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Marion Bowman Activities Center

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A look at the changing grounds of University Campus

The sounds of drills spinning into freshly cut drywall, electrical saws buzzing into tile, and bulldozers roaring to unearth soil can only mean one thing: Changes are underway at University Campus.

Block by block, the construction of new facilities has helped Saint Leo University keep pace with the growing needs of students throughout the years.

When the university officially transitioned to a four-year college in 1965, the campus grounds were home to just a few buildings. Saint Francis and Crawford halls served as classroom buildings, and Saint Edward, Marmion (completed in 1966), Roderick, and Benoit halls served as dormitories. Shortly after, the college soon offered a student center, 250-seat cafeteria, and library.

As the university experienced growth over the years, more buildings were added. In just the past 10 years, Saint Leo University has focused on the addition of academic buildings and residence halls. University officials hope the trend in this direction will continue as University Campus welcomes record-breaking classes of incoming students in the coming years.

Within the past four years, the university has focused on creating facilities that support an engaging student-life experience. Here we showcase some of the new amenities that have been added to University Campus—or will soon be added—to help provide students with an experience like no other.

A Place for Wellness

In March, Saint Leo University opened the doors to a 59,500-square-foot Wellness Center on the west end of University Campus, located across from Benedictine Hall. The multilevel facility, offering breath-taking views of Lake Jovita, was built to provide much-needed recreational, meeting, and office space for the university. The Wellness Center now houses the university’s Student Recreation and Fitness, Health Services, Counseling Services, and University Ministry departments.

Patio and Pool Deck
One of the center’s most attractive features is its patio and pool deck. Sitting 17 feet from the ground, the pool offers two lap lanes, an area to play volleyball and basketball, and a shallow area for lounging. Café 36, named in honor of the 36 acres of land that started the university, sits on the pool-level floor of the building and serves healthy food options, including smoothies, salads, wraps, and snacks. There is also a poolside barbecue and seating area featuring a large gas grill and fire pit.

Fitness Floor
Overlooking the pool area and Lake Jovita,the fitness area on the second floor offers cardio equipment, free weights and machines, as well as a group exercise studio with a variety of scheduled class programming.

Gymnasium
A large multipurpose gymnasium overlooking the lake boasts an indoor walking track, and it can be converted for a variety of events—from basketball games and meetings to wedding receptions and formal galas.


A Corner for Coffee and Conversation

Coffeehouses have a reputation for being popular gathering spots on college campuses across the United States, but until recently, this hub for student engagement was missing from the Saint Leo Campus scene.

In January 2020, the university converted its mail center building into Benedict’s Coffeehouse, a We Proudly Serve Starbucks™ venue, featuring Starbucks coffees, specialty drinks and teas, and a variety of breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads, and snacks.

Benedict’s Coffeehouse is located on the east end of the Kirk Hall lawn and offers a comfortable space for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to gather, as well as guests from the surrounding community. There is inside seating and an outside patio area.


A Showcase of Lion Spirit

While the Marion Bowman Activities Center has received several enhancements since it first opened in 1970, construction is underway to improve the entrance and several interior spaces of this frequently visited facility. Plans include converting the breezeway into an interior, air-conditioned space and making it the main entrance into the center. The Athletics training room and the restrooms also will be renovated and reconfigured. The project is expected to be completed by this summer.


The Classroom of the Future

With the addition of an undergraduate degree program in robotics and artificial intelligence, Saint Leo University is transforming two existing classrooms in Kirk Hall into a space that will help prepare students for rewarding careers in this growing sector. The new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Lab is made possible thanks to a $1 million grant received from the state of Florida. It will feature different workstations designed for collaboration and hands-on learning experiences.

At the lab, students will have the opportunity to design programming to interact with Pepper humanoid robots, explore the possibilities with the KUKA pro robotics arm for industrial use, engage with and program a Unitree advanced robot dog, and fly the university’s DJI Tello EDU Drones, which are unmanned vehicles. They will also have the opportunity to compete against other universities in mini robotics soccer tournaments.

Families form in a variety of ways. Some members are born, while others are sought. Some members are inherited, and some are a surprise.

Within the Saint Leo community is an array of blended families. There are faculty and staff who commit to taking students under their wings, ensuring their success and well-being, and students who take care of one another.

Here, we profile the matriarchs of three such families in the Saint Leo community.

Ms. Evon, giver of hugs, drier of tears, Lions cheerleader

Ms. Evon

Great people, great children come through the doors of Saint Leo, said Ephonia McCobb, or “Ms. Evon” as she’s known to the Saint Leo community. A housekeeper in Facilities Management, McCobb takes care of the Marion Bowman Activities Center and its many student-athletes, coaches, and staff.

No one is a stranger to McCobb. Everyone is greeted with a hug and wished well with a “have a blessed day.”

At the Marion Bowman Activities Center, where she began working in 2006, McCobb does more than take care of housekeeping. She takes care of Saint Leo’s student-athletes as if they were her own children. And she takes care of their families, too, reassuring them that their children will be just fine at Saint Leo.

