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Alumna creates coloring books celebrating everyone’s abilities, contributions.

Cynthia Cordero ’16 lives without limits. When a sudden medical issue—similar to a stroke—affected her cognitive function, speech, and ability to write, Cordero thought she would never draw again. Instead, the U.S. Navy officer found that her lifelong passion of drawing became therapy for her and others.

Cynthia coloring with a disabled child

“Disability limits you from being able to do one thing, but it doesn’t limit you from everything,” Cordero said. Inspired, she began creating coloring books to share with children who have disabilities.  

For more than two years, Cordero has volunteered at children’s hospitals. She always takes paper with her on visits, and she uses drawing and coloring to connect with the young patients, who have disabilities and/or may be terminally ill. Drawing allows them to dream about what they can do despite their disability. “As a kid you can dream up anything that you want, and creativity allows kids to bring those dreams to life,” Cordero said.

In turn, the children inspired Cordero to create a series of coloring books. The featured characters are based on children and people she meets. The message of the Don’t Let a Disability Disable You coloring book series is that a disability may limit a person, but it can’t stop them from contributing to their community and world.

Children holding up Cynthia's coloring books

“I’m hoping that through seeing themselves in a creative way, it can inspire them to know they can do anything,” Cordero said.

The series follows the children as they grow. The first coloring book, created for 2- to 8-year-olds, depicts children with disabilities dreaming about themselves as adults in various careers. The characters include a teacher with autism, a motivational speaker who is an amputee, and a doctor who must use an oxygen tank.

Volume 2 of Cynthia's "Don't Let a Disability Disable You" coloring bookThe characters are depicted with Cordero’s positive and playful style: diverse children in fun, colorful outfits with large, emotion-filled eyes. Book two, for children ages 8 to 11, features the characters as superheroes who use their disability to cure and help others.

Cordero, 33, is working on a third book, which is aimed at teens. The characters, also now teens, will be volunteers, who give back to their community.

Growing up in Long Island, NY, and Puerto Rico, Cordero dreamed of seeing the world. She joined the Navy in 2005 in order to travel and was deployed to Bahrain, Portugal, Italy, Michigan, and Florida. Now, she is based in Virginia Beach, VA, where she serves as a personnel specialist. She lives with her wife, Lauren McNulty, a mental health rehabilitation therapist.

Cynthia Cordero in uniform

Her love of children drew her to pursuing a degree in criminal justice. “It is a field that allows us as professionals to help those in need,” Cordero said. An internship in juvenile detention made her realize she wanted to assist children.

A friend recommended she enroll in Saint Leo University’s Center for Online Learning because of the program’s flexibility. Online education worked for her schedule and for her frequent deployments. The university’s core values also attracted her to Saint Leo. “You don’t find a lot of schools that take pride in and emphasize their values,” she said.

Cordero recommends Saint Leo’s online program to her fellow sailors because it offers individual attention and flexibility. Saint Leo “opened doors for me,” she said, both in the Navy and in her work with children. “This school is a great part of my story.”

Her service to the Navy and to children was recognized by her peers and community, and she was named the 2019 Samuel T. Northern Military Citizen of the Year by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. For Cordero, the honor meant her work is recognized and valued, and the recognition will bring more awareness about empowering those with disabilities and will allow her to help more people.

Cordero also wants adults to hear her message and to recognize their own superpowers, much like the characters in her second coloring book. The fourth offering in the Don’t Let Disability Disable You series will feature adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues. When her own medical issue occurred more than two years ago, she knew that a disability would not “stop me from wanting to serve my country anymore.” Cordero wants her fellow sailors with disabilities to recognize that, “everyone has something to contribute to the team.”

Child coloring a coloring bookThe coloring books are self-produced at this time, and Cordero founded a nonprofit organization, Cyn’s Vision, to help with production and other efforts. Money raised from purchases go back to the project so that the books may be donated to children’s hospitals and individuals, she said.

Cordero continues to dream. She plans on retiring from the Navy in five years and building Cyn’s Vision. She envisions creating an art therapy center to expand her outreach.

Her advice: “Take time to do what you have to do to achieve the goal. You may have to find variations from the normal ways, but don’t let a disability disable you.”


