Honors Program


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attracting Students with a True Upgrade in Academics

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

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

Raisa Alstodt ’16

During the Spring 2015 semester, I took a leap and did the Semester at Sea study abroad program. I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity and unbelievably grateful for the people I met and the things I got to experience. I saw 12 countries spanning Asia, Africa, and Europe in under four months while traveling on a ship. And while my bucket list now has lots of things crossed off, it has only grown longer. This program has gotten me even more excited to travel the world and experience all there is out there. While on the trip, I kept a blog, and what follows is one of my entries.

Ubuntu is a term I learned on the ship back in January on the way to South Africa.

I’ve come to realize that life is a constant obstacle course. Many things can change in very little time. People come and go. A word that meant nothing to you six months ago could now mean everything to you. Change and growth can occur. The shock is when you look back and actually notice all of this. South Africa was this shock for me.

ubuntu-tattooHow did a word foreign to me just four months ago come to mean so much? It’s a short word, though with a multitude of meaning. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of life even.

The word is defined as an African philosophy roughly translated to “human kindness.” It literally means human-ness, often translated as “humanity toward others.” Even used in a more philosophical sense, meaning “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connect all of humanity.” Another definition: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu says a person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened by what others have, believing that we belong to a greater whole. It’s the essence of being human. Those who have ubuntu are known for their generosity.

In short, it’s about human kindness, about respect. Some define it as community. Some would even say it’s humanity; it’s the belief that all are equal. Some would add religion. Some see it as humankind seeing no color. Peace for all people. Acceptance of all. Understanding for all. It’s having virtue. Kindness for all. Goodness. It’s what Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu asked the people of South Africa to believe in, yet it’s all over Africa. In Kenya, they have the word, too, just said differently. This word just keeps growing on me and gaining value in my life.

Each person I’ve met has defined it just a tad bit differently. To everyone it means the same things, just reworded in personal words. To me it’s humanity, love, and so much more. It’s a philosophy to love and be loved. It’s God’s work fostered in a word. It’s hope for people.

On the ship, they’ve asked us to think about it in our travel. To me it seemed as though they were asking me to adopt the philosophy in my travel, and so I’ve tried. To me it became a travel philosophy and so much more. In return, I made it a permanent addition to my life.

For more images from Saint Leo’s international trips, visit spirit.saintleo.edu/travel.