At 18, Double Major Is Thriving at Saint Leo’s University Campus
Meet Isabella Riano, an 18-year-old rising junior at Saint Leo University who has already made a tremendous impact on University Campus.
Isabella “Isa” Riano is not your average 18-year-old. The Saint Leo University junior and double major has made quite an impact on University Campus and has plenty more to give to her community as a college student and beyond.
Born in Miami, FL, Riano moved to Colombia as a baby where she spent about 12 years of her childhood before moving back to the Sunshine State as a teenager. She is an only child and the daughter of Colombian natives.
A 2021 alumna of Golden Gate High School in Naples, FL, she completed Advanced Placement (AP) courses there. She also took some dual-enrollment classes for additional college credit through Florida Southwestern State College, which were conveniently taught at her high school.
While still in high school, she and her dad came up to tour Saint Leo’s University Campus and were impressed with what they saw.
“Everyone was so warm and charming,” Riano says. “Some of my friends are at bigger schools, but I wanted a smaller school since I felt like it would be easier to get to know people and build relationships with my professors and classmates. I’m also Catholic, so that was a big plus for me.”
In addition, the affordability of a degree from Saint Leo was a key ingredient to her decision.
“I was accepted into every school I applied to,” she says. “But I got the best financial aid from Saint Leo.”
In the classroom, Riano decided on a double major. She is pursuing a bachelor’s in communication – digital media influencer and an undergraduate psychology degree – clinical/counseling.
“I have always found the communication field to be very interesting, and I thought it would be a good fit for my personality,” she says. “My aunt majored in it and is a TV talk show host back in Colombia.”
As for psychology, she has another passion near and dear to her that inspired her to take this path.
“I’m super passionate about mental health. I started focusing on my own self-care around 2020 after the pandemic started. I would find myself in a depressed mood, and I didn’t really consider asking for help before that. I eventually realized the importance of getting help.”
According to Riano, several Saint Leo faculty members have been there to support her both academically and personally. One of her favorite professors thus far is Dr. Cynthia Selph, an assistant professor of music and music ministry.
“I took a World Music honors class with her, and she is my choir teacher,” she says. “She has inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and has been very encouraging. She has given me the chance to sing some solos, and all of this has helped me be more comfortable when doing class presentations.”
She also had some trepidation about taking a macroeconomics class with Dr. Zachary Smith, an assistant professor of economics and finance. Her attitude quickly shifted once she got in a groove with the curriculum.
“I told him I don’t like economics at all, but he made the class very engaging and brought some cool energy to the classroom. He has helped answer my questions outside of class, and he has encouraged me to become a teaching assistant at some point.”
Another practical class she took, The Value of Money, was taught by Dr. Passard Dean, a professor of accounting and finance.
“We had to choose a profession and then break down the salary for it. We also looked at investing and cryptocurrency. This class helped me get to know myself financially.”
She says all of her instructors have provided lots of thought-provoking discussions. One such course that totally fit this bill for her was an honors class called Wild Florida.
“We learned about Florida’s wildlife, ecotourism, and the concept of ‘greenwashing.’ We also talked about what others think of Florida and how to debunk some of the stigmas of Florida like the ‘Florida man.’”
Riano loves being so close to where her classes take place on campus.
“Living on campus has been so convenient,” she says. “One time, I woke up at 7:52 a.m. before an 8 a.m. class, and I was able to make it there on time.”
She also enjoyed her roommate during her freshman year.
“My roommate and I helped each other and got along really well during my first year. It was nice to have a friend outside of my friend group who I could trust and talk to.”
While feeling homesick initially like so many college students experience in their first few weeks away from home, she realized she needed to reach out to others.
“My mom encouraged me to get involved in clubs and organizations on campus,” she recalls. “The more I got involved, the better I started feeling.”
The first group she discovered was the Student Government Union (SGU). She started out as an SGU senator. She now serves as vice president of communications management.
“I manage our social media accounts, take meeting minutes, and help promote SGU and Saint Leo events on campus,” she explains. “I enjoy going around handing out flyers and meeting new people.”
With Spanish being her first language, she helped create the Spanish Club, now serving as its philanthropy chair.
