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Gianna Russo

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Highlights on recent Saint Leo University faculty accomplishments and contributions in teaching and learning.

Dr. Jacob Aguilar, a mathematician and data scientist, and several co-researchers from a cross-disciplinary team, released their manuscript about an important and little-understood aspect of virus that causes COVID-19. The team used new modeling techniques to estimate the number of people who might become infected by someone already carrying the virus, but not yet showing any symptoms. This provides insight into how contagious the illness is, and that knowledge, in turn, helps regional officials make public-health decisions. Aguilar and his fellow researchers came to the conclusion that an asymptomatic carrier could infect an average of six other people or more, which is far more than a typical strain of the flu. Aguilar and his researchers released a manuscript describing their work on a respected scientific platform created for quick dissemination of research findings.

Aguilar’s contribution to the coronavirus study was based on work he and a collaborator had only completed recently in estimating the potential for people infected with malaria—but with no symptoms—to spread the deadly illness. In other words, Aguilar was taking a modeling approach he had developed for the study of one horrible, persistent ailment, and successfully incorporating that into a new team project focused on the new coronavirus. An account of the study about malaria was released in 2020 in a peer-reviewed publication. Aguilar joined the faculty at the start of the 2019-2020 academic year as assistant professor of mathematics.


Dr. Melinda (Lin) Carver, an associate professor in the Graduate Education Department, co-wrote a ​book with colleague and adjunct instructor Lauren Pantoja, Reading Basics for All Teachers: Supporting All Learners. It was published in April 2020 by Rowman and Littlefield and provides K-12 teachers from all subject areas with ways to ​enhance their students’ reading ​and writing development. Carver and Pantoja wrote an earlier edition on this topic that was published in 2015. In the second edition, they have added new content and strategies for teachers to explore.


Renee Gould, assistant professor at the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library, was the co-author with two former Saint Leo colleagues of a case study about working with library-database products to meet the real-world needs of visually impaired patrons. Gould and recently retired library colleague Jacalyn Bryan, associate professor, along with alumna Brittany Leigh ’12, who until recently worked with the Office of Accessibility Services, described their work in the spring issue of the journal, Florida Libraries. Libraries with printed and electronic holdings rely on software from third-party vendors for day-to-day needs. Such resources and tools provide students and staff the means to retrieve and read books, journals, newspapers, and magazine articles. As it turns out, while many of these products may be legally compliant with regulations meant to ensure access for the visually impaired, they can still be hard to navigate and use successfully. The team described approaches adopted to remedy the situation at Saint Leo, possible steps for future exploration, and possible starting points for other libraries.  


Poet and faculty member Gianna Russo was named the City of Tampa’s first Wordsmith and will steer new projects meant to encourage creativity and expression, such as holding writing workshops in city neighborhoods. She recently edited a collection of poems inspired by regionally well-known photographs from Tampa and other spots in Florida produced by Tampa’s leading commercial photographic firm from 1917 to early 1960, the Burgert Brothers Inc. Chasing Light includes many images that capture 20th-century central Florida, from its cigar trade, to its diverse communities, agriculture, and natural surroundings. Russo contributed the forward and a poem, in addition to serving as editor. Other Saint Leo faculty and academic administrators with contributions in Chasing Light are part-time English instructor Amanda Forrester; English instructor Marissa McLargin (published as Marissa Glover); and professor and outreach librarian Carol Ann Moon. There are 48 contributors in all. The volume was published in February as a large-format paperback by the independent YellowJacket Press in collaboration with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Library and library supporters. Russo is an assistant professor of English and creative writing.


