Leaps of Faith
What happens when you step out of your comfort zone? Great things.
Risk-taking gets a bad rap. But it’s an essential part of the St. Edward’s University experience. Going after a competitive internship or launching a new venture could lead to failure — or it could result in personal growth and exciting opportunities. For these six students, challenging themselves to take risks paid off in inspiring ways.
It is an accepted cliché that college is the best time of your life.
There’s truth in this, sure, but what is it that makes us utter this line over and over again to incoming freshmen? Yes, there’s the opportunity to study what you’ve always wanted. To spread your wings for the first time (clichés: check and check). But there must be something more.
We talked with six students to try to get at this very thing. We asked them to share one story about their college experience that helped define college as the best time of their lives. What we found? It’s about using the time to try something new. Pushing yourself. Entering uncharted territory. Getting out of a comfort zone.
So, maybe, college is really about taking that cliché and making it your own.
Earlier this year, Luke Schubert ’18 paid a visit to the Career and Professional Development office on the St. Edward’s campus. Then a sophomore, the Communication major from the Dallas–Fort Worth area wasn’t especially worried about his future. But he’d heard good things about the campus resource and thought a quick meeting with a career counselor might be informative.
“What are you planning to do next summer?” asked the advisor who met with Schubert. He replied that he intended to volunteer at a Boy Scouts of America camp, just as he had during previous summers. The advisor handed him a brochure about study-abroad scholarship opportunities sponsored by the Fulbright Commission and said, “This might be a good opportunity for you.”
Schubert took the brochure and, later, when he read it, one thing in particular caught his eye: a program in Bristol, England. For several months, he had been honing his research skills by working in the Austin-area law firm Hilliard & Shadowen, where he helped one of the partners, Steve Shadowen ’80, write a book about 19th-century congressman John Bingham, the principal framer of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Because his research required him to read widely about the abolitionist movement, Schubert knew that the port of Bristol had played a key role in the slave trade, part of the triangular trading system that moved slaves from Africa to the South.
Schubert applied to participate in the U.S–U.K. Fulbright Commission’s University of Bristol Summer Institute for Young American Student Leaders and, after an interview this past spring, was awarded a scholarship for the prestigious program, which draws applicants from around the world. He is spending a month studying the theme “Slavery and the Atlantic Heritage” in Bristol. Schubert, who once spent a week in Spain, says it’s a “dream.” He is eager to see the city, develop a broader understanding of British culture, and perhaps even draw some connections between the city’s history and his John Bingham research. “To me, it’s important to understand the historical perspective and how that formed the discussion about civil rights and ultimately the modern civil rights movement,” he says. “I knew it would be a valuable experience for me.”
In grade school, Maria Cantu ’18 was enthralled with the adventures of television character Lizzie McGuire, a teenage girl with a charmed life and a wild imagination. Lizzie did things that Maria and her friends only dreamed of doing when they grew up. In a Disney movie based on the series, for example, Lizzie travels to Rome, where she is mistaken for Italy’s biggest pop star and falls in love with the star’s singing partner … “Silly, I know,” Cantu says now. “But all my friends and I watched it.”
Cantu thought of The Lizzie McGuire Movie last year when her advisor at St. Edward’s suggested that she should find a way to spend some time abroad. Visiting Italy for two weeks as part of a semester-long ethics course worked with her Social Work major, so her advisor suggested she consider it seriously — and quickly. The deadline was looming. Cantu, thinking of Lizzie, jumped at the opportunity and signed up. “I was scared to tell my parents because I’d never been out of the country except to Mexico. I also didn’t know where I’d get the money to pay for it,” Cantu says. “But I signed up anyway. I told my parents I’d find a way to get the money.”
That leap of faith eventually became a jump across the pond: Last spring, Cantu joined a group of students traveling from St. Edward’s to Rome, visiting the Vatican, touring the Colosseum and the Pantheon, and sampling pasta and pizza in every corner of the city. “Italy has the most amazing food I’ve ever tasted in my life,” Cantu remembers.
