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At Saint Leo University, we have much to be proud of. Here is just some of the good news from recent months.


Student

Ed WeekThe School of Education & Social Services was cited by Education Week as an example of a college that successfully equips future teachers to employ technology skillfully and effectively in public school classrooms.


Jesse Goolsby

In Spring 2016, Saint Leo University announced the launch of a new, low-residency Master of Arts in Creative Writing program. To earn this Master of Arts degree, students complete 36 hours of graduate study in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. In an option unique to the Saint Leo program, those who are interested in writing about war experiences will select one of those genres, but instead of taking generalized writing courses within their specialty, they will enroll in courses in fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry that reflect wartime or postwar experiences. U.S. Air Force officer and novelist Jesse Goolsby (above) was a guest speaker during the program’s eight-day residency at University Campus in July. He is the author of the novel I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), winner of the Florida Book Award for Fiction.


2016 Top Work Places

For the fifth consecutive year, Saint Leo University was included as a Top Workplace in the annual survey published by the Tampa Bay Times. This year, Saint Leo ranks 15th in the category of large employers, meaning those with more than 500 employees.


DHSNSASaint Leo University’s Bachelor of Science in computer science met the standards needed for Saint Leo to be considered a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. The new recognition is jointly sponsored and approved by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has been awarded to Saint Leo through the year 2021.


Calling on You

As university president, Dr. William J. Lennox Jr., receives many invitations to presidential inaugurations and convocations at peer institutions. When he is unable to attend, alumni are often called upon to represent Saint Leo. The university would like to extend appreciation to the following people who have represented the university at recent inaugurations.

Robert L. Padala ’73
Adelphi University–Garden City Campus

Kevin B. Reynolds ’94
Rollins College

John J. Sullivan ’77
Tulane University

Frank A. Trilla ’84
The Benedictine University

 

Cassidy Whitaker was just in middle school when she became enthralled with the 2008 presidential election. She remembers hearing then-Senator Barack Obama speak and accompanying her mom to the voting booth. Politics has been her passion ever since, and these days she is closely watching the 2016 race.

A political science major and with a journalism minor, Cassidy hopes to start her career as a political journalist and eventually become a political analyst. She enjoys listening to Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and others, and even got the chance to meet James Carville when he spoke at University Campus in 2015. To get ready for such a career, she is a contributing writer and political columnist for The Lions’ Pride student newspaper, specifically covering the 2016 debates and campaigns. She also took part in Saint Leo’s mock presidential debate during the fall 2015 semester, serving as health care policy advisor for the Democratic campaign.

Cassidy WhitakerSaint Leo has proven to be the perfect place for Cassidy for a number of reasons. First, it is close to her hometown of Brandon, FL, but not too close. The distance allows her to be independent, but she can still easily go home for visits. She also loves the beautiful campus. But what really appeals to her are the the small class sizes. She enjoys getting to know her professors and having a relationship with them. In particular she appreciates the advice and support she receives from Frank Orlando, who is her political science advisor and “an incredible educator”; Valerie Kasper, who teaches journalism and is the faculty advisor for The Lions’ Pride; and Christopher Friend, an English professor who taught her Academic Writing class and helped her decide to minor in journalism.

Recently, Cassidy was the recipient of a Tampa Bay Business and Professional Women’s Association Scholarship, a process that involved a lengthy application and interview. In the years to come, she hopes to be an editor at The Lions’ Pride, maintain a high GPA, get more involved in Pi Sigma Alpha (the national political science honor society), and make the most of her Saint Leo education. Somehow she will juggle all that while staying glued to the 24-hour news cycle.

Our alumni, students, faculty, and staff enjoy a variety of special events throughout the year. Take a few moments to experience Saint Leo in Pictures. Click on any photo below to learn more.

mock_debate

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Burke Tomaselli ’16 (left) and Zoe Mathieu ’16 facing off in the mock presidential debate. During fall semester, Saint Leo University students in a broad range of academic classes created a fictitious (but realistic) two-party American presidential campaign. Students assumed the roles of candidates, staff, press, security consultants, and other key players, culminating with a debate between the fictitious Republican and Democratic presidential nominees on November 13.

