CONTACT | Magazine for Alumni and Friends of St. Thomas University - Fall 2022, Vol. 22

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White House Bobcat in the

The National Museum of African American History & Culture, located on the National Mall, features a lattice-style architecture that symbolizes its mission to stimulate an open dialogue about race. This celebration of diversity is now reflected in the work being done by Michael Leach, a St. Thomas University alumnus, down Pennsylvania Avenue in his new White House role.

A native Chicagoan, Leach joked that he came across St. Thomas University while searching for graduate programs in warmer climates and was pleased to find a “very unique program” in sports administration that was intentional about connecting its students to leaders in the field. He applied and then received an encouraging call from Dr. Jan Bell, who connected with Leach’s story, and “the rest is history.”

“The program was really a supportive, creative, and collaborative learning environment,” Leach said, “and gave students the practical and tangible skills they needed to succeed in the sports world and business.”

Leach then spent time with the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears before moving into labor operations and relations at the NFL Management Council in New York City. As the 2020 presidential election approached, Leach joined then-Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, where he served as the Chief People, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer. He felt called, amidst a time of national unrest and strife, to join a group of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” who shared his values.

“What I admire about President Biden, both now and then, is his willingness to listen and learn from people that may not have been traditionally invited to the table, and to give people agency in the way he leads,” Leach said. “He always tries to understand, deeply, the struggles and fears that the American public is feeling.”

Leach was then appointed the first-ever Chief Diversity & Inclusion Director for the White House, with the commission of Special Assistant to the President, and joined the most diverse White House administration to date. Though his duties vary daily, Leach integrates the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) into the federal workplace through learning and development opportunities that foster connection, community, trust, and collaboration. Whatever the task, he strives to build an inclusive federal workforce that reflects America’s diversity.

“Every person we encounter in life wants to feel seen, heard, and valued,” he said. “Within my role specifically, we recognize that everyone not only within the White House but across the federal government is doing mission critical, meaningful, time-sensitive work for the country.”

The work of DEIA, he said, has been at the forefront of the President’s mind as he has taken office. In the coming years, the federal government will expand its inclusion of traditionally underrepresented populations into its talent pipeline and hiring processes as agencies strive to comply with an Executive Order (EO) on DEIA in the federal workplace, signed by President Biden last June. Leach has and will continue to partner with these agencies to coordinate a “cross-agency, cross-functional effort that unifies leadership, technical assistance, and guidance to agencies as they work to achieve the directives of the EO.”

Throughout this process, he has drawn on two adages: to listen before leading, learned from President Biden, and to intentionally cultivate deep, meaningful relationships with others, learned during his time at St. Thomas. In doing so, he hopes that those he works with will feel seen, heard, and valued for what they bring to the table, both now and in the years to come.

“To deliver on the hopes and dreams and the promise of America, it will take all of us, not some of us,” Leach said, “and we do this [work] one day at a time and one person at a time.”

E Success Ingredients The of

very superhero has an origin story. Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne. And Chef Ana Machado. Hers begins in Rio de Janeiro, where as a child she was infused with the powers of the sun, the beach, and the fun-loving but health-conscious population. At age 22, Ana set off on her hero’s journey. Starting in London, Ana canvased the planet adding to her knowledge at every stop. It was while working and studying in England that she found her true calling: the culinary arts. Ana grew fascinated with the work taking place behind guarded kitchen doors, where an army prepared and plated everything from crepes to high end European fare.

With London as a hub, Ana explored Europe and at each stop added to her growing understanding of classic European preparations. Her next adventure saw her backpacking through Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia expanded her curiosity, so Ana next flew to Sydney, Australia, where she decided to stay, and work at a beachfront restaurant. It was in Sydney where Ana first experienced learning and working inside a kitchen. After a year, America beckoned; Hawaii, Los Angeles, and finally New York, where she enrolled in Peter Kump’s School of Culinary Arts. She quickly rose to Teacher’s Assistant, and took on every available extra project. A chance gig cooking for a Thanksgiving party introduced her to the then CEO of Pan American Airlines, who after tasting just one meal, offered Ana a live-in chef position in his home in Bermuda. The opportunity gave Ana a chance to flex her skills as a menu planner for celebrity guests, and she found herself specializing in healthy spa cuisine. Bermuda’s hospitality industry took notice of the young, rising superstar and gave Ana opportunities to design menus for their biggest hotels.