For More Information

Follow Cyn’s Vision at Cyn’s Vision Art on Facebook and Instagram @cynsvision. To request a coloring book, email cynthiacv30@yahoo.com or call (616) 773-9596.

 

Photos provided by Cynthia Cordero

 

Learning is a lifetime endeavor. And at 81, Lottie Boone is a great example of someone who doesn’t let the years get in the way of her education. 

Boone is a student at Saint Leo University’s South Hampton Roads Education Center. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. 

“Sitting around doing nothing is when you get old,” Boone said. “Take the time and study. Your brain is still working.”

Her grandson Nicholas Franklin graduated from Saint Leo in 2015 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. “Then he went back and got his master’s [graduating in 2017 with a master’s in criminal justice-legal studies],” Boone said. “I told him, ‘I’m going back to school.’ And he said, ‘Baba, you’ve got to go to Saint Leo.’ ” Baba is what Franklin calls his grandmother.

“I had such a wonderful experience—finishing my bachelor’s and getting my master’s at Saint Leo,” Franklin said. “I knew that if I could do it, she could do it. She’s smarter than me; she has to be because she’s the one I always go to for advice—her and my mom, who I am working on getting her degree next! But everything I have done in life has aimed to make Baba proud.” 

Franklin said he will be waiting when she someday crosses the commencement stage with flowers and a big, proud hug. 

Boone’s higher education was delayed by life—a life that started on July 12, 1937, in Mobile, AL. Born at 2½ pounds and delivered at home by a midwife, Boone said she was so tiny, her mother placed her in a shoe box. “She fed me with a medicine dropper,” Boone said. “I must have been strong enough to say, ‘I’m not going to die. I’m going to stay here.’ ”

Following high school graduation, she enrolled at Alabama State University-Mobile and then transferred to Alabama State University in Montgomery to pursue a degree in home economics with a minor in sociology. She studied there for a year and a half and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. 

“Then I got married,” she said. “My husband promised that we were not going to have children right away.” But along came a daughter, Pamela. As her husband was in the U.S. Navy, they traveled, and his last assignment was at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.

“I have three daughters,” Boone said with pride. “Pamela Franklin, Lottie Smith, and Jada Lee.”

Her love of home economics served her well as she worked as a manager for Sewing Circle Fabrics and a department store for several years. She also would go to schools and teach children how to sew. 

“Then my husband became deathly ill and passed away,” Boone said. “I had three little girls to take care of.  I had to work more than one or two jobs, and I still was taking in sewing [jobs].”

She started her own business, The Finishing Touches, creating crafts to sell. Then in 1978, she started working at the Virginia Beach Police Department, as a precinct desk officer. She retired after 28 years with the department. 

“I did entering into the computer, searching women when the officers brought them in, fingerprinting, and taking photo IDs of the people who were arrested,” she said. “I did quite a bit to keep the people calm when they were brought in. They are not in the best temper. I spent a lot of time just talking to them and explaining ‘this isn’t the end of your world.’ ” 

After she retired, “I became a wedding planner,” she said. “I make clothes, and I do flower arrangements. I’m quitting all of that so I can concentrate on all my classes.”

As for her girls, “Pamela went in the Army. Lottie got a scholarship to Virginia Tech, and Jada graduated from high school and now works in 911 communications,” Boone said. “I did not allow my girls to say ‘I can’t.’ They said, ‘I’ll try.’ ”

She said her daughters were not in favor of her returning to school at first as they thought it was too much for her to tackle. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It wasn’t what I had planned to do,” Boone said. “I had to go through chemo, radiation, the whole works. I am now cancer free.”

Lottie Boone and her criminal justice instructor Johnny Gandy, a captain with the Virginia Beach Police Department.

She wanted to get that bachelor’s degree. “I wanted to go back; I enjoyed it,” she said. “It was so hard. But being my age at the time, I needed more help.”

Mathematics faculty member Edmond Frost assisted her by arranging for a math tutor. She had to take last semester off, but is back at her studies with some help from faculty and staff. 

“I’m not too old,” Boone said. “I work out. I take care of me. But I can’t stay away from chocolate. I grab a Tootsie Roll in the morning.”

