Each year, Saint Leo University alumni across the generations and around the world live out our core values and contribute to their communities, professions, and causes in a variety of ways. The Saint Leo Alumni Association seeks to celebrate the members of our alumni community and pay tribute to those who have reached remarkable goals either professionally or personally. Please join in congratulating the 2021 and 2022 recipients of the Saint Leo University Alumni Awards.
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Gianfranco Pagan ’21 receiving the 2021 Global Service Award.
Roaring Onward recipient Benjamin Larison ’14 with his family.
Alumni 2021 Awards
Joseph Byrne ’74
Christine Gibree ’85
Gianfranco Pagan ’21
Jerry Blash ’14, Mercy Figueroa ’17, Seth Gross ’17, Anthony Santa ’12, Andrew Specht ’17, ’22
Alumni 2022 Awards
Natoy Baker ’11, ’20
Peter Mulry ’67
James Salgado ’07, ’14
Peter Mulry ’67, James Salgado ’07, ’14
Haywood Barnes ’93
Bobrenti “Brent” Patterson ’21, Mohammed “Ammar” Mohart ’17, Benjamin Larison ’14, Krystal Cox ’12, and Allison Baldwin ’15.
Like many of the alumni profiled in this magazine, I have learned that hard work, sacrifice, and a commitment toward serving others can make dreams possible.
I grew up as the oldest of six children in a multiracial, Catholic family. My father served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and my mother ran our household, raising my brothers, sisters, and me as we moved from one military base to the next. Money was always tight, but my parents instilled in me the importance of a strong work ethic, family, and faith.
While my parents could offer no financial support, I had a dream of going to college and becoming a physician, making me the third of 30 cousins in my extended family to pursue an education beyond high school. I worked several jobs while I earned two degrees (biology and psychology) from Virginia Commonwealth University. My jobs included serving as a work-study student in the biology lab during my freshmen and sophomore years; serving as a resident assistant during my junior and senior years; and then working three jobs during my fifth year of college, which I took to complete my second major.
While these were challenging times for me, I can now see by looking back that they helped shape my character and were essential to my personal and professional growth. Eventually, because of my work ethic and willingness to serve others, I was presented with opportunities that launched my career in higher education.
In this issue of Spirit Magazine, we profile the stories of fellow dreamers — those who have a vision for a better life and have done the hard work to achieve it.
You’ll read the stories of alumni who faced challenging upbringings, encountered adversity, and overcame odds to achieve their goals. You’ll also find stories about the growth of the university’s Honors Program and our new bachelor’s degree in nursing. These programs are helping to build well-rounded college graduates and solve our world’s problems.
One of the reasons I was excited about the opportunity to serve as Saint Leo University’s 11th president is because of the character and commitment of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff. The university is home to so many who dream big and are working toward creating a better world and a better way of life. They are not only inspiring to be around, but they also are the reason why Saint Leo University will always have a special place in my heart.
May God bless you, and may you always keep dreaming of greater things.
Her Saturdays started at 6 a.m. when she would move from room to room, collecting laundry, cleaning the house, and helping with the cooking. She was 8 years old.
“Growing up, I knew life shouldn’t be like this, but I was taught never to complain,” said Saint Leo student Alexandra Joseph, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in political science. “There was a lot of guilt growing up. Home was very stressful. I always felt like I was the outsider intervening in someone else’s life. There was no room for complaints. It was very weird, but I was driven to move forward and move ahead.”
Joseph moved from Haiti to Florida when she was 3, following her mother’s death when she was an infant. As her years in Miami droned on while she was living with an aunt and her family, she never complained. She was lucky, they told her, that she had a place to stay.
Even when she suffered physical abuse, and later sexual abuse inflicted by a family member, Joseph stayed silent. And she remained silent when she was forced to give half of her small paycheck to her family, while still purchasing her own belongings and necessities.
Joseph saved $3,000 for a car while working multiple jobs. But her family took that money, and she never purchased the car.