Alas, Bermuda could not contain our heroine, and after some time in California, Ana finally arrived in Florida, where a series of providential happy accidents brought her to STU. Along with Program Director and Interim Dean of the Gus Machado College of Business, David Edwards, Ana is teaching in the Bachelor’s in Culinary Arts, Tourism, and Hospitality Management program. The program concentrates on the inter-connectivity of the industries and encourages entrepreneurship. Ana can conceive of a revitalized Carroll Hall, housing new teaching kitchens, a demonstration lab, a dining room, and spaces to host student events, as well as outside events. A key element for the program will be a study abroad component. The students will be able to experience the culinary and hospitality industries around the world, and apply ideas to their future personal enterprises.

As a culinary professor, Ana strives to eliminate “fusion confusion”. Although well-versed in the classics, she prefers contemporary cuisine. Wonder Woman Ana is also personal chef to NFL star Nick Bosa, from the San Francisco 49ers. This role has allowed her to shine in designing healthy, diverse, and highperformance menus. This modern approach will be imparted to all the students graduating from the program. “Part of my success as a chef has been my ability to use fresh, colorful foods, and cooking methods to highlight delicious flavors,” explained Ana. Like all superheroes, she has a great desire to elicit superpowers in others. “I can’t wait to watch my students create their own chef stories.”

Ownership Extreme

In only his first year as Head Coach, and only the second year of Swimming at STU, Caesar Asadi has grown the team from 9 athletes to 48. A casual browse through @stu_swimming’s Instagram account might give potential recruits the impression that all is fun and games. One conversation with Coach Asadi quickly rectifies that impression. Asadi has instilled in his diverse team of student athletes the concept of Extreme Ownership. In its simplest form, Extreme Ownership means athletes are responsible for not just those tasks which they directly control, but also for all those tasks that affect whether their mission is successful. That mission is to win, but it is also to constantly strive to better themselves as human beings. Athletically, academically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually, Coach Asadi mentors his athletes to reach beyond that winning touch at the wall, and aim to become the best possible version of themselves.

“For anyone we are recruiting, I do not care how good of a swimmer you are,” Coach Asadi shared. “What I care about is what kind of human being are you going to be while you are at STU? How will you develop into a leader at STU? We are not just building better swimmers; we are building better humans.” He goes on to add that, “as a coach, I have found that when we focus on mental discipline, habit formation, and gradual progression, not only do the athletes become faster swimmers, but better students, and better overall people.”

Rather than futilely chase perfection, the team is invited to fail. At the edges of that failure, the athletes find support from their teammates and coaches, and Asadi believes that the act of overcoming adversity inevitably makes the team stronger. The human vocabulary developed through overcoming difficulties bridges the cultural and language gap between swimmers from Kazakhstan, Brazil, Spain, Uruguay, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Australia, Chile, France, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and of course, Americans. In the crucible that is the new STU Weight Room and Training Facility, those individual nationalities melt away under the physical regiments dreamed up by STU strength coach Nathan Scola and Coach Asadi. The rigorous training outside the pool augments the hours spent in the water, all with the goal of bringing STU its first National Championship. “At our last General Assembly meeting, President Armstrong publicly challenged me to bring home the gold,” recounted Asadi. Coach and team accepted the challenge, and in March of 2022, at the NAIA Swimming Nationals, Inigo Marina won the gold in the Men’s 200-yard Breaststroke finals, bringing STU its first ever National Championship.

President Armstrong was watching and cheering the team on all season long. At this year’s first meet, indeed the first meet ever in program history, Armstrong was poolside and in the broadcast booth, lending his voice and energy to a day that saw the Bobcats victorious. Asadi recalls that meet fondly. “We are doing some amazing things here. We are growing at a rate that is sometimes hard to keep up with. I am grateful for the opportunity Athletic Director Bill Rychel has given me. I am grateful for the support of President Armstrong. And I am working to take this program to heights that will reflect my gratitude.”

