Charting Successful Paths

Abigail Gavin

Public Health and Health Policy

Abigail Gavin

Abigail Gavin is empowered to improve the lives of others by helping them transfer poverty into personal power.  

Growing up in Utah, Gavin experienced food insecurities, being unsheltered and encountering other unfortunate circumstances for survival.

Working as a janitor in a school in Utah, Gavin shouldered the responsibility for caring for her younger sibling by putting his needs before hers. 

“Wouldn’t it be so nice if I could have been one of those cool, smart people who could go to college?” Gavin shares.

She recalled life was difficult as a young adult without a high school diploma.

Yet, within her yearned an unstoppable, encouraging, hopeful and determined will to live a better life.

She decided to take her brother to Buffalo, New York, for vacation.

While visiting her mother, Gavin was encouraged to take a GED class held on a college campus.

The educators and the college atmosphere inspired Gavin to go further.

What started as a vacation turned into the opportunity to earn a GED and associate’s degree. 

“I caught up and earned 4.0-grade point averages every semester,” says Gavin. “I worked so hard doing the extra reading. I was tutored a lot, watched YouTube videos and met with so many amazing people who helped me graduate.”

However, her graduation was during COVID, and she did not have the chance to participate in a proper graduation ceremony.

After completing her associate’s degree, Gavin was determined to serve in the medical field in any capacity she could.

“I called an urgent care center every week for a few weeks until they hired me,” explains Gavin. “They eventually hired me as a medical assistant, patient care representative, and I worked as a volunteer firefighter.”  

Working in this environment exposed the downside of public health care.

“I witnessed people become homeless due to medical debt, die from preventable causes, be charged fraudulent charges with no ability to solve them,” says Gavin. “It was through those experiences that I was inspired to want to discover how I can be involved to change people’s lives.”

After an extensive effort to apply to universities across the United States, Gavin recalls being contacted by an admissions counselor from Stetson. 

“She was so genuine, responsive and showed me that she cared about me before I even applied,” Gavin notes. “Stetson moved to the top of my list.”

Once accepted, it took Gavin no time to get involved with campus life.

She became the president of the public health association, where she and her peers created a health think tank space so students can confidently discuss issues that concern them.

Gavin is a Civic Fellow with Stetson Votes, helping register students to vote under the leadership of Kevin Winchell, associate director of Community Engagement.

The future looks bright for Gavin as she strives to work closely with Asal Johnson, PhD, associate director of Public Health, to advance public health initiatives in the Spring Hill community of DeLand, Florida.  

“Dr. Johnson is amazing,” Gavin comments. “She cultivated a love for the community within us. When she brought Byllye Avery and Ngina Lythcott to campus and met with us changed my life.”

Gavin is so thankful for all her life experiences and having the chance to earn a bachelor’s degree at Stetson.

She has triumphed over so many challenges.

Concludes Gavin: “I feel an urgency to move forward carrying on the type of work to make a difference in people’s lives to help them overcome some of the hard things that I went through, especially concerning their health. I now have that chance.”

-Alicia Scott

Chase Brown

Master of Business Administration

Chase Brown

Stetson checked a lot of boxes for Chase Brown as he sought a place to pursue his higher education: He could play football and thrive academically while remaining near his home in Apopka.

“I heard a lot of good things about the classroom sizes in addition to the student-faculty ratio. That’s one of the biggest things I was looking at when I was choosing a university,” Brown says.

As soon as he walked into his first class, taught by Steven Smallpage, PhD, assistant professor of political science, Brown knew he was exactly where he needed to be.

“Just from my first-day interaction with him, I knew it was going to be a great experience,” recalls Brown, a resident assistant who graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Studies in 2021.

Other mentors shaped his experience as well: Professor of Education Patrick Coggins, PhD, whom Brown describes as a “father figure to me,” as well as coaches Roger Hughes, PhD, and Brian Young. 

As Brown entered his senior year, he began thinking about his next steps. He interned at Blue Ridge Public Relations under double-Hatter and company founder Robbie Harper, who gave Brown the nudge he needed, encouraging him to go outside his comfort zone by pursuing an MBA. 

Brown will capitalize on his MBA experience after graduation in his role as a client services representative at Charles Schwab Corp. His advice to fellow Hatters: Do the uncomfortable things.

“You may not start out in a job you want to go into,” he says, “but you can always make the most of everything you do. You might be a positive influence in someone else’s life as well.”

                                                                                 -Cheri Henderson

Wheza Panzo

Business Administration

Wheza Panzo

Playing college basketball and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business is a dream come true for Mississauga, Ontario, native Wheza Panzo. 

Coming to Stetson, sight unseen, the men’s basketball team guard had a good feeling that this would be the perfect place for his dreams to come true.

“Stetson has taught me how to be a professional in the classroom and build on the principles that my family believes in,” Panzo says.

Panzo shared that having a mother who earned an MBA in Switzerland, and his father a graduate of Ryerson University in Canada, getting a good education was a requirement in his household.

He shares gratitude for the professors at Stetson’s School of Business Administration.

“Professors and the coaches here care for you. They are really hands-on,” adds Panzo.

He specifically shared his appreciation for Scott Jones, PhD, professor of marketing.

“I have learned the value of the ‘behind the scenes’ of sports. Learning the business aspects off the court means a lot to me because when the day comes that I am no longer playing basketball, I want to transition into the business side of sports either in a university setting or the NBA,” Panzo explains.

Time management, balancing basketball practice times, travel schedules, schoolwork and maintaining friendships were the main things that Panzo focused on while at Stetson.

Panzo is quick to smile and make friends. He shared that he was pretty shy when he first arrived on campus. 

“My business classes, specifically Professional Communications, have brought out my personality,” he notes. “Other things like going into the community at the local recreation center or supporting my friends who play soccer and baseball, and them coming to our basketball games, has developed me as a person.”

He shared how happy he has been to call Stetson his home for the past four years. 

“Thank you to all of the coaches who have given me the chance to come here and grow as an athlete,” says Panzo.

“My teammates have become my brothers. We will celebrate life, attend each other’s weddings and visit each other. I am very thankful for them.”

Panzo’s future is bright. 

Whether he plays another year of basketball, attends graduate school or starts a career in sports marketing, he will take his Stetson experiences and make a positive impact.

His words: “Whatever it is, it’s going to be good.” 

-Alicia Scott