Yvonne Smith's story has touched the hearts of people throughout the Saint Leo University community, inspiring those who know her or read about her on the Saint Leo Blog.

Now officially a Saint Leo University alumna, 74-year old Yvonne Smith – mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother – started her journey to earn a college degree seven years ago.

Searching for consolation and new purpose in life after her husband died in 2006, and then her daughter passed away just 10 months later at the age of 41, she found solace and challenge in the pursuit of knowledge and the goal of earning a college degree.

Despite family commitments, relocation, and health set-backs, Yvonne persisted and achieved her dream. She completed her online degree program and earned a bachelor's degree in liberal studies this spring through Saint Leo University's Center for Online Learning.

In recognition of her perseverance and for being an outstanding representative of Saint Leo University, Yvonne was named this year's recipient of the Dr. Michael Rogich Endowed Center for Online Learning Student Award.

Award named for computer science professor

Dr. Rogich is currently a professor in the Computer Science and Information Systems Department in Saint Leo's Donald R. Tapia School of Business. Prior to joining the full-time faculty, he directed the Center for Online Learning for 10 years, helping to develop it as a convenient method to deliver rigorous, high-quality degree programs for students at any location worldwide.

"When people show concern for you, you always want to do your best."

Health issues prevented Yvonne from travelling to University Campus to participate in commencement ceremonies – as so many online students from around the country do – and receiving the award and check in person.

So a seemingly routine phone call from her student advisor, Mayra Taverez, and Zulie Mendoza, student services manager, became a surprise award presentation involving multiple COL administrators.

"Yvonne is exactly the type of student this award is meant for," said Zulie Mendoza. "She is a true inspiration and seeing her achieve her goal is what makes the education industry so rewarding."

The day after receiving the award, Yvonne wrote:

"Ms. Zulie and Ms. Mayra, both of you knew I was getting burned out, what with my health issues and really wanted to quit, but your calls and e-mails really pulled me out of my rut.

"Any student entering Saint Leo will be fortunate to have all of you to give them a hand-up. I don't know why I was chosen for the award, but for lack of a better word, at the moment, all I can say is thank you. I only wish my husband and my parents were alive to witness this.

"What an amazing group of people and a wonderful school.

"When people show concern for you, you always want to do your best."

What's holding you back from starting your college degree?

Image Credit: Courtesy Yvonne Smith

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