She faced many struggles with her family life and stayed silent until the day she built up the courage to speak to her school’s social worker and her counselor after her family refused to sign loan forms so that she could attend college. Those two helped her change her life. “The counselor told me college was my only way out,” Joseph said.
It hurt, she said. “You work so hard and think you are finally going to get something, then they show you they are not looking out for you.”
Her family kicked her out of the house when she was an 11th-grader because she attended homecoming, Joseph said, and she was forced to leave behind her passport, birth certificate, and green card (permanent U.S. residence card)—documents she still is struggling to replace.
She turned her hurt into strength. “I was able to graduate from high school despite the struggles,” she said. And, this year, she graduated from Saint Leo and is studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Saint Leo University finally gave her a place to let go of the demons and focus on her bright future, she said.
“Law school was always the goal,” Joseph said. “To be told I wasn’t going to college, I was shell-shocked.”
After moving out of the family house, she saw an advertisement for Saint Leo University. “I finally had to check it out,” Joseph said. “It seemed like a ‘God thing.’ I applied, and I got in, and I didn’t look back. It was the best decision I ever made.”
“I just love that I took that leap of faith and the best things are still to come. Saint Leo was the giant change in my life. People paid attention to me. A lot of people advocated for me. If I was having a bad day, people noticed and would ask how I was doing. So I began to practice advocating for myself.”
She spent many sleepless nights at Saint Jude Chapel on campus. “I suffered from insomnia, but if I was going to be up, I wanted to be in a place that gives off energy, that is community and passion,” Joseph said. And that was the campus chapel.
She found the church to be a place to shed her problems and, “I could remember what I had overcome.”
Joseph won the 2020 Scholarship America Dream Award during her sophomore year that paid for her junior- and senior-year tuition. She also became a resident assistant in 2020, which enabled her to continue living year-round in the university residence hall with less financial burden.
During the Spring Semester, she completed an internship with a private defense attorney in Miami. “I am overwhelmed, but I know exactly what I want to be,” Joseph said. “No matter which field of law I decide on, I know I will give the best representation, no matter what it is.”
Even while pursuing her degree, Joseph has made an impact in and outside of the Saint Leo University community. She is one of the co-authors of the book Women Breathe Again, which shares testimonial of women overcoming obstacles; chair of the multicultural and diversity committee of Campus Activities Board (CAB); and a LEAD Scholar, a program for those who wish to develop strong leadership skills. She also created and hosted a program, The Dream Room, for WLSL-FM, 92.5, the university’s radio station. Her goal was to create a safe place in which students could listen to peers discuss issues and events that affect them.
Saint Leo proved to be a perfect fit, Joseph said, offering her support and opportunities. “The first two years were hard because it is expensive. But it helped shape me as a person. Now, I get to advocate for others.”
The road that led Pete Biscardi ’70 to Saint Leo was similar to many. He wanted to go to a college in Florida, he loved sports, and most importantly, he had untapped potential just waiting to be unlocked.
Originally from Haledon, NJ, Biscardi was delighted to join many other students who also traveled from the Northeast to attend the university. Because of the remote location of the campus, Biscardi’s experience was made memorable by the relationships he developed with his classmates and professors. He also enjoyed playing intramural sports in the Bowl.
Biscardi recalls how one of his professors, Dr. James Horgan, inspired students to overachieve and to appreciate the unique opportunities and talents of individuals.
“Dr. Horgan valued the underdog—that was something many of us students could relate to,” Biscardi said.
Reflecting on how Saint Leo’s values have remained consistent since he was a student, Biscardi said, “When I walk around the campus today—the same campus where my journey began more than 50 years ago— I still see those values in action.”
The values Biscardi learned during his time in college stayed with him through his professional career. After graduating from Saint Leo College in 1970, Biscardi worked for Hertz Corp. for 16 years. He would later go on to serve as the president of National Auto Care (NAC) Corporation for more than 20 years.
