Miami-Dade Community College
Although she now says being a leader on campus fits me as
comfortably as a glove, Teresa Womble never imagined the impact she could have as a
nontraditional student. A 46-year-old mother of three and grandmother of nine, Womble says
although she works alongside much younger students, she approaches leading them from a
Florida Leader magazine, First Union National Bank of
Florida, Publix Super Markets, and a national panel of judges are proud to recognize
Teresa Womble, a sophomore in funeral science and business administration at Miami-Dade
Community College, as the 1998 Florida College Student of the Year.
Because Womble herself struggled as a 15-year-old single
mother, she relates easily to many fellow students. A lot of them come from
situations where they didnt get hugs or praises as a child, she says.
Sometimes I sense they just need someone to put an arm around them and say
Dont give up. Its hard today but it will get better
Florida Leader magazine publisher Butch Oxendine unveils the cover
honoring Miami-Dade community college's Teresa Womble, 1998 Florida College Student of the
Year, at the Capitol ceremony in April 1998.
One of the qualities Womble models for her
younger peers is stick-to-it-iveness. I try to stay focused on my goal
of getting an education. In my mind, nothings going to stop me. In leading a
group, Womble takes a similar approach. If people are on the same track, the results
will take care of themselves.
Although Womble believes in delegation, shes not afraid
to walk out front. I lead by example. You cant just tell someone what they
need to do you should say, Lets get involved and do it
together. While serving as Phi Theta Kappa chapter president in fall 1997,
Womble organized a debate on ebonics, coordinated a memorial service to honor women
including Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, and planned a Womens Health Issues
for the 90s forum.
Womble gives generously of her time despite a demanding
academic schedule. She offers her expertise as a member of Miami-Dades Council on
Black American Affairs, comprised of 25 faculty and students. In the community, she
packages groceries for the Food for Life Network foodbank for needy individuals diagnosed
with HIV/AIDS. Womble also has participated in an Adopt-A-Grandparent program at a local
retirement center as well as the Kids Reading Hour at Poinciana Park
PTK advisor Marvin Langsam calls Womble the best
weve had come through here. She has a knack for leadership shes very
good at motivating without giving orders, he says. When her followers complete
a task, they say, We did it ourselves, but they are motivated by her.
Womble currently is public relations chair for the Mu Epsilon chapter.
According to MDCC Honors Program Director E. Carter Burrus,
Jr., From the moment Teresa came in, her presence was one of leadership. She
doesnt push herself to the forefront, but she gets her goal or mission
In addition to her honors program involvement, Womble serves on
the schools Womens History Month, Black History Month, and Programming and
Legislative Action committees. In her role as president of MDCCs Student
Organizational Council, Womble unifies representatives of all campus groups and promotes
Even though Womble doesnt put herself in the spotlight,
her contributions dont go unnoticed. She was recognized as a member of the 1997 USA
Today All-Florida Academic Team and was one of 25 PTK members nationally to receive
the George O. Bierkoe Distinguished Member Award in April 1997.
Wombles dedication to any project at hand is evident.
So many times, I see people who are not committed, says Womble, who is
completing two associate degrees at the same time. They stop attending meetings and
the group falls apart. Although conflict and failure are not the most pleasant parts
of leading, Womble faces them head-on. I like harmony, but as a leader, its up
to me to make others realize its OK to disagree, she says.
Even as she heads up a group or task, Womble is good at setting
aside her personal opinion. You cant go in with your own agenda you
need to include everyone in your group to give them a voice. It has helped me to get
feedback, and plus you get some downright good creative ideas.
While integrating input from others, Womble says effective
leaders also keep the big picture in mind. A good leader has to be a visionary and
be able to see the scope not just for today, but in the future that helps a group
grow and fulfill its mission.
To support herself, Womble works as an insurance agent and as a
funeral consultant. Womble also is active in the political arena, coordinating and serving
as co-moderator for three Political Public Forums prior to local elections in November
As Womble looks forward to getting her associate degrees and
moving on to a four-year institution, she plans to continue preaching the value of
achievement in and out of the classroom. Its amazing how things have worked
out so much better for me because Im involved and make it a point to be a part of
whats going on.
Womble attributes her success not so much to her extraordinary
talent, but to dedication and the strength she derives from her relationship with God.