Cantu admits she felt some trepidation going into the trip. As she was growing up in small-town Texas, her school and family reinforced messages about personal safety and security. She has taken those lessons to heart, but she’s also realizing there’s a world of adventure waiting out there. “Where I grew up, people don’t think they can travel and get to see the world,” she says. “Having done this trip, I feel like it’s much more possible. It changed my whole outlook: ‘Hey, I did that, so maybe I can do some other things outside my comfort zone.’”
In fact, this summer Cantu will travel to Australia to study in Perth and then Sydney as part of a conservation program. Eventually she’ll meet up with other students, but initially she’ll be traveling on her own — a first for her. If the trip sounds like something Lizzie McGuire would contemplate, Cantu’s concerns might mirror the fictional character’s, too: “I’m really scared about the spiders,” she says. “That’s one thing I’ve heard about, and I’m not a big fan.”
If you like to chill to electronic dance music, Topper Radio has something. If you prefer a little shoegaze, Topper Radio has you covered. And if indie pop or ’90s throwbacks are your thing, log on to Topper Radio for a tour of all your favorite musical genres.
Like what you hear? Then thank Nathalie Phan ’16, who with a classmate, Austin Marshall ’16, launched the university’s first digital radio station in 2013. “I sat next to Austin in the very first class I ever took, and he said to me, ‘I have this crazy idea,’” Phan recalls. She was intrigued by his plan to help students broadcast their own shows, and the pair began a yearlong process of pulling together resources, funding and staff to make it happen.
A Digital Media Management major from Houston, Phan had long been interested in music and broadcasting. In addition to creating her own show, “Nat @ Night,” an indie pop program, Phan produced several programs hosted by other students. She learned to use various technologies and became adept at mixing and editing tracks. But most importantly, she says, she got to hire and manage people. She helped write the documents that guided station operations. And she negotiated with campus administrators to get the station recognized as a student organization eligible for student-activities funding. “It was exhilarating,” Phan says of her experience getting the organization off the ground. Equally gratifying, she says, has been watching Topper Radio continue to grow, even as her involvement has lessened.
A recent graduate, Phan is in the process of launching a startup venture that streams local music into local retail spaces in Austin and elsewhere. The business is still getting its footing, but Phan has confidence that it will be just the first in a string of innovative businesses she’ll launch over time. “I want to be a serial entrepreneur,” she says. “Topper Radio gave me a taste of what it could be like to create something from nothing.”
In high school, Darren Garcia ’19 occasionally ran a 5K race, and he joined the swim team his senior year. But the school in Rio Grande City, Texas, where he grew up was tiny. He didn’t think of himself as competitive, or even particularly athletic.
When he arrived at St. Edward’s last fall, however, Garcia decided that getting involved in an activity would provide some stability and sociability. Among the choices that intrigued him was rowing. He knew nothing about the sport, so he began watching rowing videos on YouTube. He was hooked.
Shortly thereafter, Garcia attended an interest session for the university’s Rowing Club. The room was packed, leaving him unsure if he’d make the cut without any prior experience. But a longtime team member assured him that the number of people willing to show up for practice at 4 a.m. would cull the numbers significantly. The prediction was spot on: When Garcia struggled out of bed a few days later to attend the first early-morning workout, the number of newbies was less than a half-dozen.
Garcia isn’t inclined to brag, but he took to the sport quickly, put in lots of hard work and impressed his coaches. “Most mornings, I get back to my room at 8 a.m., fall asleep and wake up a few hours later in complete pain,” he says. But the early start and the ouch factor haven’t kept him from going back again and again and again.
In the fall, Garcia traveled with the team to Tennessee to represent St. Edward’s at the Head of the Hooch Regatta, the second largest in the country. “They literally threw me into the varsity boat at the start of one race because they needed an extra rower,” Garcia recalls. “I was freaking out at first because I’m a beginner, but the coach believed I could keep up. So I did.”