“I hired the person, not the résumé,” Biscardi said when asked about how Saint Leo’s values carried with him after college. “I looked beyond the surface to find the best in people—the hidden gems.”
Now, Biscardi dedicates his time and talent to Saint Leo University as a member of the board of trustees. He believes that his life was made better by his experience at Saint Leo, and now as an alumnus, he recognizes an obligation to give back and invest in student-focused programs and athletic initiatives.
“I choose to give back to those who gave to me,” he said. “Saint Leo gave me an opportunity, and I am fortunate enough to continue that mission by giving opportunities to others.”
You, too, can be like Pete Bicardi and give back to Saint Leo University by investing in programs that matter to you.
To learn more about how you can support the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and doers, contact our Development Office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (352) 588-8450.
In November, Saint Leo University served as a sponsor of Social Venture Partners (SVP) Tampa Bay’s Fast Pitch competition. At the event, leaders from eight Tampa Bay area nonprofit organizations told their organization’s story in three minutes before a panel of judges, including Dr. Mark Gesner, Saint Leo vice president of Community Engagement & Innovation, and an audience of SVP mentors and community members.
Saint Leo sponsored the People’s Choice Award, won by Florida 1.27, an organization that supports churches committed to addressing the foster care crisis among children. Saint Leo also sponsored an in-kind award that went to the Florida Holocaust Museum, which received consulting services and complementary courses from the university’s Center for Alternative Pathway Programs (CAPP).
Saint Leo University welcomed Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany Andreas Siegel to University Campus in February. The visit was part of a trip organized by the Pasco Economic Development Council to introduce the consul general to the area and explore opportunities for partnerships.
While at the university, the consul general received a tour of the campus and enjoyed
a lunch and panel discussion with Saint Leo faculty, staff, and students from Germany.
Saint Leo University and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security, and Tactics (F1RST) have joined forces to fight human trafficking regionally, with a concentration on three counties near University Campus.
The two organizations have helped form the Mel Greene Institute to Combat Human Trafficking, which is named for the late Spring Hill, FL, resident and philanthropist Melvin T. “Mel” Greene. Greene passed away in 2020 at the age of 92 after a life spent helping others in his adopted state of Florida, and beyond. Friends and associates decided that directing some grant resources to this new venture would be a fitting way to carry on his legacy.
Dr. Karin May, assistant professor of criminal justice, is directing the university’s involvement and public-facing programs. “Human trafficking has continued to be a horrible crime that is present within Florida, as well as within national and international borders,” May said.
“But those of us in criminal justice and public safety administration have seen that concentrated attention does help raise awareness of the dangers involved and the means that criminals use to trap children and adults,” May added. “It makes sense for us to focus regionally on Hernando, Citrus, and Pasco counties to heighten and maintain that level of awareness among the public. We are also delivering new learning to college students who are interested in public safety careers and to current law enforcement practitioners who want and need updated material about detection and prosecution of criminals.”
Saint Leo University’s Social Justice Committee hosted its first Saint Leo Run Toward Justice 5K on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 17), with the goal of benefiting local organizations that promote social justice initiatives throughout the community. This year, the proceeds from registration fees went to the Migrant Education Program (MEP), which provides services to migrant students and their families through Hillsborough County (FL) Public Schools.
Because of COVID-19 safety protocols, the event was virtual this year, but the Social Justice Committee hopes to make this an annual event. In addition, the Social Justice Committee held a supply drive in the fall to benefit the Migrant Education Program. School and cleaning supplies and personal care items were collected at the university to be donated to the MEP.
Participants were able to complete the 5K any day between January 1, and January 21, 2022, and they could run, walk, or use any mobility assistance device to complete 3.1 miles. The first Saint Leo Run Toward Justice 5K had 80 participants and raised $2,480 for the MEP.
“We are very excited to be able to support the Migrant Education Program with a monetary donation as well as all the supplies we collected during November and December,” said Heather Johnson, assistant director of program approval for the College of Education and Social Services, who also was one of the event organizers.