The team’s growth and continued success are inevitable due to Coach Asadi’s infectious personality and work ethic. At only 24, Asadi is barely older than his athletes. However, his vast competitive swimming experience, his degree in Biology, and his classroom teaching experience have shaped him into a mentor that commands respect and dedication at all times. A life-changing automobile accident rendered Asadi unable to walk for months, and doused his first calling of joining the Navy Seals. On the doorstep of Officer Candidate School, Asadi had to reevaluate his life after a medical discharge. Fortunately, he returned to his first love, swimming. The pool served as therapy to heal his broken body, and as the inspiration for all the things still to come.

Building better humans seems a lofty aspiration, but it only takes watching one session of practice featuring STU Swimming and those aspirations are made flesh on the smiles, attitudes, and winning performances of Bobcat athletes. The widest of those smiles belongs to Coach Asadi. “If you want to come to Miami, if you would like to join a family, if you would like to be part of something greater than yourself and enjoy yourself while doing it, St. Thomas University’s swimming and diving program is for you.”


Housed within the St. Thomas University College of Law, the Benjamin L. Crump Center for Social Justice endeavors to create an army of social engineers; future attorneys that will advocate for the marginalized, the victimized, and the disenfranchised. As a top school for minority students, the STU College of Law is particularly well suited to take on the work of the Center.

President David A. Armstrong, J.D. credits the College of Law’s former Dean, Tamara Lawson, for engaging the civil rights icon, Ben Crump, in the work and mission of the College of Law and for convincing him that St. Thomas University was the right home for the Center. Crump himself noted, “Dean Lawson was relentless. She helped me understand that establishing the Center will help create the next Thurgood Marshall, the next Kamala Harris, the next generation of lawyers who will go fight for those who have no voice.”

Lawson and Crump’s vision has yielded a Center that not only trains lawyers, but also gathers data and empirical evidence, and analyzes treatises on Constitutional law. The power of their vision was recognized early on by Truist Financial Corporation. As reported in the Miami Herald, the Center’s initial funding came from a one-million-dollar leadership grant from the Truist Charitable Fund. “After George Floyd, a lot of corporations made public commitments to social justice, and pledged millions. Months later, and after some intensive press scrutiny, those pledges and the accompanying investments have disappeared. But, thanks to Truist’s leadership, and our shared vision, we have helped them honor their commitment to social justice,” noted Crump. A growing wave of

interest in the center following Truist’s gift led to an anonymous donor committing another $1.5 million to the Center.

The Catholic church’s social teachings emphasize that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. The Crump Center focuses on the dignity of all people, and it seeks to promote a robust dialogue among policy makers, law enforcement, the judicial system, and affected communities. The expressed function of the Center, the elimination of injustice through education and advocacy, is fueled by what Mr. Crump refers to as “weapons of righteousness” within the U.S. Constitution. It is this multi-pronged approach to the pursuit of justice that differentiates the Center, and reinvigorates the College of Law’s commitment to solving problems of a complex and changing society through excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service.

Referring to the civil rights tenants contained in the Constitution, Mr. Crump has said, “we have to make these dead words on a paper a glorious reality, and we are the only people who can do that.” Beyond demonstrations, “dead words”, and promises of support, ultimately, it will be the work performed by the resolute social justice champions, including those associated with the Crump Center, that will drive change. President Barack Obama once said, “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” President Obama’s words infuse the Center and its partners with purpose, and compel its work. The Benjamin L. Crump Center for Social Justice is a place where people of conviction and courage teach, learn, and ultimately wield the legal tools to excise racism and discrimination wherever they may dwell.

