Recounting Their Journeys in Higher Education
Tim originally earned an associate degree from St. Petersburg College (a junior college at the time) in 2000. He started at Saint Leo University in 2006, opting for a bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in management. He completed the fully online program in 2009.
“Our daughter had just been born and I was working full time, so there is no way I could have attended classes on campus,” Tim says. “It allowed me to have the flexibility I needed.”
In addition to his business professors, he recalls a memorable religion instructor who made a positive impression on him.
Angela had some family ties to Saint Leo prior to even her husband enrolling. Her parents, Jerry and Linda, were both graduates of Saint Leo’s bachelor’s in business administration degree program. Angela began her college career at another university. She then went back to school to embark on Saint Leo’s bachelor’s in psychology degree program in 2014.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go on campus because I was a stay-at-home mom,” Angela says.
She attained her undergraduate psychology degree in 2017, graduating with honors. She then went on to pursue a Master of Education in exceptional student education (ESE). She explains why she chose to focus on special education in graduate school.
“For kids with autism and communication challenges, the accessibility to rigorous, higher-level curricula is not available,” she says. “There is a real misunderstanding with autism. It’s a neuromotor problem for many children, not cognition. That’s why I pursued special education for my master’s program. I felt I could work with my children more effectively if they couldn’t access things at school.”
She completed the graduate degree program in 2021. She was recently accepted into the Ph.D. in strategic leadership in education program at Belmont University where their daughter is currently attending.
A One-of-a-Kind Professor
Like her husband, Angela had several professors at Saint Leo stand out to her. However, Dr. Georgina Rivera-Singletary, a professor of graduate education, went above and beyond.
“She’s a very unique person,” Angela says of the professor. “She never lowered the bar for me because of my life circumstances. She was definitely the best part of my experience in that graduate program.”
Earlier this year, Angela and their daughter, Grace, actually got an opportunity to do a presentation for one of Rivera-Singletary’s classes, Foundations of Inclusion, held at University Campus.
“We showed potential teachers what Grace was missing in the educational environment,” Angela explains. “Then we showed them how to create that environment and the tools they could use to help students like Grace be successful.”
Impactful Saint Leo Core Values
As far as Saint Leo University’s core values are concerned, several have stood out to the Falleurs. These include personal development, excellence, and community.
“I was not a teacher who was getting an education degree unlike many of my classmates, so Dr. Rivera-Singletary helped me with so many connections in the community,” Angela says. “She helped me find places for internships and make other valuable connections. This, in turn, has helped me in advocating for my children.”
Because of its core values and tremendously positive influence on their lives, Angela and Tim have not hesitated to tell others about Saint Leo University.
“We have recommended Saint Leo to everyone we know, especially people with jobs, kids, and those who think it’s too late to get a degree,” Tim says. “They make it so manageable where you can get a good education and focus on your personal life and career at the same time. They really put a lot into how they design their programs for adults who are busy.”
Supporting Their Family in Many Ways
Tim credits his Saint Leo degree in business administration to helping him build a career to support his family. He started his career as an internal auditor and has since worked as a business analyst, software engineer, and technical product owner. He has held roles with Raymond James Financial, Healthesystems, and Evernorth Health Services, a subsidiary of Cigna Health.
For one year, Angela got an opportunity to teach special education at Longleaf Elementary School in New Port Richey, FL. She primarily taught students on the autism spectrum, most of whom were nonverbal. She has devoted the majority of her time as a mom working tirelessly to advocate for the family’s children. Their two older children have Severity 3 autism and are non-speaking. The two younger ones are verbal but are considered to have Severity 1 autism. The higher the number on the Clinician-Rated Severity of Autism Spectrum and Social Communication Disorders scale, the more severely impaired an individual will be.
Last year, Grace was accepted into nine universities.
“We were just praying for one to take her,” Angela says.
Grace recently completed her freshman year at Belmont University in Nashville. Angela was there by her side, attending many of the classes with her daughter.
“Grace uses a touch letter board to speak,” she says. “She touches a letter on the board that I’m holding up to form words. I have been functioning as her scribe, notetaker, regulation partner, and advocate. All of this has absolutely helped me put my Saint Leo degrees to good use.”
Pushing for More Accessibility for the Autism Community
The parents are constantly doing what they can to ensure their children–and other families–have equal access to the resources they need.
“Try jumping backwards on one foot while doing an algebra problem,” Angela says. “That’s how challenging it can be for those on the spectrum to use their motor skills to communicate.”
The letter board and other forms of technology have been a gamechanger, Angela adds.
“Some kids can’t isolate a finger, so they can’t write,” she explains. “If we can lower the motor demand to access communication, we can give these kids autonomy and change the trajectory of their lives.”
She hopes embarking on her PH.D. program will help her continue to make an impact on the autism community and assistive technology.
“I want to be part of the research that needs to be done to grow these methods of communication or even concepts that have not yet been developed.”
Giving individuals on the spectrum the keys to unlock more autonomy and independence is the bottom line, she asserts.
“The goal is to help them access education.”
Giving Back to the Community
While living in Florida, the Falleurs were very active in the Tampa Bay Letter Board Community. They have since started building a similar foundation in the autism community in Tennessee. Grace currently serves on the Board of directors of the Spellers Freedom Foundation
In addition to their ongoing advocacy work, Angela and Tim both enjoy providing music for their church. Tim plays guitar, while Angela contributes on piano.
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Angela and Tim Falleur and are used with permission.