Saint Leo’s Social Justice Committee is comprised of students, faculty, and staff who
are working to explore issues of racism and move the university forward with honest conversations and initiatives.
Saint Leo hosted a kickoff event in January at University Campus for Homes For Our Troops (HFOT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to “building houses and rebuilding lives” for the country’s severely injured post-9/11 veterans.
HFOT builds single-level homes that are equipped with more than 40 special adaptations to assist injured veterans. These include widened doorways, lowered countertops, roll-under cooktops and sinks, and roll-in showers, all designed for wheelchair accessibility. The organization builds homes and provides assistance after delivery of the home to help rebuild the person’s life.
The organization is building a home in San Antonio, FL, for Michael Monthervil, a retired U.S. Army specialist who was wounded in 2014 in a training exercise while deployed
In the coming months, the Saint Leo University community will have more opportunities to support Monthervil as his home is built.
Saint Leo’s Sporting Clays Team competed in the ACUI Collegiate National Championships March 19-26, at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, Texas. The ACUI Clay Targets program was established in 1968 and is the oldest collegiate shotgun sports program. The team is coached by Mike D’Ambrosio with Richard Bon
as the assistant coach.
Daniel Konesky, a criminal justice-homeland security major, is nationally ranked, and in 2021, he placed fifth in the high school division of the American Trap Team National Championship.
Recent graduate Scott Schludt also is one of the team’s top shooters, having been named to the All-American Kreigoff team, the Junior Olympic team, and earning first in class in the FITASC 12-guage contest at the National Sporting Clays Association national championship in 2021. He is majoring in marketing.
Rounding out the team are Kacyn Hartley, an education major, who placed first on February 16 in the Fourth Annual BAMA Clay Shoot for Veteran’s Education; Nicholas Fiore, a criminal justice major; Elizabeth Harper, a marketing major; Isaac Standridge, a communications major; and Rylee Standridge, a criminal justice major.
The university earned honors in five categories for providing the best online bachelor’s and master’s programs in the United States, according to the 2022 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Programs edition, released in January.
The university received honors in the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Psychology (36th); Best Online Bachelor’s Programs (tied for 101st); Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans (ranked 84th); and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Business (tied for 98th) categories. In addition, Saint Leo was named one of the Best Online Master’s in Computer Information Technology Programs (tied for the 65th-85th rankings).
“We are proud of how Saint Leo University ranked this year, especially the first-time recognition of our undergraduate psychology program and our master’s in computer information technology program,” said Dr. Mary Spoto, vice president of Academic Affairs.
As part of its strategic plan, Saint Leo University focused on assisting adult learners through a “first-term experience” pilot program and in fall 2020, created the Iota chapter of Omega Nu Lambda, the national honor society for online students, which provided students with more opportunities to connect and network.
A new partnership provides learners in Latin America with the opportunity to earn degrees in Spanish from Saint Leo University.
While the doors to most colleges and universities stand open and ready to welcome students, the reality is the paths to these doorways can be filled with obstacles. Lack of time, strained financial resources, complicated admissions processes, and geographical distance are just some of the reasons would-be students cite for not pursuing their college dreams.
These obstacles are known to our nation’s colleges and universities, and many have been taking steps to address them.
Saint Leo University is among these institutions, and as part of its efforts to make sweeping changes to improve access, last fall the university announced a bold, new endeavor that only a few American universities have pursued. This spring, Saint Leo University began delivering its online degree programs, employing Spanish for students living in Latin America.
Called Saint Leo University World Campus, the program offers fully immersive degree programs delivered in Spanish, taught by faculty who are native Spanish speakers, many of whom live and work in Latin America. The student experience—from the website and admissions process to the university’s online coursework—has been translated and localized to provide a quality learning experience in the student’s native language.
“Our World Campus essentially removes language and location as barriers to learning,” said Saint Leo University President Jeffrey Senese. “From its beginnings, the university has been on the forefront of making college accessible with the launch of the Center for Online Learning, education centers, and programs for military servicemembers. This new endeavor is yet another way that we will continue to deliver on our mission.”
