC team has reached the Division II national championship game since 2005; Kinberger’s Lions would love to break that streak.
“It comes down to building a tradition and a mentality,” said Kinberger. “Teaching them to believe what we’re capable of and post-season is where we belong, and turning it into an expectation.”