“There is one student, Mary, and her parents dropped her off in August,” McCobb recalled. “They were in the hallway crying. Her daddy was crying harder than her mama. I asked why. He said, ‘We’re dropping off my daughter.’ He said, ‘I just dropped my son off to the Marines last month.’”

“I told them they had done a wonderful job!” she continued. “They got their children to a good place. I asked if we could pray about it, and we did. And then I told them to go get their date night back!”

She offers student-athletes advice on life, dries their tears, and gives them hugs. “I am proud of all of them,” McCobb said. “I tell them that when they leave Saint Leo, if they see someone who is going down the wrong path, they need to take five minutes to talk to them about what they need to be doing, and then tell them ‘have a blessed day.’ Perhaps you might touch someone.”

Nancy Cheek, virtual communicator, career coach extraordinaire

McCobb’s impact on the lives of student-athletes has not gone unnoticed. “Ms. Evon is the epitome of our core value of community,” said Brad Jorgensen, head men’s lacrosse coach. “Almost every young man I have recruited has been greeted with a hug and a loud ‘welcome to the Saint Leo family!’ from Ms. Evon.”

Nancy Cheek

For nearly four years, Nancy Cheek has worked to create a close-knit community where no physical community exists. As associate director of Career Services, she helps hundreds of students each year with their career needs—no matter where they live—most times never meeting face to face.

“What I look forward to is when students tell me they are coming to graduation,” Cheek said. “After having developed a relationship with them remotely, it is so exciting to finally meet them in person.”

With a large portion of Saint Leo students attending school online or at education centers across the United States, Cheek is passionate about ensuring remote students feel supported in achieving their careers goals. While not able to physically be with them, she uses email, photographs, social media, video conferencing, phone calls, and online webinars to build relationships across the Internet.

“Our goal is to make online students feel like they are part of a community without ever coming into an office,” Cheek said.

Countless students have thanked Cheek for her support. She recalls the story of a student who decided to attend Saint Leo after retiring from a 20-year career in the military. He lived in a remote part of Florida and needed help assessing career options.

“I just want to say thank you again for all the helpful guidance you gave me,” wrote the student. “You said I did all the hard work, but I never really felt like I was doing it alone.” After working together for some time, the student Cheek helped was able to land a job with a government agency.

“I live for the days when I get an email or phone call that says, ‘Hey, I just got a job offer,’” Cheek said. “That is why I do what I do.”

Dr. Joanne Roberts, professor, advisor, retired public school teacher and principal

Dr. Joanne Roberts with spring 2018 scholarship recipient, Justina Guptill.

Every spring and fall, a new group of transfer students in their 20s and 30s enroll in the education program at the Gainesville Education Center in central Florida. The future elementary and middle school teachers form cohorts as they make their way together toward their teaching degrees.

They attend rigorous classes four nights a week while holding down full- or part-time jobs to pay expenses. Luckily, they enjoy the kinship they develop within their cohorts and benefit individually and collectively from the benevolent leadership of Dr. Joanne “Tippy” Roberts, professor, advisor, and retired public school system teacher and principal. Roberts says she understands why the classes become close-knit. These young adults—often the first in their families to attend college—receive moral support from one another as they proceed through a tough curriculum.

“Our cohorts sometimes spend more time with each other than with their own families,” Roberts said. So her approach incorporates two philosophies. The first is that the program at the center will create a sense of belonging for all committed education students. The second is that the student kinship can be nurtured into professional collegiality that will serve them well in their careers.

“Family is a good word,” Roberts said of the center environment for the education students. “It’s a learning community, but it’s a learning family. We work together, and we learn together.”

Recent middle grades education graduate Justina Guptill ’18 affirms that “the education program is special all in its own because you really get to know your professors and classmates. You spend so much time as a cohort, it becomes impossible to do anything other than care for the people around you and help in their successes as well as your own. Dr. Roberts put together a very caring faculty to help create the family atmosphere throughout the entire program!” The faculty she is referring to includes adjunct instructors and professors Roberts hired and supervises to teach the education courses in Gainesville. The adjuncts are a vital part of the family, as well.

Given Roberts’ multiple responsibilities, it is difficult to quantify the impact she has made during her years at Saint Leo. By her own count, Roberts estimates she has worked with 450 undergraduate and graduate students in various educational programs at the center.

Although Roberts considers teaching the hardest job in the world, second only to being a parent, she said she cannot imagine doing anything else with her life or finding a deeper sense of fulfillment in any other learning environment.

“During the 15 years I have worked at Saint Leo, I have become a better educator and gained more from my students and colleagues than I ever learned from textbooks.”

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.

Robotics

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Teens, parents, and mentors from 28 robotics teams rocked the Marion Bowman Activities Center on February 13, as Saint Leo University hosted the Florida statewide FIRST® Tech Challenge for the second consecutive year.

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.

Abena_Ankomah

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Abena Ankomah ’11, ’16 earning her MBA


achonwaFlashback 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.


grad_4Want to see more photos from the Class of 2016 ceremonies? Be sure to visit
this page.