Saint Leo was able to launch into this new space quickly with the help of global education services partner AVENU Learning, which is responsible for overseeing the operations and administration of the World Campus in partnership with Saint Leo University senior leadership.
The program includes bachelor’s degrees in business administration, accounting, human resource management, contemporary studies, psychology, computer information systems, cybersecurity, and health care administration. Master’s degrees in business administration and cybersecurity are also available.
The first day for the university’s World Campus classes began on March 8, and Darlyne Nava, from Curaçao in Venezuela, was among the first group of students. After putting her dreams on hold for five years, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“But today, I can thank God and Saint Leo University for opening their doors to me, as well as to other foreigners around the world who, due to several circumstances, have not been able to advance in our studies,” Nava said.
Nava is interested in the study of psychology because it will provide her with an opportunity to help others.
“Apart from developing my career, one of my goals and hopes is to be able to open a foundation to help families, children, youth, and seniors who need to reconnect with society,” Nava said.
Iliandris José Alejandra Oviedo Manzo, a native Venezuelan who has been living in Bogotá, Colombia, for the past four years, joined Nava in the psychology program. She, too, is interested in the study of psychology because it will allow her to help others overcome obstacles in their lives. She sees many benefits for pursuing this degree at Saint Leo.
“I also very much liked that my diploma could be validated under The Hague Convention,” Oviedo Manzo said. “That seems fantastic to me since I can practice my profession in other countries.”
Dr. Andrée Bojalil is one of the many instructors who make up the World Campus faculty. An anthropologist with a specialty in archaeology, Bojalil is teaching courses in history, arts, and ethics. For Bojalil, working with Saint Leo University is a great chance to bring Latin America and North America closer together. She is excited for both cultures to locate a place for dialogue and interaction.
“Education is the perfect place to talk, complement, and engage in a greater future for our continent,” Bojalil said. “We are all part of the same universe, but we speak different languages which can be translated and complemented through human knowledge.”
As of March, nearly 300 students from Latin America enrolled in the World Campus program. At the end the Spring Semester, Saint Leo was able to expand the reach of World Campus to include students in India.
The call for social justice now resonates strongly within our communities. The clarion call is also widespread, from not just one group or another, but from many who have felt the chill of neglect or experienced a life limited by mistreatment.
This rise in concern for greater justice is connected to our newer levels of visibility into more corners of our world through the influences of social media and the prevalence of smartphones. As people become more interconnected, our definition of diversity expands as does the discourse addressing social inequity or inequality specific to race, gender, sexuality, religion, and other oppressed groups. In a way, our interconnectedness brings to light our injustices. The issue then becomes how do we address them?
As a licensed social worker and pastor, I believe we can achieve the greatest success in creating social justice change by learning the meaning and practice of cultural humility.
There is an old misnomer that attaining knowledge about a specific culture, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation will make one an expert, and that expert knowledge can be a transformative catalyst in how we react to others who differ from us. However, emerging research supports a more complicated picture: that knowledge attainment by itself is not enough and can often even lead to the development of assumptions and stereotypes. That is simply counter-productive.
To address our social justice issues, it is critical that we move beyond sympathetic responses and practice deeper, transformative empathy. We must transcend from cultural competence, or the “knowing of another,” and strive to practice cultural humility, or the “experiencing another.”
Experts such as social-work educator Peter V. Nguyen and his fellow researchers define cultural humility as an understanding of potential blind spots that can interfere with other-oriented perspectives. In a sense, cultural humility triggers a paradigm shift from awareness to experience; from thinking to being; and from externalization to internalization. While awareness prompts us to become sympathetic to the plight and oppression of others, it is empathy that touches the heart.
The awareness of inequity or inequality allows for one to step into the shared space of emotional connectedness. Affective empathy elicits a compassion that believes it is no longer a “they” problem, it becomes an “us” problem as we are all created in the image of God.