Dr. Zachary Smith, assistant professor of economics and finance, and a co-author, had a macroeconomic study published in April in the Pacific Economic Review. Their study examined the interplay between fintech—financial technologies including access to cellular phone and Internet applications and cryptocurrencies—and the policies normally employed by governments’ central banks to raise or lower interest rates, control inflation, and support overall economic growth. Their research study was based on 18 years of data from 30 nations with advanced economies (including the United States). In general, when people have access to mobile and internet technology, more money circulates throughout the economy. But the presence of cryptocurrencies—as they are substitutes from the currencies issued by governments—reduces the demand for money to spread through the economies. As the use of cryptocurrencies widens then, the authors suggested, central banks will have to consider updating their traditional policies to account for cryptocurrency-based transactions. Otherwise, the policies will become outdated and less effective in keeping economies running smoothly, Smith and his co-author said.

The program emerged from community outreach done by the late Kurt Van Wilt, a longtime professor of English at Saint Leo University Campus. Dr. Wilt recognized the need for programs that supported local writers throughout Pasco County and the greater Tampa Bay area. The original program design was done by Gianna Russo, assistant professor of English and creative writing, who also included a unique focus for war literature. Dr. Steve Kistulentz was hired in 2015 to be the program’s founding director and administrator and fulfill Dr. Wilt’s vision.

Inspiring-Talent-2The first cohort began in July 2016 with a weeklong inaugural residency held at University Campus. Students come to university campus for an intensive week of study each summer, then return home to do the bulk of their work. The low-residency degree requires 36 graduate credit hours taken over the course of four semesters and two summer residencies; at the third and final residency, students submit a master’s thesis, a book-length collection of creative work in their chosen genre of study. Saint Leo offers tracks of study in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

“Everyone has a story to tell, whether it’s a deeply imagined one, or a family story that they would like to preserve for children and grandchildren. The low-residency model gives students the tools to tell those stories without neglecting their existing commitments to family, work, and community,” said Dr. Kistulentz.

One of the benefits of the program is the diversity of its students, an observation made by Dawn Sandoe-Henshaw, a member of the inaugural cohort, discussing a student population that ranges from recent college graduates to students well into retirement age. “We draw students from all walks of life, and from all areas of the country,” Dr. Kistulentz agreed.

Creative writing_upcoming guest author for 2018 Adam Johnson (1)The weeklong summer residencies also bring luminaries in the creative fields to University Campus for intimate workshops and discussions. The July 2018 roster of visiting writers is headed by award-winning author Adam Johnson (at right), whose book Fortune Smiles won the 2015 National Book Award; his 2012 novel The Orphan Master’s Son, a fictional account of the personal and political in North Korea, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Poet and memoirist Beth Ann Fennelly, poet Carmen Gimenez Smith, and novelist Tom Franklin also will be featured visitors.

The program design jointly examines the relationship between the knowledge of literature and its creation. Students pursue two courses each summer, one doing the intensive reading of a graduate program in literature while another focuses on the student’s own creative work in fiction, poetry, or narrative nonfiction.

Perhaps the most unique quality of the master’s program is its optional track of study in war literature, and writing by and for veterans of the armed services. The program builds on the long-standing relationship between Saint Leo and the armed services; nearly one-fifth of the students currently enrolled in the creative writing program are veterans or remain on active duty. Students learn the fundamentals of writing alongside strategies for putting their writing skills to work, regardless of their career paths. Current students in the program include Army officers, career Marines, and recently separated veterans of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Writing about their experience is not the only factor that drives those students with previous military service. Said student Jennifer Holt, who serves in the U.S. Marine Corps, “I want to spend my time on something that enriches my life and allows me to explore my creative side.” Student Jennifer Harman, a Navy veteran, agreed: “Regardless of industry, good writing is a skill that not everyone possesses, so I could use my master’s in whatever path I took.”

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Faculty poet Dr. Anne Barngrover reading.


Focus on Faculty 

The year 2018 will see not only the graduation of the master’s program’s inaugural cohort, but also the release of several new books by creative writing program faculty.