Her dream is to encourage other older people to become students. “I want to talk to seniors and let them know it’s never too late. I trust God. God is my source. I was a chaplain at Unity Church of Tidewater. Even when I go to church, people say, ‘I heard you were going back to school.’ You’ve got that right!”

What she may do with her degree remains unknown, but she does enjoy mentoring young people. One thing is for sure for Boone: “I am going to put my diploma on the wall by my family’s pictures and thank God every day that I finished.”  

“Be ready to reinvent yourself and try something new.” That is just some of the advice that Chris Martinez shares with students when he talks about his career.

Currently an instructor at City University of New York, he is a retired assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and a former counterintelligence technician for the U.S. Army National Guard. However, his career path was something of an evolution.

Growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Martinez decided to join the U.S. Navy after high school. No one in his family had gone to college, and he had earned a good score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, so that seemed like a logical step. He was stationed in San Diego and served as an air traffic controller.

Just before leaving the U.S. Navy, Martinez landed a job with the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) as a detection systems specialist, intercepting airborne drug smugglers. He went to school at night and eventually obtained his college degree. That enabled him to attain the coveted special agent position with USCS. In this role, he led a variety of investigations, including those involving narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, fraud, and financial crimes. For this position, he had a variety of posts, traveling many miles from Miami, San Diego, and Washington, DC, to Colombia and Panama. Being bilingual was an asset.

During this time, he joined the Army Reserve and served as a warrant officer. His responsibilities included using analytical and investigative skills to detect and prevent acts of espionage, sabotage, and terrorism directed against Army activities. Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, Martinez was activated and served stateside in Maryland, Kansas, and California.

Shortly thereafter, all special agents in USCS, including Martinez, were transferred to the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He served as a regional attaché and advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Panama, working to enhance security and investigative benefits for DHS in seven Central American countries. Upon returning to the United States, he was assigned as a field officer in Newark, NJ, leading a division of criminal investigators, intelligence agents, and support personnel in conducting financial/money laundering, compliance, and asset identification investigations.

Along the way, Martinez began to consider what he would do next. He originally thought he might want to teach high school after retiring, but then a colleague suggested he consider teaching in college. He had earned a bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1994, but he lacked a teaching degree. So he did an Internet search, found Saint Leo University, and decided to pursue a Master of Teaching degree, which he completed in 2008.

He started as an adjunct faculty member and discovered that he loved the classroom. “I had always liked teaching training courses, so it seemed natural to me,” he said.

Now, Martinez is an instructor at City University of New York, teaching classes in criminal justice, homeland security, intelligence, multicultural policing, financial investigations, and corrections. He also enjoys advising students on course selections and career choices.

Never one to slow down, Martinez is working toward his PhD in homeland security leadership and policy from Northcentral University and is currently writing his dissertation.

What does he tell his students—as well as his own five children—about their career paths? He preaches the three D’s. Have the desire—know what you want to do. Have the dedication—work hard. And have the determination—keep going and keep applying yourself. “Be open to move for opportunities. Never hesitate to tell people what you are looking for. And remember to volunteer—it’s a great way to get face time, learn new skills, and give back.”

The Saint Leo University alumni ranks grew to more than 80,000 this year with commencement ceremonies taking place from coast to coast. At University Campus, close to 1,200 students graduated during three ceremonies held April 29 and 30. Those events kicked off the “commencement season” for Saint Leo with 15 more ceremonies being held near education centers throughout May and June. Click the photos to learn more.

Abena_Ankomah

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Abena Ankomah ’11, ’16 earning her MBA


achonwaFlashback to 2014:
Chukwudi Peter Achonwa ’14

Originally from Imo state in southern Nigeria, Chukwudi Peter Achonwa has lived and worked across the Niger River in neighboring Delta state for more than 20 years. His home is in the city of Warri, which is not far from the Gulf of Guinea.

His entire life, Achonwa had never been outside Nigeria.
That was until May 2014, when the Saint Leo University online student—and now alumnus—boarded a plane and traveled for nearly 24 hours to arrive in Florida and attend commencement at University Campus.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting that day, and now he is an accountant in his native country. He hopes to earn a master’s degree and a PhD in his field.