My mother was a missionary, and I never thought of myself as being one, but I
am, Womble says. Its what God has ordained us to do to help each
other. I have a caring, nurturing spirit. The more I give, the more I receive.
While most student leaders impact their campuses in a variety
of ways, 23-year-old Christie Cohn sees each of her positions as a vehicle to further her
favorite cause: bringing the deaf and hearing communities closer together. My mom
was the one who originally got me involved with sign language, says Cohn, who at 16
first took a class with her mother. I just fell in love with the language. I was
learning about a group of people who have traditions, idioms, jokes, and stories and have
lived through suppression and discrimination. It was in essence a culture that people
really dont recognize, because there isnt a deaf America theres
not a land of the deaf so its more hidden.
Florida Leader magazine, First Union National Bank of
Florida, and Publix Super Markets proudly recognize Christie Cohn of Barry University as
first runner-up of the 1998 Florida College Student of the Year Award.
Since completing interpreter training at Miami-Dade Community
College in 1992, Cohn has worked as an interpreter, taught American Sign Language courses,
presented lectures, and tutored deaf students and their families. A lot of the
younger deaf dont really set their mind on a university degree, says Cohn, who
uses her earnings as an interpreter along with scholarships and loans to pay for school.
They dont know much about sex education and AIDS, and in fact, a lot of their
families have not learned sign language, she says. If you cant tell your
child, Hey, what do you want for dinner? you cant say to them,
Theres a disease out there that could kill you.
A visible campus leader shes Travel and Tour Chair
for the Campus Activities Board, Secretary of Ambassadors, and a tutor and student rep for
the Psychology Department Cohn turns every curious students inquiry into an
opportunity to spread the word. Sign language is very visual, Cohn explains.
People will ask me where I learned it and how they can get involved. That opens up
communication and I can educate even on a one-to-one basis.
In her quest to bring two worlds together, Cohn doesnt
limit her work only to opening up new avenues for deaf students. On the flip side of
that, Im trying to let people in the hearing world know that deaf individuals
arent like the old phrase deaf and dumb, she says. The only
difference is they cant hear.
Cohn founded Signs And Wonders (SAW) in 1994, a performance
group that promoted deaf culture awareness through the arts and entertainment. Cohn also
teamed up with local vocalist Diane Ward to sign at her concerts and in a music video for
The Gift to benefit the Riccardia Childrens Program, part of the Health
Crisis Network for kids with AIDS. While at MDCC, Cohn also studied abroad, taking her
skills as an interpreter to Switzerland, England, France, and Italy.
Cohn says its essential for leaders to have an open mind.
No matter what you do, youre going to be faced with a variety of opinions,
cultures, and backgrounds, she says. If youre going to want the people
who work with you to follow you or agree with you, then you have to know what their
concerns and needs are.
In just being around the deaf, I understand
discrimination to an extent, Cohn says. I can see how people react to them,
and I can indirectly see how frustrating it can be to be discriminated against you
cant really do anything about it, because if youre deaf, youre deaf, and
when youre black, youre black.
Leadership is an assumed role for Cohn, who is generous with
her time and unlikely to miss an opportunity to meet an organizations needs. I
just fell into certain positions. Ive never really said, I want to join
because I want to become president. For example, as vice president of her MDCC
Phi Theta Kappa chapter, Cohn ended up filling the Five Star Program Coordinator post she
created to track the groups progress and achieve the goal of becoming a Five Star
According to Kathy Bunting, director of student activities at
Barry, Shes outstanding. Shes always there to lift everybody up and get
them excited about what theyre doing. Bunting adds that Cohns
involvement in the programming board opened doors for deaf students who may have faced
communication barriers before. She doesnt need to be in the spotlight
thats not her focus, Bunting says. She may not always be the leader of
the group, but shes the driving force behind it.
Christie has taught me to be strong, think positive, and
trust in myself, says Vivian Diaz, a Barry University student for whom Cohn has
tutored and served as interpreter for four years. Christie has taken her time on
Saturdays to help me with my SCUBA Diving class. Christie herself had to join the class so
she can understand everything clearly in order to help me.