It is through humility, we experience humanity. It is in our humanity, that we can practice the precepts found in Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; patient and bearing with one another in love.”
3 Ways to Foster Cultural Humility
Cultural humility requires continual self-reflection and bias assessment. Authentic self-examination is key to identifying how worldviews and behaviors are shaped by biases and highlights assumptions that lead to oppressive behaviors toward others.
Embrace the paradigm shift from self- to others-oriented. Courageously practice diversity awareness, as this is the first step toward encounters and is required to generate new experiences.
Practice empathic action, which further allows for the co-creating of experiences. Commit to stepping into the space of shared emotional connectedness and exchange compassion and togetherness. We must remember that it is not always about fixing, solving, or offering advice, but the intentional act of being vulnerable in the shared experience and crafting a unifying response that honors humanity as a whole.
One of the things I have enjoyed the most about being the father of two is the opportunity to see my children learn and grow over the years. I can remember the excitement on their faces when they first learned to walk, play soccer, and start reading. As they grew older, I marveled at how they took initiative in cultivating their own unique talents and abilities. From their time as infants, to their teenage years and every day as young adults, learning happened quickly and often. It was a central part of their lives.
There is something special about the way in which children learn that I think is important for us to hold on to as a society. Children possess an innate joy and love of learning and are not afraid to pursue an interest that excites them. Yes, they may face challenges on their journey and get discouraged. But when they fall down, they also get right back up, sometimes with a little help and encouragement from a loving parent.
At Saint Leo University, we have an insatiable love of learning, and we want our students to cultivate this love, too, for its many benefits. A relentless passion for learning leads to a richer and more fulfilling life with greater opportunities. We become more well-rounded individuals when we have an understanding of our history, our government, and theoretical principles whose applications have led to scientific and medical discoveries. We grow when we explore new ways of doing things or acquire new skills.
Our fall issue of Spirit Magazine delves into a few of the many examples of Saint Leo University faculty, students, and alumni who share a love of learning and express their enthusiasm in laudable ways. You’ll read about several Saint Leo alumni who have earned top honors for their work in education, as well as learn about a new partnership that is helping the university educate more people.
I hope these stories serve as inspiration for you to continue to make learning an integral part of your life. Some say that as we grow older, there is less we need to learn. I tend to disagree. I think as we progress through life, our responsibility for learning expands. The challenge lies in making it a priority in one’s life.
Each year, Saint Leo University alumni across the generations and around the world live out our core values and contribute to their communities, professions, and causes in a variety of ways. The Saint Leo Alumni Association seeks to celebrate the members of our alumni community and pay tribute to those who have reached remarkable goals either professionally or personally. Please join us in congratulating the recipients of Saint Leo University 2020 Alumni Awards.
Benedictine Spirit Award
Mary Kay “Katie” Calvert ’60 attended Holy Name Academy. In 1952, Calvert attended a summer camp held by the Benedictine Sisters of Florida. That camp changed her life and ignited a lifelong love affair with all things Holy Name. The Benedictine Sisters fostered her deep faith and four years later, granted her a scholarship to attend high school at Holy Name Academy. Upon graduation, Calvert went on to become a registered nurse. She later received a master’s degree in education to teach middle school. Calvert’s devotion to Saint Leo led her to support the Sister Mary Grace Riddles Endowed Scholarship, and she also continues to annually donate to the Benedictine Sisters of Florida. Calvert fondly remembers the nuns, priests, and friends that she made and who made such an impact on her life. She especially loved the dances that were held at the Saint Leo College Preparatory School each month.
Distinguished Alumnus/a Award
William “Spider” Biossat ’69 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from University Campus. He dedicated his professional career to law enforcement, in which he began by working for the Florida Marine Patrol Narcotics Division and then later joined the Drug Enforcement Agency as a special agent. He later worked as a narcotics investigator for U.S. Customs, which led to further assignments as a resident agent-in-charge. Biossat and his wife, Darlos, have three children, who he believes are his greatest achievement. Biossat credits the time he spent at Saint Leo as shaping him to be the person he is today. He has fond memories of the love and support that he received from faculty and especially his fraternity brothers.
