How Catholic Scholarship Is Helping Saint Leo Students Earn Degrees
Read how the Catholic Promise Scholarship, a college scholarship for Catholic students, has given Saint Leo students access to higher education.
Since its founding in 1889, Saint Leo University has always been rooted in its Benedictine traditions and core values as a Catholic institution of higher education.
To give Catholic students greater access to earning a college degree, the university proudly unveiled its first-ever Catholic Promise Scholarship two years ago.
Maribeth Stevens, the assistant vice president of university and campus enrollment, explains the reasons behind offering such a unique financial aid opportunity in the form of a college scholarship for Catholic students.
"In 2019, we launched the first Catholic Promise Scholarship at Saint Leo under the leadership and support of Dr. Jeffrey Senese, university president, and Dr. Senthil Kumar, vice president for Strategic Enrollment Management," Stevens says. "This scholarship was designed to bring the cost of a high-quality, private, liberal arts education within the reach of Catholic high school students in the state of Florida."
The Catholic scholarship was then expanded to be even more inclusive. It is now available to students graduating from Catholic high schools nationwide.
"As a Benedictine Catholic institution, the Catholic Promise Scholarship was designed to demonstrate Saint Leo University's commitment to promoting accessibility to and affordability of Catholic higher education," Stevens adds. "This scholarship will help honor the commitment of students and families to Catholic education at both the high school and university levels. It is our hope that students who may not have originally considered to continue their Catholic education after high school will be encouraged and financially able to do so with the help of this stackable scholarship that can be combined with our merit scholarships."
The award is a stackable $3,000 amount per year. This Catholic scholarship can be combined with a student's academic scholarships, ranging from $10,000 to $14,000 per year. This means students can receive up to $17,000 in funding per year through this combination. However, the Catholic Promise Scholarship cannot be combined with athletic aid.
Full-time students at University Campus are eligible for the scholarship. In addition, students must meet the following criteria:
Sofia Wharton is a freshman in the BA in criminal justice degree program at Saint Leo University. The 19-year-old is a native of Dayton, OH but spent most of her childhood in St. Augustine, FL. She graduated from St. Joseph Academy Catholic High School in 2020.
Wharton says she was brought up in a Catholic family.
"My parents were both raised Catholic and it's very important to them," she says. "So, they have taught my siblings and I so much about the Catholic faith. We attend Mass regularly and recently have been doing a lot for Lent. I'd say we are definitely a typical Catholic family and consider ourselves deep in our faith."
As a youth, she recalls going to Sunday school regularly and decided she wanted to attend a Catholic high school.
"After I started attending St. Joseph Academy, my younger sister saw a difference in me and so she and my brother both decided they wanted to attend the same school."
It was a connection at the family's Catholic church through which her mom learned about Saint Leo University.
"We then found out about the Catholic Promise scholarship and looked into it more," she explains. "I was originally thinking of doing the education program, but I decided to do criminal justice instead. I thought the crime scene house was really cool, and I talked to Dr. Joseph Cillo about the great connections the university has with the FBI and other opportunities I wouldn't be able to get at other schools."
In addition, the comforting vibe she got on campus reminded her of her high school.
"It was like St. Joseph Academy with a family-oriented environment. I didn't get that from any other schools I toured."
And how did it make her feel to be offered the scholarship and get accepted into Saint Leo?
"It was really exciting to get the package in the mail which mentioned everything about the scholarship and my acceptance," she says. "I decided that I didn't want to spend my money anywhere else except at Saint Leo University. It means a lot to receive such a tremendous amount of financial aid. It makes me feel very secure financially. It also makes me feel happy emotionally knowing that Saint Leo University truly cares about their students and that they would start a scholarship program for students who are invested in their Catholic faith."
In the fall of 2020, she enrolled in the bachelor's in criminal justice degree program on campus. In addition to Dr. Cillo, she has enjoyed taking a class with Prof. Bill Elders.
"He has a really interesting background," she says. "His wife also currently works in law enforcement and she came and spoke to our class. It was nice to hear her perspective and ask her questions. This made me feel more comfortable in knowing that this is the type of career I really want to pursue."
She was involved in a work-study program for Facilities Management on campus and enjoyed the experience.
"I handled work orders for students with any issues in their residence halls, delivered packages, and filed paperwork. They worked with my class schedule and made it very convenient for me to work for them."
Personal development is the Saint Leo University core value she has connected with most as a freshman.
"In my first year here, I've learned to do so many things on my own and have developed so much as a person. It's been nice to have this practice because I know this will be a big part of being successful in my criminal justice classes and working in law enforcement as well."
She plans to go into the FBI Academy and wants to pursue a career in fraud and homicide investigations.
Deisy Baumgardner, 19, is a freshman in the bachelor's in biology with a biomedical and health sciences concentration degree program at Saint Leo University.
A native of Colombia, she was adopted and moved to Fort Myers, FL at age seven. Her older sister, Erika, is currently a junior at Saint Leo as well.
A 2020 alumna of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, she says she started learning about Catholicism upon moving to Florida.
"I started going to private schools at that point and really got into my Catholic faith," she recalls. "I have done altar serving and have attended vacation bible school. My faith is something I strongly believe in. It has helped my family and I get through some tough times and remain strong. I try to attend Mass every Sunday. During COVID-19, I've streamed some of the services online."
She remembers taking religion classes in school and also getting to make a difference in the community with her peers.
"We went over to Melbourne, FL on the east coast. We helped single moms clear out their storage units and do some painting for them. It was a great community service event."
Baumgardner found out about Saint Leo University thanks to her older sister.
"I did some research on the school and looked into the biology degree program. I really liked what I saw and it was one of my top two choices for college."
She applied for the Catholic Promise scholarship award.
"They told me about the scholarship when I took a tour of the campus," she says. "I knew it would really help my family and I pay for school. When I found out that I was getting it, I was truly at a loss for words. I was so humbled and happy to get such an amazing opportunity like this."
She chose the biology degree program with a biomedical focus because of her current career goals.
"I'm thinking about becoming a traveling occupational therapist," she explains. "One of my high school teachers I had in my junior year told me about the biology program she had done in college and why it could be a great option for me. Also, when my grandma was in the hospital, I watched the therapists who helped her. Everything I had ever thought about doing at that point went out the window. I really enjoy helping people and I think this type of work would be very rewarding for me."
She has worked as a life guard for the recreation department. The experience of living on campus has been so positive for her, she explains.
"My roommates have been good and I've made several friends who are so nice and sweet. I've also gone to bingo, movies on the lawn, and other events the RAs have put on. It's nice to take nature walks around campus as well."
She also appreciates her sister being right around the corner on campus.
"Whenever I feel homesick, I go visit my sister and she always makes me feel better."
The freshman is constantly reminded of the core value of community.
"Everyone on campus is very welcoming," she says. "Whenever I need help with something, someone is always there to lend a helping hand with a smile on their face. It makes it feel like home here."
She adds that regardless of one's faith, everyone is fully accepted and respected for their beliefs.
"Our campus is very welcoming to all religions," she says. "If you happen to be Catholic, there are many ways in which you can practice your faith here. We have a priest and monks on campus. There are multiple times to attend Mass, confession, and other activities."