 

 

 

 

 

July 7, 2015. It is a day that will not be forgotten by any of the young men on the Saint Leo soccer team. On that day, they learned that Jules Verdin, their teammate and friend, died tragically in a hiking accident in Switzerland. Verdin, a native of Tongeren, Belgium, was hiking with his family near the Jungfrau in the Swiss municipality of Lauterbrunnen when the accident occurred. Verdin, who wore the No. 5 jersey, was named the 2014 Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year and a Second Team All-SSC selection. He had completed his first year at Saint Leo, recording two goals and two assists for six points.

“Jules was like a little brother to me,” said senior Henry Adu, a native of Ghent, Belgium, located just 90 miles from Verdin’s hometown. “When I got to Saint Leo, I dreamt that someone from Belgium would join the team, someone who spoke Dutch and shared the same interests and understood the Belgian lifestyle. From the first day we met, we became connected. We hung out almost every day.”



[Video was created and shared on YouTube by teammates of Jules Verdin]


Adu recalled, “I was in Miami at a CVS store when I heard the news from his mum. I was preparing to fly out of the country back to Europe for the summer. It was the most shocking and painful news I have ever experienced in my life. I broke down in the CVS store crying like a little child. The first person I called was Coach to tell him about it. I had no choice but to tell my teammates about it. The most difficult time was my 10-hour flight from Miami to London; all I could do was cry. I never got a second of sleep. I was just living in the memories and looking at his pictures.”

Rewind to November 21, 2014. The NCAA South Regional Final saw two SSC foes face off for the second time that season as the Lions met No. 3 Lynn on the Young Harris College (YHC) Soccer Field in Georgia. Lynn, the eventual 2014 National Champions, got the better hand, taking the game 3-0, ending Saint Leo’s season. Looking back now, it is fair to say that while ending a season can be tough, that is not why those men will remember YHC Soccer Field. Instead, it was the last time Verdin stepped on the field in Green and Gold.

Fast-forward to September 3, 2015. About 10 months passed since the Lions had gazed upon the YHC Soccer Field, an air of remembrance drifting among them as they took the pitch for the first time in the 2015 season. In a match-up of nationally ranked squads, No. 13 Saint Leo faced host No. 3 Young Harris. The team placed the No. 5 jersey across the bench, the place it would remain all season long.

“We came out flat, and we started the day exactly the same. We fought hard, we continued to battle, but we needed to focus on our composure and technical ability. [It] was very emotional for the team knowing this was the last place Jules Verdin played with us,” Head Coach Keith Fulk said, following the 3-0 defeat.

“This season was an emotional roller coaster for us, but I am extremely proud of every single one of my teammates for staying together and picking each other up”

— Matt Campbell, team captain

September 5, 2015. Just two days later, the Lions remained in Georgia for a neutral site game against Lees-McRae on YHC Soccer Field once again. In an opportunity to rid the field of demons that haunted it, Saint Leo entered the game with sharp focus. Less than one minute into the game, the team scored and eventually took the game 4-1.

“It was by far the most emotional week for these kids; they wanted to win so badly. In the first game they came out flat, [but the second game] was the complete opposite. They were outside on their ‘hype zone,’ and at halftime, I got them to calm down. Now it’s time to move forward,” Fulk said after the game, delivering a phrase that sat with the Lions all season.

It’s time to move forward.

September 19, 2015. Another memory, another moment. Saint Leo hit the road to face No. 1 Lynn. The same Lynn that bounced the Lions out of the NCAA Tournament the previous season. The same Lynn that Jules Verdin faced in his last game. Sometimes it’s hard to move forward, when forward resurfaces the past. The Lions reveled in this resurfacing, however, as they knocked off the top team in the nation, 3-1, on their own field.

Maybe it was a high they were not expecting. Maybe it was a high they could not handle. Following the win over Lynn, the wave of emotion hit a lull, sending the then 3-1 Lions on a three-game losing streak, bringing them to just 3-4 on the season, and 1-2 in SSC play. The path was not easy.

Bonding helps a team in any situation, but in a situation like this? Ultimately the most important thing a team can do is find their way back to the winning course without getting caught up in the emotion.

“This season was an emotional roller coaster for us, but I am extremely proud of every single one of my teammates for staying together and picking each other up,” senior and team captain Matt Campbell said. “Jules was such a huge part of our team. He was not only an unbelievable player, but he was a great teammate and was always willing to lend a helping hand, or give some comic relief when needed. His death was hard on all of us, and I believe it showed at the beginning of the season. It took some time for us to grieve together and learn how to cope with the loss of our brother.”