Garcia says his involvement in the sport has also made him better at time management: He schedules time to study around rowing practices and workouts. The club membership has also made Garcia — a self-described “quiet guy” — more social. “Everyone was so accepting, it was great. There’s camaraderie,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I didn’t think I was a social person, but according to my friends I’m a very social person.”
This summer, Alicia Olivier ’17 will spend a few days at work on Wall Street — the Finance major’s dream come true. But landing the gig, part of an internship with the investment bank Goldman Sachs, was no easy task for the senior from New Iberia, Louisiana. It took strategy, confidence, charm and — frankly — endurance to get through the seven interviews in the application process.
Olivier arrived at St. Edward’s planning to study business and quickly fell in love with finance. “It kind of found me,” she says. Her passion for the field led her to set her sights on a Wall Street career. The only question was: How would she get from Austin to New York City?
Encouraged by Professor of Business Communication Catherine MacDermott, Olivier began plotting her route. She attended a pre-internship “Insight Day” at Goldman Sachs in Dallas, knowing that it would give her a chance to introduce herself to company representatives and participate in a first-round interview. She spent hours and hours preparing for the interview, hoping that her Southern roots would pique the interest of hiring managers used to seeing Ivy League applicants. Being a female in a field dominated by men might help, too, she thought. “Getting a Goldman Sachs internship is statistically harder than getting into Harvard,” Olivier notes.
Her preparation paid off. Hurdle by hurdle, Olivier made it closer to the final round of interviews, eventually finding herself in a room of candidates that included a war veteran and a fellow who was a pre-med Finance major with a Computer Science minor. “I realized that even if I didn’t get what I wanted, I had worked hard,” Olivier says. “There are so many people who have more impressive backgrounds and are probably more deserving. Even if I didn’t get the job, I knew I shouldn’t think any less of myself.”
Olivier impressed Goldman Sachs, however. In late November, she got a call congratulating her on being awarded an internship. In June, she flew to New York City for training at the bank’s headquarters, and soon afterward she began a summer gig at the company’s Dallas office. “I’m not getting much sleep,” Olivier says. “But that doesn’t matter. I’m too excited.”
Simone DeAngelis ’16 had struggled with depression for much of her life, including a couple of suicide attempts. In 2012, however, while living in Colorado, she hit rock bottom and devised a detailed suicide plan that she knew wouldn’t fail. Fortunately, her plan was uncovered, and DeAngelis wound up in a treatment facility where she was able to get help.
Getting back on her feet took a long time — and DeAngelis got help from a lot of other people. “I found out that I’m not the only one who gets overwhelmed by emotions,” says DeAngelis, who transferred to St. Edward’s later that year and graduated in May. She also found a way to help herself: During recovery, she wrote a coping guide for herself, reminding her of all the reasons why her life was valuable and meaningful. “I find it and reread it whenever I’m having a freakout,” she says. “It helps calm me down.”
One day, DeAngelis shared the guide with a friend, who encouraged her to publish it. She declined, but the friend submitted it to a publisher in Portland, Oregon, anyway. Soon afterward, to the author’s shock and delight, she was contacted and asked if she was interested in a book deal. An avid writer and blogger, DeAngelis accepted the offer. In 2017, Microcosm Publishing will release If You’re Freaking Out, Read This, which contains DeAngelis’ letter as well as several of her essays.
DeAngelis says she developed her writing skills significantly during her time at St. Edward’s and, as a student in the School of Education, learned how to use writing as a way to improve thinking in the classroom. Next year, she plans to teach at an Austin-area school.
She isn’t sure what the reaction to her book will be. But if people respond the same way they have to the short sections she has published on her blog, she says she’ll be immensely happy. “I hope it will make people laugh a little and that maybe someone will even randomly pick it up and see that they’re not alone,” DeAngelis says. “They’re not a freak.”
By Joel Hoekstra