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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.

What do you get when you cross a love of animals with a love of learning? Saint Leo University faculty members created the Interdisciplinary Approaches to Therapy and Service Animals course in 2017, and it now is being offered for its sixth semester.

Social work, education, human services, and criminal justice faculty teach this course, which provides an overview of human-animal interactions and the human-animal bond, and how those affect animals, society, and the work of those in “helping careers.”

Faculty members who are wild about animals combined their talents, knowledge, and research to create this popular course. Students learn about the social, physical, and emotional/psychological effects of human-animal interactions with interdisciplinary helping professions; educational benefits; therapeutic roles of animals; ethical and animal welfare considerations; and the connection between violence toward people and violence toward animals.

Saint Leo students get hands-on experience working with animals in various capacities. While dogs seem to be the most popular, they also work with other animals. In addition to University Campus, the course has been offered at the Ocala Education Center.

‘Dear Charlotte’ Helps Children

Dr. Rhondda Waddell, the course professor, sits with Joshua Hoffman reviewing their finished children’s book, “Dear Charlotte’s Story”
A page from Dear Charlotte’s Story: A Coloring Book

Last year, students even created a children’s coloring book, Dear Charlotte’s Story: A Coloring Book, and an accompanying website, Dear Charlotte, The Saint Leo Pig, based on one of Dr. Rhondda Waddell’s pigs. “This project came about after I was given a mini pig that no longer was living her best life,” said Waddell, associate dean of the College of Education and Social Services.

“During the course of the class, the students decided to create the website and book as a class activity,” she said.

“Then as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions on class attendance in-person, they wanted to offer something more that children could do while home on their computers that might put their minds at ease and distract them from the restrictions of confinement and generalized worry that comes from social distancing.”

And who can resist an adorable mini pig? “Anyone can enjoy the heartwarming story of Charlotte finding her forever home, and her interest in helping others,” Waddell said. Everyone can “enjoy her words of comfort and the joyful pictures of her animal friends.”


Charlotte the pig
Charlotte the pig in her summer bonnet

Illustrator of the book, Adrien Valez

Then-student Joshua Hoffman ’21, a criminal justice major, was the author while Adrien Velez, 11-year-old brother of social work major Yulissa Velez, drew illustrations for the children’s coloring book. Then-students Allison Daul ’21 (biology major); Mike Simmons ’20 (criminal justice major); Jessica Skrelunas ’21 (psychology major); and Velez created a website using Wix.com to showcase the little pig.

“She lives with her newfound dog siblings, and sister, Cherry Moon Pie, who is another pig!” the website states in the “About Charlotte” section. “Charlotte is a happy girl who has gone through challenges just like me and you. We will share her advice and adventures with all of you!”

For author Hoffman, working on the Dear Charlotte project was a fun idea that “quickly became real,” he said. “Reflecting on the experience, what means the most to me is that we, in a unique way, took some of the core concepts of the class and applied them to the real world,” Hoffman said. “Service and therapy animals are very effective when supporting someone in an educational environment, and the same excitement and enthusiasm we had for Charlotte can now hopefully contribute to a child’s reading and writing skills through the Dear Charlotte project.”

‘Field Trips’ Still Part of the Plan

Dr. Jodi Lamb with horse at the Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center

While holding classes online was challenging, Saint Leo’s faculty members made sure students had a great experience. “In terms of class field trips, we had planned for a visit to the Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center,” Waddell said. “I went with another faculty member from education, Dr. Jodi Lamb, and filmed the entire tour with Emerald M director Lisa Michaelangelo, and it was awesome. I embedded the video into Prezi to share in class. Surprisingly, I received a complimentary email from Prezi saying it was a valuable video and addressed the COVID-19 ramifications on the farm, and that was a valuable learning experience.”

Special guests and their beloved animals were welcomed via Zoom. “We missed touching them, but it was still fulfilling to have this encounter with the animals and their handlers,” Waddell said.

The interdisciplinary class features many types of animal interactions and therapies from K-9 officers to equine therapy, and from therapy-service dogs for veterans to search and rescue animals.

Several faculty members shared their experiences from interdisciplinary perspectives. For example, Dr. Mike Campbell, associate professor of social work, spoke about his research in hospitals regarding volunteers and their therapy animals’ relationships to their volunteer work, and Dr. Debra Mims, associate professor of criminal justice, spoke about her work as a police officer with equines and her dog behavior training work.

Mims taught the course in Spring 2021. The owner of eight dogs, she knows the benefits the canines offer. Her dissertation described the use of therapy dogs to help victimized children talk about abuse. Mims’ animals include therapy, agility, obedience, and critical incident stress management team dogs, as well as Pasco County (FL) family court dogs. Mims also is the therapy dog liaison for the Region 5 Tampa Bay Critical Incident Stress Management Team, which responds in crisis situations.