“… he would have run to the fans and slid on his knees and would start chanting, ‘Champions! Champions!’ All he wanted was to win a trophy for Saint Leo University and celebrate with the team. It felt very special to win something for him.”

— Henry Adu, teammate

Something clicked. Following their 3-4, 1-2 opening to the season, the Lions rebounded, turning in five-straight wins, taking down Nova Southeastern, Christian Brothers, Embry-Riddle, Tampa, and Florida Southern. They turned their record to 8-4, 4-2 in SSC, finding themselves right in the race for the SSC regular season title, with three games left, two in conference.

A game with Stetson, a Division I foe, ended the winning streak, but it was trivial in the ultimate storyline, as the Lions followed that Monday game with a Thursday game versus Eckerd, and a Saturday game versus Barry.

The Lions downed Eckerd, 4-2, in a heated battle, giving Saint Leo an opportunity to play for the championship.

October 31, 2015. Heading into the match-up with Barry, there were four teams that could earn the No. 1 seed for the SSC Tournament and the regular season title, depending on how Saturday finished. But the Lions had the upper hand. This was the final game to be played in the SSC regular season as all other games had already taken place, and Saint Leo knew that a win or a tie solidified their spot as the regular season champions.

Once again, the Lions took the pitch, with the No. 5 jersey on the bench. Eighty-five scoreless minutes passed before Barry lined up for a corner kick. The ball sailed off the foot of the Barry player, crossing the goal box, finding the head of a teammate who knocked it in. It seemed as though the Lions’ chances had ended with just five minutes of action remaining. But if there was one thing the Lions had learned over the season, it was resiliency. And resilient they were, as they charged down the field, earning a foul outside the box, giving Saint Leo an opportunity to score. Junior Maximilian Schulze-Geisthovel stepped up to the ball to take the free kick, blasting it past the wall of defenders, but Barry’s keeper was there to block the shot, sending it straight to the foot of freshman Yuga Yanagisawa, who was trailing the ricochet. Yanagisawa sunk the rebound and tied the game. Maybe it was divine intervention, fate, chance, destiny, or someone watching from above—call it what you may—but the Lions capitalized on the opportunity in front of them and hung on to the tie through the final three minutes of regular play and two overtime periods. The Saint Leo Lions were named the 2015 Sunshine State Conference regular season champions.

Saint-Leo_MSOC-SSC-champ-trophy_2735

“Oh, my gosh, that day! This was the very first time I cried in front of the team about Jules,” Adu reminisced. “I thought, ‘What would he do if he was here?’ Knowing him very well, I know he would have run to the fans and slid on his knees and would start chanting, ‘Champions! Champions!’ All he wanted was to win a trophy for Saint Leo University and celebrate with the team. It felt very special to win something for him.”

The path to success is usually not a paved road; for the Saint Leo men’s soccer team, a single day in October proved that no matter what happens, you can find triumph in any tragedy.

Every great basketball team can benefit from a sixth man—a talented, multifaceted player who comes off the bench with great energy and effort.

During the 2015-2016 season, the Saint Leo men’s and women’s basketball teams experienced a different sort of sixth man—a group from the local community who offered invaluable support and encouragement. Led by Lake Jovita residents and longtime Saint Leo fans Terry and Linda Spaight, couples and families in the surrounding areas—including Lake Jovita, Dade City, and Zephyrhills—rallied around the players and invited them into their homes.

It all started four years ago when the Spaights decided to have a season tip-off party for the men’s team. As the years followed, they learned—since the university Dining Hall is closed during the Christmas holidays—coaches were often responsible for making sure the players were fed while on break. With that knowledge, the couple began organizing team meals, and enthusiasm began to grow.

Joining in the effort was a group of snowbirds from Zephyrhills. These men and women, proudly donning their bright green and yellow sweatshirts, are known for cheering on the teams at home games. Hailing from Illinois, Maine, and other northern states, the snowbirds have quickly become an important part of the fan base.

Over the 2015 Christmas holidays, the teams were treated to a total of 22 meals. Along the way, players were partnered with couples and families and got to know them. They enjoyed food, played games, and bonded with these adoptive parents and grandparents. As an added bonus, the two teams—who often see one another only at practice and games or in the weight room—enjoyed spending time together in a family atmosphere. As Linda Spaight explained, “It was a wonderful way to connect the community with Saint Leo.” Her hope is that the momentum will continue to build and the community support will continue to grow in the years to come.

