ST. LEO — An Arizona businessman who earned two degrees from Saint Leo University's online program has donated $4 million to help build a new School of Business.
Don Tapia earned his bachelor's degree in business administration through the Center for Online Learning and returned for an online MBA. His gift is the largest in the school's history. It will be used to help construct a state-of-the-art building that will be named in appreciation of Tapia.
The complex will add 50,000 square feet to the university's main campus and will have nine classrooms, a large lecture hall/boardroom, computer labs and a broadcast technology suite. The building is set to open in time to welcome students for the fall 2011 semester.
"This transformative gift will enable Saint Leo University to continue to provide a world-class education not only through the Center for Online Learning but at a state-of-the-art facility at the main campus in Florida," said Dr. Arthur F. Kirk Jr., president of Saint Leo University. "We would be hard pressed to find a Saint Leo student that this gift will not impact."
Tapia grew up in a rough neighborhood in Detroit and eventually joined the Air Force, where he studied flight control, which later led him to a job as an air traffic controller. Tapia's entrepreneurial spirit would lead him to start his own business, Essco Wholesale Electric Inc., outside Phoenix. He began by selling supplies to contractors and eventually built a multimillion-dollar wholesale company — the largest Hispanic-owned company in Arizona, according to the Hispanic Business 500 list for 2008.
The successful businessman had only a high school degree, but he always preached the value of education to his grandchildren.
For 38 months, Tapia would come to work early and leave at 3 p.m. to take courses online.
It took him 31/2 years to earn a bachelor's degree. During that time neither his family nor friends knew that he was taking classes online. In fact, just before boarding a plane for commencement at Saint Leo in 2005, Tapia mailed his family letters announcing his achievement.
"Online learning is a lot of writing and research, much more so than in a standard classroom," Tapia said in a news release. "Online degrees at Saint Leo are more rigid in time and substance, and when I finished I truly felt that I had put forth the work to earn the degree."
He would go on to earn his master of business administration degree in 2007 through the graduate online offering at Saint Leo's School of Business. Tapia became an honorary member of the TKE fraternity at the university. When he's on campus Tapia is known for taking the brothers of TKE to dinner at one of Tampa's finest steak houses.