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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.

Darlyne Nava
Darlyne Nava, Curaçao in Venezuela, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology

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 Jose Alejandra Oviedo Manzo
Iliandris José Alejandra Oviedo Manzo, Bogotá, Colombia, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology

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.


Learn More about World Campus

To learn more about Saint Leo University World Campus, visit
www.saintleo.edu/world-campus. Admissions questions can be directed to estudiantes@worldcampus.saintleo.edu.

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Dr. Jeffrey SeneseDear community,

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.

Peace and may God bless.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey D. Senese, Ph.D.
President

Celebrating our 2020 Alumni Award Recipients

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

Katie CalvertMary 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

Bill BiossatWilliam “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.

Father Jonathan ZingalesReverend 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 AguilarHeavenly 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.

Bradley BrooksDr. 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 DavisonBrian 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 ParrishCaitlin 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 SimmonsCheyenne 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.

With more than one-third of its student population being affiliated with the military, Saint Leo University claimed top honors among private, not-for-profit universities as well as No. 1 in the Southeast in Military Times Best for Vets: Colleges 2021, which was released in June. Among the 300 participating universities, Saint Leo ranked 11th in the nation in the Military Times Best for Vets: Colleges 2021.

In August, U.S. Veterans Magazine (USVM) named Saint Leo University as one of the nation’s Best of the Best 2021 Top Veteran-Friendly Schools. Saint Leo was included in the fall issue of U.S. Veterans Magazine.

These rankings recognize the university’s commitment to educating military personnel, veterans, and their families wherever they may be—even if they are deployed.

 “At Saint Leo, I found an environment that was encouraging and motivating,” said Stephen Koehn, ’20. “They [faculty and staff] understood the importance of my transition from soldier to student. My academic success was their No. 1 priority.”

Saint Leo University unveiled its newest amenity, a 12-station Esports Arena, in March, in Apartment Building 5 at University Campus. The arena serves as the home to the university’s new esports team, and when not in use by the team, other students may use the state-of-the-art gaming stations.

Esports is one of the most rapidly growing sports and is on track to surpass $1 billion in revenue this year, according to Business Insider’s Esports Ecosystem Report 2021.

Saint Leo’s esports team is a school-sponsored and funded club sport that fields competitive teams in League of Legends, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate games. People worldwide can access the Lions’ play via Twitch while others can watch via TVs in Building 5’s lobby.


Esports at Saint Leo

To learn more about Saint Leo’s esports team and the Esport Arena, visit saintleo.edu/esports

The oldest Catholic university in Florida is now calling a historic West Tampa cigar factory home for its Tampa operations. Saint Leo University in October 2020 relocated its Tampa Education Center to the building formerly known as the Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory. 

Built in 1903, the fully renovated building is iconic to West Tampa and is conveniently located off Interstate 275. Saint Leo University’s Tampa location offers 32,000 square feet across four floors. The basement and first floor are home to the Tampa Education Center; the second floor houses the Center for Online Learning Student Advising, Student Financial Services, and executive offices; and the third floor is home to the Center for Online Learning enrollment team.

Look for the Saint Leo University water tower, which you can see from I-275!

Saint Leo University is a world champion! The Odyssey of the Mind team, in its first year of competition, claimed first place and was Division 4 champion in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. Coached by the Tapia College of Business’ Dr. Sheri Bias, the team competed virtually April 30-May 29. 

Many people are familiar with the Odyssey of the Mind competition at the grade- and high-school levels. But Odyssey of the Mind also features Division IV – Collegiate & Military. The “world’s greatest problem-solving program” was established in 1978, and allows students to participate in projects that require teamwork and imaginative problem-solving.

Saint Leo’s world champion team included six then-students from Virginia: Justin Bias, Colby Baker, Zach Register, Ingrid Steinhau, Jim Bias, and Lori Steinhau, and coach Sheri Bias.

Saint Leo competed against teams from around the world, including China, Poland, and Russia in addition to the United States. 