“I believe their support is irreplaceable, not only to Saint Leo athletics but to the entire community. They are truly our sixth man. It’s very comforting when I walk in the gym and see them there.”
—Coach Vince Alexander

In May, the Saint Leo University Board of Trustees announced that the new academic building at University Campus would be named for President Arthur F. Kirk Jr., who retired after 18 years with Saint Leo.

Kirk Hall opened for classes in Fall 2015. It provides 48,000 square feet of space, including 16 new classrooms and academic support services space, along with faculty offices. This is the 11th new building at University Campus, in addition to three recent renovations, within the last 13 years.

A stately, 126-year-old olive tree stands at the entry to Kirk Hall. Embodying the foundation of Saint Leo, it is symbolic of the tree of knowledge. The two smaller, 18-year-old olive trees represent peace and cooperation—key attributes of social justice. They represent the tenure of President Kirk, the building’s namesake and an advocate of social justice.

Saint Leo University’s own Taylor Perez, a shortstop who completed his junior season in 2015, was selected in the 28th round (pick 845) by the Seattle Mariners.

Perez, from Winter Springs, FL, played in 47 games this season for the Lions, finishing with a .312 batting average in 189 at-bats. The junior racked up 34 RBI and 36 runs scored on the year with help from his 12 doubles, three triples, and two home runs. Perez stole eight bases this season which tied him for second most on the team. He contributed 17 multi-hit games to the Green and Gold’s effort this season.

Taylor Perez is the fourth Lion to be drafted in the last three seasons.

When Dr. Maribeth Durst arrived at Saint Leo College in 1979 as a new assistant professor of sociology, she could have had no idea that her career path would evolve to include so many roles and duties in teaching, administration, and even the pursuit of another advanced degree. At the end of this academic term, Dr. Durst will retire after 36 years at Saint Leo, the final 10 serving as the vice president of Academic Affairs—in other words, Saint Leo’s steward of excellence in teaching and degree offerings.

Saint Leo was not Dr. Durst’s first teaching post—that was at Saint John’s University at its Staten Island, NY, campus in the late 1970s. But in academia and other sectors, opportunities to advance were scarce. Dr. Durst and her first husband came south when the Saint Leo sociology position opened, and he found a position in Tampa in his field. Dr. Durst began teaching the sociology courses in the catalog at the time. However, in what was to become a continuing theme, she saw a spot where she could make a contribution and developed the course “Women in America” as an option to the early 1980s curriculum.

In those days, women were not yet well represented in teaching or administration, and the concept of work-and-family balance had not emerged. But as a young working mother in rural St. Leo in the early 1980s, Dr. Durst found infant child care for her son, David, practically next door with the Sisters of Holy Name Monastery, the Benedictine nuns who have always been involved with Saint Leo.

Then a “real life-changing event” occurred in the spring of 1983, she recalled. A female student came to see her, at the suggestion of an administrator. The young woman was being battered by a boyfriend and she didn’t know how to get out of the situation. Dr. Durst had degrees in both sociology and anthropology (her doctorate), but not the specific skills to guide that student or others in such peril.

Her response was to take a course in social work, and she became hooked. Over three years, she earned the Master of Social Work degree. This helped inform her leadership and also qualified her to teach social work courses, along with anthropology and sociology.

She loved infusing community service requirements into her teaching and class requirements, as well. She remembers a young man who disliked the service requirement initially, but then grew to enjoy the time he spent helping coach students at the nearby Saint Anthony of Padua Interparochial School. Some of the young boys just wanted an older guy to talk to, he found. He so enjoyed it that he began explaining his community service to his mother during a long-distance phone call. At first, she didn’t understand. She feared his service was a judicial sentence and exclaimed: “What crime did you commit?” That anecdote is one of Dr. Durst’s favorite stories.

Dr. Durst also found it fulfilling to work in a college with Saint Leo’s generous spirit. “We accept any student who exhibits a chance to be academically successful. Even though we have high standards, we will give students a chance who haven’t necessarily been successful before.”

Her dedication to teaching was recognized twice with a campus award for Outstanding Faculty Member from the Student Government Association, first for 1987-1988, and again in 1996. By then, she had been promoted to a full professor of sociology and social work. During her career, she also took on a variety of administrative tasks on the academic side, as needs emerged.