Future Back to our

On the Havana campus of the Universidad de Santo Tomás de Villanueva, a decapitated statue stands sentinel. Legend holds that in 1961, Fidel Castro himself wielded the sword that caused the statue of Santo Tomás to lose his head on the day communist forces violently expelled the staff, faculty, and Augustinian friars from the once thriving university. The weathered stone monument marks a key moment in the history of St. Thomas University, as those same Augustinians found refuge in the U.S. and founded Biscayne College, which continues to thrive more than half a century later in Miami Gardens.

Today, Father Rafael Capó and Sister Evelyn Montes de Oca lead a dedicated Campus Ministry team working to reclaim and reestablish such transformational events in STU’s history through the “60th Anniversary: Reframing the Institutional Saga” grant. “The Lilly Endowment funds mission and identity initiatives through the Council of Independent Colleges and NetVUE,” shared Father Capó, Vice President for Mission and Ministry and Dean of the School of Theology at STU. “We see this as a fantastic opportunity to go back to our Augustinian roots in Havana, explore the founding of Biscayne College and– at the request of the Archbishop of Miami– examine how our Catholic identity and mission have evolved through the years as we celebrate our 60th anniversary.” Revisiting history is only the first function of the grant. “The second stage of the grant is to define how our history shapes our Catholic identity and informs our mission today,” Sister Evelyn explained. “Once we have rekindled the zeal for who we are, our renewed knowledge-of-self will dictate how we move into the future. The heart of our Catholic identity will beat stronger, and flow through all our channels to our staff, faculty, and students.”

The initial stages of the grant saw President Armstrong, senior staff, Campus Ministry, and School of Theology personnel visiting Catholic sister schools, Boston College, and Villanova University. There, talks centered on the Catholic intellectual tradition, and how STU can imbue that tradition into every facet of the University. “At Villanova, we met with Fr. Gary McCloskey, who worked at STU for over 25 years,” recounted Capó. “Fr. McCloskey is an expert in Augustinian methodology and pedagogy, and we are excited to apply their techniques throughout our programs of study.” Sister Evelyn added, “STU will continue to be distinctive in our inclusion of Catholic social teaching, solidarity, respect for the dignity of the human person, and the vital relationships between faculty and students, with the goal of not just granting a degree, but forming whole individuals, in mind, body, and spirit.”

In concert with the work of the grant, STU secured a $1 million gift from the Amaturo family that has revitalized what is now known as the Amaturo Family School of Theology. Of note, the Masters in Ministry and Leadership and the Ph.D. in Theology and Ministry have been redesigned and relaunched. “The online programs reflect the hereand-now needs of Miami and our global community, of the Church local and universal,” observed Father Capó. “The Masters and Ph.D. are connected to STU’s curriculum-wide infusion of ethical leadership, and aim to make a global impact.” Along with the development of STU’s Interfaith Leadership Institute, the newly launched programs will be the cornerstone for a future Catholic Center building complex, which will house Campus Ministry, the School of Theology and Ministry, and the Catholic Leadership Household.

Uncharacteristically, the Cuban government has ceded control of the decapitated Santo Tomás to the Archdiocese of Havana. The statue is currently under restoration. Father Capó envisions a day when the statue becomes the architectural focal point of the yet to be erected Catholic Center, and students will once again pray openly to Santo Tomás de Villanueva in his new home, St. Thomas University.

Education Pitching

For many St. Thomas University alumni, the names Professor Richard Raleigh, Coach Al Avila, Coach Pizzolatto, and Father McCloskey are legendary. Florida’s new Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr., Class of 1994, was blessed to have all four as mentors, and as examples of servant leadership and exceptional character. Grounded in the lessons learned while earning a B.A. in Human Resources at STU, Commissioner Diaz first explored the world of politics in 2010, when he ran for MiamiDade County School Board. “I never had any plans to run for office in 2010,” explained the Commissioner, “but by 2012, I was serving in the Florida House of Representatives, an experience I loved, and eventually was elected to the Florida Senate in 2018.” Commissioner Diaz credits the loving support of his wife and family as the drive and inspiration for his evolving career in politics.

