Stetson University

Development and Alumni Relations - Meet Our Staff

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations' role is to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between the College of Law and its alumni. We provide opportunities for alumni, parents, and friends of the College to connect with their alma mater. Our staff works hard to raise money for the College of Law, coordinate volunteer efforts, and provide events that advance and engage our alumni community.

For general assistance, please contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at or 727-562-7818.

John Knowles John Knowles
Executive Director of Development and Alumni Relations

John Knowles serves as executive director of Development and Alumni Relations for Stetson University College of Law. He is responsible for all fundraising and alumni affairs for the institution. Knowles is an experienced advancement and communications executive, and specializes in strategic planning. He is a recognized authority in alumni relations: in addition to his professional background, he was elected to the national board of directors of the Western Michigan University Alumni Association in April 2006 and served for seven years, before term limits cycled him off the board. In July 2013, he was elected to the national governing board of Delta Sigma Phi, one of America's largest fraternal organizations with over 100,000 living alumni worldwide.

Knowles attended the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University, and earned a B.A. in International Relations and Comparative Religion. He also holds a Juris Doctorate from Michigan State University College of Law and a Fellowship Certificate in leadership from Michigan State University. Prior to his present role at Stetson, Knowles served as development and communications director for Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla., where he was recognized in Gulfshore Business magazine's prestigious "40 Under 40" list of rising business stars in southwest Florida.

Knowles and his wife, Jennifer, live in Gulfport and are active in numerous charitable and civic organizations, non-profit leadership roles, and are frequent public library patrons.

Patricia Toups Patricia Toups
Assistant Director of Alumni Relations

A long-time resident of St. Petersburg, Patricia Toups earned her undergraduate degree in business administration from Stetson University. Toups has worked in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations since 2001 in various roles.

As assistant director of Alumni Relations, Toups brings a broad breadth and knowledge to the development team that includes historical timelines, practices and procedures, fiscal management and most importantly, a loyalty and devotion to Stetson Law and its alumni. Toups presently manages the Stetson Law Alumni chapters, alumni reunions, and events designed to involve alumni to create an affinity to the school for mutually beneficial relationships.

Toups previously worked in the Admissions Office at Stetson Law from 1980 to 1984. In 2004, she was one of three employees named Employee of the Year.  Toups received the Dean’s Award for service to the law school in 2007 and 2012.  She has three children and lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. She is proud that one of her children is currently a Stetson Law student.

Abigail Upshaw Helinger Abigail Upshaw Helinger
Assistant Director of Development

Abigail Upshaw Helinger specializes in alumni engagement and providing investors with opportunities to advance Stetson University College of Law through financial contributions and volunteer leadership.

Helinger graduated first in her graduate program from Florida State University (MA) after graduating, magna cum laude, from the University of Georgia (BA). At the University of Georgia, Helinger was initiated into the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. She has served as the president of the Art History Society (2012-2013) and as a member of the Leadership Council of the College of Visual Arts, Theater and Dance (2011-2013) at Florida State University. Currently, Helinger serves as a member of the St. Petersburg Pi Beta Phi Alumni Organization and volunteers as a weekly tutor at the Sallie House in Pinellas County.

Lashanda Lightbourne Lashanda Lightbourne
Administrative Specialist

Lashanda "Shanie" Lightbourne is the administrative specialist in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations where she assists with special projects and events, oversees student assistants, and enjoys working with staff, alumni and students.

Before joining the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Lightbourne worked as an administrative assistant to the associate dean and executive director of Stetson's Tampa Law Center.

Lightbourne worked as a surgical tech in Manatee Memorial Hospital's Labor and Delivery department prior to joining Stetson University in 2009.

Lightbourne has both an A.S., summa cum laude, in paralegal studies from Florida Metropolitan University and an A.S., magna cum laude, in surgical technology from the Sandford-Brown Institute, formerly known as Ultrasound Diagnostic School.

A recipient of the "Top Parent Volunteer" award from the Hillsborough County School Board and Valedictorian of Sandford-Brown Institute , Lightbourne has two beautiful children. She enjoys volunteering, and fills her free time with her children, cultural activities, singing and dancing.

Born in Turks and Caicos Island, Lightbourne grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Suzanne Sousa Suzanne Sousa
Administrative Support

Suzanne Sousa is the newest member of the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. She provides critical support for department-run initiatives, including event coordination, mailings, processing gifts to the College of Law, and updating the University's database.

Sousa has a 20-year history providing administrative support, specifically at the executive level.  She comes from an educational family background, and thoroughly enjoys working with students within higher education.  She began her career at Rochester Institute of Technology (NY) and has also worked locally for St. Petersburg College.  

Sousa has a B.A., with highest honors, from Youngstown State University (OH) and attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania (PA) in Higher Education in Student Affairs. Serving as a SPCA shelter manager for five years, Sousa is very passionate about animal welfare.  She currently volunteers her time with three dog rescue organizations, and spends much of her free time providing community outreach and education. Sousa is also working with local animal service personnel towards advancing the legal status of animals in Pinellas/Pasco counties and statewide.

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