Eventually, she began working for the university on years-long work related to the college’s accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools*. President Kirk assigned Dr. Durst the painstaking role in 1998, concurrent with her work as dean of the School of Education and Social Services (she had also held accrediting responsibilities at an earlier point, from 1988 to 1991). It was an arduous time as Saint Leo worked to reverse enrollment declines and prove itself. But Saint Leo did recover, did attract more students, and innovated with online learning. Saint Leo became a university in 1999, in recognition of the addition of master’s degrees in business and education.

In 2005, the vice president of Academic Affairs position became open, and at first Dr. Durst did not apply. However, she noticed that even the best of the applicants did not seem to take the institution or its potential seriously enough. In her mind, they regarded Saint Leo only as a “stepping stone to further their own careers.” She realized she was more invested in the university’s continued success, and therefore applied and earned the vice president’s job.

It has been a busy decade since, marked by more improvements. New faculty take part in an extensive mentoring process, for instance, to ensure they truly understand and support the student-centered, teaching orientation of the university. Undergraduates have an innovative liberal arts program that nurtures the development of critical thinking across multiple disciplines. A Master of Social Work degree program has been added, along with the Doctor of Business Administration. Something Dr. Durst didn’t foresee happening in her tenure—a second new academic building—is undergoing rapid construction, and it will be ready for Fall 2015.

Equally as important, Saint Leo is now recognized as a strong teaching-oriented institution, dedicated to the development of the whole individual, who may well have multiple careers over a lifetime. “Many American universities have lost their way,” Dr. Durst says. “They’re more interested in research than in teaching, and teaching is a by-product. Our responsibility is to teach our students to fulfill a productive role in society, and to give back to others.”


*Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Saint Leo University.

Being a parent is a tough job, but being a single mom taking college classes is even tougher. Yesenia Shaffer ’14, age 26, was one of those moms who juggled and multi-tasked, finally earning her bachelor’s degree in social work in Spring 2014.

It took lots of planning,” Shaffer remembers. “I knew I had to limit how long I was gone from my son.”

Her son, Gavin-Anthony, now 4, was 2 when Shaffer began taking courses toward her bachelor’s degree. Prior to that, she earned her Associate of Arts degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, FL (now Pasco-Hernando State College, PHSC).

Gavin-Anthony was foremost in Shaffer’s mind as she began her education journey. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have him in day care,” she says. “So I went to night school. As I went through school, I got a little smarter, and I gained more strength to let go a little bit of my son. I worked nights at the Generations Christian Church in Trinity so I could afford small things, and my son was always with me when I worked in the day care area. I didn’t take on anything where I couldn’t take care of him. I was figuring out what was best for him.”

In addition to getting a college degree, Shaffer also wanted to become a pilot. When she first started her junior year at the Adult Education Center at the New Port Richey Office-PHSC, she only worked nights so that her son could accompany her. “My last semester, I got a job at the flight school and it was two hours both ways in traffic,” she recalls.

Dr. Marguerite McInnis, department chair of social work at Saint Leo, was impressed that her student wanted to be a pilot. “At first she was living in New Port Richey and commuting to Lakeland,” Dr. McInnis says. “And she still did her field placement. I was just amazed at everything she was handling. She maintained a positive attitude, but she was tired. She was juggling everything for her child’s future and for her future.”

Shaffer pursued a bachelor’s degree in social work from Saint Leo’s Adult Education Center at PHSC after not knowing what she wanted to study. It all became clear when she took her first human services class. “During the class, our teacher talked about if you wanted to be a counselor, you should get a social work degree rather than psychology,” Shaffer explains. “I had taken psychology, nursing, and education classes; I actually have my massage therapy license. I always enjoyed helping people, but didn’t know what way was going to be my way.”

Her own life mirrored what she was studying. “I happened to be in every situation,” she says. “I’m a young, Hispanic single mother, recently divorced, trying to go back to school, [with a] home that I can barely pay the mortgage for, and supporting a son.”

After some soul searching, she realized she wanted to help other people by majoring in social work. “I felt so empowered,” she says. “I was at the lowest time in my life, but I felt like I could build myself up to be anything. I had a clean slate. Everyone was so encouraging. I felt strong.”

Shaffer chose Saint Leo because family members and friends had studied at the university. “I grew up right off Old St. Joe Road and did a summer camp at Saint Leo,” she says.” I always knew it was really a great university. It was convenient. It had everything. And I could afford it. It fit all my requirements.”