Mary Beth Erskine, web content writer, posted a longer story about Chukwudi Peter Achonwa on Saint Leo’s online blog.


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

 

 

 

griffin-clark-hsGriffin Clark, 21, a sophomore criminal justice major and member of the men’s golf team, passed away on July 4. He was involved in a car accident near his home in Chesterfield County, VA. Griffin helped lead the golf team to its recent NCAA Division II National Championship, in Denver, CO, playing in the final match-play pairing against Chico State (CA) and winning by three strokes.
“Griffin was an outstanding young man. We were so blessed to have him be part of our Saint Leo family,” Saint Leo men’s head golf coach Chris Greenwood said. “I have so many good moments with Griffin, but the one I will always remember is standing in the 18th fairway together the final day in Denver.”


Frederick “Fred” William Colby Sr. ’84, registrar emeritus, passed away on July 7. A decorated veteran of the U.S. Navy, he served from 1952 to 1979, including tours of duty in Singapore and Tokyo, as a Naval intelligence specialist. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo College and was a member of the Saint Leo staff for 24 years, retiring as registrar.


Dr. Diane Johnson passed away on May 10. She was an assistant director of the Center for Online Learning from 2005 to 2014. After retiring from that administrative role, she continued to teach as an online adjunct professor. She is remembered for being supportive of Saint Leo’s students and guiding them through their educational development.


On May 20, Dr. Kurt Van Wilt passed away at his home. A humble and devoted English professor, he dedicated his life to the education of Saint Leo University’s students, to their spiritual and intellectual growth and development. A respected poet, he was the master of the sonnet, a form that appeals to the kind of artisan who enjoys the rigor of structure, the triumphs achieved through simplicity. An expert in comparative mysticism and Native American literature, he authored three critically praised books for Millichap Books. He was also a co-founder of The Sandhill Review literary arts magazine, The Lightning Key Review electronic journal, and The Green Rabbit chapbook series.


William “Bill” Sharp ’48
May 27, 2016

Robert E. Shoyrer ’49
April 5, 2010

Glenda W. Rusin ’52
February 7, 2015

Mary (Corrigan) Grant ’54
April 11, 2016

Richard Cobb ’60
March 4, 2016

Henry Pike ’61
July 7, 2016

Mary Ellen McGrath ’62
April 13, 2016

Peter E. Feuge ’69
November 22, 2015

Eugene Fischer ’72
February 12, 2016

Beth (Dempsey) Moore ’74
May 27, 2016

E. “William” Vanderbilt ’75
March 23, 2016

Richard A. Carter ’77
December 17, 2015

Jesse J. Dean ’77
November 17, 2015

 

Stanley P. Juds ’77
October 16, 2015

Patricia (Kennedy) Lemmerman ’77
January 7, 2016

Audrey S. Henries ’79
December 16, 2015

Marie Gagne ’82
July 23, 2012

Timothy “Tim” Murphy ’82
January 29, 2016

William A. Denton ’83
December 13, 2015

Kyle A. Miller ’83
January 1, 2009

Frederick “Fred” Colby ’84
July 7, 2016

Wayne Dupree ’86
April 36, 2016

Claude H. Bader ’93
August 2, 2014

Russell “Russ” Swart ’96
May 13, 2016

Jonathan E. Weaver ’01
April 16, 2015

William T. Campbell ’04
March 31, 2013

Leaping out of an airplane at 12,500 feet would make most people shake in their shoes. And for her first jump, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Jeretta “Jetta” Dillon said she was nervous, but “it was amazing.”

Originally from Bascom, OH, Dillon joined the Navy because she wanted to see the world and serve in the military. And there was a family legacy as well—her grandfather served in the Navy for 28 years. Her first duty station was Greece. Since then, she has been in Washington State, Japan, and the Philippines among other places. “And I had the opportunity to be stationed at Key West and didn’t want to pass up paradise,” she said, laughing.

While in Key West, she knew she wanted to get a college degree. She chose the Saint Leo Key West Education Center “because of the tuition assistance and the campus on base” and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration.

“My Saint Leo is the backbone of who I am today. It got me thinking on what I wanted to do and helped me decide to further my education later on.”

