Eckerd College names first class of Eastman Leaders

Published April 30, 2020
Five student head shots in a collage

Left to right: Sophomores Morgan Bower, Kathryn Genovesi, Alex Gordon, Leah Totman and Summer Vishnu named 2020 Eastman Leaders

Perhaps, the future is female. The catchy slogan certainly holds true for the inaugural cohort of The Donald and Christine Eastman Citizenship and Leadership Program, which includes five ambitious Eckerd College women.

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Suzan Harrison announced on April 21 that students had been selected for the program founded in honor of retiring Eckerd College President Donald Eastman and his wife of more than 50 years, Christine. Selected sophomores will each receive $10,000 to support completion of an individualized discovery plan, which must include participation in at least one study abroad course, an internship, a service-learning project, and additional activities that correspond with the student’s academic and professional goals.

The 2020 Eastman Leaders are Morgan Bower, an environmental studies and international relations and global affairs student from Nassau, Bahamas; Kathryn Genovesi, a political science and environmental studies student from Titusville, New Jersey; Alex Gordon, a political science and environmental studies student from Houston, Texas; Leah Totman, an international relations and global affairs and Spanish student from Phippsburg, Maine; and Summer Vishnu, an environmental studies and sociology student from Mount Dora, Florida.

“Having dedicated our nearly 20 years at Eckerd to improve and enhance the student experience and each individual’s potential, we are honored and humbled that this will be a part of our legacy at Eckerd College,” said President Eastman about the program. “Eastman Leaders will be innovators and future leaders, and I can’t imagine a better way to invest in the future.”

Student on South Beach

Leah Totman, an international relations and global affairs and Spanish student from Phippsburg, Maine

Leah Totman found out about her good news in a happy place, on a nature hike for exercise while spending her Spring Semester at home in Maine during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I saw the email on my phone. It was a fun moment to celebrate in nature,” she said. “I applied to be an Eastman Leader because this program is an unparalleled opportunity for me to improve myself academically while doing the things I love: travel and service work.”

Interested students had been asked to submit the start of their individualized plan, so faculty could evaluate their potential for success in the Eastman Leaders Program. Unsurprisingly, the five applicants chosen have used their first two years at Eckerd to take campus leadership roles as peer mentors, tutors, student club leaders and community volunteers.

Student in front yard

Summer Vishnu, an environmental studies and sociology student from Mount Dora, Florida

Summer Vishnu worked in Campus Activities on top of volunteering with the Edible Peace Patch, a nonprofit that teaches Pinellas County, Florida, elementary schoolers science through growing plants and foods in school gardens. She drew from those experiences to write her individualized plan to travel abroad to New Zealand and study environmental justice and food insecurity in St. Petersburg. “For me, I can’t think about the environment without thinking of the human components of it—such as human impacts, environmental justice and food security,” Summer said.

Student studying abroad

Alex Gordon, a political science and environmental studies student from Houston, Texas

Alex Gordon’s resume includes statewide leadership roles with the community organization group the Florida Public Interest Research Group Students and as a peer mentor, a campus Admission Ambassador and in a position on the Eckerd College Organization of Students Environmental Responsibility Committee. Still, she almost didn’t apply. “It was really daunting to know only five people were going to get it,” she laughed. “I always feel so unqualified for anything. But a lot of people encouraged me to apply. I learned to lean into my qualifications.”

Student hiking in mountains

Kathryn Genovesi, a political science and environmental studies student from Titusville, New Jersey

Part of the plan asked students to answer how they would give back to Eckerd College for making this substantial investment in their futures. Kathryn Genovesi’s plan involved beautifying the campus with a sustainable solution. She suggested partnering with butterfly farms in Costa Rica to bring Florida native species to Eckerd’s campus to create a butterfly garden and natural pollination system. “Hopefully, we can take advantage of St. Petersburg’s vibrant art scene to maybe paint a mural downtown with a QR code that leads to an informational sheet on acid rain’s effect on the ecosystem and pollinators,” she explained.

Student on beach

Morgan Bower, an environmental studies and international relations and global affairs student from Nassau, Bahamas

Morgan Bower’s country, the Bahamas, was rocked by Hurricane Dorian during the Fall Semester, and the needs of her people spurred her to civic action—spearheading a supplies drive—on top of all her other campus responsibilities. Morgan said being an Eastman Leader is more than just money for the students selected. “I saw the program as an opportunity to push myself to achieve the goals that I set before coming to Eckerd, as well as achieve even more. I want to take advantage of all the opportunities it offers to become a better version of myself.”