Reverend Jonathan A. Zingales ’71 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Since the age of 9, Zingales knew he wanted to become a priest, and he was ordained in 1976. Throughout the years, he has served as a teacher, vice principal, and principal of Catholic high schools, and in 1985, he was selected as the secretary to the Superior General of the Benedictine Order in Rome. While in Rome, he graduated magna cum laude and earned his degree in canon law. He holds the office of Defender of the Bond and Promoter of Justice. Zingales is passionate about mentoring and educating children and has been a member of the Benedictine High School Board of Directors. Zingales fondly recalls how the Saint Leo University faculty and staff always listened to the students and were always there to help.
Roaring Onward Award – Class of 2020
Heavenly Aguilar’18, ’20 graduated from the Center for Online Learning with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice and and is in law school. She started a nonprofit organization, Scholars for Youth Empowerment, which focuses on helping low income youths. She also volunteers to assist the elderly and fundraises for the arts. Aguilar’s favorite Saint Leo memory is the kindness of her professors. While attending Saint Leo, she was going through a tough time in her personal life and her professors helped to keep her studies on track.
Dr. Bradley Brooks ’13 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from University Campus. He is in his fourth year as a psychiatry resident at the University of South Alabama Health and is serving as chief psychiatry resident. He was honored with the distinction of being named psychiatry teaching resident in 2019. He tries to exude excellence each day by helping students with their academics. Brooks’ favorite memory of Saint Leo is the late nights spent studying with fellow biology students.
Brian Davison ’16 received his MBA through the on-ground master’s program. Today Davison is the vice president of basketball development and affairs for NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks. Prior to this role, Davison served as business director at Nike, where he started out at a Nike Factory Store as a retail manager. Because Davison had a wonderful mentor, he was inspired to pay it forward and mentors young adults who are looking for employment. Davison’s favorite memory of Saint Leo is receiving his MBA while working at Nike. He was learning about Theory of Concept and was able to apply what he learned to his position.
Caitlin Parrish’16, ’18 graduated from the Center for Online Learning with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice and is employed by the Tampa (FL) Police Department as a Neighborhood Affairs and Crime Free Program officer, in the same district as her father, who is a senior sergeant. She began her career as a 911 Communications dispatcher and has moved up through the ranks. She is working on becoming a police officer. Parrish’s favorite memory from her time at Saint Leo was being a part of the Learning Enhancement for Academic Progress (LEAP) program. The program helped her transition to college life, and she still keeps in touch with the other 25 members of the group today.
Cheyenne Simmons ’14 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from University Campus. She is employed by the Orange County (FL) Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff. She also serves as a field training officer and helps prepare new police academy graduates for their positions as deputies. Simmons is enrolled in a graduate program in forensic wildlife conservation, and she hopes to blend her passion for wildlife with her professional experience in law enforcement. Simmons’ greatest Saint Leo memories are from her time as a Greek sister and also the traditions and manger scene at Christmas. “Saint Leo University was my home,” Simmons.
College graduates are routinely advised that their lives will be more productive and gratifying if they continue pursuing learning as they proceed through life. Brittany (Brasseur) Czekaj ’13 not only agreed, but she also helped create a pathway for new professional and personal development programming in her home state of Vermont.
After working in the for-profit sector for a few years after graduation, Czekaj joined the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, and eventually became a development and planned giving officer, a fundraising position for the diocese. Soon after she was hired, Czekaj came up with a new programming idea to help fill a gap in the diocese’s services, Vermont Catholic Professionals. The group would serve Catholics—and others with shared values—from the business and professional sectors. Its mission is “to encourage intellectual discussions, to foster professional and faith-based relationships and to inspire service and charity to the community in Vermont.”