The Guilamo family including dad Harold, new student Katelyn, mom Gloria, and brother Joshua, of Bradenton, FL, take a break during move-in day at Saint Leo on August 28.

The university welcomed its largest number of new students for the Fall 2021 Semester at Saint Leo’s residential campus in Pasco County, FL. 

This year, more than 1,100 new campus students joined the Saint Leo community, a number that surpasses the size of the Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 classes, previously the largest and second-largest in the institution’s 132-year history. The number of new students (undergraduate and graduate combined) at University Campus has steadily increased, with a drop in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Lions were selected from 11,977 applicants, the largest application pool in Saint Leo’s history. This year’s applications rose 81 percent over the previous year and can be attributed to new academic programs, the D2R Program, the Tuition Advantage Program as well as the Catholic Promise Scholarship and other new financial aid programs. 

And there is a lot of international flavor on campus this year, as Saint Leo welcomed its largest international class with new students from 50 countries. 

Of the new students at University Campus, 59 percent are from Florida; 16 percent are from out of state; and 25 percent are from international countries. 

“I’m excited for new experiences, beginning my education, and working toward my goals,” said Katelyn Guilamo as she moved in to her residence hall on August 28. A freshman, Guilamo is majoring in early childhood education. She chose Saint Leo University because, “I like the environment and the smaller classes. You get more one-on-one attention.”

Her mother, Gloria Guilamo said she was feeling a little anxious about Katelyn moving away. “But she’s got the wings, and I’m letting her fly,” Gloria Guilamo said. “This is for her education
and for her future.”

As our world changes, so do the needs of the workforce. During the next 10 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that we will see heightened demand for skilled professionals in health care, technology, and data science, among other sectors.

To help support the workforce of the future, Saint Leo University has invested in four new degree programs that will support future workforce needs and lead to high job placements for students. “Curriculum really doesn’t stand still; it can’t,” explained Dr. Mary Spoto, vice president of Academic Affairs. “We are constantly finding ways to create new programs and to strengthen existing programs to provide the best educational experience for the future for our students.”

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

College: The College of Health Professions
Where: University Campus
When: Fall 2021 (must be accepted as pre-nursing student for two introductory years)

What Students Will Learn: Students will receive the best in classroom education and clinical experience, preparing them to take the national licensing exam for registered nurses. Graduates will be prepared to move straight into nursing positions at hospitals, clinics, community organizations, long-term care facilities, businesses, and other settings.

Why It Matters: Population trends and stressors, including the coronavirus pandemic, have created an ongoing, critical need for additional nurses, especially in the Southeast and Florida. Saint Leo-prepared nurses will not only help fill the labor demand, they will bring to the field an orientation toward treating the whole patient, advancing the well-being of the patient’s community, and working collaboratively with clinical colleagues. This philosophy is known as the Culture of Health framework and is embedded in all health professions programs.

Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT)

College: The College of Health Professions
Where: Online
When: Spring Semester 2022

What Students Will Learn: Students who enroll will be professionals who already have an associate degree and are employed as respiratory therapists who assist patients whose ability to breathe is compromised. These professionals already know how to attend to patients’ breathing needs, operate the requisite medical equipment, and function as part of a health care team. The online, upper-level coursework will provide additional specialized knowledge and prepare students to become team leaders or managers in the field.

Why It Matters: The role of respiratory therapists became more visible during the first wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations, but other conditions prevalent among middle-aged and older patients also require respiratory therapy care. Consequently, demand in the field is increasing, including demand for respiratory therapists with bachelor’s degrees. This program is online so that these professionals can continue working while earning their bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor of Science in Robotics & Artificial Intelligence (BS)

School: The School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science
Where: University Campus
When: Fall 2022

What Students Will Learn: Robotics is an interdisciplinary field that combines computer science, computer hardware, mathematics, electrical engineering, software engineering, and mechanical engineering. Students earning this degree will gain firm, theoretical knowledge of the essentials of computer science, robotics, and artificial intelligence, plus the skills required to design, implement, and evaluate robotics technology and systems that will solve real-
life problems.