“I definitely think this is a worthwhile course for students,” Mims said. “We discuss that as humans, we all have certain needs that must be met for us to be healthy: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Animals make great therapists, and we discuss how they can aid mental health issues, and the scientific findings that link mental well-being to the presence of animals.” 

This Fall Semester, the course is being taught by Dr. Ospina-Kammerer (Dr. VOK), professor of social work. The College of Education and Social Services faculty plan on writing more children’s books, focusing on social justice issues and helping children overcome challenges.

Nicholas Finch with his partner, Ann Marie, their 3-year-old son, Wallace, and their rescue dog.

It’s hard to cram a graduate degree program, a full-time teaching job, and caring for a little one into one schedule, but Nicholas Finch ’20 managed to do it. And along the way, he nurtured his love of writing.

The 26-year-old, originally from Whitchurch, England, credits the flexibility of Saint Leo’s low-residency creative writing program to making his educational goals possible. Finch, who enjoys a career as a teacher, lives in St. Petersburg, FL with his partner, Ann Marie, 3-year-old son, Wallace, and a rescue dog.

Educational Journey

Finch began his higher education career at the University of Tampa (FL) where he majored in English and writing. It was a former professor who convinced him to enroll with Saint Leo University.

“I had Dr. Steve Kistulentz there (UT) and volunteered in the residency program,” Finch said.

While he was accepted into a few full-residency creative writing graduate programs and even started in one of them, he just didn’t feel comfortable.

Kistulentz became director of Saint Leo’s new low-residency Master of Arts in creative writing program in 2016. “I was following Dr. Kistulentz on Facebook and knew about Saint Leo starting its new graduate degree program,” Finch said. “He encouraged me to apply.”

Finch joined Saint Leo University in the summer of 2018, enrolling in the university’s creative writing graduate degree program, choosing the fiction track.

“With the full-residency programs, you pretty much can’t work anywhere else and have to be totally committed and invested in them,” Finch said. “I also wanted to start a family, and it just wouldn’t have been practical for me to be tied down with a program like that.”

The Online Format of this Creative Writing Degree Program

At first, Finch had some trepidation about enrolling in a low-residency degree program in which the coursework is primarily conducted online.

“Before starting this program, I had never taken an online course in my life,” Finch said. “I admit I was a little hesitant because I’m not the most tech-savvy person, and the idea of an online degree program was fairly intimidating to me.”

But thanks to the availability of his professors and the summer residency aspect which enabled him to meet his instructors and classmates in person at University Campus, his concerns were quickly alleviated.

“I’d say I actually felt closer to my professors in this program than I did in traditional classroom-based programs I’ve been in,” Finch said.

The Summer Residency

Each summer, students in this program gather at University Campus for one week. During this event, several accomplished authors are on hand to read from their works and offer advice to students on their respective writing projects.

“Some of the most exciting aspects of this program included listening to these writers read from their work and the craft workshops they do,” Finch said. Hearing their stories about their life experiences as writers has been invaluable.”

Getting to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson was a true thrill for Finch. “I actually shared a cheeseburger with him, which was a very interesting and unexpected experience,” Finch said. “I had led a book club on one of his books when I used to work at a bookstore.”

Connecting with his fellow students was also a big perk.

“It’s surprising how well you get to know the other students in just a week during the residency and through our online discussions,” Finch said. “You really learn so much from your classmates.”

Students must complete a book thesis project in their coursework. For Finch, he started out with a short story that he has expanded into a much longer project. The story is about two brothers in which one is left to care for the other brother’s child and the drama that ensues from this situation. It is loosely based on his personal experiences.

Career Highlights

Finch currently teaches ninth grade English and print and digital media at Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL. And when not in the classroom, his other job is his writing career. Already, Finch has had about 30 of his works—short stories and poetry—published in small literary and online journals.

Some of these print publications have included Avis MagFlash: The International Short-Short Story MagazineThe Level Crossing, and Haiku Journal.

Finch said there are three primary ways in which he comes up with the ideas for his creative writing.

“When something happens that intrigues or confuses me and I don’t have words for it, I immediately want to write about it and find the language to express it,” Finch said. “Also, any time someone tells me a story and I retell it and people take the time to sit down and listen, then I want to share it with more people in writing. Finally, I like thinking about memories I have from my own life and preserving them in writing.”

Despite his achievements as a young writer, he knows he can always get better at his craft.

“I want to keep getting better at it,” Finch said. “With creative writing, I want to craft better sentences, more nuanced characters, and find the best ways to perfect memories I already have in my mind.”

He has some advice for anyone who wants to grow as a writer:

“No matter what stage you’re at, don’t be afraid to take risks,” Finch said. “Don’t be afraid to write a story that is solely yours because people out there just might be interested in reading it. When you start writing stories with a specific audience in mind, it can hold you back from expressing yourself as far as who you are as an individual. Also, don’t be dissuaded by criticism because it’s only going to make you a better writer in the end.”


Learn More

Read one of Nicholas Finch’s works entitled, “What They Give Children” and learn more about the Master of Arts degree in creative writing.