As a friend to her deaf peers, Cohn passes along the empowering
message she grew up with: anything is possible if you set your mind to it. My
parents have always raised my sister and I that we can do whatever we want, and when we
choose a goal, to do it to the best of our ability, says Cohn, whose greatest reward
is seeing others live up to their potential. When I see others succeed, I know
University of North Florida
Careys first task when he took office as SGA vice
president in fall 1997 was to repair the holes in the groups relationship with the
student body and campus administrators. It was very adversarial and
tumultuous, he recalls. I first started with the senate and tried to foster
relationships. If you do that, you convey a message of sincerity, and when it comes time
to take issues to the table, youve got peoples trust.
Carey, 23, quickly climbed the SGA ladder, serving first as
budget and allocations chair, then senate president, and finally as director of student
lobbying before running for his current position of vice president. As director of
lobbying, he organized Take Over Tallahassee, busing SUS students statewide to the capital
to strengthen relations with legislators. As he talked to student lobbyists across the
state, Carey built a network of contacts he uses today.
When Carey works with university officials, he arms himself
with facts and strategies. Im a big believer in statistical analysis we
survey our students often. One way Carey tracks student opinion is through the
SGA-sponsored Courtyard Chats, monthly functions at which students air their concerns with
SGA staffers and key administrators. The students can have one-on-one
conversations, Carey says. Theres no triangle of communication. What
better way than to have the actual decision-maker there. The students know we are here to
Being assertive when it comes to uncovering students
concerns is just common sense to Carey. In the past, student leaders here
werent out in the trenches, finding out what students want. There is apathy on every
campus, but its your job to go out and find the problems.
Although Carey is ambitious, having recently campaigned for the
SGA presidency, with plans to shoot for the chairmanship of the statewide Florida Student
Association, his focus remains on doing whats best for students. My basic
approach is communication and education. If everybody knows whats going on and how
to do their job, more often than not, theyre going to do it well. In addition
to his civic and academic involvements, Carey has supported himself through school with
full-time jobs as a pharmacy technician and student body vice president and a part-time
job as a vocalist and lead guitarist for the band Still Life.
While Carey is easygoing, he refuses to apologize for having
high expectations. The people who choose to follow me also understand that
excellence is zero defects, he says. We dont want anything to go wrong,
but if it does, were willing to adapt and adhere to those changes.
Recent opportunities for Carey to broaden the context in which
he practices leadership include a trip with civic leaders to Jackson-villes sister
city, Port Elizabeth, South Africa and participation in the inaugural class of College
Leadership Florida in summer 1997. There are so many issues facing Florida, he
says. Until my generation addresses them, its going to be an ongoing
Florida State University
For Dana Hill, finding her niche at a large university, then
teaching younger students how to do the same, has been the most rewarding aspect of her
campus leadership. The Ocala native describes her time as an orientation leader and
trainer as one of my most incredible experiences here I wouldnt trade
it for anything. I try to get across how different college is from high school, and I
encourage students to have an open mind. As a member of the orientation staff, Hill
helped present a collage of dramatic skits entitled Handle With Care designed
to raise incoming students awareness about issues including cultural diversity, drug
and alcohol use, date rape, and homosexuality.
In her leadership roles as vice president of the Student Alumni
Association, former Lady Spirithunter, and member of Burning Spear, Hill has endeavored to
teach future Seminoles the value of school spirit and cooperation. Being in Spear,
you meet leaders from all over campus and you get to see how the school is growing and
changing and see what would best benefit it as a whole.
Hill also enjoys reaching out to FSU alumni to share the
accomplishments of current students. A lot of them dont realize that college
kids today are good people, Hill says. We have quite a few alumni who come
back to a lot of events or call us and like to keep in touch.
Involvement in Phi Mu and in the Greek system has provided Hill
with her strongest roots at FSU. My sorority became a family to me when I first came
to Florida State, she says. I had the security of 120 girls who loved and
supported me. It provided me with a base to branch out to the rest of campus.
Hill has indeed reached beyond organizing exchange dinners
between sorority chapters and initiating a designated driver program. She currently serves
as assistant internal director for FSUs Dance Marathon, a campuswide fund raiser
that benefits the Childrens Miracle Network, and is active in ODK and as a Seminole
Ambassador. In the community, Hill teaches four-year-olds at St. Thomas More Catholic
Church and has tutored migrant child-ren in Project Amistades. She also helped with a
Headstart reading intervention program as part of a directed individual-study course at
Most recently, Hill went to Washington, D.C. through FSUs
Center for Civic Education and Service to work with HIV/AIDS patients in a soup kitchen
and daycare center. When she leads others, Hills approach is one of partnering.