Why This Matters: Robotics is a fast-growing field with applications in space exploration, health care, automation, manufacturing, security, and other scientific and business fields. The worldwide market for robotics and the related need for skilled robotics engineers and designers will continue growing. Because of projected job growth in Florida and neighboring states, the Florida State Legislature granted Saint Leo $1 million in 2021 to launch this program.

Bachelor of Arts in Veteran Studies (BA)

College: The College of Arts and Sciences
Where: University Campus, Online Coming Soon
When: Fall 2021 Semester

What Students Will Learn: Students, who are veterans and non-veterans, will be immersed into courses in history, art, policy, psychology, ethics, and other fields to learn how people from various generations, ethnicities, genders, and nations have been influenced by their service in the military and the transition back to civilian life. Students will be able to pair this with other majors or minors if they choose and then move into careers in business, government administration, policy, teaching, or other areas where their understanding is vital. A minor is also an option.

Why This Matters: This is a new field in which other colleges or universities offer only a certificate or minor. Saint Leo is the first in the country to offer a bachelor’s degree in the field, which demonstrates both the faculty’s vision in seeing how our society will be improved by the contributions of veteran studies graduates and the overall commitment of the university to the military and military-connected population.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, educators have earned a new level of appreciation—whether from parents who have had to work through the challenges of virtual learning or from their students, who appreciate the inventive ways they make class engaging, no matter where it is held.

Despite the many challenges of working in education, there are some who have gone above and beyond to achieve success and make a difference. In this story, meet four of the many Saint Leo University alumni educators who are among some of the best, receiving top honors by their school districts and the state for their extraordinary work in our schools.

Andrea Altman ’14, Brittany Brown ’18, Joel DiVincent ’05, and Melissa Forsyth ’08 are passionate educators who remain touched by those who inspired them and motivate students with their all-in attitudes.

Altman is a diligent organizer, leaving no stone unturned.

Brown is passionate about reading and helping students find a love for books.

DiVincent is an inspirational mentor to so many.

Forsyth challenges students with a curriculum that includes only advanced learning courses.

But what they each have deep in their hearts is a true love of learning that enables them to be effective.

They are difference-makers, putting to use lessons learned while obtaining post-graduate degrees in educational leadership from Saint Leo University. They value that the university taught them to set the bar high for their students, provided them reliable networks comprised of those they attended university classes with, and set them up for administrative success.


Andrea Altman ’14

Andrea Altman

Andrea Altman discovered her mission in life early. Her elementary school teacher, Alicia Gelaro, planted the seed.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to be a teacher because I had a third-grade teacher who I really looked up to,” Altman said. “And ever since then, I knew that I was going to go into education.”

Altman, by displaying true diligence, made her mark quickly after moving from teaching into an administrator’s role. She was named Assistant Principal of the Year for the Pasco County (FL) School District after only two years in that position at Quail Hollow Elementary in Wesley Chapel, FL.

“I was surprised,” Altman said about receiving that news, “and also just grateful for the recognition for all the work and all the contributions that I’ve made to our system.”

What have been her primary contributions?

“I would say just the dedication and commitment to providing all students with the opportunity to be successful in school,” said Altman, now the principal at Watergrass Elementary, also in Wesley Chapel.

She said a strong game plan is essential in order to put students in a position to reach their full potential.

“The biggest obstacle is just recognizing and being able to utilize the resources that we have in a systematic way in order to be able to be impactful for students,” Altman said. “It really takes thoughtful and careful planning in order to be able to use the people we have and the curriculum that we have to create a concerted effort in order to provide support for all of our students.”

Altman, a California native, was an elementary school teacher for five years before becoming a literacy coach, and then an assistant principal and principal. She earned her undergraduate degree at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed a master’s degree in educational leadership at Saint Leo University in 2014.

Saint Leo, she stressed, prepared her for administrative success.