“I help with fundraising, writing thank-you cards, and other aspects of philanthropy,” she explains. “I worked with a professor to help bring this club back to campus, and we are partnering with a nonprofit called the Hispanic Services Council based in Tampa. Our goal is to educate students on Hispanic countries and cultures.”
She also serves as secretary of the Intercultural Student Association (ISA). She previously served as the organization’s social media manager. Plus, she is secretary of the Saint Leo Music Collective.
Additionally, she is the fundraising and chaplain chair of the Beta Upsilon chapter of the Theta Phi Alpha sorority. Plus, she is a member of the University Ministry group. She took a trip to Georgia over spring break this past year to help missionaries and has lent her voice to a few bilingual Mass events on campus.
In terms of paid work, she servs as the advertisement manager for the Lions Pride Media Group, the organization which operates the student newspaper.
“I would love to do this in my career, so it’s nice to get this experience,” she says.
Her involvement in so many groups exemplifies the Saint Leo University core value of community.
“When I started at Saint Leo, I saw how diverse the campus community was,” she says. “I appreciate how everyone is part of the community, regardless of their background. Everyone is accepted for who they are. You can get to know so many different people from so many unique backgrounds.”
And how does she juggle her academics and this lengthy list of extracurricular activities?
“I’ve learned to be more organized with my time. In high school, I’d procrastinate on my homework and go to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. Now I go to bed at a more reasonable hour. I also set up reminders in my phone which help a lot.”
Riano is a member of the LEAD Scholars program and just one of 10 total students in the Class of 2024 who received this honor.
“This program is designed for students who want to be leaders on campus,” she explains. “We work with a mentor and attend events on campus.”
She says LEAD Scholars must take at least one leadership position on campus during their sophomore year. As a junior, they serve underclassmen as mentors. For their senior year, they take on higher-level roles both on campus and within the LEAD Scholars program. (Last year, her mentor was Sydnee Daniels whom we highlighted in this blog article.)
Thanks to her hard work on more fronts than most can count, Riano has already been the recipient of multiple awards as a Saint Leo student. In the LEAD Scholars program, she received the Outstanding Freshman Award and was named the Most Dedicated LEAD Scholar.
Plus, she earned the Bright Future Award from her sorority, Theta Phi Alpha, and was named the Most Enthusiastic Singer as part of the Saint Leo Music Collective.
“I work hard not to get awards but because I want to make a difference in the lives of others,” she shares. “However, it is really nice to see that my hard work does not go unnoticed.”
This past summer, she completed a social media marketing internship with Green Dot, a nationwide bystander intervention training program aimed at reducing the instances of sexual assault and other forms of violence among college students.
“I created and posted social media content, did lots of research, and also earned some certifications,” she says. “The goal of Green Dot is to raise awareness about sexual assault, domestic violence, and dating violence. Green Dot stresses the mental health impact of these behaviors on people and potential solutions. This internship helped me learn more about the psychological side of how our brain works and how to respond to these behaviors if you experience or witness them.”
She hosts a personal podcast called "Soothing and Restoring." Launched in February, she explains how she came up with the name for it.
“I decided on this name because ‘soothing’ represents learning how to forgive yourself and heal. ‘Restoring’ is becoming an empowered version of yourself.”
In the first few episodes of the series, she has shared her personal story. She has also spoken about self-esteem, overcoming anxiety and depression, and solutions to boost one’s mental health. She also maintains a social media page to promote the podcast and other content revolving around mental health.
“My goal is to create content on social media about mental health, especially in Spanish. I want to help end stigmas. I would like to volunteer as a therapist for people who can’t afford therapy.”
In Colombia and many Spanish-speaking countries, there is still a lack of public awareness on mental health, she says.
In terms of a career, her dream is to work as an advertising or marketing manager within some type of organization. However, she has much larger goals than simply finding a rewarding career path for herself.
“I want to be financially stable myself, but I also want to help my family out and give back to my parents financially for everything they have done to support me. I’d love to be able to donate both my time and money to charities.”
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Isabella Riano and University Brand Marketing & Communications and are used with permission.