Shaffer wants to combine flying with humanitarian interests. “I love, love, love to help people and fly and get to places that don’t have a lot of people coming by to help,” Shaffer explains. One of her future goals is to fly to the Caribbean islands and bring supplies. “I want to help people, meeting them where they are and helping them how I can.”

Now she is director of sales and marketing at Kingsky Flight Academy in Lakeland, a five-minute drive from her home. Gavin-Anthony attends a day care at the airfield and is proud of his mother. “He’s so vocal about it,” Shaffer said. “Maybe it comes from being my kid! He’s very verbal—every emotion is expressed. He’s always telling me how he is feeling. He knows that Mommy has worked hard.”

When Saint Leo University launched its Doctor of Business Administration degree program in 2013, it hoped to lure the nation’s best and brightest. That aspiration has been realized with highly intelligent and experienced students joining the first two cohorts. Patrick Plummer is one fine example.

23Plummer has already enjoyed a successful career, having started two health care data businesses and subsequently selling them. In his mind, he was always guided to do what was best for medical patients, and he believes that his companies attained that goal. Along the way, he also collaborated with Virginia Commonwealth University professors on a health care strategy textbook, a project that made him begin thinking about giving back to the next generation.

Now age 50, this Mechanicsburg, PA, native decided that he wanted to go back to school and become a professor, so he began looking for just the right program. Over the last several years, he had researched as many as 30 doctoral programs, but none was exactly what he wanted. Then in January 2014, he did another Google search and found Saint Leo. Within 45 minutes of perusing the website, he knew this was the place he wanted to be.

Catherine, Patrick, Grace, and CarolynA devout Catholic, Plummer was drawn to Saint Leo’s Catholic identity and Benedictine tradition. He even commented, “If I could be a married priest, I would.” He believes that approaching matters from a Catholic basis always makes things clearer for him.

Having sold that second business in December 2013, Plummer and his wife wanted to have a meaningful family trip for themselves and their two daughters, ages 13 and 14. So in August 2014, they traveled to Italy, where they spent two and a half weeks touring the Vatican and the surrounding sites. They enjoyed seeing the pope give his weekly address, amidst tens of thousands of people. “When Papa Franco appeared,” Plummer remembered, “the crowd roared, like someone had scored a touchdown.” Even with a sudden downpour, no one’s spirit was dampened. They also toured the Sistine Chapel and St. Mark’s Cathedral, and viewed The Last Supper. His daughters agreed: “the best trip ever.”

The trip involved so much history—so much emphasis on God, religion, and faith—that Plummer returned, even more determined to make a difference for young people.“I want students to know that you don’t have to be a schmuck to succeed in business,” he explained. “Sometimes it is hard to absorb that message in corporate America. It is easy to take the wrong path if that’s what you think you have to do.”

Plummer is currently on his way to his dream of being a professor, and his goal is to complete his dissertation by December 2016. For now, he is enjoying his time as a student.

“It is a lot more work than I expected,” he said with a laugh. “There is so much reading, and writing, writing, writing. But having the cohort has been a big surprise. I am amazed at how close we have all become in such a short period of time.”

Victoria McKee

Saint Leo education centers often receive thank-yous from grateful students. Here is just one example from Victoria McKee ’15, a student at North Charleston (SC).

Thank you for giving me hope again for my education. I had attended a couple different universities before transferring to yours. I had never felt like anything but another number to advisors and professors at my previous colleges. However, upon transferring to you, I immediately felt welcome.

When you walk into the center, you can feel the “Saint Leo difference.” You are greeted by name by Rene, Ben, and Liz. They remember your husband’s name, your pets and children, and other personal bits which broadcasts how caring they are for the students beyond just academics. At North Charleston, you are more than just a number; you’re the faculty and staff’s foremost priority, and because of this, my motivation for school returned. I turned my grades around a complete 180 upon stepping through these doors and can proudly display my Dean’s List certificates at home. Because of Saint Leo, I can talk proudly about finishing my degree again and have passion for what I’m studying.

I’d especially like to thank my director, Liz Heron. She has gone above and beyond in making sure I wasn’t just passing classes but actually succeeding. Any time I have struggled, I could go to Liz, and whatever the issue was, it was fixed immediately. Liz rekindled my fire for my education; she encourages me each term to get another blue Dean’s List certificate to hang up, and I know I always have someone in my corner cheering. Any time I have fallen behind, she has given me the drive to keep pushing forward and turn it around.