“The classes that I took at Saint Leo really held me to high expectations,” Altman said. “And the content of those courses has taught me to think critically about schools and how schools operate, and really how to think systematically about running a school.

“It was really all of [my instructors] who made an impact on me,” she said of her Saint Leo education.

What appealed most to her about teaching when she entered that field? “Seeing students learning and experiencing success,” Altman said.

Altman said there was one student whose story has stayed with her.

“When I was an assistant principal at a middle school (Raymond B. Stewart in Zephyrhills, FL), there was a student who was in advanced courses and really didn’t want to be there,” Altman said. “But I knew that he could do it, and I would not take him out of the advanced courses. He persevered through those courses, and when I left there, he thanked me for that. He said, ‘There were times when I wanted to give up, and you wouldn’t let me.’”

Is it harder to experience that feedback as an educational administrator?

“I think it’s just different,” Altman said. “As an administrator, you have that whole-school view. You get to see those experiences all across campus, across different grade levels, and also across content areas, too.”

Mrs. Gelaro, her third-grade teacher at Vista Grande Elementary School in San Diego, would be proud.


Brittany Brown ’18

Brittany Brown

While Brittany Brown says she didn’t become an educator to win accolades, being a 2022 Florida Teacher of the Year finalist was a special moment for her.

Brown earned a Master of Education degree with a specialization in educational leadership from Saint Leo in 2018. Her work as a third- and fourth-grade language arts teacher at Wildwood Elementary School in Sumter County, FL, propelled her into the finals, which she describesas a “mind-blowing experience.”

She was one of five finalists selected from 185,000 teachers statewide for Florida’s top teaching honor, with Pinellas County’s Sarah Ann Painter earning Teacher of the Year status.

“I never sat and thought about how many teachers there were in the state of Florida,” she said. “Once I had time to really sit and process it all, I was in shock. I just show up every day and do what I love doing the most—teaching kids. Never in a million years did I think that I would be here, receiving this type of honor.”

Brown wasn’t named the winner, but recognition for the impact she makes at Wildwood Elementary continued as she recently was named assistant principal. 

“I was inspired to teach because of some of the dynamic teachers that I had in my life,” said Brown, whose undergraduate degree is from the University of Florida. “They were just what I needed in my life. They helped me overcome some really tough challenges, and school became a place that I was excited to get to every day! I wanted to learn, I wanted to be with my teachers, and I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be able to do the same thing to help other children.

“I love everything about teaching,” Brown continued. “I think what I love the most is that I have the power to change a child’s life forever. I can be a light in their life, a safe space for them, and someone who helps them reach their greatest potential.”

Brown, a mother of four, described the joy of watching children acquire a love for reading: “It is honestly one of the best feelings in the world. Especially when students come in struggling to read or just not interested in reading at all. To see them develop a love for reading is just amazing. It’s something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

Saint Leo University played a role in her development as an educator, Brown said. And one professor stands out.

“Dr. Jodi Lamb impacted me the most,” Brown noted. “I was on the fence about getting a master’s degree, but I went ahead and enrolled. She was my first instructor, and honestly [she was] the first impression of Saint Leo University. I completed her course wishing that I could have her for every course. She was amazing! She made herself available and worked to build relationships.”

Now as an assistant principal, Brown will continue to build relationships with her students, using her leadership training from Saint Leo, and encouraging them to be lifelong readers and learners.


Joel DiVincent ’05

Joel DiVincent

Joel DiVincent’s parents weren’t educators, but his father, Richard, and mother, Rosalie, provided the perfect guidance to form an impactful educator, first as a teacher and later as a school administrator.

DiVincent, who received his master’s in educational leadership from Saint Leo University in 2005 said, “My father and my mother—he in particular—inspired my brothers and my sister and me to consider others above yourself, and really inspired me in that life of service. My mother, on the other hand, taught me how to be a good person, a good, caring person.

“The two of them together inspired me and all my siblings to consider what it really means to consider others above yourself in a life of service. At my Saint Leo graduation ceremony, Dad told me that my mother would be very proud of me.”