A leader is someone who will do the work along with everyone else, she says.
You should realize your responsibility to those youre leading, not only to do
a good job with your present task, but to build an organization thats going to last
far into the future.
As she completes her third year on campus, Hill feels a deep
obligation to encourage younger students. If you dont have a mentor, it can be
hard to see where to go, says the 20-year-old who supports herself through school
with scholarships, savings, and part-time jobs as an orientation leader and an assistant
in the psychology advising office. I want to give a piece of myself to the
university to be part of something that positive is amazing to me.
University of Miami
When Shannon Neville is praised for being an outstanding
student leader, she acts like its all routine a lesson in modesty she learned
from her father, who also was her softball coach. He taught me a lot about
discipline and following through, says the 21-year-old.
Neville got involved early on at the University of Miami.
I was like, Im not going to be like that in college Im just
going to study, she says. That lasted two weeks. Since her
freshman year, Neville has been one of UMs most visible campus leaders,
participating in more than two dozen groups, including five honor societies and the elite
As Speaker of the Senate in Student Government, Neville mentors
45 student senators and serves on several college committees. She says her passion for
leading helps her overcome obstacles, such as when she worked to create 24-hour library
access. When I started the project, people laughed and said, It will never
happen its been tried before. But six months after she convinced
library administrators to give the idea a try and worked through financial and security
issues, Neville was happy to report big numbers and good feedback from students.
An inaugural participant in College Leadership Florida, Neville
also is vice president of Alpha Epsilon Delta and an active member of the Womens
Resource Center Program Board, ODK, Mortar Board, and the Cinematic Arts Commission. She
says knowing your limits is part of being an effective leader. I see so many things
Id like to change, Neville says. But if you take on too much,
youre not going to be exceptional in anything.
In addition to her leadership responsibilities, Neville plays
on UMs fast-pitch softball team and helps out in the community as a volunteer at the
Miami Heart Institute and as a Funday Executive Committee member. She also is a licensed
First Responder and is certified in CPR.
Armed with a big fat planner that is my bible,
Neville pencils in daily commitments to manage her time. The last few years,
Ive had to write in things like lunch, work out, and
sleep, says Neville, who also works as an administrative assistant in
UMs Smith Tucker Involvement Center and as a master tutor for the College of Arts
and Sciences to support herself.
My biggest strength is helping others take stock in the
organization that theyre in by giving them projects and letting them know
theyre an integral part, says Neville, who enjoys reading about leading and
working with different personality types. Thats the way you get people
motivated and get them involved.
Neville sees the education of youth as the biggest challenge
for leaders today, which explains her desire to nurture upcoming campus decision-makers.
I try to consciously cultivate and encourage them, says Neville, who has
taught an Emerging Leaders class at UM. I try to make sure that the things
weve encouraged and the lessons weve learned arent lost.
Daytona Beach Community College
My family, without a doubt, is the biggest motivating factor in
my life, says 24-year-old Susan OKeefe, who made a major life change in 1994
when she enrolled at DBCC. I was 19, waiting on tables, married, and pregnant, and I
decided that was something I didnt want to do until age 65, with no retirement and
nothing to give my children.
After adjusting to college classes and realizing nontraditional
students were underrepresented as campus policy-makers, OKeefe decided to encourage
others by getting involved. In 1997, she became DBCCs first woman Student Government
Association president, as well as District II Legislative Liaison for the Florida Junior
and Community College Student Government Association. Under her leadership, SGA introduced
seven new clubs, sponsored community-wide events, raised funds for a students liver
transplant, and organized a forum on the Cassini Space Probe launch.
OKeefe also is the first DBCC student to hold a national
office. As Southeast Regional Director for the American Student Association of Community
Colleges, she carries the concerns of two-year college students to Washington.
Decisions on financial aid matters are made in D.C., so you cant even address
it at the state level, says OKeefe, who has discussed Pell Grant increases and
other issues with Sen. Connie Mack, Sen. Bob Graham, and Rep. Corrine Brown. OKeefe
also met her goal of calling every community college SG president in Florida to research
concerns and provide updates about ASACC.