I treasure my time in class and am so grateful for the opportunity for this education. Who would have thought you could actually look forward to going to school? I am almost sad that my graduation date is coming up soon because then that means I will no longer get to walk into these doors into the center. But, hey—there is always a master’s degree to go for.

 


 

Jovanny Vargias

 

Vargas---author-pictureOn Veterans Day 2014, the Saint Leo University community had the opportunity to hear from Jovanny Vargas ’12, ’15, who is currently a student
at Saint Leo as well as a cadet in the Suncoast Battalion. As a veteran, he offered a unique perspective to the crowd at the University Campus ceremony. Here is part of his address:

Veterans play an important role in the Saint Leo community, the ROTC program, and have made an impact on my personal experiences. As a student of Saint Leo, I feel that veterans play a crucial part in our student body and contribute a distinct point of view in the classroom based on their vast experiences. Veterans tend to spark interesting conversations based on their unique perspectives and encourage students to be more engaged in discussions.

In the ROTC program, veterans play a vital role in developing and mentoring other cadets based on their past military experiences. They constantly challenge other cadets and provide skills that benefit the organization. Cadets tend to value the opinions of veterans and rely on their expertise. Their presence in the organization as instructors, cadets, and support staff provides the essential tools needed to have a successful leadership program. The cadets that graduate from the program gain the best training available from the interaction they receive from these veterans.

During my time in service, veterans were those men and women in arms who supported me during my time away from my family. They were people I could rely on when times were hard and I always knew they had my back. They are a group of professionals who don’t settle for anything less than perfection, always striving to exceed the standard.

Saint Leo has always been a great supporter of those serving in our military no matter where that may be. Before I had the opportunity to study as a full-time student here at University Campus, I had to take the majority of my classes online or on military installations. Regardless of where the Army sent me, whether it was in Korea, Morocco, or even in the most secluded areas in the world like Antarctica, Saint Leo has always provided me with the resources I needed in order to pursue my education. It is evident that Saint Leo cares about making education available for veterans no matter where they are located.

I salute those men and women who have served and currently serve this nation.

How did an Ogden, UT, native end up on the Saint Leo Lions volleyball team? “It’s a long story,” Britt Sederholm explains.

Britt-Sederholm3While in high school, the young volleyball player knew she wanted to compete on the collegiate level, was set on Division II, and was focused on a college in New Jersey. However, while competing in a tournament in Colorado, she caught the eye of Coach Sam Cibrone, who was there with his Tampa United volleyball club. One thing led to another, and she decided to pay Saint Leo a visit. She toured the campus, met the team, and instantly knew that the Lions were the team for her. Another important moment from that tournament? She spiked the ball on one play, hitting Maddy Powell—from the opposing team—right in the face. But no hard feelings—the two players are now roommates at Saint Leo.

Britt admits that moving to Florida was a hard transition at first, but her family has been very supportive. Her parents, who adopted her at birth, keep in touch—in fact every day her father texts her and her mother Snapchats. She explains that her parents were very eager to adopt her, as well as her older sister, Shay. “Shay is part Mexican, and the adoption agency was worried that my parents would have a problem with that. They said, ‘We don’t care if she comes out with antennas!’ ” Britt, at five-foot-eleven, jokes that she and her sister look nothing alike: “She is short and brown, but even though I look down on her in height, I look up to her in life.” And Britt claims that her niece, Kylah, is perfect. “She is my favorite person in the world—a little ball of happiness.”

Before Britt was born, her birth mother had one instruction: she did not want the baby growing up in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) home, which is a tall order in Utah. Jeff and Tamra Sederholm had no problem with that requirement and raised their daughters to be open to all religions. Britt attended a Lutheran school through eighth grade and then a Catholic high school. She explained that at public schools in Utah, almost everyone is LDS and “you can almost feel like an outcast if you’re not.” That was another benefit that Britt sees at Saint Leo, a Catholic institution that welcomes people of all backgrounds and faiths.

What does the future hold for this talented outside hitter? She is majoring in business marketing and would like to work for a professional sports team, following in the footsteps of her best friend and godsister, Julie Johnson.

For now, when she is not studying or playing volleyball, she serves as an assistant coach for Tampa United. “Britt is a great person with awesome energy and devotion to our sport,” commented Coach Cibrone. “She coaches to learn about the game and always gives 100 percent on the court. She is a huge asset to our team.”