DiVincent became choked up recalling that memory, and said his father, a U.S. Marine who became a police officer and firefighter, also passed away recently.

He added, “My mother would’ve been excited about me at Saint Leo, particularly because of its Christian teaching and the spirit of Jesus Christ there.”

DiVincent was named this year’s Pasco County Schools’ Principal of the Year for his impact at Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday, FL, continuing to honor the spirit his parents instilled in him. He serves as an inspiration to many of his students, but particularly treasures turning on the “educator light” for Danielle “Dee” Johnson, principal of Pasco Middle School in Dade City, FL, located near Saint Leo’s residential campus. Johnson earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Saint Leo in 2011.

“What’s interesting is she still calls me ‘Mr. DiVincent’ or ‘Mr. D,’” he said. “She stood out as a very talented person who decided to become a teacher and then a principal. That’s quite inspiring to me. She’s an amazing person and an amazing leader. To see how I inspired someone else to do the same thing I do is quite enjoyable.”

He attended schools in his native New Jersey and eventually Countryside High in Clearwater, FL.

“Probably the biggest factor for me was having so many wonderful teachers who positively impacted and influenced my life,” DiVincent said. “It’s about finding a connection for young people to their passions and how connecting their passion to learning can translate into a career that they love. It’s truly a blessing to be able to help connect those dots for young people.”

DiVincent, who received his undergraduate degree in education from the University of South Florida, taught for 10 years before moving into administration in 2005 after graduating from Saint Leo.

 “I learned a lot at Saint Leo University—not only about what it means to be a servant leader and a school leader. I learned a lot about myself and a lot more about what it means to be a good person. I’m still in touch with many of the students I attended with, and we have a network of principals and assistant principals. We support each other, and I carry what I learned there with me every day.”


Melissa Forsyth ’08

Melissa Forsyth

Melissa Forsyth was sure about one thing.

She didn’t want to be a school principal. Her grandmother, Rebecca Jarrell, had been a principal at several elementary schools. Her mother, Terri Forsyth, has been a principal for as far back as she can remember.

“I could never get away with anything!” said Melissa Forsyth, chuckling. “And my mom always took the teacher’s side of things when I was growing up. So, I had to do what was expected of me, and do it right. She wasn’t going to hear any excuses from me.”

When Forsyth majored in social studies education at the University of Central Florida, her intention was to teach—something she noted that her grandmother and mother did inspire her to pursue.

She began post-graduate studies at Saint Leo University’s Ocala (FL) Education Center, and later attended classes in St. Leo, FL, at University Campus. And even after earning her master’s degree in educational leadership in 2008, she didn’t immediately go into education administration.

However, by 2012, she became a convert to the virtues of leading from the principal’s office by becoming an assistant principal at Liberty Middle School in Ocala.

“Although I tried really hard not to,” she said. “I think it’s in my blood to be a principal.”

Forsyth, who was recently named Principal of the Year in Marion County at Liberty, actually has students coming to her school from the school where her mother is principal—College Park Elementary School.

She was honored for her work at the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID®) school, and recognized for her implementation of revolutionary concepts at Liberty. AVID, like Saint Leo, implements a student-centered approach, encouraging career and college readiness.

Her school incorporates the district’s mantra, “Find your E,” that is designed to help them find their path after high school. Forsyth explained the E as, “Are they going to Enlist in the military? Get Employed into the workforce? Enroll in college?”

“I have 1,400 students,” said Forsyth, “and what I have loved most about this position is that we’ve changed the community’s viewpoint, perception, and expectations. We were a very average school for a long time, and didn’t have the bells and whistles. We had to create a culture of really high expectations where we weren’t going to take excuses. Once we did that, we’ve seen a huge shift.

“We don’t have any regular courses here. All the courses are advanced courses. It’s a little bit of an experiment. We did this so kids know we expect big things out of them. Typically, when you expect big things, support them to attain that, they’ll show you they can do it. Students who might be struggling with that have an elective course where they learn study skills and peers help them through it, too.”

