Doctorate in behavioral and community sciences
Vivian Mills’ personal experiences as a biological mother, adoptive mother of four and foster mother to five more children inspired her to pursue research in child welfare policy. Mills’ education and career made her realize that she wanted to impact macro-level change in the child welfare system. Mills earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education (‘01) and master’s in social work (‘19) and is now completing her doctoral degree in behavioral and community sciences – all from USF.
During the pandemic, Mills’ found balancing her work, studies and parenting to be challenging. This led her to consider other interventions to help children in foster care, such as providing biological and foster parents with stronger support systems to help them manage the challenges they face. Mills’ work has prepared her with the knowledge needed for the change she hopes to make. After graduating, Mills will apply her expertise in child and family studies as a postdoctoral scholar at the Florida Institute for Child Welfare at Florida State University.
Bachelor of Science in marketing
Danylo Solomentsev persevered through several major challenges during his academic journey. In 2017, Solomentsev left his home in Ukraine to pursue his studies at USF. He was 16 years old and was determined to learn more about American culture, marketing and business culture. He studied marketing at the Muma College of Business while also pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in Ukraine. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted his studies and internship plans in the U.S., which prompted Solomentsev’s return to Ukraine. Solomentsev refers to the period as the “long pandemic break” where he worked and waited for the opportunity to resume his studies in person.
Solomentsev returned to Tampa in January 2022, just a few weeks before the Russia-Ukraine war began. The event divided Solomentsev’s life in two. Solomentsev’s mother fled for safety but the rest of his family stayed in Ukraine. Despite the constant news of the war, Solomentsev remained focused on completing his assignments and staying on track to graduate. He also sought ways to help Ukrainians affected by the war. Solomentsev teamed up with a small group of Ukrainian and Russian friends at USF and used his marketing skills to help coordinate a campaign that raised more than $7,000 for humanitarian relief. Solomentsev and the team designed branded items such as wristbands, stickers and cupcakes and secured suppliers for tabling and event efforts. After graduation, Solomentsev plans to pursue a master’s degree at USF.
Bachelor of Science in health sciences
Ever since Justice Powe was in high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in prosthetics or orthotics. She first learned about the career path during a bio-engineering class at Hillsborough Community College. Her instructor noticed how much Powe enjoyed drawing and showed her a custom-designed rose gold prosthetic leg. Since then, Powe has been driven to the STEM field with the goal of applying her creativity as well as being an inspiration for her community.
Powe excitedly applied to USF after receiving an invitation from the Black Leadership Network, a partnership-based group focused on enhancing the educational and leadership opportunities for Black and African-American students through scholarships and programs. As a BLN scholar, Powe’s experience at USF was filled with learning and leadership opportunities that made her bloom. Powe credits her “BLN Family'' for helping her learn about financial literacy, building a professional resume and always having a community to rely on. She also became very active as a student and served as a member in several organizations including the Black Student Union, the USF gospel choir, the Black Female Development Circle and Coalition of Black Organizational Leaders. After graduation, Powe will take a gap semester and prepare to resume her graduate studies in fall 2023.
Bachelor of Arts in psychology
Born in the Dominican Republic, Yaniris Garcia-Jerez immigrated to the United States with her mother when she was just three years old. Growing up, Garcia-Jerez struggled with anxiety and depression and felt "insecure" and "stupid" when, in high school, she struggled to find the motivation to complete certain assignments. Everything changed two years ago when, at age 20, she was diagnosed with ADHD while attending USF.
As Garcia-Jerez, who is the first in her family to attend college, prepares to graduate debt-free with a degree in psychology from the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, her vision for the future is clear. She wants to work with others — children, teens and young adults with disabilities — who struggle with their mental health in academic settings. In the meantime, Garcia-Jerez plans to be kind to herself, to continue her work at USF World, where she advises students on study abroad opportunities — like the one she took part in this summer in Florence, Italy — and to apply to graduate programs. She has her sights set on USF's Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program.
Bachelor of Science in finance
Seth Leskanic has had a personal connection with the USF St. Petersburg campus since he was a kid fishing the waters on the edge of campus. Now he is graduating from his hometown university with a perfect 4.0 GPA and is being recognized as a King O’Neal Scholar, which is awarded by the USF Alumni Association.
With an end goal of going to law school, Leskanic came to USF unsure of his undergraduate focus. He grew up learning the importance of personal finance from his parents and was responsible for paying for his car and other bills. This eventually led to an interest in finance. His experience pursuing a degree in the field at the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance, with professors he called “amazing, knowledgeable, helpful and courteous,” left an indelible mark, so much so that he now plans to direct his legal education towards the financial realm. Now his sights are set on attaining a law degree and an MBA in the coming years, with the goal of becoming an attorney for either a financial firm or for a government regulatory agency.
Bachelor of Science in biology and health sciences
While pursuing dual degrees, producing a podcast on race and equity and working as a resident assistant, Alexia Castellon also had to worry about her family in Fort Myers, who evacuated to a shelter during Hurricane Ian. Castellon was supposed to join them as the hurricane approached but wanted first to help students evacuate from campus. By the time she ensured all resident students had a plan in place, it was not safe to drive the two hours back home. So instead, she rode out the storm safely on the St. Petersburg campus. In the end, the Castellon family was fortunate to have only minor damage to their home, but they lived without power for the next two weeks and struggled to feed their large family. With limited communication, it was challenging at times for Alexia to focus on the demands of classes and extracurricular activities.
During her four years on the USF St. Petersburg campus, Castellon has grown into a confident and involved student. She’s a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Council, Student of Color Advisory Board and a volunteer at Mi Gente MI Pueblo, a nonprofit organization in the Tampa Bay area that helps Latine families continue to plant roots and call this area home. Castellon’s Bolivian American heritage also inspired her to create a podcast at USF called “Chips with SOCAB.” The platform allows students to speak their truths about important issues on campus and in the community involving diversity, equity and inclusion. After graduation, Castellon will take a semester off and volunteer at a local hospital. After that, she hopes to become a nurse and attend the nursing program on the St. Petersburg campus.