Creative-Writing-photo_book-cover-1Program director Steve Kistulentz, associate professor of English and creative writing, is the author of two previous books of poetry, but this spring releases his debut novel Panorama, published in March by Little, Brown & Company. Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, calls Panorama “a remarkable literary work, rare in its ability to be both thematically complex and a compelling read. Steve Kistulentz remarkably transforms our TV culture’s participatory tragedy into a deep meditation on human connectedness. This is a stunning debut by an important new writer.”
Creative writing book cover 2Poet Anne Barngrover joined the Saint Leo faculty in 2017 and will also release a new book this spring, the poetry collection Brazen Creature, an editor’s choice selection in the University of Akron Press Series in Poetry. Erin Belieu, an award-winning poet and director of the graduate creative writing program at Florida State University, called Brazen Creature, “a terrific collection by a strong, smart, feminist voice.”
bookcoverFiction writer Patrick Crerand will have his debut collection of stories, The Paper Life They Lead, published in 2018 by Arc Pair Press. The book will collect some of Crerand’s noteworthy stories, which have previously appeared in such magazines as McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, New Orleans Review, Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, and Cimarron Review.

In addition, nonfiction writer Brooke King ’12 will have her memoir Full Battle Rattle published by the Potomac Books imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. King has written about her experiences in combat for a number of magazines, including The Atlantic and War, Literature and the Arts.

Header photo: (Left to right) Steve Kistulentz, Anne Barngrover, Brooke King ’12, Gianna Russo, and Patrick Crerand. Russo, a published poet who teaches at the undergraduate level, designed the graduate program.

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best-colleges-RU-Best-Value_2018In the 2018 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges list, Saint Leo was ranked 61st among Regional Universities–South. In addition, the university was named as one of the Best Value Regional Universities–South.

 


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In the 2018 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Programs edition, Saint Leo was ranked high in the Best Online Programs for bachelor’s degrees (tied for 88th) and was named to the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans list (51st).


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For the fifth consecutive year, Saint Leo University earned recognition as a Top School in the 2018 Military Advanced Education & Transition (MAE&T) Guide to Colleges & Universities. The honor recognizes Saint Leo as a leader in the nation for providing education to those who are serving or who have served in the armed forces.

 


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Saint Leo University was selected as one of the Military Times Best: Colleges 2018. Formerly known as Best for Vets, this rankings survey is the most comprehensive school-by-school assessment of veteran and military student services and rates of academic achievement.

 


Faculty Spotlight

Aefsky,-Fern_2017_verticalLast Fall, Dr. Fern Aefsky, head of the Education Department in the School of Education and Social Services, was recognized by U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis of Florida for her extensive volunteer work with a program that helps teens stay in public high schools. She was among about 60 people who received a special certificate of recognition and a “Coin of Excellence – Outstanding Service” with the seal of the U.S. Congress. Bilirakis represents the 12th Congressional District, which includes Florida’s Pasco County, where University Campus is located.

 

Gianna-Russo_1_20172 In Fall 2017, Gianna Russo, assistant professor of English and creative writing, won the Best of the Bay – Best Local Poet from Creative Loafing: Tampa Bay.

Iconic children’s TV host Fred Rogers often quoted his mother as saying in tough situations or emergencies, “Look for the helpers. There’s always someone who is trying to help.” Saint Leo alumnus Marlon Knight is one such helper.

At age 6, Knight became a caregiver. His great-grandmother came to live with him and his mother. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and her condition progressively declined to the point that she was bedridden. Young Knight came to her aid. “I would get her up, help her use a bedpan, clean her,” he said. In addition, when he was 11, he helped care for his grandfather, who had suffered a stroke.

A desire to help others led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in human services from Saint Leo University’s Savannah Education Center in 2016. “I have a giving heart,” he said. “I want to make a difference.”

Knight grew up helping older neighbors, getting them groceries and doing chores. “They said, ‘You have a spirit of discernment at an early age and a spirit to communicate with people,’” Knight recalled. His helpfulness was not limited to seniors, as he volunteered and worked with children, teens, and young adults. “At the daycare [center] my children attended, I would go and read stories, acting them out,” Knight said. “And I was Santa Claus for three years in a row.”