Dr. Roberta Ergle, who taught a course on how children’s relationships with adults affect them, inspired that line of thought for Forsyth at Saint Leo.

“She was the one who talked to me a lot about high expectations and how when you show them, they can do it with enough support,” Forsyth said.

“I have two kids myself [daughter Rainey, 12, and son Maddox, 8] and every classroom that I walk into, I want it to be one where I would be OK with Rainey or Maddox being in it. And if I can help teachers in my classrooms create a learning environment I’d want my own kid in, I know it’s good for everyone else’s kids.”

Saint Leo reaches 100,000 alumni

In spring 2021, Saint Leo University hit an important milestone—the university is now officially home to more than 100,000 living alumni. While Saint Leo has changed over the years—from its days as Saint Leo College Preparatory School and Holy Name Academy, followed by Saint Leo College—its commitment to providing students from all walks of life with a quality values-based education remains.

To commemorate this milestone, more than 400 Saint Leo University alumni contributed photographs to be part of this mosaic image, representing our growing network of alumni. The image features a Benedictine cross found on the exterior of Saint Francis Hall at University Campus.

Largest Graduating Classes

  • Class of 2009
  • Class of 2013
  • Class of 2014

Smallest Graduating Classes

  • Class of 1926
  • Class of 1930
  • Class of 1933

Top States of Residence for Alumni

  • Florida
  • Virginia
  • Georgia
  • Texas
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • California
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • New Jersey

Alumni by Age

  • 18-24: 1,333
  • 25-34: 12,088
  • 35-44: 20,175
  • 45-54: 23,247
  • 55-64: 22,697
  • 65 and older: 18,551
  • Undetermined: 2,676

Alumni Degrees 

  • Undergraduate: 87,881
  • Graduate: 17,009

From his time at Saint Leo University, Davion Cooper ’11 showed signs of promise that he was destined to be a leader.

The accounting major served as a resident assistant and was president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity while studying at University Campus. He achieved several academic accolades, being named student of the year by both the Tapia College of Business (then a school) and its Accounting Department. He also was selected for a fellowship for a master’s degree in his field.

After his formal education, Cooper’s success continued when he landed his first job at one of the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young. There, he worked with a variety of public and private companies performing external audits of financial statements, among other tasks.

Ten years later after holding many progressively responsible roles, he is the vice president and corporate controller at Dude Solutions, a global software company headquartered in Cary, NC, that provides support to more than 12,000 companies in the areas of operations, maintenance, and facilities.

Cooper oversees a team of 20 professionals to manage the company’s global financial operations, while also supporting executive leaders in strategic decision-making. On page 28, Cooper shares some insights about his current role and reflects on what may have led to his success.

  1. What do you enjoy the most about your work at Dude Solutions?

    It is exciting to be part of the reason why an organization grows and expands globally. I get to be a voice behind the decisions that influence the future of the company. I enjoy being able to make a daily, tangible impact on a global company, putting in place initiatives in a challenging role where I know my work makes a difference.

  2. What do you think has helped you achieve career growth throughout the years?

    Continuous learning and the strong belief that people matter. I love to learn. As a leader, I recognize that I cannot be the expert on every topic. However, I am always looking to grow in my knowledge and skill sets, which includes learning about topics that may not be directly related to my current responsibilities. I ask a lot of questions. I believe in people and know that the best way to achieve sustainable career growth is to invest in meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. People matter and will support you if you treat them fairly, regardless of their role.

  3. In your experience, what are the qualities that distinguish a good leader from a great leader

    The key quality that transforms a good leader into a great leader is the ability to inspire teams to rally around a vision. Great leaders recognize that they can only accomplish their missions through people. They connect with people to articulate a clear and inspiring vision that becomes a rallying call for the entire team. They recognize that success is predicated upon getting people to buy into a vision and to pull in the same direction. 