— Jeretta “Jetta” Dillon ’00

“I met a lot of great friends going through classes,” Dillon said of her Saint Leo experience. “I learned to network, and they helped me with my package to put in for Officer Candidate School.”

Dillon’s Navy Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is supply officer (called a logistics officer in other military branches), and now she is stationed at the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL. As the deputy executive officer to the commander, Dillon works for General Joseph L. Votel at SOCOM and makes “sure his calendar is organized, his strategic papers are thorough, and that he meets with the right people.”

Dillon’s Saint Leo classes such as Organizational Behavior and Religions of the World helped prepare her for her current job. The religion class particularly was helpful because of the study of Islam as well as other religions.

Jeretta_2“My Saint Leo is the backbone of who I am today,” Dillon said. “It got me thinking on what I wanted to do and helped me decide to further my education later on.” She earned her MBA from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

When she arrived at SOCOM, a peer suggested she be on the ground crew and provide narration for the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team known as the Para-Commandos. There are about 20 people on the team and four of them are women. While she doesn’t have many jumps, Dillon enjoys being on the ground crew and providing narration. At air shows, such as the Tampa Bay AirFest at MacDill, she said the SOCOM team usually performs two jumps a day. In addition to all air shows, they also jump into parades, MLB games, NFL games, and high school football games.

Dillon’s Saint Leo education provided her the platform to succeed and to soar—with a parachute, of course.

Some people are known for bringing work home, but Wayn MacKay instead brings his work to the classroom at Saint Leo University’s Fort Eustis (VA) office.

MacKay earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice with a specialization in homeland security in 2012 (at Fort Eustis and online) and his master’s in criminal justice with a concentration in critical incident management in 2013 (at the Newport News office and online). He now teaches criminal justice at Fort Eustis.

“The degree I got my undergrad in has a lot to do with what I do in my day job,” MacKay explains. “I work for a police department within the federal government. I write local policies, conduct risk assessments, identify threats, develop plans to mitigate those threats, and also do some intel [intelligence work], as well as a long list of other things.”

And that’s just what he teaches current Saint Leo students. In the fall, he taught Local Response to Terrorism. He now is teaching Terrorism and is scheduled to teach Exploitable Weaknesses in Terrorism and Intro to Homeland Defense in upcoming semesters. “I’m loving it,” he says. “The students are engaged and want to learn, and I’m very proud of them.

“Saint Leo has given me the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge, and I find that to be very rewarding,” MacKay says. “I’m engaged in it during the day and then when I teach at night; I’m among a crowd of people who want to be engaged in law enforcement and terrorism issues.”

Being at Saint Leo allows MacKay to be around “likeminded folks,” he said. He enjoys teaching students who want to excel in life and often want to start a new career.

MacKay practices what he preaches and plans to make the security industry a lifelong career. He served 20 years in the Navy and in such positions as patrolman, watch commander, career counselor, military customs agent, criminal investigator, protective service supervisor, antiterrorism officer, and physical security officer.

During his tenure as a protective service agent, he provided protection for many celebrities, high-ranking military officials, members of the U.S. House and Senate, and presidential cabinet members.

He enjoys using the critical-thinking skills necessary for intelligence, anti-terrorism, and homeland defense training. “You have to develop and maintain those skills. That’s what employers look for—critical thinkers.”

MacKay uses real-life situations students may encounter to teach them proper responses. “I give them a scenario, and then we talk about how they would deal with it,” he said. “The scenarios are challenging and require the students to think about how their particular strategy may affect or not affect operational planning and execution. It’s important to be able to identify and manage multiple challenges simultaneously.”

He retired in 2009, and the following year, he enrolled at Saint Leo using benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Thinking back on his years of studying at Saint Leo, MacKay says, “There have been many professors throughout my undergrad and graduate programs who have helped to shape me as the professional I am today. I like to think of life as a buffet . . . take a little of everything you like. Almost everyone has some quality to emulate and taking a little here and there can be of great value.

“Saint Leo is an institution that provides the foundation for personal growth through the core values coupled with many different professions. For me, it’s about the core values combined with law enforcement and homeland security.”