When Sierra Garcia crossed the graduation stage in May 2023, she had no idea she’d soon be living in a coastal Texas town with five strangers who shared a common interest. But now, when she gets home from teaching 6th and 7th grade science in Corpus Christi, she hangs out with her housemates, who also teach at Catholic schools in town. Garcia is a part of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a prestigious teaching fellowship at fellow Holy Cross school, The University of Notre Dame.

Garcia was weighing her options come graduation. On the pre-med biology track at St. Edward’s, she considered—and is still considering—medical school; but something else was in store for her at the time. During the Fall 2022 nonprofit fair on campus, she stumbled upon a table promoting Notre Dame’s ACE Program. 

“I saw that Notre Dame is also a Holy Cross school,” Garcia said. “I really enjoyed my time at St. Ed’s, and thought maybe I’ll really enjoy my time at Notre Dame because we share the same values.”

The ACE Teaching Fellows Program, a part of AmeriCorps Indiana and Serve Indiana, forms a cohort of today’s rising educators and prepares them to serve K-12 Catholic schools across the country. Garcia put the idea on the back burner—until she couldn’t. One of the representatives asked to speak with her over a Zoom call, and even visited campus to attend mass with Garcia.

The partnership between St. Edward’s and Notre Dame helped solidify Garcia’s decision in attending the program. Once she graduated from St. Edward’s, she had a week and a half to move out of her apartment on campus, return home to Edinburg, Texas, and travel to South Bend, IN to begin the program with a weekend retreat. By June, the students began their graduate courses and learned to create their own classrooms with the help of mentor teachers. By the end of July, they traveled to their assigned schools across the country. Garcia was placed at Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi, Texas teaching 6th and 7th grade science. 

“I've really learned how to create a classroom environment where my students feel okay to be goofy, while still being challenged academically,” Garcia shared. “I think I've done a good job of creating this environment where students can ask questions. I want them to feel seen, heard and loved.”

On the hilltop, Garcia was a familiar face to students, faculty and staff. Her involvement in Campus Ministry as a program coordinator and consistent retreat leader taught her to weave spiritually into her daily life.

“Being a part of Campus Ministry has really paved the way for me,” Garcia said. “Granted, I'm still learning more about myself, but it showed me how to incorporate my spirituality with my students and within my own community.” 

St. Edward’s Campus Ministry leaders like Assistant Director Joshua Stagni, Associate Director Liza Manjarrez, and former director Father Peter Walsh, CSC were powerful in teaching Garcia how to incorporate spirituality into her daily life, retreats and now in the classroom. Stagni always offered her great feedback about how to treat students with grace and hold space for them, Garcia said.

Sierra Garcia '23 graduated from SEU with a B.S. in Biology. She currently teaches science at Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi, Texas through Notre Dame's ACE Program.
Sierra Garcia '23 graduated from SEU with a B.S. in Biology. She currently teaches science at Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi, Texas through Notre Dame's ACE Program.
Biology major Sierra Garcia '23 poses with her ACE cohort at the University of Notre Dame.

“Being spiritual doesn't always have to mean prayer,” Garcia said. “I think of it simply as being a good person and having good morals. I'll see God in a smile or see my faith in a smile, in a hug. And so, in my teaching, I greet my students at my door. And every smile I get, I think that it's a little bit like God's love. It's like God embracing me.”

By Nina Martinez

Photography by Gracie Watt '22, Courtesy of Sierra Garcia '23