He was enrolled at Savannah Technical College, and friends there kept encouraging him to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “Some of my classmates were going to classes at Saint Leo at night,” he said. “When I walked in the door [of the Savannah Education Center], the staff was so welcoming. They were so helpful. I said, ‘I need to do this!’ I never stopped until I walked across the stage [at commencement].”

Human services was a good fit for Knight. As a child, his mother coached him, was strict about his penmanship, and the way in which he spoke and carried himself. She encouraged him to help others. “It was that upbringing,” he said, that led him to a degree based on aiding those in need.

He completed his internship at Park Place Outreach Inc. in Savannah, GA, working with at-risk youths. Park Place operates an emergency shelter for children ages 11 to 17, who may be runaways, placed there by the court, or in other vulnerable situations. That “real world” experience coupled with volunteer work with the Human Services Club, his classmates, and the Saint Leo faculty and staff was eye-opening. “We went out in the summertime, and the kids [from Park Place Outreach] were doing volunteering, passing out food, brown bag lunches, snacks, juices, and personal care items,” Knight said. “In human services, we were seeing the homeless, and we would count the homeless and pass out blankets. We would see babies in shelters. It was just so heartbreaking, but it was just a great experience.

“You are out in the community, and you get to see the less fortunate,” Knight continued, ‘those who look like me and you, who are going through a rough time.”

Since February 2017, he has been a probation officer with the Chatham County Juvenile Court, continuing to help youths. He recently finished working with a pilot program of Homeboy Industries. The eight-week work-readiness program paid young people a stipend and taught them work and life skills. “Their conversations were about their struggles, hardships, drugs, guns, life on the streets, life behind bars, and the people who they know who have died,” Knight said.

His key to reaching them was poetry. In addition to helping others since a young age, Knight has put pen to paper to write. He wrote rap songs at 12. Sharing those raps with young gang members helps break the ice.

In December, he spoke at the 3-on-3 basketball jamboree sponsored by the City of Savannah.

Addressing a gymnasium filled with boys and girls, he performed “Problems”, a rap song he wrote as a teen.

“I started off with that poem to show that I can relate to them,” Knight said of his rap. “Poetry is how I get people to listen.”

Problems
So many problems are chasing me,
I’m stuck with nowhere to turn,
Nobody’s concerned,
who’s the blame if I never learn,
I’m full of a lot of stress,
nobody seems to know why,
I’m pressured by pain—so I get high,
hoping I can get by,
’cause on these streets ain’t nothing to do but violence-so I try to chill,
’cause if I’m caught in the crossfire—it’s so easy to be killed,
and if I die—some gonna cry,
but still life goes on . . .

His writing led him to attend the Sandhill Writers Retreat at University Campus. Encouraged by Dr. Susan Kinsella, now dean of the School of Education and Social Services, Knight submitted his poem “My Gifts” to Gianna Russo, assistant professor of English and creative writing. “What really motivated me was in the break area [of the Savannah Education Center], there is a picture of the campus,” Knight said. “I was intrigued by the beauty of the campus. I said, ‘I want to go there.’ It was one of the most beautiful sights. I wanted to get more involved with the writing, meet more writers, and learn techniques. I was excited to do something different.”

In downtime while he is sitting in court, Knight writes. “I write about life, love, spiritual growth,” he said. “The work inspires it, too.”

He translates what he sees and the stories of the young people he helps into poetry. He uses his gift of poetry to change young lives, still being the helper.

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Marlon Knight’s children, Christopher and Christiana, are shown with Dr. Susan Kinsella, dean of the School of Education and Social Services, volunteering with the Savannah Education Center’s Human Services Club at Second Harvest Food Bank. Not pictured, Knight’s son, Marlon Jr.

Header photo: Marlon Knight ’16 and daughters Marlaya and Chistiana (wearing tiara)