The post also has allowed OKeefe to champion an issue
close to home. Theres been talk about not allowing college prep classes to be
funded by financial aid. House Bill 1545 was huge for our student body, says
OKeefe, who had to take a preparatory math class herself when she started college.
Any apprehensions OKeefe had about serving as SGA
president were dispelled during a leadership retreat. We had to walk across a
balance beam blindfolded, and my goal was to depend on other people. As I was walking
across, I thought, This is my whole year in front of me, reflects
OKeefe, who gives her fellow officers all the credit for their successful term.
You can hardly call one person a leader. I feel like its a team with one goal:
to be an advocate for students.
In the community, OKeefe has participated in the March of
Dimes Walk America and Easter Seals events and secured donations for a terminally ill
student. She also supports herself and her family as senior office assistant at
DBCCs information desk and in the records office.
Keefe cant pinpoint her biggest accomplishment.
Its all just little things that make big differences here and there, she
says, adding that shes not so much a role model as a poster child for Floridas
community colleges. This system gave me a second chance. It remediated me and gave
me the opportunity to excel, OKeefe says. Im not some amazing
person. Its just that I took advantage of a wonderful opportunity right in my
Jacob Reimer believes every human has an equally valuable role
to play. Leadership only entails a set of responsibilities. It doesnt
necessarily involve any inherent authority, says Reimer, 22. Not everyone can
be involved in running an organization. The people making decisions about student
government arent doing anything more important than the people who are holed up in
their rooms working on their theses.
As co-president of the New College Student Alliance, Reimer
runs Town Meetings called by students to discuss issues or request funding. It
places a lot of power in the individual students hands, says Reimer.
Im starting to see the role of co-president as a facilitator and information
provider rather than single-handedly being responsible for decisions. Alliance
officials help facilitate building projects such as the new student-designed Four Winds
Cafe where Reimer works.
The part of my brain that really likes to organize
leads Reimer to get involved. I like to work behind the scenes, he says.
Reimer has revitalized the campus radio station, helped coordinate two Palm Court Party
charity fund raisers, and established the world-news column Outside the Ivory
Tower in The Catalyst campus newspaper. Reimer subsidizes his financial aid
package with summer-job income and a student government stipend.
When confronting conflict, Reimer is a solution-oriented
mediator. If theres an argument over principles, I dont get involved.
Id rather concentrate on actions that can be taken, says Reimer, who reasons
that the only way moral arguments can end is to allow differing opinions to coexist.
Asking people for specific suggestions immediately takes away the emotional drive
and creates an atmosphere where resolutions can be achieved.
Raised on a small farm in Pennsylvania, Reimer says he
doesnt leave campus much, nor does he own a car or watch TV except for an
occasional Simpsons episode. The schools so small, it tends to become a world
in itself, he says. At one point, Reimer took a semester off to drive solo across
the U.S. in a $400 car painted with blue stars and white stripes. With no destination in
mind, Reimer ended up in Montreal, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where
he took a boat to Alaska. Down the road, Reimer sees himself perhaps involved in an
alternative energy project or in design science to influence societys quality of
life by encouraging humans to make deliberate choices about their material environment.
Fascinated by the idea of community, Reimer lives in the
slum of New College, an older dorm designed to facilitate communal living. As an
active participant in his community, Reimer isnt frustrated by what traditional
campus leaders might call student apathy. What I do feel more and more a
responsibility to do, is to try to trust that if people are provided with the information
and opportunity to make decisions about the school, that a sense of self-determination
will develop, Reimer says. My job as co-president is to provide as many
opportunities for creative involvement as possible.
Honorable Mention Winners
Nichole AdamsRollins College
Carla ArmorganBarry University
Cristal BrunoNew College
Jennifer EhrhardtUniversity of West
Aline KokisLynn University
Ian LaneUniversity of Florida
Ingrid LimUniversity of Florida
Celestine MararacJacksonville University
Amanda MarderStetson University
Daniel McCabeFlorida State University
Jeffrey RogersFlorida Community College
Jodi ThomasManatee Community College
Matthew YarberPasco-Hernando Community
Are You a
Tell us what you're doing now
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Read the articles about the winners as they
appear in Florida Leader's Student of the Year issue. You'll
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Teresa Womble (37K)
Christie Cohn (43K)
John Carey & Dana Hill (30K)
Shanon Neville & Susan O'Keefe
Jacob Reimer (22K)