On June 1st, 2022, Commissioner Diaz began serving as the 28th Education Commissioner of Florida, after his appointment by Governor Ron DeSantis. “I believe God has a plan. Since graduating from STU, I have spent my career in education, and this opportunity is a big moment for me,” Manny shared. “After ten years in the legislature, I certainly have had an impact on educational policy, but as Education Commissioner my reach is greatly amplified, and allows me to positively affect many lives. It starts in our K-through-12 schools, continues in the state university system, but also includes the Division of Blind Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and many other less thought about specializations housed within our educational system.” The responsibility and opportunities are incredibly exciting for Commissioner Diaz, and his four-year working relationship and synergy with DeSantis should yield transformational changes in Florida’s educational system.

While at STU, Commissioner Diaz was a pitcher for the Baseball Bobcats. During his time as a player, he built a deep network of friendships that have lasted to this day. The Commissioner notes that these relationships have enriched his life, and his former teammates and coaches continue to serve as sounding boards and as a support system for him. He also attributes his experiences in baseball, both as player and coach, as the basis for his success. “To me, baseball is life. All the skills I learned, team building, leadership, mentorship, perseverance, and dedication just to name a few, impact the way I see things and the way I take on life.” The Commissioner feels that athletics can similarly affect the lives of others. “As a country, we spend a lot of money on dropout prevention programs when the number one dropout prevention has always been athletics. Team sports keep students engaged and focused on academics. Beyond school, and whether students realize it or not, overcoming adversity in sports gives you the confidence to take chances in life.”

As a classroom teacher, assistant principal, baseball coach, and now successful politician, Commissioner Diaz has always strived to mimic the mentorship he enjoyed at STU. “I have made relationships with junior politicians from South Florida and across the state. Rather than giving them direction, I share my experiences and some of the pitfalls I have seen, so that they may avoid them.” Diaz added that in his current role as Education Commissioner, he manages a department full of young leaders. “Fostering their development is important for me because I see success as helping aspiring leaders move on to bigger and better things. If your people are moving on and up, you are doing a good job as a mentor and leader.”

In May of this year, Commissioner Diaz was invited to St. Thomas University to celebrate his recent appointment. After a luncheon with family, faculty, and staff, the Commissioner threw out the first pitch for the 2022 Opening Round of the NAIA Baseball playoffs. Cheering from the stands, many of his lifelong friends - including a few of his former baseball teammates - joined current STU Bobcat players and fans in celebrating Florida’s newest Education Commissioner. Diaz confidently took the field, focused on the task at hand, and after a moment of reflection, the rangy right-hander delivered a perfect strike.

Class of 2022

In the Last Four Years...

Record largest incoming first year classes, four years in a row. Largest graduating class in STU’s 60-year history • Over 400,000 square feet of new construction including new residence hall, student center, and Gus Machado College of Business • Gifts to STU without donor restrictions are at a historic high and up 56% year-over-year • Employee giving to the Annual Fund is at 93% • On-campus housing has doubled to accommodate 800 residents

• Launched a Music Department including choir, musical theatre, and band • Received a $1 million gift to dedicate the Amaturo Family School of Theology and launch our fully online Graduate programs in Theology • Ranked #1 for Social Mobility in the South by U.S. News & World Report • First individual National Champion (see p. 6) • Launched the Benjamin L. Crump Center for Social Justice with a $1 million gift from Truist; and an additional anonymous gift of $1.5 million (see p. 8) • Added 12 new sports, bringing the total number of Athletics programs to 28 • Started a Fashion Merchandising Program and held our inaugural Fashion Show • Largest investment in IT network infrastructure in STU history • Created a Culinary & Hospitality Management Program (see p. 4), as well as an Exercise Science Program.

• 23 Countries Represented • 30 US States Represented • 81% Qualified for Pell Grants • 30% First-Generation College Students Class of 2022 Quick Facts • Largest Graduating Class in STU History • 63% Female, 37% Male • 51% Hispanic, 23% Black or African American, 14% White, 2% Asian, 10% Other
CONTACT was produced by STU’s Office of Marketing & Communications. D.C. photography by Susannah Stevens, Michael Leach article by Hayley Hoffman. © 2022
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