  4. What are some lessons you learned from your time at Saint Leo that have helped you in your career?

    Saint Leo was a smaller and more intimate environment than many other institutions. That intimacy helped to reinforce the value of building relationships that has stayed with me and benefitted my career. Saint Leo also emphasized the value of responsible stewardship, which I still embrace. This value has had an influence on my career decisions. In my role, I have the weighty responsibility of always making sure that my financial decisions and the decisions of the company are for the benefit of its many stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, and others. Being a part of the Saint Leo community emphasized the responsibility that we all have to each other and that still sticks with me.


More about Davion

The person who inspires you the most:
Martin Luther King Jr. He inspired people to imagine what was possible rather than simply what was.

Your favorite business book:
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni

Your motivation for getting up each day:
My two children. I want to show them what’s possible every day and to make them proud.

Advice for future leaders:
People matter. You cannot do it by yourself. Everyone is watching, and they tend to mirror the tone that you set. If you want a culture of accountability, inclusion, integrity, and continuous improvement, you need to demonstrate that on a daily basis. Your success starts and ends with the people around you.

On July 29, Saint Leo University signed an agreement to merge with Marymount California University, following a vote from the university’s board of trustees.

Pending regulatory and accreditation approvals, this agreement will unite the two Catholic, values-based institutions together under the Saint Leo University name, helping to provide students everywhere with a quality education. Marymount California University is in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, nearly 2,500 miles from University Campus.

“There is value that comes from two universities working together to create something powerful for our students,” University President Jeffrey Senese said. “Working with Marymount, Saint Leo University looks forward to making an even more meaningful impact on Catholic higher education from coast to coast.” 

This first merger for Saint Leo is expected to offer many benefits for both institutions, providing students with more degree program options and internship opportunities, around-the-clock support for students studying online, and more university location options to consider attending, among other benefits.

Senese said Marymount California and the area surrounding it are a good fit for Saint Leo, as it serves first-generation college students, Catholics, Hispanics, and military students.Saint Leo and Marymount California Leaders

The university is in the process of gaining regulatory approvals to move forward with merging Marymount into Saint Leo as one institution. While the two institutions work to develop these plans, an immediate next step will be to work to allow new students at Marymount an immediate opportunity to consider additional degree programs.

As two universities rooted in the Catholic tradition, focused on the future for students, this newly unified community will offer an innovative, values-based learning environment inspired by individuals in pursuit of a greater purpose.

Dr. Jeffrey SeneseDear community,

Some of you may know that I love reading books that broaden my outlook. On many occasions, a well-written book, read in the right moment, has rewarded me with clarity on issues that I have been grappling with in life. Autobiographies and biographies are among the books I find fascinating. There is something to be learned from the lives of the waymakers and trailblazers in our world.

For example, in reading about the life of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, we find out that his path to innovate was at times slowed by uphill battles. While many celebrate Jobs for launch of the iMac, iPod, and iPhone, his struggles to bring the famous products to market are often overlooked. Jobs described his return to Apple in 1997 as one of the most difficult periods in his life. Launching a new vision for the company required a meticulous attention to detail and many difficult conversations.

Even in the case of Catholic missionary Mother Teresa, who was able to help thousands of impoverished individuals through her nonprofit organization, Missionaries of Charity, there were struggles. At the height of her charity’s success, she faced harsh criticism in the media for the methods she employed to run the organization.  

While trailblazers like Jobs and Mother Teresa are a special kind who come around only every so often, there are countless individuals who live life in the same spirit. They are the everyday people who fight against injustice in their communities, take action in times when others sit by, and pursue ideas that many may fail to discern are worthy of an investment.

In this issue of Spirit Magazine, we take a look at the trailblazing initiatives and people who are part of the Saint Leo University community—from the university’s new Center for Alternative Pathway Programs to an alumna who is advocating for change on a national stage.

I hope you set aside some time and click through the pages of this digital magazine as you would crack open a biography. By reading these stories, I am sure you’ll find engaging content that will help you learn, feel inspired, and offer new insights for your life.

Peace and may God bless.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey D. Senese, Ph.D.
President