Since late 2018, it has hosted networking events featuring regionally prominent individuals, such as a college president, the head of the leading statewide business group, a nonprofit executive in youth services, medical leaders, and others. Before COVID-19 emerged, the sessions were scheduled on weekdays starting at 8 a.m. so that participants could get to work afterward, but some people would always linger for conversation beyond 9:30 a.m.
Czekaj answered some questions about how the venture began and how it is progressing.
Q: How did you get the idea?
A: Vermont Catholic Professionals (VCP) started as an idea in early 2018, just six months after I started working for the Diocese of Burlington. During a monthly meeting with my manager, Ellen Kane, I discussed how I felt that there were ministries for youth, young adults, college students, and families; however, it seemed like those who are career-driven Catholics were not being engaged.
I told my manager that while attending Saint Leo, the College of Business would have nights where students could network with alumni who represented various businesses and industries. I loved the fact that we could join our Catholic faith, shared values, and professional focus, and feel that there is no substitute for this type of relationship cultivation.
Q: What did you need to do to get it going?
A: Firstly, I presented the idea to Bishop Christopher J. Coyne to be sure that he approved as it is a group through the Diocese of Burlington. Secondly, I formed a committee of various individuals in order to come up with a sound description and mission of the group and get ideas for promotion, logos, invitations, logistics, etc. We were lucky to start our group based on the generosity of the diocese so that we could host events in a proper space. We are grateful that after the first event, there was a great response of members and organizations that were eager to sponsor our group. Thanks to their generosity, we were able to host the in-person networking events and not pull from diocesan funds.
Q: How has the reception been, especially in a rural state with the population dispersed among mostly a few small cities and small towns? Were people hungry for something like this?
A: This group has been extremely well-received. Our initial goal was around 25 people, as we thought that would be successful due to the limited percentage of Catholics in our state. We ended up having 60 people from throughout the state in attendance at our first in-person networking breakfast and at each quarterly event following. There was a great desire for people to have a group like this, of like-minded individuals who share a passion for both their faith and career.
Q: COVID-19 threw in a big complication, and you adapted—how?
A: We plan all of our events a year at a time, so in January 2020 we had all of our in-person networking breakfasts planned. When COVID-19 hit, we adapted and overcame by transitioning to a virtual platform and hosting webinars, with a slightly different format. The silver lining of this change has been that people throughout the entire United States have been able to attend (including fellow Saint Leo University alumni).
Q: What have been some of the fruits of this journey?
A: Many great relationships have been formed: Several members have commented how they did not know that a certain person was within their industry, or didn’t realize that they were Catholic. Several job opportunities have arisen as a result of certain speakers or from the networking that has gone on at the beginning and end of the events. Due to our wide range of speakers, many have expressed how inspired they have been by the stories of the individuals, and that they are encouraged and motivated to persevere in faith and excel in their career.
While Spirit Magazine was in production, Brittany Czekaj accepted a position with a national Catholic organization, Leadership Roundtable, and will carry her commitment to professional development and lifelong learning into her new position. Vermont Catholic Professionals is continuing, with information available at vermontcatholic.org.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saint Leo University faculty and staff demonstrated a commitment to our community in a variety of ways—from facilitating free educational webinars to help small business owners and first responders to offering complimentary, on-demand courses designed to help individuals relieve stress.
When news about the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine surfaced, Saint Leo University stepped up in another way by offering to serve as a vaccine distribution site for the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. Since January, more than 25,000 members of the public have passed through University Campus to receive the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.
In April, the university was fortunate to offer its own vaccine clinic event for members of the university community. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and their household members were able to come to University Campus and receive a vaccine through a drive-thru event.
Jessica Van Guilder ’12, ’15 was among the alumni who received a vaccine at University Campus. She lives in close-by Land O’ Lakes, FL, and still keeps in touch with fellow alumni and staff at the university.
“I decided it was one of the best chances for me to get the vaccine early,” she said.
Elissa Noblitt, who graduated from the university in 2020, also came to University Campus from Orlando to get a vaccine. “I drove down because I trusted Saint Leo, and I knew that the university would run the operation well,” Noblitt said.